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Covid 19 and similarites with the second wave of the Great Pestilence in 1360…

This illustration is simply that, a suitable illustration – the Flagellants followed the first wave of the Great Pestilence and aren’t mentioned here.

In this time of Covid 19, when we don’t know why it seems to affect men more than women, and some ethnicities but not others, it is interesting that back in the 14th century the tsunami of the Great Pestilence of 1348 was followed by lesser waves that differed in many ways from the original. The first of these, in the England of 24 Edward III (January 1360 to January 1361) was called the secunda pestilencia and appeared to affect mostly the very young, babies and adolescents. Women were not affected in the same way.

The Chronicle of the Greyfriars of King’s Lynn notes: “…In that year [1360] began a plague among Londoners at about the feast of St Michael, where at first infants died in huge numbers…’ This was the autumn.

Then, the following spring, the Chronicle notes again: “…and after the next Easter following [April 1361], men and women died in great multitudes … In that year the plague raged in the southern parts of England with great mortality among children, youths and the wealthy. This plague was however much less serious than that which had befallen thirteen years before…”

available from Amazon

What follows now is both quoted and paraphrased from the above book, The Black Death in London by Barney Sloane  :-

“….The Anonimalle Chronicle called it the mortality of children, and states that several people of high birth and a great number of children died. But it was killing men disproportionately, Higden’s Polychronicon claimed it started in London, describing it as a “great pestilence of men … killing many men but few women”. Walsingham also asserted that the disease devoured men rather than women. John of Reading’s chronicle stated that ‘this year the mortality was particularly of males, who were devoured in great numbers by the pestilence’; and the chronicle of Louth Abbey described ‘a mortality of men, especially of boys’.

“….The anonymous Canterbury Chronicle provides us with some description of the outward symptoms of the disease: “….Children and adolescents were generally the first to die, and then the elderly. Members of religious orders and parish clergy and others died suddenly without respect of persons when the first spots and the other signs of death appeared on their bodies, as on the bodies of the victims everywhere. Many churches were then left unserved and empty through lack of priests. The plague lasted for more than four months in England.

“….In contrast to the first epidemic, the course of the 1361 plague across England and indeed Europe has yet to be clearly established – certainly there seem to be few warning references in clerical correspondence, so it may well be that the outbreak originated in England and possibly in London as the Lynn Greyfriars and the Canterbury Chronicles maintain…”

Today we are mystified as to why men are more affected by Covid 19 than women, and why some ethnicities are more exposed to it than others. There is no way of knowing now if immigrants of whatever nationality/ethnicity were more adversely affected, because there simply weren’t as many of them and records weren’t as thorough. Especially as back then there were always diseases of one sort of another picking people off, when today our medicine can offer cures to most of them.

But looking back at the secunda pestilencia of 1360-1361 I’d say that—modern medicine aside—very little has changed over the centuries.

PS: I should add that the book by Barney Sloane is excellent and very detailed. It really captures the panic and very hasty will-writing that galvanised the unfortunate citizens.

The jeweller who made Richard’s funeral crown….

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

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

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

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

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

An Irishman abroad but not for much longer?

Modern sculpture of Red Hugh overlooking Curlew Pass

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Emma de Beston, a suitable case for treatment….

We’re always inclined to think that medieval folk who fell mentally ill were treated barbarically. I think that accolade goes to a later period, when the inmates of Bedlam were laughed at by the paying public.

Here is a link to the National Archives to an account of an actual case from 1383, that of the unfortunate Emma de Beston, a widow of King’s Lynn, Norfolk.

The article commences:-

“…. People born with severe mental incapacity, but who were nevertheless heirs or heiresses to real or personal estate, were protected by law as part of the prerogativa regis (or royal prerogative). They had the status of wards of the Crown and their property would be managed on their behalf until they recovered. In most of those cases it was assumed that recovery would never occur. Provision should have been made for their welfare from the profits of the lands. Ensuring that those estates kept their value benefited the king too; not least because, once in Crown hands, possessions became parcel of the monarch’s resources available as royal patronage: the more productive and valuable the property, the higher the fee and annual rent that could be charged. The case of individuals in such a state of permanent mental incapacity is harder to judge because the evidence of their illness soon dries up as the government’s records focus on the land and not the person….

“….Those who became insane during their lives were to be provided for by the king without losing rights to their estates. This situation seemed to have evolved through custom and practice, rather than statute. There was also scope for regional and communal differences in how care was provided. Most often, those people who developed symptoms were left in the protection of their families and communities. Where the right level of care was not possible, some form of diagnosis was derived from interviews with the person’s kin and a process of inquest through a jury. It often involved examination of the ill person themselves. A major concern was to establish if lucid intervals occurred when estates could be managed in person. The solution was backed by force of the law….”

Then follows Emma’s actual case, which ends:

“….the examiners concluded that Emma was of unsound mind – in contemporary language, ‘having neither sense or memory nor intelligence to manage herself or her goods, with the face and countenance of an idiot’. As a result, her personal custody was confirmed with her then guardian, but her lands were assigned to four burgesses from King’s Lynn. The profits of her estates paid for her care, clothes and maintenance. Emma died in that state on 30 December 1386 and left her estate to her niece, Isabel….

“….Where possible, it was crucial that the ill person testified and had some agency in the process that would decide how their interests were safeguarded. While much of this methodology looked to secure the rights to lands and goods, it also provided for the individual at the centre of the process. Emma’s story shows that medieval institutions, the law, and communities were neither barbarous nor monolithic in their approach to those who could not care for themselves….”

So no, our less mentally fortunate medieval forebears were not treated barbarously. This entire article is well worth reading, not least because it’s a reminder that things weren’t always weighted against the individual.

But then again, of course, Emma was a woman of some means. I cannot vouch for the treatment of those much further down the chain….


The blond Richard again….!

Illustration assembled by viscountessw

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

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

Digital reconstruction of the Sutton Hoo ship….

To read all about the project illustrated above, go to saxonship. See also the Mail.

I have to say though that if the bow is on the left of the middle picture, and the vessel is presumably moving from right to left…aren’t the oarsmen sitting the wrong way around? Or are they intentionally going backward? Or, of course, did they row in reverse in order to go forward? If you see what I mean. But that seems a little laborious, it being easier and more effective to pull on oars than push.



Richard III versus James I of Scotland….?

Illustration from the link below

The following extract is from this article in the Daily Record :-

“….Fortuitously for us, Henry VII killed Richard III (the king in the car park) who was discovered in Leicester. A nice piece of synergy, and the basis for a much bigger story of Scottish royal political dominance in Great Britain….”

Well, it might have been fortuitous for Perth (the one in Scotland, of course), but Bosworth was a catastrophe for England, inflicting the monstrous House of Tudor upon us for well over a century. So Scotland is welcome to its discovery, complete with Tudor connections!

Much as I hope it will bring a gratifying leap in Perth’s income, I can’t really agree that the discovery of the grave of James I of Scotland will compare with that of Richard III. But I do wish Perth well ! Truly.

“Braveheart” at Falkirk – a great spectacle?

The Battle of Falkirk was fought on 22 July 1298. The English army, co-commanded by the Earl of Norfolk, defeated the Scots, led by Sir William Wallace, who resigned as Guardian of the Realm shortly afterwards. This setback for Wallace, following victory at Stirling Bridge the previous year, where Sir Andrew Moray was mortally wounded, formed a significant scene in the film Braveheart. Mel Gibson, as Wallace, was accompanied by a few thousand troops in tartan and woad but at least two of them wore glasses.

Now Murrey and Blue have dealt with historical anachronisms before – showing that “Friar Tuck” could not have rebelled during Richard I’s reign because there were no friars in England until 25 years after Richard’s death. Similarly, Victoria was British-born and raised, just like her father and grandfather, and would not have spoken with a German accent.

So what of the evidence here?

i) Roger Bacon, incidentally a friar, wrote about using lenses in 1262 but that doesn’t refer to an actual pair of glasses with frames.
ii) In spring 1306, Giordano da Pisa, yet another friar, preached that “”It is not yet twenty years since there was found the art of making eyeglasses, which make for good vision… And it is so short a time that this new art, never before extant, was discovered. … I saw the one who first discovered and practiced it, and I talked to him”.

So 1286, a mere dozen years before the Battle of Falkirk was the earliest that a pair was constructed.

Henry VII and his “striking blue eyes”….!

OK, so the illustration is Henry VIII – but it’s what The Times chose for their article

This Times article has a quaint way of describing Henry VII : “Tall, with striking blue eyes, Henry was the only child of Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, and Margaret Beaufort…”

Striking blue eyes? Well, yes…except that they looked in opposite directions. Which I suppose counts as striking! I’m not so sure about the blue, though. More a murky grey, like the rest of him!

We know who it isn’t …

… but this lady in her thirties died far more recently near Norwich Cathedral …

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