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THE LOST FONT OF MARLBOROUGH CASTLE

Marlborough is a quaint little town in Wiltshire. It has a rather famous College (once attended by Kate Middleton) but no buildings dating much before Tudor times other than two heavily restored churches. However, it used to have a castle, and a rather important one too.

The first castle was built by William the Conqueror in timber, and he raised it on Marlborough’s most famous landmark–a huge mound (sometimes called Merlin’s Mound) that stands in the middle of the college grounds. This mound is not the usual motte and bailey but in fact a neolithic mound that is a smaller ‘sister’ to nearby Silbury Hill, the largest artificial mound in Europe. Later the wooden castle was replaced by stone; it held out for King Stephen during the Anarchy. King John made many changes and repairs, having been presented  the castle while his brother, Richard Lionheart, was king. His second wife the infamous Isabella of Angouleme spent some time there and some of his children may have been born within its walls. It was  a strange arrangement–Isabella was under the care of Hugh de Neville, whose wife had been one of John’s many mistresses. After John died in the early 1200’s, political prisoner Eleanor of Brittany, whose claim to the throne equalled or surpassed that of Henry III, was kept there for a while before being shunted off to another stronghold. After Henry died, however, it became a Dower House, used by the Dowager Queen, Eleanor of Provence, and then was held by a series of Queen after her.

By 1370,  Marlborough was unused, and in ruins by 1403. Edward VI passed it to his relatives, the Seymours, who built a grand house that is now part of the College. All traces of the castle vanished, save for the mighty mound with had already stood for thousands of years before the Conqueror built his castle.

However there is a rumour that one item from the castle  survived–a huge ornate stone font which had come from the freestanding chapel of St Nicholas. Local legend says  several of King John’s children were  baptised in this font.

And sure enough about a mile away, a massive stone font sits, seeming slightly out of place, in  the tiny, remote church of St George at Preshute (an old name meaning Priest’s Hut.). It is an enormous block of polished black stone imported from Tournai, and would hardly be likely to have originally belonged to such a small, out of the way church. A few similar fonts of Tournai stone  do exist in England, but they are in much grander buildings that St George’s–including Worcester Cathedral.

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Marlborough castle Font

 

 

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MYTH TO REALITY: VORTIGERN’S CAVE IN MARGATE

Margate is rightfully known for its famous, undatable Shell Grotto, which has been known as a folly, a Roman mithraeum and even a Phoenician temple.  However, FAR lesser known is another set of caverns, known as Vortigern’s cave. Probably dating between the 1600-s-1700’s, these caves have been closed on and off for several hundred years; the last time they were open was in the 1990’s (when I was lucky enough to visit them.) The wall paintings of redcoats and the  hunt were very well preserved colour-wise and quite unique. There were also an elephant and a crocodile.

The name Vortigern (meaning Great Lord) seems fanciful, being that of a semi-legendary ancient British king who supposedly gave the region of Thanet to his  son-in-law Hengist the Saxon. It was only applied to the caves in the later 1800’s when a new tenant of Northumberland House, through which the caves could be accessed,  decided to open the caves as a tourist attraction.

However, recent archaeological digs in anticipation of re-opening the caves in 2019, have shown that there was indeed a pre-Roman presence in the bumpy field overlying the cave site. In fact a rather imposing one–a large defensive ditch surrounded by postholes and pits filled by Iron Age pottery.  The Iron Age occupation appears to end with the advent of the Romans, implying that the locals were either annihilated or driven away.

Now this makes it far too late for Vortigern and his Saxon alliance (said to have taken place late in the 5th century) but it shows there probably WAS a powerful chieftain and tribal group dwelling on high ground near the shores at Margate in prehistory.

Link to article on  margatecaves excavations

 

caves

 

 

 

A new book about Barnard Castle and Teesdale….

Author Barnard Castle and Teesdale book

There is a new book out about the “secrets” of Barnard Castle and Teesdale. There is, of course, a connection to Richard, which makes it of interest to Ricardians of all persuasions. Author and historian Graham Stables was born in Barnard Castle, and so clearly knows what he’s talking/writing about.

I haven’t read the book, and so can neither recommend nor criticise, but as a rule all books of this nature are excellent, and contain nuggets the reader did not know before. I am sure this will follow in the same footsteps.

 

Thirteen very unusual facts about Leicester, and Philippa Langley’s discovery of Richard’s resting place is one of them….!

Leicester

Well, these days we are all accustomed to reading about Leicester because England’s finest king is now buried there. Richard does indeed figure in this rather peculiar list of thirteen fascinating facts about the city and its county, and (for once) Philippa Langley gets full credit. Excellent. What happened to her might read like a fairy tale, but it’s true! Truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

All thirteen facts in the list are interesting/astonishing. Take a peek here.

The source of all this is the award-winning podcasters No Such Thing as a Fish. They brought their tour to the De Montfort Hall on Tuesday, November 28th. See also here.

Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire’s next door neighbour, has a lot to offer too….

Nottingham Castle

Leicester’s next door neighbour has something to offer too, including a connection with Richard. This is a good article...except for that stupid vertical band that descends through two of the excellent illustrations. If there’s a way of sending it packing, I didn’t find it.

 

THE DARRELLS OF LITTLECOTE

Littlecote House in Wiltshire, now a Warner’s hotel (those with very long memories might remember it as a sort of theme park/tourist attraction in the 1980’s) is considered to be one of England’s most haunted houses. Amongst the many spooks that haunt its halls is a burning baby, said to be the spirit of  a child murdered by Wild William Darrell, the master of the house in the 1570’s, who supposedly threw an  illegitimate infant into the fire directly after its birth. (He was later said to have been killed by falling off his horse when the baby’s apparition appeared before him–he then became a ghost himself.)

Whether any part of the legend is true or not (and there’s some evidences parts of it are), there were certainly Darrells living at Littlecote house long before Wild William or the Tudor/Elizabeth mansion we see today–back in the late medieval period.

One of its residents at that period was Margaret Beaufort. No, not THAT Margaret Beaufort but the ‘other one’, who also had a notorious son called Henry. She was the mother of Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. Daughter of Edmund Beaufort, second Duke of Somerset and Lady Eleanor Beauchamp, Margaret first married Humphrey Earl of Stafford, son of the first Duke of Buckingham (also called Humphrey) and produced Henry and another son (Humphrey again!), whose ultimate fate is unknown. (He was taken into Elizabeth Woodville’s household and made a Knight of the Bath at the same time as Henry but references to him vanish after that–presumably he died young.)

Humphrey Stafford was badly wounded at the first battle of  St Albans and never seemed to fully recover. He died a few years  after the battle, possibly of plague, possibly through effects of his injuries, making Henry the heir to his grandfather’s title at the tender age of 4/5.

Margaret soon remarried,  to Richard Darrell of Littlecote. They had one daughter, Margaret (Henry Stafford’s half-sister), who married James Tuchet, 7th Baron Audley. James was one of the commanders in the Cornish rebellion against Henry VII in 1497. He was captured, along with the other leaders of the rebellion, and executed on Tower Hill on June 28.

Although now a hotel, Littlecote House still allows non-residential visitors to look around the gardens, several of the interior rooms rooms, and visit the amazing Roman mosaic that lies within its grounds. Look for the sign that says ‘day parking’ and park there for access.

 

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Tales of a Ricardian Traveler: A Visit to King’s Cliffe Church and its Fotheringhay Artifacts

Although the entire eastern portion of St Mary and All Saints Church in Fotheringhay was demolished in 1573, it is still possible to see original woodwork and painted glass from the Yorkist Age.

RICARDIAN LOONS

Lady on Horseback Lady on Horseback, mid-15th c., British Museum

My husband and I had the good fortune to spend two weeks in England and Wales in October, 2017. I had been asked to moderate a conference about Richard III and 15th century warfare at the Leicester Guildhall, sponsored by the Richard III Foundation. During our stay in Leicester, we drove into Northamptonshire in order to explore a small parish church at King’s Cliffe that purported to have a number of objects from Richard III’s birthplace of Fotheringhay. What we discovered surpassed all our expectations.

Scene of Destruction: St Mary and All Saints Church

Like many tales of discovery, this one begins with a tale of loss. The year was 1566. Queen Elizabeth I was on progress through her realm, having already occupied the throne for 8 years. Her itinerary took her to Fotheringhay Castle, a short distance from the parish church…

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The Court of Requests and Thomas Seckford

In 1484, King Richard III created a minor equity court to deal with minor disputes in equity; these are disputes where the harshness of common law would be acknowledged by those appointed by the Crown. Equity courts were mostly seen as the Lord Chancellor’s remit, and the split of the Chancery Courts from the Curia Regis happened in the mid-fourteenth century. By the time of King Richard III, the Chancery Court had become backlogged from cases pleading the harshness of the common law, and the Court of Requests was no doubt and attempt to remove minor equity cases from the backlog and free up court time – Richard’s attempt at reducing bureaucracy and better administration.

So successful was the Court of Requests that it survived Richard’s reign, and was formalised by the Privy Council of Henry “Tudor”, the usurper. It was a popular court, because the cost of cases was relatively low and justice was swifter than the common law courts, which would ultimately prove its undoing.

Two Masters of Requests Ordinary were appointed by Henry VIII, and another two Masters of Requests Extraordinary were appointed by Elizabeth I. One of these was Thomas Seckford, of Woodbridge in Suffolk.

Thomas was an influential man, even before Elizabeth appointed him to the Court of Requests in 1558. He was MP for Ripon in November 1554, just months after his Grey cousins were executed, and was then elected MP for Orford (a fishing village on the Suffolk Coast which had two MPs despite only having a handful of residents) in 1555 and again in 1558. He was MP for Ipswich in 1559 and for Suffolk in 1571. Seckford Hall, (right) near Woodbridge, is known to have hosted Elizabeth’s court as she progressed, and was built in 1530 as the Seckford Family home; it is now a hotel, while a golf club sits within what was once its grounds. The A12 Martlesham bypass sweeps across the Finn Valley in front of the hall, giving wonderful views to motorists but somewhat destroying the character and appearance of the building and grounds. As an interesting side note, the hotel contains furniture from Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, including (allegedly) the chair Henry the Usurper died on.

Thomas Seckford commissioned Christophe Saxton to create the first surveyed atlas of the realm, which Elizabeth granted him a patent for its sole publication for ten years. This made him an even wealthier man and he added to his estates Clerkenwell, endowing the Seckford Almshouses with income from Clerkenwell. His wealth also led to the establishment of a free school, Woodbridge School, which is a minor public school. His wealth still helps young and old in Woodbridge today.

The Court of Requests fell foul of the common law courts at the end of the 16th century. Angry that business deserted them in favour of the more efficient Court of Requests, the common law courts overturned a number of decisions of the Requests Court, and banned them from imprisoning people; ultimately this was to prove their undoing, and the English Civil War, which led to the invalidation of the Privy Seal, was the final death of the Court, set up all those years before by King Richard for the better delivery of justice.

Thomas Seckford (left) died in January 1587, although we are not sure exactly when, whilst in his early seventies. His mother was Margaret Wingfield, relating him to both the de la Pole and Brandon families, and her mother was an Audley. In fact, Thomas could claim double descent from Edward I, through Joan of Acre, as well as many other great mediaeval magnates, including Edmund “Crouchback”. At his death, Thomas Seckford remained without issue, just like his fellow long-term royal servant Henry Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon. I need hardly add that Huntingdon was his cousin.

Walk This Way!

Picture of people in medieval dress

Apparently it has been discovered that up until 1500 approximately, people walked differently! Have a look at this article and watch the video – it is fascinating and I bet you can’t resist trying it for yourself. They say it improves posture and strengthens the calf muscles. I think it looks rather elegant!

 

 

Image credit: By Paul Mercuri [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A Bayeux Tapestry replica comes to Woodbridge

This EADT article explains how, with help from the writers Michael Linton and Charlie Haylock, together with the Mayor and themselves, have ensured that a metal replica of the tapestry will be on show in Woodbridge for two months:image (2)image (3)

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