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Coming Upon the King: My Accidental Path Toward Becoming a Ricardian

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Late 16th century painting of Richard III

I’ll be perfectly honest with you: I was never really that interested in Richard Plantagenet, later Richard III. In school I had avoided the Anglo-Saxons like the plague, and Richard, well, perhaps like a round of the flu. He wasn’t quite as intimidating, despite the double-murder allegation lodged, and I got away with not having to write about him once my father, who was big on essays, unearthed a book about the famous American swamp fox. Not that it was easy to outsmart my dad; there was just so much history to know and he loved imparting it. In fact, he adored learning of most kinds, and almost every time I saw him he had a book in one hand, cup of tea in the other. Every weekday morning before work he would sit at the dining room table for about two hours, enjoying his study in the quiet atmosphere between night and day. He read almost anything he could get his hands on, with the notable exception of Shakespeare, of whom he was not a huge fan, though he never said why.

By the time I reached university I’d managed to evade Richard a few more times (and those fearsome Anglo-Saxons!), despite his seeming determination to capture my attention. I had to capitulate a bit when Shakespeare (him again) showed up in his own required course. I quite liked his poetry and how he played with language, but frankly didn’t care about star-crossed lovers (everyone read that in high school), a brooding Danish prince (that one too) or evil kings who seemed to be a dime a dozen. And the evil king who repeatedly crossed my path was none other than – you guessed it, Richard III.

I had to read Richard III three times because the professor, who in my opinion was quite brilliant but mystifyingly static in his forward movement, could present it in his sleep. So we read it in two regular lit classes and then in Shakepeare, in which our fearless leader liked to occasionally take on the parts of people he was teaching about. He had a larger audience here, and the more sizable lecture area gave him the space to move around as he caricatured his way through Richard’s role and the frequent trivia he was fond of. At the end of the semester I was appalled to discover that not only did 75% of our grade rest on a ten-question quiz, but also the questions had little to do with, say, history, critical theory or literary devices. A representative sample’s answer was, “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” I wasn’t a snobbish student, but did possess the expectation I be delivered the education I was paying for, not a bunch of trivia and phrases repeated so often, here and elsewhere, that they became cliché.

I didn’t realize it then, but I was in equal parts driven away from all talk of Richard III and hauled back to him by the frustration of knowing that even I considered the standard presentation tiresome. Students way more brilliant than myself repeated the stock phrases, though, and I felt like shaking them as I cried out, “Wake up, man! I want to read King Lear and Huntingdon won’t teach it!” My actual response consisted of acquiring a fish (the only pet I could get away with) and calling it Richard, as if that somehow revenged a king, allowing him to be something besides the pitiful stock bad man. I was irked, perhaps even irritated, but not yet inspired.

At the time I knew nothing of the Richard III Society and wouldn’t for some years, for after I graduated, my poor fish had been given last rites and I was just so relieved to have passed statistics and survived senior year burnout. But, as the universe seemed to want to have it, Richard came up in casual conversation, at this point two years before the discovery of his remains in a parking lot. I admitted I really knew very little of the man I’d previously complained kept coming, uninvited, into my life, and determined I’d remedy that. The universe, being as accommodating as it so often is, arranged for a car crash that left me immobile for an extended period, which in turn provided for quite a lot of reading time to fill.

Sir John Everett Millais’ The Two Princes Edward and Richard in the Tower, 1473 (1878). Privileged placement of the work on the cover of Alison Weir’s 1992 edition of The Princes in the Tower is utilized toward this author’s assertion regarding Richard: the “two pale, innocent, bewildered boys” of her blurb paired with existing stereotypes of medieval society, seek to convince viewers of Richard’s culpability. 

I started with Alison Weir’s The Princes in the Tower. It had a fairly beckoning cover and I really had no idea of any given book on this topic to another. Mainly I was looking for details. My intention was, quite simply: read one and be done with it. And so it began. Here was an account that claimed to have studied the case of the missing princes, one heir to the throne, both rumored to have been murdered by their “usurper” uncle, King Richard III, the bodies of the two “pale, innocent, bewildered boys” never found.

It didn’t initially strike me as odd that Weir would contradict herself—on the same page of her preface, no  less—with two opposing statements of direction: “The historian’s job is to weigh the evidence available, however slender and circumstantial” and “We are dealing here with facts, not just speculation or theories.” In all honesty, I was unaccustomed to reading like an historian; instead I read for elements such as repetition, privileged position, arcs and development. Still, my literary training had served me well—even including the aforementioned professor, who really did have good reason to be on staff; the pince-nez and dressing gown during office hours was an added bonus—and I began to wonder that perhaps historical writing really does have much in common with literary.

For example, Weir’s placement of Image 15 of the insert photos: One of, if not the most biased image in the insert collection, is a picture of two child-sized skeletons, discovered nearly two centuries after the princes’ disappearance. It is cleverly shadowed with near-opposing black and white shading that easily grabs the eye. Set in the page’s upper left corner, its positioning exploits our societal left-to-right reading direction as well as the “above-the-fold” tendency book browsers often engage when skimming though potential purchases. Its caption reads: “The remains found in 1674: ‘They were small bones of lads in their teens, fully recognised to be the bones of those two Princes’ (Eye-witness report, 1674; Archaeologia).”

Should the casual observer take the time to scan the rest of the page, the two remaining images—one of the urn in which the skeletal bones now rest, another of the exhumed skull of the princes’ eight-year-old relative Anne Mowbray—each play their role in telling the story the author wants readers to believe. Anne’s stark and startling skull, shown in a fairly large photo at bottom, plays on reader emotion with the mouth in its characteristic gaping position, not unlike a scream. It is included, positioned and designed to evoke pity, for both the untimely death of this little girl as well as the boys she was once close to. Of this Weir writes: “The skull of Anne Mowbray: York’s [the younger prince, Richard, Duke of York] child-bride and the Princes’ cousin, exhumed in 1964. Dental evidence indicates a familial relationship between her bones and those in the urn.”

The urn image is somewhat sympathetic, but rather generic and positioned to the right, closer to the book’s binding. Still, it has its role in this page-long tale, with its insinuation of finality. These bones are those of the boys, Anne’s remains prove it, end of story. Three statements, three images, we’re done here. A would-be consumer who saw even only the most privileged photo (the skeletons) before placing the book back on the shelf stands a high chance of walking away believing these were indeed the missing princes—a question not even entertained on the page discussed—and with Weir’s use of the word “murder” and the accusation against Richard in the jacket blurb, we’re a handshake away. Actually reading the story within all three captions and the deal is sealed. I am inclined to believe that readers have been lazy in every age, but also know that Weir and her publishers are very aware of how the demand for instant gratification and disintegration of critical reading skills in our era has further influenced the formation of opinions.

A quick disclaimer here: I personally don’t begrudge Weir her manipulation of privileged position or other literary techniques; these are what make books appealing, literature fascinating and history come alive. Human forms in photos engage our minds in a way an inanimate object doesn’t. We don’t relate to an urn, especially if we don’t know this is what that image is, but we do relate to images of people who were once alive, especially if they are children. However, I do take issue with the dishonest verbiage she carefully chooses to create the impression discussed above. For instance, the caption below Image 15 doesn’t say what year the princes died, presumed to have died, or disappeared (c. 1483). Yet an “Eye-witness report” from 1674 “recognised” the bones to be those of the missing princes? Did this eyewitness dabble in alchemy in his 200 + year lifespan? And where did he obtain his forensic expertise, with which he surely would be able to differentiate this set of remains from the twelve-year-old sons of Henry VIII’s cousins, whose families ended up in the Tower of London, where the Plantagenet brothers were last seen? Are there any signs of cause of death? The name dropping of Archaeologia lends some needed credibility, as does the dental evidence that “indicates” a familial relationship amongst all three deceased. These are only some of the questions Weir understands all too many consumers won’t ask; they’ll just take her word for it because they are in a hurry, don’t care enough or it doesn’t occur to them. There probably are other reasons as well, but the end result is that many will accept the information at face value.

Still, this was an awareness I came to later in my reading of The Princes in the Tower, or actually, even after I had finished and contemplated what I’d read. I had a niggling feeling about the perceptions I’d experienced. As I moved deeper into the book, Weir seemed to become more aggressive in her voice, and in previous remembrances I thought I even recalled a bit of name calling, which might have been the initial turnoff. (I could be wrong; stay tuned for another entry addressing this.)

The White Tower, Tower of London. Romanticized with its modern artificial lighting, we must imagine it in the days when the complete darkness of night, the likes of which many of us have never experienced, shrouded much in and around it.

As I sat with my casted leg propped up one evening, I realized with a grunt of dissatisfaction that I could not let it go until I read some more. My back was healing, but at this point pained easily after short periods, and my best friend was dispatched to collect a book or two from the university library. She returned with about fifteen, one of which was, by chance, Josephine Wilkinson’s Richard: The Young King to Be. She ignored my pointed stare.

It wasn’t long before I recognized a quote in Wilkinson’s book that Weir had utilized—in part. I suppose it was my naiveté with regard to historical reading that surprised me a little as I realized Weir had cherry picked what supported her agenda and left the rest. (Here also, stay tuned for more specifics.) At this point it really began to annoy me, and I was flummoxed as to how so many people could have gushed about what a fabulous book this was when I so easily picked out inconsistencies. Actually, I’ll have to revise that a bit: I read several reviews in which the authors did criticize Weir, but dismissed her liberties because “there’s no real way to tell” or “he probably did it anyway.” I’m pretty sure none of these people or any of us would want that standard upheld at our own trials.

Unknown to me, at roughly this time, the now-late historian John Ashdown-Hill published Eleanor: The Secret Queen: The Woman Who Put Richard III on the Throne. An analysis of the life of Eleanor Talbot, the woman said to have been married to Edward IV, Richard’s elder brother, before making Elizabeth Wydville his queen, the work follows a number of pathways, including those secreted in forensic dentistry. Ashdown-Hill discusses Anne Mowbray’s line of descent, an important angle given Weir’s assertion regarding the similarities between the teeth of the young bride and those of the bodies discovered in 1674, and a condition of congenitally absent teeth. The author notes that Anne Mowbray was related to the princes via a number of lines of descent, some more distant than others.

If those who have claimed that Anne Mowbray’s congenitally missing teeth prove that she was related to TLand 2 (and that therefore these were Edward V and Richard, Duke of York [the princes]), are correct, Anne’s dental anomaly must almost certainly have descended to her via her Neville ancestry (184-5).

Ashdown-Hill goes on to relate information about the battlefield identification of Anne’s grandfather, John Talbot, in connection to an absent left molar. This provides some evidence of the congenital condition being a Talbot trait, further leading to the speculation that if Anne did indeed inherit her dentition from her grandfather, “then those same missing teeth cannot very well be cited as evidence that TLand TLare Edward V and his brother, since the relationship of these latter to [Anne’s grandfather] was extremely remote.” Of course, it is possible John Talbot lost the tooth in some other manner and Ashdown-Hill further advises that Talbot’s remains had been disturbed several times, thus making elucidation on this point difficult (184-5).

Weir, in contrast, utilizes very little more than coincidence and contradictory information when aiming to prove that the bodies discovered in 1674 are Richard’s nephews, including the discovery to begin with. This position continues with her insistence that, apparently, only Plantagenet royalty could possibly have worn velvet, a type of material present with the bones and, given its availability timeframe, unlikely to indicate the remains were Roman, as had been suggested. She even goes on quite at length about all the experts and authors who examined the 1933 reports of Wright and Tanner, who themselves examined only an urn full of bones picked apart from those of animals (!) centuries after their initial discovery and under questionable chain of custody. Nevertheless, on all of this Weir categorically pushes the conclusion that “the evidence that the bones in the urn are those of the Princes is as conclusive as could be desired” (by whom?)(255-6).

Historian John Ashdown-Hill’s analysis of Eleanor Talbot’s life includes a far deeper discussion of the dental angle as glossed over by Weir, despite the absolute nature of her accusation against the king. (Click image for more information.)

It is easy to deduce there is much more to what I have summarized here, let alone the captions under three pictures in the middle of a book on the Bestsellers! table. As mentioned earlier, this dental information I didn’t know about when I first read Weir’s book – and she counts on that as well as the likelihood that few readers will check up on her words. The truth is, she’s right: few do follow up. For how long had my professor posited the claim that Richard III died shouting the line about the horse? How many from my class still believe this today? And this is counting just the influence of one person. Multiplied by how many readers Weir (and others) has persuaded, most of whom have very little time and/or inclination to look into what she says—some of whom, frankly, are as willing to manipulate the truth—it’s no wonder there is such widespread belief that Richard did the deed.

Of course, many people simply don’t care. At one point I was one of them. I liked history but wanted it on my own lazy terms, not having to deal with dates or the same few recycled names. Others view eras such as the Middle Ages with an attitude of “life is cheap,” which perhaps explains their willingness to allow an anointed king to be so maligned, and when looking back I found it curious that it stirred something within my being. I am, after all, an American with not a single drop of royalist blood running through my veins.

This, however, may be the because rather than the despite, thanks to our Magna Carta-inspired Constitution, the law of the land guaranteeing our rights, including those of the accused, a topic on which Richard III also had something to say. The widespread reliance upon and acceptance of misinformation to convict someone from the past bothers me for the same reason similar attitudes light a fire in me today. It doesn’t matter if someone dislikes or even hates Richard or any other political figure: Anyone who claims to value justice should be alarmed when someone is prosecuted and convicted under such inconclusive evidence, especially for the sake of bragging rights to having solved a centuries-old puzzle. This king may have lived and died over 500 years ago, but thirst for power and willingness to tyrannize others to achieve it is alive and well. Why would any tyrant stop with politicians? As we have seen throughout history, they don’t.

I had the great benefit of a father who taught me how to look a bit deeper, and though I don’t have quite the historian’s mind he did, I believed fiercely in justice. I also loved a good yarn, so followed with rapture as my father related to me tales from a variety of eras.

I only vaguely recall him telling me of Richard’s ability to fight, even something favorable about Henry VII (I used to refer to him as “the Henry after Richard the last”). His narratives often changed direction and he occasionally refused to answer questions, and at some point I understood he was teaching me to think. This surely colored my perception of Weir’s ridiculous portrayal of modern writers of Richard III as those who (a) believe the monarch guilty but too timid to admit it or (b) believe he is basically a saint (1). I also question the word “revisionist” as applied to Ricardians. It seems to me the revisionism began full force August 22, 1485, with the backdating of Henry Tudor’s reign to the 21.

I also grew up with a Scottish mother who never let me forget the Stuarts; at some points my eyes simply glazed over, and it all probably contributed to my lazy childhood approach toward history, despite my love of its people. This laissez-faire attitude extended to Richard, and for most of my life I didn’t care enough about him to have an opinion on his culpability. Interestingly, it was his detractors who chipped away at this armor as they repeated ad nauseum their claims, much of which was rank hypocrisy or projection. This entry has focused on one who chose as her work’s epigraph a Shakespeare quote that illustrates both, which reads in part: “Insulting tyranny begins to jet” (Richard III, Act II, Scene IV). Here Elizabeth Wydville wigs out over fears for her family, Shakespeare conveniently ignoring her role in all of this, as does Weir. (Talk about revisionism!)

There have since been others, but Alison Weir ended up accomplishing, in my case, the opposite of her intention in that I found her scholarship to be suspect, so I looked into it; what I came to believe through further reading and discussion was that Richard III, while certainly no saint, cannot justly be convicted of a double murder on the evidence she presents. That she has to go into stealth mode and employ manipulation, insults and overreach says much more about her than it ever could about King Richard III.

Despite Weir’s preface statement that “it is unlikely the truth of the matter will ever be confirmed by better evidence than we already have,” since the 2012 discovery of the king’s remains in a parking lot, more of consequence has been learned. For example, the Shakespearean depiction of Richard as a hunchback is in fact the propaganda it has long been characterized as. Rather, the king suffered from scoliosis, resulting in a sideways, spiraling twist to his spine, as discussed in a 2014 press release from the University of Leicester, a deformity not immediately visible to those encountering him. The hunchback myth traces back to Thomas More, on information from John Morton, Bishop of Ely, instrumental in Henry Tudor’s seizure of the throne. (This alone makes their party line suspect.) Owing to this accomplishment, Tudor historians, and not Plantagenet, were the ones relating the history. As my father drilled into my mind many times, and we have all heard in history class, the winner writes the story.

Shakespeare strove to be part of that winning group, though doing it for Elizabeth I, Henry Tudor’s granddaughter, over one hundred years after the fact, illustrating the reality that low-information readers (playgoers) existed long before the rampant misinformation pushers of our own time. Granted, we are often over-saturated with details, but this also gives us advantage in having the ability to track down more than ever before, even from places far removed from a small corner of England, within which one king and his men fought within the loyalty to which they were bound, and so became we.

—Lisl P.

Sources

Ashdown-Hill, John. Eleanor, the Secret Queen: The Woman Who Put Richard III on the Throne. Stroud: History Press, 2010.

Weir, Alison. The Princes in the Tower. United States: Ballantine, 1992.

Images

All images courtesy Wikimedia unless otherwise noted. Click any image for more details and, if any, annotations.

Lovell’s Hospital in Brackley

Recently I  attended  a family gathering in the little old town of Brackley. I was intrigued by the medieval chapel and adjacent buildings in the centre of town, which are now part of Magdalen School (unfortunately all private; you can’t explore them). By their appearance, I guessed they might have once been monastic buildings  and wondered if there was a connection with Magdalen College in Oxford. So off I went to do some research…and found some rather interesting information.

The Hospital of St James and St John, built in 1150 by ‘one Solomon’ , a clerk, under the direction of Robert le Bossu, Earl of Leicester.  John Lovell VII, known as the ‘grete Lord Lovell’, the builder of Old Wardour Castle, was buried there, possibly because members of the family of his wife, Maude Holland, were also buried in the hospital chapel, and the hospital retained strong connections to the Lovells from John VII’s death through the 15th C.

In the early part of the 1400’s, the hospital fell vacant and was temporarily held by the crown; however, it was re-established by 1425 and the ordinances approved by William Lord Lovell. Six loaves of bread were given out to the poor within the chapel, and four to six bedsteads were provided for poor travellers passing through the town.

The last master of St James and St John was a James Stanley (no idea if he was a relative of THOSE Stanleys) who was incumbent from 1471 onward. In 1484, Francis Lovell granted the advowson of the hospital to the Bishop of Winchester, William Waynflete, for the sum of 400 marks. It would form part of the endowments for Waynflete’s recently-founded Magdalen College in Oxford, which King Richard had visited on his first progress in 1483, attending  a debate on theology and rewarding the participants.

Exterior of the chapel of St James and St John’s, Brackley

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Seven abandoned medieval villages in England, seen from the air….

“….There are lost, deserted and shrunken medieval villages scattered all over Britain, and each one has its own unique story to tell. Many were abandoned in the 14th and 15th centuries when landlords emptied the villages to make way for more profitable sheep rearing, but there are plenty of other reasons too {link to Most Historic Towns 2}….”

The above paragraph is taken from here, which gives details of seven of the disappeared villages, with aerial views. It’s a terrible thought that people’s homes and workplaces were destroyed, both for the villagers themselves, and to us in the future.

Seeking another Scottish consort

Katie Milne as (St.) Margaret

(Saint) Margaret of Wessex, great-granddaughter of Ethelred Unraed, granddaughter of Edmund Ironside and great-niece of (St.) Edward the Confessor, died just three days after her husband, Malcolm III was killed at Alnwick in 1093. She, as eventual heiress to the House of Wessex, was the ancestor of every subsequent Scottish monarch except Donald Bain, Malcolm’s brother.

As this Dundee Courier article explains, most of her remains were transferred to the Estorial Monastery in Spain. Her head, sent to the (Douai) Scots College, but was lost during the Revolution, as so many remains and statues were damaged at the same time. Fortunately, one shoulder bone has been returned to Dunfermline, the town of her original shrine, such that it or a 3D replica can be analysed.

JOAN NEVILLE, SISTER TO THE KINGMAKER.

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The effigies of Joan Neville and her husband William Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel. 

On a recent visit to the Fitzalan Chapel, Arundel, I stood transfixed at Joan Neville’s beautiful monument.  Carved from Caen stone.  Joan’s effigy lies next to that of her husband, William Fitzalan Earl of Arundel (1417-1489).  Her head turned toward him, she gazes serenely at him, but whether that is artistic licence by the artist who carved her monument, hennins and coronets such as Joan’s being difficult to represent in stone, or because it was requested by her husband we shall never know.

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Joan’s headdress, Yorkist necklace and the cushion still retain much of the original colouring as well as embossed wax..

The fact that the effigies were out of sight of man for many years  – until 1981 when they were moved and restored  –  helped preserve them to a great  extent,  Joan’s still having retained traces of original colouring – red, gold gilding and embossed wax on her headdress, surcote and robes.  We can only guess that when they first made they must have ‘stunned viewers with their magnificence'(1)

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Note the wonderful detail of Joan’s cuff, her girdle, necklace and surcoat.  

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Joan and William’s effigies now  in their glass case….Joans feet resting on a griffin.

Joan Neville, future countess of Arundel,  born  before 2 November 1424  and dying about the 9th September 1462 was the eldest  of six sisters to  Richard Neville who became known as Warwick the Kingmaker and one of 12 siblings.   Her parents Richard Earl of  Salisbury and Alice Montacute,  as was the custom of the day arranged marriages for all of their daughters while they were still children and Joan was duly  married to William Fitzalan about 1438 when she was  14.  However her first son was not born until 1450 with a further 5 children to follow.    Their marriage was to endure 24 years and William  never remarried after her death.  Whether her death affected him or his own health was in decline  or perhaps for some other reason that eludes us,  Willam  certainly ceased to show any interest in anything political after her death.

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The Fitzalan Chapel.  Joan and William’s tomb is to the right hand side.

The Chapel suffered greatly during the English Civil war and it is more than fortunate that the Fitzalan tombs and monuments have survived in such good condition.

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Painting by Thomas Cane of the chapel  c1886. 

Of the aristocratic families  who lived during  those turbulent times few if any  escaped terrible and tragic  loss.   The Nevilles were no different and  although Joan did not live long enough  to see her brothers, Richard and John die at Barnet,  she had suffered the loss of  a brother, Thomas,  and her father, Salisbury,  during and after  the aftermath of Wakefield.   To find out more on Joan,  her five sisters and their husbands,   David Baldwin’s The Kingmaker’s Sisters can be recommended.

  1. Sally Bedham Medieval Church and Churchyard Monuments p34.

AUSTIN FRIARS: LAST RESTING PLACE OF PERKIN WARBECK

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Austin Friars today.  This section of road covers part of  the perimeter of the Friary.    With thanks to Eric, Londonist. 

Austin Friars in London, was founded about 1260 by Humphrey de Bohun 2nd Earl of Hereford and Constable of England d.1275.   It was rebuilt in 1354 by Humphrey de Bohun d.1361, Humphrey’s great great grandson (keep up folks!)  6th Earl of Hereford, and Lord High Constable.   The friary covered a large area, about 5 acres and had a resident population at one time of about 60 friars.  It stood on the site of two earlier churches, St Olave Broad Street and St Peter le Poer, the latter was incorporated in the new church and formed the south aisle of the choir.  It must have been affluent being able to afford a new steeple in 1362 to replace the one badly damaged in a storm.

However it was not without its rather scary and unpleasant incidents.  In 1381 during the Peasants Revolt 13 Lombards were dragged from out of the church where they had been sheltering and lynched.  in 1386 a congregation of Lollards inflamed by a sermon,  given in the nearby church of St Christopher le Stocks, on the practices and privileges of Augustinian friars descended on Austin Friary.  The Friary was only saved in the nick of time by the intercession of the local sheriff from being totally destroyed by the mob.

The church stood in the centre of the friary precinct.  Adjoining the precinct was land that was used for rented ‘tenements’.  Some of these tenements must have been fairly grand as the tenants included notables such as Erasmus (who complained about the quality of the wine and left without paying his bill),  Eustace Chapuys and none other than Thomas Cromwell.  Oh the irony…Thomas living cheek by jowel with one of the religious orders  he so despised.  Anyway – as Cromwell rose to fame and fortune he acquired more land from the friary and built one of the largest private mansions in London.   Sometimes his methods to gain more land were not entirely ethical.  We know this because one of the people he rode roughshod over was none other than the father of John Stow who wrote ‘A Survey of London 1598’.  We can still feel the rising of Stow’s hackles over the centuries  as in writing his description of the Friary he added “on the south side and at the west end of this church many fair houses are built namely in  Throgmorton Street, one very large and spacious built,  in the place of old and small tenements by Thomas Cromwell.    This house being finished and having some  reasonable plot of ground left for a garden, he caused the pales of the gardens adjoining to the north part there off on a sudden to be taken down;  twenty-two feet to be measured fourth right into the north of every man’s ground,  a line there to be drawn, a trench to be cast,   a foundation laid and a high brick wall to be built. My father had a garden there and a house standing close to his south  pale; this house they loosed from the ground and bare upon rollers into my fathers garden twenty-two feet,  ere  my father herd thereof.  No warning was given him, nor other answer when he spake to the surveyors of that  work but that their master Sir Thomas commanded them to do so, no man durst go to argue the matter but each man lost his land and my father paid his whole rent which was  six shillings and sixpence for the year for that half which was left.   Thus much of my own knowledge have I thought good to note, that the sudden rising of some men causes them in some matters to forget themselves’.  Really Sir Thomas!   Stow born in 1525 and dying in 1605 at the grand age of 80 lived long enough to see the downfall of Cromwell.  He was described as ‘ a merry old man’ and I wonder what his reaction was to the death of the man who had treated his dad so disgracefully

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Austin Friars from the Copper Plate map c1550.  1.  The Church.  2.  Cloister.  3.  Cromwell’s Mansion.  4.  Gatehouse.  With thanks to online Wikipedia article

Stow made a list of the illustrious people buried in the church.  Among them were: 

Humphrey de Bohun, rebuilder of the church in 1354 and buried there in 1361 in the quire.

Edward son of Edward the Black Prince and his wife, Joan the Fair Maid of Kent.  Brother to Richard II.

Edward Stafford Duke of Buckingham executed 1521 – also in the quire

John de Vere 12 Earl of Oxford and thus son Aubrey; both executed in 1462 also in the quire

Sir William Tyrell, slain at Barnet; in the nave.  Many of the notables slain at Barnet were buried here (1).

William Tyrell of Gipping executed 1462

William Collingbourne,  author of  the infamous doggerel, executed 1484; buried in the ‘west wing’?

Sir Roger Clifford executed 1484

Sir Thomas Cook, he who was persecuted by the Woodville.  Died 1478.

Disappointingly Stow did not mention Perkin Warbeck.  Perhaps he did not have a monument,  Its difficult to see who would have  come forward and paid for one to be made under the circumstances.   W E Hampton suggests the burial site may have been in what Stow calls the ‘West Wing’ which was probably a transept.  We can only speculate that if,  after the many changes, upheaval, fires, bombs  and rebuilding that the church has undergone, any of the remains of Warbeck and the other burials have somehow survived and remain hidden in vaults, yet to be discovered at some distant future time.  Of course there always remains the miserable thought that he may have been buried outside the church in an unmarked grave.  An archaeological dig was made in 1910 in the area of the cemetery but the expected human remains were never found.  Had they been exhumed and disposed off long before?

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Perkin Warbeck.  

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John Stow author of A Survey of London Written in the year 1598.  A great debt is owed to Stow in his labours of making the Survey which tells us so much about a long lost London.  

In 1540 the bitch known as Karma finally caught up with Cromwell and he was executed, his great mansion seized by the crown – naturally – and sold off along with the friary precincts.  Most of the precincts was demolished but Cromwell’s  mansion became Drapers Hall.  Drapers Hall was destroyed in the destruction that was the Great Fire of London.  Rebuilt in 1667 it was once again badly damaged by fire in 1772.  It was  again rebuilt and later in the 19th century both the frontage and interior much altered twice.

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Thomas Cromwell.  Getty Images

In 1550 the nave of the church was given by Edward Vl to the local Dutch Protestant community to serve as their church,  the remaining part used for ‘stowage of corn, coal and other such things’.  The Marquis of Winchester, who had inherited it from his father ‘sold the monumnets of noblemen there buried in great number, the paving stones and whatsoever, which cost many thousands, for one hundred pounds, and thereof made fair stabling for horses.  He caused the lead to be taken from the roofs and laid tile in place whereof, which exchange proved not so profitable as he looked for, but rather to his disadvantage’ ( 2)

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A statue of St Augustine in Austin Friars.  A poignant reminder of the long gone Austin Friars.  T.Metcalfe 1989.  Photo thanks to Patrick Comerford.

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View of Throgmorton Street today with Drapers Hall built on the site of Thomas Cromwell’s great London mansion.

The Dutch church survived the Great  Fire of London 1666 but was badly damaged by a fire in 1862 which seems to have destroyed the nave but left the exterior standing.  The church was then rebuilt, once again, in 1863 but totally destroyed in an air raid in 1940.  It was finally rebuilt yet again in 1950-56.

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Undated photo of The Dutch Church Austin Friars..14th century.  Taken from Broad Street.  British History online. 

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The ruins of the Dutch Church Austin Friars after being bombed  1947.  A service is being held to mark the first anniversary to the German invasion of Holland.

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The  Dutch Church newly built in the 1950s.

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Plan of Austin Friars overlaid on modern street plan.

( 1) The Austin Friars article by W E Hampton, The Ricardian.

(2) A Survey of London Written in the year 1598 John Stow p163

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of London’s earliest imposters….?

Well, once again we have the painting of the two Princes in the Tower by Sir John Everett Millais. They look like frightened little angels, which, of course, is the traditional view of them. Nasty Uncle Richard, etc. etc. But it has never been proved that Richard did anything to them. He might even have had them taken away to safety. We will never know, and neither, it seems, did Henry VII, whose reign was blighted by fears of the return of one or both of them. And, of course, Yorkists claimants to his stolen throne did indeed turn up to make his usurper’s life difficult. The most important of these was “Perkin Warbeck”, who may or may not have been Prince Richard of York, as Ashdown-Hill’s research may answer for us soon.

Anyway, the paragraphs below are the relevant section of this article, in which Perkin is labelled as a ‘brass-necked imposter’, along with four other similar, um, frauds. Whether Perkin was an imposter or brass-necked is, as ever, in the eye of the beholder.

“….One of London’s earliest imposters emerged from the confusion surrounding what would become one of the city’s most enduring mysteries. Uncertainty has always existed over the fate of King Edward IV’s sons Edward and Richard, or the ‘Princes in the Tower’. They’d been next in line to the throne until their uncle, Richard III, declared them illegitimate and made himself king instead.

“….The boys had been living in the Tower of London but were never seen again after the summer of 1483, and it was often speculated that they had been murdered at Richard’s instructions. However, some believed it was plausible that one or both had escaped and gone into hiding elsewhere, and several years later, one person sought to capitalise on the belief in the possibility of a secret royal survivor.

“….A man named Perkin Warbeck emerged in 1490 (sic), claiming to be the younger son, Richard, and that his brother had been murdered, forcing him to go undercover for his own safety. Warbeck made a claim to the English throne and managed to convince some members of European royalty of his identity, including the future Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I. However, his various armed attempts to progress his claim in England did not meet with success, and he was eventually captured and handed over to Henry VII in 1497.

“….Ironically, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London itself, only being released when he confessed he was not actually one of the Princes in the Tower after all. While he was still allowed to attend the royal court, he remained under guard, which led him to make a number of escape attempts. He was eventually recaptured and locked up in the Tower again, before being executed at Tyburn in 1499….”

Maldon

Following an unsuccesful Viking raid in 924, the battle of Maldon took place in August 991 and the result was a victory for the Norse invaders. Byrthnoth, the Essex earldorman who led the Saxons that day, was among those killed and Ethelred II instituted payment of the “Danegeld” to pacify the Vikings. This Byrthnoth statue (left), consequently, is displayed and a tapestry marking the millennium is part of the Maeldune Centre, to which we shall return.

Just over a mile from the town centre is Beeleigh Abbey, where Isabel Countess of Essex (Richard’s aunt) was buried, together with her Bourchier husband and son, before they were moved to Little Easton by her grandson, then Earl of Essex, at the time of the Dissolution, as were the Mowbrays and Howards in Thetford. The Abbey is closed nowadays, although it can be viewed from the gardens, which remain open.

This Essex town, by the Blackwater Estuary and the narrower River Chelmer, lies about six miles from Witham and was previously accessible from there by train. This plaque (left) by the Moot Hall details the more recent historic buildings, many of them on the High Street. The Rose and Crown (bottom) is one of these, down the hill and still in operation as an inn today.

The Maeldune Centre itself lies at the Market Hill junction, by Coes. Across the road is a long redundant church (St. Peter’s), which was adapted by the Maldon-born Thomas Plume (1630-1704), Vicar of Greenwich and Archdeacon of Rochester, to place Maldon Grammar School on the ground floor and his extraordinary private library (below left) on the first. The school has moved on but the Plume Library, funded by the income from nearby farmland, still stands.

Here, in a structure open only eight hours a week and accessible by a spiral staircase, the books are arranged by size and are not lent but have been stored since Plume’s time and a modern volume is very occasionally added. The collection relates to Plume’s interests in theology, history, science and philosophy, as well as the Civil War that plagued his youth. Some of the leather spines on the books are disintegrating although the pages themselves are in good condition.

Plume’s collection also includes a notable range of portraits, including all the monarchs of his lifetime and others from Edward IV, but excluding Edward V, the first two “Tudors” and Jane. The portraits include other clerics, including an “unknown divine”, whilst that of Charles I was made before his beard made an appearance. Groups can visit only by appointment and the total capacity is limited to twelve, including the staff.

So, to view a good portrait of Richard III and the former burial place of his Bourchier relatives, as well as some other history, Maldon is certainly worth a day out. All Saints, the contemporary civic church, houses the remains of George Washington‘s great-grandfather.

The historic Townleys of Burnley, Lancashire….

I have to confess that I had never heard of the Towneleys of Lancashire, so I came as some surprise to see them described as one of the most notable families in that county. I do have an interest in a particular Lancashire family, the Holands of Upholland.

There is a connection with Richard III, in that one of the Towneleys took part in “the Scottish campaigns led by Richard Duke of Gloucester, soon to be Richard III, following the end of the second period of the Wars of the Roses”. This member of the family died of wounds sustained at Berwick-upon-Tweed in 1482. Afterwards they seem to have been well in with the Tudors.

Anyway, the Towneleys are definitely interesting, and were around for a long time, certainly throughout the medieval period. To read about them, please go here.

Another of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s palaces….

Charing Palace through the 14th century gateway

My inexhaustible interest in the past takes me everywhere…mostly via the internet these days, I confess. Finding buildings that are wonderful jewels from our history is always rewarding, and so here is my latest discovery.

The article below begins: “….Charing Palace is the remains of an 11th-century bishop’s palace used by Archbishops of Canterbury as a stopping place between Canterbury and their London residence of Lambeth Palace. The village of Charing stood on the main pilgrim route to Canterbury, and it made sense for the Archbishops to have an official presence there….”

Well, there are bishops’ palaces all over Britain, and I only know of a fraction of them. This is one I did not know, yet it was important enough for kings Henry VII and Henry VIII, as well as the Archbishops of Canterbury themselves. “….In 1520 the Palace hosted some of the 4000 men and women of Henry VIII’s entourage as they journeyed to the king’s famous meeting with Francis I of France at the Field of the Cloth of Gold near Calais….”

Henry VIII at the Field of Cloth of Gold, Calais

Read more at about Charing Palace at https://www.britainexpress.com/attractions.htm?attraction=2890, which also contains a number of photographs.

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