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Ancient Ratae, City on the Soar

In the second century BC, in a Britain still filled with wild boar, beaver, lynx, bears and wolves, a group of people settled  near to the River Soar. The descendants of Bronze Age peoples and Neolithic farmers, they built a series of huts on the east bank of the river, their settlement extending across some twenty acres. They called themselves the Corieltauvi; the closest translation of their name would be the ‘army of the land of many rivers.’ The exact  name of their settlement is unknown but it contains a Celtic root word similar to ‘rath’, meaning (approximately)  ‘ramparts’, which can be found in many Irish place names today. This humble Iron Age settlement is the origin of modern day Leicester.

Roman  interest in this area of Britain began when they realised it was a place of strategic value; and so it became an intersection of the Fosse Way and Gartree Street. There might have been some opposition from the local Corieltauvi, but the tribesmen proved no match for the might of Rome; a fort or base was soon established on the banks of the Soar for the Legion XIV.  Quite simple in plan and  housing approx 500 men,  the fort was surrounded by a ditch and rampart; it retained the name of the ancient British settlement but in a new, Larinised form–Ratae.

The new fort brought  much  trade to the area and a small civilian settlement quickly sprang up. A few years later a second fort was constructed nearby—it is thought this defensive structure may have been built in response to Boudicca’s revolt. However, the brave British Queen’s chariots never rolled up to Ratae’s earthen ramparts.

About 30 years later, most of the Legions were recalled from Britain and the forts on the Soar handed over to civilians,  although they were remained part of the Roman Empire. Ratae became an important  tribal administrative capital.

Emperor Hadrian’s visit to the town in 122 AD seems to have  sparked a new rebuilding phase. Outmoded wooden structures were dismantled and local granite and millstone grit from Derbyshire brought to build a forum, basilica and colonnades. A few decades later, a public bath house was constructed—today its remains are known as the Jewry Wall, Britain’s largest free-standing piece of  Roman architecture. Water for the baths came to the site from Knighton Brook via an aqueduct. Some of the earthworks surrounding the water channel still survive and are known as Raw Dykes (the word ‘Raw’ has the same origin as Rath/Ratae.)

At this time in Ratae’s history, the local population grew quite wealthy. Townhouses appeared with opulent mosaics, painted walls, heating and bathing facilities. A stone wall was built around the perimeter of the settlement, for added security for the residents of the town.

Temples to the varying gods  were built too, one being found near St Nicholas’ Church, which today retains much brickwork pilfered from the ancient Roman building. This temple was dedicated to Mithras, the bull-slaying god who was born on December 25 and whose cult was seen as a rival to Christianity.  He was a Persian ‘import’ and his all-male accolytes often held their rites in a secret underground chamber known as a Mithraeum. Other evidence has been found of British bull-gods, spear carrying sons of Zeus, and sea-gods.  Of great interest is the curse tablet discovered, in which a native British God, Maglus (‘Prince/princely’) is invoked for help in bringing about the destruction of a thief : “To the god Maglus, I give the wrongdoer who stole the cloak of Servandus. Silvester, Roimandus … that he destroy him before the ninth day, the person who stole the cloak of Servandus …”

By the 5th century, however, Ratae was in serious decline as the legions pulled out from Britain and Angles and  Saxons began to migrate from their homelands to settle in what is now England . Soon, the town was in ruins, abandoned and decaying . The famous Anglo Saxon poem THE RUIN speaks of the abandoned Roman townsThis masonry is wondrous; Fate broke it.
Courtyard pavements lie smashed; the work of giants is decaying.
Roofs are fallen, ruinous towers,
the frosty gate is ravaged,
chipped roofs torn, fallen,
undermined by old age. The grasp of the earth possesses
the mighty builders, perished and fallen…

The Roman Era of Ratae was over with Rome’s withdrawal from Brittania; the early Middle Ages had begun. After the Romans departed the  native Britons called the place, in their own tongue,  Caer Lerion or Caerlyr; the Saxons called it Ligora-ceastre, which by Domesday became Ledecestre, and then Leicester. Geoffrey of Monmouth claimed the town’s founder was King Leir (Leir-caister), and the prefix of this name may take its origins from a Celtic water deity known as Llyr.

Today, the remains of Roman buildings and artefacts  still frequently are excavated in Leicester. Some recent finds near High Cross have been of considerable importance.

The prevalence of these remains in the city is shown by the fact that when Richard III’s remains were recovered from the ruins of Greyfriars, it was initially thought he had an arrowhead embedded in his spine. As it turned out, the ‘arrowhead’ was a stray Roman nail that happened to have ended up under his body when the monks dug a hasty grave to hold him.

It is also interesting to realise that the last Plantagenet King now rests in a brick lined vault above the remains of one of Leicester’s Roman temples,  its scant  foundations discovered when restoration was made on  St Martin’s church in the late 1800’s.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leicestershire-39738436

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2318880/Is-left-park-Leicester-Roman-cemetery-archaeological-dig-ANOTHER-car-park-city.htmlhttp://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2318880/Is-left-park-Leicester-Roman-cemetery-archaeological-dig-ANOTHER-car-park-city.html

https://phys.org/news/2016-07-rare-discovery-late-roman-leicester.html

Roman Leicester artists impression

curse

Did the boys from the Tower escape from one of Yorkshire’s lost coastal towns or villages…?

Yorkshire's lost coast

I have often wondered about Richard’s plans for the Yorkist “heirs” he sent for safety to Sheriff Hutton. We know Elizabeth of York was there, because Henry Tudor sent a very swift party to secure her person. She was then escorted regally to London, to be greeted at Lambeth by her husband-to-be. After he’d established himself as a conquering hero, of course, and dated his reign from the day before Bosworth. But that is not the point now. Warwick was also at Sheriff Hutton, and everyone there was under the protection of John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln. Were the boys from the Tower there too?

If things went against Richard, had he instructed Lincoln to take everyone out of England and across to Margaret of York in Burgundy? Let us imagine he did issue such an order. Where on the coast would Lincoln likely take them? Surely not somewhere to the south, like Harwich or Lowestoft, or too far to the north. Time would be of the essence if they were to be whisked away before Tudor got his claws into them.

Something went wrong, of course. Elizabeth of York did not leave, and was captured….er, rescued by her new swain. Or perhaps that was what she had wanted all along? Warwick became another prisoner, as did Lincoln himself. (Do we know how/when John de la Pole was apprehended?) And then there is the biggest mystery of all: if the boys from the Tower were there, what happened to them?

Let us go back to Sheriff Hutton. When the terrible news arrived from Bosworth, there would be panic as those who intended to escape made ready for flight—we’ll say that they would head for the nearest access to the sea. It seems logical. One thing about the Yorkshire coast applied then as it does now. Erosion. There were already a number of lost towns and villages down the stretch from Ravenspur in the north to Spurn Head in the south. But some that are lost now, were still there in 1485. Was one of them the intended destination? There was no need for a large port, or a harbour with quays, just somewhere from which a small boat could put out to a waiting vessel.

cog and boat of fugitives

We will never know what happened, of course, but I for one can imagine the scene on that shore. Perhaps after dark, the sweating horses and fleeing Yorkists, the shouts from men waiting to push a large boat out into the waves. And off shore, the lights of a cog at anchor.

Maybe such a scene never happened, but if it did, maybe only the boys from the Tower were safely on board that cog. Safely? Well, maybe fate decreed they never reached Burgundy. Maybe a sudden storm sent the cog to the depths. Maybe that’s why no one knows what happened to the sons of Edward IV? Or, of course, they did reach their aunt’s protection, and one of them survived to grow up to challenge Henry Tudor as Perkin Warbeck. I hope so.

cog

For information on the lost villages and towns of the Yorkshire coast, here are two links to tell you more and this connected post.

 

Tintagel-More Kings Than Just Arthur

Tintagel in Cornwall is best known for its connections to King Arthur. However, the castle, although reputed in folklore to be Arthur’s birthplace, does not date from the Dark Ages but from medieval times, being first built by Earl Reginald, the illegitimate son of Henry I, then later remodelled by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, younger brother of Henry III.  Earl Richard built most of what we see today, including the ‘Iron Gate’ which guards the cove, as well as the curtain walls, the buttresses augmenting the great hall, and the grand entranceway leading out into the nearby valley.

At one time  a chapel to St Julitta stood within the castle walls; although Tintagel was described as ‘ruinous but still strong’ in the 1470’s, King Richard III appointed a chaplain, John Leicrofte to St Julitta’s in 1483. A few years later, not long after Richard’s defeat at Bosworth, Henry VII made one John Upcoate captain of the castle for his ‘services beyond the sea.’

Just above the ruins, standing alone and isolated from the village, is an ancient church dedicated to a very obscure Cornish Saint called  Materiana. William of Worcester, journeying through Cornwall in 1478, wrote that she ‘performed a miracle on a man out of his mind, and on one woman and a certain girl upon the Feast of St James.’

In the 15th c, the patronage of Tintagel and St Materiana’s church was entailed to Alice Chaucer, and upon her third marriage to William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, the advowson was given to the couple for life.

Eventually this passed to their son John de la Pole (father of John, earl of Lincoln, Richard III’s designated heir after the death of his son). John’s wife was Elizabeth of York, sister to Edward IV and Richard III, and it was likely that Edward asked John and Elizabeth to relinquish rights of patronage. This was done by letters patent in June 1480.

At this particular time, Edward was busy remodelling the Chapel of St George at Windsor, and therefore the remote the Cornish church of St Materiana was assigned to the dean and canons of St George’s ‘to hold to them and their successors forever.’

Even today, whenever a new priest is needed for the parish, the appointment is made by St George’s chapel. The ties between Windsor and Tintagel, created by Edward IV, have never been broken in 500 years.

(Photos show the ruined castle with St Materiana’s church on the cliff, sections of the ruins, and a tile with the eagle of Richard of Cornwall.)

Roman Britain

To mark the 1900th anniversary of Hadrian’s accession, here is a map of Britain’s Roman Roads. Thanks to www.VisitateLindumColoniam.com – and here is our mediaeval map of London.RomanRoads

A History Walk in Wiltshire

Sometimes, in this very old country of ours,  even a simple afternoon’s walk out along the river  can come up with some rewarding historical data relating to the Middle Ages and the Wars of the Roses period. Recently I went for a walk near the Wiltshire Avon, from Figheldean to Netheravon, taking in  two little-known rural medieval churches, which proved to be of some interest.

At the Church of St Michaels and All Angels, where the worn effigies of two unknown 13thc knights lie in the porch, having been brought there from a now-lost nearby church or chapel, the advowsen was held in 1485-1487 by Francis Stourton. Stourton was the son of John Stourton who attended Richard III’s Parliament when attainders were passed on the Duke of Buckingham’s rebels. Unfortunately for Baron Stourton, his brother–in-law, Sir William Berkeley, had actually joined the Duke’s Rebellion. Richard said he would pardon Berkeley as long as John Stourton came up with a bond of 1000 marks. He agreed to pay the bond–but unfortunately, ungrateful William Berkeley promptly shot off to Brittany to join Henry Tudor, leaving Baron Stourton with a hefty bill. In-laws, eh?

One of the local manors, Alton Magna, also happened to belong at one time to the Earl of Warwick, Richard Neville. It is not certain  how he aquired it, as it had descended with the Honour of Leicester from Simon de Montfort, to Henry Duke of Lancaster, Henry’s daughter Maud, then her sister Blanche, the wife of John of Gaunt. When Blanche’s son became Henry IV in 1399 the honour of Leicester passed to the Crown.

Going along a pleasant leafy back road from Figheldean church, the traveller eventually comes to the village of Netheravon. Its church of All Saints has some similarities architectural qualities to that in Figheldean, including a very tall, stark tower. There was probably a Saxon  church originally  on site, and there is  visible Norman work that survives, including a carving of beasts on the capital of an exterior pillar.

The church was a prebendal church and one of the prebendaries in the 15th c happened to be Thomas Rotherham,who was first Bishop of Rochester, then Bishop of Lincoln and finally Archbishop of York. He was Keeper of the Privy Seal for King Edward IV and was appointed Lord Chancellor. When Edward died, Rotherham unlawfully handed the Great Seal to Elizabeth Woodville, and hence lost his position as Chancellor. He was present at the council meeting where Lord Hastings was arrested and then executed, and was himself arrested as part of the conspiracy. He went to the Tower, but not for very long; he was soon released and continued to be a player on the scene.

  As at Figheldean, the manor of Netheravon was held by the Duchy of Lancaster, first half of it, then eventually the whole. At one point one of the halves was held by the notorious Hugh Depenser the Elder and his family during  the reign of Edward II.  Upon their downfall, Queen Isabella was granted the estate  for life.  However, when her son, Edward III, captured her and Roger Mortimer at Nottingham in 1330, Edward gave the estate to Edward de Bohun. Later, through Mary, wife of Henry IV, it became part of the Duchy of Lancaster. Other local Despenser lands went to the Earl of Salisbury, which may be how Richard Neville came to own a manor in Figheldean.

Several local estates were also held by Sir William Beauchamp, husband to Elizabeth, suo jure Baronness St Amand; upon his death she held them jointly with her next husband, Sir Roger Tocotes. Sir Roger was a local landowner and sheriff who served George of Clarence for a while, but ended up as one of Buckingham’s rebels.

There is one other interesting feature of Netheravon. As you pass down the lane near the church, you will see the name ‘Beaufort’ clearly affixed  to a gate. The large, rather sombre mansion in the next field was owned by the Dukes of Beaufort -although not in medieval times, but rather from the middle of the 18th century, when the surname (Beaufort) and title (Somerset)  were reversed. Their stately pile, built by one Henry Somerset,  stands close to a Roman villa and is likely on the site of the medieval manor house of the Cormayles family.

 

 

Edward III’s manor house at Rotherhithe….

EIII's manor house, Rotherhithe.

“King Edward III is remembered in history for starting the Hundred Years War, annexing large parts of France for England, as well as being the reigning king during the period of the Black Death. What he is infinitely less well-known for, is building a small royal residence at Rotherhithe in South East London, the remains of which can still be seen today.

“When the residence was constructed in around 1350, Rotherhithe was a small hamlet set in low lying marshland. The manor house itself was built upon a small island directly next to the River Thames and consisted of a range of stone buildings around a central courtyard.

“There was a moat on three sides of the complex, with the north side being completely open to the River Thames. This allowed the king to arrive by boat and at high tide to moor up against the steps that led from the river to a gatehouse located in a tower. There was also a hall with a large and imposing fireplace, the king’s private chambers, kitchens and other buildings. Further south, on drier land, was an outer court with other buildings surrounded by an earth bank.”

Taken from http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryMagazine/DestinationsUK/Edward-IIIs-Manor-House-Rotherhithe/  where more can be learned of this manor house.

 

An angelic Tudor mystery in Devon….

The great hall at Dartington Hall, near Totnes in Devon, is a magnificent example of 14th-century architecture, but there is a little oddity that not everyone will notice. It concerns the supporting figures on the corbels supporting the five-bay hammerbeam timber roof.

The figures are angels holding the heraldic shields of the families that have owned the Hall. The lord who built the hall in the 14th century was John Holand, Earl of Huntingdon, Duke of Exeter. He was the younger of Richard II’s two half-brothers, and his angel is displayed on the left above. All the other angels (bar one), are the same, including those of Margaret Beaufort, who owned the Hall from 1487-1509, but is not thought to have ever visited it. The estate then reverted to the Crown.

Sir Arthur Champernowne gained possession of Dartington Hall in 1554 (he exchanged other properties with Thomas Aylworth, Lord of Dartington) and his descendants owned the property until 1925, by which time it was derelict. The Champernownes were of Anglo-Norman descent, and influential, especially in the West Country.

Now for the oddity. At some point, perhaps under the auspices of Sir Arthur, one of the angels in the great hall was altered. It is on the north side of the roof, and yes, like its fellows, it displays a coat-of-arms (that of the Champernownes) but the figure holding the shield is no longer an angel. Instead it has been changed into a Tudor serving man, with his wings severely chopped. (See illustration on above right.) Now, I am not the one claiming the figure is a Tudor servant, it is described as such by Anthony Emery, who has written a large work on Dartington Hall.

Why has this angel been changed? Emery states that the Champernownes cut back this corbel, but gives no reason. Was it an attempt by Sir Arthur to show that he was a loyal servant of the Tudors? I cannot think of any other reason. Can you?

Another eleventh century struggle

This article reveals the little-known sequel to the battle of Hastings. It took place in North Devon, between Appledore and Northam near Bideford, on 26 June 1069 and was led by Brian of Br_88394404_battlefieldbbcittany and Alan the Black for the Normans against Godwine and Edmund, sons of Harold II, for the Anglo-Saxon “resistance”. The result was very similar.
It seems that Harold’s teenage sons had taken refuge in Leinster after their defeat at Hastings and sailed back with a Dublin fleet supplied by Diarmait, king of that province. During 1069, when the “Harrying of the North” was in progress”, Edgar the Atheling was in exile at the Scottish court where his sister, Margaret of Wessex, married the widowed Malcolm III that year or the next. For the location, you should seek “Bloody Corner“.

Gytha (sister to Godwine and Edmund) is among Richard III’s ancestors, as are Malcolm, Margaret and Domnall mac Murchada (Diarmait’s successor).

Uncle Richard?

richard-iii-huffington

A long time ago, I posted a short article about one of my ancestors, Thomas Snellgrove, who was a portrait artist and painted an actor portraying Richard III. Here is the link.

Portrait of actor playing Richard by Snellgrove

George Frederick Cooke playing Richard III by T.W. Snellgrove

I have been researching my family history for over thirty years and it used to be a very slow and painstaking process. The internet has obviously made things easier and quicker in many ways and I now have some other interesting Ricardian links to report.

I found a probable direct ancestor called Sir Henry Vane, the Younger – I had not heard of him, but discovered that he was a Parliamentarian in the Civil War and was beheaded on Tower Hill after Charles II returned to the throne. Interesting, so I started tracing his family back further and came upon a Vane who had married a lady called Joan Haute. As you probably know, there was a Katherine Haute to whom Richard gave an annuity of £5 and this was considered suggestive of her having been his mistress and mother of one or both of his illegitimate children. I did find a Katherine, married to a James Haute, brother of my ancestor.

I carried on further and found that Joan Haute’s grandfather, Richard, was married to an Elizabeth Tyrrell, brother of James Tyrrell, one of Richard’s henchmen, accused of murdering the ‘Princes in the Tower’ on his orders. It was odd to think I had recently visited the Tyrrell chapel at Gipping and seen the memorials for the Tyrrell family in the church at Stowmarket – how strange that these could be my relatives!  James was executed at the Tower too, by Henry VII.

And Richard Haute’s mother was a Woodville, sister to Richard Woodville, Elizabeth Woodville’s father. Elizabeth, as we know, was Richard’s sister-in-law (or at least was thought to be until it was found the marriage was invalid).

Sir Henry Vane’s wife was Frances Wray, and I next followed her line back. Her father married Albinia Cecil, great granddaughter to William Cecil, advisor to Queen Elizabeth I. One of his sons (half-brother to my presumed ancestor, Thomas Cecil) was Robert Cecil, who was thought to be the ‘model’ for Shakespeare’s Richard III; he was an unpopular politician of the time and also a hunchback.

Pic of Robert Cecil

Robert Cecil

Thomas Cecil meanwhile was married to a Neville! This was Lady Dorothy Neville, descended from George Neville, brother to Cecily Neville, Richard’s mother! This would make Richard my 1st cousin 17 times removed.

It’s not all good though; there are four connections to the Stafford family, two of which are direct lines to Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, who betrayed Richard and was called by him ‘the most untrue creature living’ – another executed ancestor.  And, of course, via the Nevilles, I would also be related to Margaret Beaufort and Henry Tudor through the John of Gaunt line. ☹

Another not-so-good link is to the Percy family and thence to Henry Percy, who was lynched by a mob when he tried to raise taxes in Yorkshire, for not supporting Richard at Bosworth.

Yet another is to the Brandon family via the sister of William Brandon, Henry Tudor’s Standard Bearer, whom Richard personally killed at Bosworth. He would be my 16 x great uncle.

Other significant names that I haven’t fully explored yet are: Howard, Harrington, De Vere, Zouche, Somerset, Bourchier and  Clifford.  I haven’t found any Stanleys yet!

One of the Stafford links also leads to Margaret, daughter of George of Clarence and there is another to Margaret Courtenay, whose mother could be Katherine of York, the daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville (her father married twice and it isn’t known which wife Margaret was born to – the second one was descended from John Neville, brother of Warwick the Kingmaker). These connections would make Richard also my 16 x great uncle. This would mean that one 16 x great uncle (Richard III) killed the other (William Brandon)!

Graham Turner painting of Richard III at Bosworth killing William Brandon

The Battle of Bosworth (Richard III killing William Brandon) by artist Graham Turner, copyright Graham Turner. N.B. Prints and cards of this and many other Ricardian scenes are available – click on the picture above to see.

How convoluted and complicated were the relationships in those days. But it just reveals how, if you can just find one key link into the nobility, you are basically related to them all!! It is also said that nearly all English people are descended from Edward III, so going by my experience (and Danny Dyer’s!) it could be true. I encourage anyone to have a go at researching their family – it is fascinating.

One caveat if you use the internet to do your research though – you have to be careful not to replicate others’ mistakes – I have found Cecily Neville given as the mother of Elizabeth Woodville and someone getting married before they were born – I know they married young in those days, but really!

 

 

Cecil image credit: John de Critz the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

A SWORD OF EDWARD IV IN IRELAND

The House of York  always had a strong connection with Ireland. Richard Duke of York and his family lived there from a while, sometimes at the imposing Trim Castle (beloved of movie makers from Excalibur to Braveheart) and sometimes at Dublin Castle where George of Clarence was born.  Later, after the battle of Ludford Bridge, the Duke fled to Ireland with his second son, Edmund, while the elder, Edward, hurried to Calais with the Earl of Warwick.

When Edward IV came to the throne, he kept up the connection, and established a mint at Waterford in Reginald’s Tower.  Richard III also wanted to strengthen ties with Ireland, sending a letter to Thomas Barrett, Bishop of Annaghdown, with instructions as to what sentiments the Bishop must impart in a planned  meeting with James Fitzgerald,  the Earl of Desmond. In his letter to the Bishop, Richard commended the actions of Desmond’s father in assisting the Duke of York, saying he felt ‘inward compassion’ for the fate of the elder Desmond, who had been executed ‘by certain persons having the rule and governence there’.

The Irish remained  favourable to the Yorkist cause  even after Bosworth Field, with the uprisings connected with Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck both having connections to Ireland. Many of the soldiers who fought and died at Stoke Field were Irish.

Ireland still retains some ceremonial items given to the town of Waterford by Edward IV, including a sword and maces. These, along with a charter regarding the mint, can still be viewed in the ‘Medieval Treasures Museum’ in Waterford.

 

edward_sword_300_230_c1

(I feel there could be a trip to the Emerald Isle on the cards sometime soon!)

http://www.waterfordtreasures.com/medieval-museum/whats-inside/sword-of-edward-iv

 

 

 

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