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Archive for the month “Feb, 2018”

A visual and literary appreciation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, by Simon Armitage….

lud's church, staffs

 Most people, even if they haven’t read/tried to read, the ancient British poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, will at least know the opening scene. It’s Christmas at Camelot, and King Arthur and his knights are enjoying themselves, feasting and celebrating, when into the hall rides a huge knight who carries a sprig of holly. He is normal enough in every aspect, except for his gigantic size and the fact that he and his horse are emerald-green from head to toe/hoof. He challenges anyone to decapitate him, and Gawain steps up to the challenge. Swinging his sword, he lops the giant’s head, which rolls across the floor. The knights, being rather sozzled, kick it around…until, to their horror, the Green Knight’s body rises and comes across the pick up its head, which it puts back in place on its neck. Then he utters a solemn challenge to Gawain that twelve months hence, he, Gawain, is to find the Green Knight, who will return the decapitating favour. Chivalry demands that Gawain accepts the challenge, and the gist of the long poem that follows covers his journey to find the Green Knight’s lair.

This 600+-years-old alliterative work, written around 1400, is one of the jewels in the crown of British poetry. Originally it had no title, but over the centuries acquired the one we all know now. Alliteration is one of the hallmarks of English poetry, and Simon Armitage, who has written his own updated version of the poem, not only recognises the importance of this “tool”, but incorporates it into his work. Thus his chosen words are in the narrative of the amazing BBC4 documentary which goes by the same title as the poem itself. I have just watched it on BBC iPlayer, and do not know if it is available elsewhere, but if you can watch it, I hope you do.

The film is beautifully filmed during a very soggy English winter, and endeavours to follow the route of Gawain’s quest for the Green Knight. It is full of nature and the scenery, introducing ancient British legends and creatures long gone from our shores. We are reminded, visually, of how very lovely and unique the land is in which modern man still lives. Gawain is a devout Christian in a world filled with the supernatural. He encounters wild men called wodwose, trolls, giants, bears…and the occasional boar. And a very sexy lady who leads him from the straight and narrow into a curtained bed, where she has her evil way with him.

There are some fine set pieces in the film, especially a sequence filmed at Haddon Hall in Derbyshire. A wonderful array of authentic medieval food is laid out on a white-clothed trestle table in the hall, with greenery adorning windows, tables and furniture. A large fire flickers and crackles in the hearth, and it is so atmospheric that it captures and holds the attention , lingering long after Gawain has moved on.

The story reaches its climax (it is thought) at Lud’s Church in Staffordshire (see illustration above). The soggy English winter is relentless, and just before this there are scenes higher on the Peaks, where clouds clings to the summit, and figures and scenery are misty shapes.

Be warned that the film is a bit gory when it comes to killing, gutting and skinning a pig, but that was the only part where I had to look away. There is an excellent soundtrack of eerie, otherworldly songs and music. The whole adds up to a staggeringly beautiful documentary, showing how close to paganism medieval Christians actually were. I thoroughly recommend it, especially if you need to be reminded that Britain is unique and can offer far, far more than most of the world. Well, in my opinion. I adore my homeland in all its seasons, and am proud to be part of it.

I mentioned earlier that poet Simon Armitage has written his own version of this ancient poem, complete with updated language and the very necessary alliteration. I have ordered it, because I know, from this documentary, that it must be well worth reading. Thank you, Simon and the BBC for an hour of pure enjoyment and beauty.

Postscript:

I have now received and delved through Simon Armitage’s updated version of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and it has lived up to my hopes. Of course, there have been other such updates, but in my opinion they do not compare. As for the original in Middle English, well, it’s beyond me completely. The following describes the startling arrival of the Green Knight at the Christmas feast in Camelot.:-

An oþer noyse ful newe neȝed biliue,
Þat þe lude myȝt haf leue liflode to cach;
For vneþe watz þe noyce not a whyle sesed,
And þe fyrst cource in þe court kyndely serued,
Þer hales in at þe halle dor an aghlich mayster,
On þe most on þe molde on mesure hyghe;
Fro þe swyre to þe swange so sware and so þik,
And his lyndes and his lymes so longe and so grete, [folio 93r]
Half etayn in erde I hope þat he were,
Bot mon most I algate mynn hym to bene,
And þat þe myriest in his muckel þat myȝt ride;
For of bak and of brest al were his bodi sturne,
Both his wombe and his wast were worthily smale,
And alle his fetures folȝande, in forme þat he hade,
ful clene;
For wonder of his hwe men hade,
Set in his semblaunt sene;
He ferde as freke were fade,
And oueral enker-grene.

Hmm, yes. Totally beyond me. Whereas the same passage from Simon Armitage’s book brings it all wonderfully to life for my modern self:-

Because another sound, a new sound, suddenly drew near,
which might signal the king to sample his supper,
for barely had the horns finished blowing their breath
and with starters just spooned to the seated guests,
a fearful form appeared, framed in the door:
a mountain of a man, immeasurably high,
a hulk of a human from head to hips,
so long and thick in his loins and limbs
I should genuinely judge him to be a half-giant,
or a massive man, the mightiest of mortals.
But handsome too, like any horseman worth his horse,
for despite the bulk and brawn of his body
his stomach and waist were slender and sleek.
In fact in all features he was finely formed
                    it seemed.
          Amazement seized their minds,
         no soul had ever seen…
         a knight of such a kind –
         entirely emerald green….

So yes, I do recommend this book. Read and enjoy.

Armitage - Gawain

Available in hardback, paperback, kindle and audio.

 

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The Legendary Ten Seconds again

They will be performing at Coleridge Church on 5th March and for the Devon and Cornwall Branch of the Richard III Society on 26th May. Read more here

Playwrights and persistent historical myths

Today in 1564, Christopher Marlowe (right) was baptised in Canterbury.

One of the plays for which he is most famous is

 

 

 

Edward II (left), traditionally dated a year before his own 1593 death. In it, he fuels the myth of Edward meeting his end by a red-hot poker. This is cited by Starkey in his (Channel Four series) Monarchy, who called Edward’s rear his “fundament”, showing again why he should not roam from his Tudor” area of expertise.

 

 

Marlowe’s legacy of influence in this is obviously less than Shakespeare’s with regard to Richard III, but the parallels are

obvious. In quoting earlier “historians”, Shakespeare transferred the kyphosis of another contemporary figure to Richard, which some naive people still believe, whilst Richard’s disinterment demonstrated him to suffer from scoliosis instead. Indeed, the Starkey acolyte Dan Jones seems untroubled by the facts in either case.

 

 

The accounts for the Duchy of Cornwall, ordered by Richard III in June 1483….

1483 duchy of cornwall accounts

“The accounts for the Duchy of Cornwall for 1483 – a momentous year in English history – are to be sold at Bonhams Fine Books and Manuscripts Sale in London on 21 March. They are estimated at £4,000-6,000.

“The records were taken to Bonhams offices in Exeter for valuation, having been bought as part of a job lot at a local auction in Devon. They were drawn up on the orders of Richard III who came to the English throne in June 1483. His brother Edward IV had died earlier that year, and Richard had been appointed Protector to his 12 year old nephew, who succeeded his father as Edward V.  When Edward V was denounced as the product of an unlawful marriage, he was stripped of the crown and Richard declared the legitimate king in his place.  Edward and his brother Richard were imprisoned in the Tower of London, where they were later famously murdered, traditionally on the orders of Richard III.”*

“The Duchy of Cornwall was created by Edward III in 1337, specifically to produce an income for the heir to the throne.  It covered, and still covers, areas outside Cornwall -mainly in Devon, including Plympton, Tavistock and Exeter. The accounts for sale are for the period Michaelmas, 22nd year of Edward IV’s reign to Michaelmas, the first year of Richard III’s year i.e. 29 September 1482-29 September 1483. During this time, the position of Duke of Cornwall was held by the future Edward V, and then by Richard III’s son Edward (who died the following year at the age of 10).”

“The records are highly detailed, showing totals for rents, sales and court receipts for each manor within the Duchy, with the names of the bailiffs or reeves. The receipts for tin mines were particularly valuable.  By this period, the profits from the Duchy were worth around £500 a year. By contrast, the annual average wage of a labourer was then about £2.00.

“Bonhams valuer in Exeter, Sam Tuke, said, ‘It is always exciting to come across something so special. The accounts are particularly interesting because they include details of properties in Devon as well as in Cornwall itself. They are of course, written in mediaeval Latin, but our specialists were able to decipher the text, and reveal their true value.’”

* Traditionally usually means “according to Tudor propaganda” and should not be believed in this case. It is not known what happened to the boys in the Tower, but to lay the blame solely at Richard III’s feet is naïve. If he was in the business of murdering his brothers’ children, there were many others he would have disposed of as well. On the other hand, there were people who would have benefited from the boys’ deaths, including Henry VII, Margaret Beaufort and the Duke of Buckingham. Henry certainly didn’t want them around when he had to make Elizabeth of York legitimate in order to marry her. So forget Richard in this matter, and look to his enemies.

 

Postscript: Here is a link to a further article about these accounts. It contains much more information about the discovery. Just look away when you reach that word “hunchback”!

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/02/27/medieval-accounts-richard-iiis-rule-found-among-job-lot-1930s/

 

Horrox on the de la Poles

Two weeks after visiting Wingfield , I attended a “Wuffing Education” Study Day at Sutton Hoo, addressed by Rosemary Horrox on the de la Pole family. This juxtaposition of dates was entirely beneficial as their genealogy and history was fresh in my mind so it was easy to follow Horrox’s train of thought.

She covered the family’s commercial origins in Hull as two of three brothers, whose father’s forename is still unknown, left the city to enter the national scene, lending money to the King. Although Richard was probably William’s elder brother, their paths diverged as he sought a less acquisitive strategy and his male line descendants are less famous, expiring three generations later. William’s family is better known but trod a far more perilous path, particularly in royal moneylending. His son, Michael, served the Black Prince and John of Gaunt, being created Earl of Suffolk and marrying Katherine Wingfield before falling foul of Richard II and dying in exile in the year of that King’s deposition. We were also shown some accounts from shortly after this time, relating to the second Earl’s children and their education. The first Earl’s successors, a son and a grandson both also named Michael, died on the 1415 French expedition, one of disease after the siege of Harfleur and the other at Azincourt soon afterwards. The younger of these left no sons and was succeeded by his brother, William, whose career, elevation to the Dukedom of Suffolk and end aboard the Nicolas of the Tower is a familiar story to most of us. Then we have John, brother-in-law to Edward IV and Richard III, both of whom he outlived – incidentally, Horrox does not believe that he actually married Margaret “Beaufort” as a child.
Between them, John de la Pole’s ten or so children lost his position completely and appear to have had only one child, a nun who died of the plague in about 1515. Horrox’s genealogical handouts detail the lack of alternative male lines in great detail, such that the “Marguerite de la Pole – Suffolk” who married in France during spring 1539 could have had no father by that surname save for Lord Richard or a cousin at least twice removed. Even if we had some of her DNA from somewhere, a father-daughter relationship would be the most difficult to prove – impossible as today’s scientific knowledge stands.

I cannot recall enjoying a history talk as much as this since one by Ashdown-Hill nearly fifteen years ago or Michael K. Jones a few times in Norwich. I would recommend these Study Days to anyone when a particularly appealing topic arises: http://wuffingeducation.co.uk/studydays/ . The setting is outstanding and the Sutton Hoo café is two minutes from the hall, although transport from Melton station can be difficult.

Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire’s next door neighbour, has a lot to offer too….

Nottingham Castle

Leicester’s next door neighbour has something to offer too, including a connection with Richard. This is a good article...except for that stupid vertical band that descends through two of the excellent illustrations. If there’s a way of sending it packing, I didn’t find it.

 

Did the producers recognise him?

Here is a picture you may well have seen.

 

It shows, from Carry On Henry, Kenneth Williams as Thomas Cromwell, Lord Privy Seal to Henry VIII and briefly Earl of Essex.

In fact, Cromwell’s sister married one Thomas (or Morgan) Williams, although their descendants took the Cromwell surname.

Another royal murder mystery….!

King_James_I_of_Scotland_jpg-e1487678242974-536x372

King James I of Scotland

Well, it has to be said that Leicester has benefited immensely from the discovery and burial of Richard III, and his supposed “murder” of the boys in the Tower. Of which he was NOT guilty.

Anyway, maybe Perth can benefit too, because it has its own royal mystery. James I of Scotland died a very bloody, grubby death, his body being found with 28 knife wounds in a stinking tunnel. In 1437, he too was buried in a house of God, which was subsequently destroyed. Is he, like Richard, still waiting to be discovered?

If he’s found and reburied, I hope Perth will reap some reward. Maybe too, the truth of how he died, and who killed him, will be discovered as well.

Heading for a new record?

This is Richard Dunne, the player who has scored the most top flight own goals (ten in twenty seasons) since the beginning of the Premier League.

“David” is already challenging that total in a shorter time frame. Here are some of his career highlights:
1) Claiming that “Perkin” confessed his imposture to a Scottish Bishop, many years before that cleric was born.
2) Claiming that Henry VII was a senior Lancastrian, when he was junior to Richard III in that respect, being descended from a younger sister of Richard’s ancestress.
3) Claiming that the “Lincoln Roll” detailed Edward IV’s sons to have died as children, when it didn’t.
4) Claiming that Edward V and his siblings were legitimate because secret marriages were automatically illegal, except that his parents also “married” in secret. This part of the Fourth Lateran Council’s findings was frequently ignored – thankyou to Esther for locating it.
5) Claiming that Henry VII was Earl of Richmond from 1471-85, when the Complete Peerage shows him to have been under attainder.
6) Claiming that Catherine de Valois spoke in Parliament about her “marriage” to Owain Tudor after her death and centuries before any woman addressed an English or British Parliament.
7) Claimed that Henry VII’s supposed descent from Owain Glyn Dwr’s servant was as valid as Richard III’s descent from Llewellyn Fawr.
8) Claimed that “Perkin” directly accused Richard III of killing Edward V, whilst the transcript shows that he did not and had many uncles.

9) Claiming that Henry VI arranged Margaret Beaufort’s 1455 marriage to Edmund “Tudor” because there was no Lancastrian heir, even though his own apparent son had been born two whole years earlier.
10) Claiming that the “Lincoln Roll” was compiled for the eponymous Earl, who died in 1487, yet it frequently mentions much later dates.

While we are at it, we hereby confirm that we did not invent “David” to make counter-productive Aunt Sally comments. Does his Tardis need a service?

 

Prince Henry Stuart – the best king we never had….?

Henry, Prince of Wales 1594-1612

Henry, Prince of Wales 1594-1612

 

I have just watched a documentary (called The Best King We Never Had and presented by Paul Murton) about Prince Henry, the firstborn son of King James VI of Scotland, James I of England. James, the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, was already King of Scotland, when he succeeded Elizabeth I, and became the first King of a United Kingdom. He was a Protestant, as was his dazzling son, Henry, who was destined to succeed him.

At birth, or a very short while after, Henry had been taken from his mother, Queen Anne of Denmark. She was anguished by this, and it would be ten years before she saw him again for any length of time. Like his father before him, Henry was given into the care of John Erskine, Earl of Mar, keeper of Stirling. This enforced parting caused great rift between the king and queen. The reunion was to take place when James became Elizabeth’s heir, and the journey south to London was undertaken.

It was a time of religious strife, Protestants versus Catholics versus Puritans, and would include the great Gunpowder Plot that aimed to blow-up James and his Parliament. James was a Protestant, as was his son. Henry grew up a sophisticated, popular and talented young Renaissance prince, and the future boded well that he would be a good and effective king. But death was to claim him at the age of only eighteen, when he was taken by typhoid after swimming in the Thames in winter. Which meant that the succession passed to his younger brother, Charles, who was to be beheaded. But that is another story.

The loss of Prince Henry reminds me of the earlier loss of Prince Arthur, firstborn son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. What might these two princes have brought to their kingdom? Their departure from life meant their brothers inherited the crown instead. Henry VIII and Charles I were to prove awful in one way or another. (My personal opinion, I admit, and not necessarily yours as well.)

The documentary imparts a great deal of background information, among which is the wearing of 17th-century armour and fighting on foot. Paul Murton, the presenter, is got up in this armour to fight with an expert from the Royal Armouries. It was fascinating, and the thing that stood out for me was that afterward, Murton couldn’t wait for the helmet to be removed because it was so claustrophobic, Then he said more than once that the experience of wearing it and then fighting had made his ears ring.

This excellent programme was first shown on 30th November 2017, and is available on BBC iPlayer for fifteen days from the day of writing this, i.e. Boxing Day 2017. I don’t know if it can be seen anywhere else.

 

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