A great site

Archive for the month “Sep, 2014”

A mysterious lost chalice….

Sir Humphrey's Chalice

Before I go further, let me point out that this is not the chalice I refer to, merely how I think it could have looked. The real thing might have been encrusted with pearls and rubies.

On December 13th, 2000, a gentleman named Adrian Fray posted an interesting item about a gold chalice that had once been at Glastonbury Abbey, and might also have once been owned by Sir Humphrey Talbot, Marshal of Calais, brother of Lady Eleanor Talbot. The post is as follows:-

In an English 15C ‘will’ there is mention of a gold standing cup / chalice, and the ‘will’ states that this chalice is chaced with rubies and pearls. I have been searching all references to chalices and I have been unable to find one that comes anywhere near to meeting this description. I am therefore posting this message to ask if anyone knows if there is might be one of this description in a museum, church, or private collection.

The item may be much older than the 15C. It may have been taken from France during the 100 years war, and it might have passed to Sir Humphrey Talbot, who was Marshall of Calais. Consequently it may have gone back to France. At one time it was held at Glastonbury Abbey.

If it can be located, it may help to validate what I believe to be a Medieval fraud.

How very intriguing! I have written to Mr Fray, to see if he learned anything more, but his message was posted almost fourteen years ago now. I would love to know about the suspected medieval fraud, and if Sir Humphrey actually possessed such a wonderful chalice.

The will in which Mr Fray found the reference is not disclosed, but Interestingly (although far from conclusively) a transcript of Sir Humphrey’s will contains the following:-

“ . . . . Which I bequeath vnto my Lady my suster to gedir with the gilt cuppe that she gave me nowe being in Calis?  . . . .”

The sister, of course, must be Elizabeth, Duchess of Norfolk, Lady Eleanor by then having been dead for a number of years. It really cannot be said that the two cups are one and the same, but it is a curious coincidence. If it should by any chance be the same cup, and Elizabeth gave it to Humphrey in the first place, how did it come into her possession? And what has Glastonbury Abbey to do with it? Of course, as soon as one mentions Glastonbury and chalices, the magical name King Arthur leaps to mind. Well, it leaps to mine, so I wonder if the abbey was presenting it as that legendary king’s cup. Not that I can say if it was at Glastonbury before or after it came into Sir Humphrey’s possession.

I do not even know what such a wonderful jewelled cup might have looked like. Like Mr Fray, I cannot find a similar example studded with those particular stones, hence the guesswork in the pictured chalice.

Does anyone know anything about this mysterious cup and its intriguing history?

To answer a visitors’ question:

We have had a few views recently, asking “why was arthur pole executed?”. Well, we don’t think he was.

There were several Arthur Poles:
1) The first (Sir Arthur, 1502-35) was probably the youngest son of the Countess of Salisbury but there are no suggestions that he died from other than natural causes.
2) The second (1531-70), son of Sir Geoffrey of Lordington and nephew of the above, was involved in plots, possibly encompassing Mary Stuart, early in Elizabeth I’s reign but was merely imprisoned in the Tower, where he died. His brother Edmund also died in the Tower that year.
3) The third (c.1575-75), Sir Geoffrey’s great-grandson was assassinated at the Orsini Palace in early 1605, as was his brother Geoffrey in 1619. These may have been the result of coincidental robberies but we cannot quite exclude security service involvement, with the “Gunpowder Plot” being planned at the time of Arthur’s death.

Putting Edward IV’s life in context

Given the amount of evidence that has accrued over the past decade both about Edward IV’s bigamy and the cover-ups, both in his reign and those of the “Tudors”, he can now be classified as having no legitimate and fourteen or fifteen illegitimate children.

Charles II’s record is almost identical, although he was more open about it.

William IV had ten children by a mistress ( Dorothea Bland aka “Mrs. Jordan”) and five by his wife, Adelaide. Of these, four had died by the end of the day they were born, the fifth within three months.

Henry VIII’s case is as complicated as that of his grandfather because all but one of his ten children (Edward VI) were born either to a mistress or a subsequently annulled “marriage”. Indeed, he classified both his surviving marital daughters as illegitimate and there were affinity impediments to his first two ceremonies. The two Careys are not included in these figures but ought to be.

Just in case you still aren’t sure ……..

……. the exact details of Richard’s scoliosis have now been published in a Lancet paper:

So to any US broadcasters with models that look more like Crick and Watson’s double helix, or anyone who believes them, here are the incontrovertible facts: “The scoliosis of Richard III, last Plantagenet King of England: diagnosis and clinical significance”.

A possible explanation

Going by the searches here, many of you will have read the suggestion, in Baldwin’s “The Lost Prince”*, that “Anne Hopper” was a daughter of Richard III by an unknown mother from the Borders region, conceived during his marriage and provided for with a ring among other things. The problem with this argument is that his two known illegitimate children were both conceived before he married and acknowledged. Had this not been the case, the “sources” would surely have recorded and greatly exaggerated it. The Cairo brigade would be talking about it nonstop, in their persistent mistaken belief that repeating a conscious falsehood makes it true.

An alternative solution has been posted recently. We need to note that three of Richard’s nieces (Elizabeth and Cecilia of York and Margaret of Salisbury) were forcibly married to the descendants of Margaret Beauchamp (Henry “Tudor”, Baron Welles and Richard Pole) in order that there would be no descendants of Richard’s brothers and sisters except through the Beauchamp lines, although there were exceptions, generally not favoured in the following century. The last Plantagenet-descended Courtenay died in exile in 1556 and the Marquess of Dorset was among those executed in 1538/9.

We also know that James III’s eldest son and successor was betrothed to Anne de la Pole, another niece born in c.1476, but their engagement failed after the Gloucester-Albany invasion of Scotland in 1482. It is thought that she became a nun and died in 1495 but there is a possibility of confusion with other family members who did so. There is definite confusion enough about her brothers, one of whom may not have existed. Just as Cecilia, at Welles’ death, took a third husband and retired  from royal life to the Isle of Wight with her new family, could this Anne have become the wife of a Hopper, with descendants known in mid-Victorian times?

* Appendix Three, pp.177-180.

Andrew Dymmock and the Wydeville assumption of power

We are told by Collins, quoting Mancini, that Anthony Wydeville (the early print enthusiast who became Lord Scales and Earl Rivers) was appointed in 1473 as “governor and ruler” of the Ludlow household of his sister’s eldest son. He was also given “vice-regal powers” in Wales and the Marches, corresponding directly to those of the Duke of Gloucester in the North. Andrew Dymmock was Rivers’ secretary in this capacity, which seems to have applied continuously until 1483 when that nephew briefly became King before his late father’s bigamy was exposed. Yet, in March that year (Collins via Mancini pp.45-75), Rivers wrote to Dymmock to ask for his position to be confirmed, even though this could have happened in London the previous week. At the same time, he asked for his position as Deputy Constable of the Tower to pass to Dorset, another nephew.

This policy seemed to continue after Edward IV’s death, as the brothers and nephews of his “wife” sought to appoint each other to every post imaginable, without the lawful authority. Edward Wydeville’s flight with much of the Treasury’s contents doomed his co-conspirators (Carson).

Of course, this is the same Mancini who describes Hastings, Morton, Rotherham et al as “foregathering in each other’s houses” before denying that they were engaged in a plot of any sort. Move along please, nothing to see here? Then again, are so many of the inaccuracies and non sequiturs attributable not to Mancini but his current translator, Charles Armstrong? Even the title?

Robert Cecil–Was he Shakespeare’s Real Richard III?

Robert Cecil—Was He Shakespeare’s Real Richard?

It is quite astounding that many traditionalists still trot out the old ‘Shakespeare was right’ trope when referring to Richard III, even though more statements in his famous depiction have been proved to be wrong than ‘right’ in regards to this maligned king.
Shakespeare was, of course, a dramatist, a writer of fiction, and his work should have no more significance as a historical document than that of any fiction writer, even if he was using a historical basis for his creations (as many authors do, with varying degrees of success!)
Indeed, it seems that his character of Richard III may have had only a partial relationship to the actual man his play purported to be about, although this is often overlooked as if this author was some kind of top modern journalist or historian and not merely writing to entertain.
Many of Shakespeare’s plays, however, are known to have some grounding in reality, but not so much in regards to the historical figures he wrote about, but to the leading lights of his own time. Frequently there is a political basis (and bias) disguised within the context of his fiction. The play Richard III is no exception, and the main target of the Bard’s vitriol may well not be the historical Richard, but the powerful and devious Elizabethan politician Robert Cecil.
Cecil was the son of the great statesman William Cecil, who lived in the palatial Burghley House outside the town of Stamford in Lincolnshire. He had a Cambridge education and became a powerful statesman himself in the reigns of both Elizabeth I and James I. Robert Cecil was also known to have clearly noticeable kyphosis, possibly since birth or early infancy.
His physical description in 1588 is described in Motley’s History of the Netherlands:

“A slight, crooked, hump-backed young gentleman, dwarfish in stature, but with a face not irregular in feature, and thoughtful and subtle in expression, with reddish hair, a thin tawny beard, and large, pathetic, greenish-coloured eyes, with a mind and manners already trained to courts and cabinets, and with a disposition almost ingenuous, as compared to the massive dissimulation with which it was to be contrasted, and with what was, in aftertimes, to constitute a portion of his own character…”

Now, does this not sound more ‘Richard III’ than Richard himself, whose only mentioned ‘deformity’ (and that not written about till after his death) was a raised right shoulder?
So, why would Shakespeare wish to slander Robert Cecil? It seems like Shakespeare’s two most famous patrons, Essex and Southampton, were the arch-enemies of Cecil, so it would be politic of him to write in the ruthless character that these powerful lords would recognise and appreciate, without openly damning the man who Elizabeth I called ‘my little Imp’ or ‘my elf.’ The man who was Secretary of State and one of the most powerful personages in the realm.
Additionally, Cecil may have ordered the murder of Shakespeare’s very first patron, Ferdinando Stanley, whose mother was heiress presumptive to Elizabeth I. Stanley of course was a descendant of those Stanleys, and also maternally of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. He appears to have been poisoned; his body giving off such an unnatural reek that even months after his death, no family members could bear to approach his crypt. There is also a line of thought that Robert Cecil was heavily involved in the Gunpowder plot, having black-mailed Robert Catesby (yes, a descendant of that Catesby too) into proceeding with the fatal plot; Cecil’s intent was to inflame the public so that he could pass a series of anti-Catholic bills.
A devious man and with the physical attributes of Shakespeare’s character, Cecil may well be the ‘Real Richard III.’

sources: The Assassination of Shakespeare’s Patron: Investigating the Death of the Fifth Earl of Derby (2nd Edition) by Leo Daugherty
British History-John Simkin.

Who Was Saint Morrell?

This week saw two major news stories regarding archaeology and Leicester, one of which was about Richard III & one which might. The first story dealt with the report of the forensic examination of Richard’s remains & the battle scars on them. The investigation found Richard was on the receiving end of 11 wounds at the time he died, 9 of those to the head.
The other story released last week was about the on-going excavations at the Lost Chapel of Saint Morrell being carried about by ULAS & local volunteers. I have yet to find any reference to Richard visiting this chapel, but as the excavations show that it was in use from the pre-Roman era until sometime in the 16th Century, it is likely that he stopped by on his way elsewhere in the Midlands at least once. The remains of Hallaton Castle are also nearby.
The chapel of Saint Morrell is located near the village of Hallaton (a possible corruption of the name “Holy Town”), where there has been a long tradition of a “bottle kicking” competition and hare pie scramble with another nearby village. A local historian thought that the site of the scramble might also be the site of the lost chapel, & wouldn’t you know, he was right. Thus far, the dig has uncovered the remains of the chapel, some evidence of use during Roman times, and 11 skeletons, including the two which were found holding hands. No one knows why these people were buried here & not in the mother church of St. Michael’s in Hallaton.  Interestingly, the archaeologists have discovered a pilgrim’s badge with “Morrell” written on it, suggesting this chapel was a pilgrimage site in medieval times.
While this is all very fascinating, what I wanted to know most was “Who was Saint Morrell?” He wasn’t exactly an easy saint to trace, especially since the name “Saint Morrell” is a corruption of his actual name, “Saint Maurilius,” or as he was known in France, “Saint Mareill.” It turns out that Saint Maurilius was a bishop in the French province of Anjou (Angers) in the 5th Century, and a cult, or following, of him arouse by the 7th Century. He was a more popular saint in France than England, which may be why his chapel “disappeared” sometime in the 15th Century, perhaps as a result of the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
Saint Maurilius was born in Milan, Italy in 336. Saint Maurilius became Bishop of Angers about 423. His feast day is September 13 & he is associated most with a miracle involving the keys of his cathedral being lost & then found in the liver of a fish. He is the patron saint of fishermen & gardeners. The story goes that he was celebrating mass when a mother begged him to give Communion to her dying son. He ignored her until the mass was over. Unfortunately, the child had died. Maurilius fled Angers and made his way to England. He threw the keys to the cathedral in the ocean, vowing to never return to Angers until he had the keys in his hands. He became a gardener to an unknown lord in England, feeling that hard work would help him atone for his sins. Meanwhile, the parishioners looked everywhere for him, finally locating him in England, begging him to return. They had also located the keys to the cathedral in a fish which they said was tossed up on the deck of their ship as they crossed the English Channel. They gave him the keys, & Maurilius agreed to return to his former post. His first stop, however, was the grave of the child who had died while he celebrated mass. The child miraculously came back to life, even though seven years had gone by. The child was given a new name, Rene, to note the fact that he had been reborn. Rene later succeeded Maurilius as Bishop on Angers & also became a saint.
The cult of Saint Maurilius was brought to England by either the Norman or Angevin earls of Leicester. He is depicted in art as a bishop holding a fish or a garden spade.

News Flash! Richard III Ate and Drank Like a King

What an incredible time we live in. We have witnessed the discovery of a skeleton buried under a car park in Leicester, United Kingdom — a skeleton which showed a gracile, young-ish male, with perimortem wounds consistent with battle injuries, hastily laid to rest in the choir of Greyfriars monastery. Examination of the skeleton’s mitochrondrial DNA with that of the known collateral female descendants of Richard III (thanks to John Ashdown-Hill) and radiocarbon testing, confirmed beyond reasonable doubt, that the remains were indeed those of Richard III.

But what an awful time we live in, too. As soon as scientists and other investigators release their findings in peer-reviewed journals, the machinery of the press and social media goes into overdrive, each seeking to outdo the other with a more sensational headline.

A case in point that starkly demonstrates our craving for sensational reporting can be found with the recently-published article in the Journal of Archaeological Science. The findings were based on isotopic analysis of 2 teeth (a molar and premolar), a rib and femur of the skeleton. The scientists’ conclusions are summarized in the article’s abstract:

The isotopes initially concur with Richard’s known origins in Northamptonshire but suggest that he had moved out of eastern England by age seven, and resided further west, possibly the Welsh Marches. In terms of his diet, there is a significant shift in the nitrogen, but not carbon isotope values, towards the end of his life, which we suggest could be explained by an increase in consumption of luxury items such as game birds and Freshwater fish. His oxygen isotope values also rise towards the end of his life and as we know he did not relocate during this time, we suggest the changes could be brought about by increased wine consumption. This is the first suggestion of wine affecting the oxygen isotope composition of an individual and thus has wider implications for isotope-based palaeodietary and migration reconstructions.


Now, to most people who have had an interest in the life of Richard Plantagenet, as the son of a fabulously wealthy nobleman, who later became Duke of Gloucester, Lord High Admiral and Great Constable of England, Lord of the North, and heir to the Beauchamp inheritance, this comes as no surprise. Historians like Rosemary Horrox, when referring to Richard’s years as a northern magnate who assembled one of the greatest affinities in the medieval period, say he was the second most powerful man in England – aside from his brother King Edward IV. Naturally, one would expect the second most powerful man in England to be thriving on a rich diet, not one of potage and stale bread. So, we see this evidence as additional confirmation that the skeleton discovered in 2012 was, indeed, that of Richard.

Yet, let’s look at how the press covers the story:

CNN: Richard III’s bones reveal king’s taste for luxury food and wine. By Bryony Jones – “Tests on the long-lost skeleton of Richard III reveal the medieval monarch had a taste for rich foods such as peacock, heron and swan, and that his liking for the finer things in life — including wine — increased significantly after he became the king of England.”

THE NEW YORK TIMES: Richard III’s Rich Diet of Fish and Exotic Birds By Douglas Quenqua – “A chemical analysis of the teeth and bones of King Richard III reveals that his diet was decadent even by standards of medieval royalty. During his two-year reign, 1483 to ’85, Richard III feasted on expensive freshwater fish and such exotic birds as swan, crane and heron, the study said. And he was consuming vast quantities of wine.”

THE WASHINGTON POST: Richard III, the hunchbacked king who lived in the 15th century, liked his liquor. By Nancy Szokan. “Richard III, the English monarch memorably depicted by Shakespeare as a ‘poisonous bunch-back’d toad’ who murdered children to clear his way to the throne, has a new attribute to add to his reputation: a heavy-drinking glutton.”

From these excerpts, one can almost literally see the machinery of the “yellow press” shifting into its overdrive gear. We go from Richard III living like a king of England, to one who was “decadent even by the standards of medieval royalty” to a “heavy-drinking glutton”, with the added reminder of Shakespeare’s portrayal of him as a hunchbacked murderer of children. To be fair, all of these articles later neutralize these attention-grabbing headlines by saying that Richard III’s lifestyle was no different from those who occupied the throne before him. Kings of England lived … in luxury. And why? Because it was an expression of the nation’s power and wealth and it sent a message not just to other countries, but also to the common people. When Henry VI was released from the Tower during his brief readeption in 1470, he was dressed in an old blue gown, one he’d worn on many prior occasions. The display of a middle-aged man, on horseback wearing an old gown, perhaps glancing around a little confusedly, did not serve to rouse up the common people behind his monarchy.

By the way, there is no foundation to support the statements that Richard III was more decadent than his predecessors, or that he was a glutton or alcoholic. Since there have never been comparable studies done on skeletons of other English kings, no one can say how Richard III measured up to his colleagues in terms of gluttony or alcohol consumption. So it has to be said these conclusions are concoctions of the journalists’ imaginations. Furthermore, the original article published in The Journal of Archaeological Science, the very article they are reporting about, goes out of its way to put the findings into context. Here are the main highlights:

The Late Medieval diet of an aristocrat consisted of bread, ale, meat, fish, wine and spices with a strong correlation between wealth and the relative proportions of these, with more wine and spices and proportionally less ale and cereals with increasing wealth (Dyer, 1989). The wealthier you were the more variety of meat and fish you consumed. Reconstructing the dietary history of Richard III is unusual as on the one hand we know a fair amount about him as an individual and there are some court records describing the food types he was served. On the other hand, as an isolated skeleton, there are no contemporaneous animal bone samples and thus understanding Richard’s dietary history necessitates comparison with isotope data from other contemporaneous humans and their dietary sources. A variety of Late Medieval faunal material, largely from the east of England, is available (Müldner and Richards, 2005, Müldner and Richards, 2007b, Woolgar, 2001 and Hamilton and Thomas, 2012) and the isotope ratios are consistent with similar samples from southern England. These demonstrate that there does not seem to be a significant regional variation in faunal isotope data from the period and this adds confidence to our use of these data to aid our interpretations.


Taken as a whole, Richard’s δ13C and δ15N isotopes are within the higher trophic level area of data from the Late Medieval period (Müldner and Richards, 2007a, Müldner and Richards, 2005 and Müldner and Richards, 2007b) and compare favourably to contemporaneous aristocracy and the upper clergy, who as landowners had diets in-line with the wealthiest households. Müldner and Richards (2007a) analysed 155 rib samples from the Gilbertine Priory at Fishergate, York, which included some high-status burials (Fig. 2). The Fishergate group had significantly higher δ13C and δ15N values (mean −19.1 ± 0.6‰ and 12.8 ± 1.3‰ respectively) compared to other individuals from earlier time periods in the area, such as those from the rural population of Wharram Percy, Yorkshire (Fuller et al., 2003). The δ13C and δ15N values from Richard’s skeleton sit at the very top of the high-status Fishergate data set (Fig. 2). The widespread Late Medieval elevation in human bone δ13C and δ15N values is caused by a greater consumption of fish protein because of the observance of Christian fasting rituals. These rules required avoidance of ‘meat’, which was interpreted very specifically to mean terrestrial herbivores, allowing the consumption of a number of other animals, including fish (Barrett et al., 2004). This equated to around a third of the year where no meat could be eaten. This increased demand for fish led to the development of a British commercial fish trade, both marine and freshwater species were eaten, and also imported from Scandinavia. Fish was eaten from a stock of preserved fish (salted or dried) and fresh fish for the richer households, such as herrings, flat-fish, shell-fish and even porpoises and other marine mammals which were permitted on fast days (Dyer, 1989). Cheaper marine fish, such as herrings, were regularly available to the poor whereas the wealthy, such as Richard III, would have eaten more expensive freshwater species such as pike (Woolgar, 2001 and Serjeantson and Woolgar, 2006), although it is not possible to distinguish marine and freshwater fish intake from the average bone isotope values.



Could we expect Richard to experience a significant lifestyle change when he was crowned King? His time as King (two years and two months) will be represented by a higher proportion in his rib bone whereas his femur averages at least the last 10–15 years of his life and hence will be dominated by pre-kingship adulthood and will include late adolescence. Using the criteria outlined by Chenery et al. (2014), in the last few years of his life there is a significant (>±0.4‰) increase in δ15N (+1.4‰) from the femur to the rib but no significant (>±0.5‰) change in the δ13C values (−0.1‰) (Table 1). If this change does record a dietary effect, it suggests increased consumption of high trophic level, terrestrial foods, such as freshwater fish and wildfowl (Müldner and Richards, 2007b); both common delicacies of the privileged (Albarella and Thomas, 2002). The social elite during the 15th Century had diets rich in protein, the amount and variety of which increased in proportion to status (Dyer, 1989). Game birds (swans, herons, pheasants etc.) were exempt from the meat-fasting laws and were relatively expensive to acquire. Like game, freshwater fish was often caught on estates with the larger species sought after as a status symbol of the very rich with demand necessitating royal fishponds to be maintained for the purpose. Wildfowl was very commonly seen at the aristocratic banquet and records from Richard’s 1483 Coronation banquet include cygnet, crane, heron and egret, amongst others (Sutton and Hammond, 1983). Eating wild birds was clearly a mark of standing and increased in popularity through the Late Medieval period leading to some species management (swanneries, heronries and dovecots) (Woolgar, 2001 and Albarella and Thomas, 2002). The shift to an increased proportion of freshwater fish and wildfowl in the latter part of his life corresponds to an increase in these “luxury foods” in the last 2–5 years of his life (ie while he was King) relative to the average last 10 years of his life.



The correlation of the increase in rib bone δ18O with an increase in δ15N (rich foods) from the same bone raises another possibility; that he had a change in his fluid composition related to his diet. Wine was certainly a staple only for the very wealthy. For example, it constituted 21% of food expenditure by the Duke of Buckingham’s estate in 1452–1453 (Dyer, 1989). Wine was commonly imported from Gascony, northern France and the Rhineland and during the 15th century, sweet wines from the Mediterranean region became increasingly popular (e.g. Malmsey, from Madeira) (Dyer, 1989). As wine is made from grape juice rather than water, there is a significant δ18O water fractionation in the vine. We do not have access to medieval wine to analyse, so in order to determine the likely range of δ18O values we analysed four modern French wines (Table 3) which give an average δ18O value of +2.7 ± 0.9‰ (1SD, n = 4) and these are in line with the large database of modern Italian wines, produced between 2000 and 2010, which range in δ18O composition between −1.3 and +8.9‰ (n = 4,000, 95%) ( Dordevic et al., 2013). A simple mixing equation model constructed between drinking water typical of eastern England (−8‰) and the French wine average value (+2.7‰) suggests that Richard’s δ18ODW value of −5.2‰ could be achieved by deriving 26% of his oxygen from wine, and the rest from local water. It should be noted that in converting phosphate oxygen data to drinking water values results in considerable uncertainty: 1‰–3.5‰ as discussed in Pollard et al. (2011). However, there is still a significant increase in the raw δ18Op values between the femur and rib that requires explanation. Uncertainty about rib turnover rates and the drinking water conversion means that this value is a crude approximation, however it does serve to give some sense of the possible quantities of wine involved. This contrasts with the δ18Op composition of his femur, which predominantly represents the time before he was King, and gives a local δ18ODW equivalent value of −8.2‰, typical of eastern England groundwater values.


Should we expect to see a significant change in diet when Richard was crowned King? Evidence remaining from coronation banquets throughout the Medieval period suggests that during the 15th Century, the coronation banquet was on average 25% larger in size than previous centuries and Richard III’s banquet was noted for being particularly long and elaborate (Sutton and Hammond, 1983). As Richard’s reign was short, such excesses are likely to have persisted and following his coronation in 1483, Richard went on Royal progress, during which he is likely to have been treated to elaborate banquets at each accommodating household. Thus it is not unexpected that his consumption of wine and rich foods increased over the last few years of his life.

In conclusion, the picture that emerges is not one of a hunchbacked king whose ambition also consumed his desire for all the trappings of luxury. He was simply a late-15th century monarch, living the life that was expected of him.

(For those who wish to peruse the entire article, here is the link:

Henry “Tudor” is With Us Still

by Merlyn MacLeod

“Commons refers to the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as air, water, and a habitable earth. These resources are held in common, not owned privately. The resources held in common can include everything from natural resources and common land to software. The commons contains public property and private property, over which people have certain traditional rights. When commonly held property is transformed into private property this process alternatively is termed ‘enclosure’ or more commonly, ‘privatization.’”

~First paragraph of the Wikipedia entry on “Commons

“The first recorded written complaint against enclosure was made by a Warwickshire priest, John Rous, in his History of the Kings of England, published around 1459-86. The first complaint by a celebrity (and 500 years later it remains the most celebrated denunciation of enclosure) was by Thomas More in Utopia.”

~Simon Farlie in “A Short History of Enclosure in Britain”

Harry, What Are You Doing In My Movie?

The avaricious “Tudors” intruded on the medieval world, and continue intruding on the current world, in unexpected places.

I was recently watching a film called “The Corporation” and was startled to hear Jeremy Rifkin, president of the Foundation of Economic Trends, make this stark statement:

“We can really begin to take a look at the emergence of the modern age with the enclosure movements of the great European commons in the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth century. Medieval life, was a collectively lived life. It was a brutish, nasty affair. But there was a collective responsibility.

“People belonged to the land; the land did not belong to people. And in this European world, people, farmed the land in a collective way, because they saw it as a commons. It belonged to God. And then it was administered by the Church, the aristocracy, and then the local manors, as stewards of God’s creation.

“Beginning with Tudor England, we began to see a phenomenon emerge, and that is the enclosure of the great commons by parliamentary acts in England, and then in Europe. And so, first we began to take the great land masses of the world which were commons and shared, and we reduced those to private property. Then we went after the oceans, the great oceanic commons, and we created laws and regulations that would allow countries to claim a certain amount of water outside their coastal limits for exploitation.

“In this century we went after the air, and we divided it into air corridors that could be bought and sold for commercial traffic for airplanes. And then of course the rest is history” [1]

If Rifkin was right, and the “Tudors” began the enclosures through Parliamentary acts, I found myself wondering what Richard III’s attitude was toward overmighty subjects who attempted to use the commons for their own, exclusive purposes. Had he ever defended the rights of the commons?

John Rous said Richard had – at least while the King was alive. In his first, English version of the History of the Earls of Warwick (aka The Rous Roll circa 1483) Rous praised Richard. In his second, Latin version (aka The Rewritten Rous Roll circa 1485), Rous was writing as an old man desperately needing to suck up to Henry “Tudor” to preserve royal favor in hopes of also preserving his easy clerical life. So in the Latin version, Rous vilified Richard. These are the lines Rous deliberately deleted in the Latin version:


TRANSLATION: “The most mighty prince Richard (by the grace of god King of England and of France and Lord of Ireland, by very [i.e., real] matrimony without discontinuance or any defiling in the law, by [a] male heir lineally descending from King Henry II) all avarice set aside [and] ruled his subjects in his Realm full commendably, punishing offenders of his laws – especially extortionists and oppressors of his commons – and cherishing those that were virtuous, by the which discreet guiding he got great thanks of God and love of all his subjects rich and poor, and great love of the people of all other lands about him.”[2] (My bold)

In his Richard III, Professor Charles Ross argues that Rous only “praised Richard along precisely the same lines as Richard himself tried to project a public image” as king, but there is contemporary historical evidence that Richard’s consideration of the rights of the commons began long before Edward V’s Royal Council petitioned Richard to take the throne.[3]

Fishes and Dukes, Dominoes and Kings

In the fall of 1477, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was in London. Five years before, Edward IV had granted the Earl of Warwick’s estates at Middleham to his little brother. Since June of 1477, Edward IV kept his other brother, George, Duke of Clarence, locked in the Tower, awaiting trial on charges of treason; George had only three more months to live.

At the same time, the corporation of York was trying to remove a fishgarth called Goldale Garth from the river Aire. The problem was that the fishgarth belonged to the Crown lands of the Duchy of Lancaster.

So what was a fishgarth, and why was it a problem?

Here’s where the dominoes come in because individual lives in the medieval world were often intimately connected with other lives. Like a line of closely placed dominoes, one piece often couldn’t be moved without its affecting – or even knocking down – other pieces. Meaning, the actions of a single medieval lord could affect a lot of people beneath him, and not always for the better.

Fishgarths were dams formed by a system of nets and wicker “chambers” that were placed in a river to trap fish and eels. They were particularly effective in catching salmon as they attempted to migrate from the ocean and into the rivers, traveling upstream to spawn. Also known as weirs, fishgarths interfered with river navigation and severely reduced the number of fish that commoners could catch by hook and line. They were an ongoing problem before the Magna Carta was written in 1215, and that document includes a clause from the barons demanding, “All fish-weirs shall be removed from the Thames, the Medway, and throughout the whole of England, except on the sea coast.”[4]

In Richard’s time, fishgarths were constructed by underlings who served the lords, abbots and bishops who were powerful enough to ignore the longstanding laws limiting the size and number of fishgarths. They were still a problem in 1861, when Parliament banned them entirely except wherever someone could prove that a particular fishgarth had been in use prior to the Magna Carta.

Rich or poor, medieval Christians didn’t eat meat (defined by the early church as the flesh of warmblooded animals) on Wednesdays, Fridays, during Advent and Lent, or on other holy days. Fish are coldblooded, so they didn’t count as meat. Hence, King Edward IV and his nobles liked to see messes of tasty fish and eel on their tables on meatless days. So did everyone else, from mighty lords of castle and manors, to the bishops and abbots living in palaces, monasteries and friaries, on down to the lowly commoner out on the bank of his local river, fishing with great hopes attached to his measly line and rough-bent, rusted hook.

So in the fall of 1477, the dominoes are placed thus: we have the city of York failing in their efforts to get the uppity men in the employ of the Duchy of Lancaster to remove an entirely illegal fishgarth on the river Aire. Said Duchy, uppity men, and fishgarth all fall under Edward IV’s proprietorship. We also have a statute passed during the reign of King Edward III to remove fishgarths from English rivers, which statute had been reaffirmed by Edward IV in 1472.[5] And we have Richard in London with his brother the King. Both men are extremely busy with Great Matters of State and Consequence, not the least of which is worrying over brother George’s fate.

Another domino is Richard’s prior involvement with the pesky fishgarths of Yorkshire. According to the municipal records of the city of York, in March 1476 the corporation of York had previously sought and obtained the duke’s “gracious aid and assistance” regarding the removal of weirs on the rivers “Ouse, Wharle, Eyre, Donne, Niddle, Yore, Swales, Derwent, and Humbre.”[6]

At the time, Richard himself was the knowing or unknowing proprietor of fishgarths at Hook, on the river Ouse. Upon receiving York’s letter, Richard had sent “his full honourable letters unto his bailees and tenants,” ordering them to remove whatever garths were on the rivers in the Duke’s lands.

With Richard’s help assured, the corporation of York then fearlessly wrote to William Dudley, Bishop of Durham regarding the fishgarths he owned at Howdenshire on the river Derwent. Their letter freely invoked the Duke of Gloucester’s request that the said weirs be “removed, taken up and withdrawn.”

Eighteen months later, in the fall of 1477, York was still chasing fishgarths, and they wrote to inform the council of the Duchy of Lancaster that Goldale Garth needed to go. The council’s response isn’t recorded, but it must have been less than satisfactory because York’s next move was to write to King Edward IV himself. Via the same messenger, they sent a letter to Richard at London, basically asking him to help them remove the blasted fishgarths, “as yet standing in certain waters” – weirs including the King’s own Goldale Garth.

Another man might have ignored York’s request. What, after all, are a few wicker baskets in the water when you’re the brother of the king? What, after all, are a few flopping salmon when you are the king? They’re nothing to any medieval man in power, unless that man has compassion enough to understand what fish meant to the commons: an equal opportunity with the wealthy to fill your belly and your family’s bellies after spending a few pleasant hours on the riverbank, and comply with God’s holy law.

So what exactly did the high and mighty Richard, Duke of Gloucester do with York’s plea, even as he was buried in meetings and worried about the fate of his brother?

Don’t Tell Me Who Richard Was: Tell Me What He Did, and That Will Tell Me Who He Was

  • He mentioned the Matter of Goldale Garth to his brother the king – who was ultimately responsible for that particular fishgarth, as Richard had been responsible for the ones on the rivers in his jurisdiction.
  • He was willing to do “any other thing” to help York as well, and he put his personal signet to the letter saying so.
  • He accepted the King’s orders to personally make sure all illegal weirs were pulled down. This was to be accomplished, not at Richard’s leisure, but at his next homecoming.
  • Immediately after returning to Middleham after Clarence’s execution in Febrary of 1478, Richard received a delegation from York to confer about the weirs.
  •  He suggested the delegation also meet with the Earl of Northumberland, and the delegation did so.
  • He appointed three representatives: Sir William Redeman, Lord Hastings’ brother Ralph, and the escheator of the chamber of York and organized a complex and thorough investigation of the fishgarths.
  • He had Northumberland appoint two representatives to the investigation.
  • He had the Mayor and Aldermen of York, and twenty-four attendants, take four days and nights to survey, on horseback and by boat, the fishgarths in the rivers Ouse, Aire, and Warfe, at a cost to York of £19 4s. 3d.

Relief didn’t come immediately after the investigation, but by 1479 the commons’ discontentment had eased because the city of York and the Duke of Gloucester had continued working together for months to continue removing fishgarths.

Does Your Grace the Bishop Intend to Confess Your Greed Before Easter is Upon Us?  

Of course the greedy lords rebuilt their weirs on the sly because their desire didn’t cease for salmon and eels far beyond their fair share, so the problem kept recurring. Even as King, in 1484, Richard had to authorize yet another commission to pull out all freshwater fishgarths located within the county of York. It would take another 377 years and an act of Parliament to permanently remove the weirs, but the historical record reveals that Richard tried repeatedly over many months to gain equal access for commoners to local fishstocks.

All of Your Trees Belong to You. Except the Ones I Want for Elizabeth & Me

“Edward IV himself used Woodstock as an occasional residence, and was often at Langley in Wychwood Forest, for the purpose of hunting…

“It is said that in the glades of Wychwood Forest Edward first saw Elizabeth Woodville. The King was hunting, and the beautiful woman flung herself at his feet with entreaties that he would restore her children’s heritage. So runs the story, and one can well imagine such a scene taking place in some of those wild woodland glades of ancient timber, which still remain in isolated beauty at Fairspear and other points in the old forest domain.”

~From A History of Oxfordshire, by J. Meade Falkner, Elliot Stock, London, 1899

In his Life and Reign of Richard III, James Gairdner wrote that on his progression after being made king, Richard III went from Oxford to Woodstock where, in answer to a petition from citizens living in the adjoining district, he returned to the commons a considerable tract of land that Edward IV had “arbitrarily, and for his own pleasure, annexed to Whichwood Forest. The act was remembered to his credit after he was gone, even by one who did not love his memory.”[7]

The writer Gairdner was referring to was John Rous, who wrote in his Historia Regnum Angliae:

“…The king [Richard] then removed to Oxford, and to Woodstock, where by popular request he disafforested a great area of the country which King Edward IV his brother had annexed and incorporated in the forest of Wychwood under forest law, against conscience and to the public damage….”[8]

So what big brother took away, little brother restored, not only because he could, but perhaps also because it was the right thing to do.

When, Exactly, Did Those Nasty Enclosures Begin, and Who Started Them?

Susan Troxell pointed out something during a discussion of garths among friends here at Murrey and Blue:

“The most successful garths would have been built in rivers surrounded by a wealthy person’s lands. The steward of the manor lord would ensure the garths weren’t destroyed – not something that a commoner could protect.

“I believe the fish garths were constructed by the gentry class in order to maximize their riparian rights, with complete disregard for the loss downstream. The matter must have been important enough because Richard was called in as Duke to intervene in this situation. If it had been mere riffraff building them, the sheriff could have handled the issue on his own.”

So we see that England’s enclosures began long before Henry “Tudor” and his French mercenaries invaded England, and Richard’s efforts were ongoing to push back against at least two methods of enclosure, which might be summarized as, “All of the fish do not belong to the greedy landlords among us,” and “All of the trees adjoining Wychwood Forest no longer belong to the Crown.”

These pushbacks in favor of the commons, which we know occurred over a six-year expanse, were likely accompanied by many more pushbacks on behalf of individual commoners who sought Richard’s help, when he went about dispensing justice in the North for over a decade. We also have it from his own mouth that he was determined to see justice done after he became king, for in his address to Westminster on 26 June, 1483 (Richard began his reign this day; he was crowned on 6 July 1483), Richard stated clearly that his officers and representatives should “…justly and duly administer the laws without delay or favor, [dispensing justice] indifferently to every person, as well as to poor as to rich”.

In 1607, Sir William Cornwallis wrote an essay in defense of Richard III and said, “His statutes are extent; what can be found in them not becoming a king? What, not befitting the service of God? The worship of religion? The good of his country? (Yea,I have heard of some, accounted both good lawyers and good statists, that in those three years of his government, there were more good statutes for the public weal enacted, than in thirty years before). He was no taxer of the people, no oppressor of the commons (though he came to manage an estate whose treasure was exceedingly exhausted); no suppressor of his subjects, to satisfy either licentious humors, or to enrich light-headed flatterers…”[9]

As an aside, something of interest in relation to the 1810 printing of Cornwallis’ essay in Sir Walter Scott’s A Collection of Scarce and Valuable Tracts (cited in the references below) is a comment inserted by either Sir Walter Scott or his co-editor, Lord John Somers, at the end of their brief introduction of Cornwallis. One of them wrote, “The prejudice which we imbibe against Richard, in our poetical studies, is too deep to be erased, even by proof of its injustice.”

England’s enclosures began with a series of…little things…over decades, so that the commons could scarcely protest what was being lost. Little things were taken away, as a handful of wealthier members of late-medieval society wanted the bulk of resources for themselves that were meant to be used by everyone.

So Jeremy Rifkin is right that the enclosures through Parliamentary acts  began with Henry “Tudor.” But the enclosures began before the “Tudor” came on the scene. What he did was to make an illegal thing legal…through Parliament. And so the enclosures expanded exponentially under Henry “Tudor” and his get so that this not-of-royal blood, illegitimate, unworthy, greedy family and the nobles who supported them could snatch a large portion of England’s resources for their own, exclusive use…and the protests, such as the ones the corporation of York voiced…were silenced on pain of death, or worse.

It might be prudent for us to note that the enclosure of the commons continues today. As we and our children watch Henry “Tudor’s” historical legacy of avarice expand even more over the next few decades in the form of blatant exploitation of the Arctic and Antarctica, the Moon and Mars – and beyond, into infinity – we might do well to consider where and with whom the enclosures began. We might also do well to remember the last Plantagenet who fought for years against such greed.


There are many other instances of Richard helping those below him on the medieval social scale, likely to the bewilderment of the bishops, many of the gentry, and definitely the nobility. The scope of this article is too narrow to discuss those instances, but many historical citations can be found in brief here.

As I was finishing this article, my subconscious came up with a bit of remembered pop-culture dialogue that could be directed not only at Henry “Tudor”, but also at all the greedy elite who have continued over the centuries to enclose the commons of this world.

Years before George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones” became popular, there was a strange and wonderful television series called “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Its creator, writer and director, Joss Whedon, spent much of his childhood growing up in England.

I’d like to share with you the words Joss wrote for a character called Anya — a former justice demon who had traveled the world for centuries, exacting vengeance on behalf of victims as varied as wronged and scorned women, dying humans, and neglected/abused children. In the world Joss built, Anya would have exacted vengeance on the “Tudor”, not on King Richard III. And this is what she would have thought of “Tudor” and the greedy ones who came after him.

ANYA: You really do think you’re better than we are. But we don’t know if you’re actually better. I mean, you came into the world with certain advantages, sure. I mean, that’s the legacy. But you didn’t earn it. You didn’t work for it. You’ve never had anybody come up to you and say that you deserve these things more than anyone else. They were just handed to you. So that doesn’t make you better than us. It makes you luckier than us.

~Joss Whedon, Buffy the Vampire Slayer — “Empty Places”

I think this may also be what Richard understood. A realization like this, made while he was in exile in Flanders and no longer “special” in the eyes of anyone, may have been at the root of his obvious compassion and why – in the short time he held the power to make a difference as duke and as king – he tried so hard to take care of the commons, and the commoners.

It may also be part of why, in the end, members of the avaricious elite betrayed him at Bosworth.


[1] The official website for “The Corporation” is here. For general information on the film, go here. The producers have made the movie freely available for viewing or download here. You can see Jeremy Rifkin interviewed in the film or read his words in Part One of the film’s transcript (page 19, under “Boundary Issues”). The transcript is available for download in two parts on the official website; look under the Resources Tab/“Transcripts and Extras” here. If you’d like more information on Mr. Rifkin and his professional credentials, go here.

[2] The English version of John Rous’s illustrated History of the Earls of Warwick is British Library Additional MS 48976. It was published in 1859 by H.G. Bohn as The Rows Roll with an introduction by W. Courthope. This 1859 edition is available online for download in a variety of versions (some with the original illustrations) at Open Libary here. Many thanks to the collectives writers of Murrey and Blue for their “modern translation by committee” of Rous’s words.

[3] Charles Ross, Richard III, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1981, p.xxii.

[4] For more information on fishgarths in general, see this article on fishing weirs. For more information specifically on the fishgarths of York, see Paul Murray Kendall’s Richard III, W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1996, pgs. 157-58.

[5] Editor A. Lulders et. al., Statutes of the Realm, Volume 2, London, 1810-28, pp. 439-42.

[6] Robert Davies, Extracts from the Municipal Records of the City of York during the reigns of Edward IV, Edward V and Richard III with Notes illustrative and explanatory, J. B. Nichols & Son, 1843, pp. 84-91. (Available for free download at Google Books here.)

[7] James Gairdner, The Life & Reign of Richard III, Longmans, Green & Co., London, 1879, p. 143.

[8] John Rous, Historia Regum Angliae, J. Fletcher & J. Pote, Oxford, 1745, p. 216.

[9] Sir William Cornwallis, “The Praise of King Richard III,” essay written in 1617 and published in A Collection of Scarce & Valuable Tracts, on the Most Interesting and Entertaining Subjects: Reign of James I, edited by Sir Walter Scott and Lord John Somers, published London, 1810, pgs 316-328. The quote used above is on page 321 of this edition, which is available free from Google Books here. Cornwallis’ essay has also been edited by A.N. Kincaid and published under The Encomium of Richard III, Turner & Devereaux, London, 1977. The quote used above appears on page 14 of that edition.


Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: