While composing the article entitled Wonderful wall paintings under the whitewash. . . I could not help but notice the reference to a mythical bull-like creature called the Bonnacon. It isn’t one of the beasts that we usual come across, such as gryphons, the phoenix, dragons and so on, but once you learn of its party trick, its general absence from literature becomes understandable. When chased and in likely danger, it, um, fires off some poisonous excrement. Hmm, not a pleasant habit.
To read more (if you are so inclined!) please visit this website.
My mastery of Latin was gleaned at the age of 13, when for one dizzying year I was elevated to the “A” stream of King Edward VI’s Grammar School for Girls, Louth, Lincolnshire. Then they realized I wasn’t that bright, after all, and down I went!
The result of this demotion is that I have never been able to decipher Latin inscriptions. No, not the ones from Ancient Rome, but those of the medieval period here in England, where there was a very annoying (to me) habit of writing things in Latin. I can limp by in Old French, but not Latin.
My difficulty right now is a need to know what a particular inscription means. Here it is:-
Militis o miserere tui, miserere parentum Alme Deus regnis gaudeat ille tuis.(
I’m afraid I was low enough to try my hand with the Google translation service. While I could pick out words, what I could not do was string them together satisfactorily. So I appealed to my friends on Facebook, and they have been splendid. In advance, I thank Julia, Susan, Erik, Brian, Mary, Heather and last, but by no means least, Eileen!
Before I go on, I must point out that the o on its own in the inscription, is, of course, topped by something that I cannot make out. I thought, incorrectly, that it is an ö, but I’m told that an o with a little wiggle over it usually indicates an abbreviated word.
Then it seemed likely that the o might be short for ossis, which would make the first phrase “have mercy on the bones of your soldier” (As the knight in question died abroad on campaign and was brought back to England for burial, it would have been only his bones that were returned, not the rest of him!)
Another offered translation is:-
O, have mercy on your knight, have mercy on (his) parents; Dear God, may he rejoice in this, your kingdom!
Oh, pity your soldier, pity the parents. Dear God, may he rejoice in your kingdom.
So, I now know what the inscription means, and it makes sense!
Finally, let me identify the occupant of the vanished tomb from which the inscription has been taken. It was that of 19-year old Sir Edward Holland, Count of Mortain, the youngest son of John Holland, 1st Duke of Exeter. John was executed in 1400, and buried as a traitor at Pleshey, having taken part in the Epiphany Rising to remove the usurper Henry IV and return Richard II to the throne. Richard was John’s half-brother. According to Weever’s Ancient Funeral Monuments, Edward—who adhered to Henry V—was buried close to his father, and Edward’s wife (whom I have not been able to identify yet) was buried there as well. None of the tombs at Pleshey have survived, and were it not to Weever’s Ancient Funeral Monuments, no record would have remained. Edward died at the Siege of Rouen in 1418, fighting for Henry V, and that king paid for his remains to be brought home to England, buried and entombed.
Sadly, it would not be all that long before Henry V himself was brought home in such a way.
The following quote is an interesting glimpse of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, the “Kingmaker”, in the spring of 1470, when it was prudent for him to leave England for a while. It is taken from Devon, its Moorlands, Streams & Coasts by Lady Rosalind Northcote, published 1908 by Chatto & Windus.. See here :-
“….In 1470 Dartmouth was a step in the retreat of Warwick, ‘the King-maker,’ when Edward IV pursued him as far as Exeter. Warwick embarked here for France, and his arrival in those unsettled times must have created much bustle and excitement amongst all the gossips of the place. The Earl was ‘in danger of being surprized, whereupon leisurely (for his great spirit disdained anything that should look like a Flight) he retired to Exeter, where having dismissed the Remainder of the troops that attended him, he went to Dartmouth, and there, with many ladies in his company and a large Retinue, he took ship and sailed directly to Calais’….”
The ladies, of course, included Warwick’s heavily pregnant elder daughter, Isabel, wife of George, Duke of Clarence. Stormy weather was to keep the ship she was in from entering Calais, and tragically, on 17th April, she went into labour and lost the baby.
But, before that sad outcome, what was Dartmouth like when Warwick was there? (Some sources claim he sailed from Exeter, but Dartmouth seems more likely to me.) Well, the town had a castle, that’s for certain. Dartmouth grew where the River Dart empties into the English Channel, and was a thriving port and safe harbour.
In 1388, French raids during the Hundred Years War had led to the commencement of a castle. In this year Richard II commanded the mayor of Dartmouth, the privateer and merchant, John Hawley, to oblige the citizens to provide a “fortalice”. For much more information about Hawley, look here. Incidentally, Merriam-Webster claims fortalice to be a 15th-century word. Clearly that’s not so. It’s 14th century at the very least.
“In 1462 Edward IV awarded them [townsmen] £30 annually for 20 years towards the cost of Dartmouth’s defences, including the laying of a massive iron chain across the River Dart to stop marauding ships getting through. But it was almost 20 years before work began on a new tower and a bulwark, or strongpoint, purpose-built for artillery. In 1486 Henry VII demanded completion of the gun tower ‘with all godly haste’.
“The defences were eventually completed around 1493, and the gun tower became the heart of Dartmouth Castle. It contained the winding mechanism for the river chain, which was secured close to a defensive tower at Godmerock on the opposite bank.”
Well, marauding ships may have been kept out, but if a chain was operating in 1470 (as distinct from the eventual gun tower mechanism), it didn’t stop Warwick from getting in! Who in his right mind at Dartmouth Castle would raise a chain of any sort in the face of a great lord of Warwick’s power and reputation? The better part of valour, and all that….
So, chain or not, away the Kingmaker went! He’d return to England again on 13th September, landing at Dartmouth, and then meet his end at the Battle of Barnet on 14th April, 1471, almost exactly a year after his daughter lost her baby in a ship off Calais.
Last night I watched (on PBS America) a BBC2 Timewatch episode entitled The Mysteries of the Medieval Ship. It concerned the discovery, in June 2002, of a foundered/scuttled medieval vessel of some size, buried in the oozing mud of the Severn Sea – well, the oozing mud of the River Usk, at Newport, to be precise. But Severn Sea mud is the same, whichever estuary, and it takes prisoners, with the result that this particular ship has survived almost intact, and is that only such large 15th-century vessel to have done so in the United Kingdom.
Dendrochronology dates the timbers to around late 40s of the 15th century, and the oak identified as from northern Spain or Gascony, the latter possibility being just within English tenure, before France took it back.
It is believed that the ship had been berthed for repairs, but sank when supports gave way. And the fact of these repairs leads to a strong link to Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who turned upon King Edward IV at the Battle of Edgecote Moor on 26th July, 1469. Warwick won the battle, and among those he executed afterward was his predecessor as Lord of Newport, William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke.
There is a letter, signed by Warwick, concerning the repairs to just such a vessel as has now been discovered, at the time berthed in Newport. Here is the modernised text, taken from here :-
Richard Earl of Warwick and Salisbury great chamberlain of England and captain of Calais to Thomas Throckmorton our receiver of our lordship of Glamorgan and Morgannwg greeting.
We will and charge you that of the revenues of your office to your hands coming you content and pay …… Trahagren ap Merick £10 the which he paid unto John Colt for the making of the ship at Newport to Richard Port purser of the same 53s 4d, to William Toker mariner for carriage of iron from Cardiff unto Newport for the said ship 6s 8d to Matthew Jubber in money, iron, salt and other stuff belonging to the said ship £15 2s 6d. ……
Given under our signet at our castle of Warwick the 22 day of November the ninth year of the reign of our sovereign lord king Edward the fourth. (1469)
It may not be the same ship, of course, but the retrieved vessel had been armed (stone cannon balls found among the timbers) and there seems a strong possibility that far from being a peaceful merchantman, she may have been one of his pirate vessels. Warwick was known to dabble in piracy.
This mysterious ship is something to be cared for and treasured. She may not be the Mary Rose, but she is of more interest to those of us who prefer the 15th century. Especially when a figure like Warwick seems to be part of her history.
There is much to be found online about this extraordinary medieval discovery, and the following links are but a few:-
A fascinating article from the Royal Berkshire History site on the preserved hand of St James, which was discovered in 1796 walled up in the ruins of Reading Abbey and now resides in the Catholic Church in Marlow. Recently,this medieval artefact has undergone scientific analysis with interesting results.
Reading Abbey was a highly important place in the Middle Ages. Not only was it the burial place of a King (Henry I–lost and still waiting to be found) and a child of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine (a boy who died of a seizure and was buried at his great grandfather’s feet) but it contained a great many relics, including bits of the True Cross, Christ’s sandal, Christ’s foreskin (apparently 17 of these existed, ahem), crusts from the ‘Feeding of the Five Thousand’, head hair from the Virgin Mary, pieces of Mary’s tomb and so on. These appeared to have been shipped in from Constantinople. The abbey became a great draw for pilgrims and it was here Edward IV first publicly presented Elizabeth Woodville as his “wife” and guided her to a chair of estate as Queen of England.
One of the most famous relics at Reading was the arm of St James, which was probably donated by the Empress Matilda. Having survived both the Reformation and Cromwell, the mummified hand has recently given up some of its secrets…including the fact it cannot have belonged to St James, as the date is wrong. (So here we have a case of bones long thought of as belonging to a certain individual being found by science to be someone else’s, despite centuries of deeply-held belief. Hopefully science will continue to verify such relics where possible. *Cough “Princes in the Tower” Cough.*)
Interestingly, a preserved hand was found in the city of Salisbury many years back, within a medieval house known as The Haunch of Venison, now currently a pub/restaurant (and supposedly very haunted!). The smoke-dried hand grew many legends, including that the hand was cut from a cheating whist-player in the 1700’s (there were some old playing cards placed by it at some time) or that it was a ‘Hand of Glory’, a magical talisman used by thieves to put an inn’s tenants to sleep while the thieves robbed them. However, a local historian surmised it might have in fact been a religious relic hidden during the reformation; the Haunch had belonged to the nearby church of Thomas a Becket, and was used to lodge craftsmen who were building the spire of Salisbury Cathedral. Unfortunately, the hand had a habit of being stolen from the pub, and the last time it was snatched in 2010, it was never returned. A replica lies in its place but any chance of dating and learning more of its past it is now lost…unless it mysteriously returns again!
Oh, dear. The fate of Edward V (if he ever was a king) tops the Reader’s Digest list of 13 of the ‘Biggest Mysteries Surrounding the British Royal Family’. Hm. As the following quoted paragraph is a sample of the article’s accuracy, I won’t be bothering to read the other twelve.
“….In April 1483, King Edward IV of England died, and his eldest son, Edward V, age 12, ascended the throne with his uncle, his father’s brother, the Duke of Gloucester, as “protector of the realm.” But soon after, the Duke sent Edward V and his next youngest brother, aged 10 (Richard, Duke of York) to the Tower of London (both a residence and a prison)—for their own “protection.” In June, the Duke declared himself King Richard III. Edward and his brother were never seen again. Two skeletons found in the Tower are believed to be the brothers, and Richard III has long been suspected of having his nephews murdered….”
Below is a rather amusing recently discovered account of a young nun in York called Joan of Leeds, who escaped her convent in the early 15th c by pretending to be dead and leaving a fake body in her place.
Many monks and nuns, especially those who had entered a monastic house at a very young age and not by their own free will found themselves unsuitable for the religious life as they grew older. Most of the escapees would vanish to join a prospective lover.
Even royalty sometimes left monasteries under a cloud. Edith, later known as Matilda, the wife of Henry I was in Wilton Abbey for her education, not to become a nun. However, when it came time for her to marry, many insisted that she had taken vows while in the convent and hence was not eligible. Edith was having none of it. To show them she was truly not a nun, she flung her wimple to the ground–and trampled on it.