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IS THIS THE FACE OF CLARENCE’S DAUGHTER?

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Portrait of an Unknown Lady formerly known as Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury

For many years this was believed to be  a portrait of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, daughter of George Duke of Clarence, and a  niece to two kings.  Tantalisingly the lady is wearing a black ribbon around her wrist with a jewel of gold fashioned like a little barrel.  Surely this was Margaret’s tacit recognition and acknowledgment of her father’s death by drowning in a butt of Malmsey?

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Close up of the barrel jewel attached to the black ribbon and the W monogram.

I noticed however that this portrait, in the National Portrait Gallery , is now described as that of an Unknown Lady, formerly known as Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury.  Baffled by this turnabout I contacted the Gallery who very kindly clarified the matter for me.  In 1963 the portrait underwent detailed investigation by the Gallery’s Scientific Department the results of which showed ‘what appeared to be  extensive repainting,  including the ermines spots on the headdress, scumbling on the white fur of the sleeves, also the ermine edge to the bodice ‘ (1) but worse still,   ‘the gold barrel shaped jewel  was almost certainly a  later addition as almost certainly were the black ribbon and W monogram jewel.  Without stripping the picture it would be impossible to access how accurately it recreates motifs originally there and how far it is ficticious’  However the report goes on to say there is, so far, no reason why the portrait in its original condition should not have represented Margaret Pole, so there is still hope, although  ‘ these doubts may only be resolved by the reappearance of another  16th century picture of her that was known to have existed.  The W shaped jewel is inexplicable unless the portrait was intended  for her granddaughter Winifred'(2).   Could it possibly be a direct decendant  of Winifred had these additions added to the portrait in homage and draw attention  to Winifred’s noble lineage? The portrait was once at Barrington Hall – Winifred Pole had married into the Barringtons and the family prided themselves on their descent from her.  Alternatively , the Roy Strong catalogue suggests this could be a 17th or 18th century Barrington lady dressed up as the Countess! Bad news, maybe, for those who once believed this was without a doubt a portrait of Margaret.

The matter is  further muddied by notes from Hazel Pierce’s biography of Margaret – Margaret Pole Countess of Salisbury, Loyalty, Lineage and Leadership,  which state:’ The panel is of oak and tree ring dating suggests that it was felled in 1482 thus the most likely period of use is believed to have been between 1515 and 1525 (3).  The notes go on to say that ‘Initially it did appear that the ermine spots on the outer part of the headdress had been painted over the original craquelure, which indicated that these were later additions along with with the ermine spots on the outer sleeves.  However when the portrait was finally cleaned in 1973 the ermine spots did not disappear, neither did the barrel bracelet or the ‘W’ suspended from the sitter’s fingers, which suggests they may have been original after all.  The barrel will refer to Clarence and the W to Warwick.  Therefore the results of the cleaning result once more to the portrait being an authentic likeness of Margaret, Countess of Salisbury.  I am grateful to the National Portrait Gallery Archives for this information’ (4).

Finally, perhaps I am mistaken but is there anyone else that can see the similiarities  in this portrait of the much older Margaret  with that of the young,  fuller faced Margaret,  as drawn by Rous?

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Lady Margarete from The Rous Roll

Is it only me who can detect the similarities of the same  almond shaped eyes, and the small rosebud lips?

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Lady Margarete from the Rous Roll

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If I cannot pursuade you of this  –  then can I ask  for consideration to be given as to why,  someone, at a later date, if this were the case which is now doubtful, would  take the trouble to add the barrel on the ribbon unless they had  known for certain that this portrait was indeed a true likeness of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury?

(1) Roy Strong Tudor and Jacobean Portraits 1969 p 272

(2) Ibid

(3)  Hazel Pierce Margaret Pole Countess of Salisbury Loyalty, Lineage and Leadership p.198

(4) Ibid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Margaret Pole Countess of Salisbury 1473-1541 Loyalty Lineage and Leadership by Hazel Pierce.

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Those looking for an in-depth assessment of the life of Margaret Pole need look no further. Hazel Pierce has more than adequately supplied it in her biography of Margaret – Margaret Pole Countess of Salisbury 1473-1541 Loyalty Lineage and Leadership.  Covering Margaret’s life from early childhood – orphaned at five years old,  Margaret’s earlier needs were catered for by her uncle Edward who supplied her with the necessities – well –  it was the very least he could do under the circumstances – her marriage to Sir Richard Pole – Pierce opines this was a happy one – her widowhood  – the restoration to her  of her brother Edward’s Earldom of Salisbury  by Henry Vlll and finally, her violent death at the hands of an inept axeman aged 67.

 

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George Duke of Clarence – Margaret’s father ‘a myghty prince semley of person and ryght witty and wel visaged’.  At her birth in 1473 he stood third in line of succession to the crown of England.

I must confess that on reaching the end of the book my view of Margaret had changed slightly and not perhaps for the better.  I was left slightly  confused – was she merely obstinate, stubborn and hardheaded,  foolishly pressing Henry’s buttons to the limits – unwisely as it transpired – or was she driven by the rememberance of her noble lineage, indeed more noble than Henry’s,  the present occupier of the throne?   Did she feel honour bound , even duty bound,  after the judicial murder of her brother, Edward the Earl of Warwick, to fight Henry tooth and nail over property matters, a fight that raged for 10 years?  Did this lead to Henry nurturing a dislike for her which would later influence the decision to execute her?  Undoubtedly she infuriated Henry when she encouraged his daughter, the rebellious  Mary,  aiding and abbeting her in her refusal to return her jewels when her father needed them for his new wife, Anne Boleyn.  Margaret seems to have suffered from a nervous breakdown when she and Mary were forcibly parted but later regained her strength and resolve when standing up to the most strenuous of interrogations ,  her courage shining  through in the comments made by one of these interrogators,  Sir William Fitzwilliam, Earl of Southampton, who according to Pierce was sympathetic to Margaret’s younger son Geoffrey, but disliked Margaret.  He later wrote ‘we have dealid with such a one as men have not dealid with to fore us,  Wee may call hyr rather a strong and custaunt man than   a woman

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William Fitzwilliam, Earl of Southampton by Hans Holbein.  The face of the man who interrogated Margaret over 2 days.

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Warblington Castle, Hampshire,   Margaret’s principal residence where she was interrogated by  Sir William Fitzwilliam and Thomas Goodrich Bishop of Ely.

Fortunately for Pierce – and for us – plentiful records have survived that cover Margaret and her sons’ lives ( had the human shredders from the reign of Henry Vll long since departed this mortal coil?)  that have enabled Pierce to write a cracking good book and her meticulous attention to detail must be applauded.  I found it difficult at times to put this well researched and balanced book down.

Margaret’s eldest son, Henry Montague seems the most sensible of the lot although prone to letting his mouth run dangerously away with him from time to time.

Geoffrey, the youngest,  is perhaps the one that took after his maternal grandfather, the mercurial George Duke of Clarence, a loose cannon, but at the same time likeable and charming , with friends  that tried to save him, but perhaps lacking the courage of George. He tried to suffocate himself with a cushion, which,  not surprisingly failed, and his wife was terrified that he might reveal too much if interrogated –  indeed he feared this very thing himself.

Reginald – ah Reginald! – he was the fly in the ointment, safely on the Continent, he managed to survive assassination attempts on his life and was complicit, via his writings, in the downfall of the Pole family.  Reginald survived to become a Cardinal and later Archbishop of Canterbury under Mary Tudor.  For me a further question arises over Reginald’s rather cavalier attitude to his family back in England.  Opposed to Henry’s religious changes in 1537 he sent a message warning that if his mother supported these opinions  ‘mother as she is myne, i wolde treade appon her with my feete”    Reginald seems not to have  give a flying fig over the survival and fates of his family.  If so why?  Perhaps a grudge of some sort, an axe to grind?  Pierce added that Reginald’s actions are so well known that they do not need including in her book.  So that is another story.

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Margaret’s son, Reginald Pole, consecrated as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1556.

And so around spun the fickle wheel of fortune, until they, with the exception of Reggie, were totally undone,  disaster and tragedy overtaking them all , with even Montgue’s young son, Henry Pole the Younger, disappearing from sight forever once he entered the Tower of London with his father and grandmother.  Poor little blighter.

Although this book does answer many question about Margaret and her family it does leave me with one – did the Poles contribute to their own demise, all in some way stretching Henry’s patience to the limit OR was it always inevitable that Henry would in the end,  annihilate the last of those who had the royal and noble Plantagenent blood coursing through their veins?

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The Salisbury Chantry, Christchurch Priory, Dorset.  Margaret’s intended resting place.  Margaret was in eventuality buried in the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, at the Tower of London alongside Henry’s other victims.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Yorkist chronicler under Henry VII’s nose?

“Hearne’s Fragment” is a relatively little-known source on late fifteenth century England. It is mysterious in origin, missing in part and not entirely accurate in detail, perhaps using old-style years?

To begin with, it gives Edward IV’s birth year as 1440 and errs in those of his brothers as well, although there is another possible explanation for this. It describes Edward’s early life and first reign at some length but says little about Richard’s “constitutional election” (Gairdner) and reign. It also relates how history is being destroyed and rewritten during Henry VII’s reign (Chapter 16): “Oftimes it is seen that divers there are, the which foresee not the causes precedent and subsequent; for the which they fall many times into such error, that they abuse themselves and also others, their successors, giving credence to such as write of (from) affection, (partiality) leaving the truth that was in deed. Wherefore, in avoiding all such inconveniences, my purpose is, and shall be, [as touching the life of King Edward the Fourth] to write and shew those and such things, the which I have heard of his own mouth. And also in part of such things, in the which I have been personally present, as well within the realm as without, during a certain space, most especially from the year of our Lord 1468 unto the year of our Lord 1482, in the which the forenamed King Edward departed from this present life.”

This source writes about Hearne’s Fragment and names the most likely writer: Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk. Thomas Howard was born in 1443 and served the Yorkist cause from before the 1469 rebellion. He was given the courtesy title of Earl of Surrey in 1483 and accompanied his father to Bosworth, after which he was imprisoned but restored only to the Earldom in 1489 to undertake various diplomatic duties, such as attending the new King’s daughter’s marriage to James IV. Ironically, he led the English army at Flodden only ten years later, when James was the principal casualty, and was rewarded with the restoration of the family Duchy. He died in 1424 but not before accompanying Henry VIII’s other sister to France for her wedding and presiding over Buckingham’s trial.

As for the absence of material about Richard’s reign, the explanation is surely obvious?

Was Richard III born on October 2 or October 11?

RICARDIAN LOONS

To begin this post, I will confess to having an attachment to the date of birth that Richard III wrote in his personal prayer-book.  In his own hand, he inscribed next to the entry for October 2 the words “hac die natus erat Ricardus Rex anglie IIIus apud ffoderingay Anno D’ni mcccc lijo” (“at this day had been born King Richard III of England, at Fotheringhay, in the year of our Lord 1452”).  I was born on October 2, five centuries later.  As a student of “Ricardian” history, it’s a point of pride for me to be born on the same calendar day as Richard — which makes me rather eccentric to say the least.

BookOfPrayer Richard III’s Book of Hours – with handwritten notation of his birthdate (L)

Nevertheless, it’s rare that we get to see anyone from the medieval period writing down their birthday, and so it…

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

Giaconda's Blog

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

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

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

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A well-connected Archdeacon?

As we said last year, late mediaeval prelates were often well-connected. Indeed, as this ODNB article shows, William Pykenham, Archdeacon of Suffolk, died some time in spring 1497, approximately sixty years after his father. His mother was Katherine Barrington, of the prominent Hatfield Broadoak family, which explains some of his appointments through her Bourchier and Stafford social connections, including that of Rector of Hadleigh in 1470. He served as an executor for his patron, Thomas Bourchier Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1486 and then for Cecily Duchess of York in 1495.

In his role as Archdeacon, Pykenham is associated with two great buildings, of which only these Gatehouses remain: one in Hadleigh and one in Ipswich. He also had dealings with two maternal cousins: Thomas and Thomasine Barrington, the latter being the wife of Sir John Hopton of Blythburgh.

Here too (top) is Barrington Hall, home of the family that included Sir Thomas, second husband of Winifred Pole: Barringtons. The descent of Katherine and Thomasine cannot yet be precisely traced.

At the gates of Gloucester in 1471….

The Battle of Tewkesbury in May 1471 was to prove decisive for the reign of our first Yorkist king. The opponents were Margaret of Anjou and the Lancastrians, versus King Edward IV and the Yorkists. Margaret was defeated, and her heart and spirit was broken by the death in battle of her only son, Edward of Lancaster, Prince of Wales.

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This article is concerned with what happened immediately before the battle, when there was a game of hide and seek between the foes. Margaret set off north from Bristol, intending to cross the Severn at Gloucester, which was the first bridge over the dangerously tidal river. Edward had been thrown off the scent, but suddenly realized what she was doing, and set off north on a parallel route, up on the drove road along the edge of the Cotswold escarpment, while Margaret’s exhausted army trudged the wetter alluvial road in the vale of the Severn.

It was clear to Edward that she planned to enter Gloucester and cross the bridge, the only access to which was through the town. The main road to the west crossed three branches of the Severn and low-lying meadows by a series of bridges and a long causeway.

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unknown artist; Westgate Bridge, Gloucester

Edward sent a swift rider ahead to order the governor of Gloucester, Sir Richard Beauchamp, to close the gates against the Lancastrians and hold the town. Sir Richard was the son of a staunch Lancastrian, but was now loyal to Edward, and did as he was commanded.

North East view of Gloucester from Wotton, 1712

Margaret could have taken Gloucester by force, but it would have been time-consuming, and she did not dare to risk Edward’s forces coming up behind her. She decided to march on north for the town of Tewkesbury, where there was a ford over the Severn at Lower Lode. The next bridge over the river was further north again, at Upton-on-Severn. The ford was impassable, Edward was almost upon her, and so Margaret prepared to make a stand. The rest, as they say, is history.

lower lode tewkesbury

If you visit Gloucester today, it is hard to associate anything with the Gloucester of 1471. Oh, there are four main streets that form a crossroad in the heart of the city: Southgate, Northgate, Eastgate and Westgate. But the gates themselves have long since gone, and the streets are now pedestrianised. There are medieval buildings, if one knows where to look, but a great deal of wanton 1960s damage was done to Gloucester’s soul. The cathedral remains, however, and is still (in my opinion) the most handsome of all our cathedrals. But perhaps I’m biased.

gloucester cathedral

What has also gone forever is the castle from where Sir Richard would have commanded his men as Margaret’s host banged at the gates. First it was dismantled until only the keep was left, and this was used as a gaol. Then that too was pulled down, and HMP Prison Gloucester was built. That is also no more, and in excavations they have found the remains of the old castle keep. What goes around, comes around.

Gloucester castle keep still in use as gaol in 18th century

remains of castle keep, gloucester

See http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3351160/Is-rival-Tower-London-Huge-medieval-castle-discovered-buried-beneath-prison-s-BASKETBALL-court.html

The original castle nestled in the south-western curve of the old city walls, beside the river and quay, and would have been able to overlook the approach to the South Gate. This is surely the way Margaret would have come.

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EPSON MFP image

The land on the floor of the Severn vale is flat Severn clay, which after rain is like thick half-set glue. Whether it had been raining or not I don’t know, although I imagine that the impassable ford at Lower Lode meant there had been a quantity of rain in recent days. Well, there had been somewhere upstream on the Severn, if not in Gloucestershire. Or, of course, there was the Severn bore to consider, with the notoriously hazardous wave sweeping well inland. I have been told that it was not unheard of for it to sweep all the way to Worcester. There is a weir at Gloucester now, to stop it, but in 1471 Tewkesbury was well within reach. And spring tides are high in March, April and May.

If these conditions prevailed, Margaret’s men would have been even more disheartened. More than that, the land south of Gloucester was marshy anyway back then, the river would spread out of its bed. Thus the main road from Bristol was on another causeway. Not the ideal landscape and conditions for a medieval army that was already weary. (The land had been drained a great deal by the time the illustration below was drawn.)

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Map of 1712 showing South Gate and Castle (middle, bottom, just above river)

With the gates closed firmly against them, Margaret marched on north, and Sir Richard Beauchamp’s men came out behind her army and harried the rear, capturing some guns. He was to be knighted after the battle.

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An artist’s impression of Margaret of Anjou being taken away in defeat

Imagine a May Day tournament, but how do you know who is a knight, and who a cross-dressing lady….?

(A Merry May Yesterday to you all! But before I begin, let me confess that I have gathered information for this article from the work of others, and the relevant webpages/sites are listed in the text and at the end.)

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woman in armour

Yes, one of the above illustrations is of Joan of Arc, perhaps the most famous cross-dresser in history. The other is from http://io9.gizmodo.com/what-kind-of-armor-did-medieval-women-really-wear-1502779338. The point of including these pictures is that they show woman in armour. That is, a woman in traditionally male fighting attire. Bear this in mind as you read on.

As the title of this article suggests, I wish you to imagine the following. A May Day tournament is in progress somewhere in 14th century England. It is a glorious day, with the fresh green leaves of late spring, and all the flowers of the season in full bloom. Children dance around a maypole, a fair is doing roaring business, as are hawkers, ale tents, pie-sellers and all the other traders who feature at such events.

Medieval tournament

Colour is a feast for the eye, and everyone, including the populace, is in their best clothes. Banners stream, music plays, polished armour shines, hooves thud, weapons clash, and the crowds cheer. Heralds announce their lords, blacksmiths’ hammers clang, and trumpets blare.

Clad in their costly armour and riding their richly caparisoned coursers, the knights enter the field. Each one is preceded by his squire, riding the courser and carrying his master’s crested helm and lance. Next comes the lord himself, in gleaming jousting armour, on foot, led on a golden chain by a lady on a palfrey. She wears her knight’s colours, as does the squire, and the courser is similarly garbed. Behind the lord come his minstrels. Finally, the lord mounts his great horse, making it prance and toss its head to show off his horsemanship. All is ready for the jousting to commence.

There are few spectacles more popular than this, and everyone from the surrounding towns and villages have flocked to watch the flower of nobility meet in ferocious combat.

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Then, all of a sudden, the proceedings are interrupted, as reported in a complaint by Knighton in Chronicon: “…troops of ladies attended, sometimes as many as 40 or 50, dressed up in all sorts of extraordinary masculine attire. They were young, beautiful, and wealthy. They acted so bold that they were often called rude. They dressed in “diverse and wonderful male apparel, in parti-colored tunics, with short caps and bands wound round the head, and girdles bound with gold and silver, and daggers in pouches (scabbards?) across their body…they paraded about the lists on carefully chosen chargers or equine beasts of some other well-groomed kind, ruining both their bodies and their fortunes by their wanton and scurrilous behaviour…But they neither fear the anger of God nor blush at the comments of God-fearing citizens…” Good heavens above! I knew nothing of all this.

knightly cavalcade

(Please pretend these are beautiful ladies – I fear our medieval Amazons did not leave a picture for posterity!)

Female jousting

Tournaments were the sole preserve of the men; women were there to adorn the proceedings and gaze longingly at their chosen knights. Right? Well, wrong—if the above quote from Knighton is correct.

The two pictures above show us how women were usually seen at jousts. On the left is how we always imagine them, watching and sighing over their heroes. One such hero is the dazzling fellow on the right, who is—wait for it—Ulrich von Liechtenstein! Yes, for fans of the film “A Knight’s Tale”, starring the late Heath Ledger, such an Ulrich really did exist! But in the 13th century, not the 14th, as depicted in the film. The point of including Ulrich here is that on his helm he wears a large, warlike Venus. I have seen other illustrations where Venus is baring all. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulrich_von_Liechtenstein

Above right is a drawing of women in men’s clothing, but above left it is men dressed as women. It seems that the latter situation often occurred at tournaments, and that for jousting men wore their armour beneath female clothes. They took part in hastiludes with the best of their opponents, eventually hurling aside their gowns to display their true masculine metal…er, mettle. So, looking at the illustration below, who is to say that it really is a woman carrying the distaff? Might “she”, at any moment, metamorphose into a burly knight who’ll be no pushover?

woman jousting with distaff

A “female” knight triumphantly revealing himself to be a man was apparently quite acceptable. But, the other way around…? I don’t think it ever happened, but what if, after achieving some notable points against an opponent, a “knight” changed into a woman? I doubt the poor defeated fellow, shamed for having been bested by a female, would ever recover. A soft lot, men, eh?

In the thesis indicated at the end of this article, the following passage is quoted. It concerns events in a French medieval tale entitled “Berengier au Long Cul”:

“Though the husband is a man and is knighted, he is not from noble blood and therefore the wife, though being a woman, can more easily succeed as a knight than he can. She has true chivalry running in her veins, and this is the reason that she is attested to be able to convince her husband that she is a valiant, successful knight. As he is not, he does not accept the knightly code and refuses to joust valiantly, instead submitting himself to the humiliation that his wife forces onto him.”

So, in order to carry off the pretence with any hope of success, the woman in question had, at the very least, to be of knightly blood. Anything less and she would fail abysmally. These tournament cavalcades of ladies dressed as men were therefore all blue-blooded.

To sum it up, I turn to Gael Stirler at http://stores.renstore.com/feminism-fashion-and-cross-dressing-in-the-14th-and-15th-centuries#.WNJgG7msmTN where it is stated that there was indeed a short-lived female tournament maiden movement (no further mention after the 14th century):-

“A century before Joan of Arc put on armor, cross-dressing women were not as rare as you may think. The clothing styles for men and women were similar except for length and headgear. Women occasionally wore short tunics when riding or traveling abroad on foot, as much for comfort as safety. Popular romances and saint’s biographies contained stories of young women who wore masculine disguises to move about society with the freedom of men. They wore men’s clothing as a sign of their celibacy, and willingness to defend it. Some even fell in love with women in these stories.

“Even earlier, Galvano della Flamma described “Amazons of Milan with golden girdles and hard masculine hearts” who wore masculine clothing in public. So it seems that there was a loosely organized, secular, feminist movement, perhaps fashion based, in the 14th century. Since little was written about it in its time, this movement probably had no strong leaders or role models, no philosophy like the Beguine movement, and seemed to only attract women when they were young.

“What we can surmise from these descriptions is that this wasn’t a few naughty girls who showed up at one or two tournaments but that it had to have been a movement made up of many well-born ladies who travelled all over to attend tournaments. They were not combatants, but were, somehow, allowed to parade with the knights on the list field. Imagine 40 or 50 beautiful ladies wearing elegant short tunics covered with embroidery, edged in fur, with glittering belts of gold and silver, their heads topped with marvelous liripipe chapeaus, all of them riding large, beautifully groomed horses. It would be a sight worth traveling to see.”

Indeed it would!

Hmm…and then there was the rise of the May Day Robin Hood plays. I suppose, Robin and his merry friends were chaps…weren’t they?

female Robin Hood

References:-

For medieval female cross-dressing, there is information at the following additional sites.

http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/halsall/source/1395rykener.asp

http://www.fscclub.com/history/joust-e.shtml

For a thesis on the subject of female cross-dressing in general, go to

https://dspace.library.uu.nl/bitstream/handle/1874/279495/Transvestite%20Knights%20-%20Thesis.pdf?sequence=1

And for information about May Day itself, look at https://medievalisterrant.wordpress.com/2013/04/30/may-day-in-the-middle-ages/,

Further references:

Lewis, Katherine J. et al, editor, Young Medieval Women, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1999.

References about Tournament Maidens:

Brook, Iris, English Costume from the Early Middle Ages Through the Sixteenth Century Dover Publications, Mineola, 2000 reprint of 1936 original.

Newton, Stella Mary, Fashion in the Age of the Black Prince:A study of the years 1340 to 1365, Boydell Press/Rowman & Littlefield, Suffolk, 1980.

Annette Carson: in sympathy with King Richard

To the delight of travelers across the globe, tired of lugging all those hard-copy books on planes, trains and automobiles, Annette Carson’s Richard III The Maligned King has just been released in ebook form and can now be purchased on Amazon.com.  Along with John Ashdown-Hill, Carson is part of a new generation of historians who have pushed forward new-found information that has helped to rehabilitate Richard the Third’s reputation in the 21st century with an energy matched only by their scholarship and dogged research.

Originally published in 2008, Richard III The Maligned King is not a biography but an examination of what happened from the moment his brother, Edward IV, died to his own untimely death.  It relies almost solely on contemporary accounts and moves in a direct timeline that makes enthralling reading.  Carson displays a ready wit and is not afraid to take on the hoary myths that cling to traditional historians like Spanish moss on a crumbling hacienda.

Although busy with new projects, Carson was able to spend a few moments with The Murrey and Blue to share her thoughts on Richard the Third and her background which led her to write about the maligned king.

Can you give us a little information on your background, Annette?

Like many people of my generation (I was born in 1940 and grew up in a single-parent family) I couldn’t afford a university education.  Music ran in my family and I was guided towards the Royal College of Music but I soon knew it wasn’t for me.  I married an actor and joined the staff of RADA as Front of House Manager, and then spent the next twenty years working the entertainment industry, including spells at Equity and Thames TV.

By 1984, having been involved for ten years in the sport of aerobatics and produced a fair amount of aviation writing and journalism, I was invited to co-author a book on aerobatic technique which was well received.  I was then commissioned to write a world history of aerobatics, which kicked off my professional writing career.  I enjoy technical writing and the research that goes with it, which in this case entailed learning Russian and took me to four continents.  That book sold 14,000 copies and my next book, a biography of the rock guitarist, Jeff Beck, is still in print and has sold over 15,000.

As you can tell, I follow where my muse takes me…so when other authorial ideas didn’t take off (I was JUST beaten to the draw on a proposed biography of Alan Rickman!) it occurred to me to put my ideas about Richard III into a book.

I’d been fascinated by Richard since 1955 when I was taken to see Olivier’s film of Richard III on a school trip.  Already a great lover of Shakespeare, I had never thought to doubt his mesmerizing portrayal of villainy.  So it hit me like a thunderbolt when my teacher said that many people considered him to have been a very good king whose reputation was deliberately blackened.  I’m something of a campaigner at heart – I took a particular injustice as far as the House of Lords and the European Court of Human Rights – so from my schooldays onwards I read as much as possible to try to uncover the truth.

Can you tell us something about your research methods?

Obviously, the ideas in my book had been germinating throughout decades of reading, so I had a lot in place by the time of the first draft in about 2002.  Fortunately, many of the standard sources were in print long before the internet became the resource it is today and my research entailed mining the documents and articles referenced by writers from Paul Murray Kendall onwards.  That’s my advice to anyone wanting to delve into where our ideas about history stem from:  become a reader of footnotes!

Paul Murray Kendall’s footnotes alone are worth the price of the book and often overlooked when traditionalists criticize him.  You did not write a biography of Richard.  Why?

I specifically didn’t want to write a biography because I was interested only in certain aspects of the years 1483-1485.  I had formulated several original ideas I wanted to explore, starting with what was known of the bones discovered in the 17th century and thought to be Richard’s nephews.  A major item of interest was to visualize exactly where they were found and what the staircase was like and the terrain around that area.  For this I got plans from Historic Royal Palaces and called on expert help from a civil engineer in order to commission an illustration – the only image I know that accurately depicts the discovery site based on contemporary descriptions, aided by illustrations, surveys and plans of the Tower.  I also wanted to highlight the importance of the jaw disease of the elder skull, and how significant this would have been if it had belonged to the heir of the crown.

Another thing I was keen to research was witchcraft in England in the 15th century, something which, because it already interested me, I knew the usual run of historians got completely wrong and still do.  There were many other original ideas – too many to mention – but several have now entered the general Ricardian discourse:  e.g. my taking apart all the myth-making in Vergil like Henry Tudor’s supposed oath to marry Elizabeth and the story that her mother meekly gave him her hand thinking her sons were dead.  Until then it had always been recited as genuine ‘history’.  And then, of course, my introduction of Richard’s bride-to-be Princess Joanna of Portugal, complete with colour portrait, whose existence had been known to readers of scholarly works but only as a shadowy figure.  I still maintain (with support from Arthur Kincaid) that my reading of Elizabeth of York’s letter in the Portuguese context is the only one that satisfactorily explains what the young Elizabeth was referring to.

Joanna must be one of the most under-reported stories in the history of Richard III.  Do you consider yourself a Ricardian?

By the time I finished in 2005 I had already written 160,000 words, so you can imagine how long a biography would have been!  My overall concern was (and is) always to set 15th-century events firmly in the relevant 15th century context.

I like to call myself a Ricardian because I am in sympathy with King Richard but I have to be careful of the word these days because it’s beginning to be used to signify blinkered adulation.  As recently as last year the President of the Richard III Society used the term ‘Ricardian translation’ to mean a pro-Richard whitewash.  I have no problem with anyone who admires Richard or with novelists who fictionalize him but it’s worrying when the boundaries get blurred and even Ricardians sometimes fail to make a distinction.

Occasionally I have to check your book and other non-fiction to see whether ‘a fact’ I’m using in an argument is indeed true or was inserted in one of the many novels written about the king.  It gets confusing.

Let’s be clear that I’m all in favour of speculation, because it can open up startling new trains of thought – and the Ricardian ground is so well-trodden that any new way of looking at something can be good for broadening horizons!  It’s sad, actually, that so many readers want a book about history to be a history lesson, and so many historians want to give them precisely that, right down to psychological profiling.  Whereas my job as a non-fiction writer is to explain how few and tenuous are those things that could be deemed factual, and to offer alternative constructions to conjure with and ponder upon.  I say what I think, and what others think but I don’t tell you they are the only conclusions.

What are you working on now?

I’m afraid there won’t be any new work on Richard III.  Unfortunately, I’ve found the atmosphere around Ricardian studies growing distinctly uncongenial and egocentric, so I’ve returned to aviation.  I am presently researching a biography of a courageous young World War I pilot which I hope to be ready for his commemoration in 2018.

My last Ricardian outing is assisting Arthur Kincaid with his updated and revised edition of Sir George Buc’s History of Richard III, which involves many interesting discussions and much repeated proof-reading.  Interestingly, the reason for Dr. Kincaid’s departure from the Ricardian community thirty years ago resembles mine.  It took considerable encouragement and persuasion for him to return to Buc, and I promise that when it’s published it will contain a treasure-trove of accurate and illuminating footnote references to delve into.

So you haven’t completely moved on from the maligned king!  I look forward to being able to buy both of your new books.  Thank you so much for sharing your time with the Murrey & Blue and I hope everyone purchases this new electronic edition .

annette 3

Was Henry Vll mean? His funeral – and other – Expenses.

IMG_3508.JPGEffigies of Henry Vll and Elizabeth of York by Torrigiano 

Henry died on 21 April 1509.  Henry has come down through history as something of a miser, a tightwad.  Whether this is undeserved or otherwise , I do not know,  although his Privy Purse Expenses make very interesting reading.  He certainly enjoyed gambling, frequently incurring debts (1) as did Elizabeth,  his wife, whose debts often Henry paid (2),  although on one occasion £100  was given as a loan and to be repaid (3).  An astonishing £30 pounds was paid to a ‘young damoysell that daunceth’ (4)..really, Henry! although the ‘little feloo of Shaftesbury’ only received £1 (5),  presumably the poor little blighter was not  half as attractive as the damoysell.  But I digress,  because what I wanted to discuss here,  are the expenses incurred from Henry’s  funeral and tomb, an area in  which Henry clearly did not wish to rein in.

I am grateful for the following information which I have gleaned from The Royal Tombs of Medieval England by Mark Duffy – a marvellous book which I can thoroughly recommend.

‘The costs of building the new chapel at Westminster are estimated at around  £14,856.  The chapel was conceived as Henry’s personal chantry, and there was to be no room for any doubt.  Henry’s will instructed that ‘the Walles , Doores, Windows, Archies and Vaults, and Ymages of the same our chappel, wittin and without, be painted, garnished and adorned with our Armes, Bagies, Cognoissants, and other convenient painting, in as goodly and riche maner as suche a work requireth, and as to a Kings wek apperteigneth'(6).

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The  pendant fan vaulted  roof of the Henry Vll chapel adorned with Beaufort portcullis and Tudor Rose ‘Bagies’.

‘The tomb commissioned by Henry itself,  featured gilt effigies of himself and Elizabeth,  plus figures of himself and 4 kneeling lords and a tomb chest of black and white marble housing 12 small images of saints to be crafted by a group of craftsmen.  The cost of this tomb was estimated at £1257.6s.8d of which the gilt metal amounted to £1050(7).’

‘The funeral expenses exceeded an unprecedented £7,000  including £ 1,000 pounds of black cloth supplied by 56 merchants and 3,606 lbs of candle wax (8)’

‘The bronze screen enclosing the tomb was supplied by a Thomas Ducheman who was paid £51.8s and housed 32 bronze statues of saints (of which only 6 survive).'(9)

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Chantry screen of Henry Vll and Elizabeth of York

‘The tomb chest contains an epitaph in bronze recording the achievements of the couple, not least the procreation of Henry Vlll, suggesting his role in the detailing of the monument’ (10)

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Tomb of Henry Vll and Elizabeth of York

It is ironic that  Henry Vlll’s design for his and Jane Seymour’s tomb never came to fruition and only a slab covers the vault which he shares with Charles l.  But that is another story.

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Slab covering the burial vault of Henry Vlll, St Georges Chapel, Windsor.

  1. Excerpta Historica Edited by Samuel Bentley pp 88, 90, 102, 108, 120, 122, 126.
  2. Excerpta Historica Edited by Samuel Bentley pp 95, 907, 111, 132.
  3. Excerpta Historica  Edited by Samuel Bentley p 97
  4. Excerpta Historica Edited by Samuel Bentley P 94
  5. Excerpta Historica Edited by Samuel Bentley P 88
  6. Royal Tombs of Medieval England Mark Duffy p 279
  7. Royal Tombs of Medieval England Mark Duffy P.281
  8. Royal Tombs of Medieval England Mark Duffy p.284
  9. Royal Tombs of Medieval England Mark Duffy p.287
  10. Royal Tombs of Medieval England Mark Duffy p.286

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