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INSIDE THE MEDIEVAL MIND: THE WALL PAINTINGS OF NETHER WALLOP

In the small quaint Hampshire village of Nether Wallop, filming location for the BBC’s MISS MARPLE, stands St Andrew’s church, a medieval establishment built on Saxon foundations. From the exterior it looks rather ordinary (save for the strange funerary pyramid in its grounds!) but inside is a glory of wall-paintings dating from the Saxon era to the 15th century.

The Saxon paintings are of the Winchester School, usually only seen in illuminations, and are exceeding rare, unique in the country as being the only wall paintings of this date in situ. Angels frolic over the chancel arch, the survivors of a grander mural which culminated at the centre with Christ in Majesty. (Jesus has now vanished, unfortunately,  leaving just the angels on the sides of the arch.)

Along the rest of the church walls are further paintings from the early to mid-15th century, an eroded St Nicholas of Myrna and a wonderfully  vivid depicture of St George slaying a dragon to rescue the  Princess Cleodolinda. The dragon and George do battle below a tall tower, watched by a well preserved King and Queen, the King looking pleased at George’s prowess and the Queen slightly concerned!

Just down from them is a slightly patchy though very large  figure which gives an insight into medieval religious thought in the 1400’s. It depicts the legends of the Sabbath Breakers and the woes you will bring upon Christ and yourself if you do not rest on the Sabbath as God decreed! Christ’s leg is showed being wounded by an axe and a knife; there are also depictions of other tools of the trade from the 15thc including scales and a quern, among others less discernable.

All or some of the 15thc  wall paintings may have been comissioned by Mary or Maria Gore, an Abbess of Amesbury in Wiltshire. Her brass lies on the floor in the centre of the nave and is a rarity in itself–the only brass of an Abbess  still existing in England.

 

MISS MARPLE

 

Unicorn, Unicorn! Wherefore art thou Unicorn….?

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Unicorns do not exist. They never have. Well, that is the general consensus. They are mythical beasts, along with the dragon, centaur, phoenix and so on, but in the medieval period the unicorn was believed in. It was thought that to hunt the unicorn was perhaps the greatest hunt of all, surpassing even the white hart. How disappointing it would have been if such a wondrous creature was really only the rhinoceros. As to the numerous superstitious mentions of using unicorn horn to protect from poison and so on, it seems we can be fairly sure that the horn in question was actually that of the narwhal.

There are seven references to the unicorn in the Bible, which tell of the creature being powerful, dangerous, impossible to tame and worthy of respect, but its physical appearance is never mentioned. It is in the Physiologus, an early book of animal stories, which may have been written by a 2nd-century Christian, that a description appears:

“Unicornis the unicorn, which is also called Rhinoceros by the Greeks, is of the following nature. He is a very small animal like a kid, excessively swift, with one horn in the middle of his forehead, and no hunter can catch him. But he can be trapped by the following stratagem. A virgin girl is led to where he lurks, and there she is sent off by herself into the wood. He soon leaps into her lap when he sees her, and embraces her, and hence gets caught.”

So, the Greeks called the unicorn a rhinoceros, but he certainly wasn’t a rhino as we know them now. He sounds more like a small, one-horned goat. Which is not how we imagine rhinos or unicorns. To us, the unicorn is a beautiful white horse, slender and magnificent, with that graceful all-important horn. In the medieval period, he was definitely depicted as a goatlike creature that paid dearly for trusting virgins.

The Unicorn Defends Itself - Cloisters Museum - 1495-1505

Above, in “The Unicorn Defends Itself “(Cloisters Museum), 1495-1505, the unicorn is beginning to resemble a horse, albeit still with cloven hooves and a goat’s beard. He cannot be brought down by spears and arrows alone; it requires hounds to finish him off. And before he succumbs, he finishes off one of the hounds with his deadly horn.

Virgin Mary and unicorn

The story of the unicorn being irresistibly drawn to maidens was widespread, and there are countless illustrations, first with young girls, but gradually with the Virgin Mary, which became awkward for the Church, leading to the Council of Trent (1545-63) drawing up strict guidelines. The unicorn had fallen foul of the rules, and thus fell out of favour too. But it is all imagination, because the unicorn did not exist. Did it?

heraldic unicorn

To learn much more, I recommend an excellent book entitled The Natural History of Unicorns by Chris Lavers, which traces the evolution of the unicorn legend and its allegorical symbolism.

 

 

 

Blanche Mortimer – The Grandison Monument

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In the chancel of the church of St Bartholomew,  Much Marcle, Herefordshire can be found one of the most beautiful tombs chests in England, that of Blanche Mortimer, Lady Grandison.  I happened by chance on this lovely monument  some years ago.  I stood there entranced, unwilling to leave.  Blanche’s tomb has been described by Nikolaus Pevsner as follows “The head is strikingly beautiful, eyes closed and lips slightly parted.  Beautiful hands with long fingers..moreover the most surprising demonstration of realism in the way of her long skirt hangs down over the tomb chest”.   Simon Jenkins in his book “England’s Thousand Best Churches describes the monument as “An image as lovely as any bequeathed by a medieval church….the effigy might be the original for Sleeping Beauty’.    English Heritage describe it as one of the finest of its date in England.

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Close up of the attention to detail in the tightly buttoned sleeves of Blanche’s gown.

Blanche was born around 1316, dying in 1347 and  was the youngest daughter of the lst  Earl of March, Roger Mortimer who rebelled against King Edward ll.  He and Queen Isabella were lovers and probably arranged the murder of Edward.   Roger, was eventually overthrown by Edward’s son, Edward III and executed, but that is another story.    Blanche was married to Peter Grandison.   He is not buried besides her but lies in Hereford Cathedral.  Little is knows of their relationship but the meticulous  care, craftsmanship and attention to detailed  lavished on the design  and building of the tomb would indicate that Peter Grandison loved and missed his wife. And there, atop her tomb, lies Blanche to this day.  Her face, serene and lovely, her long gown hanging down gracefully in folds over the front of the tomb chest and her hands, beautifully carved, hold her rosary, although alas her little dog is missing his head.

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The tomb chest with its displays of the  Mortimer blue and gold  heraldic badge and the Grandison badge of blue, red and gold.

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Blanche’s husband, Peter Grandison’s  tomb in Hereford Cathedral

But that is not the end of the story for Blanche.  For  while the monument was being restored, Blanche’s lead coffin was found resting within the tomb chest.    This was most unusual as it has been thought that tomb chest monuments were built on top of or nearby where the dedicatee had been buried beneath the church floor or in a vault.  It is now known, through this discovery that some coffins were  placed inside the tomb chest itself.  After the restoration was completed, led by sculpture conservator Michael Eastham, the coffin was returned to the tomb chest with new steel supports to provide future protection.  The lead coffin was briefly examined but the decision was made not to disturb it.

 

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Blanche’s lead coffin

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Blanche’s effigy prior to replacement on top of the tomb chest.

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St Bartholomew’s very own ‘Sleeping Beauty’

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Blanche’s effigy after renovation..her little dog, although damaged,  still lying at her feet..

And so we leave Blanche and her little dog..serene and lovely..truly St Bartholomew’s very own sleeping beauty.

 

Uncle Richard?

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A long time ago, I posted a short article about one of my ancestors, Thomas Snellgrove, who was a portrait artist and painted an actor portraying Richard III. Here is the link.

Portrait of actor playing Richard by Snellgrove

George Frederick Cooke playing Richard III by T.W. Snellgrove

I have been researching my family history for over thirty years and it used to be a very slow and painstaking process. The internet has obviously made things easier and quicker in many ways and I now have some other interesting Ricardian links to report.

I found a probable direct ancestor called Sir Henry Vane, the Younger – I had not heard of him, but discovered that he was a Parliamentarian in the Civil War and was beheaded on Tower Hill after Charles II returned to the throne. Interesting, so I started tracing his family back further and came upon a Vane who had married a lady called Joan Haute. As you probably know, there was a Katherine Haute to whom Richard gave an annuity of £5 and this was considered suggestive of her having been his mistress and mother of one or both of his illegitimate children. I did find a Katherine, married to a James Haute, brother of my ancestor.

I carried on further and found that Joan Haute’s grandfather, Richard, was married to an Elizabeth Tyrrell, brother of James Tyrrell, one of Richard’s henchmen, accused of murdering the ‘Princes in the Tower’ on his orders. It was odd to think I had recently visited the Tyrrell chapel at Gipping and seen the memorials for the Tyrrell family in the church at Stowmarket – how strange that these could be my relatives!  James was executed at the Tower too, by Henry VII.

And Richard Haute’s mother was a Woodville, sister to Richard Woodville, Elizabeth Woodville’s father. Elizabeth, as we know, was Richard’s sister-in-law (or at least was thought to be until it was found the marriage was invalid).

Sir Henry Vane’s wife was Frances Wray, and I next followed her line back. Her father married Albinia Cecil, great granddaughter to William Cecil, advisor to Queen Elizabeth I. One of his sons (half-brother to my presumed ancestor, Thomas Cecil) was Robert Cecil, who was thought to be the ‘model’ for Shakespeare’s Richard III; he was an unpopular politician of the time and also a hunchback.

Pic of Robert Cecil

Robert Cecil

Thomas Cecil meanwhile was married to a Neville! This was Lady Dorothy Neville, descended from George Neville, brother to Cecily Neville, Richard’s mother! This would make Richard my 1st cousin 17 times removed.

It’s not all good though; there are four connections to the Stafford family, two of which are direct lines to Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, who betrayed Richard and was called by him ‘the most untrue creature living’ – another executed ancestor.  And, of course, via the Nevilles, I would also be related to Margaret Beaufort and Henry Tudor through the John of Gaunt line. ☹

Another not-so-good link is to the Percy family and thence to Henry Percy, who was lynched by a mob when he tried to raise taxes in Yorkshire, for not supporting Richard at Bosworth.

Yet another is to the Brandon family via the sister of William Brandon, Henry Tudor’s Standard Bearer, whom Richard personally killed at Bosworth. He would be my 16 x great uncle.

Other significant names that I haven’t fully explored yet are: Howard, Harrington, De Vere, Zouche, Somerset, Bourchier and  Clifford.  I haven’t found any Stanleys yet!

One of the Stafford links also leads to Margaret, daughter of George of Clarence and there is another to Margaret Courtenay, whose mother could be Katherine of York, the daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville (her father married twice and it isn’t known which wife Margaret was born to – the second one was descended from John Neville, brother of Warwick the Kingmaker). These connections would make Richard also my 16 x great uncle. This would mean that one 16 x great uncle (Richard III) killed the other (William Brandon)!

Graham Turner painting of Richard III at Bosworth killing William Brandon

The Battle of Bosworth (Richard III killing William Brandon) by artist Graham Turner, copyright Graham Turner. N.B. Prints and cards of this and many other Ricardian scenes are available – click on the picture above to see.

How convoluted and complicated were the relationships in those days. But it just reveals how, if you can just find one key link into the nobility, you are basically related to them all!! It is also said that nearly all English people are descended from Edward III, so going by my experience (and Danny Dyer’s!) it could be true. I encourage anyone to have a go at researching their family – it is fascinating.

One caveat if you use the internet to do your research though – you have to be careful not to replicate others’ mistakes – I have found Cecily Neville given as the mother of Elizabeth Woodville and someone getting married before they were born – I know they married young in those days, but really!

 

 

Cecil image credit: John de Critz the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

BERMONDSEY ABBEY AND ELIZABETH WYDEVILLE

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Elizabeth Wydeville, by an unknown artist, Royal Collection.

If anyone today wandering around Bermondsey, South London, should find themselves in redeveloped Bermondsey Square they may be surprised to find that they are standing on the spot where once stood the quadrangle of the Abbey of Bermondsey, the entrance  to the square being the site of the Abbey gatehouse.

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Nothing much hardly remains today above ground (after the archaeologists had completed their study of the Abbey remains in 2006 they were once again covered over)  other than some remains of the south western tower which can be seen below the glass floor of a restaurant and nearby houses on Grange Walk, 5, 6 and 7 which incorporate in their structure remains of one wall of the Abbey’s stone eastern gatehouse, particularly No.7,  where the chamfered south jamb with two wrought iron gate hooks still project.

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5, 6 and 7 Grange Walk, Bermondsey incorporating the remains of the Abbey gatehouse seen in 18th century engraving below.  Note the roof line still recognisable today and windows still in original positions. 

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18th century print of the Abbey Gatehouse.

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Drawing by C R B Barrett 1906 where the two Gatehouse hinges can clearly be seen with the remains of a third one still visible.

It is intriguing to remember that in this Abbey,  Edward lV’s queen lived out the last five years of her life, in the Clare guest suite, dying there on 8 June 1492,  She was the second queen to both retire and die there, the first being Katherine of Valois, Henry V’s widow.  Elizabeth commenced her retirement there in 1487 and debate still rages as to whether she retired there willingly or unwillingly with some good reason to be believe that her withdrawal there was forced upon her by her son-in-law, Henry Vll.  Certainly her removal there and the arrest of her son Thomas Grey followed hot on the heels of the news of the outbreak of the Lambert Simnel  rebellion and a council meeting at Sheen so that it might be reasonable to deduce that  Elizabeth and Thomas were implicated in that plot.  MacGibbon, Elizabeth’s biographer wrote ‘Henry is reported to have deprived Elizabeth of all her lands and estates, conferring them on her daughter, his queen, on the l May 1487, and finally to have induced her to spend the rest of her days in seclusion in Bermondsey Abbey in very reduced circumstances ‘(1).  Vergil, the Tudor historian was later to say that this was because Elizabeth had reached an understanding with King Richard three years earlier  upon which she removed herself and her daughters from sanctuary.  This is absurd and it may be that Vergil knew full well that Elizabeth’s retirement was not voluntary but did not know the precise circumstances or  chose not to repeat them it being unwise to record that Elizabeth and Grey may have got themselves involved in the Simnel rebellion because they both believed that Edward of Westminster and/or Richard of Shrewsbury were alive and well. Certainly it does seem a strange decision on Elizabeth’s part if she herself decided on the move to Bermondsey as she had only in the previous year taken out a 40 year lease on the Abbots House, known as Cheyneygates, at Westminster Abbey, conveniently  close to the Palace of Westminster ( 2 ).  Ah, man makes plans and the Gods laugh as they say.  MacGibbon also opines, rather contradictorily, as he seems rather besotted with Elizabeth, that ‘It is possible, if not probable, that Henry disliked his mother-in-law and in this he was no means singular, for there never was a woman who contrived to make more personal enemies’ but he adds as an afterthought, ‘but he ever deprived her of either property or dignity, remains to be proved’.  Furthermore, ‘far from being exiled from her daugher’s court, she was in that same year chosen as Prince Arthur’s godmother and attended at the font’ ( 3).  Finally, he plucks his ripest plumb from the tree, that on the 28 November 1487 Henry and James lll of Scotland agreed that the latter should marry Elizabeth as well as two of her daughters marry James’ sons.  However it must be remembered that at the time of James death, June 1488 none of these marriages had actually taken place and so it cannot be taken as a given that either King, particulary Henry fully intended these marriages to take place.  Indeed David Baldwin points out that ‘the proposed marriages had been mooted before the Simnel rebellion,  at least as early as the Three Years Truce signed on the 3 July 1486’ ( 4 ).

It has been said that it is unlikely that Elizabeth would involve herself in the Simnel plot, which would have culminated not only in the eviction of Henry, her son-in-law.  from the throne but also her daughter not to mention have robbed  her small grandson Arthur of his future   inheritance.  But on the other hand if she believed that the true intention of the plot was not to put Simnel/ young Warwick on the throne but one of her surviving sons, then it is highly likely that this is the very course she would have taken.  This may also explain any coolness that Elizabeth of York may have felt towards her mother and, if this were the case,   Elizabeth’s retirement,  brought about by  her diminished  financial circumstances,  leaving her with little choice, may have proved very  convenient for the royal couple, .  Certainly from Henry’s point of view Bermondsey must have seemed the perfect solution.  The accommodation itself, the Clare Suite, may have been deemed suitable by some  for an ex-queen although to Elizabeth, who had lived a life of luxury in many sumptuous properties  it must have seemed a massive case of downsizing, as we call it today, with a close watch on her movements and an occasional outing to keep any murmuring/speculation down.

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Interior of Great Gatehouse as it was in the 17th century.

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18th century print of one of the Abbey rooms before demolition

In summary

A)  1485.  Elizabeth is treated with deference by Henry, her title of Queen Dowager being restored to her in Henry’s first parliament which met a week after his coronation on 7 November 1485.  Acted as godmother to her grandson Arthur.

B) 1486.  Titulus Regius declaring the invalidity of Elizabeth’s marriage to King Edward was repealed in Henry’s first parliament  and on the 5 March 1486 she received annuities and a life interest in a raft of properties in southern England in full satisfaction of her dower (5)

C) 1486 July 10th.  Elizabeth takes  out a 40 year old lease on the Abbots House, Cheyneygates, at Westminster Abbey.

D) 1487.  February.  Shortly after news of the Lambert Simnel plot reached England Elizabeth retired to Bermondsey Abbey and her son Thomas Grey is arrested and put into the Tower of London.  Elizabeth’s biographer David Baldwin wrote Henry ‘deprived Elizabeth of all her properties, and confined her to Bermondsey on the unlikely grounds that she had imperilled his cause by surrendering her daughters, including his bride, to King Richard three years earlier’.

E)  1487 November 28th.  An agreement between Henry and James lll of Scotland for the latter to marry Elizabeth.  However, James died in June 1488 without this proposed marriage taking place.

F)  1489 November.  Elizabeth is present when Francois, Monsieur de Luxemboug, head of a visiting French embassy, met Elizabeth of York and her mother-in-law, Margaret Beaufort.  Although this might appear prima facie to indicate that all was well within the royal family, as it was surely intended to do,  the possibility exists that Francois, her kinsman,  had insisted on meeting Elizabeth and to avoid suspicion and gossip the meeting was duly arranged with the presence of Margaret stiffling any chance of a private conversation taking place which might have occurred had he met her in private at Bermondsey.

G)  1492 April 10th.  Elizabeth makes her will in Bermondsey Abbey.  There is no dispute, with her will still in existence, that her  condition was, for a dowager queen, extremely impoverished.  I do not have to go into the entire content of the will which is well know other than to repeat the words ‘I’tm where I have no worldly goods to do the queens grace, my dearest daughter, a pleasure with, neither to reward any of my children, according to my heart and mind, as is to me possible….’

H)   1492 June 8.  Elizabeth dies at Bermondsey Abbey.

It could be said that Elizabeth was the human rock that the House of York foundered, and finally, crashed upon, taking with it her two young sons, although this in no way pardons Edward with whom the buck must stop.  Perhaps he was giddy with his triumphs but certainly raging testosterone overcome common sense.  Edward seems to have kept his brains in his pants and the ensuing problems and tragedy that this later caused is well documented elsewhere and I need not go into it here.  Perhaps it would be hard hearted not to feel some glimmer of compassion when reading the pitiful will made at Bermondsey.  Elizabeth asked for a humble funeral and that is exactly what she got – even the herald reporting it was shocked – and so she was laid to rest in a wooden coffin without the usual inner lead one so that when the vault  in which she and Edward were interred was opened in 1789 all that remained of Elizabeth was a pile of bones and the remains of the coffin which had rotted away.  When the vault was resealed once again there appears to have been nothing left of Elizabeth, her bones having been stolen by Georgian souvenir collectors.  So Elizabeth remains a footnote in history, taking any secrets she may have had to the grave with her, including perhaps the whereabouts/fates of her two young sons.  She died knowing that her daughter was queen and that her blood would run through the future Tudor monarchs and perhaps she gained some comfort from that..but I wonder, did she ever muse on what might have been and what had been lost.  I leave you dear reader to make your own mind up about that.

 

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Remains of the Abbey revealed in 2006 prior to the Square being redeveloped

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Abbey staircase..

1. David MacGibbon, Elizabeth Woodville, a Life p.134

2. J Armitage Robinson The Abbots House at Westminster pp22-23

3. David MacGibbon, Elizabeth Woodville, a Life p 135

4.  David Baldwin Elizabeth Woodville Mother of the Princes in the Tower p115

5. Ibid  p109

A magnificent drawing of Medieval York….

Edwin Ridsdale Tate - Medieval York

Read here to learn about Edwin Ridsdale Tate, the man who created the magnificent drawing above, showing medieval York.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pedants’ Revolt (again)

Where better to start this time than Colchester, with its John Ball connections, of course? Here, in a beer advert, a centurion has edited some graffiti to remind the natives of the Roman Empire’s authority. Perhaps he will enter a pub with four colleagues and order some, raising two fingers when asked how many? He might prefer a martinus – “You mean martini?” – “No, just the one, thankyou”.

 

 

This Latin graffiti habit seems to be catching, as shown by this recent protest in Cambridge. However, the artist’s, or artists’, grammar seems to be wanting, according to authorities such as Mary Beard. Perhaps they need help from someone like this?

No more chocolate-box boys in the Tower, PLEASE….!

 

And to cap it all, we even have Kittens in the Tower!

Kittens in the Tower

Oh, for heaven’s sake!

Right, there is a famous “story” about one of our 15th-century princes of Wales, specifically Edward of Lancaster (or Westminster), seven-year-old son and heir of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou. The fame goes that after the 2nd Battle of St Albans, which his side won, his mother asked him to decide the fate of two opposition knights who had been found guarding his father, the captive, rather weak-minded Henry VI. Little Edward chose to have their heads lopped off, even though his father protested. The prince was to eventually come off worst at the Battle of Tewkesbury, at the age of eighteen. (There are various versions of how he died, and at whose hand.)

Royal boys had armour in those days, and there are examples in the White Tower. Was Edward wearing something like this at the time of his supposed seven-year-old bloodthirstiness?

Well, of course, no one knows if the story is true. If it is, the adjective “bloodthirsty” is well earned where Edward of Lancaster is concerned. If it’s untrue, well, he is exonerated. But, given all the ferocious training young aristocratic and royal boys had to go through from the age of seven, he would certainly have already been faced with the brutal reality of medieval warfare. They all were. They learned to handle weapons that could kill, and were shown exactly how to put an end to an opponent. Some idea of this can be seen at http://www.lordsandladies.org/knighthood-training.htm and the following illustrations show more.

quintain - 3stages of knighthood

be master of all this

Imagine our little boys being confronted with such an armoury, and told they will be expected to be master of it all before they’re even men. Imagine them even being sent away to strangers to start learning how to shed blood. Unthinkable.

Like Edward of Lancaster, Richard of Gloucester (the future Richard III) is another example of this same rigorous knightly tuition from the age of seven, and learned every battle skill he might ever need. And he was very good at it. By seventeen he had his own independent command, and took part in the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury. It was expected of him, and he met the challenge.

The boys in the Tower were Richard’s nephews. The elder was another Edward, Prince of Wales of questionable legitimacy (there are considerable doubts that Henry VI was Edward of Lancaster’s father), and was coming up for thirteen when he and his younger brother Richard of Shrewsbury (aged ten) were ensconced in the royal apartments of the Tower in 1483, after their father’s unexpected death. Both boys would have been well into their training.

They were princes of the blood. They were educated, conditioned with a sense of their superiority and importance, and learning the hows and ways of defending themselves in battle. So, in my opinion, big-eyed, clingy, vulnerable, little golden angels they were not. Yet all we see are paintings that follow the same melted-marshmallow theme.

Do we ever see similar gushing illustrations of little eight-year-old Richard of Gloucester, in exile, clinging to his not-much-older brother George of Clarence after the deaths of their father and another elder brother, Edmund? No. Why? Because there are Tudor pawmarks all over the advent of the nauseating chocolate-box images. For the advent of everything concerning the boys of 1483, in fact. There is no evidence that they were killed at all, let alone by their wicked Uncle Richard. And they weren’t in a dungeon in the tower, they were in the royal palace apartments. Theories of their fate abound, of course, but that is not of concern here. And—whisper it loudly!—the Tudors themselves weren’t without good motive for despatching the boys.

Anyway, if I never see another sugary portrait of these yucky little angels, I will be well pleased.

(On another note entirely, there is another Murrey and Blue post about how portraits can influence us. See https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/2017/04/17/can-a-picture-paint-a-thousand-words/)

English kings, queens and ladies of the late 15th century and their books….

On a whim, I acquired a copy of The Medieval Mystical Tradition in England, edited by Marion Glasscoe. It concerns the papers that were the proceedings of the Exeter Symposium IV: Dartington 1987. And the first of these papers concerns The Mystics and the Early English Printers, and is by George R. Keiser.

I confess this is not my usual territory, but I found it all very interesting. The objective of this particular paper is to argue about points regarding Wynkyn de Worde’s significance in printing in England. Wynkyn was a Dutch emigrant who first worked with Caxton, but in 1500 set up on his own to approach printing from his own perspective. Caxton was apparently not much inclined to print in English, but Wynkyn de Worde did just that.

That is not my interest here, because my Ricardian leanings take me down a side road. By that I mean, a little delve into the literacy, or lack of it, of the royals of the late 15th century.

Edward IV - Caxton

edward_iv_signature

Caxton had done well under the Yorkist kings. There is a famous Victorian painting of Edward IV and his family visiting Caxton’s printing press, and according to Weiser, it is generally accepted that the kings who preceded Henry VII were well educated and prepared for their royal role. According to me, this is especially true of Richard III, Edward’s youngest brother, who was particularly literate.

Richard's Books

Strangely, he doesn’t get a mention. I know he only reigned for two years, but that is no excuse for eliminating him, so I will rectify the omission by directing you to http://www.richardiii.net/2_1_0_richardiii.php where the section on his books reveals him to have been unusually steeped in literature. So, far from having little to do with printing, he was quite clearly very interested and involved. And he possessed a copy of the Bible in the English language.

Flourishing under the Yorkists meant life was not so easy after Bosworth, of course, and both Caxton and Wynkyn rather cannily approached Margaret Beaufort, who, whatever we may think of her, was a very literate woman. Wynkyn eventually styled himself “Prynter vnto the moost excellent Pryncesse my lady the Kynges mother”. She and Elizabeth of York were often approached together, and appear to have commissioned a number of book editions to give to their friends. It is not so well known how literate Elizabeth of York was, but there is, apparently, a surviving print book that contains the signatures of both ladies.

That the printers approached the ladies rather than King Henry VII might be explained by the following passage from Keiser’s paper: “…The new king had apparently come to the throne without the education and training that his predecessors had enjoyed (Chrimes Henry VII). Whether he had the literary, chivalric and devotional interests that might have inspired his patronage of the press remains an unanswered question; so too does the question why the new dynasty did not seize the opportunity to exploit the press for propaganda purposes…”

Huh??? Henry missed a chance for more propaganda? Hard to believe.

But I must be fair to Henry regarding his literacy. He spoke a number of languages, and was a highly intelligent man! Mind you, I must say that it is easier to speak a language than to write it. Even so, I have always regarded him as well educated, if not exactly well prepared to be king.

Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, (mother of Edward IV and Richard III, and grandmother of Elizabeth of York, and Henry’s grandmother-in-law) was particularly distinguished for her pious life and collection of devotional writings which she bequeathed to various granddaughters.

So the royal ladies of the late 15th century were educated and literate, a fact that is often overlooked. The men are credited with being as deft with the quill as they were with the sword, while the women did nothing in particular. Is that not the usual image with which we are presented?

Finally, a rather favourite of lady of mine; indeed, the lady after whom I called myself ‘viscountessw’. Cicely, Viscountess Welles, was Elizabeth of York’s next sister in age, and therefore another daughter of Edward IV. She became the wife of John Welles, Viscount Welles, who was Margaret Beaufort’s half-brother. Thus Cicely was also Henry VII’s sister-in-law…and his aunt by marriage was well! A very highly connected lady.

Cecyll the kyng's dotther - 2

 

Cicely alone again.3

Above is an example of her signature, which has been described as ‘barely literate’. It has always grieved my modern self to think this description might indeed be appropriate. However, today, in this newly acquired book, I found the following:- “…A book-list preserved in British Library MS. Royal 15.D.2 attests that yet another of her [Cecily Neville’s] grand-daughters, Cicely Welles, had an extensive library of chivalric and devotional writings, some of which must have been printed books…”

Here is a transcript of the BL MS:-

“…Origin: England. Lionel de Welles (b. c.1406, d. 29 March 1461), 6th Baron Welles, perhaps owned by him (see M. Hamel, ‘Arthurian Romance’, Modern Language Quarterly, 51(1990)). John Welles, Viscount Welles (d. 1499), soldier and administrator, perhaps belonged to him: a list of woods sales mentioning John’s property in Well (now Welle Park, Lincolnshire) and other places in the proximity of his properties in Well and Belleau, including a reference to a personal property ‘a nacur in my nawn manour in modurwode [Motherwood, near Alferd]’, (f. 215v) (see Egbert, ‘The So-called “Greenfield” La Lumiere as lais’, Speculum, 11 (1936), pp. 446-48); and a list of books in English, written probably in the same hand, including the present manuscript: inscribed, ‘In primus a boke in France clakld pokelypse / A boke of knghte hode / A boke of Caunturbere tlase / A boke of Charlman / A boke þe lyfe of our ladys lyfe / A boke the sheys of Thebes / A boke cald vita mixta / A boke cald þe vii poyntes of true love / A boke cald þe sheys of Jherusalem / A boke cald mort Arthro / A boke cald dyuys et paupar / A boke cald cronackols / A boke cald legend aure / A boke cald facekelus temporum [perhaps a text by the Carthusian Rolevink, printed in 1475]’, end of the 15th century (f. 211r).Cecilia Welles (d. 1507), daughter of Edward IV, king of England, wife of John Welles: inscribed with her name ‘Ciecyl Welles’ (now effaced…”

Well, the above paragraph does not say all the books were inscribed with Cicely’s name…or does it? I’m not quite sure. And yes, she may simply have liked looking at them, but on the other hand, perhaps she could read them perfectly well. I hope so. She became very close to Margaret Beaufort, which perhaps would not have been the case if Cicely had been an uneducated nitwit.

 

 

 

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