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Come and have a dip in Bath….

Bath in 1300

As a writer of historical novels (I’ve produced a lot!) it is always of immense interest to know exactly what a certain place might have looked like in the time my novel is set.  Having written many that were set in Regency Bath, I would have been very thankful indeed to find this site. Alas, my days of Regency-writing were mostly before the advent of the Internet. These days I write about the medieval period.

For an author, the link takes you to an example of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I doubt if there could be a better record of the Abbey Green area of Bath. The site is packed with illustrations, from the earliest times to the present, and the owner has assembled a truly comprehensive collection of documents and information. I could have my characters moving around in exactly what was there during my chosen year. And if, as now, I were writing a book set in the 14th century, I can do the same, and know that I’m correct.

The above link is only for one section of the site. If you go to the home page you’ll find more about Bath. Excellent, and very definitely recommended for anyone with an even vague interest in the spa city.

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On the trail of the golden dragon of Wessex….

Royal coat of arms of Elizabeth I in the church of St Thomas and St Edmund at Salisbury

Royal coat-of-arms of Elizabeth I in the church of St Thomas and St Edmund in Salisbury

The Golden Dragon of Burford in Oxfordshire isn’t a takeaway! It’s the pagan banner of the Anglo-Saxon King of Mercia, Aethelbert, who was defeated at the Battle of Burford in AD 752 by Cuthbert, King of the West Saxons. Aethelbert’s golden–dragon banner was taken, and for centuries the outcome of this battle was celebrated in the town by a procession and much festivity. In the 1979 parade, 25 local schoolchildren provided the legs of a 50’ dragon!

Burford - Golden Dragon Procession in 1979

My first port of call for the (completely unassociated!) information I was actually looking for, happened to take me to this site , where I found:-

“Malmesbury and other chroniclers record a battle between the West Saxons and Mercians at Burford in AD 752. In the end Æthelhum, the Mercian standard-bearer who carried the flag with a golden dragon on it, was killed by the lance of his Saxon rival. The Anglo-Saxon Chronical records “A.D 752. This year Cuthred [Cuthbert], king of the West Saxons, in the 12th year of his reign, fought at Burford, against Aethelbaldof the Mercians , and put him to flight.”

Aethelhum/Erle Adellum the standard-bearer turned up elsewhere.

We read also y’ Cuthred, King of y”^ West Saxons, encountring King Ethelbald,

had y” standard of y” golden Dragon borne before him by Earle Adellum. \_Ro. Hoveden,

  1. 234, No. 20, jf 740.]

The historian William Camden (1551–1623) wrote

“… in Saxon Beorgford [i.e. Burford], where Cuthred, king of the West Saxons, then tributary to the Mercians, not being able to endure any longer the cruelty and base exactions of King Æthelbald, met him in the open field with an army and beat him, taking his standard, which was a portraiture of a golden dragon.”

The origin of the golden dragon standard is attributed to Uther Pendragon, the father of King Arthur, of whom Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote:-

“[Uther Pendragon] “… ordered two dragons to be fashioned in gold, in the likeness of the one which he had seen in the ray which shone from that star. As soon as the Dragons had been completed this with the most marvellous craftsmanship – he made a present of one of them to the congregation of the cathedral church of the see of Winchester. The second one he kept for himself, so that he could carry it around to his wars.”

In the late 16th or early 17th century the people of Burford still celebrated the anniversary of the battle. Camden wrote: “There has been a custom in the town of making a great dragon yearly, and carrying it up and down the streets in great jollity on St John’s Eve.” The field traditionally claimed to be that of the battle is still called Battle Edge.

Next I was led to this site

“. . . The Battle of Burford took place in 752AD and the King of Mercia, Aethelbald was defeated by King Cuthred, the King of the West Saxons. King Cuthrd won the battle and took the standard, a golden dragon. The field where the Battle took place was called Battle-Edge located beside Sheep St and Tanners Lane. There are houses there now but one of the houses is called Battle House. In 1852 some men were making a road from Burford to Barrington and discovered a large stone weighing nearly three tons which was found to contain the remains of a human body with remnants of a leather cuirass studded with metal nails. The coffin is still preserved in the Burford church. Apparently, in years gone past, there was a street parade through Burford, with the dragon as its focus. . .” 

By now quite interested in the golden dragon and the mystery burial at Burford, I found:-

According to Reverend Francis Knollis’ description of the discovery, “On 21 November 1814 a large freestone sarcophagus discovered near Battle Edge 3 feet (0.91 m) below ground, weighing 16 long hundredweight (1,800 lb; 810 kg) with the feet pointing almost due south. The interior is 6 feet (1.8 m) long and 2 feet 2 inches (0.66 m) wide. It was found to contain the remains of a human body, with portions of a leather cuirass studded with metal nails. The skeleton was found in near perfect state due to the exclusion of air from the sarcophagus.” The coffin is now preserved in Burford churchyard, near the west gate. 

“Whose fame is in that dark green tomb? Four stones with their heads of moss stand there. They mark the narrow house of death. Some chief of fame is here! Raise the songs of old! Awake their memory in the tomb.” – Ossian 

The coffin is no longer inside the church, but outside. If, indeed, it ever was inside:-

This saysA stone coffin was found in 1814 a mile from Burford, on a new road being constructed from Upton to Little Barrington. The coffin contained a human skeleton and pieces of metal studded leather – possibly hobnail shoes or sandals. The coffin and its contents were dated as Roman. The remains were removed to the British Museum and the coffin was recorded as being placed in Burford Church in an aisle called ‘Sylvesters’. 

However, a recent visit to the church, and information gathered from the Verger, revealed that in fact the coffin was never inside the church. It sits by the churchyard wall to the north-west side with other large stones. The verger explained that the second large stone coffin was probably medieval, the stone (half) sitting on top of it was reported to be part of the top of the Roman coffin, and the large stone leaning against the wall was the top of the medieval coffin. One of the other stones, seen in the photographs, could be the other half of the Roman top.

So, was the 1814 Roman, and therefore nothing to do with the battle of AD792? Or was the medieval coffin more relevant? It depends, of course, upon what one means by “medieval”. It would be interesting anyway to learn to whom such a striking burial (the one in 1814) belonged. A stone sarcophagus weighing almost three tons, buried three feet underground? With four marker stones topped with moss? And there was a perfect skeleton inside? If it had anything to do with the battle, it could not be the unfortunate Aethelbert, who was “put to flight”, not killed. Maybe it was Erle Adellum, the bearer of the golden dragon standard? Or was he another Sir John Cheyne, and lost the standard, but lived to tell the tale. Or not tell it, probably, since Cheyne was a giant and was unhorsed by the much smaller Richard III with a broken lance. (Oh, I love that story!) Whoever he was, his skeleton seems to have disappeared now, or is stored somewhere in a box. Hmm, sound familiar?

In Britain, the golden dragon is definitely associated with Uther Pendragon, and thus, presumably, with King Arthur himself. Being able to claim such famous ancestors was a great thing for royalty and nobles in the medieval period, and so heraldic golden dragons have turned up a number of times. Harold Godwinson carried the golden dragon, and there is a school of thought that believes (because he carried it, and was the final Saxon king) the golden dragon was the last truly authentic flag of England.

Harold with the golden dragon...or is it white...or white and gold

Harold carrying a dragon shield – is it a golden dragon? A white dragon? Or a white-and- gold dragon? Whatever, it’s a dragon with gold on it!

At least one of the Plantagenets used it too. “By 1300, a banner of St Edmund was displayed in Westminster Abbey alongside banners of St George and St Edward and a special standard bearing a golden dragon commissioned by Henry III.”

Henry III

It was also used by Owain Glyndŵr, and purloined in a red form by the Tudors. But sometimes Elizabeth I was known to have substituted the red dragon supporter for a golden one (see top picture above). And the golden dragon still crops up in present-day county coats-of-arms, e.g. Dorset. Mostly, of course, those counties that are in what was once the Kingdom of the West Saxons.

So, how important should the golden dragon still be to the heraldry of this country? But, I suppose, it would only go the same way as the red dragon of Wales. . .and be omitted from the Union Jack.

Golden Dragon

Does Richard II lie in an obscure grave in Stirling….?

“There was nothing at Westminster Abbey yesterday to alert visitors to the renewed speculation that one of its most revered sites may not be what it seems. To the unwary, King Richard II still lies in the south aisle of the Lady Chapel just where he has for nearly six centuries. A sign points out the tomb, wedged snugly between those of Edward III and of Anne Neville, Richard III’s queen. It is topped by a gilded effigy of the monarch, whose remains were moved to the Abbey from Hertfordshire in 1413. But all that glisters is not gold, and there are fresh claims that the remains of one of England’s most tragic kings may not rest at Westminster at all. In fact they may be 400 miles away, under a pedestrianised shopping centre near Stirling railway station.

“Legend and Shakespeare say that the last of the Plantagenets was murdered by Sir Piers of Exton in Pontefract Castle in early 1400, only weeks after he was forced to resign in favour of Henry of Lancaster, who then crowned himself Henry IV. But that story has always been disputed. Almost immediately after the king’s death,there were rumours that the body which was so openly brought south was not thatof Richard but a lookalike, perhaps his chaplain Richard Maudelyn. From as early as 1402 there were claims that the real Richard had escaped to Scotland, where he supposedly died in 1419 (six years after being reburied at Westminster). Now the archaeologist Ron Page is leading an effort to get to the truth of what would be one of English history’s greatest cover-ups.

“If Mr Page is right, then Shakespeare’s Richard, who offered “my large kingdom for a little grave, a little, little grave, an obscure grave,” may indeed have had his wish these many years. But then whose remains have been at Westminster for so long? And how can we be sure which of them is Richard? “Not all the water of the rough rude sea can wash the balm from an anointed king,” says Shakespeare’s Richard. If only it was that simple.”

The above is taken from a 2002 article in The Guardian,

It is a very intriguing thought that here we have another medieval King of England who may not be where he is supposed to be. I’m thinking of Edward II, and the dispute over whether he really did die when he was said to have, and whether he was laid to rest in Gloucester Abbey on the date he is supposed to have been. And I also think, of course, of Richard III, who really was where he was said to have been, and not lost in the River Soar as a legend claims.

If it was a cover-up, it was a Lancastrian one! What a surprise. Well, there is one thing to be said of poor Richard II, a railway station is a refreshing change from car parks. Since Richard III, there has been a positive rash of burials found or suspected under car parks. But then, his predecessor, Richard II, always did like innovation and being different.

PS: As the above article was written in 2002, and I haven’t heard anything more of a great discovery in Stirling, I can only imagine that Richard II does, after all, lie at rest with his beloved Queen Anne in Westminster Abbey. Unless, of course, someone else knows something the rest of us do not….?

PPS: Um, when did they locate Anne Neville’s tomb so precisely? I thought the whereabouts of her last resting place were only vaguely known…? The actual location has been lost.

Tomb of Richard II and Anne of Bohemia in Westminster Abbey

Joan Plantagenet Queen of Sicily

joan_of_england

Joan Plantagenet Queen of Sicily

Being a Sicilian living in the UK, I am fond of both countries’ history. I have often wondered if there was a link between these two islands and I soon found one: Joan Plantagenet Queen of Sicily.

The story of this woman is so interesting and compelling especially because Joan was a very strong and determined person, a well-known characteristic predominant in the Plantagenet ancestry.

During her short life, Joan went through a series of events worthy of an adventure movie. She lived for just 33 years but so intensely and enough to be still one of the most important characters in the turbulent history of Sicily.

Daughter of Henry II and Eleonor of Aquitaine, Joan was also the sister of Richard I better known as the Lionheart. She was born in October 1165 (the day is unfortunately unknown) at Château d’Angers in Anjou. She was the seventh child of her family and she spent her youth both in Winchester and Poitiers. She received an excellent education as she was a princess so she was expected to marry a royal person. Apart from studying French, Latin and English, she also learned music, sewing, singing and horseriding, one of her favourite pastime.

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La Cuba, the royal palace of the Plantagenets in Palermo

She was so beautiful and intelligent that William II of Sicily married her when she was only 12. On 27th August 1176, Joan left England to sail for Sicily where she married and was crowned Queen of Sicily in Palermo Cathedral on 13th February 1177. Her voyage was dreadful but Joan soon forgot it as she enjoyed both her marriage and the warm climate of Sicily.

Very soon, her life started to meet the first obstacles. She was unable to produce an heir for the throne of Sicily so she was in danger of being refused by her husband but William was a very good man and rejected the idea of annulling their union as he truly loved her. Unfortunately, William died in November 1189 and Sicily fell in the hands of the bastard cousin of William, Tancred who seized the dowry of Joan including many lands. In 1190, Richard the Lionheart, the favourite brother of Joan, arrived in Italy on his way to the Holy Land. He warned Tancred to give back the dowry and when he refused, Richard took Messina and put the city on fire. Tancred was obliged to return the dowry.

xt102509

Palermo Cathedral

Sadly, the adventures of Joan were not over. Richard put her and his future wife Berengaria on a ship to send them back to England but it seems that travelling by sea was not the best way for Joan. A terrible storm stranded the ship to Cyprus while Richard’s ship landed in Crete. At that time Cyprus was in the hands of the despot Commenus who immediately tried to take advantage of his unexpected luck. He tried to capture the two women but once again the valiant Richard saved his sister imprisoning Commenus.

The link between Richard and Joan was a very strong one. She loved him and he was always ready to save her from perils. Notwithstanding this though, Richard tried to arrange a wedding between Joan and Saladin’s brother to put an end to the Holy War but he had to come to terms with the Church. The high ranks of it warned Richard he would have been excommunicated so the wedding never took place. Eventually, Joan married Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse. This union was blessed with the birth of children.

Joan had all the qualities and the spirit of the Plantagenets. After she recovered from the birth of her last child, she decided to make right all the wrong done to her husband and she put Les Cassés under siege. Unluckily, traitors started a fire and she had to abandon the camp. She was pregnant again and she decided to ask his brother for help but she soon discovered he had aready died.

fontevraud3

Fontevrault Abbey

She asked and obtained to have a tomb granted in Fontevrault Abbey. This was not a place suitable for women especially if pregnant but Joan could have it. Tired for the effort of the siege and devastated by the death of her beloved brother, Joan died in childbirth on 4th September 1199. The child was born thank to a Cesarean section after Joan’s death. He was named Richard and died soon after being baptized.

Joan was buried in Fontevrault Abbey close to her brother Richard as she had always desired.

The Champernownes of Devon

Champernowne_CoatOfArms

The Champernownes (above), a Norman line whose alternative spellings include Chapman and Chamberlain, are surely Devon’s second family after the Courtenays of Powderham Castle, who hold the Earldom. From 1162, their (Domesday Book-cited) home was at Chambercombe Manor near Ilfracombe (middle right) but, by the early sixteenth century, this had passed to Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk, father of Jane (below left).

The Champernownes Arthur Champernowne (1524-78) moved the family from Polsoe, near Exeter, to Dartington near Totnes, where the Hall (middle left) was built in 1560 and his descendants lived there – the previous building had been owned by the Holland Dukes of Exeter. Kat Ashley, his aunt, was Elizabeth I’s governess, Sir Humphrey Gilbert and Sir Walter Raleigh (above right) were among his nephews, Henry Norris (executed over the Anne Boleyn case) was his father-in-law and Sir Edward Seymour, grandson of the Protector Somerset, married one of his daughters, launching a line of baronets, so Arthur’s close family were at the centre of the “Tudor” political scene.

Arthur was a Vice-Admiral as well as an MP in the south-west, as was his grandson Arthur and his Georgian descendant Arthur (ne Harrington), who married a relative of Crediton’s General Sir Redvers Buller (below).

BullerStatue

As this genealogy also shows, Champernownes married Courtenays at least once.

 

 

Richard Plantagenet, Duke of Buckingham

ChandosWhen Ricardians come across the title Duke of Buckingham, they immediately link it to Henry Stafford who was the second Duke of the first creation of this Dukedom and the prime suspect in the disappearance of Edward V and Richard of York, better known as the “Princes” in the Tower. The Dukedom of Buckingham has been created four times so far and it could be wise not to attempt again. Why? If we examine all the creations, it is evident that every second Duke was not a lucky one.

The first creation happened in 1444 and the title was granted to Humphrey Stafford, succeeded by his grandson Henry Stafford, who was beheaded for high treason in 1483. With his death the Dukedom was under attainder until Henry VII re-established it again in 1485. Anyway, the third Duke was executed in 1521.

As regards the second creation, the title was given to George Villiers in 1623, but he was assassinated six years later. His son, the second Duke, died suddenly after a hunt, having caught a cold. After his death, the second creation came to an end too.

In 1703, the third creation was for John Sheffield, 3rd Earl of Mulgrave. He was succeeded by his son Edmund who died of tuberculosis in Rome in 1735. Once again, the Dukedom of Buckingham was declared extinct due to the lack of male heirs following the death of the second Duke.

However, the most intriguing creation was for sure, the fourth. It took place in 1822 when the title of Duke of Buckingham was granted to Richard Temple-Grenville, 2nd Marquess of Buckingham. Having married Lady Anne Eliza Brydges the only heir of James Brydges 3rd Duke of Chandos, he became the first Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. Richard Grenville had a very luxurious life and he was incredibly rich. He was a collector of minerals, insects, inkwells, marbles and every sort of objects suitable for a collection. He also was the owner of the magnificent Stowe House (below) in Buckinghamshire, now a well-known boarding school. Stowe House was also known as the ‘twin sister of Buckingham Palace’ so it is not difficult to imagine it truly was a fantastic estate with a huge park, rivers, lakes and 33 temples. But the lavishness of Richard and the expenses to refurbish and enlarge Stowe HouseStowe House view started the financial fall of the Grenvilles. In 1827, overwhelmed by debts, he decided to escape from creditors starting a journey to Europe, especially to Italy, on a fabulous yacht built for the occasion with money lent from the bank.

When Richard died in 1839, the title was inherited by his son Richard Plantagenet (top – does this name remind you of someone?) who was normally called Chandos by family and friends. Chandos became the second Duke of Buckingham and Chandos and for the forth time the second heir to the title was a problem for his family. Handsome, conceited and wasteful, he brought his family to the bankrupt and forced to sell all his possessions, including some unique items, at auction in 1848. One of them was a lock of Mary Queen of Scots’ hair and another was a very precious coat of arms Stowe_ArmorialChandos had commissioned for £400. In this coat of arms (left), the Duke showed his links to an incredible number of noble families. Its cost was outrageous and at the auction it was bought for £70, still a very high price! The amount of debts the Duke had accumulated was about a million pounds, worth £83.9 million as of 2018!!

Richard Plantagenet, a Tory Member of Parliament, was appointed Lord Privy Seal, a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Hanoverian Order, Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and a Knight of the Garter. Thank to the position he held in the society of his time, he could divorce his wife in 1850 and hyphenate his family name as Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville to include his wife’s surname. He had two children and several illegitimate children in different part of Europe. When Chandos died in 1861 his son, another Richard Plantagenet who served as Governor of India for five years, could just inherit the sins of his predecessors and, although he married twice, he died without a male heir so the fourth and last creation of the Dukedom of Buckingham came to an end in 1889.

Many of you are still wondering why the first and second Dukes decided to name their sons Richard Plantagenet. The answer is that the Grenville family descended from Mary Tudor, daughter of Elizabeth of York, passing by Lady Jane Grey’s sister Lady Catherine. It seems that the Grenvilles were very proud of their Plantagenet descent. The present (13th) Lady Kinloss is Teresa Mary Nugent Freeman-Grenville, born in 1957 and daughter of the late 12th Lady Kinloss, Beatrice Mary Morgan-Grenville, who in 1968 was announced to be claimant to the throne of England, a claim she hadn’t have accepted ‘for all the tea in China’ to say in her own words.
Some strange facts can be associated with the Grenville family. The second Duke, Richard Plantagenet, was educated at Oriel College (maybe there was an Oriel window there?) and his mother Anne Eliza, was born in Sudeley, Gloucester.  Beatrice Mary Morgan Grenville 12th Baroness Kinloss lived in a cottage at the back of Sheriff Hutton Castle. One member of the huge family of the Dukes of Buckingham and Chandos, was named George Neville-Grenville and was a Dean of Windsor. He was the grandson of Richard Neville Aldworth Neville which maternal uncle was Henry Neville Grey. Sounds familiar?

Dyer or Dire?

Many of you will remember the episode of “Who do you think you are” in which Danny Dyer was revealed as a descendant of Edward III. In this new two part series, he “meets” a few prominent ancestors, some even more distant.

The first episode began with Rollo, ancestor of the Dukes of Normandy, which saw Dyer visit Sweden, although Danes and Norwegians also claim that Viking dynast, to learn sparring with a sword and shield. Then he went to the Tower to talk about William I and Dover Castle for Henry II, discussing his rebellious sons and his mixed relationship with Becket. At every stage, riding a horse, jousting or dyeing (Dyeing?), he was accompanied by a professional genealogist (Anthony Adolph, in a cafe opposite Buckingham Palace) or a historian, if not one of television’s “usual suspects”. At the end, Dyer visited France to learn of a slightly different ancestor – St. Louis IX, although Margaret of Wessex is another canonised forebear.

The second episode did feature some real historians: Elizabeth Norton, Chris Given-Wilson, Tobias Capwell and Tracy Borman. The opening scene had Isabella on the Leeds Castle drawbridge shouting at Edward II (Dyer): “Git aht ov moi carsel” (you may need Google Translate, but not from French). We were shown an image of Hugh le Despencer’s grisly execution, without pointing out that there were two of that name, followed by Edward’s confinement in Berkeley Castle, forced abdication and the legend of his even grislier end. Henry “Hotspur” Percy, who died in battle at Shrewsbury, followed as Dyer tried on late mediaeval armour. The next scenes concerned Sir John Seymour at Wolf Hall, inveigling his daughter into Henry VIII’s world, as Dyer dressed up and tried “Tudor” dancing. We then moved on to Helmingham Hall as Catherine Cromwell married Lord Tollemache, whose successor met Dyer, his cousin, again. The series concluded with a “sugar banquet” as the star’s family joined in, dressed as Elizabeth I’s contemporaries.

Both programmes were informative about mediaeval life, such as the “silver pennies” bearing Dyer’s image and the West Ham badge, although his stereotypical East London patois grates a little. It brought to mind Ray Winstone as Henry VIII (“I have been betrayed!”) or Nick Knowles‘ egregious Historyonics.

Pop-up theatres and the history of car parks….

 

Rose Theatre, York

Rose Theatre, York

Am I alone in thinking that in this instance, “pop up” describes the Rose Theatre in York well? The Rose resembles something that pops up in a children’s book. However, this article is actually more about the history of car parks, which is very interesting. The one below is in Detroit, and is quite astonishing! Can’t imagine funds stretching to such glories in the UK.

a car park in Detroit

A car park in Detroit

 

7 things to know about the struggle between York and Lancaster….

york and lancaster roses

This link provides some interesting reading about the origins of the Wars of the Roses, as most people describe the civil wars between the Houses of York and Lancaster. A lot of the points are from very early on in the proceedings, which makes them all the more interesting to me.

 

The lost palace of Whitehall brought back to life….

Whitehall lost palace - Hendrick Danckerts

To cut a long story short, this site  (5th July 2016) relates that Historic Royal Palaces has embarked upon a project to allow visitors to explore the Palace of Whitehall, which was largely destroyed by fire in the late 17th century.  I hope that by now it is fact, and available.

Whitehall, which was destroyed by fire in 1698, began life as York Place, and was the Westminster residence of Cardinal Wolsey.Whitehall - as York PlaceYork Place

Here is the Historic Royal Palaces website.  Now, I’m not sure exactly what is meant by allowing “visitors to explore the Palace of Whitehall”, so cannot explain more. It covers Whitehall Palace, but whether or not it is in the form promised by the citymetric site, I cannot say.

Whitehall - from St James's Park, by DanckertsAnother view of Whitehall, from St James’s Park, by Danckerts 1625-1680

Whitehall - The Lord Mayor's Water-Procession on the Thames c1683The Lord Mayor’s Water-Procession on the Thames at Whitehall c1683

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