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Archive for the month “May, 2020”

Margaret Beaufort’s machinations….

The above illustration is from the Spectator. Margaret Beaufort‘s machinations were indeed vital in the overthrow of the rightful king of England, Richard III. By treachery, of course, because she and her odious son never did anything honestly and up-front.

Maybe she couldn’t help her face, but the sourpuss above was probably spot-on. And she passed her Beaufort features on to her equally disagreeable son (below) Neither of them was good for England that’s for sure.

Henry VII

 

Yorkist Stories

On Sunday 31st May there is an online launch event for a new collection of short stories about characters from the Wars of the Roses. They are by a selection of authors some well known to Ricardians and some not so well known and all the stories are snippets of the lives of different Yorkist characters, including Richard himself.

The book is available on Kindle here. There will be prizes and chats with some of the authors, including me! I submitted an extract from my novel Distant Echoes. So come along and chat from 16.00 – 20.00 and maybe win a prize!

Here is the link: Yorkist Stories launch

A collection of short stories about fascinating men and women who found themselves by birth, marriage, or fate on the Yorkist side of the Wars of the Roses.
Richard, Duke of Gloucester muses about his brother, Edward IV. William Stanley contemplates marrying. Francis Lovell celebrates Easter, and others appear in a variety of situations in this collection. Even a ghost or two turn up.

All proceeds of this will go to Médecins Sans Frontieres.

Britain’s Lost Battlefields (with Rob Bell)

Channel Five’s reputation for history programmes has risen greatly over the past few years. At the heart of this, first in a Great Fire of London series with Suzannah Lipscomb and the ubiquitous Dan Jones, has been the “engineering historian” Rob Bell, who has toured bridges, ships, buildings and lost railways in his own amiable, enthusiastic but authoritative style.

Now, only four days after completing series two of Britain’s Lost Railways, Bell is back, touring some of our great battlefields. The series, initially shown on 5Select, starts at Bannockburn, progresses to Hastings, Watling Street, Bosworth and Naseby, as well as Kett’s Rebellion. Perhaps the six episodes could have been shown chronologically by the battle years?

The third, fourth and fifth shows, however, do form a neat triangle in the East Midlands, if you accept the suggested location of the Battle of (the very long) Watling Street. Featuring historians such as Matthew Lewis, Julian Humphreys and Mike Ingram, the hangun (or arquebus) is described with respect to Bosworth, as is the evolution of the musket to the forms used at Naseby, together with commanders such as Fairfax and the Bohemian brothers: Rupert and Maurice.

Climbing up on Solsbury….sorry, Salisbury (Cathedral)….

Salisbury Cathedral

Well, impressed as I am, all I can say is “rather him than me”! Go up there? Never! I hate heights. But for those you who are made of sterner stuff, this BBC South video of the nooks, crannies and heights of Salisbury Cathedral is well worth watching.

SARUM LIGHTS–A COMMEMORATION

2020 is the 800th Anniversary of the founding of Salisbury Cathedral. Before ‘New Salisbury’ came into existence, the town stood on the windy cone of Old Sarum, a huge iron-age hillfort with massive earthen ramparts. There was a particularly forbidding Norman castle on the height, with a windswept bridge over a deep moat–here, Henry II kept his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine imprisoned for some sixteen years,  served by a single loyal lady-in-waiting. The old town also had a cathedral, begun somewhere after 1075. It was rather an ill-fated building, however, being severely damaged in a storm just five days after consecration.  Sometime in the late 12th century, it was decided to move the cathedral from the height due to the lack of water. The cathedral was dismantled and much of the stonework taken down to the new site near the river, where the town of Salisbury as we know it would grow around it. The first stones of the English-style Gothic building were laid in 1220, in the reign of Henry III, with foundation stones being laid by, among other notables, the King’s half-uncle, William Longespee and his wife Ela, Countess of Salisbury, a remarkable woman who later became Sheriff of Wiltshire.

To commemorate the founding of Salisbury cathedral, a light show recently took place within the great building  with projections of  charters, drawings, stained glass, saints and rulers who played a part in Salisbury’s history. On the bleak ruins of Old Sarum, beams of light were shot high into the night sky so that they were visible from Salisbury town centre.

There are many interesting monuments inside the cathedral, including that of founder William Longespee (who was thought to have been poisoned–and a RAT found in his skull when his tomb was opened was full of arsenic!), Sir John Cheney, the 6ft 6 giant who was unhorsed by Richard III at Bosworth, and possibly Lionel Woodville, who was Bishop there until Buckingham’s rebellion, when he fled to Brittany hearing of  Buckingham’s failure. Salisbury also has one of the copies of Magna Carta and the tallest spire in England. The building of the cathedral was fictionalised in the best-selling novel ‘PILLARS OF THE EARTH’ by Ken Follett, which recently was made into a TV series.

 

SARUM LIGHTS VIDEO

A STRANGE PORTRAIT OF ELIZABETH WOODVILLE

Recently I came across a Victorian piece of art by Ford Madox Brown which is supposed to depict Elizabeth Woodville first appearing before Edward IV with her two small children. It’s rather odd piece and not particularly flattering–I am guessing that the artist was not a Woodville fan? Here, a rather plain-looking Liz W. has  a simpering, slightly smug  expression and is rolling her eyes upwards (perhaps batting her eyelashes at Edward.)

It is, shall we say, not a good look.

Even more perplexing is the fact, she seems to have THREE children rather  than two–and the one crammed in the middle is a rather sinister, saturnine boy with a widow’s peak, who resembles a young Dracula, or Eddie Munster from the Munsters TV series!

I am not surprised that this painting is not more well-known!

 

madox_brown_lady_grey_451

The advantages of marrying young

Although the medieval practice of child marriage seems strange to us, if not repulsive, there were advantages that arose from it, particularly for the bride.

For example, Anne of Gloucester, Richard II’s cousin and daughter of Thomas of Woodstock married the Earl of Stafford at a very early age. He died while she was still far too young for the marriage to be consummated. Nevertheless, she was granted dower, one third of his lands for life.

You might have thought that with the marriage not being consummated it would have been classed as null and void. After all, any Church court was ready to void an unconsummated marriage between adults. However, this is one of those areas where the English Common Law took a hand, and it took the view that even so young a “wife” as Anne was entitled to her marital dower lands in the event of her husband’s death.

The advantages of child marriage, where substantial lands were concerned, are therefore quite obvious from the point of view of the bride’s parents. Of course the snag was that she had no say in the choice of bridegroom, but then again, at this level of society in this era she rarely would have done anyway. (Fond parents did sometimes allow a girl to reject a marriage she found repulsive, but this is not at all the same as having free choice.) It is worth pointing out – for this is sometimes forgotten – that the male partner, if under age, had no choice either.

Anne subsequently married her first husband’s brother, who did grow up to young manhood. Their marriage was duly consummated. When he died, still only young, at the battle of Shrewsbury in 1403, Anne received in compensation yet another third of the Stafford lands in dower. As she was also her father’s sole heiress (her surviving sisters having become nuns) she had inherited his lands too, as well as those of those of her mother, co-heiress of the Bohun family.

In 1405 Anne married (presumably her own choice this time) William Bourchier, later Count of Eu.) When he died in 1420 she received dower from him too.

Anne herself lived into 1438, and died a very wealthy woman indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some York cottages from Richard’s time….

31 North Street, York – photograph taken from article

This link takes you to an article  about the medieval church cottages in North Street, York, next to All Saints Church. The article is about all the cottages, which were built around the time of Richard III, but concentrates on one in particular, number 31 North Street. There are some excellent old photographs.

After standing empty and almost derelict, in the early 1970s the cottages were saved and turned into dwellings again.

Oh, and the article also tells of a small building that had some claims to being the ‘smallest house in England’!

 

Shadow King: the Life and Death of Henry VI


Shadow King: The Life and Death of Henry VI by Lauren Johnson

Head of Zeus Publications, 2020, paperback, 700 pages, £12.00
ISBN 978-1784-979645

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Henry VI has gone down in history as one of England’s worst kings. Not for being cruel or despotic; on the contrary, his nature was kindly and pliant, peace-loving and deeply devout – qualities that made him likeable as a person but hopeless as a monarch, a faint wavering shadow of his shrewd, martial father. His life would have been very different, and he may have become a better ruler, had he grown to manhood under the guidance of Henry V, this perfect model of the medieval warrior-statesman. Instead, by the latter’s untimely death in 1422 with his French kingdom far from pacified, the infant Henry only received the dire legacy of an unwinnable war, and perpetual bitter conflict between members of his family over the implementation of the late king’s will and their respective powers on the minority council.

Such is the context for the opening chapters of Lauren Johnson’s sympathetic new study, which sets out to ‘explore Henry VI as an evolving individual struggling in an extraordinary situation. In short, to consider him as a man.’ Recently released in paperback, Shadow King is a handsome volume, illustrated with 24 colour plates, family trees of the Houses of Lancaster, Beaufort and York, and three helpful maps, (France 1415 – 53; Wars of the Roses battles 1455 – 71; and 15th century noble landholding in England and Wales).

The well-referenced text falls into logical sections: Henry’s minority 1422 – 37; adult rule to 1453, including his marriage to Margaret of Anjou; political and mental breakdown, culminating in his deposition by Edward IV at Towton in 1461; his fugitive years, short-lived re-adeption, and eventual fate in the Tower of London. A brief ‘Afterlife’ and epilogue conclude the sad, strange stories of this unfortunate king and his queen, followed by two appendices, ‘Where did Henry VI die?’ and ‘Key Characters’, 68 pages of notes, and an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources.

Stylistically, some passages read like an historical novel: ‘The inky waters of the River Thames rippled and slid beneath the wherrymen’s oars. In places the peaks of the waves glistened, light falling from the windows of Winchester Palace as bursts of laughter and music echoed out.’ (Page 45). Such imaginative touches bring the text to life for many readers, although my own preference is for Johnson’s straight prose, which I found admirably clear and refreshing. Why gild the lily?

As for content, I particularly enjoyed the first two sections. Johnson makes excellent use of some seldom-used sources to paint a convincing, detailed picture of Henry’s early life. Her exposition of the complex political situations in England and France, (riven by its own civil war between the Armagnacs and Burgundians), and the equally complex personal war between Henry’s kinsmen, is lucid and easy to follow; and she offers some perceptive analyses of the likely effects on an impressionable child of having to perform the rituals of royalty surrounded by such constant conflict and tension. Theoretically wielding absolute power but practically powerless to control his feuding councillors, it’s no wonder that Henry grew up hating discord, and wishing only to please and appease the people closest to him, emotionally or literally.

However, as the story moved into more familiar territory, I felt some disappointment. Plainly no fan of Richard, Duke of York, Johnson gives short shrift to his justifiable reasons for expecting a primary place on Henry’s council/in his confidence, and justifiable chagrin at being passed over for lesser men. York’s assumption of pre-eminence was based on his royal pedigree: descended from the second and fifth sons of Edward III via his mother and father respectively, he was one of England’s wealthiest magnates with a claim to the throne arguably stronger than Henry’s. This was not lost upon the king’s beloved Beaufort kin, a legitimated line sprung from John, Duke of Lancaster’s affair with Kathryn Swynford, who, (along with sundry other jealous rivals), persistently undermined York in Henry’s malleable affections. Had Henry managed to keep his powerful cousin on-side, the Wars of the Roses might never have happened; instead, he progressively alienated York, and wounded his pride, by showing an unfair and obvious partiality for the base-born Beauforts . It seems a shame that Johnson doesn’t extend her even-handed approach to Duke Richard, or treat him as another ‘evolving individual struggling in an extraordinary situation’ who, no less than Henry VI, deserves to be viewed ‘as a man’ trying to do his best for his country, his family and himself.

I was also disappointed by the brief, conventional accounts of the battles of Wakefield and Towton, the great Lancastrian victory followed shortly by the catastrophic defeat which cost Henry his crown, changing his life – and the course of English history – forever. In a work of this magnitude, it’s inevitable that some areas will be less well researched than others; nonetheless, for such a crucial episode, it was frustrating to see some old Wakefield myths perpetuated and enlarged. Like other commentators unfamiliar with the place, Johnson describes Sandal Castle as ‘majestic’ when, as castles go, it’s quite small (Sandal would fit inside the truly majestic Pontefract Castle several times over) and utilitarian. Interestingly, the ‘meagre’ household expenditure of £4 6s 7d for the Christmas – New Year period is cited to show that the castle was poorly provisioned, whereas to me it says precisely the opposite: it was already so well provisioned that little further spending was required. (I say ‘little,’ but the sum in question represents around 18 months – three years’ pay for a labourer, or six months’ pay for a liveried archer – it’s all relative!). This debatable interpretation is then used to present a version of the battle of Wakefield which simply doesn’t make sense: York, Salisbury, Rutland and their men, driven by hunger to hunt in the deer-park ‘north of the River Calder,’ ambushed by the Lancastrian army and slaughtered. Said deer park wasn’t just north of the river – it was the Outwood, some three miles north of Sandal and two miles north of Wakefield city, with its chantry chapel of St Mary perched on the Calder bridge; an unnecessarily long way to go when Sandal Castle had its own deer-park to the south, literally on its threshold, and miles of nearby river for fishing and wild-fowl hunting. (For my personal take on the battle, see this article ) I also found her treatment of Towton somewhat superficial, and lacking reference to more recent studies such as those by George Goodwin and Tim Sutherland.

Suffice to say, if I wasn’t such a pro-Yorkist anorak about this period in Wars of the Roses history, these criticisms wouldn’t have occurred, and I would have read the whole book with the same relish as I devoured the earlier sections! So, on the whole, I’m happy to recommend Shadow King as a worthwhile read, an enthralling tragedy which left me moved and thoughtful, and which will make a valuable addition to my bookshelves.

Combining genetics with genealogy to identify the dead in unmarked graves….

 

Can you imagine swarms of investigators milling around unmarked graves (and known graves) across the UK, taking samples of DNA in the hope of locating someone of historic interest? After all, it’s how Michael Ibsen’s descent from Richard’s sister was discovered.

Well, the nature of events in Quebec, Canada, described in this article, raise some interesting points.

Such searches aren’t likely to happen en masse, of course, but if they did, I wonder just whose last resting place might be unearthed? And just who might be proved to NOT be the son/daughter of the parents to whom they’re credited? Some new historical mysteries might be solved…and some very intriguing possibilities created where they weren’t before!

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