Leonardo di ser Piero “da Vinci” (below left) was nearly six months older than Richard III, having been born in the Republic of Florence on 15 April 1452. Over his lifetime, which ended in 1519, he is best known for his paintings, such as The Last Supper or la Gioconda. However, he also left us a number of remarkable engineering and other sketches, depicting human and animal biology, geology and devices, including flying machines. The anatomical diagrams would have contributed towards the quality of his portraits in the same way that Stubbs studied the physiology of horses.
On the right is his 1488 design for a flying machine. In this, the centenary of the Armistice and of the RAF, it is interesting to compare it with aircraft from the First World War and to note that Leonardo also theoretically described a parachute, a concept with which later pilots would be very familiar.
Here’s how the great House of Mortimer petered out and was supplanted by a Lancastrian usurper who killed the reigning king and stole his throne. Then, under the House of York, the House of Mortimer triumphed again….until, in 1485, along came another Lancastrian usurper to kill the reigning king and steal the throne…..
Never trust a Lancastrian chancer named Henry. And if you’re a king called Richard, watch your back!
Whilst visiting Norwich to see the Whitefriars plaque to Lady Eleanor Talbot, Richard’s sister-in-law, in Tomblands near the Cathedral, I happened to take lunch in a particular hostelry, the Glass House. It is principally named for the city’s stained glass industry and various panels, also commemorate the author Harriet Martineau, the rebel Robert Kett, Cotman and the other “Norwich School” artists.
The panel nearest the main door was this one (left). Sir Thomas, who bore the name of a North Norfolk village, served John of Gaunt, helped to implement Henry IV’s usurpation before joining Henry V as an archery commander at Harfleur and Azincourt, and eventually dying in 1428. The other pictures are of Sir Thomas, Henry IV and the Upper Close at Norwich Cathedral.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about Richard III’s brother, George of Clarence. You know the one–typical ‘middle child’, ‘false fleeting Clarence’, the one drowned in Malmsey who was also a drunk and quite possibly insane, hanging, as he did, old ladies on the vaguest of suspicions.
And I began considering–is George, like Richard, maligned, doomed forever to be hidden in an obscuring web of myth and invention?
Certainly he was disloyal, joining Warwick against his own brother, Edward IV. He created a fuss when Richard wanted to marry Anne Neville, his protests lasting several years. He did indeed accuse Ankaret Twynho, and others, of poisoning his wife and baby son–and hanged the old lady after a brief and decidedly unfair trial.
But mad? A drunk? And in regards to his wife and child…what if he were right?
Like Richard’s supposed hump, limp, withered arm and other defects, George’s ‘insanity’ and ‘drunkenness’ appear to have been exaggerated if not completely invented, mainly in fiction. (And yes, I admit I am guilty of adding to this stereotype myself.) There is no mention in primary sources of George drinking or being dissolute; that idea seems to have come solely from his supposed death in a vat of malmsey, and the questions it raised (ie. Did Edward have him drowned in booze because he liked a tipple and maybe even requested such an end as a macabre final joke?) Fickleness aplenty went on, certainly, and his last acts with the Twynyho affair were erratic, but he wasn’t spouting gibberish, having hallucinations, or lying catatonic like poor old Henry VI. He defended himself in regards to the charges laid against him by the King, and apparently one of Elizabeth Woodville’s main fears was that people would follow him and her children would never inherit the throne. The people of England were hardly likely to follow another mad king. This implies to me that George was not generally seen as a loony, treacherous lush, but someone who might have had some decent enough qualities, or at very least some kind of strong charisma.
So that brings us back to the whole mystery surrounding the death of George’s wife, Isabel Neville, and his infant son Richard of York. Many have claimed Isabel died of childbirth-related illness…but she actually succumbed two and a half months after the birth. Childbed fever, the biggest killer of women in her day, normally took its victims far sooner. TB has also been suggested, and it is certainly not impossible, for in some victims TB symptoms can appear with frightening suddenness and ‘gallop’ on to their bitter end, but there is no written evidence of her having such symptoms. In the interim between childbed and her death, she travelled from Tewkesbury to Warwick, which implies she was not grievously ill at that point. The baby too was alive and outlived its mother by about 10 days. So both mother and child lived more than two months after the birth and made a moderately long journey without incident before their deaths.
Ankaret Twynyho (nee Hawkeston) herself is also the subject of some myth-making. In fiction she is often portrayed as a simple ordinary local woman, perhaps the midwife who delivered Isabel’s baby. However, she was not a peasant woman, nor is their any evidence she was Isabel’s midwife. It is merely known the she ‘served’ in the Clarence household. She did leave George’s service rather quickly after Isabel’s demise however, going to her home in Keyford, Somerset in the days before George accused her of murder.
Of John Thursby, who was hanged alongside her, little is known, save that he was from Warwick and said to be her accomplice. The third person who was accused, managed (somehow and rather oddly) to escape any consequences, and is, interestingly, the one who George claimed to be the ‘mastermind’ behind the supposed poisoning. Strangely he is seldom mentioned in regards to the incident–and my feeling is his possible involvement needs to be re-assessed.
This suspect was Sir Roger Tocotes of Bromham, long time associate of George of Clarence. (Michael Hicks went so far as to suggest George might even have called him ‘friend.’) He had supported the House of York and fought at Towton, Barnet and Tewkesbury (where he may have been knighted). He even accompanied George on Edward IV’s ill-fated ‘invasion’ of France.
Why would George think this seemingly loyal supporter masterminded his wife and child’s death? What would be Tocote’s reason? What evidence existed at the time that made George believe him involved? Some writers say Tocotes ‘escaped’ George’s vengeance, others that he received an aquittal (from the king?) despite being the prime accused in Isabel’s ‘murder.’
Later, long after George’s death, Roger Tocotes would go on to be one of the Duke of Buckingham’s supporters in the October rebellion of 1483. (Richard pardoned him.) He then fought for Henry Tudor at Bosworth and did rather well for himself under the Tudor regime, becoming Sheriff of Wiltshire for a second time and also a Knight of the Body. He is buried in a very lavish chantry chapel in the parish church in Bromham, Wiltshire.
Could Roger Tocotes have indeed been a turncoat who went from friend to traitor and tried to bring Clarence and his family down? If so, who was behind it, what was the reason? After Isabel’s death, George was apparently afraid of being poisoned himself and blamed the King, his brother. He claimed Edward meant to ‘consume him in likewise as a candle is consumed by burning’. George’s seemingly wild claims have led over the years to a probably false view of him as being paranoid and mentally unstable. There is always a chance that he may have been genuinely afraid, not crazy–and that he may have truly had something to fear.
Maybe Roger Tocotes, lying in his graffiti-covered tomb in Bromham church, took a dark and unhappy secret to the grave.
Rob Bell seems to be on television a lot at the moment. Although he is an engineer and not quite a historian, many of his programmes go back in time as structures were built. Walking Britain’s Lost Railways, for instance, goes back under two centuries because of the subject matter, but Great British Ships (both Channel Five) has already covered HMS Victory and the Mary Rose, which was built in 1510 and sank in 1545. At the same time, possibly literally, Bell is appearing on BBC1 and BBC4’s (repeated) Engineering Giants, projects which he narrates actively with enthusiasm and technical knowledge, together with an interest in the local culture. For example, he tells viewers of Brunel’s great feats, tries to explain why the Mary Rose sank and walks most of the Dartmoor route from Plymouth to Exeter, although a small stage of this track has re-opened in recent years.
The last episode featured Ruabon to Barmouth via Llangollen, where the Irish Ladies lived.
On the Hill of Laughart,near Dundalk, Co. Louth, in Ireland, lies a large, speckled stone slab covering the remains of a man called Edward Brus…thebrother of the rather more famous Robert the Brus, KING OF Scotland. (The actual ‘Braveheart’.)
Little known, Edward was, briefly, the High King of Ireland, but ended up dying in battle and having his remains quartered and sent across the country to various Irish towns. His head was shipped to King Edward II in England, destined for London Bridge. Later, what remained of Brus was gathered and hastily buried in the churchyard on the Hill of Laughart in a simple grave.
Edward Brus was one of several younger brothers of Robert; his exact date of birth is unknown, as is his birth position in the family. There were three other brothers too, Niall , Thomas and Alexander, but all of them were captured by English and executed, so Edward, as the surviving younger brother, was temporarily heir presumptive to the Scottish throne.
However, when Robert’s wife, Elizabeth de Burgh, was freed from captivity and rejoined her husband, it was speculated that soon the Brus would have an heir. Edward Brus began to look for different ways to gain a crown for himself. He turned his gaze to Ireland, where he may have been fostered by the O’ Neill clan as a boy, and with Robert funding and assisting his campaign, mounted an invasion, with the ultimate goal being to drive out the Anglo-Irish lords…and claim sovereignty himself His first battle on Irish soil was against Sir Thomas de Mandeville; Edward was victorious in his effort and stormed on to take Carrickfergus. Once it was in his hands, many of the local chieftains gathered in council and agreed that the Brus should become High King of Ireland.
However, they were fickle in their loyalties and swiftly broke their oaths to Edward, with several of the chieftains who had bent knee at Carrickfergus trying to attack by stealth as he rode with his forces through the Moiry Pass. Again, he managed to defeat his foes and marched onwards, burning and pillaging in his wake, until he reached Dundalk. There he besieged the town and brought it to its knees, slaughtering both the Anglo-Irish and the native Irish residents in the bitter aftermath.
Opposition forces were quickly mustered, with the leaders being the de Burghs (who were relatives of Robert the Brus via marriage) but Edward refused to give battle and eventually the de Burghs, and their ally Butler of Ormonde had to retreat from their positions through lack of supplies. Once they had retreated, Edward Brus pushed forward again, this time defeating the soldiers of Thomas de Burgh and capturing Thomas’ cousin, William Liath de Burgh. Edward II hurriedly called a parliament in Dublin to discuss the crisis, but no further move was taken by the king to stop Brus at that time.
By November of the same year, Brus was marching doggedly toward Kells. Sir Roger Mortimer arrived to confront him, bearing a missive from the pope bidding the Irish chieftains and the clergy to reject Edward Brus’ claim to kingship and to cede to the rule of Edward II. The Battle of Kells was fought was fought in which Mortimer was defeated; after fleeing to Dublin, he returned to England seeking aid from the king. The triumphant Brus went on a spree of looting and sacking local towns, and even raided a Cistercian monastery.
In 1316, Brus was finally crowned Ard Ri--the High King of Ireland. This appointment brought no peace to either side, as that dread spectre, famine, struck Ireland the very next year. The weather turned, foul with frigid temperatures and incessant rain sweeping across the land and destroying essential crops. Edward II could not get supplies to his men, people on both sides of the conflict died of starvation, and the situation with Brus continued to fester
The end came for Edward Brus when a knight called Sir John de Bermingham joined forces against him with Edmund Butler. Vengeance was foremost on Bermingham’s mind; Brus had hung his uncle from the walls of Ardee Castle. A vicious battle was fought at Faughart, and this time, Edward Brus’ luck ran out–he was defeated and killed, reputedly by an English soldier called John Maupas, and his body mutilated for display in Ireland and England.
Brus’s short, troubled reign was not looked on favourably by either the native Irish or the Anglo-Norman aristocracy of Ireland, although he is the ancestor of a current Duchess. He was described as the ‘destroyer of Ireland’ and it was written that during his tenure there came only ‘death and loss’ and that due to the famine that arrived with his ill-starred reign ‘people used to eat each other throughout Ireland.’
“…an illiterate shepherdess girl who claimed that voices from God were instructing her to take charge of her nation’s army and lead it to victory…Legend states that Joan came to Scotland to be trained in the art of warfare in a remote stretch of Argyll…”
The above is taken from this lengthy and informative article about Joan of Arc. The Scots, of course, were always ready to help anyone who was opposed to the English, so I am quite prepared to believe they welcomed Joan in this way. She apparently “hand selected Scottish bodyguards from the Stuart, Kennedy and Hay Clans, [and] in 1429 [Joan] asked Hamish Power, (French name: Heuves Polnoir), a Scotsman living in Tours, France, to design her standard. and pennon.” More, “The Scots wore the Fleur-de-Lys on their left breast to show their allegiance to France.”
So I think we can take Scottish collaboration with the French as a done deal.
The article also deals a great deal with the Templars, superstition, the Church, roosters (national symbol of France) that still roam free, signs in the sky and so on. There is too much to comment on here, so better you read it all for yourselves. And draw your own conclusions.