A mystery at the Swan Inn at Clare, Suffolk….

On reading the February 2021 edition of the Mortimer History Society’s publication, Mortimer Matters, I was intrigued by an article (by Hugh Wood) about a curious piece of carved and painted wood. “….Brightening up the front of the Swan Inn in Clare in Suffolk is this colourful piece of carved wood. Its shape suggests that it was once the sill of an oriel window. The pub itself is thought to date from the 17th century, but the sign is much older…and comes from Clare Castle….” Great care is taken in the article to point out that the carvings have been repainted a number of time over the centuries, so therehas to be caution about some of the colours. For instance, the shield in the centre of the Mortimer arms (on the right of the above illustration, quartered with the de Burgh arms) should be silver, but silver deteriorates to black over the years and eventually it was clearly thought black was the correct colour.

I won’t go into more detail about cadency marks and so on, suffice it that the royal arms are clear on the left, and the white swan, ducally gorged and chained, in the centre is a badge of the Lancastrian kings. It’s thought the blue label atop the shield indicate them to be those of Henry, Prince of Wales (to become Henry V). Why would the prince figure in this Mortimer/Clare matter? Perhaps because when Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March, died in 1398, his son and heir, Edmund Mortimer (5th Earl of March), was only six, so his lands and so on reverted to the Crown until he came of age. King Henry IV granted Clare Castle to the Prince of Wales.

Which takes me back to Edmund’s father, Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March. The Mortimer/de Burgh quartering of the shield on the right can only date as far back as Roger, who died in 1398. Roger had a good claim to succeed Richard II, being the eldest grandson of Lionel of Clarence, and he was indeed believed to be the childless Richard’s heir by many in 14th-century England. We can’t know what might have happened had Roger not been killed tragically young in Ireland. He was wearing Irish costume and wasn’t recognised!

The House of Lancaster—John of Gaunt—regarded the Mortimer/Clarence thing as tiresome, of course, and wanted the claim to be swept aside because it came through a female line (Roger’s mother was Lionel of Clarence’s only child).  Now Roger was also the father of Anne Mortimer, who married Richard of Conisburgh. Their eldest son became Richard, 3rd Duke of York.

Now, I don’t profess to understand the meaning of the crescent/quatrefoil to the right of the royal arms, or the blue tree with the golden crown and two golden flowers (suns?)— but I’m very curious about the blue foliage and berries to the right of the swan. Are those mulberries? Is it a reference to the murrey and blue of York? It’s on the correct side, i.e. Mortimer, and the York connection comes through Anne Mortimer and Richard of Conisbrough?

I’m only guessing, of course, and am certainly not an expert. Nor should it be forgotten that the wood carvings have been repainted and so the colours may not be accurate, but I can’t help wondering if the carving is a political statement that isn’t only concerned with the House of Lancaster.

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