Here is a piece about a pearl and diamond pendant, formerly owned by Marie Antoinette and was sold recently in Geneva.
Anyone who heard BBC news coverage during the week of this event may well have learned two things:
1) “She ordered it before she was executed.”
Really? How do you order a pendant posthumously and where do you put it without a head?
2) “She was the last Queen of France.” – except for two others, including her own daughter (technically). There were also three Empresses up to 1870.
Having just acquired Nigel Saul’s For Honour and Fame, about chivalry in England from 1066 to 1500, one of my first actions was (as always!) to go to the pages that refer to Richard III. Well, it’s second nature to any Ricardian, I think.
So, on page 279, I read:
“. . .A generation later there was to be another, still greater, heiress who was to play a role in the preservation of specifically chivalric memory. This was Anne Neville, daughter of Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, and sister and heiress of his son Henry, duke of Warwick, who died young. Anne’s self- appointed task in the last years of her life was to cherish and protect the memory of her late father, one of the Lancastrian monarchy’s greatest captains. . .”
Um. . .eh? For a moment the penny didn’t drop, and I couldn’t fit Anne Neville with such a claim. Then I realized it was one of those banes of all writers, a monumental blooper. It was not Anne Neville who was meant, but her mother, Anne Beauchamp.
So, the mix-up of Lady Annes is an error by either Nigel Saul, or his publisher, Bodley Head. Oh, and the book then goes on to mention Richard III’s “seizure of the throne”, which did not impress this incurable Ricardian. He has two further, brief, mentions. So, if you’re looking for books that deal in any meaningful way with Richard III, give this one a miss.
Here is the front cover of the next book, about Edward IV’s chief mistress, from Britain’s busiest historian , to be published by Pen and Sword on 31 July. I wonder which surprises he will have for us this time?
We tend to have rather a negative view of Sir Richard Rich, or Baron Rich of Leez as he became in February 1547, nowadays. In this, we are somewhat influenced by Robert Bolt’s portrayal of him, as a “betrayer” of More, together with the history of Trevor-Roper. One Bolt line, memorably delivered by Paul Scofield as More, was “Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world, but Wales?”, as Rich (John Hurt) becomes Attorney-General for Wales a few (film) minutes before More is executed. More is also quoted as saying that Parliament could make Rich King if it so wished.
Rich, a lawyer, protege of Wolsey, Colchester MP, Speaker and Solicitor-General, was certainly involved in many of the events of the mid-“Tudor” period such as the prosecution of More and Fisher, accounting for Catherine of Aragon’s assets at Kimbolton Castle, supporting Cromwell in the Dissolution, quite possibly a personal hand in Anne Askew’s (unprecedented and illegal) torture, executor of Henry VIII’s will, the attempted prosecution of Bonner and Gardiner and the Seymour brothers’ fatal division. He then resurfaced under Mary I as an enthusiastic persecutor of heretics in Essex, before dying, nine years into the next reign, at Felsted where he donated money to the church and famous school in the village.
His descendants were granted the Earldom of Warwick and were heavily involved, on both sides, in the Civil War – one great-grandson, the Earl of Holland, fought for the Crown at the 1648 Battle of St. Neots and was beheaded the following March with the Duke of Hamilton (captured at Preston) and Lord Hadham (taken at Colchester).
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.
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.
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.
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 (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).
As this genealogy also shows, Champernownes married Courtenays at least once.
When 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 House 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 Chandos 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?
There is a pub in Bridgnorth, near where I live. Well, let’s be honest, there’s about a hundred. If you have ever been to Bridgnorth, aside from the Severn Valley Railway, the funicular railway from Low Town to High Town and the remains of the slighted castle, which lean at a greater angle than the Tower of Pisa, the sheer number of pubs will strike you. The one I was referring to is The Bell and Talbot on Salop Street in High Town. The hanging sign shows a dog lying beneath a bell while the one on the wall looks a bit more like a coat of arms, with two hounds rearing up either side of a bell.
The Bell and Talbot, Bridgnorth
The symbol of the Talbot Hound is easy to miss but is significant in Shropshire. Talbot dogs were small white hunting hounds, extinct now, but understood to be an ancestor of the beagle and the bloodhound. The origin of the breed, its emergence in England and the reason for the name are all lost in the mists of time, but they have an enduring connection to the most prominent Shropshire family of the last five centuries.
Henry VI is believed to have referred to John Talbot in 1449 as ‘Talbott, oure good dogge’: I’m sure he meant it as a compliment, but I wouldn’t appreciate such a label! Did the name of the hound emerge from this quip? Or was it a reference to the already-established Talbot breed, coincidentally sharing a name with Henry’s premier general in France? John Talbot became Earl of Shrewsbury and his family inextricably linked with the title and surrounding county for generations. The 1445 Shrewsbury Book, commissioned by Talbot, has an image of the earl presenting his book to Margaret of Anjou, Henry’s queen, with a little white Talbot hound standing behind him.
The Shrewsbury Book, presented by John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury
In 1569, George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury was one of the few English noblemen wealthy and trusted enough to house Mary, Queen of Scots during her period under house arrest at Elizabeth I’s instruction. Shrewsbury was a prominent Protestant and Elizabeth made him a Privy Counsellor as part of the arrangement because of ‘his approved loyalty and faithfulness, and the ancient state of blood from which he is descended’. Mary was initially held at Tutbury Castle and although Elizabeth would not meet the costs of her prisoner’s keeping, Mary’s French incomes covered her hosts expenses for a while. She was moved two months later to Wingfield Manor, a more suitable, well-kept lodging than the dilapidated Tutbury with its inadequate drains. Although he would discharge his duty diligently, Shrewsbury was censured any time he left Mary’s company for his own business and despite his wealth, he and his wife, Bess of Hardwick found themselves financially embarrassed by the cost and Elizabeth’s refusal to help meet them. Mary was eventually removed from Shrewsbury’s care before her eventual entrapment and execution at Fotheringhay Castle.
Alton Towers lies just north of Shropshire, across the border into Staffordshire, and even as a theme park, it retains a link to the Talbot family who made it their ancestral home. The buildings that lie ruined today were built by Charles Talbot, 15th Earl of Shrewsbury in the early nineteenth century. The ride Hex is contained within the ruins and tells the story of that earl’s battle with the supernatural to lift a curse placed in him and his family.
For anyone interested in the fifteenth century, John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, remembered as Old Talbot, is a towering figure sadly eclipsed by later events. He was one of the few Englishmen Joan of Arc is reputed to have known by name. His fearless, often reckless leadership made him the most successful English general in France over many years. He was probably in his mid-sixties when he was eventually killed at the Battle of Castillon in 1453. His loss was such a blow that Castillon is considered the last battle of the Hundred Years War and there is a memorial in France to him, set up where he fell in recognition of a foe worthy of respect.
The Talbot Monument at the site of the Battle of Castillon
For those with an interest more precisely focussed on Richard III and the events of 1483, the Talbot family have a vitally important role to play. Unfortunately, there is little solid fact on which to hang any opinion of the controversy of Edward IV’s marital status. Where hard, written evidence is lacking – and we should expect it to be lacking, given the systematic destruction of Titulus Regius after Bosworth – I tend to fall back on the actions of people affected by events. In their reaction, or even inaction, we can often glean an idea of what must have been going on and what people thought of it.
The Talbot family come into sharp focus because the basis of Richard’s charge that Edward IV’s children were illegitimate is a claim that Edward was a bigamist. It was alleged that prior to his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, he had already contracted a marriage to Eleanor Talbot, daughter of the 1st Earl of Shrewsbury. We have no solid evidence that this is the case, but as I said, we probably shouldn’t expect to. Look at what people in London in June 1483 did, though. They accepted the evidence we are told they were shown. We cannot examine it and for the most part, historians dismiss it as fantasy. Yet those who could read it accepted it so completely that they deposed a king and offered the crown to his uncle. Why would they do that? Fear of Richard? Hardly. He had no army in London or anywhere nearby. He was mustering a few hundred men at Pontefract, but they had not left by then and London was well versed in resisting thousands, never mind a few hundred. Fear of a minority? Maybe, but Richard had shown himself willing to act as regent for his nephew, and he was the senior royal male of the House of York, an experienced governor and successful general (within his limited opportunities). Could it be that, just maybe, the allegations looked true?
Edward IV’s reputation, deserved or otherwise, surely made it seem plausible. None would doubt that he was capable of contracting a secret marriage to a relatively unsuitable older lady. That was, after all, how he ended up married to Elizabeth Woodville. By 1483, George Talbot was 4th Earl of Shrewsbury, the first earl’s great-grandson. He was probably too young to fight at Bosworth, but definitely supported Henry VII during the Lambert Simnel Affair. The Talbot family were Lancastrian in their sympathies; after all, their patriarch had built his reputation and title on defending that House. They are often considered hostile to Richard III, probably because of his accusation against one of their number, but I’m not sure that was the case. By the time of the Lambert Simnel Affair, supporting Henry VII was the natural position for the 4th Earl. Besides, if, as I strongly suspect, the Affair was an uprising in favour of Edward V rather than Edward, Earl of Warwick, then the Talbot family perhaps opposed it because they were perfectly well aware of Edward V’s illegitimacy.
Back in 1483, the Talbot family made no move against Richard or his accusation about Eleanor Talbot and Edward IV. When Simon Stallworth wrote his newsletter to Sir William Stonor as late as 21 June 1483, the day before Dr Shaa’s sermon at St Paul’s Cross, he knew nothing of the impending bombshell. He did, however, note that Lord Lisle ‘is come to my Lorde Protectour and awates apone hym’. This is more significant that it is often deemed to be.
Lord Lisle was Edward Grey. He was not only the younger brother of Sir John Grey of Groby, the first husband of Elizabeth Woodville and therefore uncle to her two oldest sons, but he was also married to Elizabeth Talbot, a niece of Eleanor Talbot. If Richard was looking for evidence to substantiate or refute the charge he had been made aware of, Lord Lisle was a sensible person to consult. He might know whether there was any family tradition that Eleanor had married Edward and whether any evidence remained in Talbot hands.
Lord Lisle was from a Lancastrian family and Richard was about to offend the family of his wife, yet Lord Lisle remained with Richard and offered no opposition. Indeed, Lord Lisle attended Richard’s coronation, as did the Duchess of Norfolk, Elizabeth. Elizabeth had married John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk and was the mother of Anne Mowbray, the ill-fated bride of Edward IV’s younger son. She had been born Elizabeth Talbot, though, the youngest daughter of John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury and a sister of Eleanor Talbot. She was not so outraged by Richard’s accusations that she boycotted his coronation. Was this because Richard was, in actual fact, righting a wrong that the Talbot family perceived had been inflicted on one of their number by a deceitful young king?
There are many other elements to the precontract story. The timing is always cited as too convenient, but I would counter that George, Duke of Clarence seems to have been on the verge of revealing it in 1477 and it cost him his life. Who else would have been brave enough to trumpet the allegation during Edward IV’s lifetime? It would have been tantamount to signing your own death warrant. This piece of the puzzle is interesting though. We cannot be certain of the truth of the allegation of bigamy. We can, however, be entirely certain that the charge was made, that evidence was gathered (or fabricated), that what evidence existed was unanimously accepted by those able to examine it, that this evidence has subsequently been lost or destroyed and that there was no backlash from the Talbot family in 1483 (accepting that in 1485 Sir Gilbert Talbot, younger son of the 2nd Earl, joined Henry Tudor’s army).
It amazes me that such certainty in the fraud of the bigamy allegation is espoused today. There is no hard evidence for it, but there is also none against it. Expanding our consideration to more circumstantial elements, it is probable that the story nearly emerged in 1477, costing George his life, and it is certain that those who were exposed to the evidence in support of it entirely accepted it. It may have been a well-constructed lie, but it is at least as likely, if not more so, that it was true.
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.
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.