Prompted by the opinions of two friends on what they thought of certain historians, I thought it would be interesting to see which are named by those who read Murrey & Blue. So, ladies and gentlemen, who is your favourite/most loathed historian (alive or dead), and why?
My choice takes me back to the 14th/15th centuryies. I name and shame Thomas Walsingham, who is praised as the “source” of much concerning the reigns of RII and HIV. I’m only thankful he didn’t live long enough to set about Richard III as well! A source? In my opinion he was a biased, manipulative, woman-fearing/hating, waspish so-and-so who wasn’t very particular about the facts. Hmm, sounds like a certain more modern Tudor-loving historian to me. Can’t remember his name, but I think it begins with S——! 🤔
Anyway, Walsingham gets my thumbs down. Now, over to you—
In this time of Covid 19, when we don’t know why it seems to affect men more than women, and some ethnicities but not others, it is interesting that back in the 14th century the tsunami of the Great Pestilence of 1348 was followed by lesser waves that differed in many ways from the original. The first of these, in the England of 24 Edward III (January 1360 to January 1361) was called the secunda pestilencia and appeared to affect mostly the very young, babies and adolescents. Women were not affected in the same way.
The Chronicle of the Greyfriars of King’s Lynn notes: “…In that year  began a plague among Londoners at about the feast of St Michael, where at first infants died in huge numbers…’ This was the autumn.
Then, the following spring, the Chronicle notes again: “…and after the next Easter following [April 1361], men and women died in great multitudes … In that year the plague raged in the southern parts of England with great mortality among children, youths and the wealthy. This plague was however much less serious than that which had befallen thirteen years before…”
What follows now is both quoted and paraphrased from the above book, The Black Death inLondon by Barney Sloane :-
“….The Anonimalle Chronicle called it the mortality of children, and states that several people of high birth and a great number of children died. But it was killing men disproportionately, Higden’s Polychronicon claimed it started in London, describing it as a “great pestilence of men … killing many men but few women”. Walsingham also asserted that the disease devoured men rather than women. John of Reading’s chronicle stated that ‘this year the mortality was particularly of males, who were devoured in great numbers by the pestilence’; and the chronicle of Louth Abbey described ‘a mortality of men, especially of boys’.
“….The anonymous Canterbury Chronicle provides us with some description of the outward symptoms of the disease: “….Children and adolescents were generally the first to die, and then the elderly. Members of religious orders and parish clergy and others died suddenly without respect of persons when the first spots and the other signs of death appeared on their bodies, as on the bodies of the victims everywhere. Many churches were then left unserved and empty through lack of priests. The plague lasted for more than four months in England.
“….In contrast to the first epidemic, the course of the 1361 plague across England and indeed Europe has yet to be clearly established – certainly there seem to be few warning references in clerical correspondence, so it may well be that the outbreak originated in England and possibly in London as the Lynn Greyfriars and the Canterbury Chronicles maintain…”
Today we are mystified as to why men are more affected by Covid 19 than women, and why some ethnicities are more exposed to it than others. There is no way of knowing now if immigrants of whatever nationality/ethnicity were more adversely affected, because there simply weren’t as many of them and records weren’t as thorough. Especially as back then there were always diseases of one sort of another picking people off, when today our medicine can offer cures to most of them.
But looking back at the secunda pestilencia of 1360-1361 I’d say that—modern medicine aside—very little has changed over the centuries.
PS: I should add that the book by Barney Sloane is excellent and very detailed. It really captures the panic and very hasty will-writing that galvanised the unfortunate citizens.
We all know that Richard is directly descended from William the Conqueror, who is his eleven times great grandfather. Here is Richard’s pedigree to William in three parts – follow the yellow dots left to right. (N.B. the first few generations have the yellow combined with red and blue which lead to other ancestors).
But did you know that he is also directly descended from William’s enemy, Harold Godwinson, also Harold II, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England and Richard’s twelve times great grandfather? This time follow the blue dots.
So, who did he have more in common with? Looking into this, I found that there are many similarities between Richard and Harold.
Battles and Death
Obviously, both died in battle, valiantly defending their country. In fact, Richard was the last English king to die in battle and the first (and only other) was Harold himself. Richard was the last Plantagenet king and Harold the last Anglo Saxon one.
Both could be impatient and impetuous. Richard charged Henry Tudor to try to end the battle and refused to take a horse and leave the battle. Harold joined battle with William quite hastily. He might have succeeded if he had waited a little while. Also, both men did not attempt to wait for contingents of their armies who were late arriving; Richard’s York men did not reach the battlefield until the battle was over and Harold’s brothers-in-law, the Earls of Mercia and Northumbria had not yet arrived when the battle of Hastings began.
Both were hacked to death fighting their enemies, Henry “Tudor” and William of Normandy respectively. Both of these enemies were of bastard stock and both invaded from France. Neither of them had any legal right to the throne of England. And both Henry Tudor and William of Normandy had attempted a previous invasion, only to have been thwarted at that time. The battles of 1066 and 1485 were both pivotal in English history and, arguably, in both cases, England would have been much better off had the defending king prevailed.
Richard was the youngest son of the Duke of York, with no expectation of becoming king. Many of us believe he took the throne out of duty, not ambition. One of the reasons may have been the fact that Edward V was just a boy of thirteen and no-one wanted a king who was a minor.
Harold, too, was a younger, if not the youngest, son of his family. He never expected to be king either – when he was young, Edward (the Confessor) was on the throne and was expected to have heirs.
As it happens he did not, but there was another claimant, Edgar Ætheling (sometimes known as Edward Ætheling), Edward’s nephew, who was, at the time of the Confessor’s death, aged about thirteen. Sound familiar? The Witenagemot (English assembly of nobleman and clergy, etc) decided that Harold was the better prospect as king to defend the country, since it was known that William of Normandy was also planning to claim the crown. So, both Richard and Harold were elected king, after an Edward had died and by putting aside thirteen-year-old claimants, possibly both also called Edward.
Both Richard and Harold had troublesome brothers. Richard had his older brother, George, with whom he had to debate to claim a share of the Neville sisters’ inheritance and whom Edward IV ended up executing for treason.
Harold had Tostig, a younger brother, who rebelled against both Edward the Confessor and Harold himself and ended up siding with Harald Hardråda, a Norwegian claimant to the throne, thus also committing treason. Harold had to take his army up to York to oppose them and won, taking the Norwegians and Tostig by surprise. Tostig was killed in the battle of Stamford Bridge, but this battle was probably one reason for Harold losing at Hastings a few day later. It seems both George and Tostig were ‘problem’ middle children.
Richard had to twice go into exile with members of his family; with George when he was eight and with Edward when he was eighteen.
Harold accompanied his father, Earl Godwin, into exile in 1051, and helped him to regain his position a year later.
In 1483, Richard, as Duke of Gloucester, was the most powerful noble in the country and the senior adult male heir. He also held many titles such as Constable of England, Admiral of England, Ireland and Aquitaine, Chief Justice of North Wales, Great Chamberlain of England, Steward of the Duchy of Lancaster and Lord Protector.
Likewise Harold was, by 1066, the most powerful man in the country after the king. As well as being Earl of East Anglia from a young age, he became Earl of Wessex after the death of his father in 1053 and later Earl of Hereford. In addition, his sister (another Edith!) was Edward the Confessor’s queen.
Richard is known to have suffered with scoliosis, which would have been the source of great challenges for him. Perhaps partly because of this, he was very pious and is known to have founded and built many religious houses and chapels.
Harold was also known to have had an illness of some kind which must have been quite serious, resulting in a form of paralysis. He was apparently cured and founded an Abbey at Waltham, in thanks for his life.
Richard married Anne Neville and thus helped to secure the North for his brother, Edward IV, since the Nevilles were well-respected there.
Harold had been married more Danico ‘in the Danish fashion’ (i.e. not in a way recognised by Christianity) to Edith Swannesha for many years and had at least six children by her. This may have partly been to gain influence in his new Earldom, when he became Earl of East Anglia, as she had land in the area. He later married another Edith, sister of Edwin, Earl of Mercia and Morcar, Earl of Northumbria, probably in order to ensure their loyalty to him and secure the North, so all these marriages were probably at least partly politically motivated.
In addition, when Richard married Anne she was the widow of Edward of Lancaster, who opposed Richard and the Yorkists at Tewkesbury.
Edith, Harold’s second wife had also been previously married to his opponent, the Welsh king, Gruffydd ap Llywelyn.
Both Richard and Harold had previous good reputations. Harold was described by chronicler, Orderic Vitalis, as being:
‘distinguished by his great size and strength of body, his polished manners, his firmness of mind and command of words, by a ready wit and a variety of excellent qualities’.
‘Never has so much spirit or greater virtue reigned in such a small body.’
They were also both proven warriors. Richard had been involved in the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury with his brother, Edward, and had also been successful in repelling the Scots and retaking Berwick.
Harold had quelled the Welsh in a series of effective campaigns against Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, and was later victorious at Stamford Bridge.
Richard was crowned on 6th July 1483. Harold was also crowned on 6th, but of January, in 1066, both in Westminster Abbey. It is thought that Harold was the first to be crowned there. Both of them were criticised for being crowned with unseemly haste, although both had good reason, since in both cases the nobles, clerics and others who needed to be present were already there. In Richard’s case, they had assembled for the coronation of Edward V and in, Harold’s, for the funeral of Edward the Confessor.
Both men had mysteries surrounding their burials. Richard’s we know about – it had been thought by some that his bones had been dug up and thrown into the River Soar, but they were located successfully in 2012.
After the Battle of Hastings, Harold’s mutilated body was identified by his first wife, Edith Swannesha, through marks known only to her, but his final resting place is unknown.
The traditionally accepted location is Waltham Abbey, but this is disputed. Another candidate is Bosham, because of Harold’s strong association with it as his birthplace, and the discovery in 1954 of an Anglo-Saxon coffin in the church there. Also, it is near the sea and William was said to have wanted him buried near the Channel for his impudence in opposing him.
Left: Harold’s supposed burial at Waltham and right: Church at Bosham
A third, more recent, suggestion is St Michael’s Church, in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire. This theory stems from the fact that the ‘remains’ believed to be Harold’s that were found at Waltham Abbey could not have been human bones as they had turned into dust. It is possible that he could have had a ‘heart burial’ there – common for high status individuals – where their heart was buried at a separate location to the rest of their body.
Harold’s first wife is known to have lived in Bishop’s Stortford and the team behind this theory found four surviving, intact Norman stone coffins in a vault under the church, which have not been examined in modern times. The coffins seem too unusual to be for commoners.
After their deaths, both kings had family members who tried to wrest the crown back from the two usurpers, Henry and William. In Richard’s case, these were ‘Lambert Simnel’ and Perkin Warbeck’, probably actually his nephews, Edward and Richard.
Two of Harold’s sons, Godwine and Edmund, invaded England in 1068 and 1069 with the aid of Diarmait mac Máel na mBó (High King of Ireland). We know that Ireland also supported the Lambert Simnel attempt. However, all of these bids for power sadly failed.
I recently read the following as a description of a Facebook page in support of king Harold:
Redressing the balance of Norman propaganda against King Harold Godwinson and the Anglo-Saxons, and the blinkered hagiographies for Duke William…
You could substitute Tudor for Norman, Richard III for Harold Godwinson, Yorkists for Anglo-Saxons and The Tudors for Duke William and there we have our own aims. It’s so true that history is written by the victors.
Portrait of Maximilian I, from the workshop or a follower of Albrecht Dürer.
Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I (1459-1519) is one of those larger-than-life historical figures. Straddling the medieval and Renaissance eras, he worked tirelessly and spent a vast fortune to establish the Habsburgs as one of Europe’s dominant ruling families. In England, the House of York considered him a vital ally to the interests of English territories and trade on the continent.
In 1484, Maximilian’s envoy asked Richard III to send him 6,000 archers to strengthen that alliance, calling the English king ‘that prince of all Christian princes’ ‘of very great and excellent virtues’ to whom Maximilian had ‘most love and affection, and with whom he desires most to ally and confederate himself’. Expressing no consternation over the deposition of Edward V or the disappearance of the ‘princes in the Tower’, and perhaps believing they were still…
Edward Balliol was crowned King of Scotland at Scone Palace, today in 1332. He, alongside Edward III, had won the Battle of Dupplin Moor and was able to supplant the eight year-old David II, although he was removed shortly later. He was also at the Battles of Halidon Hill and Neville’s Cross – the first saw him briefly restored and the second saw David II imprisoned but there was no second restoration and Balliol retired to Yorkshire, where he died twenty-one years later.
This article, dating from just nine days after Richard III’s remains were officially identified, speculates on where Balliol, son of a Scots king like his rival, is likely to be buried in or around Doncaster. Just as first a school, then a car park, was built over Richard’s tomb and a car park over that of John Knox, does a post office at Priory Park lay over Balliol? If so, he is barely a mile from Lister Avenue, Balby, made famous by someone else (right).
The alternative venues include Conisbrough Castle, the birthplace of Richard’s paternal grandfather, Doncaster Minster and yet another car park that was once … a Greyfriars!
In my spare time I have been reading Henry IV by Chris Given-Wilson. It’s a massive book, full of information, probably the most complete work on Henry since Wylie’s four-volume effort in the 19th Century. Frankly, I’m finding it hard going. Not because it’s a bad book (it isn’t) or because Given-Wilson is a bad writer or a poor historian (the very opposite is true) but because, quite frankly, I find Henry a deeply unsympathetic character, and the more I learn about him the less I like him.
One of the interesting snippets I have picked up from this book is that in the 1390s Henry spent over £400 in legal fees chasing up various land claims that he thought he was entitled to pursue. OK, £400 does not sound much in 2020, maybe a Solicitor’s hourly rate; but in the 1390s 1000 marks (about £667) was the basic annual income qualification for an earldom. An ordinary person would consider themselves well paid on 6d a day (2.5p modern money) or 3 shillings (15p) a (six day) week. A woman working in agriculture was often only paid a third of that. And no one was paid for the numerous religious holidays – for the ordinary person, they were time off without pay. So a good annual income was maybe £4 or £5 at best. Many would have received far less. So £400 was a heck of a lot of money.
Now, you may say, and it’s true, that pursuing legal claims for land (often dubious) was pretty much a national sport for the nobility and gentry of the late middle ages. Look at the Pastons, for example. They were always chasing up some claim or other, or someone was chasing them.
But the Pastons, in the 15th Century, were barely established as gentlefolk. They had recent ancestors who had been actual bondmen. So it’s not surprising their grip on their property was tenuous, and that they had to scrap for every penny. Similarly, it’s not hard to understand some impoverished baron trying to expand his holdings a bit – the value of land was not what it had been before the Black Death and tenants – and even labourers – had that little more edge than they had had previously.
Henry of Bolingbroke, by contrast, was heir to what was undeniably the greatest inheritance ever brought together under one roof. What’s more, he had married a very wealthy heiress. OK, he had had to share the de Bohun inheritance with Uncle Gloucester (how sad!) and his mother-in-law was still alive and inconsiderately drawing her dower, but the lordship of Brecon alone was worth £1,500 a year!
So, to be blunt, Henry was a greedy so-and-so. He was suing his Uncle Gloucester and the Earl of Warwick, and various other people, because he was not satisfied with his enormous slice of the pie.
Here’s the rub – his father, John of Gaunt, was no better, despite being incomparably the richest private individual in England. (By several streets.) Through the 1390s he persuaded Richard II to confer further sweeteners on him. For example, the duchy of Lancaster was given its special status on an hereditary basis, instead of for life. Then there was the little matter of the grant of the Duchy of Aquitaine. (This latter was in part entangled in the very complex peace negotiations with France, but did Gaunt really need another great duchy?)
Richard II was rapidly running out of things to give – England’s resources were strictly limited – but there really is no indication that the Lancaster family would ever have been satisfied.
Some people will say – “Ah, but Richard II was a lousy king.” Well, for a start, he was rather more effective than is often realised. A lot of the negative stuff is pure Lancastrian propaganda, much of it invented after Richard’s deposition. (How familiar!) The reality is though that even a sovereign with the talents of Elizabeth I and Henry II rolled together would have struggled to succeed with a cuckoo in the nest as large as the Lancasters were. Remember the problems Warwick gave Edward IV? Compared to John of Gaunt – and even more to Bolingbroke post-inheritance – Warwick was a mere country squire.
Richard II had to do something about the Henry Problem. If his chosen solution failed, it was because it was, in fact, too generous, too mild, too humane. When their positions were abruptly reversed, Henry made no such mistake. Objectively, one of them was sure to be the death of the other, it was just a matter of time.
That being the case (and the same would have been true had matters gone the other way) there was set up in English politics a turbulence that was always going to cause problems sooner or later. To a point, the impact was seen straightaway. Henry IV’s reign was extremely troubled because many of his subjects simply did not see his kingship as valid. He was not, after all, Richard II’s right heir, and he had obtained his position by illegitimate force. It took him until at least 1405 (maybe 1408) to resolve matters and secure his crown. It was done by painful attrition, and with a bit of luck along the way. But it only really postponed the issue for a generation.
Henry V did his best (at the very start of his reign) to conciliate his father’s remaining enemies – such as were still alive plus their heirs – and to a very large extent this succeeded. He was further helped by his remarkable successes in France, the more or less complete inability of his obvious dynastic rival, the Earl of March, and by the fact that the third Duke of York was still a little boy.
However, it only took the failure of Henry VI’s kingship to bring the dynastic issue back on the table, and then set the whole structure of Lancastrian kingship tumbling down. Could it have been avoided? Probably not, except in a magical world where Henry VI is much more effective as a ruler and finds the cheat button that releases unlimited resources to enable the French war to be won. In the real world, there was not a chance.
On reading Chivalry by Léon Gautier, I learned that St Maurice was the patron saint of knights. Another interesting fact about him is that he’s often depicted as a Black African man in armour. He apparently came from Upper Egypt, so he probably was black. I’m reminded of the Black Madonnas. We’re always surprised by such images, yet why? The southern shores of the Mediterranean are the continent of Africa, so go figure!
Anyway, the book Chivalry is French, and so I must believe St Maurice may have been the patron saint in France, and the rest of Europe perhaps, but I can’t find any reference to him being the patron saint of knights in England. In this country it was St George. As I’m a writer, I’m always on the lookout for facts to add as background, and I thought that as a lot of my present characters are knights who are often embroiled in army campaigns, St Maurice should surely get a mention. Easier said than done.
St Maurice is rather rare here. There don’t seem to be all that many parish churches dedicated to him. I went to catholic.org and found the following:-
“….Maurice was an officer of the Theban Legion of Emperor Maximian Herculius’ army, which was composed of Christians from Upper Egypt. He and his fellow legionnaires refused to sacrifice to the gods as ordered by the Emperor to insure victory over rebelling Bagaudae. When they refused to obey repeated orders to do so and withdrew from the army encamped at Octodurum (Martigny) near Lake Geneva to Agaunum (St. Maurice-en-Valais), Maximian had the entire Legion of over six thousand men put to death. To the end they were encouraged in their constancy by Maurice and two fellow officers, Exuperius and Candidus. Also executed was Victor (October 10th), who refused to accept any of the belongings of the dead soldiers. In a follow-up action, other Christians put to death were Ursus and another Victor at Solothurin (September 30th); Alexander at Bergamo; Octavius, Innocent, Adventor, and Solutar at Turin; and Gereon (October 10th) at Cologne. Their story was told by St. Eucherius, who became Bishop of Lyons about 434, but scholars doubt that an entire Legion was massacred; but there is no doubt that Maurice and some of his comrades did suffer martyrdom at Agaunum. Feast day – September 22nd….”
Nothing there about being patron saint of knights, although to be sure he was a Christian soldier in the time of the Emperor Maximian Herculius. (250 – c. July 310)
Wikipedia Wikipedia says St Maurice is patron saint of weavers and dyers , as well as patron saint of the Duchy of Savoy (France) and of the Valais (Switzerland) as well as of soldiers, swordsmiths, armies, and infantrymen. Aha! Maybe that’s it – he was patron saints of fighting men in general. That fits…but why isn’t he around much in England?
I was curious, and so had a poke around on Google, and soon came upon Plympton St Maurice in Devon. Surely the history of this town would explain the St Maurice part of its name?
According to local history “….Plympton St Maurice was originally called St Thomas, although when the name changed was uncertain, but it changed between St Maurice and St Thomas several times before St Maurice became more generally used….During the 13th and 14th century, Plympton St Maurice was bigger than Plymouth and far more important as a port. There is an old rhyme which states that ‘When Plympton was a Busy Vale, Plymouth was a fuzzy dale’. However the life blood of Plympton soon became it’s poison, as the Tin Mines on Dartmoor produced a lot of silt which was washed downstream, this caused the river to silt up, and took away the port….” Not much luck there. Nothing at all to suggest why St Maurice took root there.
So I guess it’s just one of those things. St Maurice didn’t really make it to England. The best I can do to mention him is have a character say in passing that he’s the patron saint of knights on the other side of La Manche.
Here is a link to an interesting paper about a certain Roger Machado, who is known to have been Henry VII’s herald. It seems that before then he’d been Leicester Herald to Edward IV, Edward V and Richard III, but deserted Richard late in 1483 to go over to the Dark Side. Er, sorry, to Henry Tudor.
I don’t know how these things were done in the 15th century, or who appointed heralds, but if this one actually was Leicester Herald to Edward V, surely this is a pointer to Richard’s having fully expected to see his nephew on the throne? This, to me, is evidence that the accusations of More, Shakespeare & Company were untrue. The Duke of Gloucester didn’t have an eye on the throne from the outset. So his preparations for Edward V’s coronation were honest.
During the medieval period it was common for hollow beeswax votive offerings to be made in the hope of spiritual assistance in healing or at least minimizing an injury or ailment. In Exeter Cathedral, these were hung above the tomb of Bishop Edmund Lacy (c. 1370-1455), but there were other cathedrals and churches where they were placed.
It was thought that none of these delicate items had survived, but then, in a Luftwaffe raid in May 1942, the cathedral was bombed, and when the damage was being cleared up, all sorts of things were found on top of the bishop’s tomb: “….pieces of glass, oyster shells, splinters of stone and over a thousand curious wax objects….” These curious wax objects were the votive offerings.
Formed as fingers, heads, hands, feet and even whole figures, they are wonderfully preserved and very detailed. To read more about them, go to the Cathedral website and medievalart.co.uk. There are more sites too, of course.
At York Minster there is a window known as the St William Window, which shows just such an offering (a rather large leg) being submitted to St William of York, who was canonised in 1227. The window is close to his shrine.
Some of you will know that in the 1970s I wrote a trilogy about Cicely/Cecily, daughter of Edward IV. I called her Cicely back then, and have stuck with it, but now she is generally known as Cecily. She had been the third daughter, but on the death of her sister Mary, because second only to Elizabeth of York, who became Henry VII’s queen. At the time of this early trilogy it wasn’t known that Cicely had made a first marriage to Ralph Scrope of Upsall.
Then, in the 21st century, came the discovery of the remains of Cicely’s uncle, Richard III. My interest was sparked anew, and I rewrote my books about Cicely, this time incorporating her marriage to Ralph. In my fictional story, the “marriage” was untrue, and came about because Richard III erroneously believed she wished to marry Ralph, Young love, and all that.
The facts about the Cicely-Ralph marriage may never be known, but the admirable Marie Barnfield has now written an article about the ending of the marriage. You’ll find it at the Society’s Research blog, and a very interesting read it is.
Alas, it seems unlikely we’ll ever get to the bottom of the matter, but it’s now certain that John, Viscount Welles, was not her first husband. Nor was he the last, because on his death she married a Lincolnshire gentleman named Thomas Kymbe, a match about which Henry VII (who was both her brother-in-law and her nephew-in-law, Welles having been Henry’s half-uncle) was downright livid. Absolutely beside himself, it seems, and it was his mother Margaret Beaufort (John Welles’s half-sister) who managed to smooth things out for the unlikely newlyweds. She was very friendly with the wayward Cicely.
Cicely was a very interesting lady. She was only in her late thirties when she died; if she’d survived to old age, who knows who else might have been added to her marriage CV! She was certainly prepared to defy the grim Henry Tudor in order to have Kymbe, who was clearly the man she wanted. Third time lucky!