Aha, so Elizabeth Woodvilewas a witch, and so was her mother, Jacquette of Luxembourg. Well, everyone knew that already, because Philippa Gregory wrote about it in great detail. So it just has to be true!
Anyway, joking aside, this History extra article is interesting for the information it gives about what the English medieval world thought about magic and so on.
When it comes to deer and the medieval period, we always think of the poor things being hunted for their venison and everything else. But it seems that they were sometimes kept in the house! Not just a casual break-in as in the image above, but actually being there all the time.
Hard to imagine having a large hart wandering around the home as if it were the mistress’s cat or master’s dog. But it did happen, and here is an amusing anecdote to prove the point:
“….We know from a letter circa 1280….that John of Maidstone paid a visit to Gregory de Rokesle, then mayor of London. With him, he brought some writs from court, which he left on a counter in Gregory’s chamber, presumably for his review, before they were dispatched to Boston and elsewhere. This routine matter was disrupted, however, when a hart (the male red deer), which was in the house, entered the chamber and devoured the writs. The mayor was forced to write to John de Kirkby, the keeper of the chancery rolls, to ask for duplicates….”
I am reminded irresistibly of the (apocryphal?) story of Henry VII’s pet monkey, which was allowed such free rein that it was loathed by courtiers. Henry, as we know, kept a little (black?) book in which he jotted down things people said or he’d heard (or his accounts, depending on where you read the tale). That book was mightily feared. Then, one blessed day, the monkey destroyed the book in a fit of pique. The court changed its opinion of him…but Henry, being Henry, merely started another book….!
This article, by the former MP Norman Baker, appeared in the Mail on Sunday. Actually, the original version was much longer and referred to Elizabeth II as a descendant of Henry VIII. This is an egregious howler, surely, because all of his actual descendants died by 1603 (or the last day of 1602/3 in the old format), although she is a collateral descendant.
Strangely enough, Mr. Baker may just have been right, albeit unwittingly. Henry VIII did have three known illegitimate children, quite apart from the two born to marriages he subsequently annulled. Excluding the trio who reigned after him, as well as Henry Fitzroy Duke of Richmond who also died without issue, leaves us with the offspring of Mary Boleyn, the relationship with whom arguably invalidated his marriage to her sister, even before it happened. Ostensibly her children by her first husband (William Carey), they are Catherine Carey and Henry, Lord Hunsdon, who had a total of about twenty children.
Just like the Poles, the Carey family became extinct in the male line but they still exist through several mixed lines. Vol. 25 no. 9 pp. 345-52 of the Genealogists’ Magazine, through Anthony Hoskins’ article, as cited to me by John Ashdown-Hill, attributes the late Queen Mother to these lines, together with such as Charles Darwin, P.G. Wodehouse, Vita Sackville-West, Sabine Baring-Gould, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Horatio Viscount Nelson, Lady Antonia Pakenham and the second Devereux Earl of Essex (below)- presumably the easiest link to prove, being the shortest by far. His mtDNA was identical to that of Elizabeth I.
Vaughan Williams and Darwin are closely related to each other, as well as to Josiah Wedgwood.
As with all mixed lines, it is impossible to establish much of this descent by either mtDNA or Y-chromosome but who knows how genetic science may develop in the future?
PS Thankyou to Peter Hammond for showing me the full article, which also names Lady Anne Somerset, J. Horace Round, William Cowper, Algernon Swinburne, “Princess Daisy of Pless” and Algernon Sidney as also being in the Carey line.
Here is an Evening Standard article about Clauvino da Silva (left), a Brazillian gang leader who tried to escape from prison disguised as his own daughter, but his “feminine walk” was unconvincing and he didn’t leave the prison. He seems to have hanged himself the following day.
Things turned out differently for William Maxwell, the 5th Earl of Nithsdale, who proclaimed James “VIII/III” at Dumfries and Jedburgh but was captured at the Battle of Preston in 1715 and sentenced to death by beheading, to be carried out on 24 February. With the help of his weeping Countess, he escaped from the Tower disguised as her equally lachrymose maid, the day before his execution had been set. Both lived on in Rome, he until 1744 and she until 1749.
In case you don’t know, there is a new book out by Thomas Penn – he of the excellent The Winter King, about Henry VII. His new book, The Brothers York, is about about the three sons of Richard, 3rd Duke of York: Edward IV, George of Clarence and Richard of Gloucester/Richard III, has been eagerly awaited. Oh, dear, not worth hanging around for if you believe Richard has always been failed by historians (most of whom insist on believing More and Shakespeare wrote the truth!) I fear Thomas Penn has joined the traditionalist ranks. What a terrible disappointment.
If you go to the Guardian you will find a detailed review of the book. It’s a review that agrees with Penn’s assessment of Richard. Here is a very brief extract: “Penn’s Richard is a serious thinker, a pious Catholic and a profoundly ambitious politician.” Well, while he was indeed a serious thinker and pious Christian, he certainly was not a profoundly ambitious politician!
Events in 1483, which are always cited as proof positive of Richard’s callous ruthfulness and overweening determination to steal the throne for himself, were in reality prompted by two very different matters.
The need to thwart the Wydevilles (who WERE profoundly ambitious politically) from taking over the new king and thus the entire realm.
The need to protect his own life and that of his son. The Wydevilles would have done away with him at the first opportunity, so he wasn’t going to roll over and let them proceed.
If this makes him a “profoundly ambitious politician” then I can’t help wondering what dictionary Penn uses.
If Edward IV had kept sensible control of the contents of his codpiece, instead of marrying bigamously and in secret, Richard would have been content to be Lord Protector and to oversee his nephew’s minority. But do the same for an illegitimate nephew? Why should he when he himself had a legitimate claim to the throne and also a son to come after him?
These historians who take the traditionalist view about Richard would, presumably, ignore their own claim to an inheritance, and the claims of their children? In a pig’s ear would they! So to blame Richard for doing what any just man would do makes them hypocrites of the highest order.
They are: Edward IV, Charles II (buried today in 1685) and William IV, all of whom had a large number of illegitimate children, but none left a legitimate heir.
Edward IV (1442-83) had twelve to fifteen children by various mistresses, including Elizabeth Wydville, but none by Lady Eleanor Talbot, his only legal wife, whose probable remains (CF2 in Norwich) show no signs of pregnancy – thus Richard III was his legitimate heir.
Those ten were purported, until 1483 to be legitimate and not all of the others were recognised during Edward’s lifetime.
Charles II (1630-85) fathered about fourteen children, of whom only James, Duke of Monmouth could possibly have been legitimate. The Duke’s mother, Lucy Walter died before Charles’ marriage to Catherine Braganza, sister of Pedro II, King of Portugal – thus James VII/II was his legitimate heir.
Catherine’s only known pregnancy ended in a miscarriage.
William IV (1765-1837) had ten illegitimate children by the Irish actress Dorothea Bland (“Mrs. Jordan”), whose descendants thrive today, as do Edward IV and Charles II’s lines – thus Victoria was his legal heir.
His marriage to Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen resulted in five children but three were stillborn, one died after a few hours and the other at three months.
Astley Castle and church..photo taken 1976. Courtesy of Will Roe, Nuneaton Memories.
Astley Castle, Warwickshire, was the marital home of Sir John and Elizabeth Grey nee Wydeville. Sir John often comes across as a shadowy figure, outshone in eminence by his wife, and later widow, who went on to catch the eye of a king. This story is of course well known and documented and I won’t go into it here but rather focus on Astley Castle itself. Astley has a long and rich history. Beginning life as a Manor House in 1266, the then owner, Warin de Bassingbourne was given a licence to crenellate and enclose with a moat. The medieval house was much added to during the 17th century but I’m sure John and Elizabeth would still have been able to recognise the old and original features.
Medieval fire place in Astley Castle..
In the 1960s the parts that had survived the centuries were in use as a hotel and perhaps the rooms used by John and Elizabeth deployed as rooms for paying guests. Alas in 1978 a disastrous fire took hold and Astley, reduced to a shell , was abandoned. Various proposals to rebuild proved to be too financially prohibitive and the ruins were declared a Scheduled Ancient Monument. However in 2005 the Landmark Trust came forward with a solution and what was left of Astley was saved by the novel idea of building and incorporating modern accommodation within the ruinous walls. Astley arose, like a Phoenix out of the flames, as they say, and today its possible to stay in what was once the marital home of the Greys.
Astley Castle. An old photo date 1900 showing the stone archway.
The same view during renovation works..
Built of local red sandstone. Although altered in the 16th century some original 12th century elements still remain incorporated in the building.
By a somewhat strange coincidence the church at Astley, St Mary the Virgin, has some interesting burials and monuments, for a Talbot lies buried there. Elizabeth Talbot later Viscountess Lisle, was a niece to Eleanor Butler nee Talbot, Elizabeth Wydeville‘s very own nemesis. This Elizabeth Talbot was to become the heiress to John Talbot, lst Viscount Lisle. John Talbot was the son of that staunch warrior, John Talbot lst Earl of Shrewsbury, Eleanor’s father and known in history as Great Talbot. Both father and son perished at the Battle of Castillion. Elizabeth Talbot, having married our John Grey’s brother, Edward, was also Elizabeth Wydeville’s sister-in-law. Elizabeth Talbot, having lived until 1487, saw the disastrous outcome of her former sister-in law, Elizabeth Wydeville’s bigamous ‘marriage’. What her thoughts on the matter were, frustratingly we will never know.
Elizabeth Talbot Viscountess Lisle. Historian John Ashdown-Hill suggests this portrait was painted in Flanders during the wedding ceremonies of Margaret of York (1). Certainly the likeness is very similar to Elizabeth’s effigy in the church. See below. Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz Gemaldegalerie, Berlin. (no.532)
The effigy of Elizabeth Talbot Viscountess Lisle now lies between those of Cecilia Bonville, Marchioness of Dorset (wife to Thomas Grey, son of John and Elizabeth Grey nee Wydeville) and her husband Edward Grey. These effigies were not originally one monument and have been unfortunately moved together at some time (2). Thanks to Caroline Irwin for photo.
Astley Church was once much larger than it is now but some of the misericords have survived as well as the above effigies.
14th century misericords …
Eleanor the Secret Queen p.8. John Ashdown-Hill
2. Memorials of the Wars of the Roses p.188. W E Hampton.
For nineteen years, as Matthew Lewis relates here, England was torn between Matilda, Henry I’s only surviving legitimate child, and Stephen of Blois, his nephew. She married Geoffrey of Anjou before their son Henry II succeeded her rival, but her position was difficult because of her gender. The concept of a “Queen Regnant” was unknown at the time and she sought the title “Lady of the English”, as used by Ethelfleda of Mercia. There was some suspicion that Geoffrey sought to assume her authority.
Here is an edition of Melvyn Bragg’s excellent In Our Time, about Matilda’s contemporary Melisande, who was Queen of Jerusalem between 1131 and 1153. She was married to Fulk of Anjou, Geoffrey’s father and thus a male line ancestor of all Plantagenets, who really did assume much of Melisande’s authority, which is why some nations had a Salic Law, precluding female monarchs and inheritance through the female line.
We Ricardians know all about the problems, if not to say mysteries, that can arise from the final resting places of famous figures from the past. It doesn’t help that in the medieval period especially a person’s remains could be moved from place to place. Edward IV had his father and brother moved from Pontefract south to Fotheringhay, and Richard III had Henry VI moved from Chertsey Abbey to St George’s Chapel, Windsor. And, of course, for centuries there was the puzzle as to whether the remains of Richard III himself were thrown contemptuously into Leicester’s River Soar, or actually buried at Greyfriars. The latter eventually and very famously proved to be the case.
Now I have happened on another “where was he buried?” mystery, this time from the end of the reign of Edward II. While researching a few details about the later-in-the-14th-century marital goings-on of the 10th/3rd Earl of Arundel, Richard Fitzalan, known as “Copped Hat”, I found myself reading about his first wife, Isabel le Despenser, whom he married on this day, 9 February, in 1321. She was the daughter of Hugh Despenser, 1st Lord Despenser, known to history as Despenser the Younger, to distinguish him from his father, who was, yes, Despenser the Elder. Both were favourites of Edward II, and came to the fore after the abduction, trial and execution of another of the king’s favourites, Piers Gaveston. All three came to nasty ends, as (probably) did Edward II himself, and there is there is a famous illustration of the hanging, drawing and quartering of the younger Despenser in Hereford, see above.
Because of her father’s attainder and shameful execution, Isabel became an inconvenience to Copped Hat. Besides which his lustful and ambitious eye had fallen upon Eleanor of Lancaster, who’d be a much more advantageous Countess of Arundel. As Copped Hat was one of the richest and most influential magnates in the England of Edward II’s son, Edward III, he didn’t have any trouble at all in gaining the Pope’s permission to annul his first marriage, thus clearing the way for Eleanor to slip into the earl’s marital bed.
Where is all this leading? Well, to the fact that the younger Despenser’s widow was apparently granted her husband’s remains (well some of them – ‘the head, a thigh bone and a few vertebrae’) and she had them buried in a lavish tomb at Tewkesbury Abbey.
But in 2004 there were reports that Despenser’s remains had been found during archaeological excavations at Hulton Abbey in Staffordshire. These “new” remains lacked the very bones that had been returned to the younger Despenser’s widow and buried at Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire.
So, if the Hulton Abbey remains are indeed those of the younger Despenser, why wasn’t all of him returned to his widow? Why send her some of him, and then bury the rest at Hulton Abbey? He died in Hereford, and was then buried in Staffordshire and Gloucestershire?
“….[executed in the Tower of London was] William Hastings, who tried to support the claims of Edward VI [sic] children to the throne in 1483….”
The above is a quote from this link – which contains boo-boos, as you can see from my quote. Well, was that why Hastings was executed? For trying to support the claims of Edward IV’s children, not those of the precocious Edward VI, who died at fifteen? Let’s be honest, no one really knows what Hastings did to warrant swift trial, sentence and execution, so such a broad statement is a little OTT, although the crime must have been pretty serious. Despite the history as claimed by traditionalists, Richard III was not a man to react in such a way lightly. His record of head-lopping was relatively small, unlike many other kings, who notched up quite a total in just as short a time. Nor was Richard the sort of man who would gladly murder his brother’s children, of that I feel certain. So why does he get all the opprobrium?
Forget the heartstring-plucking story of the boys in the Tower. No one knows what happened to them – certainly not that Richard had them exterminated in their beds.
There were may reasons why Hastings might plot against Richard, and one (in my opinion) was the realisation that in Richard’s reign he, Hastings, wouldn’t enjoy anywhere near the same position and influence as he had in Edward IV’s. The Hastings nose was out of joint, perchance?
He might also have known about Edward IV’s pre-contract with Lady Eleanor Talbot…which was what made Edward’s sons and daughter illegitimate and led to Richard ascending the throne. If that was the case, it wouldn’t be Richard who wanted him out of the way. Indeed, Richard would be one of the last people to sweep him into eternity. Step forward any number of Woodvilles, who wanted to be back in power and couldn’t be if someone could prove there’d been a pre-contract.
There’s also the possibility that supporters of Henry Tudor wouldn’t want Hastings around if he knew about the pre-contract. Very inconvenient when Henry pledged to marry Elizabeth of York and unite England’s warring Houses of York and Lancaster. Well, that was his noble claim, of course. In fact he resented having to marry her and just had a fancy to usurp the throne. He had to legitimise her and her siblings, and thus her missing brothers, giving them a much better claim to the throne than his own.
Hmm, Hastings was therefore an exceedingly inconvenient presence if he could somehow prove she was definitely illegitimate – um, not that Henry’s family history erred on the side of legitimacy, come to think of it. They may have been legitimised by Richard II and confirmed as such by Henry IV, but the latter also made a point of barring them from the throne. Henry VII’s blood claim was therefore very washy, and he relied upon conquest to justify his usurpation. Having to marry Elizabeth in order to satisfy the strong Yorkist element among his nobility must have stuck in his craw.
That’s not to say the ensuing marriage did not become a happy one, but I doubt very much if it started out that way. It wouldn’t have started out at all if Hastings had put his oar in and strengthened Richard’s case. With him vouching for the existence of a pre-contract, far more wavering Yorkists would have accepted in 1483 that Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Edward IV’s last remaining brother, was indeed the rightful occupant of England’s throne.
So, we have the Woodvilles and Henry VII as Hastings’ likely enemies. Who knows what “horrible plot” they may have cooked up and seen that Richard heard about it? That he believed Hastings was scheming against him is quite clear. He thought/accepted that his own life was in danger because of whatever it was Hastings was supposedly up to. Only a fool would do nothing about it, and stand idly by until the Grim Reaper struck. But contrary to traditionalist insistence, Hastings was not hauled out immediately and executed over a tree trunk or whatever. There was a trial, conviction and sentence.
No doubt many of you will not agree with my reasoning, but it’s what I genuinely think.