murreyandblue

A great WordPress.com site

Author Archive

A Medieval Almshouse–with a Hidden Treasure

Sherborne is a pretty little town with a ruined castle, interesting buildings including, an abbey, and a medieval almshouse. All are well worth a visit but the 15th century almshouse is of particular note as it is still in use in its original function. As the buildings are  residential, the Almshouse is not generally open to the public but the chapel  and adjacent room can be viewed on certain summer afternoons for a small fee (although due to the current pandemic it may be a long time before it opens to the public  again.)

The Almshouse first began as a House of Mercy in 1406, but what we see today is  from the New Foundation of 1437, where a house was built to Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist. A licence was obtained from King Henry VI with the assistance of Robert Neville, Bishop  of Salisbury (a brother of Cecily Neville, mother to Edward IV and Richard III.) Robert owned the manor of Sherborne at the time, hence his  interest in the charitable project.

The licence granted by Henry gave the House the rights to hold the property, and permission for the use of a seal for an almshouse containing ‘poor, feeble and impotent’ men and women. To assist these aged tenants‘ needs was chaplain and a housewife‘ were obtained. A prior was appointed from the  residents too oversee the running of the house. The cleaning lady was paid  quarterly and got a new gown and hood thrown into the bargain every year. The tenants themselves received white, woolen, hooded gowns and food to the cost of ten shillings served twice a day–‘reasonable drinking’ was also permitted in the evenings! If times were hard, however, the residents were initially allowed to beg out in the town streets, although later this practice was forbidden.

A facsimile of the Almshouse  licence  hangs on a  wall inside the inside the building. Written in English, it is sealed by Robert Neville, Humphrey Strafford of Hooke, and others donors who gave sumptuous gifts, including a local lady called Margaret Goffe who gifted the Julian Inn. Below the facsimile lies the house’s original money coffer with its five sturdy locks–all five key-holders had to gather in order to open the chest, so there was no chance of anyone with light fingers dipping into the community’s funds!

During the Reformation, the little house‘s existence was threatened since it  was deemed  a place  used for ‘superstitious’ rites. However, in the end it was not destroyed or sold off due to it being a charity run by lay persons.

 What is particularly interesting about the Almshouse is its ‘little secret’, hidden from the later Tudor era right down to modern times. Secreted  away in one of the rooms was a stunning medieval triptych painting crafted in around 1480. Due to having been folded up and kept in a dark place, it has retained its medieval colours in full glorious vibrancy. Lazarus  rises from the dead; a sinister Satan is cast out of a dumb man; the son of the widow of Nain and the daughter of Jairus rise again, and Bartimaeus is healed of his ills.

The Triptych  is now restored to a position of prominence in the little chapel, overlooking by 15thc stained glass depicting the Virgin and Child, John the Baptist and John the Evangelist.

A Calendar of Queens –Minus One

Recently I came across an interesting article on Royal Central   listing all the Queens who had anniversaries relevant to June-births, deaths, coronations, marriages and the start of  their reigns. However, I did notice a couple of  things in it that I would query–an error and an omission.

CALENDAR OF QUEENS

First the error. The article mentions that Elizabeth Woodville, who died on June 8, 1492, having been packed off to Bermondsey Abbey,   was the first ‘non-royal’ Queen of England. In fact, she was not. Most of the Queens were not themselves royal but children of the nobility–the daughters of Counts and Earls. Elizabeth’s father was not titled at the time of her birth, so she was neither a princess nor of the nobility,  but she did actually have some royal English ancestry through her mother, Jacquette of Luxembourg, daughter of Peter, Count of St Pol, who was descended  on her father’s side from Henry III via his daughter Beatrice of England,  and on her maternal side from King John via his daughter Eleanor of England.

The omission is Lady Eleanor Talbot, the probable first wife of marry-secretly-in-haste Edward IV who died died sometime in June 1468. Even if you don’t believe in the pre-contract, despite considerable circumstantial evidence including Edward mysteriously paying for repairs  of the church in the village where Lady Eleanor held the manor and handing out loaves of bread to each villager,  she should have been mentioned even if only as a ‘disputed’ consort.

If Lord Guildford Dudley, husband of the short-reigning Jane (Grey) can get a mention as  ‘disputed’ on the Wiki entry about Consorts, Eleanor, I think, deserves at least that much! (Sudeley Castle, which has connections to Lady Eleanor through her Boteler marriage has now embraced her story and has a display about her–hurrah!)

There are other ‘disputed’ consorts later in history, of course, as listed comprehensively  in John Ashdown-Hill’s book Royal Marriage Secrets, and even other bigamous marriages. Most interestingly, perhaps, is  the second wedding of Henry VIII, Edward’s think-alike grandson, to Anne Boleyn–he “married” her in a secret ceremony BEFORE his annulment from Katherine of Aragon was finalised… (And people  still somehow imagine Edward couldn’t possibly have done much the same?)

 

 

 

CARICATURE OF A KING

A caricature is putting the face of a joke on the body of a truth–Joseph Conrad
If Joseph Conrad was correct (and I believe he was), whatever could someone in the late 15th c have been trying to tell us about Henry VII in this amusing manuscript doodle? Especially as it came from  the Archbishop’s Register of the diocese of York.

henrycartoon

 

That nose! That pinched  expression! Is the King depicted trying to smell out someone’s hard earned money? Did a scribe in York not think  terribly much of the new Tudor king?

And, just for fun,  here’s a more recent (early 20th c?) cartoon of Henry chowing down with good old Bishop Morton (by then  Archbishop of Canterbury), as they devise the idea of Morton’s Fork…

Henry VII taking a Chop with the Archbishop of Canterbury

 

Dismal Sewage

They say every writer should find a niche. Unfortunately, certain ‘popular historians’ seem to have leapt onto  ‘gimmicks’ than a niche and write all or most of their books in similar vein, often to the detriment of their work and a growing lack of credibility with each further tome.

A trend amongst several notable authors seems to be the cynical and sarcastic slagging off of the historical figures they write about, most likely to stir up controversy in the hopes of making sales—who knows? Any sense of being non-partisan or unbiased is thrown out the window pretty much on page 1.

 ‘Jack of All Trades’ history writer Desmond Seward (Demon Sewer? Dismal Sewage?) is a prime offender. Most of us will remember Demon’s jaw-dropping book on Richard III, titled, so menacingly…’The Black Legend’. (Oooh, shades of Sauron and Mordor!) Without tramping over old turf, this totally unbiased (choke) book contains such wonderful remarks as (paraphrasing here), ‘If he was two fingers shorter than Richard, Von Poppelau must have been a dwarf…’ In his updated version of the same tired tosh he chides Ricardians for seeking the truth about Richard because “…the White Legend continues to appeal to every Anglo-Saxon lover of a lost cause and, in particular, to lady novelists.” (Very odd application of ‘Anglo Saxon’ as well as showing an unpleasant Starkey-esque strain of sexism.) He also is a true believer in the words of the sainted Thomas More because he was, after all, a SAINT, so presumably infallible—yes, the ‘saint’ who burned people at the stake and poetically wrote long insulting tracts containing multiple references to faeces. True story. What a scholar. What a charmer.

Recently Sewer returned to the Wars of the Roses period with a new book, THE LAST WHITE ROSE, and continued in the same vein, with a combination of vitriol and errors. Edmund de la Pole was apparently haughty, pompous and unintelligent (the latter deduced apparently from his bad handwriting!) John, Duke of Suffolk was called a nonentity and given the wrong date of death. John of Lincoln was saupposedly devious, and even accused of abducting the young, hapless Lambert Simnel from his family! (Sewer appears to believe there really WAS a child ridiculously named after a cake, even although the surname is rarer than a blue moon and there is no record of any family by that name). Worst of all, however, is a supposed quote from Croyland about Elizabeth of Suffolk, complete with page number. It does not exist in Croyland, if anywhere at all, yet is masquerading as a quote from a primary source!!

I haven’t read all of Demon Sewer’s books, needless to say, but some of the customer reviews are noteworthy and often rather hilarious. Apparently any strong women in history are described as ‘viragos’ or worse. In his Eleanor of Aquitaine bio, not only does he seem to dislike Eleanor herself, he has a bit of a fixation with Richard the Lionheart’s homosexuality. Which is a bit odd, as there is no actual evidence that Lionheart WAS homosexual, and that theory of the mid-20th century is pretty much discredited today. In fact, there is some evidence that Lionheart, in his misspent youth, ravished his enemy’s wives and then gave them to his men!

Perhaps the funniest error Dismal made, though, was found in one of his other books, The King over the Water, which is about the Jacobites. Apparently, he wrote that  the maternal grandparents of Lord Derwentwater were Charles II and Moll Flanders. MOLL FLANDERS? She is a character in a novel by Daniel Defoe!

Maybe Dismal should write a book on Moll next. Non-fiction, of course.

A Demon Sewer and…Desmond Seward. Purportedly…but might not be….

New Video Review by Matthew Lewis of Michele Schindler’s LOVELL OUR DOGGE

Author and historian Matthew Lewis has continued his excellent series of short videos reviewing various Wars of the Roses books and talking about all things Yorkist (and more besides.) One of his latest YouTube videos reviews the recent  book release LOVELL OUR DOGGE by Michele Schindler, a non-fiction offering that  helps to fill the rather large hole in our knowledge about Richard III’s best friend. Like Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, very little has ever been written about Lovell independently of Richard, either about his life or his family, and this oversight by most historians makes this highly significant figures fade into the background, which was certainly not the case during his lifetime. This book goes some way to getting a clearer picture of the man obscured by legend.

 

LOVELL OUR DOGGE VIDEO REVIEW BY MATTHEW LEWIS

 

LOVELL

Weir(d) Babies

A while ago, I talked about the non-existence of  a short-lived child of Richard Duke of York and Cecily Neville  called Joan of York, who mysteriously made it into Alison Weir’s  royal genealogies,  despite only ever appearing in someone’s self-made family tree from the 1960’s.

Since then I have come across yet another non-existent child named by Weir, who frequently also appears in online genealogical tables and potted biographies. ‘Edward’, the child of Henry IV and his first wife, Mary de Bohun, is frequently described as having been born when his mother was only  12 and hence lived only a few days. In fact, it appears that Mary was, as one might expect, still living with her mother at the time she was supposed to be carrying this baby.  The non-existent child perhaps has  been confused with  a son of Mary’s sister, Eleanor, who was born that same year (though Humphrey died as a teen rather than a baby.)

A ‘Thomas of Windsor’ has also been attributed to Edward III and Philippa of Hainault in several sources. Again, there seems to be no evidence of his existence. According to historian Kathryn Warner, Philippa was in Calais, not Windsor, at the time this fictional baby was supposed to have been born. His tale seems to have grown out of a story by several French chroniclers that Philippa was pregnant when in Calais. Philippa’s last son, who was named Thomas of Woodstock, may also have contributed to the confusion.

I have also recently come across some entries for ‘extra’ children of Henry III and Eleanor of Provence. Besides the children we know about, there are FOUR more occasionally listed in biographies: Richard (1247–1256), John (1250–1256), William (1251–1256) and Henry (1256–1257). Despite the  birth and death dates listed for these supposed children, there are no contemporary records that mention any of them, and it is unlikely that a 9 year old prince, at the very least,  would not get a mention somewhere in the chronicles of the time.

Here’s pictures of ‘Ugly Medieval Babies’ looking at YOU, lazy historians!

uglybabies

HENRY “TUDOR” IN THE 21ST CENTURY?

With advanced computer technology, more artists and other interested people are doing their own ‘facial reconstructions’ of famous historical figures, often giving them modern hair styles and clothes to let people see how they might have looked if they lived in the present day.

The following article has 30 such images, and is interesting because not only does it have the usual ‘Henry VIII and his wives’,  but also Henry VII, who normally gets rather forgotten about as far as the Tudors go, being generally deemed the ‘boring one.’ (Penny-pinching is not nearly so exciting as enmasse head-chopping, after all.)

If you read the article, don’t forget to scroll down to the comments under Henry’s pic–some are hilarious!tudorrecon

HISTORICAL FIGURES RECREATED article

 

 

The Mysterious Stone Masons of Herefordshire

Recently I had the chance to visit two of the most attractive female medieval tomb effigies I have yet encountered, both lying in their respective churches within ten miles or so of each other. Although one tomb effigy is in much better condition than the other, they are so stylistically close that it is likely they were carved by the same stonemasons or, at least, come from the same workshop.

The lady lying in the North Chapel of Ledbury’s St Michael and All Angels is a little neglected, hidden in a corner with boxes and other church items stacked in front of her, but it is well worth moving around the clutter to take a closer look. Her identity is not known (it was once thought she was one of the Audleys but that idea is now discredited) but the shields on her tomb indicate she may have been the sister of the wonderfully-named Grymbold Pauncefoot, who married into the Carew family. Lady  Pauncefoot’s  altar tomb is of late 14thc  date, with full-length effigy and a partial canopy and a row of eleven carved shields showing the arms of Carew, Pauncefoot and two Lions Passant. The lady wears a  wimple, fillet and full-length gown that flows over the edge of  the  tomb–however, at some point, sadly, her features have been defaced.

Not so the features of beautiful Blanche Mortimer who lies in perpeptual sleep in the little church of St Bartholomew  in the village of Much Marcle. Blanche was one of the children of the famous–or infamous–Roger Mortimer and his wife Joan de Geneville. She married Peter Grandison and probably lived in Much Marcle at ‘Mortimer Castle’ which stood near the church, a motte and bailey with only traces of the earthwork existing today. The Great Seal of England was handed over at Mortimer’s Castle after Edward II’s deposition in 1327, an important event that Blanche would have witnessed. Blanche and Peter had no living children  (some sources say she had a daughter Isabella, but if so, she must have died in infancy), and upon their deaths,  their lands were inherited by Peter’s brother, John Grandisson, Bishop of Exeter.

Blanche’s tomb is made of sandstone and also has a canopy and many shields bearing the Mortimer and Grandisson Arms. Like the Pauncefoot monument, her  dress is draped down over the edge of the tomb in artful folds; Blanche is also portrayed holding a rosary. Her head is covered but the unusual shape of her headdress denotes that her hair was encased in crespines on either side of her head, a fashion popular at the time. Blanche’s lead coffin still lies within the tomb–rather unusually, as most time the burials were beneath the monument.

Another stone  image probably made by the same masons as Blanche Mortimer and Lady Pauncefoot’s tombs  is in the porch at Hereford Cathedral and is of the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation. Again, the distinctive treatment of the fall of fabric is noticeable and the graceful shape of the torso is also similar to that of Blanche at Much Marcle.

The only other similar carvings in England tend to be within the Devon area–so there is some thought that Bishop John Grandisson may have either sent some of the local stonemasons to Herefordshire or imported talented local men to Exeter.

ladyp2ladyP1

Above images: the Pauncefoot tomb in Ledbury Church.

blanch1Blanche MortimercrespinExample of crespine headdress

 

 

 

 

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

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: