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The advantages of marrying young

Although the medieval practice of child marriage seems strange to us, if not repulsive, there were advantages that arose from it, particularly for the bride.

For example, Anne of Gloucester, Richard II’s cousin and daughter of Thomas of Woodstock married the Earl of Stafford at a very early age. He died while she was still far too young for the marriage to be consummated. Nevertheless, she was granted dower, one third of his lands for life.

You might have thought that with the marriage not being consummated it would have been classed as null and void. After all, any Church court was ready to void an unconsummated marriage between adults. However, this is one of those areas where the English Common Law took a hand, and it took the view that even so young a “wife” as Anne was entitled to her marital dower lands in the event of her husband’s death.

The advantages of child marriage, where substantial lands were concerned, are therefore quite obvious from the point of view of the bride’s parents. Of course the snag was that she had no say in the choice of bridegroom, but then again, at this level of society in this era she rarely would have done anyway. (Fond parents did sometimes allow a girl to reject a marriage she found repulsive, but this is not at all the same as having free choice.) It is worth pointing out – for this is sometimes forgotten – that the male partner, if under age, had no choice either.

Anne subsequently married her first husband’s brother, who did grow up to young manhood. Their marriage was duly consummated. When he died, still only young, at the battle of Shrewsbury in 1403, Anne received in compensation yet another third of the Stafford lands in dower. As she was also her father’s sole heiress (her surviving sisters having become nuns) she had inherited his lands too, as well as those of those of her mother, co-heiress of the Bohun family.

In 1405 Anne married (presumably her own choice this time) William Bourchier, later Count of Eu.) When he died in 1420 she received dower from him too.

Anne herself lived into 1438, and died a very wealthy woman indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some York cottages from Richard’s time….

31 North Street, York – photograph taken from article

This link takes you to an article  about the medieval church cottages in North Street, York, next to All Saints Church. The article is about all the cottages, which were built around the time of Richard III, but concentrates on one in particular, number 31 North Street. There are some excellent old photographs.

After standing empty and almost derelict, in the early 1970s the cottages were saved and turned into dwellings again.

Oh, and the article also tells of a small building that had some claims to being the ‘smallest house in England’!

 

Shadow King: the Life and Death of Henry VI


Shadow King: The Life and Death of Henry VI by Lauren Johnson

Head of Zeus Publications, 2020, paperback, 700 pages, £12.00
ISBN 978-1784-979645

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Henry VI has gone down in history as one of England’s worst kings. Not for being cruel or despotic; on the contrary, his nature was kindly and pliant, peace-loving and deeply devout – qualities that made him likeable as a person but hopeless as a monarch, a faint wavering shadow of his shrewd, martial father. His life would have been very different, and he may have become a better ruler, had he grown to manhood under the guidance of Henry V, this perfect model of the medieval warrior-statesman. Instead, by the latter’s untimely death in 1422 with his French kingdom far from pacified, the infant Henry only received the dire legacy of an unwinnable war, and perpetual bitter conflict between members of his family over the implementation of the late king’s will and their respective powers on the minority council.

Such is the context for the opening chapters of Lauren Johnson’s sympathetic new study, which sets out to ‘explore Henry VI as an evolving individual struggling in an extraordinary situation. In short, to consider him as a man.’ Recently released in paperback, Shadow King is a handsome volume, illustrated with 24 colour plates, family trees of the Houses of Lancaster, Beaufort and York, and three helpful maps, (France 1415 – 53; Wars of the Roses battles 1455 – 71; and 15th century noble landholding in England and Wales).

The well-referenced text falls into logical sections: Henry’s minority 1422 – 37; adult rule to 1453, including his marriage to Margaret of Anjou; political and mental breakdown, culminating in his deposition by Edward IV at Towton in 1461; his fugitive years, short-lived re-adeption, and eventual fate in the Tower of London. A brief ‘Afterlife’ and epilogue conclude the sad, strange stories of this unfortunate king and his queen, followed by two appendices, ‘Where did Henry VI die?’ and ‘Key Characters’, 68 pages of notes, and an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources.

Stylistically, some passages read like an historical novel: ‘The inky waters of the River Thames rippled and slid beneath the wherrymen’s oars. In places the peaks of the waves glistened, light falling from the windows of Winchester Palace as bursts of laughter and music echoed out.’ (Page 45). Such imaginative touches bring the text to life for many readers, although my own preference is for Johnson’s straight prose, which I found admirably clear and refreshing. Why gild the lily?

As for content, I particularly enjoyed the first two sections. Johnson makes excellent use of some seldom-used sources to paint a convincing, detailed picture of Henry’s early life. Her exposition of the complex political situations in England and France, (riven by its own civil war between the Armagnacs and Burgundians), and the equally complex personal war between Henry’s kinsmen, is lucid and easy to follow; and she offers some perceptive analyses of the likely effects on an impressionable child of having to perform the rituals of royalty surrounded by such constant conflict and tension. Theoretically wielding absolute power but practically powerless to control his feuding councillors, it’s no wonder that Henry grew up hating discord, and wishing only to please and appease the people closest to him, emotionally or literally.

However, as the story moved into more familiar territory, I felt some disappointment. Plainly no fan of Richard, Duke of York, Johnson gives short shrift to his justifiable reasons for expecting a primary place on Henry’s council/in his confidence, and justifiable chagrin at being passed over for lesser men. York’s assumption of pre-eminence was based on his royal pedigree: descended from the second and fifth sons of Edward III via his mother and father respectively, he was one of England’s wealthiest magnates with a claim to the throne arguably stronger than Henry’s. This was not lost upon the king’s beloved Beaufort kin, a legitimated line sprung from John, Duke of Lancaster’s affair with Kathryn Swynford, who, (along with sundry other jealous rivals), persistently undermined York in Henry’s malleable affections. Had Henry managed to keep his powerful cousin on-side, the Wars of the Roses might never have happened; instead, he progressively alienated York, and wounded his pride, by showing an unfair and obvious partiality for the base-born Beauforts . It seems a shame that Johnson doesn’t extend her even-handed approach to Duke Richard, or treat him as another ‘evolving individual struggling in an extraordinary situation’ who, no less than Henry VI, deserves to be viewed ‘as a man’ trying to do his best for his country, his family and himself.

I was also disappointed by the brief, conventional accounts of the battles of Wakefield and Towton, the great Lancastrian victory followed shortly by the catastrophic defeat which cost Henry his crown, changing his life – and the course of English history – forever. In a work of this magnitude, it’s inevitable that some areas will be less well researched than others; nonetheless, for such a crucial episode, it was frustrating to see some old Wakefield myths perpetuated and enlarged. Like other commentators unfamiliar with the place, Johnson describes Sandal Castle as ‘majestic’ when, as castles go, it’s quite small (Sandal would fit inside the truly majestic Pontefract Castle several times over) and utilitarian. Interestingly, the ‘meagre’ household expenditure of £4 6s 7d for the Christmas – New Year period is cited to show that the castle was poorly provisioned, whereas to me it says precisely the opposite: it was already so well provisioned that little further spending was required. (I say ‘little,’ but the sum in question represents around 18 months – three years’ pay for a labourer, or six months’ pay for a liveried archer – it’s all relative!). This debatable interpretation is then used to present a version of the battle of Wakefield which simply doesn’t make sense: York, Salisbury, Rutland and their men, driven by hunger to hunt in the deer-park ‘north of the River Calder,’ ambushed by the Lancastrian army and slaughtered. Said deer park wasn’t just north of the river – it was the Outwood, some three miles north of Sandal and two miles north of Wakefield city, with its chantry chapel of St Mary perched on the Calder bridge; an unnecessarily long way to go when Sandal Castle had its own deer-park to the south, literally on its threshold, and miles of nearby river for fishing and wild-fowl hunting. (For my personal take on the battle, see this article ) I also found her treatment of Towton somewhat superficial, and lacking reference to more recent studies such as those by George Goodwin and Tim Sutherland.

Suffice to say, if I wasn’t such a pro-Yorkist anorak about this period in Wars of the Roses history, these criticisms wouldn’t have occurred, and I would have read the whole book with the same relish as I devoured the earlier sections! So, on the whole, I’m happy to recommend Shadow King as a worthwhile read, an enthralling tragedy which left me moved and thoughtful, and which will make a valuable addition to my bookshelves.

Combining genetics with genealogy to identify the dead in unmarked graves….

 

Can you imagine swarms of investigators milling around unmarked graves (and known graves) across the UK, taking samples of DNA in the hope of locating someone of historic interest? After all, it’s how Michael Ibsen’s descent from Richard’s sister was discovered.

Well, the nature of events in Quebec, Canada, described in this article, raise some interesting points.

Such searches aren’t likely to happen en masse, of course, but if they did, I wonder just whose last resting place might be unearthed? And just who might be proved to NOT be the son/daughter of the parents to whom they’re credited? Some new historical mysteries might be solved…and some very intriguing possibilities created where they weren’t before!

Anne Boleyn’s grandfather? Or John Howard’s son….!

I prefer to think of the 2nd (Howard) Duke of Norfolk as the great John Howard’s son…Anne Boleyn, fascinating as she was, is not of such great interest to devotees of the House of York, and Richard III in particular.

John Howard, 1st Duke of Norfolk, was, of course, killed at Bosworth, and Thomas Howard (then Earl of Surrey and the subject of this new book) was captured. He eventually bit the proverbial bullet (or whatever a magnate of the period would have bitten) and served Henry Tudor, albeit without all the lands and influence his father had enjoyed.

He was a survivor, there’s no doubt about that, and he now has his own biography. I have yet to read it, so cannot comment on the book itself, but I can draw attention to it as of probable interest to readers of this blog.

To read more, go to this EADT article

The book is The Man Behind the Tudors, by Kirsten Claiden Yardley, and is published by Pen & Sword History at £19.99

A piece of Richard’s sarcophagus….

 

Nevill Holt Opera – from the article

Here is an interesting little comment: “….in the Picnic Chapel, which contains a small stone that is a remaining part of the stone used to make Richard III’s sarcophagus in Leicester Cathedral….”

This stone is at Nevill Holt Opera, near Market Harborough, and the sentence is right at the end of this link. this link

Nevill Holt Opera’s 2020 season runs from 10 June to 1 July. For full details and tickets visit the Nevill Holt Opera website.

The connection with Richard is an extra attraction!

Nevill Holt Opera – from the article

 Of course, this post was written before Covid 19 descended upon us all, but I’m sure the Opera will return!

Queen Joan? Oh, no she wasn’t….!

 

The illustration above is from Dan Jones’s book Summer of Blood: the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. Part of the caption is “Queen Joan, Richard II’s mother, pleading with the rebels as the Savoy burned”. Elsewhere in the same book, Joan is referred to as the queen mother.

According to Merriam Webster, the first known use of ‘queen mother’ is 1560, and it is defined as “a queen dowager who is mother of the reigning sovereign”. Joan, of course, was never a queen. She was married to Edward, Prince of Wales (the Black Prince) who died before he ascended the throne. So Joan was only Princess of Wales. This applied even when her son became Richard II. Being the mother of the king didn’t make her a queen (ask Margaret Beaufort!) so Dan Jones’s caption is incorrect, and should read “Joan, Princess of Wales, Richard II’s mother, pleading with the rebels as the Savoy burned”.

The suppression of witchcraft, 1484 style….

from Britannica.com

On 5th December 1484 Pope Innocent VIII issued a papal bull known as Summis desiderantes affectibus (“desiring with supreme ardour”). Its purpose was to suppress the practice of witchcraft by any necessary means.

The following paragraph is taken from the 1928 English translation of it:-

“….Many persons of both sexes, unmindful of their own salvation and straying from the Catholic Faith, have abandoned themselves to devils, incubi and succubi, and by their incantations, spells, conjurations, and other accursed charms and crafts, enormities and horrid offences, have slain infants yet in the mother’s womb, as also the offspring of cattle, have blasted the produce of the earth, the grapes of the vine, the fruits of the trees, nay, men and women, beasts of burthen, herd-beasts, as well as animals of other kinds, vineyards, orchards, meadows, pasture-land, corn, wheat, and all other cereals; these wretches furthermore afflict and torment men and women, beasts of burthen, herd-beasts, as well as animals of other kinds, with terrible and piteous pains and sore diseases, both internal and external; they hinder men from performing the sexual act and women from conceiving, …they blasphemously renounce that Faith which is theirs by the Sacrament of Baptism, and at the instigation of the Enemy of Mankind they do not shrink from committing and perpetrating the foulest abominations and filthiest excesses to the deadly peril of their own souls, …the abominations and enormities in question remain unpunished not without open danger to the souls of many and peril of eternal damnation.…”

Pretty strong stuff. The bull was prompted originally by a request from the Dominican Inquisitor in Germany concerning witchcraft in the Rhine Valley. The number of people thought to be practicing witchcraft was increasing throughout western Europe, but especially in Germany. Innocent issued the bull and despatched inquisitors there to deal with the matter, but the ultimate intention was the destruction of witchcraft in whatever country it appeared.

To read more, go to this article.

Innocent VIII, commemorative medallion by Niccolò Fiorentino.Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., the Samuel H. Kress Collection

An explanatory list of medieval ships….

 

Apart from experts, how many of us know what a cog or a caravel looked like? How big was it? How many sails? Where would they be found? Well, I have just happened upon this site which is very helpful and has some excellent illustrations. It’s not the ultimate source for all things seaworthy, but it certainly goes a long way toward it.

I hope it will help you too.

Wells Cathedral, in glorious Medieval Technicolor…!

 

from the BBC

We’re often told that the medieval period was one of bright colours. The interiors of castles and great houses were painted with vivid scenes, and the churches and cathedrals were brilliantly decorated. It’s one thing to know this, but quite another to actually see what it might have been like. The above illustration of Wells Cathedral shows how it might have appeared prior to the 14th/15th century addition of the two West Front towers we know today and that Stillington would have seen. It really is quite incredible.

The picture below is how Turner saw the cathedral in 1795, after Monmouth’s rebels stripped it of lead for ammunition, when it was more or less as we see it now.

 

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