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The Castle of Leicester and St Mary De Castro

Leicester Castle

leics castle

Leicester Castle as it appeared in 1483

 

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The Castle gardens

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

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

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

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The Castle House

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

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

St Mary De Castro

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St Mary De Castro

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

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

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

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

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Henry VI and Richard III

Curiosities

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

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The Nave of the Church

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

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

 

 

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Another Howard riddle

It is widely known that Elizabeth I was the only English monarch to be descended from John, 1st Duke of Norfolk, as her grandmother was a Howard, his granddaughter. There is a British monarch who can trace their maternal ancestry to this dynastic founder – Elizabeth II, who also shares the “Treetops” coincidence with her namesake.
Here is the evidence …

Illustrations of Stafford Castle….

Stafford Castle

I fear the exhibition in question was in 2017, but the website is interesting because if you go down to the second appearance of the above illustration of Stafford Castle, you will find that you can go through a number of scenes of the castle. Worth a look.

Down with Reggie Bray: hooray for Francis Lovell….!

Well, here are two stories from two English villages. Firstly, the present Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester, will be at St Mary’s Parish Church at Eaton Bray, Bedfordshire, to mark its 800th anniversary. Unfortunately, the Bray part of the village’s name comes from Reggie Bray, upon whose memory we, er, frown. Reggie, of course, is one of a number of men at Bosworth Field who laid claim to having found the crown of Richard III and placed it on Henry Tudor’s undeserving, usurping head. If all these men were telling the truth, I think there must have been a very undignified scrum to grab the crown, which hitherto had graced the brow of the true King of England. However, methinks some porkies were told…it was probably Tudor himself who scrambled around on hands and knees, looking for the crown to which he he had no honourable right whatsoever.

To read about the royal visit to Eaton Bray, please  click here.

However, there is also news about a much more agreeable gentleman from the past, Francis Lovell, whose family name attaches to an Oxfordshire village, Minster Lovell. Unlike Bray, he was true to Richard III throughout, and now there is a new book out about him:-

“….’Dynasty and Disappearance: Francis Lovell, Richard III and The Tudors’ takes place at the Old Swan hotel in Minster Lovell on Saturday from 10am to 4pm.

“….Author Steve David will launch his first ever book published on Francis Lovell, an ally of Richard III in the War of the Roses, and part of the family that gave the village its name.

“….The book argues that Mr Lovell returned to his ancestral home in the village and hid from Henry VII after the Battle of Stoke in 1487.”

I’m not sure Viscount Sir Francis would have appreciated being demoted to mere gentleman! However, it’s always hooray for him, and bah, humbug, to Reggie Bray!

To read more about the new book, please go to this article.

It’s a wonder anyone survived medieval battles….!

 

The title above says it all. Go to this article and see what I mean. With such weapons being wielded on all sides, how on earth did anything—man or horse—emerge still standing? I don’t think we should be in any doubt at all that by going to battle, all men knew they were putting their lives at a very real risk indeed.

Unless, like Henry VII, they always skulked around at the back, well protected (Bosworth), or indeed arrived too late to take part anyway (Stoke Field or Blackheath). There was nothing brave about him.

Crusaders came from all over, and were led by Richard III….?

 

Taken from the link below

Well, when we think of the Romans, we now know they came from every corner of Europe and even the Middle East, but do we always think of Crusaders as being so diverse? This is an interesting article, and worth reading.

Except….Richard III led the Third Crusade? One lives and learns. I’ll warrant Richard would have been as surprised as me to learn of this particular exploit!

Sir James Tyrrell – Sheriff of Glamorgan

As we said in an earlier article,“ Richard III appointed James Tyrrell Sherriff of Glamorgan and Constable of Cardiff in 1477. The importance of Glamorgan is little understood or recognised in Ricardian Studies, but this was certainly a key job and one of the most important at Richard’s disposal. The practical effect, given that Richard was mainly occupied in the North or at Court,, was that Tyrell was his deputy in one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Marcher Lordships. It was a position of considerable power and almost certainly considerable income.”

Looking for further information about Sir James, I came across “An Inventory of Ancient Monuments of Glamorgan” which said that the Lordship of Glamorgan was passed to Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, through his wife Anne Beauchamp. After Warwick’s death at the Battle of Barnet his daughters inherited it. However, due to a dispute between Richard Duke of Gloucester and George Duke of Clarence, as to how the inheritance should be split, King Edward IV stepped in and enforced partition of the lands and Richard became Lord of Glamorgan. In the Autumn of 1477 Richard appointed Tyrrell as Sheriff of Glamorgan and Constable of Cardiff Castle.

The Richard III Society of Canada reported in an article that during the Scottish Campaign in July 1482 Tyrrell was made a Knight Banneret and in November 1482, along with Sir William Parr and Sir James Harrington he was appointed to exercise as Vice Constable to Richard’s office as Constable of England.

Tyrrell was obviously well thought of by Richard. He trusted him to bring his mother in law from Beaulieu Abbey to Middleham. After Hastings’ execution and the arrest of suspected conspirators Richard temporarily placed Archbishop Rotherham in Sir James’ custody. It is also thought that James Tyrrell was responsible for taking the Princes or one of the Princes out of the country before Bosworth. I have always thought it was odd that he was out of the country when Richard needed him, but it is possible that he was performing a much more important task for Richard.

In researching another previous post , I discovered that Rhys ap Thomas had married Jane Stradling, nee Matthew, the widow of Thomas Stradling of St Donat’s Castle and that he was guardian to the young heir, Edward Stradling when Thomas died in 1480. I assumed that when ap Thomas had married Jane Stradling he had taken over the guardianship of Edward Stradling, however, Richard had given Edward Stradling’s guardianship to James Tyrrell in 1480 when his father died so it was probably after Bosworth that Rhys ap Thomas was given the control of the young heir of St Donat’s. Thomas was later accused of taking money from the Stradling’s estates for three years running. The young man was obviously better served by Tyrrell.

Sir James Tyrrell was obviously someone Richard could trust, so it could be said that was evidence that Richard trusted him to be responsible for taking the Princes out of the country. On the other hand, I am sure that those who believe the traditionalist version would say that it could also mean that Richard could have trusted him to do away with the Princes. Personally I have always thought that the former scenario was probably the true version. In her book “The Mystery of the Princes” Audrey Williamson” reported a tradition in the Tyrrell family that “the Princes were at Gipping with their mother by permission of the uncle”. This was told to her by a descendant of the Tyrrell family in around the 1950s. Apparently the family didn’t ever talk about it because they assumed that if the boys had been at Gipping that it must mean that Sir James was responsible for their deaths. However, they were supposedly at Gipping with their mother and by permission of their uncle, so I doubt that their mother would have been involved with their murder. Gipping in Suffolk is quite near to the east coast of England so would have been an ideal place to stopover on the way to the Continent.

In conclusion, it is my opinion that James Tyrrell was a very loyal, trustworthy member of Richard’s retinue. This is evidenced by the fact that he was trusted by Richard to carry out important tasks like bringing his mother-in-law from Beaulieu to Middleham, to carry out his duties as Lord of Glamorgan by making him Sheriff of Glamorgan and as Vice Constable to Richard’s role as Lord Constable. We might never know if the Princes even died in 1483/84 let alone were murdered or if they were taken out of the country. There isn’t any definite evidence to prove that, if they were taken abroad, Tyrrell was responsible for taking them. However, there is evidence that Richard made a large payment to Tyrrell while he was Captain of Guisnes. It was £3000, a huge amount in those days. There is an opinion that it would have been enough to see a prince live comfortably for quite some time while others say that it was probably towards the running of the garrison. As I said before we might never know what happened but it does seem odd to me that when Richard needed him most to fight the Battle of Bosworth, James Tyrrell was abroad as was Sir Edward Brampton, another person who could have helped to save the day at Bosworth.

THE EARLS IN THE TENNIS COURT: A VISIT TO BISHAM ABBEY

Bisham Abbey was the burial place of the Earls of Salisbury, and also Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, the ‘Kingmaker’ and his unfortunate grandson Edward of Warwick, executed on a trumped-up charge by Henry VII. The Abbey was destroyed in the Reformation, and on the grounds now stands the National Sports Centre, where many professional athletes train. However, it is less known that it is not just a sports centre but a hotel too, and that although the priory buildings are gone, the medieval manor house still remains.

The house is very striking–and what a history! It was first built and owned by the Knights Templar, passing into the hands of King Edward II when the order was dissolved. Elizabeth, the wife of Robert the Bruce, was kept in captivity there for a while, along with  the Bruce’s daughter, the tragic young Marjorie.

Later, in 1335, William Montacute, Earl of Salisbury purchased the building. He founded a priory that stood alongside the manor house, and he and many of his descendants and their spouses were buried there. Burials in the priory include:

  • William Montacute, 1st Earl of Salisbury & 3rd Baron Montacute, d.1344 along with Catherine, his wife.
  • William Montacute.  2nd Earl of Salisbury, d.1397
  • William, d.1379/83, son of William Montacute, 2nd Earl of Salisbury
  • John Montacute. 3rd Earl of Salisbury, d.1400 along with Maud his wife
  • Thomas Montacute. 4th Earl of Salisbury, d.1428 and his two wives. He and his three-tier monument (as described in his will) can be seen depicted in the east window of Bisham Church.
  • Richard Neville.  5th Earl of Salisbury, d.1460 (aftermath Battle of Wakefield)
  • Sir Thomas, d.1460, son of Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury (Battle of Wakefield)
  • John Neville, d.1471, Marquis of Montague and Earl of Northumberland (Battle of Barnet)
  • Richard Neville “Warwick the Kingmaker”, d.1471, 6th Earl of Salisbury and 16th Earl of Warwick (Battle of Barnet)
  • Prince Edward, 8th Earl of Salisbury & 18th Earl of Warwick, d.1499, son of Prince George, Duke of Clarence (executed)
  • Arthur Pole, son of Richard Pole & Margaret, Countess of Salisbury, 1539

Margaret Pole, tragic daughter of George of Clarence and Isabel Neville, also lived at Bisham for a while, and a dovecote, still standing, is thought to have been raised by her.

The priory church was completely destroyed in the Reformation, although some of the cloister remains attached to the side of the manor house. Judging by its position, this would place the east end of the priory church, with its high status burials,  somewhere under the modern tennis courts. So  the Kingmaker and his relatives lie snugly under tarmac, much as Richard III lay in the buried remnants of Greyfriars.  If there was ever a move to locate them, it would be quite easy to identify the remains; if autosomal DNA could be extracted, they all should have close similarity to Richard (the 5th Earl being his uncle, and the Kingmaker being a cousin, and Edward of Warwick should share Richard’s Y-Dna through George, as well as a lot of autosomal DNA). Several of the skeletons should also show battle wounds, and several evidence of beheading.

Although the priory site has been obliterated, part of two tombs have, in fact, survived–although they are not in Bisham. In the tiny, sleepy village of Burghfield,  a few miles outside Reading, the broken effigy of Richard Neville, 5th earl of Salisbury lies in the porch next to a lady who is NOT his wife but most likely one of his ancestors. Records from the 1600’s describe how Salisbury’s effigy was ‘dragged to Newbury  by wild horses’! How it ended up in Burghfield is unknown but it seems the local lord had some Neville ancestry, so he may have rescued it because of that. Although the face seems to have been mutilated, Salisbury’s effigy shows a great deal of fine craftmanship and must have been very spectacular in its day.

Top left: Salisbury’s effigy, Burghfield; Top right. The tennis court where the burial most likely lie. The rest: Views of the manor house, including the cloister.

 

Evidence found of another siege

This one was at Edinburgh Castle in 1296, as the conclusion of Edward I’s campaign. In late April, his army was victorious at Dunbar, then James the Steward (Robert II’s grandfather) surrendered Roxburgh Castle. John Balliol fled north but was captured and deposed by July.

This article explains a little more about the siege, including the find of a stone projectile on the site, as a Virgin Hotel is proposed for part of Cowgate.

The reign(s) of Edward IV….

 

If you want the bare bones of Edward’s reign(s), supposedly born today but on an impossible date, here they are, although there is no reference to his valid marriage in 1461. To me, Edward IV, for all the good he did as king, was rather a prat. Sorry, but there’s no other word for it. He was led by the contents of his codpiece, and didn’t pay enough attention to those he offended.

 

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