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Richard’s marriage was shrouded in mystery….?

Richard, Anne and their only son – from the Rous Roll

OK, I was reading this article with some interest, especially when Anne Neville’s name appeared, but then I was stopped in my tracks by the following:

“….Anne was the daughter of Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, and who later became Richard III’s queen. Their relationship – said to suffer after the death of their son Edward – remains shrouded in mystery….”

Um, who said the relationship began to suffer? They no longer had an heir for Richard, that’s true, but this doesn’t mean that the relationship suffered. Or that it was shrouded in mystery. Richard remained devoted to her to the end. So, bah, humbug, to the Leamington Observer!

 

Richard II witnessed the grisly execution of John Ball….

John Ball, Peasants’ Revolt, 1381

John Ball was a Lollard priest who believed people were all equal and should not be crushed by the will of “evil lords”. He was also a leader of the Peasants’ Revolt, and in St Albans on 15th July 1381 was drawn, hanged and quartered. In all, fifteen men suffered the same grisly fate that day and another eighty were imprisoned. It is a reminder of how brutal things could be in the medieval period.

However, it is also stated at this site that Ball’s horrible demise was witnessed by King Richard II. This statement, while true, should be explained a little more. In 1381, Richard II was a boy of fourteen, well and truly in the hands of his paternal uncles and the government. He was forced to observe the gory executions by the new Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, the cruel Robert Tresilian.

So do not for a moment imagine a mature Richard II gloating over the bloody deaths of those who had presumed to stand against him.

Knights Banneret

A Knight Banneret must not be confused with a Baronet – the latter title did not come into use until the 17th Century and was (and is) in effect an hereditary knighthood.

In the Middle Ages a Banneret was a senior knight, either by experience or wealth, but more likely the latter. He was marked by entitlement to a rectangular banner, as opposed to the pennons carried by lesser knights – technically “knights bachelor”. The qualifying income seems to have been £200 a year, although many were much richer. Kings who wanted to promote a knight with an inadequate income to the rank of Banneret would often give them a money grant to make up the difference.

A Banneret would have a larger retinue than an ordinary knight, and the retinue might well include lesser knights in its composition. He was also paid double the war wages of an ordinary knight.

In the 14th Century, it was common for Knights Banneret to receive an individual summons to Parliament. Where they did, it is hard to distinguish them from a parliamentary baron, who normally received an identical summons. (The first barony by letters patent was not created until 1387.)

The distinction seems to be that a Knight Banneret’s individual summons  was not usually passed to his heir. If it was, in effect, a parliamentary baronage was created. Nigel Saul (1) gives the examples of Sir Roger Beauchamp (summoned between 1363-1379), Sir Richard Stafford (1371-1379) and Sir Guy Brienne (1350-1389). These men’s heirs were not summoned. It is tempting to think of them as Life Peers, but this is anachronistic.

In the fifteenth century the distinction between gentry on the one hand and peerage on the other became much clearer. This is at least in part because all new peerages were now created by letters patent. An effect of this was to limit the inheritance of peerages to heirs male, except in the case of the earlier creations, because letters patent almost invariably excluded female inheritance.

(1) Knights and Esquires: The Gloucestershire Gentry in the Fourteenth Century, Nigel Saul. Page 8.

 

 

 

An Obscure Lady of the Garter

Recently, for the purposes of writing fiction, I had cause to check who was admitted to the Garter in 1387. (This is the sort of weird stuff I do all the time and helps explain why for me to write a book takes aeons.)

Anyway, the simple answer is Edward of York (later 2nd Duke of York) and Dame Katherine Swynford. Two very familiar names. And appointed for very obvious political purposes. To give favour to the father of one (Edmund of Langley) and the “close personal friend” of the other (John of Gaunt.) Note Katherine S was not languishing on her Lincolnshire muck-heap at this point, she was joining the most exclusive club going in the England of 1387.

But there was also someone called “Lady Gomeneys”. Who the **** was she? I had literally no idea, but being me I had to find out. And with a fair bit of scrabbling around, I did. At least to a point.

Anne, Lady Gomeneys was the widow of someone called William de Graux, who had been accused of treasonable doings with the French, but had later been pardoned. So it looks very much as if Richard II felt that this woman had been hard-done by and wanted to make amends, not least by giving her the Garter! So this obscure widow got to sit with a carefully-chosen bunch of Plantagenets, high-born ladies, and widows and wives of distinguished English soldiers. She certainly had no discernable political heft, and this is at a point where Richard needed everyone he could bribe. It is notable, for example, that Henry Bolingbroke’s wife did not get her Garter until the following year, when everything was very different politically.

On 13 November 1389 Anne Gomeneys was granted an annuity of 100 Marks, apparently as a further recognition of her innocence.

The surprising thing is that in 1409 Henry IV (who was not generous with these honours) granted Anne Gomeneys Garter robes again.

I would love to know more, but I suspect it would take a lot more searching than I can do from this desk.

(Reposted from The Yorkist Age.)

 

 

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….”

The Mortimer Succession.

It used to be suggested that Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, was nominated as Richard II’s successor in the Parliament of 1385, but this was questioned by historians due to lack of supporting evidence.

It appears that March was in fact so nominated in the Parliament of 1386. (Source – (Ian Mortimer, ‘Richard II and the Succession to the Crown’, History, vol. 91 (2006), pp. 320–36.) This explains why the Westminster Chronicle (written in the 1390s) is quite clear that March, not Lancaster, was heir.

The Parliament of 1386 – the Wonderful Parliament – busied itself by being extremely critical of Richard’s government. It impeached the Chancellor (the Earl of Suffolk) and caused the removal from office of the Treasurer. It also set up a Commission which pretty much took over the government for 12 months. So in other words “the opposition” was in charge. This may explain why the Mortimers were not elevated in any way, because Richard II may not have approved of the nomination. Of course only he, personally, could give promotion within the peerage or in terms of precedence. There is no suggestion that March ever took precedence of the dukes of Lancaster, York and Gloucester. Indeed, from what I can make out he had only the precedence due to him as Earl of March and nothing more.

Late in Richard’s reign March fell from favour – just before he, March, died. Ian Mortimer has stated that he believes Richard intended Edmund of Langley to succeed him at this point, and this seems likely given the alternatives.

It is worth noting that no “rules” governing the succession were in place at this time, and in the absence of a direct heir it was not absolutely clear who had the right to determine the succession. The King? Parliament? However the very fact that the 1386 Parliament felt competent to make this determination suggests strongly that even this early in history the role of Parliament was decisive. Had Richard reigned longer, would he have produced a succession statute, or Letters Patent to determine the matter? Sadly, we can only speculate.

 

 

 

Confusion in Cairo: Sean Cunningham and the “Princes”

Not content with accusing Richard III of the death of nearly every notable in 15th century England, it seems of late there has been more ‘confusion in Cairo’ as the the traditionalists attempt to drag in Richard’s friends and relatives in order to back up their position. Recently, the loyal John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, and even Richard’s mother, Cecily Neville the Duchess of York have been thrust into the fray. Heavens, there was even a  recent ‘history magazine’ feature on ‘the Princes’ with interior artwork of not only a shifty, lank-tressed Richard, but a scowling, gimlet-eyed John Howard with a villainous moustache just ripe to be twirled!

This article put Howard forward as a potential suspect in the ‘murder’ of the Princes. It is interesting that he was never considered a ‘suspect’ in any of the early accounts but he seems to have become one in the last few years. According to some, it is ‘proof’ that the ‘Princes’ were dead when John Howard was made Duke of Norfolk in 1483, since the title was held by the younger Prince through his marriage to the late Anne Mowbray. This seems a case of ‘two plus two equals five’.  Young Richard of Shrewsbury had his titles forfeited due to being declared illegitimate; therefore, it is hardly unexpected that John Howard, who had unfairly lost his rightful inheritance due to Edward IV tinkering with the law to benefit himself, would be rewarded  by Richard for his support by receiving  the Dukedom back. That this happened in 1483 does not in any way ‘prove’ that Richard of Shrewsbury was already deceased; simply he was no longer eligible to hold the title.

Then there’s been much ado about Cecily Neville, Richard’s mother, perhaps because  in modern times there has been attempts to emphasise—and sometimes over-emphasise—the behind-the-scenes roles of medieval women. She was undoubtedly a powerful and sometimes outspoken woman, but that does not make her some kind of ‘Lady MacBeth.’ Apparently, we are told, she supported George for King in 1469 because her eldest son was indeed a bastard and not fit to hold the throne. Again, this makes little sense. If there was any truth in the rumours about Edward’s parentage, why was his kingship suddenly a problem in 1469 and not when he first became King in 1461? Yes, Cecily supposedly  cried out that he was no true son and she would publicly swear to it, when she found out about his ill-thought out “marriage” to Elizabeth Woodville…but if she truly  declared such a thing, she never mentioned it in public again and  (according to traditionalist accounts) was most ‘put out’ by the rumours of  Edward’s illegitimacy being resurrected around the time Richard became King. Like so many denialist accounts, the stories conflict—she’s hardly likely to have admitted an adulterous sin then act as if she was shocked and affronted that it was repeated. So only one of the above scenarios can be true (or neither of them.)  My personal belief is she did lash out verbally at Edward during an angry confrontation over his marriage, and futilely tried to hold him in check with what turned out to be an idle threat.)

Following on from this series of contradictions, Cecily has also recently been made out as some sort of ‘Kingmaker’ in regards to her youngest son, ruthlessly forgetting her grandchildren (but think of the chhilldreenn, Cecily!) in order to support Richard’s claim (this is assumed mainly, I presume, because she allowed his use of Baynard castle during his bid for the crown)  but in the very next instance,  we have others claiming she  showed her disapproval of his kingship by not attending Richard’s Coronation. (Although the latter may be another falsehood—Cecily may well have been there. As the late John Ashdown-Hill wrote in his book on the Duchess, the assumption of her absence comes from the fact there is no record of her having received fabric for her robes—Well, there is also no record of Richard and Anne receiving any fabric either, as  their clothes would have been supplied by the Great Wardrobe. Cecily’s garments could quite possibly have come straight from the Great Wardrobe too, since she was the King’s Mother.)

Now, there is certainly nothing wrong with debating either John Howard or Dame Cecily’s involvement in the events of 1483. But let’s not end up with either rumour or theory being presented as fact (we have enough of that already!),  such as some of the elements in this article on Cecily Neville, which is on the National Archives page:

Cecily Neville National Archives

And since I mentioned amusingly bad magazine art that isn’t even the little tiniest bit biased (cough), here you  go:

Busting yet another Cairo myth

Bishop Robert Stillington was imprisoned soon after Bosworth and died in captivity in 1491, definitely by 15 May. It is generally thought that this was a punishment for providing the copious evidence that convinced the Three Estates, in June 1483, of Edward IV’s bigamy. This rendered Elizabeth of York and all her siblings legally illegitimate, which was highly inconvenient for Henry “Tudor”, who sought to marry her. Stillington’s arrest and Catesby‘s summary execution fall into the first four days of Henry VII’s actual reign and the first five of the reign he claimed.

There has been an alternative view, based on the writings of Edward Hall, compiled after More but before Shakespeare. In 1475-6, just after the planned invasion of France was cancelled, an embassy was sent to Francis, Duke of Brittany, seeking to capture “Tudor”. Both Vergil and Hall comment that “the Bishop of Bath and Wells” was part of the party in question. Several Cairo dwellers rely on that interpretation, identifying Stillington as the man in question.

Oliver King the snooker player. For some reason, we couldn’t find a photo of the Bishop.

In 1475-6, Robert Stillington was indeed Bishop of Bath and Wells but there are several convincing reasons to conclude that he wasn’t the man in question. By the time Polydore Vergil put quill to paper, Oliver King (1495-1503) occupied that see and Hall “redialled” to King’s predecessor but one for convenience. King was among those arrested but released at the time of Hastings’ plot.

Secondly, Stillington was not a well man by the time Edward IV’s second reign began, taking leave of absence as Lord Privy Seal and Lord Chancellor at least twice, and the Foedera evidence shows that he was never actually sent abroad. In the ODNB, based on the Yorkshireman’s early academic career, Hicks concludes that he was born by 1410 and ordained at a comparatively late age, living into his eighties. Based on this revelation, it is possible that his own children were actually legitimate and that their mother died before he took holy orders in c.1447.

Now think about the implications of this. Canon Stillington, who almost certainly witnessed Edward IV’s real marriage, was more than thirty years older than his monarch. Ralph Butler, Lord Sudeley, a probable witness born in about 1394, was nearly fifty years older than Edward, imprisoned from 1469-73 when he died, and Lady Eleanor herself was over six years older. In other words, Edward IV need only to have lived to 49 to ensure that all those with first-hand knowledge were dead, so the ceremony would have been deniable. He didn’t, of course, thereby ending Yorkist rule.

h/t Marie Barnfield

Plantagenet Ireland and Poynings’ Law

It is fair to say that most medieval English kings had little interest in Ireland except as a source of revenue. (The same was probably true about England and Wales but it seems too cynical to say it, and at least they did live there.)

Prior to the Bruce invasion, Ireland yielded between £5000 and £20,000 a year to the Exchequer. Even the lower figure was a useful sum in medieval terms, bearing in mind that the “qualification” for an earldom at this point was about £666. So in a bad year, Ireland gave the king the equivalent of more than seven earldoms, after expenses.

By the 1350s the net revenue was down to between £1,000 and £2,000, while by the start of Richard II’s reign Ireland was running a deficit. Given the general state of the Exchequer this was a Very Bad Thing and Something Had To Be Done. (1)

Of course, simply pulling out of Ireland and making a saving was unthinkable. Instead various half-hearted measures were tried, and various people lined up to take the place in hand, ranging from Robert de Vere (created Duke of Ireland!) to Thomas, Duke of Gloucester, the King’s uncle. The matter was evidently seen as (relatively) a low priority, and in view of the state of England at this time, this is quite understandable.

Eventually, in 1394, Richard II himself, personally, set out for the Emerald Isle with a well-equipped army 7000-8000 men. By the standards of English military expeditions in Ireland it was extraordinarily successful and well-executed. Not that Richard II gets much credit for it. By January 1395 the various Irish chiefs had begun to submit to Richard and by early Spring the capitulation was complete.

Richard, writing to his Council in England, stated that rebellion arose from past failures of government and that unless mercy was shown his opponent would ally with the “wild Irish”. He therefore proposed to take them under his protection until their offences had been purged or excused. (2)

This conciliatory policy towards the Irish speaks strongly in Richard’s favour. He intended that from now on there should be “liege Irish” as well as “liege English” and he tried to settle some of the many grievances (mainly about land) between the two groups. Of course this was a major task, and probably could never have been completed to everyone’s satisfaction even if Richard had remained in Ireland for ten years. However, it was a settlement of sort.

Unfortunately Richard was forced to cut his visit short due to issues in England, leaving the young Earl of March behind as Lieutenant. March was of course also Earl of Ulster, and in that capacity had land issues of his own., particularly with the O’Neill family. By 1396 March was leading major raids into O’Neill territory, and the short period of peace was under extreme strain. By 1397 Leinster was also in a state very close to war.

In 1398, not long after extending March’s term of office, Richard II decided to replace him with the Duke of Surrey, Thomas Holland. Surrey, Richard’s nephew of the half-blood, was another young and inexperienced man, with the added disadvantage that he had no hereditary lands in Ireland at all. He required, therefore, heavy subsidy from the Exchequer. Before the change could be completed, March had been killed in the fighting, as was his son in 1425.

King Richard now decided on a second personal visit to Ireland. This was a strange decision, given that he had just annexed the lands of Bolingbroke and Mowbray, and that Bolingbroke was in France, poised to invade England. However, we have the benefit of hindsight. Richard had no reason to suspect that the French, his supposed allies, would allow any such thing – and but for a temporary shift in power at the French court, they would not have done.

Richard’s second visit to Ireland was less successful. In a parley between Thomas Despenser, Earl of Gloucester and Art Macmurrough – who styled himself King of Leinster – the latter made it clear he was unwilling to submit. Before much more could be done Richard was forced to leave Ireland to confront Bolingbroke, and Ireland was once again left more or less to its own devices.

It is remarkable that any remnant of English lordship survived Henry IV’s reign, given the state of Henry’s Exchequer and the low priority given to Ireland by a king who was fighting on several fronts, including internal battles against his opponents. But the fact is that somehow, it did. Indeed Irish-based ships co-operated with Henry in the re-conquest of Anglesey.

Henry V and Henry VI were also unable (or unwilling) to give great priority to Ireland. Ralph A. Griffiths states “The isolated administration entrenched in Dublin and its ‘pale’ was more often than not subject to the rough dictates of Anglo-Irish magnates like Desmond and Ormond, and for some time past it had been assailed by a Celtic resurgence among the native Irish themselves that was cultural and social as well as military in character.” (3)

The attitude of the Anglo-Irish peers was to remain key, because unless and until the English government was willing and able to finance significant military intervention in Ireland, their power made them the most effective players on the island. Of course, the rivalries between them meant that the Crown was often able to play one family off against another.

In 1437 the author of The Libelle of Englysche Polycye expressed concern about the state of royal government in Ireland, suggesting the country could become a base for French, Scottish and even Spanish enemies, with whom hostile elements in Ireland could form an alliance. This fear of encirclement explains much of English/British policy towards Ireland over the next several hundred years, although in the short term very little was done about it, not least because England simply did not have the resources. (Such resources as were available were being thoroughly over-stretched in France.)

By this time the Irish revenues were failing to maintain the cost of government there, and even its most senior officers struggled to obtain their salaries. In 1441 it was reported that the charges of the Justiciar of Ireland and his underlings exceeded revenue by £1,456. (4)

In December 1447, Richard, Duke of York took on the role of Lieutenant of Ireland, with a salary of 4000 marks for the first year and £2000 in each of the following years of a supposed ten year appointment. York, who was very much at odds with Suffolk and Somerset at home, was effectively ‘promoted’ to a backwater. Those responsible doubtless thought that it would keep him quiet (and busy) for a long time. He was, of course, Earl of Ulster, and therefore had very significant landed interest in the country.

Not until summer 1449 did York actually set out – from Beaumaris. Even then he did so only because the King pressed him to go. He was received ‘ with great honour, and the earls of Ireland went into his house, as did also the Irish adjacent to Meath, and gave him as many beeves for the use of his kitchen as it pleased him to demand.’ (5)

That Richard, Duke of York, was a successful Lieutenant of Ireland is in some ways surprising. He was an aristocrat to his finger tips, and not generally noted for his people skills. If he had strengths they lay in his relative honesty and relative efficiency as an administrator and soldier. York failed miserably to unite the English nobility behind him, and yet he seems to have been well-regarded in Ireland. (In contrast to John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, who was positively hated in the same role.)

York quickly summoned a great council at Dublin which ensured the protection of certain hard-pressed castles and towns and also sought to address some of the more extravagant abuses of the Irish government.

His problem was that the money he had been promised largely failed to appear. He received less than half of what he should have in the first two years, and that was in tallies. After December 1449 he received nothing at all. (6)

This helps explain why York eventually threw in his hand and returned to England.

However, after the debacle at Ludford Bridge, York was sufficiently confident of his welcome to return to Ireland (with his second son, Rutland) and was able to use it as a secure base to plot the overthrow of Henry VI’s government.

York encouraged or allowed the Irish Parliament to pass legislation which left the country almost, but not quite independent, Henry VI’s sovereignty being reduced to little more than a cipher. It was even declared that the introduction of English Privy Seal Letters into Ireland was a breach of the country’s liberties. In return the Parliament voted York men and money, and rejected Henry VI’s attempts to remove York from office. The duke was not quite King of Ireland, but he was something very close.

Thereafter Ireland became strongly Yorkist – even into early “Tudor” times. It may be that York’s almost accidental policy of granting autonomy was the answer to the Question. In May 1487, a young boy was crowned at Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral (right) as “Edward VI”. He may actually have been the ill-fated Earl of Warwick by that name but is traditionally named as “Lambert Simnel”, who was taken to work in Henry VII’s kitchen after the battle of Stoke Bridge ended his insurrection the following month. In his identification of the boy (7), Ashdown-Hill uses historical, numismatic and physical evidence cogently, as ever, eliminating the other possibilities.

As a result of “Lambert”‘s coronation, Henry VII’s regime decided to control Ireland more closely. The “Statute of Drogheda” (left) (“An Act that no Parliament be holden in this Land until the Acts be certified into England”) was passed in early or mid-1494 and is described as 10 Hen.7 c4 or 10 Hen.7 c9. It is also known by the name of the newly appointed Lord Deputy at the time: Sir Edward Poynings (1459-1521) and specified that no Irish Parliament could meet until its proposed legislation had been approved by the Lord Deputy, his Privy Council, the English monarch and his Parliament. Ireland was thus legislatively subjugated and its status changed again under the “Crown in Ireland Act” in 1542, becoming a kingdom (“An Act that the King of England, his Heirs and Successors, be Kings of Ireland”) under the same monarch as England, in place of a lordship. Curiously, this was in the same year that Wales was subsumed by the Kingdom of England (Laws in Wales Acts). As the sands of the “Tudor” era ran out, the Earl of Essex was sent to suppress another Ulster rebellion but ignored his orders and returned home to aim for the crown. James VI/I’s subsequent plantations filled the power vacuum left by the O’Neills.

Consequently, the “English Civil War” is also known as the “War of the Three Kingdoms”, each of which had a different religious settlement as Charles I’s reign began. Similarly, legend has it that George I expressed to plant St. James’ Park with turnips and asked an aide the price: “Only three crowns, Sire”. Poynings’ Law is still in force in Northern Ireland, whilst it was fully repealed in the Republic as late as 2007.

Notes

(1) All figures are from Richard II, Nigel Saul, page 273

(2) For more detail see Saul, p 281.

(3) The Reign of King Henry VI, Ralph A. Griffiths page 411.

(4) The Reign of King Henry VI, Ralph A. Griffiths page 412.

(5) Irish chronicle quoted in The Reign of King Henry VI, Ralph A. Griffiths page 421.

(6) The Reign of King Henry VI, Ralph A. Griffiths page 421.

(7) The Dublin King, John Ashdown-Hill particularly chapters 1-5.

Medieval monks often lacked all trace of holiness….

It is a fact that the medieval Church was ruthless in its acts and ambitions. We all know of particular popes, cardinals and archbishops who would stop at nothing to achieve their own personal and political ends, but it came as a surprise to me to discover just how brutal the Church could be on a purely local level.

Bury St Edmunds Abbey Church

Here are two anecdotes about the ‘holiness’ of medieval monks. Firstly, the Benedictines:-

“….On Sunday, 18th October, 1327, the monks of the abbey of Bury St Edmunds ended their prayers, filed out through the abbey’s crenelated gate and proceeded to the parish church, which was full of men, women and children. The monks then threw off their habits—revealing that some of them wore armour under their robes—and burst into the church. They seized a number of citizens by force and dragged them back to the abbey as prisoners….

“….Sometime later the townsfolk assembled at the abbey to demand the prisoners’ release. The monks replied with a hail of missiles, killing a large number of people. Later in the day the town bells summoned a larger party of armed men including aldermen, burgesses, a parson and 28 chaplains, who all took a solemn oath to live or die together. They then set fire to the gates and stormed the abbey….”

Why the monks wanted prisoners is not explained

Byland Abbey, North Yorkshire

Next, the Cistercians:-

“….Walter [Map] was an itinerant justice, and he always exempted Cistercians from his oath to do justice to all men since, he said, ‘It was absurd to do justice to those who are just to none’. This was not a joke; Map’s reports of Cistercian atrocities are extraordinary. For example, he says that the monks of Byland once wanted land belonging to a knight who would not give it up to them. One night they entered his house, ‘muffled up and armed with swords and spears’, and murdered him and his family. A relative, hearing of the death, arrived three days later to find that all the buildings and enclosures had disappeared and in their place was a well-ploughed field.*”

* From Edward Coleman, ‘Nasty Habits – Satire and the Medieval Monk’, History Today, volume 43, issue 6, June 1993, pp 36-42.

These shocking incidents are hardly compatible with a devout life of worship, contemplation and doing good, and certainly cast the entire Church in a shabby light. If there is a problem at the top, there is usually a problem at the bottom as well.

I think we can largely forget the fat, jovial monk of popular belief!

 

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