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Archive for the month “Dec, 2018”

The Regale of France ruby: from a French king to Becket’s tomb to Henry VIII….and then lost.

Becket's tomb as it was in medieval period

Whatever the truth about this amazing ruby, it must be (still is?) one heck of a precious stone. It belonged to a French king, and leapt from his ring to attach itself to the tomb of Thomas Becket, who was born 900 years ago today, in Canterbury. The ruby then ended up belonging to Henry VIII (who had it removed from the tomb and put in a thumb ring for himself). George IV then had Henry’s tomb opened up, in the belief the ruby would be inside, but it wasn’t. So where did it go?


Agnes Lancecrona and Robert de Vere

Robert de Vere (1362-1392) Earl of Oxford, found great favour with Richard II and was elevated first to the title of Marquess of Dublin and then in October 1386 to the dukedom of Ireland. This was the very first dukedom awarded outside the immediate royal family, and was, in effect, a “fingers up” to Richard’s many critics and opponents, the great majority of whom resented what they saw as the excessive influence de Vere had over the King.

Richard was often criticised at this time for the youth and low birth of his closest advisers, but really this was a canard. As will be seen from the bare facts of the matter, de Vere was neither young (by medieval standards) nor low born; indeed his was one of the oldest earldoms in the kingdom, albeit one of the least well endowed.

In addition, de Vere was married to the King’s first cousin, Philippa de Coucy, who was the daughter of the King’s late aunt, Isabel of England. Unfortunately, de Vere, for whatever reason, was not happy with Philippa, possibly because her inheritance had never been properly secured or perhaps for more personal reasons. At any rate, he decided to annul their marriage. This was seen as a great affront by the lady’s uncles, the dukes of York and Gloucester, who quite probably had concerns for the futures of their own daughters. The Duke of Lancaster would probably have been equally offended had he been in the country.

To make matters worse, de Vere proposed to replace Philippa with the Queen’s Czech (or possibly German) waiting-woman, Agnes Lancecrona. This was clearly a love match (at least on de Vere’s side) as Agnes had no money or land and no prospect of getting any. Agnes’ social status is obscure. One chronicler described her as the daughter of a saddler, another as a washerwoman, but she appears to have been a Lady of the Bedchamber, with the responsibility for caring for Queen Anne’s jewels. It is highly unlikely that the daughter of a saddler could have risen to such eminence, while the very idea of a washerwoman doubling up as a lady-in-waiting is too absurd to contemplate. Having said that, we really do not know who her parents were. To the English of the time, even more xenophobic than their descendants, it was probably bad enough that she was a foreigner and an immigrant.

It appears that de Vere, by giving false evidence to the Pope secured a dissolution of his marriage. He certainly gained possession of Agnes, but whether with her consent is less clear. Two of his retainers were later accused of abducting her and taking her to Chester, where de Vere was residing in the summer of 1387. They may or may not have undergone a form of marriage.

De Vere was defeated by his King’s enemies at the Battle of Radcot Bridge (20 December 1387) he fled abroad and was never able to return during his life. It is not clear whether Agnes followed him, or what happened to her. She simply disappears from the record. De Vere died in a hunting accident in 1392 before Richard could recall him.

In 1389 the dissolution of the marriage was revoked. Duchess Philippa seems never to have lost her status in practice, though for a time she was sheltered by de Vere’s rather formidable mother, who took Philippa’s side against her son. She had an annuity of 300 marks a year after her husband’s death, and was granted dower in 1398. She lived on until 1411, but chose to remain single.



War, English Delusion, and the effect on the Economy (3)

It is important to remember that medieval governments could not issue paper money. Ultimately, everything had to be paid for in hard cash, although it was commonplace for creditors to be made to wait, in some cases for a very long time.

The English royal government was not outstandingly rich. Its sources of income were (1) the royal estates. No king (or queen) ever made a good job of the running the estates. Partly because they were far too busy with other stuff. Moreover, in the middle ages there was no real tradition of “improvement” to estates. The usual assumption was that if a property was worth £5 in 1200 (or whenever) it was (or should be) still worth that now. (2) customs duties, especially tunnage and poundage. These duties were usually granted to the sovereign at the beginning of the reign, and if Parliament felt generous, for the term of the sovereign’s life. (3) feudal incidents, for example the money arising from wardship and marriage of heirs, the very occasional feudal aids, money that came from a bishop’s temporalities during a vacancy. This flow of income had many random aspects and some of the feudal dues were routinely evaded. (4) income from justice and other traditional payments. These would include forfeitures for treason and other serious crimes.

Taken together, these various cashflows just about covered royal expenditure in a time of peace. It should be borne in mind that they did not just pay for the king’s household and court, but for diplomacy, defence, justice and all the assorted departments of medieval government. They were quite inadequate for the prosecution of any but the most brief, small and profitable of wars.

If you wanted more, the options were to borrow – and borrowings had eventually to be paid back from revenue – or to secure a Parliamentary grant of additional taxation. These were normally based on a rather theoretical assessment of the cash value of a person’s goods, and usually came in a grant of a tenth (for towns) and a fifteenth (for everyone else.) Kings sometimes asked for two or three subsidies at once, but on the other hand Parliament not infrequently offered a half subsidy. The clergy made a similar payment via grants made by their Convocations. The clergy were just as awkward as Parliament when it suited them. Parliament would often ask for redress of grievances as a quid pro quo for any grant, and the king usually had to at least make a show of making concessions. If he was in a weak position politically, the concessions might be substantial.

(This post reblogged from The Yorkist Age.)


Mugging with Henry VIII

And for your Christmas feast, a mug fit for a King. Or maybe a mug for a mug… You can now wake yourself up with a splash of caffeine whilst gazing at Henry VIII’s portly charm and watching his unfortunate ‘wives’ (due to the marriages being annulled , he technically only had two wives, not six!) vanish from their places behind their lord and master.

Henry would have deemed such a mug a truly magical object–and  no doubt he would also have wished that  he could have ‘vanished’ his unwanted ‘wives’ with equal ease…MUG

Ancient Roman roads drove later development….

Roman road-building - WordPress

A friend in America sent me the following article, by Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post. Having just been researching the ancient route from Paris to Lyon, as it was in the late 14th century, I found it very interesting to think that the routes and places chosen by the Romans all those centuries ago, are still ruling us today.

“Ancient Roman roads drove later development 

“Prosperity begets prosperity: On a global level, economists and historians have shown that places that prospered 100, 500, even 1,000 years ago tend to be more economically developed today.

“But how? We’re less clear on the exact channels by which economic activity sustains itself over the millennia. Could dynastic wealth play a role? How about the concentration and transmission of knowledge via institutions such as schools and libraries? How does military might factor in?

“Now, a team of Danish economists has put forth a forceful case for one largely overlooked driver of economic development in Europe: roadways built by the Roman empire nearly 2,000 years ago. They demonstrate that the density of ancient Roman roads at a given point in Europe strongly correlates with present-day prosperity, as measured by modern-day road density, population density and even satellite imagery of nighttime lighting.

“Their data show that infrastructure investments are — if you’ll pardon an unpardonable pun — a pathway to long-term prosperity.

“To arrive at this conclusion, Carl-Johan Dalgaard of the University of Copenhagen and his colleagues first obtained a geographic database of the major roads of the Roman era that had been compiled by Harvard University’s Digital Atlas of Roman and Medieval Civilizations.

“Roman roadways were massive infrastructure projects even by modern standards. They consisted of several base layers, including stone, gravel and sand, over which large stone slabs were laid. At the empire’s peak in 117 A.D., scholars estimate, the Romans had built nearly 50,000 miles of roadway across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Many of them have lasted well into the present day.

“Dalgaard and his colleagues took a map of the major ancient Roman roads and superimposed it over satellite imagery showing the level of nighttime illumination in 2010. Economists often use nighttime lighting as a proxy for economic activity: more lights, more development.

“The visual relationship is particularly striking in France. There, you can clearly see the paths of ancient roadways connecting not just major modern cities, like Paris and Lyon, but also many minor ones, too. Across inland France, nearly every junction of ancient roads is marked by a splash of light in the modern era.

“While just eyeballing it like this is certainly suggestive, it’s not good enough for social science research. So Dalgaard and his colleagues took it several steps further: They divided the entire ancient Roman empire into a grid of 1 degree latitude by 1 degree longitude squares and measured the density of Roman roads within each. For each square, they also measured modern-day population, the density of current roadways and economic activity as indicated by the satellite imagery.

“They then ran a battery of statistical tests to determine how the presence of ancient roadways was related to the modern-day variables they measured. The answer: quite a bit. Places with more Roman roads in antiquity tended to have more roads today, as well as more people and greater levels of economic development.

“Now, there’s a big question of causality looming over all this: Can we really say that ancient roads caused greater economic development down the line? Or is it more accurate to say that more prosperous areas in the ancient world simply had more of a tendency to build roads to other places as a natural result of their prosperity?

“Dalgaard and his colleagues marshal convincing pieces of evidence to argue in favor of a causal link that runs from ancient roadbuilding to modern-day prosperity. For starters, Roman roads weren’t typically built with trade in mind: Their primary purpose was to move troops and supplies to locations of military interest. Trade was an afterthought.

”Roman roads were often constructed in newly conquered areas without any extensive, or at least not comparable,existing network of cities and infrastructure,” Dalgaard and his colleagues write. In many instances, the roads came first. Settlements and cities came later.

“Then there’s the fascinating question of what happened to Roman roads built in North Africa. At some point between 500 and 1,000 A.D., wheeled transport was essentially abandoned in the region. Goods were ferried around on the backs of camels, rather than in carts pulled by oxen. The exact reasons for this are up for debate and probably involved costs, advances in saddle technology and the increasing military and political might of groups that had traditionally relied on camels for transport, Dalgaard and his colleagues explain.

“If you’re not pulling carts around, you have less of a need for paved roadways. As a result, the Roman roads in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) weren’t maintained the same way they were in Europe, where cart-based transit remained dominant. ”The implication of these developments is that since ancient roads fall into disrepair in the MENA region, to a much greater extent than in Europe, one should expect to see much less persistence in infrastructure density.”

“Indeed, that’s exactly what Dalgaard and his colleagues found. The correlation between ancient roadways and modern-day development so prevalent in Europe is much smaller and less significant for the Middle East and North Africa. ”As ancient roads are left to decay they ultimately become a less reliable predictor of modern road location in the MENA,” they found. ”Roman road density does not predict current day economic activity within the MENA region.”

“In sum, Dalgaard’s research adds historical heft to the idea that infrastructure investments can be a driver of economic growth. While most research into that question has focused on short-term results, Dalgaard’s paper suggests that infrastructure investments today could continue to bear fruit for thousands of years to come.

Across Inland France - WordPress

Across inland France, nearly every junction of ancient roads is marked by a splash of light in the modern era. WASHINGTON POST ILLUSTRATION | DATA FROM NOAA EARTH OBSERVATORY, NATURAL EARTH AND DIGITAL ATLAS OF ROMAN AND MEDIEVAL CIVILIZATION

Ancient roads - WordPress


Henry VI….two kings for the price of one….?

Henry VI crowned king

We all know Henry VI, saintly and incompetent, with a French Fury for a wife. Well, that’s how the tradition goes. But do we all know that he was also crowned King of France? You can read about it here.

Henry VI - French coronation

No hops, onions or cabbage before 1400, not even in Nuneaton….

Nuneaton History

Once again, looking for one thing led to another – this time to a fascinating site about the history of Nuneaton. It provides interesting year-by-year, century-by-century snippets about historic events, the weather, and…did you know that hops, onions and cabbage were introduced from Flanders in 1400? No, nor me.

A delightful walk around Middleham….

Walking at Middleham

If you like walking, Richard III, Middleham Castle and horses, this is the thing for you. Get out your walking gear…!

Anne Neville was a Tudor….?

anne neville with shocked eyes

Sooo….her guilty secret is finally revealed. According to this post , Anne Neville was a Tudor! No wonder she‘s shocked…and Richard is giving her a sideways look. Oh, dear.

War, English Delusion, and the effect on the Economy (2)

Henry IV had the image of a warrior. It was just as well as no sooner was he established on the throne than he was fighting in Wales, Scotland, Ireland and France, as well as beating off his internal enemies. So it will not surprise you that the country was soon bankrupt, and that Henry was busy with his Parliaments, inevitably discontented by the necessary taxation to fund all this fun.

Of course, these wars were dull, low-level affairs. There were certainly no repeats of Crecy. The nearest to that was probably the defeat of the Scots at Homildon, 1402, a victory that was largely down to the tactics suggested by the renegade Scottish Earl of March, although naturally the Percy family were prominently involved.

As many of you know, I am not Henry Bolingbroke’s greatest fan. In many ways he was a sordid little creep, and the kindest thing I can say about him is that he liked books. However, you have to, however reluctantly, admire the sheer tenacity with which he held on against all the odds. Towards the end of his reign, as Henry himself fell more and more ill with his mysterious disease, the financial pressures eased and so did the military situation. It became possible to intervene in France again.

The King of France, Charles VI, had been more or less insane since Richard’s time, and was not improving. Factions within France, on the one hand the Burgundians, and on the other the Orleanists/Armagnacs, were tearing the country apart, indeed fighting a civil war over who should govern. After some consideration (and doubtless bidding) England decided to go in on the side of the Orleans faction.

This was quite a shrewd move, financially. The English effectively took part as mercenaries. They had barely landed before the contending parties decided to make peace. So the English returned home again, somewhat enriched and bearing with them certain hostages who were not to see France again for many a long year.

As soon as Henry V acceded in 1413, he decided to build on this. Some historians think he chose war because he was on shaky ground at home. However, Henry, for some bizarre reason, seems genuinely to have believed he was the rightful King of France in God’s eyes. (How he came to believe this when he was not even the rightful King of England is a great mystery, but that’s religious bigots for you.)

The French offered quite enormous concessions as an alternative, and a remotely sane King of England would have bitten their hand off. Not Henry. Parliament, temporarily gung-ho, proved willing to finance his expedition, and off Henry went.

This led to another one of the Great Victories – Agincourt. Henry attributed his success to God, and he may have been right to do so. He was extremely lucky, in that the French seemed to have forgot all the wisdom they had learned in the late 14th Century, and charged in as they had done in their earlier losing battles. Had they simply harassed Henry on a daily basis, and not engaged in battle at all, it is extremely likely that his small and sickly army would have been destroyed piecemeal.

Nevertheless, Agincourt massively boosted English morale, and massively dented that of the French. For the English, and certainly for Henry, it looked like God had shown the green light, and that the English claim to France (or at least major chunks of it) could now be realised. This was largely a delusion, because nothing of France had yet been conquered (unless you count Harfleur) and England’s resources (and willingness to spend them) were no greater. For France, the main problem, looked at objectively, was that it remained divided in itself. Much depended on whether one faction or the other could be persuaded to throw its lot in with the English. If it could, Henry (and English pretensions) had a real chance of success. Against a united France, there was virtually none, at least in the long term.

(This post is reblogged from The Yorkist Age.)


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