As we said last year, late mediaeval prelates were often well-connected. Indeed, as this ODNB article shows, William Pykenham, Archdeacon of Suffolk, died some time in spring 1497, approximately sixty years after his father. His mother was Katherine Barrington, of the prominent Hatfield Broadoak family, which explains some of his appointments through her Bourchier and Stafford social connections, including that of Rector of Hadleigh in 1470. He served as an executor for his patron, Thomas Bourchier Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1486 and then for Cecily Duchess of York in 1495.
In his role as Archdeacon, Pykenham is associated with two great buildings, of which only these Gatehouses remain: one in Hadleigh and one in Ipswich. He also had dealings with two maternal cousins: Thomas and Thomasine Barrington, the latter being the wife of Sir John Hopton of Blythburgh.
In a beautiful, sleepy Oxfordshire village stands the church of St Mary the Virgin. Once this village was a much busier place, with ornate Almhouses known as ‘God’s House’ (now partly a school) and a lavish manor house that was near enough a palace. Other than a wall of the old dairy, not one trace of the manor now remains above ground, but in the 15th century this was the home of Alice de la Pole, wife of William de la Pole, Earl and later Duke of Suffolk.
Alice was the grand daughter of one of the most famous English writers of all time, Geoffrey Chaucer of Canterbury Tales fame.Her father was Thomas Chaucer and her mother Maud or Matilda Burghersh who are both buried in the church in an altar tomb set with fine brasses and covered in the wheel symbol of the de Roets and the leopards of the Plantagenets. Alice was married three times, first to Sir John Philip, then Thomas Montagu Earl of Salisbury, and finally to William de la Pole. Her son, John de la Pole, married Elizabeth of York, sister of Edward IV and Richard III, and John’s son, Alice’s grandson, was John Earl of Lincoln, whom Richard III made his heir after the death of Edward of Middleham.
Alice’s husband William was murdered when his ship was intercepted by a huge royal warship called ‘Nicholas of the Tower’ while crossing the Channel as he went into exile. Immediately he knew doom had befallen him; he had been told years before by the astrologer Stacey that he must ‘beware the Tower.’ Taken on board the enemy ship, he was beheaded with ‘many blows’ from a rusty sword and his body displayed for all to see upon the sands at Dover, his head stuck upon a stake.
Alice inherited many lands and manors from her husband and as she loaned a considerable amount of money to the Crown, the lands and titles were not placed under attainder. At one point she was constable of nearby Wallingford castle and as such custodian of both the ill-fated Henry Holland Duke of Exter (later to suspiciously ‘fall off’ a ship and drown after Edward IV’s French campaign) and Margaret of Anjou in the aftermath of Tewkesbury. Years before, Alice had been one of Queen Margaret’s ladies in waiting.
Alice died in 1475 at the age of 71. She has a large and elaborate alabaster tomb of exceedingly fine workmanship. On top lies the effigy of a strong-featured but peaceful-looking woman wearing a coronet; below the top, in a recess, lies a macabre memento mori monument of the Duchess as a decaying corpse, a grim reminder of the transience of life.
On the death of Edward IV, the young heir, Edward, Prince of Wales, set off from Ludlow in Shropshire for London, in the care of his maternal uncle, Sir Anthony Woodville. Tradition has it that they halted overnight at Upton Cressett Hall, prior to crossing the River Severn the following morning.
The britainexpress.com link below has information about the hall, but is horribly traditionalist about Richard. Read it if you have a carpet handy and feel like a good chew. If not, give it a miss!
Entrance to the tomb of Henry Vll as seen on the opening of the vault in 1869. Drawing by George Scarf.
How did James I come to be interred in Henry Vll’s vault? Unfortunately it’s not known, but we do know how it was discovered to be the case. In 1868, Dean Stanley’s attention was drawn to conflicting reports of the whereabouts of James’ and his Queen, Anne of Denmark’s vault. Recognising the importance of ‘the knowledge of the exact spots where the illustrious dead repose’ (1) Dean Stanley resolved to get to the bottom of it.
Although it had been noted by one brief line in the Abbey’s register that James had been buried in Henry’s vault, ‘This was not enough for Dean Stanley. He loved exploring and he pursuaded himself that he must first eliminate all other possible places by opening up each of the Royal vaults in turn’ (2). Vault after vault was opened, some were empty, some crammed full. The coffins were discovered of a multitude of royal and noble personages including Mary, Queen of Scots (Dean Stanley thought James might have been interred with his mother), Mary Tudor and her sister Elizabeth, the latter ‘s coffin on top of the other, Edward Vl, the numerous children of James II and of Queen Anne, and many others too numerous to mention here. The vault of Anne of Denmark was also found, her coffin standing alone besides the empty space where James, her husband, should have been. Where was he?
James lst painted by Daniel Mytens
Laurence Tanner, Keeper of the Muniments and Librarian, Westminster Abbey, wrote ‘Night after night the Dean with a few of the Abbey staff was able to carry out his self-imposed task undisturbed. On one occasion the historian Froude was present. Speaking of it afterward he said ‘it was the weirdest scene – the flaming torches, the banners waving from the draught of air, and the Dean’s keen, eager face seen in profile had the very strangest effect. He asked me to return with him the next night, but my nerves had had enough of it’. (3)
At last, with nowhere else left to look, the actual vault of Henry was opened and to the Dean’s surprise, if not perhaps to that of others, James was found! It was discovered on examination of the lead coffins therein , that Elizabeth’s had been slightly damaged at the top, possibly when it was removed to allow James’ in and then she was replaced, being rather squashed into the space between the two kings. Its easy to imagine Henry spinning in his coffin, as, after the enormous expense of his funeral, he and his Queen are now sharing their tomb with a gooseberry, albeit a royal one. And here they are…
In the very heart of historic Cambridge, stands a tall and elegant late Perpendicular Gothic church, sandwiched between the colleges and market square.
The church of St Mary the Virgin has stood on the site since 1205; the first recorded rector being Thomas de Chiveley who was appointed in the reign of King John.
The church was burnt to the ground in 1290. The local Jewish population were blamed for this unfortunate event and were punished by shutting down their synagogue. After the rebuilding of the church it was re-named Great St Mary’s, to differentiate it from Little St Mary’s in 1351.
King Edward III was a benefactor of the church at this time, along with his re-founding of King’s Hall in Cambridge which was later assimilated into Trinity College during the reign of King Henry VIII.
Arms of King Edward III and his sons over the gateway to Trinity College…
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Henry Stafford fascinates me in a dark sort of way. I walk past the spot where he was executed almost once a week. I have always felt he is marginalised by historians because no one quite knows what to make of his behaviour, so he gets pushed to the side as just an unsuccessful rebel who lost his head. Over the years we have had silly theories, such as the one that he was enraged because didn’t get his hands on the Bohun inheritance quick enough (having to ggo through parliament, it wasn’t coming any quicker!) and the other one that he was horrified by news of the the death of the princes (he was a contender for being’right in there’ if they were killed, and if he actually KNEW, why was it all a case of rumour and whispers; why was he not declaring his knowledge openly across the land?) I am even doubtful about his supposed ‘support’ for Henry Tudor, as what could Henry have given him that he did not already have? I see it more as an alliance of sort, and Henry Stafford may have been as eager for the crown as Tudor.
Be that as it may, there is not all that much known about Buckingham, and we don’t even have a proper portrait of him–the one that exists is clearly based on that of Buckingham’s own son, Edward Stafford. In it, he certainly looks roguish, like a medieval Bill Sykes.
During my recent research, however, I have come across seveal items of interest of this rather sidelined figure. A few years back a high status decorated boss was found at his manor of Bletchingley, dating from the 1470’s. It may not have been Buckingham’s personal adornment, but it was very likely the possession of one of his retinue.
The other item I discovered is perhaps more interesting. The Abbot of Crowland (Croyland) Abbey established a hostel for student monks in Cambridge. Later on between 1472-83, the hostel came under the patronage of the Duke and his family and got a change of name-to Buckingham College. As the Crowland Chronicle is noted as being very pro-Woodville, this could be one reason why this is so; since Catherine Woodville, Queen Elizabeth’s sister, was the wife of Henry Stafford.
The college itself (renamed Magdalene in the 16th c) seems quite interesing archaeologically, with a collection of coins known as the ‘Magdalene hoard’ turning up on the edge ofthe property.
“A breakthrough in the search for Richard III’s remains was the fact that Dr Ashdown-Hill, who is a genealogist as well as historian, had used DNA science to trace a descendant of the king – Mrs Joy Ibsen who lived in Canada.
“He is now using that DNA sequencing to dispel the centuries-old myths surrounding the fate of the Princes in the Tower. Are the ‘bones in the urn’ in Westminster Abbey really those of the young princes? Dr Ashdown-Hill tempted students with the news that new evidence could be revealed later in the year.”
How exciting! I do not know what the news might be, but it seems that Dr Ashdown-Hill has something intriguing up his capacious sleeve, or so he has hinted in a talk at Brentwood School. Has he discovered something that might, at last, lead to the identification of the bones in the urn in Westminster Abbey?
We can but wait!