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St Stephen’s Westminster – Chapel to Kings and Queens..

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Reconstruction of a Medieval Painting from St Stephen’s Chapel.  Possibly Queen Philippa with her daughter.  Ernest William Tristram c.1927.   Worked from original drawings made by the antiquarian Richard Smirke 1800-1811 before the fire of 1834. Society of Antiquities.   Parliamentary Art Collection

St Stephen’s was the medieval royal chapel of the Kings and Queens of England and part of the old Palace of Westminster.  What a jewel in England’s crown and what a loss.  Destroyed by a fire in 1834 that also destroyed what was left of the old palace, which had already lost its royal apartments in a fire in the 1530s.  King Stephen is said to have built the original chapel, first mentioned in the reign of King John 1199-1216, with Edward lst beginning a major refurbishment in 1292.  The architect was Michael of Canterbury who also designed the beautiful Eleanor Crosses.   On two levels the rebuild took over 70 years to complete which seems to have been because of the ebb and flow of the finances of the first three Edwards.     The top level was for the use of the Royal Family and a door south of the altar  lead to the royal apartments.  It must have been a sight to behold…with it ceiling painted in azure and  thousands of stars of gold.  The lower chapel,  darker because it was slightly below ground level,   was known as St Mary Undercroft,  and after being used for numerous purposes over the centuries , including some say Cromwell stabling his horses there,  has  managed to survive to this very day and  back to its original use, that of a chapel.

Kings and queens who happened to die while residing in Westminster Palace were taken to the chapel to lie in repose.  Among those to lie there before their burial, usually in the Abbey, was the ‘seemly, amiable and beauteous’ Queen Anne Neville, daughter of Warwick the Kingmaker and consort to King Richard III (1).  On a happier note St Stephen’s may also have been where their wedding took place.  Several royal weddings did take place there for certain including that of Richard II and Anne of Bohemia and also Edward IV’s youngest son Richard of Shrewsbury and Anne Mowbray.  Anne was only 4 years old at the time, the groom being even younger at 3, and Richard Duke of Gloucester led Anne by the hand into the chapel.

The chapel was dissolved at the Reformation in the time of Edward VI and thereafter it became the first permanent home of the House of Commons.  Certain abuses of the Chapel begun from then on including the removal of the beautiful soaring upper celestery by Wren.  The final fire took hold at around 6 pm. on the evening of 16th October 1834.  The final destruction by  fire  begun with  the burning of two cartloads of wooden tally ‘Exchequer’ sticks which caused  a furnace  to overheat.  Warnings of the danger of fire had been ignored by a ‘senile housekeeper and a careless Clerk to the Works’  leading to the Prime Minister to declare the disaster was one of the ‘greatest instances of stupidity on record’.  During the course of the conflagration medieval paintings and decorations that had been hidden over the centuries were once again revealed and gawping crowds flocked to see them.

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Wooden tally or Exchequer sticks. The burning of two cartloads of these caused a chimney to overheat which led to the destruction of Westminster Palace including St Stephen’s hall.

We are very fortunate that 30 years prior to the disaster life sized copies were made of the most important medieval paintings,  which would have been to the east of the chapel where the alter was,   while the chapel was being renovated by an antiquarian Richard Smirke.  The art historian and conservator, Ernest William Tristram (1881-1952) meticulously reconstructed Smirke’s drawing in a collection of 20 paintings.  The British Museum now holds fragments from the paintings and decorations salvaged from the fire and from them can be gleaned an impression of the quality and beauty of the lost works.

The new building, now called St Stephen’s Hall, was rebuilt in Neo Gothic style on the footprint of the old Chapel carefully adhering to the same measurements, 95ft long and 30 ft wide.  Brass studs now mark where the Speaker’s Chair which in turn  would have marked the place where the high  alter once stood.

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King Edward’s Sons.  Reconstruction of medieval wall painting St Stephen’s Chapel.  Ernest William Tristram.  Worked from the original drawings by Richard Smirke.  

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King Edward and St George.  Ernest William Tristram.  Reproduction of medieval wall painting from St Stephen’s Chapel.  From the original drawing by Richard Smirke.  

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Some of the 17 fragments of wall paintings salvaged from the fire and now in the British Museum.  All came from the east end of the north wall.

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Upon Westminster Hall.  George Scharf.   The intrepid Mr Scharf made this painting over four days after climbing on to Westminster Hall’s roof for a better view of the destruction of the chapel and palace.. 

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The smaller chapel on the lower level.  Known as St Mary Undercroft.  Survived the fire and is once again in use as a chapel. Watercolour by George Belton Moore.  

IMG_6178.JPGAnother watercolour by George Belton Moore picturing a demolition of a doorway next to St Stephens.  Ive been unable to ascertain where this doorway was situated.    

IMG_6180.jpgThe Ruined St Stephen’s from the East prior to demolition.   Parliamentary Art Collection.

I am indebted to Sir Roy Strong’s book Lost Treasures of Britain for some of the above information.

  1. Rous Roll.  

The importance of fish in the medieval diet….

There is no disputing that fish was very important to the medieval diet. The Church ruled that not only was it required food on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, but also for Advent and the forty days of Lent. And I’m sure there were other days when it was mandatory too, but the previous sentence covers the main diet.

If you go to this article you’ll find the story of how fish became part of the religious year. You’ll also find that “….after Henry [VIII] became smitten with Anne Boleyn, English fish-eating took a nosedive….” Henry’s son, Edward VI, took steps to rectify this awful situation!

The thought of fish for forty days is a little daunting, I have to say, but it’s what our medieval forebears observed seriously. And I’m sure may still observe this now. But today, of course, we have refrigerators and freezers to be sure of always having our fish fresh. But what about back then? In the middle of summer, many miles from the sea, how could they ensure their fish stayed edible? Well, they had it all worked out, I can assure you.

Fishmongers, from 15th century Chronicle of Ulrico de Richental

What follows now is mainly about knightly households and higher, because that is what I have been researching for my present novel. My source is The Great Household in Late Medieval Period by C.M. Woolgar, and I have by no means covered all the detail continued in this very informative book, which I thoroughly recommend.

Let’s start with sea fish. There wasn’t anywhere in England that was too far from the sea for people to have fresh sea fish, but such fish were also widely preserved—pickled in brine, smoked and dried (often accompanied by salting). This kept fish like herring, cod and other white-fleshed fish in good order for months, and was vital over the winter period.

Cod that was salted and pickled in brine was known as saltfish. If the cod was dried in the open air, it was known as stockfish. If certain fish were to be kept for a shorter period, but still longer than if they were fresh, they were “powdered” (lightly salted). But eels and oysters were kept in barrels, the salt water being regularly changed to keep it clear.

Both stockfish and saltfish were often imported from Scandinavia and the northern coast of Germany, but there was a large contribution from English waters as well. There is evidence in the Severn estuary of late-medieval fishtraps that would have caught sea-bream, salmon, mullet, plaice and so on.

from https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1020017

Herring was a vital fish for the nation’s diet, and around it grew a considerable industry in the North Sea ports. It was seasonal, of course, being readily available in mid to late summer. White herring (salted and pickled) became available toward the end of the fresh-herring season, and red herring (smoked) were to be had later on. Joan de Valence, when at Goodrich, was supplied with preserved herring from Southampton, and she had dried, salted cod brought by sea from her Pembroke estates to Bristol, shipped across the Severn to Chepstow, and thence by conveyed by packhorse to Goodrich. A lengthy business, but no doubt the cod was thoroughly enjoyed.

Oysters were much consumed at Lent, either fresh in shell, or pickled, without shells, in barrels. Mussels and whelks were sometimes confined to Lent. Shellfish were gathered along the shore by women. Joan de Valence’s cook, Master Roger, was sent weekly from her residence at Hertingfordbury to purchase fish in London.

Fresh sea fish were usually carried by packhorses, and like stockfish and saltfish were put in baskets or wickerwork panniers. Fish pickled in brine were transported and stored in barrels. Sometimes they were stored in straw.

Now let me move to freshwater fish, which could be very expensive and were generally confined to consumption by the upper class and monasteries. There was some fishing in rivers, but the great majority of such fish were kept in ponds. Not natural ponds, but those that were specially constructed around castles, great manor houses and religious houses. The more modest of these ponds were small and rectangular; others were like lakes.

Remains of fishpond alongside River Lodden in Old Basing, Hampshire

Households employed skilled fishermen to select and catch the denizens of these ponds. They went out in boats on the large pools, but the small ones required fishing from the banks.

From The Treatyse with an Angle
Men netting fish in a pond, 14th century

John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, kept a record (partly in his own hand) of the stock in his ponds. This included carp, which were not widely recorded in England before the 1700s. Clearly he deemed them worthy of his own personal attention.

The fish in these ponds included pike, eels, lamperns, lamprey, bream, roach, chub and tench. Trout were fished from freshwater streams, and I have not found them mentioned as being kept in ponds.

Freshwater fish were usually eaten within hours of being caught, and thus ponds were sited close to residence. There fish were sometimes moved wrapped in wet straw or grass, or in barrels that were lined with canvas and filled with water. Storing live fish in water is something still done by many fishmongers, and I well remember back in 1962 selecting trout from a tank outside a hotel in Grundhof, near Echternach, Luxembourg. The trout came from the nearby River Sûre. I’d never seen such tanks in England, so it came as a great surprise. And that particular tank is still there!

So, thanks to C.M. Woolgar, I am now more knowledgeable about medieval man and his relationship with fish, but one thing does puzzle me. The small matter of pike. In a pond. With other fish.

Now, the pike is a predatory cannibal, and I can’t imagine it will sit on its fins and whistle a happy tune. No, it will be hellbent on consuming anything that moves in its vicinity. So, what did medieval man do to preserve all his freshwater fish? Building a separate pond for the pike would be very expensive indeed, and unlikely. So…what happened? How did they cope with a rapacious pike?

I can only hope Master Pike didn’t grow to the proportions of Jonah’s whale!

Here is another article on the subject, another, another , another and another.
 
 
 

 

“THE MEMORY OF KING RICHARD STILL LAID LIKE LEES AT THE BOTTOM OF MENS HEARTS’ Sir Francis Bacon

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Entry from the York City House book…’King Richard late mercifully reigning upon us was thrugh grete treason of the duc of Northefolk and many othre that turned ayenst hyme, with many othre lordes and nobilles of this north parties, was pitiously slain and murdred to the grey hevynesse of this citie’ (1)

“The memory of King Richard was so strong it  laid like lees at the bottom of mens hearts and if the vessels were once stirred it would come up’…thus wrote Francis Bacon in his History Of Henry VII.  He was writing about the North Of England, particularly Yorkshire and Durham but no doubt this could have applied in particular to the City of York and its stout citizens although of course,  in many other places memories of the good and fair reign of King Richard still endured but lies unrecorded.

However York’s constancy to Richard’s memory has been well documented and snippets can be found in the surviving York House Books. In the aftermath of Bosworth it was recorded that “Tudor”‘s messenger , Sir Roger Cotam,  was so in fear of his life to enter the city – despite the offer of a gift of  ‘ii.gallons of wyne’  –  that it was thought prudent that the ‘maire and his brethe shuld goo unto him’ instead.  Which they did, meeting with the snivelling  coward at the ‘sign of the boore’.   Shame on you Sir Roger (2)

This affection and loyalty for Richard dates from the time he was Duke of Gloucester…

24 June 1482

John Davyson, a tailor, was sent to appear before the Mayor,  Richerd Yorke.  Davyson said he and  others had heard Master William Melrig say that he, in turn, had heard Master Roger Brere   say regarding ‘my lorde of Gloucestr’   ‘What myght he do for the city?  Nothing bot grin for us’ (2).   Oh dearie me, big mistake Master Roger!   As Shakespeare was later to write “Give thy thoughts no tongue’ especially if they are daft.   Melrig was sent for that very day and demands made as to what seditious words he had ‘at any time’ heard Master  Roger utter against Gloucestr.  Whether in truth or to pour oil on troubled waters Melrigh replied ‘noon’.  The words ‘Nothing bot grin for us’ were repeated to him in an attempt  to jog his memory. But Melrig stuck to his story…deftly batting the ball back into their court by assuring them he would not have stood for such words to be used unchallenged against the Duke.  And that ended the matter.  The truth is lost in time but begs the question did Master Roger utter those word or was a lie made up knowing that a very dim view would be taken over such utterances and  would land him in deep and muddy waters?

Tellingly,  years later,   it was still  remained  hazardous  to malign Richard,  for  on the 14 May 1491   an argument between a man called John Payntour and a schoolmaster William Burton (Burtan) was recorded in the Municipal Records.  Payntour alleged he had heard the said Master  Burton  call Richard ‘an ypocryte’ and furthermore a ‘crochebake’ and  who had ended up buried in a ditch ‘like a Dogge’.   John Payntour, skilfully avoided getting into trouble with the new King (clearly it was not wise to be seen to stick up for Richard too  stoutly) by adding that Burton had lied, obviously, because ‘the Kynges (Tudor) good grace had beried hym like a noble gentilman’! (3). Take it outta that Master William!    I really, really   like the sound of this man, Payntour, who earlier, in 1490,  had to deny slandering the Earle of Northumberland by saying he was a traitor who had betrayed King Richard.  .  Kudos to you John Payntour and I hope, when you finally  popped your clogs,  you got to join good King Richard in Heaven…

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The medieval Guild Hall in York where Richard  and his consort Anne Neville were entertained at a great banquet in 1483.

Finally here are a selection of artworks, which I find preferable to photographs for catching the ethos of Old York from the time of King Richard, John Davyson, William Melrig, Roger Bere and the indomitable John Payntour.  Their names live on…

fill.jpegPetergate, York.  A painting by C Monkhouse 1849

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Monk Bar.  William Etty date unknown.

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Bootham Bar..Anonymous c.1800

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The Shambles Ernest Haslehurst 1920

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Bootham Bar and the Minster c.1920 Noel Harry Leaver

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The York House Books in two volumes.  Editor Dr Lorraine C Atreed.

  1. York House Books Vol.1. p368.9  Edited Lorraine C Atreed
  2. Ibid Vol.2 p734
  3. Ibid vol .2 p707
  4. York Records: Extracts from the Municipal Records of the City of York 1843. R Davies.pp220.221

The sexual exploits of the Tudors….

“….history buffs are set for a ‘rip-roaring tumble’ through the sexual exploits of Britain’s most infamous royal family.

“The sexual exploits of the Tudors will be exposed at a special buffet and lecture, which will take guests back in time to hear about the sex lives of the English and Welsh during their reign.

“The talk, called Sex and the Tudors, will be held at Tutbury Castle at 7pm on Valentine’s Day – Friday, February 14….”

To read more, please this article

Hmm, I don’t think there’s a single Tudor monarch whose sex life secrets would set the world on fire. Well, there’s Henry VIII of course, but he was just an obsessed, unprincipled monster. And his story is now tired. In my opinion anyway. He was a dreadful man.

Anyway, If you are agog to know more, Tutbury Castle on Valentine’s Day is clearly the place for you.

PS: It’s evident from the above photograph that Good Queen Bess was blessed with the gift of foresight. How else can she be wielding the Union Jack?

An unexpected conclusion

Who do you think you are? is always an interesting programme and is disappointing to see only eight episodes in the series. In the past, Sir Matthew Pinsent, Frank Gardner, Danny Dyer and Clare Balding have all been revealed as proven descendants of Edward I. That has not happened in 2019 and few lines have gone back as far as the eighteenth century, so I hoped that the concluding episode’s research could beat that.

Wrong

Wright

As it turned out, it did go back a long way. The subject was Mark Wright – not the red-haired central defender (left) who scored against Egypt in 1990, heading home a Gascoigne free kick, but a “reality show” star and former semi-professional full-back who was born only three years before that, who had a feeling that his complexion pointed to some Italian ancestry. This Mark Wright (right) was accompanied in the earliest scenes by Eddie, his paternal grandfather, who had collated his knowledge in advance, particularly about his own grandfather and namesake.

Edward Wright senior was a builder whose materials occasionally fell off the back of carts and was imprisoned for this on one occasion. On another, he was said to have left for America after another conviction and passenger lists proved that this really happened as opposed to being a cover for another “stretch”. With the help of Mark Smith (left), the arms and militaria expert from Antiques Roadshow, he proved that Edward Wright sourced horses for the British Army before signing up after reducing his age to serve in the First World War.

Next, Mark discovered that his grandfather’s  mother came from a Jewish line named Simons/ Simmons, through which he was able to visit the 1701 Bevis Marks synagogue (right), built for the Sephardi (Iberian and North African) Jewish community whom Oliver Cromwell had allowed back into the British Isles.

Further research took him to Spain, in particular Jaen in Andalucia, where his ultimate known ancestor Antonio de Castro/ David de Mendoza, a fencing master, was born in 1661 and then brought up there. This was a family of “conversos”, but frequently came under suspicion from the Inquisition. Antonio, as he was known, was arrested and tortured, tried, convicted and imprisoned before escaping to Amsterdam with his wife and children, where they resumed an overt Jewish life. His nephew Miguel was then arrested and, possibly because of Antonio’s activities, burned, a fate he shares with an ancestor of Simon Sebag Montefiore, her brother and sister. On a brighter note, Mark was able to meet a distant cousin who is also a Mendoza descendant.

“Mordecai Mendoza”(Bernard Cribbins)

Wright actually showed a real flair for genealogy, enthusiastically drawing up tables on paper and spotting the religious significance of the name Mendoza. Might we hear more about his family some time?

Not all Speakers of the House of Commons left gracefully….

 

Painted Chamber, Westminster

Well, while researching the Painted Chamber of Westminster Palace, with particular reference to the “Good Parliament” of 1376, I couldn’t help imagining today’s House of Commons faced, not with someone like John Bercow (whose birthday it is today and is quite short with a head), but Edward the First! Can you just imagine old Longshanks putting up with all the parliamentary shenanigans we’re witnessing today? He’d see there were so many heads displayed on London Bridge there wouldn’t be any room left!

Patrick McGoohan as Edward I
I don’t know about you, but I found his portrayal of Longshanks really chilling!

Which leads me to combine the subjects of Speakers and beheadings. How many of them actually met with this fate? If you go to this list you’ll be able to see all the Speakers until 1707. There is a link to subsequent Speakers. The man to be accepted (now) as the first true Speaker was Sir Peter de la Mare, although the title Speaker was not yet established.

It would seem that the following unfortunates were executed: Sir John Bussy (died 1399), Sir Thomas Tresham (died 1471),William Catesby (died 1485), Sir Richard Empson (died 1510), Edmund Dudley (died 1510), and Sir Thomas More (died 1536). Sir William Tresham, father of Thomas, was murdered/lynched in 1450. Back then it didn’t do to enter politics if your name was Tresham!

Maybe there were others who met a sticky end, if so, no doubt you will tell me!

The coronation of Elizabeth of York….

found on Pinterest

Here is a description of the coronation of Elizabeth of York, which took place on 25 November 1487:-

“….Another magnificent procession was that in which Elizabeth, Henry VII.’s Queen, and, in the minds of many, the lawful heiress of the Crown, received her Coronation, when the King perceived that there would be discontent until that honor was paid to her. But she was not crowned, as Mary II. was afterward crowned, as Queen Regnant, but as the Queen Consort. This nice distinction, however, was not comprehended by the people.

“….The Queen came first from Greenwich to the Tower by water: “There was attending upon her there the mayor, sheriffs, and aldermen of the city, and divers and many worshipful commoners, chosen out of every craft, in their liveries, in barges freshly furnished with banners and streamers of silk, richely beaton with the ‘armes and bagges’ of their crafts; and in especial a barge called the bachelors’ barge, garnished and apparelled passing all other; wherein was ordeynid a great red dragon spouting flames of fire into the Thames, and many other gentlemanly pageants, well and curiously devised to do her highness sport and pleasure with. And her grace, thus royally apparelled and accompanied, and also furnished in every behalf with trumpets, claryons, and other mynstrelles as apperteynid and was fitting to her estate Royal, came from Greenwich aforesaid and landed at the Tower wharf and entered into the Tower.”

“….Next day the court went in procession from the Tower to Westminster, the Queen dressed in white cloth of gold of damask, with a mantle of the same furred with ermine. She reclined on a litter and wore her fair yellow hair hanging down behind her back, “with a calle of pipes over it.” Four knights carried over her a canopy of cloth of gold; four peeresses{168} rode behind her on gray palfreys; the streets were cleaned and swept; the houses were hung with tapestry and red cloth; the crafts of London in their liveries lined the way, and singing children came dressed as angels, singing welcomes as the Queen was borne along….”

From https://www.gutenberg.org/files/58672/58672-h/58672-h.htm#ill_22

Thames procession from the time of Elizabeth 1 – from Gutenberg

 

Hooray Henry & his Horse

And here it is, folks.  Proof at last.

We are told by some that apparently Henry “Tudor” really, really wanted to fling himself into  the fray at Bosworth (instead of lurking behind his bodyguard), and here finally is the proof of that intent. Henry,  waving his trusty sword Cash-Bringer in defiance of the foe, spurs on his noble but unfortunately rather stationary steed ‘Sandy,’ whose name is now forever-immortalised in  one of the alternative names for the  Battle of Bosworth–the Battle of Sandeford.

Believe It Or Not.

sandy

Some things never change

As this excellent article relates, Frederick Solms-Baruth III was among those convicted after “Operation Valkerie”, the Wagnerian name for the July 1944 plot to kill Hitler through a bomb in a suitcase. Led by Claus von Stauffenberg (left), it almost succeeded but von Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators were almost all tortured and many executed horribly as early as the following day, although that isn’t the only echo of the mediaeval era in this case.

As it happens, Solms-Baruth was not among those put to death in the months following the failure of the bomb plot as he lived to 1951. However, just days after their arrest, many of them signed legal documents conveying their property to “third parties” who were effectively Gestapo stooges. It is, of course, beyond all credibility that these documents were signed without duress. Furthermore, was it not just a modern twist on the “attainder” – used to deprive many individuals of their assets in mediaeval and early modern times, without the actual necessity of executing all of them.

Good luck to Prince Frederick Solms-Baruth (right) in “reversing” his grandfather’s “attainder”.

The architect who altered the first Richard III stone on Bow Bridge, Leicester….

Victorian William Flint was a Leicester architect who “…had a hand in many other projects, including significant alterations to New Walk Museum, St Mary de Castro Church and the first Richard III stone on Bow Bridge…”

Now there is a book all about him by Mark Mitchley. To read more, go to this article.

 

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