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The Precontract that Gave Us King Richard III

One of the main reasons we now have an amazing King in the list of British monarchs is without doubt the precontract between Lady Eleanor Talbot and King Edward IV.

The turning point in the election of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, as king of England was the discovery of a precontract between the former king and the representative of the noble and powerful family of the Shrewsburys.

Everything started in the early summer of 1460 when Eleanor and Edward met for the first time. She was 24, he was just 18. Edward fell in love with her and she was captivated by the charming new King. It seems that he had promised to marry her after bedding her and the wedding took place in secret, possibly in the spring of 1461 in the presence of Canon Robert Stillington who, on 1st November of the same year, was awarded by Edward an annual salary of £365 (around £235,000 today!). That was a regular contract of marriage so why do we refer to it as a precontract? The answer is that the term precontract has to be accepted with all the implications it had in medieval times: that is neither more nor less than an actual marriage. Precontract does not mean a “betrothal” but it is a legal term to indicate a marriage contract and it becomes a precontract only when a second marriage is arranged for one member of the couple while still married to the previous spouse. So the term precontract does not mean a contract arranged before a marriage but a contract arranged before a subsequent marriage. It is important to clarify this key point to fully understand the reason Richard, Duke of Gloucester, could become King Richard III.

If we consider the succession of events in the life of Edward IV, it is easier to understand why his brother, Richard, was the true and legitimate heir to the throne of England.

Edward IV married Eleanor Talbot with a regular contract of marriage. The nature of this marriage was a secret one, so the sources we have cannot be contemporary but date to about twenty years later. When Edward married Elizabeth Woodville (possibly on 1st May 1464), Eleanor was still alive even though retired as a tertiary of the Carmelite Priory in Norwich. This implies that the second marriage of Edward was adulterous. It also means that the second contract was invalid and Edward was a bigamist. This invalidity could not be changed by the death of the first wife before any children of the second marriage had been born, so there is no justification for Edward’s behaviour and it is undeniable that the consequence of the precontract was the immediate bastardisation of all the issue of the marriage between him and Elizabeth Woodville. The validity of a marriage depended on the existence of a contract, not on the birth of children so it didn’t matter that Edward and Elizabeth had ten children, both boys and girls. The fact that Edward V and Richard of York were born after the death of Eleanor Talbot (she died on 30th June 1468) is not relevant because they were offsprings of an invalid marriage, ergo the king’s bastard sons.

The precontract was known to the Council thanks to the witnessing of Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells. He claimed he had celebrated the wedding of Edward and Eleanor and this declaration could be a factor in his arrest in 1478 as, apparently, the bishop had previously revealed the secret marriage to George, Duke of Clarence, who afterwards claimed to be the true heir to the throne. On 8th June 1483, Stillington unveiled the precontract’s existence to the Council during a meeting at which Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was not present. The possible reason for his absence could be that Stillington had already informed Richard about the precontract.

Many wonder if there was written proof of the precontract’s existence but so far nothing has been found and it is very unlikely anything will come to light. The first reason for this is that it is possible every proof in favour of Richard’s legitimacy to the crown was destroyed by the Tudors to strengthen their very weak claim to the English throne, and second because no proof of evidence was normally produced to invalidate a marriage. The authority of a bishop’s word was enough both for the Council and Church to accept the precontract as a fact. A false declaration for a man of God in medieval times was a warrant of eternal damnation in Hell. From then on, the Council started to consider Richard of Gloucester as the successor to his brother and the approval of the three Estates of Parliament to declare Richard king is proof of this. Edward V signed his last official document on 9th June 1483.

For centuries, historians have investigated the person of Robert Stillington and his role in the events of that crucial year, looking for a possible proof of bribery from Gloucester and Stillington’s corruption. This has been in vain. Nothing that could prove either or both has been found and Richard III never rewarded Stillington for his key role in his accession to the throne. Stillington was eventually handed over to Henry VII and died in prison after having being involved in the plot to place Lambert Simnel on the throne.

Other additional elements that could indicate the existence of the precontract were the fact that Edward IV declared public his marriage with Elizabeth Woodville only in September 1464, a couple of months after the death of Joan, Eleanor’s sister-in-law (possibly a witness of the first marriage?). Other elements are the sources. Over the centuries, historians have tried to give their personal opinions on the matter and many convey that the precontract was indeed a fact.

The Crowland Chronicle and the Titulus Regius state that Eleanor Talbot was indeed Edward’s wife and the Crowland writer uses the word matrimonium referring to the two of them. No source refers to Eleanor as Edward’s mistress.

Barley Hall, the Alderman’s House

There is a Building in York where you can go back in time to 1483. It is situated in the City centre, no 2, Coffee Yard. You may access it from there, or from a small alley in Stonegate.  This Building is now known as Barley Hall.
The story of this mansion is fascinating, and it dates back to 1360, when it was built as the hospice, of Priory Nostell House. This Priory had seen better times, as in the second half of the 15th century, it suffered some financial difficulties, so it was decided to rent it.
The price was quite high, 53 shillings and four pence, the equivalent of £2000 today. (that is, three months wages of a skilled tradesman)  At that time only very wealthy people could afford rent such as this.
In 1464, the house was rented to one William Snawsell, an Alderman of York, who was a goldsmith, master of the Mint, also a sheriff and even the Mayor in 1468. He became the most famous tenant of Barley Hall, henceforth, the building was known as the Alderman’s House.
The property had been refurbished around 1430 when it is thought, that the Great Hall was enlarged, as, there is evidence that builders cut through into the adjacent range of the building, to create the arched canopy above the high table. In this hall all the occupants had their meals with the family sitting at the high table, slightly above the rest of the people in there, as an indication of their higher status.
It seems that in 1480 the house consisted of eleven rooms, with eighteen members of the household including servants. There is no evidence that the house was refurbished during the time that Snawsell rented it. He left the house in 1492, due to poor health and retired to Bilton.
Since then the Alderman’s House was altered greatly. After his departure, the house was leased out again, this time, to a William Carter, a York wine merchant. It was split into separate smaller dwellings, and the biggest surviving part is the great hall, and the 14th century wing.
As the centuries passed, the building changed shape, colour and also materials, so that at some point its medieval features were difficult to be seen. During the Dissolution of the monasteries it was confiscated by the crown, and in the following centuries, it was subdivided into many smaller properties, and also extended.
The darkest period for Barley Hall was in the Victorian Age, when the building was used as a plumber’s workshop. But the house still had to wait for another century, behind a wall, before being rediscovered and refurbished.
In 1984, the building was under threat of demolition and also that year it was nearly turned into flats. Luckily, at the last minute, its fate changed. The Trust acquired it in 1987, when it was realised that it had Medieval origins. The refurbishment lasted 6 years before Barley Hall became what it is today.
All the timbers were dismantled, examined and reconstructed close to its original status, using the same tools and materials  from the Medieval period. It was even possible to date the construction from the age of the trees used for the timber frame. Upon analysing the trees’ rings it was asserted, that they were felled in May of 1360, and in 1361 it was discovered that another house was built close to Barley Hall, so it was definitely built around then.
In early Nineties, the York Archelogical Trust excavated the site, trying to understand how the house would have looked in 1483. The structure was meticulously rebuilt, and the interior furnished with objects based on actual fourteenth century designs. Barley Hall is today a pristine L-shaped half-timbered house with a cobbled yard and it is organised in three wings, one of which contain the Great Hall, a masterpiece with an exposed section of the original medieval floor, with brick tiles arranged to form a geometric pattern.
In the Hall, you can admire a massive tapestry, that covers the wall or most of it. It consists of red and green vertical stripes with the white rose of York intersected within the green stripes. This is the result of  long and patient work by people who painstakingly weaved the tapestry, using the original medieval method.
Other chambers, include a Pantry where a pantler worked, having responsibility for food, and a Buttery occupied by a butler responsible for beverages. The Parlour was used by Snawsell for his business meetings. In this room you can admire a chest that is a replica of one left to Snawsell by his aunt.
It was possible to access the kitchen, from the Great Hall, and some smaller rooms could have been used by servants as their bedrooms.
People who contributed to the rebirth of Barley Hall did an incredible job. This is a unique Building, and it is not exaggerating to say that nothing else like this exists in York, and very few in the whole country. Barley Hall was named after the Trust’s founding chairman the late, Professor Maurice Barley, and opened to the public for the first time in 1993. In 2010, it celebrated its 650th anniversary, with a number of workshops and events, with people wearing medieval clothing.

The church of St Martin-cum-Gregory

IMG_20191126_122508If you go to York and enter Micklegate Bar heading towards the City Centre, you will see a wonderful medieval gem on your right, the church of St Martin-cum-Gregory, of which Richard III was patron (below left). Its name is due to the fact that the present church is the result of two different churches’ fusion, St Martin and St Gregory. In the Middle Ages, York was a city with many churches but, at some point, especially after the Great Plague, the population was slashed and, as a consequence, many of them became redundant; St Gregory on Burton Lane was one of them. In addition to the reduction of the population, after the Reformation, St Martin was scheduled for closure but in 1585 it was decided to knock down St Gregory and to merge the two parishes. The nave of St Martin-cum-Gregory church was built in the 13th century while the side aisles were possibly added at the beginning of the 14th century, the chancel in the 15th century.IMG_20191126_123143

In 1565, the Lord Mayor had given 100 marks to buy three bells. The original steeple had to be removed as it was dangerous and it was rebuilt in 1677. Three years later, a clock and a dial were added. Due to the fact that the tower was made of bricks, the result is a strange combination of different styles. The upper part of the tower was added in the 19th century.

In 1828, the church-wardens and parishioners requested that the butter market, built for the second time in 1778, (the first one dating back to medieval times, had been blown away) be demolished and (sadly) this request was granted. The excuse was that for years no butter had been there and that the place had become an assembly point for riotous people. It had been used to view, search, measure, mark and seal the butter, that afterwards was sold elsewhere, even in London. The market was held every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, a place that today we would have greatly appreciated visiting.IMG_20191126_123138

St Martin-cum-Gregory is famous for its wonderful medieval stained glass and it is surrounded by a graveyard. The roof in the nave was panelled with beautiful sculptured bosses located at the angles of the intersections. In the west end of the steeple it is possible to see the remnants of a Roman family funereal monument.

Recently, the church, belonging to the parish of Micklegate along with Holy Trinity of Micklegate (to distinguish it from Holy Trinity in Goodramgate and the Methodist Church in Monk Gate) and the other parish church of St Mary Bishophill Junior, became surplus to needs and were closed.

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In 2008, due to the beauty of its stained glass, it was reopened as the Stained Glass Centre. Many workshops take place there in summer and currently there is a plan to open the church to the public so it can be visited and appreciated again all the year round. This plan was set up in the hope of giving Micklegate the role it had had before, that of being one of the most interesting and visited areas in York.

 

The Symbolism of the Wild Boar

For many people, seeing a picture of a boar means just seeing a wild animal or a very good meat to eat but for Ricardians it is totally different. The white boar is the emblem of King Richard III, who chose it at some point after he became Duke of Gloucester, when he was able to retain men and array troops. This happened when he was 17, so it is plausible that the choice was made around 1469. What inspired his choice is hard to say. There are many theories around this subject including the word “boar” in itself. In medieval times, the term “boar was spelt “bore” and there is a theory that it could be the anagram of “ebor”, the Roman name of the City of York. It is arguable but as a symbol, what does the boar represent? My personal curiosity pushed me to investigate further and what I have discovered is incredibly fascinating.

The symbolism of the boar changes depending on cultures and countries but many characteristics are common to them and unchanged in time. The boar is an animal that fights till its last breath when hunted, especially if she is a mother. Boars never give up, even if the enemy is clearly more powerful than they are. Fearless and hard to kill, they challenge predators and humans who hunt them. Because of this characteristic, they represent bravery, command, control and fighting spirit. As the meat of the boar is of very high quality, they also represent gatherings and generosity but abundance, courage, stubbornness and power too. It is interesting that the remains of boars have been found in tribal leaders’ burial places to symbolize heroes and warriors.

Many warriors chose the boar as their emblem, especially Anglo-Saxons and Norse leaders. For these cultures and especially in Beowulf, the boar represented ferocity in battle and loyalty to the king. It is possible that the story of Beowulf inspired Richard to choose the boar and his motto to express loyalty to his brother, Edward. Beowulf himself went into battle with a boar-head standard as the symbol of his power as a leader and as a sign of courage.

In Celtic and Arthurian myths, the boar is again the main character in many stories about boar hunting. Twch Trywth was a king who turned into a wild boar. King Arthur started chasing him across the Celtic lands but he went missing into the sea. For this reason, in a Welsh legend, the boar is seen as the antagonist of Arthur himself. Celts also consider the boar as a symbol of the marriage bed because they are believed to bring fertility and to represent virility and great sexual power, in this case a night of love and passion that led to pregnancy. As they protect their offspring to the death, they symbolize good mothering and defenders of honour, righteousness and justice. Celts also thought that the boar was a holy, mystical and mysterious creature and Druids associated him with the incarnation of spiritual power. Its head represents good health and incredible strength. Their flesh is the food of gods and warriors and it is a sacrificial animal. Many are the tales about this aspect of the boar. In the Philippines, eating boar’s meat means replenishment of life.

In Northern mythology, it is said that a wild boar was sacrificed to Freya, the goddess of earth and fertility. The sacrifice took place in midwinter so it is likely that the boar represented the sun and the sacrifice, the rebirth of the sun. Being a symbol of truth, it had a role in the swearing of sacred oaths. On Yule Eve, people put their hands on the boar to swear oaths to the king. After this, it was sacrificed to Freya and its flesh eaten to absorb its power. Today, for Yule Eve, people cook bread in the shape of a boar.

In Indian mythology, the boar is once again seen as the symbol of life and fertility but also as a saviour. Brahmin Vishnu saved the earth in the form of a wild boar. The demon, Hiranyaksha, the enemy of the gods, had sunk the earth into the ocean . The wild boar, Varaha, killed the demon and lifted the earth from the water with his tusks.

Indian tribes see the boar as an example of bravery, honesty, self-confidence and the ability to face problems. They also consider him as an emblem of assertiveness and confrontation, a way to face and overcome fears.

Many crests have the boar as a symbol. Apart from Richard III (the best known leader who adopted the boar as his own symbol) a boar’s head appears in the crest of the clan Mackinnon.

Boars are social animals but they don’t trust strangers. All their actions aim at success and they pursue their goal even at the cost of their life. Notwithstanding their poor eyesight, they have a powerful sense of smell and hearing. The symbology of this is that we should look beneath the surface at all those things that can trouble us and push ourselves to uncover the truth hidden by lies.

 

 

Hygiene in Medieval Times

Have you ever asked yourself how people washed and perfume themselves in Medieval time? And what about the smart and noble Plantagenets? Was there a difference between rich and poor people? You will be surprised to discover that Mediaeval people were cleaner than we can imagine and they smelled good.

As you can imagine, hygienic habits differs from peasants to royals even though every class used to bathe and clean clothes. Of course, peasants and poor people in general, were at the lower level of hygiene due to several reasons, first of all status and income. They were not so rich to afford the cost of fuel to boil water or at least, to warm it as it was used to cook and staying warm. However, they washed themselves in some way using cold water or damp cloths. In summer, streams and river, made the difference. In order to avoid waste of hot water, they used to have a bath every couple of weeks following a sort of criteria. As the bath tub was filled, the head of the family had a bath at first followed by all the male relatives in order of age. After that, women could have a bath starting with the oldest. Babies came at last. It is not difficult to imagine that at that point, water was so murky that was even difficult to find the baby in the bath tub. It seems that the expression “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater”, that today is an idiomatic expression, seems to come from this debatable habits.

In monasteries, things went a little bit worse as monks were allowed to bathe only 3 or 4 times a year but there are some records that show in reality they washed themselves regularly at least partially that means face, hands and feet. Being something related to the body, Church didn’t encourage bathing a lot.

As regards nobles, royals and in general healthy people, things were totally different. As they could afford the cost of hot water and accessories for bathing, they had some portable wooden bathtubs with a curtain where they stay standing. Water was often scented with flowers and herbs. They also have bathtubs very similar to those we have today cased in, with tiles around and in horizontal position.

As regards shaving, men shaved regularly but it was not that easy because mirrors were not clear and wide so they prefer to be shaved by a barber instead. In a household account about Edward IV, every Saturday night, he had a shave and head, legs and feet washed. It seems that Edward was also interested in smelling good. To this purpose, not only he washed himself but also he had his linen boiled in water into which orris root and violets were tied to linen. In addition to these plants, he should have used lavender, roses and rosemary as well. We have reason to believe that Richard and the other men and women of the court, might have followed this trend.

What about teeth? It seems that in Medieval times, the oral hygiene was not so bad as we could think. First of all, teeth at that time were almost perfect as not so many people could access sugar and not so often. In addition to this, they want to appear smart and smell nice so they clean their teeth using linen-cloths to rub them with salt, pepper, rosemary, mint, powdered charcoal, and many other herbs.

Due to the high waste of candles made out of animals fat, castles smelled damp and not exactly good. To avoid this, herbs and flower were strewn across the floor especially lavender, marjoram, thyme and rosemary. This last was used also as a perfume for men.

At this point, many of you are wondering if women removed hair from their body and the answer is yes. They shaved their armpits, legs and the so called “Head Down There”. This practice was common among Western women especially prostitutes who were considered more appealing without hair as this could have given them a sort of “innocent” air. They normally used quicklime for this purpose.

Finally, what was the main smell in Medieval times? There were many flowers and herbs to perfume the air and the body as rosemary, sage, marjoram, lavender, violets but the typical, Medieval smell was rose. To wash their hands and the hands of their close friend before eating, bowls of rose water and petals were put on the table for people to use. Roses are always so fascinating flowers preferred especially by nobles and monarchs and not only for hygienic reasons but also to conquer the heart of a woman. We have not changed a lot after all…

The mysterious stained glass of Giggleswick

Giggleswick Church

Very few people know that there is a mystery surrounding the church of St Alkelda in Giggleswick. The whole matter started with a parish fair.  People from the two churches dedicated to St Alkelda, one in Middleham {pingback to March 28} and one in Giggleswick, were looking for items to sell at the fair in a Parish room. The room was a private house the church had acquired in 1932 and it was linked to the vicarage until the early Sixties. During the search, these parishioners came across a pile of old newspapers and they were attracted by something at the bottom. It was a beautiful stained glass that showed a woman being strangled with her feet in water. Everything matched with the description of St Alkelda’s martyrdom.

Giggleswick Church

Immediately after the discovery, the finders contacted the former vicar’s relatives with memories back till 1955 but they could remember nothing. Many questions arose: who was the artist who had made it? When and above all why the panel was never used? Some think that possibly it was considered extremely Catholic and this was perhaps due to the influence of a local historian, Thomas Braynshaw.

The reason the saint is showed with her feet in water, is because her name is the result of an Old English-Norse word haelikeld that is “holy well”. Possibly, she was associated with the wells that are located close to the churches both in Giggleswick and Middleham but her name was very likely to be a different one. The possibility that St Alkelda was a real person is very strong as in 1818, thanks to a refurbishment of the church in Middleham, a stone coffin was found with the skeleton of a woman inside and in the place where tradition refers the saint was buried.

As the stained glass panel was found, the members of the parish decided to clean it and try to get more information about it. During the cleaning, it was noticed that the blue and the red pieces of glass were thicker than the others.  This could mean that those pieces were made with a different technique possibly medieval coming from another glass depicting St Alkelda or a different subject. What is sure is that in A History of the Ancient Parish of Giggleswick by Brayshaw, a stained glass with many blue pieces was recorded in 1620 so it is likely that the glass was destroyed during the Commonwealth period. In 1890, a photograph shows that the stained glass reported in Braynshaw’s book had been replaced by a plain one. It is a possibility that the old pieces were inserted by the unknown artist in the new glass.

In order to have a more reliable opinion, in 2017, the glass was taken to York Minster’s glaziers. They affirmed that the glass panel was a modern one and that the thick pieces were a sort of imitation of a medieval technique but they were not able to give a definitive answer though. All this makes the glass unique and interesting. However, a question come to mind: why inserting just some pieces made imitating a medieval technique and not making the whole panel using it? It is more plausible that the unknown artist, found or was given the pieces and he had the idea to insert them in his own panel creating a very original artefact.

As regards the name of the saint, we personally have an idea still not supported by evidence. Why dedicating two churches that are very close one to another to both the Virgin Mary and a local saint? Why not just St Alkelda? What if the saint’s name was Mary and the original name of Middleham or Giggleswick church was St Mary of the Holy Well referring to the martyr who baptised converted people using the water of the wells? If her name was Mary, it was easy to mismatch her with the mother of Jesus so this could be the explanation for the adding “of the Holy Well”. At the moment this theory is just our own speculation about this topic.

The good news is that In May 2019 the panel will be allocated in Giggleswick church with a great ceremony. This will be a good occasion to visit both Giggleswick and Middleham, the only two places in the world celebrating St Alkelda but the mystery continues. Giggleswick is also famous for the school, attended by Richard Whiteley and at which Russell Harty taught, did he not?

Richard III enters York

Richard III and his royal progress in York

Richard in York Edward

Richard, Anne and Edward Prince of Wales in York 8th September 1483

It is not that easy to find a city connected to King Richard III as York is. During his life, he visited the capital of Yorkshire many times and after he accepted the crown and became king, he left London for the Royal progress and stayed in York for three weeks.

We are lucky enough to have records of his staying in the city and of his triumphant arrival on 29th August 1483 in the capital of Yorkshire. The description of this event is not very detailed abut gives us the perfect idea of what happened that day in York.

It is significant that Richard entered York through Micklegate Bar.

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Micklegate Bar

He probably decided to do so in 1460 his father’s head had been displayed there as he was declared a traitor. Richard Duke of York was actually eligible to be King himself so we can consider Richard’s choice as a remark that both him and his father were legitimate heirs to the throne. We can also imagine that he wanted to redeem his father entering in triumph from the same gate his father had been so badly humiliated and treated as a traitor.

 

We have an account of the royal progress in York thanks to the Extracts from the Municipal Records of the City of York. I adapted from the medieval version to the modern to be more understandable.

“He took his journey towards the county of York where the people abused his lawful favour (as he both favoured and trusted them in his heart) had of late presumed to attempt diverse routes and riots contrary to his laws and enfranging of his peace and upon hope of his maintenance were so elated that no lord were he never of so great power could either pacify or rule them till the King himself came personally thether to set a concorde and a unity in that country and to bridel and rule the rude and rustical and blustering bold people of that region and so he by long journeying came to the city of York were the citizens received him with great pomp and triumph according to the qualities of their education and quantity of their substance and abiity and make diverse days, plays and pageantry and token joy and solace.

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York Minster

York Minster: Wherefore King Richard magnified and applauded by the north nation and also to show himself appearing before them in royal habit and sceptre in laude and diadem on his head, made proclamation that all people should resort to York, on the day of ascension of our Lord, where all men should both behold and see him, his queen and prince in their high estates and degrees, and also for their good will, should receive many thanks, large benefits and munificent rewards. At the day appointed, the whole clergy assembled in copes richly revested and so with a reverent ceremony went about the city in procession; after whom followed the king with his crown and sceptre, appeared in his circot robe royal accompanied with no small number of the nobility of his realm: after whom marched in order queen Anne his wife, likewise crowned leading on her left hand prince Edward her son having on his head a demi crown appointed for the degree of a prince.  The king was held in that triumph in such honour and the common people of the North  so rejoyed that they extolled and praised him far above the stars.”

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The Archbishop’s Palace in York

On the 8th September, Richard invested his son Edward Prince of Wales and made knight his illegitimate son (John of Gloucester) in the Archbishop’s Palace in York. He also gave to York many presents especially to the Minster. There is an inventory of all the beautiful items he donated to the Minster of York. None of these seems to have survived.

Something personal

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The Hotel opened by the present Duke of Gloucester

Richard entered the city of York as a King on 29th August. For an incredible coincidence, the day I officially landed in England to remain was 29th August as well. We stayed for 25 days in a hotel in the city centre that had been opened by HRH Richard Duke of Gloucester.  A sign of my future affiliation to the RIII Society?

 

Scoliosis treatments at the time of Richard III

After centuries of slanders about Richard III, always named as “the hunchbacked king”, it was finally proved that he just suffered from scoliosis.

He was not born with this condition but he probably started to suffer with it in his adolescence between 10 and 15. This is the so-called idiopathic scoliosis that can be, in some cases, very painful and in very rare cases can even be fatal.

This kind of scoliosis can’t be prevented, as the cause is unknown but the culprit could be the growth hormone or a genetic predisposition. This condition can be mild or severe. In the latter, it can affect the appearance of the person and obviously can create embarrassment, low self-esteem and sometimes depression in addition to physical distress, headache, a very thin shape, stomach problems and lung dysfunction.

Severe scoliosis is visible if the person wears tight clothes and, if it doesn’t stop developing, it can cause excruciating pain due to nerve pressure. However, people affected by scoliosis have a normal life and can practice sports, do exercise and every normal, daily activity.

Richard III is probably the most famous person affected by idiopathic scoliosis, along with Princess Eugenie of York, the runner Usain Bolt, the actress Liz Taylor, the singers Kurt Cobain and Liza Minnelli, the tennis star, James Blake, among others.

Today, it is easy to treat this condition thanks to braces and, in the worst cases, with surgery but, unfortunately, these treatments were not available at the time of Richard III and medieval remedies were almost useless, very painful and often they even worsened the situation.

For people affected by mild scoliosis, there were some massage techniques used in Turkish baths along with the application of ointments made with herbs and plants. In other cases, these massages were made in preparation for another treatment. One of the most common ‘remedies’ was traction. The equipment for this treatment was very expensive, so only rich people and the nobility could afford it. As Richard was a member of one of the wealthiest families in England and a noble as well, it is highly probable that he would have gone through traction. The instrument used for this purpose was similar to the ‘rack’ used to torture people. The patient was lying on his back and tied by armpits and calves by a rope to a wooden roller and literally pulled to stretch the spine. The treatment could last for hours and it is not difficult to imagine how horribly painful it was and, unfortunately, it was of no benefit.

Richard’s family would have had the best physicians of the time and these should have been aware of this treatment so it is likely that, unfortunately, he had to undergo traction. It is difficult to imagine that Richard’s family wouldn’t have tried to cure his spine, being such highly-ranked people.

However, scoliosis was not just a physical issue. A person affected by scoliosis was seen as the incarnation of evil and a sinner, while a straight spine represented morality, goodness and beauty. The Shakespearean character of Richard III was associated with wickedness and immorality because of his physical deformity, sharpened to the maximum to create an unscrupulous monster capable of any crime.

Richard managed to hide his condition for his whole life because he very well knew this could have been a reason for being painted as a bad person, twisted in his body and, therefore, also in his mind.

After his death at Bosworth, he was stripped naked and his secret revealed. Shakespeare exaggerated his condition in order to misrepresent Richard and to blame him for every possible crime. His scoliosis became a hunchback with the addition of a withered arm and a limp.

With the discovery of his skeleton under the car park in Leicester, it appeared very clear that Richard had just a scoliosis and the evil hunchbacked king created by Shakespeare was just Tudor propaganda, that made Richard the most maligned king in English history. This discovery helped to reveal Richard in a new light and called into question all the atrocities he has been accused of. There are many reasons to believe that the truth will eventually come to light.

Do you want to know a very strange coincidence? In Ipswich, where the sales office of the Richard III Society is located, there is a surgeon, expert in spinal surgery: his name is Robert Lovell (top)!

A house in Scarborough

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The King Richard III restaurant today

If you visit Scarborough Castle and go down towards the beach from there, turn your head to your right and walk along the seafront opposite the Harbour, and you will notice something singular. Among the shops, cafés and fish-and-chip restaurants, there is a house that stands out because it is the oldest in the area. It is the ‘paradise’ of Ricardians in Scarborough as it is called ‘The King Richard III’ and it is a very well maintained restaurant where you can have a delicious lunch or just a pint, inside the ancient building or  outside to enjoy the sun and the sea breeze.

 

Why was the restaurant named after the last

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The plaque outside the building

warrior king of the House of York? There is a compelling story that might give people an explanation.  In the summer of 1484, Richard III went to Scarborough, apparently for naval business. He loved Scarborough and Yorkshire in general so it is easy to imagine he enjoyed the wonderful view of the bay and the fresh, salty sea air especially after the terrible spring that had taken away his only legitimate son from him. It is said that during his stay in Scarborough, the king had chosen to stay in a house rather than in the castle and he chose the building we can still see today.

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The oldest picture taken in 1912.

The story of the building is very interesting and it is a miracle it is still there, intact, as if no time passed for it. There have been attempts to find out the history of the house from the 15th century till today, but the lack of documentation has made it impossible to trace the owner of the house during Richard’s reign. We know that it was the property of the Tindall family, who had a long history as shipbuilders, but this was in the 17th century. The first owner from the Tindall family was James and, when he died, his son lived in the house with his family. When the Tindalls moved, in 1880, the house became the property of a baker, William Purcell, who baked in the house and after this it became an engineering shop owned by Thomas Varley. The next owner was a certain Mary Forrest who stayed there until 1850. Since then, the house has had other owners, including a certain Mr John Wray, and a picture was taken in 1892 in which the plaque is still visible. There is a sign over the top with the following information: ‘Late Residence of Richard III, May 22nd 1484’.

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The oldest picture taken in 1912

During the Victorian Age, they had a terrible habit of trying to modernise every ancient building, so the house was completely changed, with the bay windows removed and the stone walls plastered. The house became a grocery shop until 1905. In 1908, the house was acquired by The Seaman’s Mission Institute but, at the same time, the mission started to allow visitors to view the house for an admission fee of 2d. Possibly, this gave the new owner, Mr Booth, the idea to take advantage of the story of the king by transforming the property into a museum in 1914. Unfortunately, just a year later, Mr Booth drowned on the Lusitania and the house was bought by one of his relatives, Mr Burrows. Referring to Mrs Wharton’s drawings, Burrows was able to remove the Victorian plaster and install a replica of the original bay windows, so that the house now looks very similar to the original medieval building. Mrs Wharton’s drawings also show the so-called ‘King’s Bedchamber’ located on the second floor, the furniture inside and the decorated plastered ceiling.

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The York Rose and the bull of the Neville family

The building’s restoration was not an easy task. It started in 1915 and it was discovered that the building was larger than expected, detached, with a two-storey hall and the extended west-wing. Boarding, plaster and wallpaper were removed and many details came to life including the decorative plasterwork in the ‘King’s Bedchamber’ decorated with a geometrical multi curve and a pattern of square panels with thin ribs.  In the centre there is the York Rose, the Arms of Richard III and, at each of the four corners, the bull of the Neville family.

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The stained glass in the restaurant

Today, the main hall is named ‘The King’s Hall’ and there is a stained glass with the symbol RIII. It is possible to see two reproductions of War of the Roses suits of armour and a panel in red with the same features as the glass. The King Richard III house is a Grade I listed building.

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The King’s Hall

It is not sure that King Richard stayed in this house because the castle is very close to it, so there shouldn’t have been any reason for the King to sleep in a normal house. Moreover, in the castle, you can see some panels with multiple choice questions. One of these asks: ‘Who was the last owner of the castle?’ and the right answer is, of course, Richard III. Where does the truth lie? My personal opinion is that the King slept in his castle and he possibly had a pint or a glass of wine in the house. One thing is certain; Richard had a particular dedication to the town of Scarborough. Had he survived Bosworth, Scarborough and its surroundings would have become an independent county, as written in a vellum document of his reign but, sadly, fate decided differently.

The Castle of Leicester and St Mary De Castro

Leicester Castle

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Leicester Castle as it appeared in 1483

 

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The Castle gardens

Since 2015 going to Leicester is the equivalent of going to visit the tomb of the last Plantagenet King who died in battle: Richard III. Everything there speaks of him from the Visitor Centre named after him, to The Last Plantagenet Pub not to mention attractions and shops that display his portrait or sell items with the name of the king. Of course, the Medieval Cathedral where the warrior king was buried in 2015 is the most visited place in Leicester but if you go there, don’t forget to pay a visit to the remains of Leicester’s Castle and its church St Mary De Castro. It is difficult today to imagine how the Castle could be at the time of Richard III but it is still there indeed even in a different shape. 

IMG_2840The Castle was probably built immediately after the Norman Conquest so around 1070. The Governor  at that time was Hugh de Grantmensil one of the companions of William the Conqueror. The Castle was the favourite residence of John of Gaunt, first Duke of Lancaster and the fourth son of Edward III. From the north end of the hall, it was possible to access the lord’s private apartments whilst from the south end there was access to a kitchen above an undercoft called John of Gaunt’s cellar where beverage and food were stored. Some people erroneously think it was a dungeon. 

The castle today looks totally different. What remains are the Castle’s Mound (Motte) located between Castle View and Castle Gardens. The Motte was originally 30-40 feet Prince Rupehigh topped with a timber tower. Unfortunately no buildings survived  and the motte was lowered in Victorian times to form a bowling green.

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The Castle House

The Great Hall is the oldest surviving aisled and bay divided timber hall in Britain. Even though the exterior is Victorian, the building still retains some of its original 12th century timber posts. The criminal court in the castle’s Great Hall was the scene of Leicester’s “Green Bicycle Murder” trial 1919 so exactly 100 years ago.

Other things are still visible of the ancient castle. The wall, the remains of the castle especially the Turret Gateway also known as Prince Rupert’s Gateway, the Castle Gardens (once used for public executions) the Castle House and the stunning church of St Mary De Castro.

St Mary De Castro

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St Mary De Castro

Close where the Castle stood, there is an ancient church called St Mary De Castro. It is a very special place especially for Ricardians. In this church Geoffrey Chaucer married her second wife, Philippa de Roet and 44 people were knighted in just one day among them Henry VI and Richard Plantagenet Duke of York, Richard III’s father. He was just 15 years old. However, the most famous event to be remembered today is that it is said that Richard III worshipped there before leaving for Bosworth and prepared himself for his last battle.

St Mary De Castro means St Mary of the Castle. It was built in 1107 after Henry I gave the

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The Chapel in St Mary De Castro ground to Robert de Beaumont 1st Earl of Leicester. It was the chapel of the castle and a place of worship within the bailey of the castle. It is assumed but there is no proof of evidence, that Ethelfleda, daughter of King Alfred the Great, had founded a church on the very spot where today is St Mary. It also seems that there was a college of priests called the College of St Mary De Castro founded before the Norman Conquest.

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The tower of St Mary was built not beside the church but inside of it so visitors can see 3 sides of it while still in church. The medieval spire, rebuilt in 1783 was declared dangerous in 2013. Following the unsuccessful attempt to raise money to save it, it was demolished in 2014. The church’s structure is quite odd because in ancient times there were two churches. One was the mentioned chapel of the castle, the other a church for common people. This explains why there are two sedilias and two piscinas both from medieval times.

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Henry VI and Richard III

Curiosities

It is said that King Richard III’s mistreated body was brought to this church to be washed before being displayed for the world to see he was actually dead. Considering the evident haste he was buried in and the lack of respect showed by the Tudors, it is unlikely this ever happened.

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The Nave of the Church

Philippa de Roet, Chaucer’s wife, was the lady-in-waiting of Philippa of Hainault one of Richard III’s ancestors.

In this church Edward of Lancaster and John of Lancaster are buried. Both died in infancy.

 

 

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