My devotion to watching TV documentaries often turns up odd bits and pieces. This time the culprit is “Curse of the Vampire” from Mythical Beasts, series 1, episode 3, shown on Sky History 2.
As you might expect, the theme was the strong medieval belief that the dead could return to torment the living as revenants. Such a belief wasn’t confined to east European lands, because I know it has turned up in the British Isles too. I understand that graves containing skeletons with stone in their mouths are to do with revenants.
Anyway, the well-known stake-through-the-heart thing was fact, and wasn’t meant to “kill” the vampire, just keep it confined to its grave. This is where my mind started to ponder something that is said to have happened after the Battle of Stoke Field in 1487. Henry VII wanted the Yorkist leader John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, taken alive, in order to “question” him. I can imagine what that would have entailed! But to Henry’s great displeasure Lincoln and his captains were killed in the battle.
It’s said that unlike the body of Richard III after Bosworth, John’s body wasn’t put on public display, instead it (and those of other Yorkist captains) were hurriedly buried beneath a willow tree. Not only that, the bodies were pierced with willow osiers, from which legend has it that great new willows grew. If this is true (and I know many believe it’s a fabrication) why were the remains impaled with osiers? As a gesture of contempt? Indeed, why was Lincoln especially shown so little regard. He was a royal earl and the future Duke of Suffolk, yet was apparently shoved in a shallow unmarked grave, all trace of which has now disappeared.
Was Henry VII a superstitious man? Maybe he feared Lincoln would return from the dead and raise another Yorkist army against him? Perhaps the osiers were the wooden stakes with which we are more familiar. Which leads me to wonder if Henry was making sure this was one Yorkist leader who’d be confined to the grave forever?
Many medieval aristocrats employed astrologers and Henry was no exception. Plus, of course, he was paranoid by nature. He consulted one William Parron, who produced “a private printed prediction” for him. I wonder if Henry feared it might include dire warnings of Yorkist revenants? Parron came unstuck when he predicted that Henry’s queen Elizabeth of York would live to be 80, but she died most inconveniently at 37! You can read about Henry and William Carron here.