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Witchcraft (1): Witchcraft and Royalty: The Cases against Eleanor Cobham and Joanne of Navarre

Giaconda's Blog

Fake news – smearing the opposition

With the current interest in the media about the spread of ‘fake news’ and misinformation, it seems appropriate to reconsider the cases of two royal ladies who were both accused and found guilty of witchcraft during the early C15th. Were these simply cases of politically motivated ‘fake news’ stories? It is clear that in both cases that their enemies stood to gain by their fall and that witchcraft was an easy accusation to bring against any woman in an age of superstition and bigotry.

la-pucelle La Pucelle – Joan of Arc was brought down by accusations of heresy and witchcraft

They were also not the only women in the public eye to be brought down using similar methods – we have the very public example of Joan of Arc who was contemporary with Eleanor of Cobham and accused of heresy and witchcraft and burnt at the…

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Towton, 29th March 1461: The Bloodiest Battle in English History?

Giaconda's Blog

towton 1

Towton is regarded by many historians as the worst battle to ever be fought on English soil in terms of the number of combatants, casualty figures, conditions on the day and treatment of those captured during the rout.

It is always extremely difficult to gauge the reality of the medieval battlefield due to a number of factors. There were other, more ancient battles that were recorded in annals and chronicles which talk of massive numbers of combatants and bloody routs – Boudicca’s last stand on Watling Street in 60-1 AD, the Battle of Brunanburgh in 937 AD and the Battle of Hastings in 1066 for example but how reliable were the figures recorded at the time or later by chroniclers and historians?

Without reliable eye witness accounts and archaeological evidence of mass grave pits, it is difficult to establish exactly how many troops were present, how many were actually killed…

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Great St Mary’s Church, Cambridge and its Royal Patrons

Giaconda's Blog

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In the very heart of historic Cambridge, stands a tall and elegant late Perpendicular Gothic church, sandwiched between the colleges and market square.

The church of St Mary the Virgin has stood on the site since 1205; the first recorded rector being Thomas de Chiveley who was appointed in the reign of King John.

The church was burnt to the ground in 1290. The local Jewish population were blamed for this unfortunate event and were punished by shutting down their synagogue. After the rebuilding of the church it was re-named Great St Mary’s, to differentiate it from Little St Mary’s in 1351.

King Edward III was a benefactor of the church at this time, along with his re-founding of King’s Hall in Cambridge which was later assimilated into Trinity College during the reign of King Henry VIII.

dscf3096 Arms of King Edward III and his sons over the gateway to Trinity College…

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Blacksmiths for Gods and Heroes: Tracing the Magical Blacksmith through Myth

Giaconda's Blog

thahgd2gku Hephaestus from an Attic red Kylix vase decoration.

Who Were the Legendary Smiths?:

The figure of the often deformed or maimed blacksmith who forges remarkable weaponry and armour for gods or heroes is a re-occurring archetype in myth across many cultures.

We have Hephaestus in Greek myth who becomes Vulcan in Latin literature and may have travelled with trade routes and language to other cultures or, indeed have been absorbed from other cultures into the Classical pantheon. Both are regularly depicted in art carrying the tools of their trade – the blacksmith’s hammer and tongs.

dia41_h600px.jpg Vulcan – God of fire and volcanoes as well as smith of the gods

Comparative parallels exist in the Ugarit craftsman and magician -god Kothar-wa-Khasis, who is identified from afar by his distinctive walk—possibly suggesting that he limped, and the Egyptian God, Ptah, described as a naked and deformed dwarf by Herodotus. He is…

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Edgar the Aetheling: Failure or Survivor?

Giaconda's Blog

edgar-the-aetheling-1

You could argue that Edgar was set up to fail from the start. As the last male heir of the ancient royal House of Cerdic of Wessex; Edgar had the bloodline but little else to support his claim to the English throne when his great uncle, Edward the Confessor, died in January 1066.

edgar-2 Edgar’s father, Edward the Exile who raised his children in Hungary for some time

His father, Edward the Exile, had mysteriously died shortly after being recalled to court by Edward the Confessor, to be his heir thus leaving Edgar’s claim unprotected by a strong male relative at the tender age of 6. His mother, Agatha, may have been related to the German Emperor but was far from assistance and before long would be surrounded by powerful men who were all set to devour each other in a violent contest of military strength in order to lay hands…

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Teaching History to Children: Connected Thinking for the C21st

Giaconda's Blog

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How do we teach our children history?

As an avid reader of historical non-fiction and enthusiast of all things medieval, I was determined to introduce my children to history up-close and personal from as early an age as possible. I didn’t want them to learn history in little clunks of dis-connected ‘projects’ at primary school because I felt that they needed to see history as a continuum. I wanted them to live and breathe their history and to care about the lives of other humans who lived long ago but shared the same basic fears and enthusiasms and dreams for their future as we do.

Now, there is nothing wrong with teaching history in ‘project’ format at Primary level. You have to start somewhere and it is important to introduce such a complex and difficult subject in a digestible format. What I object to, is the feeling that like many…

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‘Blood Sisters’: A Review of Seven Royal lives

Giaconda's Blog

Sarah Gristwood’s book, ‘Blood Sisters’ looks at the lives and reputations of seven key women who lived through the tumultuous and deadly years of the ‘Cousins War’ in C15th England and who changed the course of our national story by their actions.

I particularly wanted to read this book because women are so often side-lined or underestimated when it comes to the re-telling of events, yet were as much the ‘glue’ that held society together then as they are now. Their efforts, devotion, ambition, desires and fears had as much impact on the lives of their family members and the wider course of events as their male counterparts yet many historians continue to portray these women as ciphers or subsidiary characters in events.

Historians can also continue to be unduly influenced by the contemporary accounts of infamy or notoriety which have become attached to these women and which have slewed…

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Hastings 950: Remembering the End of an Age

Giaconda's Blog

Over the summer holidays I visited Battle Abbey with my family. We also found our way to Pevensey Bay and Hastings during our trip to re-trace the footsteps of King Harold’s last stand against Norman invaders almost 950 years ago.

Pevensey was atmospheric and eery on an overcast morning with a steely glint on the waves and the slipping pebbles underfoot. We sat on the breakwater and imagined what it would have been like to sight ships on the horizon and dread what they would bring and where they might make landfall. We thought about the effort of unloading supplies and weapons and war horses on a beach like Pevensey and how difficult to would have been to get these up the shifting track ways of pebbles with the threat of an armed response from local defenders and of how treacherous the English channel has proven to be to would-be invaders…

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‘The Hollow Crown’: A Poisoned Chalice or the Ultimate Prize?

Giaconda's Blog

benedict Benedict Cumberbatch as Shakespeare’s Richard III

I am currently watching the second instalment of Shakespeare’s history plays, concerning ‘The Wars of the Roses’ as interpreted by the BBC’s condensed and somewhat, contorted adaptation.

The first part of ‘The Hollow Crown’ covered Shakespeare’s history plays: Richard II, Henry IV, Part I and II and Henry Vth.  It was, for the most part, an excellent production. A combination of strong casting, brilliant original material and interesting sets made it a joy to watch. Simon Russell Beale’s Falstaff was a triumph. He gave a mesmerizing performance which managed to capture all the facets of Falstaff’s complex character in little more than a look or a gesture.

The overwhelming sense of these plays was the great burden which kingship brought for the poor unfortunate who wore the crown. In another blog post I have written about this in detail, taking specific lines from each of…

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Macbeth – Michael Fassbender’s flawed hero king.

Giaconda's Blog

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I’m always intrigued to see how a Shakespeare play will be approached, particularly when the constraints of the stage are removed and a director is given free rein to adapt and interpret through the medium of film.

I had read a few reviews of the 2015 version of Macbeth, starring Michael Fassbender in the lead role and was keen to see it.

Macbeth is not a play that I am particularly familiar with, despite studying at school. I found it a hard slog at the time and have avoided going to see it live ever since. It has always felt too dark and morbid with unsympathetic characters, motivated by greed and ambition, so I wasn’t surprised with the moodily evocative filming and all the rain or the nod to ‘Game of Thrones’ which seems to influence so much tv drama at the moment. I was ready for gratuitous throat-slitting, if…

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