murreyandblue

A great WordPress.com site

Archive for the month “Oct, 2019”

The Death of Robert, Earl of Gloucester

In writing Stephen and Matilda: Cousins of Anarchy, I was keen to apply the same narrow-eyed pursuit of solid facts that I hope comes across in my books on the Wars of the Roses. More than being about battles and, well, anarchy, I wanted to discover the real personalities behind the stories, the people who are sometimes lost in the moralising and misogyny of chroniclers. Few characters are as fascinating and worthy of admiration as Robert, Earl of Gloucester.

RobertConsul_TewkesburyAbbey_FoundersBook Monks of Tewkesbury Abbey, c. 1500-1525 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Robert, Earl of Gloucester and his wife Mabel FitzHamon from the Founders’ Book of the Monks of Tewkesbury Abbey

The first person to hold a peerage title centred on Gloucester was the oldest, and favourite, illegitimate son of Henry I; a man who might have been king. Henry I holds the record for the most known illegitimate children fathered by an English or British monarch. He had at least twenty-two, and possibly more, illegitimate sons and daughters. Robert was his oldest, born around 1090, either his grandfather William the Conqueror or his uncle William Rufus were on the throne and his father was the king’s third son, unlikely to inherit anything more than a hefty lump of cash.

The identity of Robert’s mother is not known for certain. Once conjectured to have been Nest, a daughter of Rhys ap Tewdwr, the last King of Deheubarth, it is more likely that she was a member of an Oxfordshire family, like the mothers of many of Henry’s other illegitimate children. She was possibly a daughter of Rainald Gay of Hampton Gay, but she remains lost in mystery. Her son, however, would be propelled into the political limelight, feted as the favourite son of a father who took the throne as Henry I.

Robert’s importance solidified after The White Ship Disaster of 1120, when Henry lost his only legitimate son. Shortly afterwards, Robert was created Earl of Gloucester, probably reflecting the amount of land and the number of honours his wife, Mabel FitzHamon, brought to him within the area. He also held extensive lands in Wales and Normandy. When Henry appointed his only other legitimate child, his daughter Empress Matilda, as his heir, he extracted oaths from his barons that they would support her. More than most, though, Henry would have been aware of the fragility of such pledges: he had not been his brother’s heir but had snatched the throne on William Rufus’s sudden death.

Robert was promoted further, given lands that made him one of the most wealthy and powerful men on both sides of the Channel. The plan was clear: Robert was to be a crutch for his half-sister as she tried to exercise power as a woman in a strictly man’s world. Crutches come in pairs, and the other one readied for Empress Matilda was her cousin, Stephen of Blois, Count of Boulogne. Stephen was the son of Henry’s sister Adela of Normandy and was another of Henry’s favourites, made powerful to help support Matilda.

Henry’s plans, however well laid, ultimately fell to pieces on his death in 1135. It is possible the king changed his mind on his deathbed, since he was at odds with Matilda and her husband Geoffrey of Anjou, but whatever really happened behind closed doors, it was Stephen who rushed to have himself crowned in place of Empress Matilda. Robert trod a difficult and strained line. He eventually submitted to Stephen, but the king was never quite sure of his cousin. Whether Robert had planned to remain loyal to his half-sister all along or Stephen’s suspicion drove him away is unclear – chroniclers have their ideas based on their prejudices, but Robert alone knew the secrets of his heart.

When Empress Matilda landed at Arundel Castle to formally launch her bid to take the crown in 1139, she was accompanied by her half-brother Robert. While she remained inside the castle until Stephen arrived, Robert sped west to his stronghold at Bristol, a castle deemed impenetrable and which would form the beating heart of Matilda’s bid for power for years. Robert became the military arm of his half-sister’s efforts, allowing her to overcome the problems of putting an army into the field. In 1141, it was Robert who led the army against Stephen at the Battle of Lincoln that resulted in the king’s capture. Later the same year, when Matilda was driven out of Winchester, it was Robert who fought a rear guard action to allow Matilda to escape safely, but which led to his own seizure by forces loyal to Stephen.

017

Medieval knights riding into battle from wall paintings at Claverley Church, Shropshire

It is a mark of the importance to Matilda’s cause of Earl Robert that he was part of a prisoner exchange, his release secured with that of Stephen in a complex arrangement of hostages and releases. The chronicler William of Malmesbury, who knew Earl Robert and is unfalteringly positive about his patron, believed that Robert demonstrated his courage, guile and humility when he initially refused to be exchanged for the king, since he was a mere earl and worth less than Stephen. Even when he was offered control of the government, he still refused. It was Matilda who blinked first. Robert was perhaps not as clever as William of Malmesbury believed (if the earl didn’t exaggerate his role in the negotiations for his writer friend!). Matilda’s case was largely based on the illegitimacy of Stephen’s rule; he was not the rightful king and had broken his own oaths to support her. Robert, in recognising Stephen as a king and as one of higher worth than an earl, undid that pretence and handed Stephen all of the religious authority and infallibility that went with being king.

Robert died on 31 October 1147, aged around fifty-seven, at Bristol Castle, still trying to lift his half-sister onto the throne. He was buried at his own foundation of St James’s Priory in Bristol. The hammer blow to Matilda’s cause is amply demonstrated by her decision to leave England in the early months of 1148, abandoning her own claim to the throne but bequeathing the effort to her son, Henry FitzEmpress, the future Henry II. Robert had been a paragon of chivalry, and shared many attributed with his rival King Stephen. William of Malmesbury is full of gushing praise for the brave, chivalrous, unflappable earl, and it is clear that he was the strong core of his half-sisters efforts.

Many urged Robert to make his own claim to the throne in 1135 and afterwards. This presented problems, not the least of which was his illegitimacy. His grandfather, William the Conqueror had been a bastard, but becoming a duke was different from becoming a king, and William took England by conquest, not by right. Illegitimacy was always much more of a bar to becoming a king, with all of the associated religious aspects of being chosen by God. On the other hand, he was the favourite son of the old king, Henry I, and solved all of the problems of female rule that Matilda relentlessly encountered. Capable, both militarily and politically, he was more acceptable to some despite his illegitimacy than any woman would ever be.

Robert refused at every turn, and at every request, to even consider trying to make himself a king. It is perhaps unkind to suggest that he lacked confidence that he would succeed, because he relentlessly spearheaded his half-sister’s efforts to unseat Stephen. William of Malmesbury may not have been far wide of the mark when he admiringly assured his reader that Robert would not consider such a step because he accepted Matilda as the rightful heir to their father’s throne. He swore oaths to her and, once Matilda launched her bid for the throne and turned away from Stephen, he spent the remainder of his life trying to keep those promises.

Robert died without seeing the eventual success of their cause, but he never gave up. He managed to be the military arm of an attempt to implement female rule in England more than four centuries before it would finally be accepted. That he did so without blurring the lines of his half-sister’s claim to the throne or allowing himself to become embroiled in efforts to make him king speaks volumes for the man and his abilities. There is an awful lot to admire in this dedicated, honourable and capable first holder of a peerage based on the city of Gloucester.

Stephen and Matilda: Cousins of Anarchy is released by Pen and Sword on 30 October 2019.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stephen-Matildas-Civil-War-Cousins/dp/1526718332

Busting yet another Cairo myth

Bishop Robert Stillington was imprisoned soon after Bosworth and died in captivity in 1491, definitely by 15 May. It is generally thought that this was a punishment for providing the copious evidence that convinced the Three Estates, in June 1483, of Edward IV’s bigamy. This rendered Elizabeth of York and all her siblings legally illegitimate, which was highly inconvenient for Henry “Tudor”, who sought to marry her. Stillington’s arrest and Catesby‘s summary execution fall into the first four days of Henry VII’s actual reign and the first five of the reign he claimed.

There has been an alternative view, based on the writings of Edward Hall, compiled after More but before Shakespeare. In 1475-6, just after the planned invasion of France was cancelled, an embassy was sent to Francis, Duke of Brittany, seeking to capture “Tudor”. Both Vergil and Hall comment that “the Bishop of Bath and Wells” was part of the party in question. Several Cairo dwellers rely on that interpretation, identifying Stillington as the man in question.

Oliver King the snooker player. For some reason, we couldn’t find a photo of the Bishop.

In 1475-6, Robert Stillington was indeed Bishop of Bath and Wells but there are several convincing reasons to conclude that he wasn’t the man in question. By the time Polydore Vergil put quill to paper, Oliver King (1495-1503) occupied that see and Hall “redialled” to King’s predecessor but one for convenience. King was among those arrested but released at the time of Hastings’ plot.

Secondly, Stillington was not a well man by the time Edward IV’s second reign began, taking leave of absence as Lord Privy Seal and Lord Chancellor at least twice, and the Foedera evidence shows that he was never actually sent abroad. In the ODNB, based on the Yorkshireman’s early academic career, Hicks concludes that he was born by 1410 and ordained at a comparatively late age, living into his eighties. Based on this revelation, it is possible that his own children were actually legitimate and that their mother died before he took holy orders in c.1447.

Now think about the implications of this. Canon Stillington, who almost certainly witnessed Edward IV’s real marriage, was more than thirty years older than his monarch. Ralph Butler, Lord Sudeley, a probable witness born in about 1394, was nearly fifty years older than Edward, imprisoned from 1469-73 when he died, and Lady Eleanor herself was over six years older. In other words, Edward IV need only to have lived to 49 to ensure that all those with first-hand knowledge were dead, so the ceremony would have been deniable. He didn’t, of course, thereby ending Yorkist rule.

h/t Marie Barnfield

A huge stone port a mile off Cardiff…built by the ancient kings of Britain….?

This post has nothing to do with Richard III, but concerns a great structure which, if it ever existed, would surely have been visible to him from the shore of South Wales. The intervening centuries have worn it down, of course, but he might—just might—have seen it.

We are becoming accustomed to important ancient discoveries along the Welsh coast of the Severn estuary. For instance, there were those Stone Age footprints, set forever in the hardened clay along the shore at Goldcliff, and the wonderful medieval ship discovered in the Usk at Newport. These are but two.

One of the Stone Age footprints from the mud at Goldcliff,
and the medieval ship found in the Usk at Newport.

And now I have learned of a ‘huge’ stone port built by ancient British kings over a mile offshore at Cardiff. A what and how far out, did I hear you exclaim? Well, yes, that was my initial reaction, and it’s a fascinating thought, but could it possibly be true? You may relax, ladies and gentlemen, for I am not about to claim that it must have been the work of alien visitors; instead, I will resort to maps—Google, Bing, Earth, Ordnance Survey and others. One thing is certain, I am astonished that Giraldus Cambrensis forgot to mention it, and Nennius was most remiss not to list such a colossal undertaking among his Wonders of Britain!

The Severn Estuary is a dangerous place because it boasts the second highest tidal range in the world, the highest being the Bay of Fundy in Newfoundland. Things have changed since the Dark Ages, and now it is reckoned that the high water level of, say, the 5th century, would have been four metres lower than at present. I am not a geologist, historical or otherwise, so can only imagine that this might make a great difference to the appearance and integrity of the shoreline. My interest here is in the area off Cardiff, known today as the Cardiff Flats. As far as I can see, Cardiff never extended further south than the original shoreline, which surely means there was always mud on what is now Cardiff Flats? And that the highest spring tides still came up to the shoreline that Cardiff never dared to cross?

From the shore, the Flats reach out south for about a mile into the estuary, a vista of level, featureless, sometimes rippling mud that ends suddenly at the Orchard Ledges, which plunge down into much deeper water. At this physical point, in the time of the ancient British kings, it is suggested, there was built a great stone port. Its purpose was to defeat the tide, by always providing deep water for ships of all sizes. Especially, of course, military vessels.

London

Yes, the above image is how London is imagined to have looked at the time of the Cardiff port. But, of course, London has always been right on the confined bank of the Thames. The port off Cardiff is not only a mile or more out in the estuary, but was built of stone! It is an undertaking that even now would take meticulous and infallible engineering…and an awful lot of money and men! How long did it take? How great a workforce? Might the whole enterprise have been on a par with the Great Pyramid?

I learned of this harbour/port when reading The Holy Kingdom by Adrian Gilbert, Alan Wilson and Baram Blackett. This is a fascinating book dealing with the legends of King Arthur (among other things, including that there were actually two Arthurs), and I really enjoyed reading it. That is not to say I necessarily agree with all its theories and suppositions, but I definitely enjoyed it. The writing style is easy and inviting, and there aren’t any dull passages. According to the blurb – “As a result of research going back over forty years, the authors are able to reveal the locations of the graves of both Arthurs, the location of Camelot, the burial of the ‘true cross of Christ’ and uncover a secret historical current that links our own times with the mysteries of Arthur and the Holy Grail…” Yes, yes, I know that many of you will be groaning, but the book is still very interesting, if not to say fascinating.

Sometimes, whatever you’re reading, a passage will leap out and demand investigation. Then it stays in the memory, nagging away, until you do just that. The passage in question is the following, which I have taken directly from the book:

“….In the Cardiff area, which is typified by mud flats, the variation of the [Severn] tides means that the sea retreats for a very long way at low tide, leaving ships beached and therefore useless for military purposes.

“….Before land was reclaimed in order to build the Alexandra and Roath docks, the shoreline between the Taff and Ely estuaries was long and straight, corresponding to today’s high-water mark for spring tides. Beyond this high-water mark there is a low, flat shelf of mudflats extending for well over a mile to the Orchard ledges, where the shelf ends and the water deepens sharply. When the tide is out the mudflats are exposed. It was on the edge of these flats that we believe the ancient British kings built a great stone port in the sea, to overcome the problems created by the tides. Until recently there was a long, straight road running down through Splott in south-east Cardiff, called Portmanmor Road, a name deriving from either Porth-Maen-Mor, meaning ‘the Port of Stone in the Sea’, or Porth-Maen-Mawr—‘the Great Port of Stone’. It points directly at the centre of the harbour whose ruins, although not marked on modern Ordnance Survey maps, were included in those drawn up by local cartographers in the nineteenth centuries.

The above illustration has been inserted by me, and does not appear in the book. The resolution is not very good in the snip from the 1888-1913 Ordnance Survey map, but it shows that Portmanmor (various other spellings) Road acquired a kink at the southern end, and has these days been swallowed up by the docks and other developments. But the red dot-dash line follows the upper part of the road, and then reaches out into the estuary to the end of Cardiff Flats and the Orchard Ledges, where there is no visible sign of the stone port. It was from about this time that the port was omitted from all modern OS maps. And I don’t think that the above passage from The Holy Kingdom implies that Portmanmor Road extended right into the estuary, I have included the red line merely to show that the angle of the road would indeed reach out to the right point on Orchard Ledges.

“….The harbour is shaped like a gigantic horseshoe with its mouth facing outwards towards the deeper water of the Severn Estuary. The bulk of the harbour sits on the mudflats with its entrance stretching over the shelf. The distance across its opening is approximately 400 yards, and it is 500 yards deep (i.e. from mouth back toward land). Using this manmade harbour, ships could come and go as they pleased, regardless of the tides. It was certainly a remarkable structure and deserves to be explored archaeologically, for if there is anywhere in Britain where we could expect to find Dark Age wrecks, then this is it….”

I am unsure if what I have indicated with red arrows in the maps below is the harbour, shingle, or just the way the mud has settled as the tide ebbs. All I can say is that sometimes it looks as if made of stone, and sometimes not.

I think this shingly shape is the port. If not, it might be the dark curve directly below the L of Ledges. Hard to be sure.

Well, after all that, I’m left with a huge unanswered question. Is there an ancient port still lingering for our modern eyes? Or not?

Severn estuary mud is another Wonder of Britain overlooked by Nennius. The Romans’ amazing concrete/cement (of which we hear many praises) is as nothing compared with what Sabrina can produce.

©Lewis Clarke

That Severn clay stuff is a curse on anyone whose garden is made of it (me, for one!) because it seems that no matter how much rain falls, the flower beds will have set solid within a day. But this is not so in the Severn itself. The retreating tide may expose miles of that awful grey-brown desolation, but there is no time between tides for anything to set. The stuff remains sticky, gooey, treacherous, mean-hearted and seemingly fathomless. Its sole avowed purpose is to grab your wellies and suck you down. Oh, and there are quick-sands too, just to make matters really jolly.

From http://www.songofthepaddle.co.uk/forum/showthread.php/23860-Severn-Estuary-from-Beachley-to-Newnham-and-back-with-two-canoes-and-a-wrong-un

We still don’t even know how Stonehenge was created—Merlin’s name has been known to pass lips, and it surely would have taken his wizardry to conjure a 400 x 500 yard stone port, in the middle of the Severn Estuary, in that ferocious mud in the Dark Ages. Well, I’m not going to say it couldn’t have been done by mere mortals, but I confess I would really like to know how they did it.

And, of course, there’s always….

PS: Oh dear, it now seems that the Great Stone Port will soon be even more a thing of the past, because it looks to me as if the wall of the intended Cardiff Bay Tidal Lagoon will probably demolish what’s left of what might be a Dark Ages marvel.

“World’s Greatest Palaces” …

… is another excellent series on the “Yesterday” Channel. Last night I watched the fourth episode, about Kensington, the influence of architects such as Wren and Hawksmoor, the evolution of the building, the creation of the Serpentine Lake and the monarchs and their relatives who have lived there. These include William III and Mary II, Anne, George II, Victoria and Elizabeth II.
The contributors included the consistently good Kate Williams and several royal curators such as Tracy Borman. Much was made of Anne’s reproductive difficulties and her longest-lived child, William Duke of Gloucester (left) was frequently mentioned, except that Borman called him “George”. George was, of course, his father’s name. Victoria’s cloistered childhood was detailed, as well as the story of how Elizabeth II met Prince Phillip of Greece.

A guide to Britain’s battlefields: history and the best sites to visit….

Crops growing in a field – site of the battle of Bosworth Field, Leicestershire. (Getty)

“….Many of Britain’s most important conflicts were fought on what are now quiet stretches of countryside. Here is our guide on the best historic battle sites to visit in the UK, with a brief look at the history of each bloody battle….”

To read more and see the list, go to this website

The Prince of Aldi–the Prittlewell Saxon Tomb

In 2003, a Saxon burial in an intact burial chamber was unearthed between an Aldi shop  and a pub in Southend. Clearly an important person, almost certainly royalty, the items in the grave  make it the earliest Christian royal burial in England. Now, 16 years on, with conservation and studies complete, many of the items belonging to the ‘Prittlewell Prince’ are going on display in the Central Museum.

There was only one tooth remaining from the ‘prince’ himself but the array of preserved grave-goods was staggering: a lyre, a painted box that is a one of its kind, a golden belt buckle, golden crosses to cover his eyes, an iron stool, gold-decorated pottery and a sword with gold wire  around a hilt made of horn.  Parts of his coffin also survived and measurements indicate he was approximately 5ft 6.

So who was this wealthy early Christian Saxon? The best guess is that he was Saexa, the brother of King Saebert , who was King of Essex from AD604 to AD616. It was originally thought the burial might be Saebert himself but the carbon dates are slightly too early, more in keeping with the date of his brother’s death.

Some have likened this unique find to  opening King Tut’s tomb…

PRITTLEWELL PRINCE

prit.jpg

So, who were the Saxon Kings of Essex? Here’s a genealogy. Note that, unlike the more geographically distant Wuffings of East Anglia, there seems to be no family link to the House of Wessex.

 

THE STRANGE LEGEND OF USK CASTLE

In a tiny town in Wales, a ruined castle stands on rising ground amidst a haze of dark trees. An atmospheric round tower, cracked  by time; shattered walls, the remains of hall and chapel. Privately owned, a garden drops down the hillside before it, to an old house  which appears to contain much castle stonework. Modern statuary of gargoyles peep out from a tangle of flowers as birds fly from their nests in the towers toward the town beyond, with its grey church, once an ancient priory.

This is  Usk Castle, and it has an interesting history, and a legend that might contain a grain of truth. A Roman fort once stood nearby and the castle itself may be situated on the site of an Iron Age hill-fort. The first castle was likely  built in Norman times by  Richard de Clare and William the Conqueror’s banner-bearer,  Tristram Fitz Rolf . Later, around  1120,  the Marcher Lord,  Richard Fitz Gilbert de Clare strengthened the castle’s defences, perhaps building in stone for the first time. His tenure there was long so long; Iorwerth Ap Owain killed  him in an ambush in a dark, wooded pass called ‘the ill way of Coed Grano.’ The place today still contains a commemorative marker known as the ‘Stone of Revenge.’ Later still,  Usk was held by William Marshal and then returned to the de Clare family with Gilbert de Clare, earl of Hereford (son of Joan of Acre, daughter of Edward I), who was slain at Bannockburn in 1314.

The last events of high drama at the castle seem to have taken place in 1405,  when Welsh prince Owain Glyndwr attacked the town of Usk and the garrison gave battle, capturing Owain’s  son.

The rest of the 1400’s may have been quieter in Usk, but just as interesting. For a time, Usk Castle was held by Edmund Mortimer, earl of the Marches,  and from him it eventually passed to Richard, Duke of York, whose mother was Anne Mortimer, granddaughter of Philippa, the daughter of Lionel of Clarence, Edward III’S third son. The Duke of York was also patron to nearby Usk Priory, today the parish church. William Herbert (senior) was  the Duke’s steward in the area. When Edward IV came to the throne, Usk became a crown possession, and of course it was also subsequently held by Richard III.

Several references of the 1800’s (earliest 1828) to the York family at Usk are rather noteworthy. They state the Duke of York spent ‘considerable time’ at the castle, and that both Edward IV and Richard III were born there. Now, it is known for a fact that Edward was born in Rouen, France and Richard at Fotheringhay, in Northamptonshire, but could there be something in this old tale, which was repeated in more than one source? Is there some sliver of folk memory here, recalling that the Duke’s sons had been in residence in Usk at some time? Edward was not all that far far away at Ludlow with Edmund as a youth, but what about Richard?

It is interesting to look at the stable isotopes detected on Richard’s teeth. They showed that his earliest childhood was spent in a geographic  area of England that would correspond with Fotheringhay; then the isotopes appear to indicate he spent some time in a wetter environment more consistent with western Britain. We know he was with his family at Ludlow at the time of the Battle of Ludford Bridge and the subsequent sacking of the town. Could he have spent some time prior to that at Usk? Was Duchess Cecily in residence there for a while with her younger children?  I somehow doubt  the Duke would have  his wife and children ride all the way from Fotheringhay to Ludlow with hostilities about to break out in the area, so it only makes sense to assume they were already dwelling somewhere in the region.  Perhaps they were at Usk and the Duke ordered them to Ludlow, which had a larger, stronger, more  defensible castle. The distance between Usk and Ludlow is around 50 miles, a much shorter distance than  that between  Fotheringhay  and Ludlow. That latter route would also have taken in more of the Lancastrian dominated areas in the Midlands. Certainly, the possibility is there and many legends are not just pulled from thin air.

Vintage article on the castle:

USK CASTLE FROM VICTORIAN HISTORY BOOK

 

USK CASTLE:

 

 

The Nuns Of Fotheringhay

English Medieval Monasteries 1066-1540 by Roy Midmer states that a foundation of Cluniac nuns was founded at Fotheringhay by Simon de St. Litz (aka Simon de Senlis) Earl of Huntingdon circa 1141. The nuns “soon” moved to Northampton (Delapre). However they “retained their church and endowments” until the foundation of the College by the 2nd Duke of York in 1411.

This implies that the original church was built in 1141, although it is entirely possible (perhaps probable) that it incorporated earlier work. Presumably the Delapre nuns had the advowson.

It also seems reasonable to assume that the nunnery buildings would have been on the site later used by the College, immediately adjacent to the church, between it and the river.

What means the 2nd Duke of York used to persuade the nuns to give up their property so he could develop his College is not clear. Were they “bought off” or were they simply “told”? The College had a charter from Henry IV so that may have been the decisive factor.

 

 

 

 

MEDIEVAL PARENT MAGAZINE

56481792_2376095609089349_6567171421271752704_o.jpgAn amusing mockup of what  the front page of Medieval Parent Magazine would have looked like…Particularly liking the Quiz…”Is your Childe a changeling or just ugly?’

With thanks to Maks Viktor Antiquarian Books..

Artist Gemma  Correll.

Plantagenet Ireland and Poynings’ Law

It is fair to say that most medieval English kings had little interest in Ireland except as a source of revenue. (The same was probably true about England and Wales but it seems too cynical to say it, and at least they did live there.)

Prior to the Bruce invasion, Ireland yielded between £5000 and £20,000 a year to the Exchequer. Even the lower figure was a useful sum in medieval terms, bearing in mind that the “qualification” for an earldom at this point was about £666. So in a bad year, Ireland gave the king the equivalent of more than seven earldoms, after expenses.

By the 1350s the net revenue was down to between £1,000 and £2,000, while by the start of Richard II’s reign Ireland was running a deficit. Given the general state of the Exchequer this was a Very Bad Thing and Something Had To Be Done. (1)

Of course, simply pulling out of Ireland and making a saving was unthinkable. Instead various half-hearted measures were tried, and various people lined up to take the place in hand, ranging from Robert de Vere (created Duke of Ireland!) to Thomas, Duke of Gloucester, the King’s uncle. The matter was evidently seen as (relatively) a low priority, and in view of the state of England at this time, this is quite understandable.

Eventually, in 1394, Richard II himself, personally, set out for the Emerald Isle with a well-equipped army 7000-8000 men. By the standards of English military expeditions in Ireland it was extraordinarily successful and well-executed. Not that Richard II gets much credit for it. By January 1395 the various Irish chiefs had begun to submit to Richard and by early Spring the capitulation was complete.

Richard, writing to his Council in England, stated that rebellion arose from past failures of government and that unless mercy was shown his opponent would ally with the “wild Irish”. He therefore proposed to take them under his protection until their offences had been purged or excused. (2)

This conciliatory policy towards the Irish speaks strongly in Richard’s favour. He intended that from now on there should be “liege Irish” as well as “liege English” and he tried to settle some of the many grievances (mainly about land) between the two groups. Of course this was a major task, and probably could never have been completed to everyone’s satisfaction even if Richard had remained in Ireland for ten years. However, it was a settlement of sort.

Unfortunately Richard was forced to cut his visit short due to issues in England, leaving the young Earl of March behind as Lieutenant. March was of course also Earl of Ulster, and in that capacity had land issues of his own., particularly with the O’Neill family. By 1396 March was leading major raids into O’Neill territory, and the short period of peace was under extreme strain. By 1397 Leinster was also in a state very close to war.

In 1398, not long after extending March’s term of office, Richard II decided to replace him with the Duke of Surrey, Thomas Holland. Surrey, Richard’s nephew of the half-blood, was another young and inexperienced man, with the added disadvantage that he had no hereditary lands in Ireland at all. He required, therefore, heavy subsidy from the Exchequer. Before the change could be completed, March had been killed in the fighting, as was his son in 1425.

King Richard now decided on a second personal visit to Ireland. This was a strange decision, given that he had just annexed the lands of Bolingbroke and Mowbray, and that Bolingbroke was in France, poised to invade England. However, we have the benefit of hindsight. Richard had no reason to suspect that the French, his supposed allies, would allow any such thing – and but for a temporary shift in power at the French court, they would not have done.

Richard’s second visit to Ireland was less successful. In a parley between Thomas Despenser, Earl of Gloucester and Art Macmurrough – who styled himself King of Leinster – the latter made it clear he was unwilling to submit. Before much more could be done Richard was forced to leave Ireland to confront Bolingbroke, and Ireland was once again left more or less to its own devices.

It is remarkable that any remnant of English lordship survived Henry IV’s reign, given the state of Henry’s Exchequer and the low priority given to Ireland by a king who was fighting on several fronts, including internal battles against his opponents. But the fact is that somehow, it did. Indeed Irish-based ships co-operated with Henry in the re-conquest of Anglesey.

Henry V and Henry VI were also unable (or unwilling) to give great priority to Ireland. Ralph A. Griffiths states “The isolated administration entrenched in Dublin and its ‘pale’ was more often than not subject to the rough dictates of Anglo-Irish magnates like Desmond and Ormond, and for some time past it had been assailed by a Celtic resurgence among the native Irish themselves that was cultural and social as well as military in character.” (3)

The attitude of the Anglo-Irish peers was to remain key, because unless and until the English government was willing and able to finance significant military intervention in Ireland, their power made them the most effective players on the island. Of course, the rivalries between them meant that the Crown was often able to play one family off against another.

In 1437 the author of The Libelle of Englysche Polycye expressed concern about the state of royal government in Ireland, suggesting the country could become a base for French, Scottish and even Spanish enemies, with whom hostile elements in Ireland could form an alliance. This fear of encirclement explains much of English/British policy towards Ireland over the next several hundred years, although in the short term very little was done about it, not least because England simply did not have the resources. (Such resources as were available were being thoroughly over-stretched in France.)

By this time the Irish revenues were failing to maintain the cost of government there, and even its most senior officers struggled to obtain their salaries. In 1441 it was reported that the charges of the Justiciar of Ireland and his underlings exceeded revenue by £1,456. (4)

In December 1447, Richard, Duke of York took on the role of Lieutenant of Ireland, with a salary of 4000 marks for the first year and £2000 in each of the following years of a supposed ten year appointment. York, who was very much at odds with Suffolk and Somerset at home, was effectively ‘promoted’ to a backwater. Those responsible doubtless thought that it would keep him quiet (and busy) for a long time. He was, of course, Earl of Ulster, and therefore had very significant landed interest in the country.

Not until summer 1449 did York actually set out – from Beaumaris. Even then he did so only because the King pressed him to go. He was received ‘ with great honour, and the earls of Ireland went into his house, as did also the Irish adjacent to Meath, and gave him as many beeves for the use of his kitchen as it pleased him to demand.’ (5)

That Richard, Duke of York, was a successful Lieutenant of Ireland is in some ways surprising. He was an aristocrat to his finger tips, and not generally noted for his people skills. If he had strengths they lay in his relative honesty and relative efficiency as an administrator and soldier. York failed miserably to unite the English nobility behind him, and yet he seems to have been well-regarded in Ireland. (In contrast to John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, who was positively hated in the same role.)

York quickly summoned a great council at Dublin which ensured the protection of certain hard-pressed castles and towns and also sought to address some of the more extravagant abuses of the Irish government.

His problem was that the money he had been promised largely failed to appear. He received less than half of what he should have in the first two years, and that was in tallies. After December 1449 he received nothing at all. (6)

This helps explain why York eventually threw in his hand and returned to England.

However, after the debacle at Ludford Bridge, York was sufficiently confident of his welcome to return to Ireland (with his second son, Rutland) and was able to use it as a secure base to plot the overthrow of Henry VI’s government.

York encouraged or allowed the Irish Parliament to pass legislation which left the country almost, but not quite independent, Henry VI’s sovereignty being reduced to little more than a cipher. It was even declared that the introduction of English Privy Seal Letters into Ireland was a breach of the country’s liberties. In return the Parliament voted York men and money, and rejected Henry VI’s attempts to remove York from office. The duke was not quite King of Ireland, but he was something very close.

Thereafter Ireland became strongly Yorkist – even into early “Tudor” times. It may be that York’s almost accidental policy of granting autonomy was the answer to the Question. In May 1487, a young boy was crowned at Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral (right) as “Edward VI”. He may actually have been the ill-fated Earl of Warwick by that name but is traditionally named as “Lambert Simnel”, who was taken to work in Henry VII’s kitchen after the battle of Stoke Bridge ended his insurrection the following month. In his identification of the boy (7), Ashdown-Hill uses historical, numismatic and physical evidence cogently, as ever, eliminating the other possibilities.

As a result of “Lambert”‘s coronation, Henry VII’s regime decided to control Ireland more closely. The “Statute of Drogheda” (left) (“An Act that no Parliament be holden in this Land until the Acts be certified into England”) was passed in early or mid-1494 and is described as 10 Hen.7 c4 or 10 Hen.7 c9. It is also known by the name of the newly appointed Lord Deputy at the time: Sir Edward Poynings (1459-1521) and specified that no Irish Parliament could meet until its proposed legislation had been approved by the Lord Deputy, his Privy Council, the English monarch and his Parliament. Ireland was thus legislatively subjugated and its status changed again under the “Crown in Ireland Act” in 1542, becoming a kingdom (“An Act that the King of England, his Heirs and Successors, be Kings of Ireland”) under the same monarch as England, in place of a lordship. Curiously, this was in the same year that Wales was subsumed by the Kingdom of England (Laws in Wales Acts). As the sands of the “Tudor” era ran out, the Earl of Essex was sent to suppress another Ulster rebellion but ignored his orders and returned home to aim for the crown. James VI/I’s subsequent plantations filled the power vacuum left by the O’Neills.

Consequently, the “English Civil War” is also known as the “War of the Three Kingdoms”, each of which had a different religious settlement as Charles I’s reign began. Similarly, legend has it that George I expressed to plant St. James’ Park with turnips and asked an aide the price: “Only three crowns, Sire”. Poynings’ Law is still in force in Northern Ireland, whilst it was fully repealed in the Republic as late as 2007.

Notes

(1) All figures are from Richard II, Nigel Saul, page 273

(2) For more detail see Saul, p 281.

(3) The Reign of King Henry VI, Ralph A. Griffiths page 411.

(4) The Reign of King Henry VI, Ralph A. Griffiths page 412.

(5) Irish chronicle quoted in The Reign of King Henry VI, Ralph A. Griffiths page 421.

(6) The Reign of King Henry VI, Ralph A. Griffiths page 421.

(7) The Dublin King, John Ashdown-Hill particularly chapters 1-5.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: