THE WHITE LYON & THE MOURNING SWORD
Within walking distance of Hereford Cathedral, stands an imposing hotel called the Green Dragon. That was not always its name, however; in the 15th c it was The White Lyon and was used as the headquarters of Edward of March, soon to be Edward IV, around the time of the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross. It had a long-term history of receiving important visitors even before the Wars of the Roses, being a popular hostelry for pilgrims to the shrines of St Thomas Cantilupe and the Saxon St Ethelbert in the cathedral.
On February 2, after Edward won the day at Mortimer’s Cross, he retired to Hereford with several of the enemy commanders as prisoner–including the elderly Owen Tudor, “grandfather” of Henry Tudor. Tudor, as an important prisoner, was held in the White Lyon while his fate was decided. He believed he was going to be shown mercy, perhaps because of his age–but Edward had no inclination to show clemency and Owen Tudor was promptly beheaded in the Market Place. A plaque on the ground commemorates his execution. It was said that after he was beheaded, a madwoman took his head, set it up on the market cross and lit candles around it as she combed the blood-matted hair…
There is also another Wars of the Roses connection in Hereford that few seem to know about. In the Town Hall is a fine collection of plate, Town Charters dating back into the Middle Ages sealed by Richard Lionheart and Henry III, and ceremonial swords and maces. One of these is the ‘Mourning Sword‘ (You’ll note that Gloucester also has a ‘Mourning Sword’ presented by Richard III). This was given to the city by Henry VIII and was supposed to have been the battle-dented, broken sword of his “great-grandfather” Owen Tudor.
I was fortunate enough to find out about this item on a trip to Hereford where I inadvertently booked into the Green Dragon without having an idea that ‘Ed was here’ some 600 years before me! I had no idea about the sword either until reading a local magazine. So off I trotted to the Town Hall, not sure if the item was available for public viewing or not. The first gentlemen I spoke to at the desk, didn’t seem certain–he rang upstairs and asked, “Do we have a Mourning Sword?’ A few minutes later I was being ushered up the stairs to meet the Mayor’s assistant, who very kindly offered to show me the treasures of Hereford’s past.
The sword is in a case with two maces and a Cap of Maintenance. It is not used in any of the regular ceremonial functions of Hereford and will only be taken out for public use upon the death of the monarch. The assistant explained its history to me, then, to my great surprise, opened the cabinet, removed the sword and handed it to me. “You can take off the sheath,” he kindly offered. Unlike the other 17th C sword in a nearby case, which was light, poorly balanced and purely for show, unsheathed the Mourning Sword was clearly a finely-balanced medieval blade, showing the odd mark from use. It had been broken near the hilt and the hilt replaced by another showing the arms of Hereford.
It was a great honour to handle this ancient weapon, and although Owen was on the ‘opposite’ side to where my sympathies lie, I must admit I felt a shiver pass down my spine as I held it, and as I walked back to the White Lyon/Green Dragon in the heavy, eerie fog, I could only think of that cold February Day when the Parhelion shone in the sky and the blood of the man who ‘once laid his head in Queen Catherine’s lap’ spread out on the cobblestones of Hereford.
THE WHITE LYON, HEREFORD
THE MOURNING SWORD, TOWN HALL, HEREFORD