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The Battle Of Shrewsbury, 1403

In order to appease (as he hoped) the Percy family Henry IV granted them all those parts of southern Scotland that they could conquer. Despite advice from Northumberland that royal assistance was not needed he set out in the summer of 1403 to march to the borders with a small army to support their siege of Cocklaws Castle.

On reaching the Midlands, Henry received news that the Percys were in revolt; after some initial hesitation he summoned the levies of several counties to his banner and force marched to Shrewsbury, arriving there just before the rebels.

At Shrewsbury was Henry’s son the Prince of Wales, who was responsible for defending the English marches from Owain Glyndwr. The Prince, who was aged about 16, had until recently enjoyed the advice and support of Hotspur’s uncle, Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester, a very experienced soldier who had served John of Gaunt and been steward of Richard II’s household. However, Worcester had deserted, taking with him more than half the Prince’s men. Unfortunately it does not appear how many men we are talking about – the state of royal finances was such that it was probably hundreds rather than thousands.

Hotspur had come south to Chester with an advance guard of two hundred men, presumably mounted. These included the Scottish Earl of Douglas, captured at Homildon the previous year, but now an ally. At Chester he denounced Henry IV as “Henry of Lancaster” and proclaimed Richard II, whom he promised would appear at a rendezvous at Sandiway in a few days. This was sufficient to raise a considerable army in Cheshire itself. It is likely that other recruits came from Flint and other parts of North East Wales and from Shropshire. To these of course were added Worcester’s contribution. Northumberland remained in the North. Either he genuinely fell ill, or he was blocked by Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland, or he simply moved too slowly.

Hotspur’s strategy is not clear. Glyndwr, with whom he was presumably in alliance, was many days march away in the south west of Wales. The most likely explanation is that he decided to seize Shrewsbury, which could then have served as a gateway to England for Welsh forces. There is also reason to believe that Hotspur expected reinforcement (that he did not receive) from various English peers. (The chronicler Hardyng reports that some years later Henry IV discovered a casket of letters sent by his nobles to Hotspur at this time. ) After the battle the Duke of York and others were accused of complicity, but absolved from blame by Henry himself. The men of Chester mustered at Sandiway as promised, but needless to say, Richard II did not join them.

It’s a straight road from Sandiway, through Tarporley and Whitchurch to Shrewsbury. Arriving on the outskirts Hotspur realised that Henry IV had forestalled him.

Hotspur chose a good defensive position about three miles north of the town. The ground sloped slightly upwards towards the north, meaning that the King’s men would have to advance uphill against some of the finest archers in England. There were also a number of small ponds, complicating offensive movement.

The sizes of the forces are not known; one source says that there were 20,000 dead. This is obviously absurd. Nevertheless everyone seems agreed that it was an exceptionally hard fought battle, and there were significant casualties

A guesstimate of mine would be that Hotspur had around 5000 men and the King a few more, maybe 7000. By and large the Percy army would be of better quality – more “professional” because it recruited from areas noted for warriors. Many of the King’s men would be amateur county levies from relatively peaceful shires.

Hotspur’s principal known commanders were his uncle, Worcester, and the Earl of Douglas. These were both experienced warriors, particularly Worcester. The important Cheshire knights, Vernon and Venables seem to have been next in rank.

As far as men of rank were concerned, apart from himself Henry IV’s most experienced commander by far was the renegade Scot George Dunbar, the Scottish Earl of March, a personal enemy of Douglas. The Prince of Wales and the earls of Kent, Arundel, Stafford and Warwick were all inexperienced young men in their teens and early twenties.

The Earl of Stafford was the husband of Henry’s cousin, Anne of Gloucester. Just prior to the battle he was created Constable of England (replacing Northumberland) and given command of the van.

The likely line up of the royal army being:

Prince of Wales     King         Stafford

(Left)                    (Centre)      (Right)

The battle opened with the traditional exchange of arrows, the shooting of the men of Cheshire being particularly devastating. Stafford was killed very early in the battle and the Prince was severely wounded in the face – though he continued to fight after treatment.

Hotspur and Douglas led an attack on the royal standard. Their objective was simply to kill the King. Fighting around Henry was bitter, and his standard bearer, Sir Walter Blount, was killed. It is known that Henry himself was engaged personally in the fighting.

Hotspur’s men thought that they were winning. A cry of “Henry Percy -King” rose from them. But then Hotspur was struck down – possibly by a stray arrow and the cry changed to “Henry Percy – dead”. The rebels routed off the field, pursued for miles by relentless royalists.

Worcester was taken alive, and executed next day in the town of Shrewsbury. As were Vernon and Venables. Douglas was treated as a POW and eventually allowed to return to Scotland. Northumberland was tried, but eventually released having been found guilty only of ‘trespass’ by Parliament – he was to rebel again, and be killed in battle like his son. (Henry was careful never to give another political opponent a Parliamentary trial.)

One King’s side many knighthoods were given, and there were also grants of confiscated lands. Edmund Earl of Kent was apparently created a KG on the field, a distinction so unusual that it suggests some act of exceptional personal bravery.

The Windsor centenary

Today in 1917, the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was renamed the House of Windsor, at the behest georgevof George V and his advisors. There has been a series on Channel Five about it, focussed on the Castle and Great Park, whilst rather too gossiply and less historical than it could have been, was highly informative, with some facts about Windsor in past centuries. A series on Channel Four has been somewhat more impressive.

Interestingly, both programmes were launched in February and not July, which would have been more logical.

Is Francis Lovell lying at rest in Gedling church….?

possible resting place of Francis Lovell - All Hallows, Gedling

There is a theory that Francis Lovell, on fleeing the battlefield at East Stoke in 1487, met with some mishap and ended up buried in the Church of All Hallows, Gedling in Nottinghamshire. Stoke Bardolph Castle (now gone) not far from Gedling, was the seat of the Bardolph family, of whom his mother, Jane, was a member. She still lived there at the time, and maybe he was trying to reach her.*

Gedling, Stoke Bardolph and East Stoke

The ferry at Fiskerton

Francis may have tried to cross the River Trent, which is adjacent to Stoke Field, at a place called Fiskerton, where the water is shallow, especially in summer.

What may have led to his death is not known. He may have been badly wounded during the battle. Whatever, he could well be the anonymous 15th-century knight buried under an alabaster slab at the south end of the altar-table in All Hallows. Or he may not be, of course. I must not lose sight of the fact that this is all supposition.

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The theory about Francis first turned up in the Transactions of the Thoroton Society: “A few lines in black wax constitute the remains of an inscription and effigy of a knight of the 15th century. The late Mr. Lawson Lowe, of Chepstow, said in December, 1882, that when he visited the church in 1865, the date could be made out, and he thought the effigy might be that of a knight who fought at the battle of Stoke, near Newark, in 1487.”

From this has developed the possibility that it is Francis Lovell who lies there. You can read more here, here or here.

I have a vague connection with Gedling church, having attended the nearby grammar school, Carlton le Willows, in 1958-60. In the summer of 1960, after our ‘O’ levels, little trips were arranged, one of which was to the church. I remember climbing the very worn steps in the tower, right to the top. The view was great, but I’m not good with heights, and while it was easy enough to climb, the angle of the worn steps was against me on the way down. The steps were very steep as well, and it was a l-o-n-g way down. Horrible. My legs shook for days afterwards, and I vowed never to climb a church tower again. It is a vow I’ve kept.

view from gedling church

The view from Gedling church tower

To think that I was in the very church where Francis Lovell may be buried….

 

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* There seems some doubt about whether or not Lovell’s mother was still alive in 1487, the consensus being that she was not. So I must adjust my statement above, and wonder if, her death notwithstanding, Lovell may still have turned to Stoke Bardolph as a possibly friendly temporary refuge.

 

 

 

When the English ruled the Bastille….!

Historical reconstruction showing the moat below the walls of Paris (left), the Bastille and the Porte Saint-Antoine (right) in 1420

Historical reconstruction showing the moat below the walls of Paris (left), the Bastille and the Porte Saint-Antoine (right) in 1420

We all know about the storming of the Bastille on 14th July, 1789, resulting in the continued annual celebration of the occasion throughout France. But the Bastille was a medieval fortress, and we, the English, had a hand in its history. In fact, we were the reason it was built in the first place.

During the Hundred Years’ War, there was a perceived threat to Paris, especially from the east, where it was vulnerable to English attack. After France was defeated at the Battle of Poitiers, and King John II was captured and imprisoned in England, it was decided by the Provost of Parish, Étienne Marcel, that the Paris defences had to be considerably strengthened.

Among these new defences were two fortified gates, each flanked by high stone towers. These gateways were of a type known as a “bastille”. But the capital’s defences were still deemed unsatisfactory, and it was decided that a much larger fortification should be built to protect the city’s eastern flank at the Porte Saint-Antoine. “Work began in 1370 with another pair of towers being built behind the first bastille, followed by two towers to the north, and finally two towers to the south. The fortress was probably not finished by the time Charles V died in 1380, and was completed by his son, Charles VI. The resulting structure became known simply as the Bastille, with the eight irregularly built towers and linking curtain walls.” The whole was encircled by ditches that were syphoned from the Seine.

View of the porte Saint-Antoine and the Bastille (detail from Turgot's 1739 map of Paris)

View of the porte Saint-Antoine and the Bastille (detail from Turgot’s 1739 map of Paris)

The 15th century saw more danger from the English, culminating in the capture of Paris by Henry V of England in 1420, and the garrisoning of the Bastille. This was the state of affairs for sixteen years. The Bastille had already been used as a prison by the French, and the English continued to use it this way.

Henry V

Henry V

Paris was eventually retaken by Charles VII in 1436, but was then seized by the Burgundians in 1464. Which leads to the obvious conclusion that for all its power and strength, it was less a defender of Paris than a stronghold for its enemies!

Its eventual downfall came during the French Revolution, and it is for this that the great fortress is really known now. Of course, the sneaky English might say the French burned the place down before it was lost again to the Rostbifs across La Manche! No, no, my French friends, I’m only joking…. Happy Bastille Day!

The Storming of the Bastille - de Launay 1740-1789

The Storming of the Bastille – de Launay 1740-1789

The puzzle of George of Clarence’s Calais wedding….

could be clarence wedding

The only certain thing that can be said of the marriage of George, Duke of Clarence, and Isabel Neville, daughter of the Earl of Warwick, is that it took place in Calais. Oh, and that Isabel’s uncle, the Archbishop of York, performed the ceremony. After that, the picture is a little blurred. Which day? Which church? Who was there? How long did the celebrations last? Was it public…or kept under wraps. Search for definitive information, and you will find differing answers to all these questions.

Calais

Those who read this blog will know the circumstances that led to the marriage. Briefly, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick fell out with Edward IV, whom he had helped to the throne, thus earning the nickname of Kingmaker. George, Duke of Clarence, Edward’s brother, also fell out with Edward and deserted him to side with Warwick in Calais. This alliance was cemented by George’s marriage to Warwick’s elder daughter, Isabel. (The younger daughter, Anne, was to eventually marry the youngest of the three royal brothers, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who would, of course, become Richard III.) The object was to invade England, get rid of Edward, and replace him with George, who believed his own claim was better because of a story that Edward was illegitimate.

An account of the wedding by George Amelius Crawshay Sandeman appears in his Calais Under English Rule:-

“In 1469 another magnificent marriage thrilled Calais society, when George, Duke of Clarence, wedded Isabella, the King-maker’s daughter, thus sealing the revolt against Edward IV. This marriage was celebrated by the Archbishop of York in Notre Dame.” (I do not know how much faith to place in this author, because he also states that “…in 1487 Richard III made a grant, dated from Kenilworth, July I, ‘in the way of charity’…” 1487? Neat trick, Richard!)

Notre Dame, Calais

So, now we have the bare bones of the situation in July 1469, when George and Isabel took their vows in the parish church of Calais, Notre Dame/Our Lady (above). Or was it St Nicholas church? St Mary’s? St Peter’s? All four were in Calais, but there generally seems to be a tussle between Notre Dame and St Mary’s when it comes to this wedding. Some even say it wasn’t celebrated in a church at all, but at the castle. There is also disagreement about whether it all took place on 11th or 12th July, but all agree that 1469 was the year.

arms of george neville, archbishop of york

The Archbishop of York was, of course, Warwick’s brother. But who else was present? Warwick himself? His other daughter, Anne? His countess? Certainly the groom’s family would not have been represented. Edward IV strongly opposed the union, which was most certainly proceeding without his consent. But Edward knew about it. So how could it be secret? Maybe the secrecy only involved the time and place, not the fact of the marriage? After all, according to Susan Higginbotham “A papal dispensation was obtained in March 1469, despite Edward IV’s objection to the match”. So I guess everyone knew well beforehand that the marriage was on.

In The World of Richard III by Kristie Dean, she writes “…the ceremony was a well-attended affair with five Knights of the Garter and other lords and ladies present…” Who were these KGs, lord and ladies? She also writes that it was “most likely in St Mary’s Church, because the men [George and Warwick?] wanted it to be as public as possible.” It can’t be secret and public at the same time.

http://www.richardiii-nsw.org.au/tag/nevilles/ places the wedding day on 12th July, but the majority go for the 11th. For instance, the chronicler Wavrin says it all took place on Tuesday, 11th July, but he had left Calais almost a week earlier. Nevertheless he says ‘there were not many people, so the festivities only lasted two days’. Hindsight? Or did he know this beforehand? Oh, and George Amelius Crawshay Sandeman  describes the wedding as “magnificent”! He and Wavrin can’t both be right.

George and Isabel - 1

So, the puzzle remains, as does the statement that all we can really be sure of is that the wedding took place.

Clarence's signature

 

 

The Coronation Chair and Stone of Scone

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As we reminded you yesterday, Richard and Anne were crowned on the 6th July 1483,  a crucial part of the ceremony being when Richard was crowned with St Edward’s crown and invested with  the royal regalia while sitting on the Coronation chair also known as St Edward’s chair, named after Edward the Confessor.  It is this glorious chair that I want to focus upon now.

In 1296 when  Edward I,  aka Longshanks, returned from Scotland he brought with him the Stone of Scone, also known as the Stone of Destiny,  symbolic of Scotland’s sovereignty,   which he had removed from Scone Abbey, giving it into the care of the Abbott of Westminster Abbey.  Edward, not for nothing known as the Hammer of the Scots, and wishing to hammer it home in no uncertain terms that from now on it would be English and not Scottish monarchs who would now be crowned whilst sitting on this stone, a large block of red Perthshire sandstone, instructed that a chair be constructed to house it and thus was this wonderful chair created.  Master Walter of Durham, King’s Painter, whose skills also included carpentry, was commissioned  to build and decorate the chair for which he was duly paid 100 shillings.

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The Chair with the Stone of Scone intact 

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The Stone of Scone also known as the Stone of Destiny.

Since 1308 every royal derrière has sat on the chair while being  crowned except for Edward V, Mary II and Edward VIII.  Made of oak, gilded and inlaid with glass mosaics, traces of which can still be found today, while faint images or birds, flowers and foliage still survive  on the back.  Up until the 17th century the monarch would sit on the actual stone with presumably a cushion for comfort until a wooden platform was then added .  The four gilt lions were made in 1727 to replace the originals which themselves were not added until the 16th century.

The stone itself has in recent times undergone several adventures.  It was stolen, or rescued, depending upon which way you look at it,  by Scottish Nationalists on Christmas Day 1950 – in the process of which they managed to break it in half.  It was later discovered in April 1951 and after being kept in a vault for some time, eventually returned to Westminster Abbey and replaced in the chair in February 1952.  This was not the end of the stone’s travels for in July 1966, Prime Minister John Major, announced that it was to be returned to Scotland.  This was duly done and the stone now rests in Edinburgh Castle.

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The chair as it is today minus the Stone of Scone

This  wonderful and irreplaceable chair has been disgracefully abused in comparatively recent times, from the numerous graffiti mostly carved in the 18th and 19th centuries by the pupils of Westminster School – its baffling how this systematic graffiti carving  was allowed to carry on –  one graffito could perhaps be forgiven but on such a large scale? – were they simply allowed to just carry on?..but I digress – to the dark  brown varnish applied in 1887 for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, a suffragette bomb in 1914 to the damaged caused when the Scottish Nationals wrenched the stone from the chair.  However I’m sure should the shade of Richard,  who would have seen the chair in pristine condition, ever return to the Abbey, he would still be able to recognise it and that it would bring back memories, for him,  of that most glorious day, when he and his ‘beloved consort’ were both crowned King and Queen of England.

The Coronation Feast of King Richard lll and his Queen

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Westminster Hall venue of the King Richard lll and Queen Anne Neville’s Coronation Feast.

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Queen Anne and King Richard from the Rous Roll.  Anne is wearing the Crown of Queen Edith and Richard wears the Crown of St Edward. 

And so dear reader, Richard and Anne were crowned. We do not know for sure but let us hope the sun shone for them that day..it was July  after all.  Proceeding slowly back to the Great Hall of the Palace of Westminster from whence they had come, the newly crowned couple  ‘toke their chambres’ and  at four o’clock after a short  rest Richard and Anne returned to the great hall and were seated, the Queen on the king’s left hand side,   at the marble table on the great dais at the southern end.
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Westminster Hall looking towards the area where the dais and the kings table stood.

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The massive hammer beam roof seen from the dais looking northwards towards the doors.

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The north end of the hall and the entrance from a 19th century painting

In the interim while they were resting in their ‘chambres’  the Duke of Norfolk had ridden his  horse, which was ‘traped in clothe of gold down to the grounde’ through the great doors and so he rode about ‘voiding the people saving only the kinges servants and the Duke of Buckingham’ ..as you do.  Following which all the guests sat down in their allotted  places at 4 long bordes (tables) stretching the length of the hall  ..nightmare!    All had gone well, what a marvellous day …and now the feasting begun..interrupted only by the Kinges Champion, Sir Robert Dimmoke,  who wearing white harness,  came into the hall mounted on his horse which was ‘traped in white silke and redde downe to the grounde’ declaring if there were any man in the hall ‘that will saye the contrary why that King Richarde shulde not pretend and have the crowne’  he should say so now.  After drinking ‘a cope wythe wine coverid’ Sir Robert left the hall the way he had arrived, on horseback and clutching the ‘cope’ which was payment for his ‘labor'(1).   Buckingham wisely kept his mouth shut that day and thus survived,  if only for a short while.

And thus the feasting continued, the king being served on gold plate, the queen on gilt.

First an’harold of armes proclaymyng the feast

 Potage: Frumentie with venison and bruett Tuskayne
Viand comford riall Mamory riall
Bief and Moton Fesaunt in Trayn’
Cignett rost Crane rost
Capons of Halte grece in lymony Heronshew rost
Gret carpe of venyson rost Grett luce in eger doulce
Leche solace Fretor Robert riall
Gret Flampaye riall Custard Edward plante
A solitie
A Cours
Gely partied with a divice Viand blanc in barre
Pecokes in his hakell and trapper Roo reversed in purpill
Runers rost Betorr rost
Partriche rost Pomes birt
Scotwhlpes rost Rollettes of venison farced
Gret Carpe and breme in foile Leche frument riall planted
Frettour rosette and jasmine Tart burbonet bake
Venison bake A sotiltie
A cours
Blaundsorr Nosewis in compost
Venyson rost Telle in barre
Langettes de lyre Pety chek in bolyen
Egrettes rost Rabettes souker rost
Quailes rost Briddes brauncher rost
Freshe sturgeon with fennell Creves de ew doulche
Leche viole and canell Frittour crispe
Rosettes florished Oranges bake
Quynces bake A sotilty
For the lords and the ladyes in thall the same day att dyner
Vyand riall Bief and multon
Grene ges rost Capon rost
Lardes de veale Pike in erblad
Leche siper Fretor covert
Custard riall A sotiltie
A cours
Viande blanc in barre Crane and heronshew
Kidd endorred and lambe Roo reversed
Chek in bolien Rabettes rost
Sturgeon and crevz du doulce Leche caniell
Close tart indorred Crismatories and oranges bake
A sotelty
For the commons
Frumenty with venyson Bief and multon
Capon Rost Bief rost
Leche canell Custard

And so, in the summer evening,  the banquet  broke up by torch light,  having  taken so long  the third course was never served.   It was  the end of an unforgettable day and as the guests departed ‘wher yt lyked them best’   they would have noticed the conduit in Westminster Yard that had been filled with a tun of red wine.  Perfect!  I  do wonder though  if anyone spared a  thought for the poor souls left to do the washing up!

I am greatly indebted to Anne Sutton and  Peter Hammond for the above information  I have gleaned from their marvellous book: The Coronation of Richard lll – the Extant Documents.

  1. Sir Richard Dymmok also received crimson damask and spurs.  He  served in his family’s hereditary role as the sovereigns champion at Richard lll, Henry Vll and Henry Vlll coronations.  Anne Sutton and Peter Hammond The Coronation of Richard lll – the extant documents p.337.

A simple statement of fact …

… as shown at Sudeley Castle.Sudeley

Another eleventh century struggle

This article reveals the little-known sequel to the battle of Hastings. It took place in North Devon, between Appledore and Northam near Bideford, on 26 June 1069 and was led by Brian of Br_88394404_battlefieldbbcittany and Alan the Black for the Normans against Godwine and Edmund, sons of Harold II, for the Anglo-Saxon “resistance”. The result was very similar.
It seems that Harold’s teenage sons had taken refuge in Leinster after their defeat at Hastings and sailed back with a Dublin fleet supplied by Diarmait, king of that province. During 1069, when the “Harrying of the North” was in progress”, Edgar the Atheling was in exile at the Scottish court where his sister, Margaret of Wessex, married the widowed Malcolm III that year or the next. For the location, you should seek “Bloody Corner“.

Gytha (sister to Godwine and Edmund) is among Richard III’s ancestors, as are Malcolm, Margaret and Domnall mac Murchada (Diarmait’s successor).

Was Roland de Velville the son of Henry VII….?

henry-vii-london-bridge

The following article is necessarily filled with supposition, inference and sneaking suspicion. The result of smoke and mirrors, you ask? Well, I think it is all much more substantial than that, as I hope to explain in the coming paragraphs.

Today (25th June) in 1545, died a man by the name of Roland de Velville (or Vielleville, Veleville, Vieilleville, and other variations). He crops up at regular intervals in connection with the first Tudor king, Henry VII. Why? Because of a persistent whisper that Roland was Henry’s illegitimate son. Well, his son, but no one can really categorically state he was illegitimate. All that can be claimed is that he was born sometime during Henry’s exile in Brittany between 1471 and 1485, and that when he arrived in England he was soon rumoured to be Henry’s unacknowledged child, born any time from about 1472 on, when Henry himself was only fourteen or fifteen.

It needs to be mentioned here that medieval kings usually acknowledged any offspring fathered before their official royal marriages, so there would not appear to be any reason why Henry would not admit to Roland. (I can think of at least one very good reason, but will save that until the end of this article.)

Roland was a member of the Breton nobility, an écuyer or esquire who may have accompanied Henry on the invasion of 1485. It is not known whether or not the boy fought at Bosworth, but my guess would be that he was probably too young. However, in 1489 he was certainly old enough to be in Sir John Cheyne’s retinue for the Breton expedition commanded by Sir Robert Willoughby.

1489-brittany

 The comment has been made that Roland was an ‘almost obsessive’ jouster, and was closely involved with the king’s falcons. It seems probable that he accompanied Henry VII when he went hunting and hawking. He appears to have been tolerated by English aristocrats, who must have been aware that he was favoured by the king. If that were not the case, I doubt Roland would have come even close to tournaments and the like. Roland’s life style would have been expensive, but Henry supported him, granting occasional gifts and allowing him an income from the royal revenues. Roland held no official position, he was simply there, enjoying himself, participating in royal pastimes and generally floating along. As we would all like to, given the chance.

Conjecture about him must have been rife, but that was all it amounted to. Conjecture. Because no one was party to the facts, not even Roland himself. Or so I guess, because his character was such that I doubt he’d have held his tongue and been discreet. He appears to have been of an unruly temperament, headstrong, irksome, arrogant and inclined to indulge in slander. Not at all like his subtle father. Well, rumoured father.

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Might Roland have been named after the great 11th-century hero, Roland of Roncevaux? (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roland) If Henry Tudor really was his father, it strikes me as very much in keeping with Henry’s grand ideas concerning his legendary ancestry. After all, did he not give the name Arthur to his first son by Elizabeth of York?

It was not until the reign of his “half-brother”, Henry VIII, that Roland received any real advancement. From Henry VII he had been given this and that in the way of minor money, and had been kept at royal expense, but there was nothing worthwhile. Except, of course, for being knighted at the Battle of Blackheath in June 1497. But he was still Breton, not English. It was to be 1512 before he received that acknowledgement.

 battle-of-blackheath-1497

Battle of Blackheath

 On the death of Henry VII on 21st April 1509, the new 17-year-old king Henry VIII did not exactly shower Roland with brotherly goodies. Within weeks (3rd July 1509) Roland was appointed Constable of Beaumaris Castle on the Isle of Anglesey, and was given, during pleasure, an annuity of £20. After twenty-five years or so of luxury at court, Roland was on his way to Wales pdq, as the jargon goes. Young Henry clearly did not want his awkward kinsman around. Tudor angst required being rid of anyone of dangerous royal blood, and Roland, if he was indeed a half-sibling, would almost certainly make Henry VIII twitchy. Send him away to the sticks, and if he became a problem, an accident might befall him. At least, that is how I interpret it. Especially, perhaps, as Roland was said to greatly resemble Henry.

 

Hmm, the above portrait of Henry VIII at eighteen (right) doesn’t look like the ogre we now know and, er, love. Indeed, he looks almost identical to his father at that age (above left). But while we know how Henry VII changed as he grew older, remaining lean and almost gaunt, it has to be said that Henry VIII changed a whole lot more, becoming the odious, gross King Hal who was so obsessed with producing male heirs that he was prepared to get through six wives in the process. Did Roland change in the same way? Not the six wives part, of course, but might the Constable of Beaumaris Castle become as awful and bloated as his half-brother the king?

This latter point raises an interesting question. Let us imagine that Roland and Henry were indeed half-brothers. It is generally accepted that for looks Henry VIII took after his maternal grandfather, the Yorkist king Edward IV (who was also tall and handsome, but became gross in his later years). If this were so, how could Roland also look like Edward IV? There was no blood connection. If the resemblance between the two half-siblings were that pronounced as to cause comment, then it has to be wondered if, perhaps, similar tall, handsome, “reddish-golden” looks were also to be found on Henry VII’s side? To my eyes, the first Tudor king and his mother have “Beaufort” stamped upon them. Some of Henry VII’s portraits are interchangeable with his mother. Both have high foreheads and cheekbones, small chins, hooded eyes and a general resemblance to the weasel. Put him in a wimple, and there she is!

What we do not know, of course, is what the earlier Tudors looked like. There are no portraits of Henry’s father, Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, only a reproduction tomb engraving(below left). Nor are there portraits of his father, Owen Tudor. If, indeed, Owen had anything to do with fathering Edmund, there being yet another scandalous royal whisper that Owen’s “wife” (there is no solid evidence that she and Owen ever married) Queen Catherine of Valois, widow of Henry V, had actually been enjoying some hanky-panky with another Beaufort, who for whatever reason declined to marry her. Owen stepped in to make things less embarrassing for her. Tangled webs in every shadow. But let’s suppose that the earlier Tudors were indeed Henry VII’s forebears. They might have been tall and reddish-blond. Well, they could have been, so do not wag your fingers at my screen! The Vikings did NOT steer clear of Wales.

Whatever the reason for Roland and Henry VIII sharing physical similarities—and maybe it was simply coincidence—it could have been with some relief that Roland scurried off to Beaumaris with his neck still attached to the rest of him. Better to be alive, than meet some dark Tudor death because of being regarded as an awkward presence at court. On the other hand, he may well have resented Beaumaris for taking him away from luxury. It was said in 1534 (the year before Roland’s death) that the never-completed castle had deteriorated so that “there was scarcely a single chamber in Beaumaris Castle where a man could lie dry”.

beaumaris-castle

Given Roland’s character, it will come as no surprise that he was a troublesome constable, making all the capital he could from his privileges. Twenty-five or so years at court had undoubtedly given him expensive tastes. But whether he liked it or not, the rest of his life was to be spent at Beaumaris where he began to live (scandalously, of course) with widowed Agnes Griffith, whom he would eventually make his wife. She was a member of the most powerful family in Gwynedd, and had children with Roland. Their descendants were numerous, and included his famous granddaughter, Catherine of Berain, known as the ‘Mother of Wales’. Roland de Velville certainly left his mark in his wife’s homeland.

catherine-of-berain-rolands-granddaughter

Roland died at Beaumaris Castle on 25th June 1535, and was buried at the Church of St Mary’s and St Nicholas, Beaumaris. If he was indeed buried there, I cannot find anything about his actual resting place. I have not been to the church, so it does not signify that he is no longer there, just that he’s escaped me. How intriguing it would be (the discovery of Richard III’s DNA being so fresh in the mind) to see if Roland’s DNA could be obtained. That would indeed help to ascertain if he was Henry VII’s offspring.

st-mary-and-st-nicholas-beaumaris

There is a lot of conflicting information about Roland. Was he of royal blood? Or wasn’t he? Who said what, and when? To whom? Can a Welsh elegy to him, by Daffyd Alaw (1535), be given any credence whatsoever? Well, it claims that Roland was ‘A man of kingly line and of earl’s blood’, which would certainly fit Henry VII, who had been born Henry, Earl of Richmond (he was born posthumously). So yes, Roland could well have been Henry’s son. Why else was he brought to the English court and supported in the way he was? And those who say that such bardic traditions should be ignored as highly improbable should perhaps remember that bardic tradition was how Welsh history was recorded. It was committed to memory and and passed down through the generations. The Welsh are clever enough to train their grey cells!

Historians have been rude about each other where this mysterious Breton écuyer is concerned. That is, if he was even Breton. Yes, I fear the conflicting ‘evidence’ even calls this basic fact into question. Maybe his mother’s family hailed from a corner of France. You see, we do not know her identity either.

rolands-mystery-mother

It seems that Roland was granted arms that were quartered, indicating the families from whom he was descended. They do not, of course, include Henry. But although these families can be hazarded, they cannot be identified for certain, So, who was his mother? Did she marry someone called de Velville (or other variations of the name in both French and Breton)? Maybe this man believed the boy was his. He wouldn’t be the first to have another man’s child foisted upon him. But, yet again, it’s guesswork. All is vague and uncertain.

To read an intricate account of it all, with far more small detail, go to http://www.happywarrior.org/genealogy/roland.htm

And now I will tell you why I think Henry VII did not acknowledge Roland. No, it’s not that Roland simply wasn’t his son, what a boring conclusion to come to. Far more interesting to make the two father and son. What if (ah, those words beloved of fiction writers) a teenaged Henry had fallen passionately, lustfully in love with, and impetuously married, a young, equally passionate and lustful Breton noblewoman? What if it was a secret wedding that never came to light and was soon regretted on both sides? What if Henry was moved elsewhere in Brittany (he was a prisoner under house arrest) and his bride (frightened by her important male relatives, who knew nothing of the secret marriage, was forced to bigamously marry someone “suitable”. Pregnant with Henry’s child, she allowed her new husband to believe the child was his.

Are you still with me? Right, move on to 1485. Henry is going to invade England to challenge Richard III for the throne. To be sure of much-needed Yorkist support, he vows to marry Elizabeth of York, Richard’s niece and the senior unmarried Yorkist princess. He wins at Bosworth and has to honour his vow. Sooo…knowing he is already married, he weds Elizabeth. Another bigamous match, but one that could have catastrophic consequences. Not least bloody rebellion and the chopping of Henry’s slender neck.

Then Roland enters his life much more immediately. The boy’s mother is on her deathbed and fears for his life at the hands of her second husband. She implores Henry to take Roland under his protection. And so he comes to court but cannot possibly be acknowledged by his royal father, who, understandably, doesn’t want any enemies poking around in what happened when he was a young prisoner in Brittany. Nor does Roland even know Henry is his father.

Thus history repeats itself, with Henry VII following in the footsteps of his father-in-law, Edward IV. Another secret wife, a second deceived bride, and heirs who are all illegitimate. Roland de Velville is his legitimate son. The rightful King of England? But can even Henry contemplate disposing of this inconvenient boy…? His own child?

There, is that not a half-decent plot for a historical novel? I thought so too, so I made it the main theme of the fourth book in my Cicely series. The book is called Cicely’s Sovereign Secret.

cicelys-sovereign-secret

 

 

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