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Richard III and Harold II

We all know that Richard is directly descended from William the Conqueror, who is his eleven times great grandfather. Here is Richard’s pedigree to William in three parts – follow the yellow dots left to right. (N.B. the first few generations have the yellow combined with red and blue which lead to other ancestors).

But did you know that he is also directly descended from William’s enemy, Harold Godwinson, also Harold II, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England and Richard’s twelve times great grandfather? This time follow the blue dots.

So, who did he have more in common with?  Looking into this, I found that there are many similarities between Richard and Harold.

Battles and Death

Obviously, both died in battle, valiantly defending their country. In fact, Richard was the last English king to die in battle and the first (and only other) was Harold himself. Richard was the last Plantagenet king and Harold the last Anglo Saxon one.

Both could be impatient and impetuous. Richard charged Henry Tudor to try to end the battle and refused to take a horse and leave the battle. Harold joined battle with William quite hastily. He might have succeeded if he had waited a little while. Also, both men did not attempt to wait for contingents of their armies who were late arriving; Richard’s York men did not reach the battlefield until the battle was over and Harold’s brothers-in-law, the Earls of Mercia and Northumbria had not yet arrived when the battle of Hastings began.

Battle of Bosworth, 1485

Both were hacked to death fighting their enemies, Henry “Tudor” and William of Normandy respectively. Both of these enemies were of bastard stock and both invaded from France. Neither of them had any legal right to the throne of England. And both Henry Tudor and William of Normandy had attempted a previous invasion, only to have been thwarted at that time. The battles of 1066 and 1485 were both pivotal in English history and, arguably, in both cases, England would have been much better off had the defending king prevailed.

Battle of Hastings, 1066

Family

Richard was the youngest son of the Duke of York, with no expectation of becoming king. Many of us believe he took the throne out of duty, not ambition. One of the reasons may have been the fact that Edward V was just a boy of thirteen and no-one wanted a king who was a minor.

Harold, too, was a younger, if not the youngest, son of his family. He never expected to be king either – when he was young, Edward (the Confessor) was on the throne and was expected to have heirs.

Edward the Confessor

As it happens he did not, but there was another claimant, Edgar Ætheling (sometimes known as Edward Ætheling), Edward’s nephew, who was, at the time of the Confessor’s death, aged about thirteen. Sound familiar? The Witenagemot (English assembly of nobleman and clergy, etc) decided that Harold was the better prospect as king to defend the country, since it was known that William of Normandy was also planning to claim the crown. So, both Richard and Harold were elected king, after an Edward had died and by putting aside thirteen-year-old claimants, possibly both also called Edward.

Brothers

Both Richard and Harold had troublesome brothers. Richard had his older brother, George, with whom he had to debate to claim a share of the Neville sisters’ inheritance and whom Edward IV ended up executing for treason.

Harold had Tostig, a younger brother, who rebelled against both Edward the Confessor and Harold himself and ended up siding with Harald Hardråda, a Norwegian claimant to the throne, thus also committing treason. Harold had to take his army up to York to oppose them and won, taking the Norwegians and Tostig by surprise. Tostig was killed in the battle of Stamford Bridge, but this battle was probably one reason for Harold losing at Hastings a few day later. It seems both George and Tostig were ‘problem’ middle children.

Exile

Richard had to twice go into exile with members of his family; with George when he was eight and with Edward when he was eighteen.

Harold accompanied his father, Earl Godwin, into exile in 1051, and helped him to regain his position a year later.

Power

In 1483, Richard, as Duke of Gloucester, was the most powerful noble in the country and the senior adult male heir. He also held many titles such as Constable of England, Admiral of England, Ireland and Aquitaine, Chief Justice of North Wales, Great Chamberlain of England, Steward of the Duchy of Lancaster and Lord Protector.

Richard III

Likewise Harold was, by 1066, the most powerful man in the country after the king. As well as being Earl of East Anglia from a young age, he became Earl of Wessex after the death of his father in 1053 and later Earl of Hereford. In addition, his sister (another Edith!) was Edward the Confessor’s queen.

Harold Godwinson

Health

Richard is known to have suffered with scoliosis, which would have been the source of great challenges for him. Perhaps partly because of this, he was very pious and is known to have founded and built many religious houses and chapels.

Harold was also known to have had an illness of some kind which must have been quite serious, resulting in a form of paralysis. He was apparently cured and founded an Abbey at Waltham, in thanks for his life.

Wives

Richard married Anne Neville and thus helped to secure the North for his brother, Edward IV, since the Nevilles were well-respected there.

Harold had been married more Danico ‘in the Danish fashion’ (i.e. not in a way recognised by Christianity) to Edith Swannesha for many years and had at least six children by her. This may have partly been to gain influence in his new Earldom, when he became Earl of East Anglia, as she had land in the area. He later married another Edith, sister of Edwin, Earl of Mercia and Morcar, Earl of Northumbria, probably in order to ensure their loyalty to him and secure the North, so all these marriages were probably at least partly politically motivated.

In addition, when Richard married Anne she was the widow of Edward of Lancaster, who opposed Richard and the Yorkists at Tewkesbury.

Edith, Harold’s second wife had also been previously married to his opponent, the Welsh king, Gruffydd ap Llywelyn.

Reputations

Both Richard and Harold had previous good reputations. Harold was described by chronicler, Orderic Vitalis, as being:

‘distinguished by his great size and strength of body, his polished manners, his firmness of mind and command of words, by a ready wit and a variety of excellent qualities’.

Richard was of course of no great size but Archibald Whitelaw described him thus:

‘Never has so much spirit or greater virtue reigned in such a small body.’

Warriors

They were also both proven warriors. Richard had been involved in the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury with his brother, Edward, and had also been successful in repelling the Scots and retaking Berwick.

Harold had quelled the Welsh in a series of effective campaigns against Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, and was later victorious at Stamford Bridge.

Battle of Stamford Bridge

Coronation

Richard was crowned on 6th July 1483. Harold was also crowned on 6th, but of January, in 1066, both in Westminster Abbey. It is thought that Harold was the first to be crowned there. Both of them were criticised for being crowned with unseemly haste, although both had good reason, since in both cases the nobles, clerics and others who needed to be present were already there. In Richard’s case, they had assembled for the coronation of Edward V and in, Harold’s, for the funeral of Edward the Confessor.

Harold’s Coronation

Burials

Both men had mysteries surrounding their burials. Richard’s we know about – it had been thought by some that his bones had been dug up and thrown into the River Soar, but they were located successfully in 2012.

After the Battle of Hastings, Harold’s mutilated body was identified by his first wife, Edith Swannesha, through marks known only to her, but his final resting place is unknown.

Edith Swannesha identifies Harold’s body

The traditionally accepted location is Waltham Abbey, but this is disputed. Another candidate is Bosham, because of Harold’s strong association with it as his birthplace, and the discovery in 1954 of an Anglo-Saxon coffin in the church there. Also, it is near the sea and William was said to have wanted him buried near the Channel for his impudence in opposing him.

Left: Harold’s supposed burial at Waltham and right: Church at Bosham

A third, more recent, suggestion is St Michael’s Church, in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire. This theory stems from the fact that the ‘remains’ believed to be Harold’s that were found at Waltham Abbey could not have been human bones as they had turned into dust. It is possible that he could have had a ‘heart burial’ there – common for high status individuals – where their heart was buried at a separate location to the rest of their body.

Harold’s first wife is known to have lived in Bishop’s Stortford and the team behind this theory found four surviving, intact Norman stone coffins in a vault under the church, which have not been examined in modern times. The coffins seem too unusual to be for commoners.

Challenges

After their deaths, both kings had family members who tried to wrest the crown back from the two usurpers, Henry and William. In Richard’s case, these were ‘Lambert Simnel’ and Perkin Warbeck’, probably actually his nephews, Edward and Richard.

Two of Harold’s sons, Godwine and Edmund, invaded England in 1068 and 1069 with the aid of Diarmait mac Máel na mBó (High King of Ireland). We know that Ireland also supported the Lambert Simnel attempt. However, all of these bids for power sadly failed.

Finally…

I recently read the following as a description of a Facebook page in support of king Harold:

Redressing the balance of Norman propaganda against King Harold Godwinson and the Anglo-Saxons, and the blinkered hagiographies for Duke William…

You could substitute Tudor for Norman, Richard III for Harold Godwinson, Yorkists for Anglo-Saxons and The Tudors for Duke William and there we have our own aims. It’s so true that history is written by the victors.

The Last Knight: The Art, Armor, and Ambition of Maximilian I

Maximilian I was Richard III’s nephew-in-law, and wanted an alliance with the English king in 1484.

RICARDIAN LOONS

Maximilian exhibit-190 Portrait of Maximilian I, from the workshop or a follower of Albrecht Dürer.

Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I (1459-1519) is one of those larger-than-life historical figures. Straddling the medieval and Renaissance eras, he worked tirelessly and spent a vast fortune to establish the Habsburgs as one of Europe’s dominant ruling families. In England, the House of York considered him a vital ally to the interests of English territories and trade on the continent.

In 1484, Maximilian’s envoy asked Richard III to send him 6,000 archers to strengthen that alliance, calling the English king ‘that prince of all Christian princes’ ‘of very great and excellent virtues’ to whom Maximilian had ‘most love and affection, and with whom he desires most to ally and confederate himself’[1].  Expressing no consternation over the deposition of Edward V or the disappearance of the ‘princes in the Tower’, and perhaps believing they were still…

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A King under a Post Office?

Edward Balliol was crowned King of Scotland at Scone Palace, today in 1332. He, alongside Edward III, had won the Battle of Dupplin Moor and was able to supplant the eight year-old David II, although he was removed shortly later. He was also at the Battles of Halidon Hill and Neville’s Cross – the first saw him briefly restored and the second saw David II imprisoned but there was no second restoration and Balliol retired to Yorkshire, where he died twenty-one years later.

This article, dating from just nine days after Richard III’s remains were officially identified, speculates on where Balliol, son of a Scots king like his rival, is likely to be buried in or around Doncaster. Just as first a school, then a car park, was built over Richard’s tomb and a car park over that of John Knox, does a post office at Priory Park lay over Balliol? If so, he is barely a mile from Lister Avenue, Balby, made famous by someone else (right).

The alternative venues include Conisbrough Castle, the birthplace of Richard’s paternal grandfather, Doncaster Minster and yet another car park that was once … a Greyfriars!

 

Were the Wars of The Roses an Inevitability?

In my spare time I have been reading Henry IV by Chris Given-Wilson. It’s a massive book, full of information, probably the most complete work on Henry since Wylie’s four-volume effort in the 19th Century. Frankly, I’m finding it hard going. Not because it’s a bad book (it isn’t) or because Given-Wilson is a bad writer or a poor historian (the very opposite is true) but because, quite frankly, I find Henry a deeply unsympathetic character, and the more I learn about him the less I like him.

One of the interesting snippets I have picked up from this book is that in the 1390s Henry spent over £400 in legal fees chasing up various land claims that he thought he was entitled to pursue. OK, £400 does not sound much in 2020, maybe a Solicitor’s hourly rate; but in the 1390s 1000 marks (about £667) was the basic annual income qualification for an earldom. An ordinary person would consider themselves well paid on 6d a day (2.5p modern money) or 3 shillings (15p) a (six day) week. A woman working in agriculture was often only paid a third of that. And no one was paid for the numerous religious holidays – for the ordinary person, they were time off without pay. So a good annual income was maybe £4 or £5 at best. Many would have received far less. So £400 was a heck of a lot of money.

Now, you may say, and it’s true, that pursuing legal claims for land (often dubious) was pretty much a national sport for the nobility and gentry of the late middle ages. Look at the Pastons, for example. They were always chasing up some claim or other, or someone was chasing them.

But the Pastons, in the 15th Century, were barely established as gentlefolk. They had recent ancestors who had been actual bondmen. So it’s not surprising their grip on their property was tenuous, and that they had to scrap for every penny. Similarly, it’s not hard to understand some impoverished baron trying to expand his holdings a bit – the value of land was not what it had been before the Black Death and tenants – and even labourers – had that little more edge than they had had previously.

Henry of Bolingbroke, by contrast, was heir to what was undeniably the greatest inheritance ever brought together under one roof. What’s more, he had married a very wealthy heiress. OK, he had had to share the de Bohun inheritance with Uncle Gloucester (how sad!) and his mother-in-law was still alive and inconsiderately drawing her dower, but the lordship of Brecon alone was worth £1,500 a year!

So, to be blunt, Henry was a greedy so-and-so. He was suing his Uncle Gloucester and the Earl of Warwick, and various other people, because he was not satisfied with his enormous slice of the pie.

Here’s the rub – his father, John of Gaunt, was no better, despite being incomparably the richest private individual in England. (By several streets.) Through the 1390s he persuaded Richard II to confer further sweeteners on him. For example, the duchy of Lancaster was given its special status on an hereditary basis, instead of for life. Then there was the little matter of the grant of the Duchy of Aquitaine. (This latter was in part entangled in the very complex peace negotiations with France, but did Gaunt really need another great duchy?)

Richard II was rapidly running out of things to give – England’s resources were strictly limited – but there really is no indication that the Lancaster family would ever have been satisfied.

Some people will say – “Ah, but Richard II was a lousy king.” Well, for a start, he was rather more effective than is often realised. A lot of the negative stuff is pure Lancastrian propaganda, much of it invented after Richard’s deposition. (How familiar!) The reality is though that even a sovereign with the talents of Elizabeth I and Henry II rolled together would have struggled to succeed with a cuckoo in the nest as large as the Lancasters were. Remember the problems Warwick gave Edward IV? Compared to John of Gaunt – and even more to Bolingbroke post-inheritance – Warwick was a mere country squire.

Richard II had to do something about the Henry Problem. If his chosen solution failed, it was because it was, in fact, too generous, too mild, too humane. When their positions were abruptly reversed, Henry made no such mistake. Objectively, one of them was sure to be the death of the other, it was just a matter of time.

That being the case (and the same would have been true had matters gone the other way) there was set up in English politics a turbulence that was always going to cause problems sooner or later. To a point, the impact was seen straightaway. Henry IV’s reign was extremely troubled because many of his subjects simply did not see his kingship as valid. He was not, after all, Richard II’s right heir, and he had obtained his position by illegitimate force. It took him until at least 1405 (maybe 1408) to resolve matters and secure his crown. It was done by painful attrition, and with a bit of luck along the way. But it only really postponed the issue for a generation.

Henry V did his best (at the very start of his reign) to conciliate his father’s remaining enemies – such as were still alive plus their heirs – and to a very large extent this succeeded. He was further helped by his remarkable successes in France, the more or less complete inability of his obvious dynastic rival, the Earl of March, and by the fact that the third Duke of York was still a little boy.

However, it only took the failure of Henry VI’s kingship to bring the dynastic issue back on the table, and then set the whole structure of Lancastrian kingship tumbling down. Could it have been avoided? Probably not, except in a magical world where Henry VI is much more effective as a ruler and finds the cheat button that releases unlimited resources to enable the French war to be won. In the real world, there was not a chance.

 

 

 

The jeweller who made Richard’s funeral crown….

This article is about George Easton, the jeweller who created Richard III’s crown (see above) for the funeral and reinterment at Leicester. And he did so with the assistance of John Ashdown-Hill, although John’s name isn’t mentioned.

George’s business is called Danegeld: “….A land tax in Anglo-Saxon England might not sound the most glamorous starting point for a brand, but it’s where George Easton found the name for his intriguing label Danegeld….”

From a studio in the summerhouse in his garden, he has produced (among many other things) Viking armbands, Art Deco brooches and jewels for films such as The Hobbit, Beowulf and The Crown. His work is brilliant and much sought after.

One of his particularly important and famous projects was Richard III’s gold-plated funeral crown which was “….enamelled with white roses, and had rubies and sapphires to represent the livery colours of the House of York…”

What a pity John Ashdown-Hill doesn’t get the mention he so fully deserves.

Princess Cecily of York, a very daring lady….

 

From Wikipedia

Some of you will know that in the 1970s I wrote a trilogy about Cicely/Cecily, daughter of Edward IV. I called her Cicely back then, and have stuck with it, but now she is generally known as Cecily. She had been the third daughter, but on the death of her sister Mary, because second only to Elizabeth of York, who became Henry VII’s queen. At the time of this early trilogy it wasn’t known that Cicely had made a first marriage to Ralph Scrope of Upsall.

Then, in the 21st century, came the discovery of the remains of Cicely’s uncle, Richard III. My interest was sparked anew, and I rewrote my books about Cicely, this time incorporating her marriage to Ralph. In my fictional story, the “marriage” was untrue, and came about because Richard III erroneously believed she wished to marry Ralph, Young love, and all that.

The facts about the Cicely-Ralph marriage may never be known, but the admirable Marie Barnfield has now written an article about the ending of the marriage. You’ll find it at the Society’s Research blog, and a very interesting read it is.

Alas, it seems unlikely we’ll ever get to the bottom of the matter, but it’s now certain that John, Viscount Welles, was not her first husband. Nor was he the last, because on his death she married a Lincolnshire gentleman named Thomas Kymbe, a match about which Henry VII (who was both her brother-in-law and her nephew-in-law, Welles having been Henry’s half-uncle) was downright livid. Absolutely beside himself, it seems, and it was his mother Margaret Beaufort (John Welles’s half-sister) who managed to smooth things out for the unlikely newlyweds. She was very friendly with the wayward Cicely.

Cicely was a very interesting lady. She was only in her late thirties when she died; if she’d survived to old age, who knows who else might have been added to her marriage CV! She was certainly prepared to defy the grim Henry Tudor in order to have Kymbe, who was clearly the man she wanted. Third time lucky!

An Irishman abroad but not for much longer?

Modern sculpture of Red Hugh overlooking Curlew Pass

“Red” Hugh O’Donnell (1572-1602) was an Irish chieftain who fought a series of battles against English armies between 1595 and the beginning of 1602 (during the Nine Years’ War which actually ran from 1593 to 1603), one of his less successful opponents being the Earl of Essex. O’Donnell ruled Tir Chonaill in the extreme north-west of Ireland – the modern County Donegal (and, intermittently, also County Sligo). He and Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, were victorious at the 1598 battle of the Yellow Ford, and Red Hugh afterwards won a great victory of his own at Curlew Pass (1599).

Soon after this, however, the tide turned against the Irish confederates, and when reinforcements finally arrived from Spain, they landed at the wrong end of the country. After a decisive defeat at Kinsale on the south coast, Red Hugh sailed to Spain to make a personal plea to the young Philip III for a full Spanish fleet and army to take back with him to turn the tide of their fortunes. King Philip, initially enthusiastic, remained undecided about exactly what help to provide, so in August Red Hugh left the port of La Coruña for another audience with him at the castle of Simancas, twelve miles from Valladolid. However, he arrived gravely ill (possibly poisoned by a Tudor agent), and died at Simancas, having asked in his will to be buried ‘in the church of the monastery of the lord Saint Francis in Valladolid’ (the monastery where Christopher Columbus was also originally buried). He was laid to rest by King Philip with great pomp. Hugh O’Neill and O’Donnell’s brother Rory also sailed to Spain in 1607, bringing an end to Gaelic resistance in Ireland.

Human remains have now been discovered at the site of the monastery and comparisons with Richard III are already being made. The promising-looking large skeleton unfortunately still has the two toes that Red Hugh lost to frostbite, but fourteen other skeletons have also been unearthed in the Chapel of Marvels, any of which might be Red Hugh’s as they are all missing their feet.

It will be interesting to observe whether Red Hugh can be identified and returned to Donegal.

 

Postscript

Whoops! Wrong O’Donnell red-head (my grandmother, Maeve)

In case anyone is wondering, the ‘Red’ part of Red Hugh’s name refers to his hair colour.

Being half Donegal and part O’Donnell myself, I find the story of the search for Red Hugh every bit as exciting as the dig for Richard III, and there are certain parallels between their two stories. Those who find such parallels interesting can read on; others may wish to stop here.

Both men had October birthdays and died at roughly similar ages leaving no legitimate offspring. Both acquired skeletal idiosyncrasies in their teens. Both participated in two major battle victories. Both might accurately be described as lords of the North. They both came to power through the declared illegitimacy of senior family members (in Red Hugh’s case, his elder half-brothers). They both fought the Tudors and lost (btw, Hugh’s adversary at Curlew Pass was a Clifford, and his centre wing at Kinsale was commanded by a Tyrell).

I’ll leave you with an air supposed to have originated as the younger Red Hugh’s love song to his O’Neill bride: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzh5uq8rkN0 . (I also used to play it on the tin whistle, but not nearly so well.)

P.P.S. Any readers interested in Red Hugh’s 15th century ancestors, with special emphasis on the Wars of the Roses, should click here.

Sources:

Darren McGettigan, Red Hugh O’Donnell and the Nine Years’ War, Dublin, 2005

‘The Last Will of Red Hugh O’Donnell’, Ó Domhnaill Abú (O’Donnell Clan Newsletter), No. 16, Summer 1991

Blood of the Clans

Neil Oliver has been back on our screens, BBC1 Scotland at least, with another short series. Following on from his 2018 Rise of the Clans, which detailed tribal influence over events such as the ascent of Robert I and subsequently the Stewarts to Mary’s troublesome reign and deposition, Blood of the Clans deals with Scottish events after the Union of the Crowns as the Grahams of Montrose and Campbells of Argyll clash during the War of the Three Kingdoms, the MacGregors become involved in the first Jacobite Rebellion and the MacDonalds, with others, participate in the second, which is initially far more successful. Scottish society, chieftains and the clans themselves evolved during the century in question.

As usual, Oliver is present at reconstructed events as all three episodes conclude with at least one execution. The loyalty of the other clans to the Stuarts, having enthroned their ancestors is severely tested and some are internally divided. Oddly, the dramatic events of 1688-92 were omitted but perhaps this series was advance planned for just three episodes.

Richard III and the dirty Tudors….?

 

“…8…Richard III and dirty Tudors
“…Rotting vegetation, dung heaps and overflowing cesspits were just some of the unpleasant daily realities faced by ordinary people in 16th-century England. Here, Pamela Hartshorne discusses the challenges Tudors faced when trying to keep their cities clean and hygienic. Also in this episode, Chris Skidmore tells us how his research presents a different picture of the controversial 15th-century king Richard III.
..”

Well, if the quoted passage above is of interest to any of you and you fancy seeing the other eight in the list, go to this History Extra article

 

The blond Richard again….!

Illustration assembled by viscountessw

There are some interesting reconstructions here..apart from the blond Richard, which (try as I will) I just cannot accept. If he’d been blond (especially THAT blond!) it would surely have shown on his portraits. Or comment would have been made. His hair was medium-brown to dark, maybe a shade of chestnut…just NOT blond!

It seems the genetic results show that he was probably blond as a child, but darkened as he grew older. Well, I can go along with that because the same applied to me. My hair was like a cornfield when I was small, then went a darkish nondescript shade of mouse. Now, in my dotage, it’s gone almost white again! In fact, I’m the natural colour now that I once paid hairdressers fortunes to achieve. No justice!

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