I’ve been thinking a lot recently about Richard III’s brother, George of Clarence. You know the one–typical ‘middle child’, ‘false fleeting Clarence’, the one drowned in Malmsey who was also a drunk and quite possibly insane, hanging, as he did, old ladies on the vaguest of suspicions.
And I began considering–is George, like Richard, maligned, doomed forever to be hidden in an obscuring web of myth and invention?
Certainly he was disloyal, joining Warwick against his own brother, Edward IV. He created a fuss when Richard wanted to marry Anne Neville, his protests lasting several years. He did indeed accuse Ankaret Twynho, and others, of poisoning his wife and baby son–and hanged the old lady after a brief and decidedly unfair trial.
But mad? A drunk? And in regards to his wife and child…what if he were right?
Like Richard’s supposed hump, limp, withered arm and other defects, George’s ‘insanity’ and ‘drunkenness’ appear to have been exaggerated if not completely invented, mainly in fiction. (And yes, I admit I am guilty of adding to this stereotype myself.) There is no mention in primary sources of George drinking or being dissolute; that idea seems to have come solely from his supposed death in a vat of malmsey, and the questions it raised (ie. Did Edward have him drowned in booze because he liked a tipple and maybe even requested such an end as a macabre final joke?) Fickleness aplenty went on, certainly, and his last acts with the Twynyho affair were erratic, but he wasn’t spouting gibberish, having hallucinations, or lying catatonic like poor old Henry VI. He defended himself in regards to the charges laid against him by the King, and apparently one of Elizabeth Woodville’s main fears was that people would follow him and her children would never inherit the throne. The people of England were hardly likely to follow another mad king. This implies to me that George was not generally seen as a loony, treacherous lush, but someone who might have had some decent enough qualities, or at very least some kind of strong charisma.
So that brings us back to the whole mystery surrounding the death of George’s wife, Isabel Neville, and his infant son Richard of York. Many have claimed Isabel died of childbirth-related illness…but she actually succumbed two and a half months after the birth. Childbed fever, the biggest killer of women in her day, normally took its victims far sooner. TB has also been suggested, and it is certainly not impossible, for in some victims TB symptoms can appear with frightening suddenness and ‘gallop’ on to their bitter end, but there is no written evidence of her having such symptoms. In the interim between childbed and her death, she travelled from Tewkesbury to Warwick, which implies she was not grievously ill at that point. The baby too was alive and outlived its mother by about 10 days. So both mother and child lived more than two months after the birth and made a moderately long journey without incident before their deaths.
Ankaret Twynyho (nee Hawkeston) herself is also the subject of some myth-making. In fiction she is often portrayed as a simple ordinary local woman, perhaps the midwife who delivered Isabel’s baby. However, she was not a peasant woman, nor is their any evidence she was Isabel’s midwife. It is merely known the she ‘served’ in the Clarence household. She did leave George’s service rather quickly after Isabel’s demise however, going to her home in Keyford, Somerset in the days before George accused her of murder.
Of John Thursby, who was hanged alongside her, little is known, save that he was from Warwick and said to be her accomplice. The third person who was accused, managed (somehow and rather oddly) to escape any consequences, and is, interestingly, the one who George claimed to be the ‘mastermind’ behind the supposed poisoning. Strangely he is seldom mentioned in regards to the incident–and my feeling is his possible involvement needs to be re-assessed.
This suspect was Sir Roger Tocotes of Bromham, long time associate of George of Clarence. (Michael Hicks went so far as to suggest George might even have called him ‘friend.’) He had supported the House of York and fought at Towton, Barnet and Tewkesbury (where he may have been knighted). He even accompanied George on Edward IV’s ill-fated ‘invasion’ of France.
Why would George think this seemingly loyal supporter masterminded his wife and child’s death? What would be Tocote’s reason? What evidence existed at the time that made George believe him involved? Some writers say Tocotes ‘escaped’ George’s vengeance, others that he received an aquittal (from the king?) despite being the prime accused in Isabel’s ‘murder.’
Later, long after George’s death, Roger Tocotes would go on to be one of the Duke of Buckingham’s supporters in the October rebellion of 1483. (Richard pardoned him.) He then fought for Henry Tudor at Bosworth and did rather well for himself under the Tudor regime, becoming Sheriff of Wiltshire for a second time and also a Knight of the Body. He is buried in a very lavish chantry chapel in the parish church in Bromham, Wiltshire.
Could Roger Tocotes have indeed been a turncoat who went from friend to traitor and tried to bring Clarence and his family down? If so, who was behind it, what was the reason? After Isabel’s death, George was apparently afraid of being poisoned himself and blamed the King, his brother. He claimed Edward meant to ‘consume him in likewise as a candle is consumed by burning’. George’s seemingly wild claims have led over the years to a probably false view of him as being paranoid and mentally unstable. There is always a chance that he may have been genuinely afraid, not crazy–and that he may have truly had something to fear.
Maybe Roger Tocotes, lying in his graffiti-covered tomb in Bromham church, took a dark and unhappy secret to the grave.
Rob Bell seems to be on television a lot at the moment. Although he is an engineer and not quite a historian, many of his programmes go back in time as structures were built. Walking Britain’s Lost Railways, for instance, goes back under two centuries because of the subject matter, but Great British Ships (both Channel Five) has already covered HMS Victory and the Mary Rose, which was built in 1510 and sank in 1545. At the same time, possibly literally, Bell is appearing on BBC1 and BBC4’s (repeated) Engineering Giants, projects which he narrates actively with enthusiasm and technical knowledge, together with an interest in the local culture. For example, he tells viewers of Brunel’s great feats, tries to explain why the Mary Rose sank and walks most of the Dartmoor route from Plymouth to Exeter, although a small stage of this track has re-opened in recent years.
Oxford’s Christ Church Cathedral lies in the precincts of the college of the same name. Originally it was the church of St Frideswide’s priory, and contained a shrine bearing the saint’s relics. This shrine was destroyed in the reformation but has since been pieced together as much as possible. The remains include some rare carvings of the ‘natural world’ including heads wreathed in foliage which may represent Frideswide and her nuns. Next to the shrine is what is called a ‘watching chamber’, where someone would keep watch over the gold and jewels that decorated the saint’s shrine. The watching chamber was built in the late 15th or early 16th century, possibly by none other than the infamous Bishop John Morton…
Frideswide was a particularly venerated in the Oxford area, and one of Francis Lovell’s sisters bears her name.
The church also contains several notable medieval burials, including the beautiful tomb of Elizabeth de Montfort (died 1354), Baroness Montacute, an ancestor of Richard Neville–Warwick the Kingmaker. Bright colours remain on the tomb-chest even today–although the faces were all smashed off the carved weepers during the Reformation. The numerous weepers once depicted Elizabeth’s children.The remains of a chantry chapel with a painted vaulted ceiling extends from the Baroness’tomb.
There is also the effigy of an enormous knight whose identity is not known for certain–it is given as Sir Henry de Bathe or Sir George Nowers, a companion of the Black Prince who died in 1425. (It is more likely to be the latter. )Whoever it was, the armour detail is very fine and the skeleton within was about 6ft 8!
I’m doing well today when it comes to detailed maps – old maps, specifically .Attention has probably been drawn to this site on various occasions, but here it is again. You can zoom right in on maps that are usually/often hard to make out. I’ve chosen this 1583 Warwick/Leicester map at random.
There are a lot more, not only from the UK but from all over the world, here.
(This letter, of which a version was published in the September 2018 Bulletin, was in response to Bryan Dunleavy’s article about Edward IV and Elizabeth Wydville.)
The article in the latest Ricardian Bulletin by Bryan Dunleavy is interesting, and also provocative, given that the bulk of readers of the publication are, by definition, Ricardians.
However Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth was conceived and performed, there is no doubt it was irregular, and so subject to a presumption of bad faith. If Edward wanted the establish the legitimacy of his children securely, the readiest way would have been to follow the example of his own grandparents, Richard of Conisbrough and Anne Mortimer, who secured a Papal Dispensation in 1408 to regularise their secret marriage. (Richard and Anne were about as poor as two noble persons could be, but they still went to the trouble and expense.)
Of course it may be that Edward was well aware that the Pope had no power to dispense bigamy. If you reject that possibility, then one has to say that he behaved irresponsibly as a man of property, let alone a sovereign.
I suspect that like many wealthy and powerful people, even in our own times, Edward simply believed he was untouchable.
Incidentally, how did Edward and Elizabeth manage to avoid procreation between their “marriage” and her coronation, nearly thirteen months later on Ascension Day? If, as Mr. Dunleavy said, “one can only conclude that this was deliberate”, perhaps Edward frequented his nearest apothecary or a dispenser (Despencer?) in a tavern?
Today in 1768, William Pitt the Elder, known as the “Great Commoner”, retired as Prime Minister after two years’ service. He earned this title by serving in several other Cabinet roles from the House of Commons whilst a succession of peers, such as the Duke of Newcastle, were Premier, although his wife Hester nee Grenville was created Baroness Chatham in suo jure. Pitt’s most prominent widely known ancestor was his paternal grandfather Thomas, who had been Governor of Madras and William himself finally took a peerage, as Earl of Chatham, in summer 1766 when he became Lord Privy Seal as well as Prime Minister, being a peer for almost twelve years.
It is possible to trace his ancestry back further than Thomas, however. Eight generations back, on his mother’s side, are Henry VIII and Mary Boleyn together with the Digby and Throckmorton families of Gunpowder Plot infamy. Hester is even more interesting genealogically in that her ancestors can be shown to include Edward III, albeit by the Beaufort line which was illegitimate in the first instance, as the Careys still are. However, her ancestors also include John Howard, 1st Duke of Norfolk, leading us to Edward I’s second marriage. Interestingly, of the seventy peerages specifically created for women, Hester and her mother (Countess Temple) both feature among the recipients.
The Pitt children, including John (2nd Earl) and William (the Younger) thus have all of these lines of ancestry.
On the Hill of Laughart,near Dundalk, Co. Louth, in Ireland, lies a large, speckled stone slab covering the remains of a man called Edward Brus…thebrother of the rather more famous Robert the Brus, KING OF Scotland. (The actual ‘Braveheart’.)
Little known, Edward was, briefly, the High King of Ireland, but ended up dying in battle and having his remains quartered and sent across the country to various Irish towns. His head was shipped to King Edward II in England, destined for London Bridge. Later, what remained of Brus was gathered and hastily buried in the churchyard on the Hill of Laughart in a simple grave.
Edward Brus was one of several younger brothers of Robert; his exact date of birth is unknown, as is his birth position in the family. There were three other brothers too, Niall , Thomas and Alexander, but all of them were captured by English and executed, so Edward, as the surviving younger brother, was temporarily heir presumptive to the Scottish throne.
However, when Robert’s wife, Elizabeth de Burgh, was freed from captivity and rejoined her husband, it was speculated that soon the Brus would have an heir. Edward Brus began to look for different ways to gain a crown for himself. He turned his gaze to Ireland, where he may have been fostered by the O’ Neill clan as a boy, and with Robert funding and assisting his campaign, mounted an invasion, with the ultimate goal being to drive out the Anglo-Irish lords…and claim sovereignty himself His first battle on Irish soil was against Sir Thomas de Mandeville; Edward was victorious in his effort and stormed on to take Carrickfergus. Once it was in his hands, many of the local chieftains gathered in council and agreed that the Brus should become High King of Ireland.
However, they were fickle in their loyalties and swiftly broke their oaths to Edward, with several of the chieftains who had bent knee at Carrickfergus trying to attack by stealth as he rode with his forces through the Moiry Pass. Again, he managed to defeat his foes and marched onwards, burning and pillaging in his wake, until he reached Dundalk. There he besieged the town and brought it to its knees, slaughtering both the Anglo-Irish and the native Irish residents in the bitter aftermath.
Opposition forces were quickly mustered, with the leaders being the de Burghs (who were relatives of Robert the Brus via marriage) but Edward refused to give battle and eventually the de Burghs, and their ally Butler of Ormonde had to retreat from their positions through lack of supplies. Once they had retreated, Edward Brus pushed forward again, this time defeating the soldiers of Thomas de Burgh and capturing Thomas’ cousin, William Liath de Burgh. Edward II hurriedly called a parliament in Dublin to discuss the crisis, but no further move was taken by the king to stop Brus at that time.
By November of the same year, Brus was marching doggedly toward Kells. Sir Roger Mortimer arrived to confront him, bearing a missive from the pope bidding the Irish chieftains and the clergy to reject Edward Brus’ claim to kingship and to cede to the rule of Edward II. The Battle of Kells was fought was fought in which Mortimer was defeated; after fleeing to Dublin, he returned to England seeking aid from the king. The triumphant Brus went on a spree of looting and sacking local towns, and even raided a Cistercian monastery.
In 1316, Brus was finally crowned Ard Ri--the High King of Ireland. This appointment brought no peace to either side, as that dread spectre, famine, struck Ireland the very next year. The weather turned, foul with frigid temperatures and incessant rain sweeping across the land and destroying essential crops. Edward II could not get supplies to his men, people on both sides of the conflict died of starvation, and the situation with Brus continued to fester
The end came for Edward Brus when a knight called Sir John de Bermingham joined forces against him with Edmund Butler. Vengeance was foremost on Bermingham’s mind; Brus had hung his uncle from the walls of Ardee Castle. A vicious battle was fought at Faughart, and this time, Edward Brus’ luck ran out–he was defeated and killed, reputedly by an English soldier called John Maupas, and his body mutilated for display in Ireland and England.
Brus’s short, troubled reign was not looked on favourably by either the native Irish or the Anglo-Norman aristocracy of Ireland, although he is the ancestor of a current Duchess. He was described as the ‘destroyer of Ireland’ and it was written that during his tenure there came only ‘death and loss’ and that due to the famine that arrived with his ill-starred reign ‘people used to eat each other throughout Ireland.’
Do not read on if you’re squeamish about blood-sucking parasites. No, I’m not referring to Henry VII, but his equally usurping Lancastrian predecessor, Henry IV.
When we think of medieval coronations, and see contemporary illustrations, we see the glamour, colour and solemnity of the occasion, hear the singing, smell the incense, observe the wonderful robes and so on. The last thing we modern folk would expect would be to learn that the new king’s head was infested with lice! Oh, yuk! But that is what was found at the coronation of Henry IV.
It is not something I had heard before, but yesterday, on reading King Richard II by Bryan Bevan, I discovered: “It was fortunate for Henry that the sacred oil of Edward the Confessor was used during the anointing ceremony, but it was found that the new King’s head was full of lice.” And Adam Usk claimed that shortly after the coronation his [Henry’s] hair fell out, supposedly a result of lice. Another report says that he had his hair close-cropped because of head lice, which may explain the sudden baldness report. Although when his remains were examined in the 19th century, he was found to be completely bald, albeit with a full beard. This is how he appears on his circa 1437 tomb in Canterbury Cathedral.
Yes, I know that such parasites were much more abundant in times gone by, but this must have been a bad case to warrant such specific mention. There is no excuse for Henry. Adult lice can be squashed and removed, even if the nits are a trickier matter. The necessary combs were available, so for a King of England to be crowned when he was that lousy and crawling is an awful indictment. It wasn’t as if he didn’t have an army of servants to attend to such matters!
I cannot imagine his murdered predecessor appearing like that. Richard II was a fastidious man who took infinite care with his appearance.The first louse foolish enough to advance upon him would have been exterminated at first contact! I’m sure Richard would have had the shuddering habdabs if such an unwelcome visitor were to dare to sully his royal pate! The nit comb must have been very regularly applied, to ensure such a thing didn’t happen.
Lice were mainly associated with the lowest people in society. So much for Henry of Bolingbroke. But then, he was low. He, no more than Henry VII, had any business sitting on the throne, and both achieved their aim by the violent death of the rightful incumbent.
According to http://nitwitslice.com/a-short-history-of-head-lice/ “…One myth tells that to lure the lice off of the scalp, one would make a fur vest and wear it throughout the day and night hoping lice would make their way onto the warm fur. As ridiculous as that may sound, with no real medical knowledge of how to alleviate the problem who knows how many medieval men or women may have actually attempted this practice…” Who indeed.
What was the medieval view and treatment of these parasites? All lice, not just those on the head? According to Shakespeare’s Medical Language, by Sujata Iyengar:
“. . .lice were thought to develop from corrupted humors in the blood, and to escape through small holes or pores in the skin. If the patient had been cursed by God, as in the plagues of Egypt, lice-infestation was incurable, but if the infestation was natural, sufferers ought to abstain from foods that would breed phlegm and particularly from figs and dates, and to wash their bodies twice a day in salt water and a mixture of lye and wormwood. Mustard-plasters and quicksilver dissolved in grease or oil was also effective. . .”
A “cure” for head lice that has existed since at least 1526 (Treasure of Pore Men) recommends pounding olive oil with Rhenish wine and the unidentified “Aruement”, which could well be arrowmint, and applying it to the body. An alternative was to smear the body with grease from an ungelded pig, mixed with brimstone and quicksilver in Rhemish wine and arrowmint. It was suggested in The Castel of Helthe (1539) that eating dried figs breeds lice, since the dessicated fruit is by complexion so hot and dry.
The above is all very well for the rich, but how many really poor people could afford such ingredients? I think the nit comb was probably the best they could do. Maybe such an implement was passed around as needed, which, of course, would ensure the transmission of the parasite. But then, transmission of this sort was not understood, although it was understood that “the homeless, the poverty-stricken, the overcrowded, and children suffered disproportionately from infestation”.
So. . .can Henry IV be excused for turning up at his coronation in such a lousy state? No. Nits are sods to remove, but not the living adults. To get into such a terrible state of infestation, he cannot have done much about checking the parasites’ relentless advance. Perhaps he liked their company.
Oh, I do love an opportunity to give Bolingbroke yet another thumbs-down! He had no right to Richard II’s throne, he stole it. The right should have passed down through the Mortimers from Lionel of Clarence, not through John of Gaunt. So it’s boo! hiss! to Henry IV. And his lice.
The Fears of Henry IV, by Ian Mortimer.