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History and cultural history (III)

We have already shown how Shakespeare was inadvertently influenced by contemporary or earlier events in setting details – names, events, badges or physical resemblance – for his Hamlet, King Lear and Richard III. What of Romeo and Juliet, thought to have been written between 1591-5 and first published, in quarto form, in 1597?
The most notable point is that Romeo’s family name is Montague. The barony of Montagu was a courtesy title of the Earldoms of Salisbury and Warwick and Henry Pole, the last holder, was executed in 1538-9, as we have shown. His grandson, Henry Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon and a prominent figure for two thirds of Elizabeth I’s reign, died in 1595. Is that why Shakespeare chose a particular surname for the male lead character that doesn’t sound very Italian?

The demolition of the medieval Bow Bridge, Leicester, that Richard would have crossed….

Medieval Bow Bridge, probably the year before demolition
Taken from https://storyofleicester.info/a-place-to-live/bow-bridge/

The old myth about Richard striking his heel against Bow Bridge on his way to Bosworth, and then his head on the same place when being carried ignominiously back to Leicester after the battle, is very well known indeed. As is the supposed prediction of this sequence of events by an old woman in the crowd watching the king’s departure.

I have always wondered how Richard would have struck his heel/spur in such a way, but now I’ve read the following:-

“….Bow Bridge was built of stone with five semi-circular arches, piers with cut-waters, and niches at intervals along both sides in which pedestrians could stand to allow vehicles to pass – this was because the bridge was 21m long but only 1.8m wide, leaving enough space for only a single waggon to cross at once….” See here.

1.8 metres is a little over 5′, so I guess the swaying gait of a horse would achieve the supposed incident. I should have guess earlier, of course, since those pedestrian passing places were rather necessary if one wished to cross without being crushed.

https://www.britainexpress.com/counties/leicestershire/leicester/bow-bridge.htm

from https://storyofleicester.info/a-place-to-live/bow-bridge/

The old bridge was repaired in 1666, and again in 1784 when it was widened with brickwork, but it was eventually pulled down and replaced two years later with the present bridge.

According to the Richard III Society’s Leicestershire branch , demolition of the original bridge commenced on 7th January 1861. The present Bow Bridge, built in 1863, was designed by the city as a memorial to Richard III.

In this article , I read: “Its decorative ironwork bears the town’s coat-of-arms (a white cinquefoil on a red shield) interspersed with roses and the coats-of-arms of Richard III and Henry VIII.” I’m not sure about Henry VIII – what did he have to do with it? I imagine it is more likely supposed to be Henry VII.

from https://www.britainexpress.com/counties/leicestershire/leicester/bow-bridge.htm

The above links give much more information about the bridge, as does this one.

Epiphany – medieval and now….

The Adoration of the Magi
Tapestry executed by William Morris, after Sir Edward Burne-Jones

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the following two definitions refer to the use of the word epiphany:-

  • The manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi (Matthew 2:1–12). Definition (1)
  • A moment of sudden and great revelation/realisation. Definition (2)

Epiphany has been a recognised feast of the Western Church since the 5th century, but these days we generally associate the Magi/ Three Wise Men with our modern Christmas Eve/Day. They appear on our Christmas cards. Yet there are—and always were—Twelve Days of Christmas, with Twelfth Night marked as Epiphany Eve or sometimes Epiphany itself, depending upon which precise moment you begin to calculate the commencement of the season. For an explanation, this is a good place to start.

Souvenir of Shakespeare’s “King Richard II.” Produced by Mr Tree at His Majesty’s Theatre September 10th, 1903. By Charles Buchel (Karl August Büchel) National Portrait Gallery.

If ever there was a King of England who revered Epiphany (1), and all that went with it, that king was Richard II, who reigned 1377-1399. He was still a small boy, but when the Yule logs were brought in for the first Christmas of his reign, they must have been kindled with hope and excitement that he would bring healthy, wealth, happiness and prosperity to his new realm. If this was indeed the hope, there would eventually be some very unhappy people, because he was plagued by rebellions and resentful lords. And his habit of turning to a coterie of close friends, twinned with his own questionable decision-making, did not really create the best circumstances. But, initially, there was hope, and those first Yule logs of 1377 will have burned brightly. The flames would have danced and roared.

That fanciful thought aside, it is my opinion that in June 1381, when as a boy of only fourteen Richard faced a thousands-strong army of peasants at Smithfield, he underwent an epiphany (2). He rode out at the head of his retinue to face a ragtaggle peasant army led, among others, by Wat Tyler. We all know the famous scene. Tyler was cut down in front of everyone by Sir William Walworth, Mayor of London, and out of nowhere the moment became electrifyingly dangerous. Pitched battle was on the very lip of breaking out, but then Richard rode his horse forward calmly and promised to do all he could to grant the peasants’ their demands (which we today think were more than justified).  It worked and the peasant army broke up to return to their homes.

Richard later went back on his word (something he was prone to do throughout his reign) but at that precise moment he’d displayed astonishing courage, and split-second decision-making. No one else in his entourage had done anything but freeze. Many things about the adult Richard II were to be criticized, but never again would his courage be questioned. Did he have an epiphany, as described in (2) above?

From Richard’s portrait in Westminster Abbey – believed to be the first true likeness of a King of England.

Certainly he was always to honour Epiphany above all other Church festivals. To begin with, he was born on that day in 1367. Another King of England who was buried on that day in 1066 was to become Richard’s favourite and most cherished saint. That king was St Edward the Confessor, whose feast day is 6th January/Epiphany, and whose great tomb in Westminster Abbey can still be seen. It’s now a shadow of its former glory because all the jewels and other decorations that once adorned it have been gradually stolen over the centuries by all forms of souvenir-seeker. But it must once have been a glorious sight, as was St Thomas à Becket’s tomb in Canterbury, which has been similarly denuded.

The Confessor’s Shrine, Westminster Abbey – source of illustration unknown.

The Confessor had been England’s national saint until 1350, when he was supplanted by St George, and on Epiphany every year, Richard II went to worship there, usually leaving a costly gift. Such occasions must have been very impressive and colourful. Richard also had a separate little chapel built nearby, where he would worship. It is still called the Chapel of Our Lady of the Pew, and contains a niche in the wall where it is said the wonderful Wilton Diptych was placed for Richard’s prayers.

The Wilton Diptych

The diptych shows Richard as a child king, with St John the Baptist, St Edward the Confessor and St Edmund standing behind him as he kneels before the Virgin and Child. At the entrance of the chapel are two carved headstops of angels, one holding Richard’s royal arms, the other those of the Confesser. (Pingback https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/2017/07/15/the-little-chapel-in-westminster-abbey-beloved-of-richard-ii/)

The one on the left, with the royal arms, has always looked very like Richard himself to me. Source of photographs not known.

According to  https://www.britainexpress.com/History/medieval/christmas.htm , another link between Richard II and Epiphany occurred on Twelfth Night, 1392. The citizens of London, who were not on good terms with him at the time, attempted to bury the hatchet by bestowing upon the king and queen “a one-humped camel and a pelican, novelties for the royal menagerie at the Tower of London”. Another source adds that there was a boy on the dromedary.

Richard and his much loved queen Anne of Bohemia would eventually be laid to rest together close to the Confessor. In the latter part of his reign, Richard had even had his own coat-of-arms impaled with the supposed arms of the Confessor, so there is no doubt at all that Richard II truly esteemed Epiphany and the Confessor, with whom he felt a close connection.

To the less religiously minded people of today, Epiphany is Twelfth Night, a time to party and take the Christmas decorations down – if they haven’t been removed already! The more devout will still associate it with the Magi and the Confessor.

Of course, the calendar has changed from Julian to Gregorian, and dates have moved with it. Old Twelfth Night was celebrated on 17th January. Many wassail traditions, such as the wassail cup and wassailing the cider apple trees, are associated with Twelfth Night. The Yule Log, so bright with flames in the image above, needs to burn from Christmas Eve until Twelfth Night. Charcoal from it was kept to kindle the following year’s log, and also to protect the house from thunder and lightning. There were also many delicious foods that were associated with that night, including a special cake.

Mary Berry’s Twelfth Night Cake from https://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/twelfth_night_cake_53367

In many places across the land older customs have been resumed in recent years. I don’t know when in the past they began to wassail the cider apple trees, in the hope of ensuring a supply of cider for the next harvest. Does it go back to the medieval period? Yes, according to this article

“….There are two distinct variations of wassailing. One involves groups of merrymakers going from one house to another, wassail bowl in hand, singing traditional songs and generally spreading fun and good wishes. The other form of wassailing is generally practiced in the countryside, particularly in fruit growing regions, where it is the trees that are blessed….”

“….The practice of house-wassailing continued in England throughout the Middle Ages, adapting as a way by which the feudal lord of the manor could demonstrate charitable seasonal goodwill to those who served him, by gifting money and food in exchange for the wassailers blessing and songs….”

Wassailing the Cider Apple Trees, from https://chawtonhouse.org/whats-on/evening-orchard-wassail-2/

Singing from house-to-house eventually became the carol-singing of today, but at the end of the season, not the beginning. As happens now with the Three Wise Men, who appear of Christmas cards, but are actually associated with Epiphany.

Now, to go back to the very beginning of this article, and the epiphany (2) that I feel certain happened to the young Richard II in June 1381. Until that day in Smithfield he had been confined and controlled by his uncles and government, but when Tyler was cut down in front of everyone and things turned very nasty indeed, Richard stepped into the breach by calmly taking charge.

From where did that sudden steely resolve come? He hadn’t displayed any such thing before, but….did he think of Epiphany? His day? When the Magi took gifts to the Christ Child? Did he suddenly see himself as a Christ Child too? Born to reign over all? Did he begin to understand that it was his God-given right by blood to cast aside the oppressive rule of his uncles and their government? Might such a heartstopping moment of insight been the reason for the Wilton Diptych, which shows him as a boy (when he was adult by then) anointed and royal, reaching out to accept something from the Christ Child. The reins of his kingdom, perhaps? Was this his epiphany (2)? Albeit in June.

Afterwards, in quiet moments, did he sit alone and pensive, considering who he was and how he should face the future?

It was to be another eight years before he was finally able to strike free of those who sought to keep him under their control, but I believe his first realisation of his true destiny was born that day in Smithfield.

from an unknown painting from the Jerusalem Chamber, Westminster: illustrator unknown: the engraver is S.Sly

Epiphany had one more vital role to play in Richard’s life, and that was in 1400, just after his cousin, Henry of Lancaster, had usurped the throne and consigned Richard to captivity in Pontefract. Epiphany was the date chosen by Richard’s desperate supporters to fight against the new regime and restore him to his throne.

Richard II’s Funeral Procession, from https://picryl.com/media/funeral-of-richard-ii-from-bl-royal-18-e-ii-f-416v-33b74d British Library.

Known as the Epiphany Rising, this revolt was doomed to defeat because of treachery within its ranks. And the eventual result was Richard’s probable murder at Pontefract, to prevent any more attempts to restore him. At least he didn’t die on Epiphany as well, but he was laid to rest on the 6th…of March, 1400.

His Twelfth Night was at an end. The bright Yule log had finally run its course, flickered and faded.

The Earl of Pembroke’s missing feet….!

Oh, I do love typos. This one is from Wikipedia :-

“…Pembroke though, was much delayed; although he was in Plymouth by May, his feet could not be available until June…”

What a wonderful image this conjures! 

Did Richard III wear the Black Prince’s Ruby at Bosworth….?

Imperial State Crown, with the Black Prince’s Ruby at the front
from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Prince%27s_Ruby

“….It is said that Henry V wore it [the Black Prince’s Ruby] in his jewel-encrusted helmet at the battle of Agincourt, and Richard III did also at the battle of Bosworth….”

I found the above sentence in a post on the British Medieval History Facebook group. How very intriguing. It’s something I had never heard before. Did Richard really wear the priceless but cursed gem at Bosworth? If so, was he (as one friend has suggested) emulating Henry V? Or even the Black Prince himself?

The ruby is actually “a magnificent 170-carat red spinel, the largest uncut spinel in the world. This particular precious stone, known as ‘the Great Imposter’, has a traceable history dating back seven centuries and is rumoured to be cursed, as its consecutive royal owners have been dogged by adversity, misfortune, tragedy or just downright bad luck.

I learn every day, because not only had I never heard the Richard-at-Bosworth story, but I didn’t know the stone was also called the Great Imposter!

One thing is certain; the ruby certainly doesn’t always mean good luck for its owner, as can be seen at here, which provides a potted history of the ruby’s progress through the centuries. Thankfully, our present queen seems to be bearing up remarkably well in spite of the supposed curse.

It didn’t bring good fortune to the Black Prince, who suffered a truly miserable demise, as did Richard II. The usurper Henry IV didn’t enjoy good health or a happy, trouble-free reign. Henry V was doing brilliantly, until his health was destroyed at an early age. Henry VI…well, he was just the wrong man in the wrong place, and not at all suited to be king. Edward IV was also doing brilliantly, until he took the eye off the ball and allowed himself to go to seed, so to speak. He died young.

Then there is poor Richard, for whom true happiness was always to be elusive. He tried hard to do the right thing, but it’s like being a present-day driver. You can do everything by the book…it’s just the other idiots on the road! Can the ruby be blamed for the deaths of Queen Anne Neville and Richard’s only legitimate son? And for the betrayal and defeat he suffered at Bosworth?

Graham Turner – my favourite image of Richard at Bosworth.
Is it possible that the jewel at the front of his helm is the famous ruby?
from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leicestershire-23106651

And if the fatal gem then proceeded to Henry VII, it didn’t bring him a contented life either. Success as a king, maybe, but he was beset by foes and pretenders to his stolen throne, and I think personal happiness eluded him, especially after the death of his queen, Elizabeth of York. He died in his bed, but it was a miserable death.

The interest of this blog ends with Henry VII – well, it does for me. But the Black Prince’s Ruby has certainly brought mixed blessings to his successors.

Anyway, back to whether or not Richard could have worn it at Bosworth. Does anyone know of this story? Is it fact, or fiction? I hope someone can provide the answer.

Richard’s Boar in Lego

Following the success of the Easter Lego event in 2018, when the most famous portrait of King Richard III, the National Portrait Gallery one, was recreated using Lego bricks, Fairy Bricks were back in Leicester this Easter to build another Richard III-themed mosaic at the Richard III Visitor Centre. This year members of the public were able to help by building the boars which formed part of Richard’s coat of arms. The event began on Good Friday and concluded Easter Monday. There were even some LEGO cupcakes available in the White Boar Café.

Here is a link to the Visitor Centre’s Facebook page if you want to find out more about their activities

A HATPIN & A MYSTERY

Edward IV’S Hatpin?

 

A fabulous archaeological find has turned up in a Lincolnshire fields–a beautiful golden hatpin shaped like the Sun in Splendour and bearing an intact amethyst stone. An extremely high status object without a doubt and estimated at £15,000.

But whose was it?

Unfortunately the article accompanying the find is full of hilarious errors. First it states the pin was made around 1485…but  goes on to mention Edward died in 1483. So he had it made after he was dead? It  goes on to call Edward Richard III’s father instead of his brother (this appears to have now been corrected, thankfully!) and worst of all, shows a picture of Henry Tudor wearing a similar brooch but labelled the portrait as Edward. (Um, Edward was called the ‘most handsome prince in Europe. Henry? Um, well…)

So, how to unravel this mystery? Well, it’s definitely not Henry Tudor’s. He would not have worn the Sun in Splendor and if you look at his hat brooch in the mis-described painting, the centre area appears to be a red rose and the outer edges more ‘frilled.’

Edward IV WAS in Lincolnshire as the article states, quelling a rebellion in 1470. However, therein lies the problem–the brooch is supposed ‘by experts’ to be from around 1485, some 15 years later… However, dating of such objects is done stylistically, and there has to be, of necessity, a range of dates.

What is interesting, of course, is that Richard WAS also in Lincolnshire but much closer to the 1485 provisional date for the hatpin. He was at Lincoln when he received the news of Buckingham’s rebellion in October 1483 and continued through Lincolnshire to Grantham, undoubtedly at a great speed. In 1484, he was in Lincolnshire again, when stopped at Gainsborough Hall… Although Richard’s main badge was the White Boar, he also used the Sun in Splendour as a badge of the House of York, along with the White Rose.

Sadly, the actual ownership of the pin will probably never be resolved. Here is a much better article on the hatpin that covers some possibilities for ownership, including John of Lincoln and others. Possible Owners of the Hat pin

The real Edward, unlike in the article…

British (English) School; Edward IV (1442-1483)

 

Maria de Padilla

I am surprised to find the internet has several images of Maria de Padilla.

Her daughters married John of Gaunt and Edmund of Langley and she was the grandmother of Catherine of Lancaster, aka Catalina, Queen of Castile,  Edward, Duke of York, Constance of York and Richard of Conisbrough. (Richard of Conisbrough is known thus to historians but as Lord Richard of York in his lifetime, later Earl of Cambridge. But that’s a detail.)

What is really cool about Maria is that her coat of arms included frying pans. This may be unique in heraldry, it is certainly unusual. It is apparently a pun on her surname, which I presume works in Castilian. Not three lions on a shirt – four frying pans on a shield. (Or in her case, a lozenge.)

Apparently Donizetti wrote an opera about her.

The unusual coat of arms may be seen attached to her Wiki article.

 

 

A book about heraldry and livery on the medieval battlefield….

As a member of the Mortimer History Society, I have been notified that the above book has been greatly reduced in price at Oxbow Books. I’ve ordered it – including £4 postage!

The blurb for the book is as follows:
“The medieval battlefield was a place of spectacle and splendour. The fully-armed knight, bedecked in his vivid heraldic colours, mounted on his great charger, riding out beneath his brightly-painted banner, is a stock image of war and the warrior in the middle ages. Yet too often the significance of such display has been ignored or dismissed as the empty preening of a militaristic social elite. Drawing on a broad range of source material and using innovative historical approaches, this book completely re-evaluates the way that such men and their weapons were viewed, showing that martial display was a vital part of the way in which war was waged in the middle ages. It maintains that heraldry and livery served not only to advertise a warrior’s family and social ties, but also announced his presence on the battlefield and right to wage war. It also considers the physiological and psychological effect of wearing armour, both on the wearer and those facing him in combat, arguing that the need for display in battle was deeper than any medieval cultural construct and was based in the fundamental biological drives of threat and warning.”

I hope it’s as good as it seems, and will be sure to post my review.

PS: Later. To be honest, I found this book hard going. Maybe my mood wasn’t quite right. I’ve abandoned it for the time being, and will give it another go some other time.

A 17th-century ring found beside Loch Lomond…

Colman ring discovered in mud of Loch Lomond

Yes, 17th century, in spite of this headline elsewhere, it is this to which I am drawing your attention. The headline says the ring is 15th-century, which I suppose it might be, if it was 200 years old when it was lost, but examination seems to confirm that it is 250 years old, and therefore of the 17th century.

The lady who found it was the same one who discovered the gold coin on the battlefield at Bosworth, so she seems to have a magic touch.

The text of the article is as follows:

“An amateur metal detectorist found a 17th-century gold ring in Scotland, believed to have belonged to one of King Charles II’s courtiers, who was gruesomely executed after being framed for treason.

“Edward Colman, who worked for the king, was hung, drawn, and quartered {drawn, hanged and quartered} in 1678 after he was falsely accused of participating in a Catholic plot to kill Charles II. The conspiracy was fabricated by an Anglican minister, Titus Oates, now remembered as “Titus the Liar.”

“Nearly 350 years after Colman’s death, treasure hunter Michelle Vall from Blackpool unearthed the perfectly preserved signet ring from several inches of mud in Loch Lomond, where she was vacationing. The ring is emblazoned with the coat of arms of the Colman family and was most likely brought to Scotland in 1673 when Colman worked as a secretary for Mary of Modena, the wife of James II.

Loch Lomond

“According to the Daily Mailthe ring could be worth £10,000 ($11,000), and the school teacher says she did a celebratory dance when she stumbled across the valuable artefact. The provenance was identified by auctioneers Dix Noonan Webb, who researched the origins of the ring’s coat of arms.

“The ring has been designated as a treasure by the Scottish Treasure Trove and will be transferred to a museum in accordance with Scottish law governing historically significant items. Vall is expected to split an unspecified reward with the owner of the land on which she discovered the ring.

“ ‘The ring was only six inches underground,” she told the British tabloid newspaper. “Obviously at the time I didn’t know what it was, but to find gold is rare for us detectorists.’

“Vall is an experienced treasure hunter. In 2017, she found a gold coin dropped by one of King Richard III’s troops during the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, which was valued at £40,000 ($51,000).”

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