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Maldon

Following an unsuccesful Viking raid in 924, the battle of Maldon took place in August 991 and the result was a victory for the Norse invaders. Byrthnoth, the Essex earldorman who led the Saxons that day, was among those killed and Ethelred II instituted payment of the “Danegeld” to pacify the Vikings. This Byrthnoth statue (left), consequently, is displayed and a tapestry marking the millennium is part of the Maeldune Centre, to which we shall return.

Just over a mile from the town centre is Beeleigh Abbey, where Isabel Countess of Essex (Richard’s aunt) was buried, together with her Bourchier husband and son, before they were moved to Little Easton by her grandson, then Earl of Essex, at the time of the Dissolution, as were the Mowbrays and Howards in Thetford. The Abbey is closed nowadays, although it can be viewed from the gardens, which remain open.

This Essex town, by the Blackwater Estuary and the narrower River Chelmer, lies about six miles from Witham and was previously accessible from there by train. This plaque (left) by the Moot Hall details the more recent historic buildings, many of them on the High Street. The Rose and Crown (bottom) is one of these, down the hill and still in operation as an inn today.

The Maeldune Centre itself lies at the Market Hill junction, by Coes. Across the road is a long redundant church (St. Peter’s), which was adapted by the Maldon-born Thomas Plume (1630-1704), Vicar of Greenwich and Archdeacon of Rochester, to place Maldon Grammar School on the ground floor and his extraordinary private library (below left) on the first. The school has moved on but the Plume Library, funded by the income from nearby farmland, still stands.

Here, in a structure open only eight hours a week and accessible by a spiral staircase, the books are arranged by size and are not lent but have been stored since Plume’s time and a modern volume is very occasionally added. The collection relates to Plume’s interests in theology, history, science and philosophy, as well as the Civil War that plagued his youth. Some of the leather spines on the books are disintegrating although the pages themselves are in good condition.

Plume’s collection also includes a notable range of portraits, including all the monarchs of his lifetime and others from Edward IV, but excluding Edward V, the first two “Tudors” and Jane. The portraits include other clerics, including an “unknown divine”, whilst that of Charles I was made before his beard made an appearance. Groups can visit only by appointment and the total capacity is limited to twelve, including the staff.

So, to view a good portrait of Richard III and the former burial place of his Bourchier relatives, as well as some other history, Maldon is certainly worth a day out. All Saints, the contemporary civic church, houses the remains of George Washington‘s great-grandfather.

EADGYTH, A SAXON PRINCESS DISCOVERED

Shortly before Richard III’s remains were discovered, another ancient member of the English royalty was  found–the Saxon Princess Eadgyth who became Queen of Germany in 930 through her marriage to King Otto. Her father was Edward the Elder and so she was Alfred the Great’s granddaughter. She died at around 30 and was buried at the monastery of St Maurice, but in the 16th c her tomb was moved to Magdeburg Cathedral. Long thought to be empty, it turned out there was an ossuary chest within that had her name on it. The bones within the chest were removed for examination.

Carbon dates showed that the remains from Magdeburg were in the right era to be Eadgyth but more information was needed to confirm a probable identification as Eadgyth. So isotope analysis was done on the tooth enamel, confirming that the person in question had grown up on the chalklands of Wessex in their youth. This was enough to say in all probability, the fragmented skeleton was that of Eadgyth.

The Bones of Princes Eadgyth

Below: statue of Eadgyth, Queen of Germany, granddaughter of ALFRED THE GREAT.

eadgyth

Music to the bells of St Nicholas, Leicester….

I haven’t heard any of this music, on the site of Leicester’s Saxon Cathedral, so cannot say what it’s like. But it sounds intriguing

London: 2000 years of history (channel 5)

Who let Dan Jones out? At least, as in his last outing, he is accompanied both by a historian (Suzannah Lipscomb) and an engineer (Rob Bell), narrating and illustrating almost two millennia of the city’s past.

In the first episode, we were taken through the walled city of “Londinium” being built and rebuilt after Boudicca’s revolt. Whilst Bell showed us the Kent stone from which the original Tower was built, we were told about the Ampitheatre and the remains, near Spitalfields, that include the “Lamb Street Teenager” and the slaves that helped to build the city, strategically located on the Thames. Some archaeology has resulted from the building of Crossrail.
As Roman Britain ended and the Anglo-Saxons arrived, their original city (“Londonwych”) was on a smaller scale. Viking raids followed and Alfred moved the city inside the Roman walls as “Londonburgh”, as broken glass and pottery found near Covent Garden testifies, with the previous entity further east now being known as Aldwych. Although the Vikings took the city, Ethelred II reconquered it and destroyed London Bridge as well.
The programme finished with William I’s coronation on Christmas Day 1066, followed by his rebuilding of the Tower with Norman stone, not to be confused with this historian, with the domes later added by Henry VIII.

The second episode showed us Westminster Abbey, later to be rebuilt at great expense by  Henry III, in a smaller city then separate from London, where every coronation since Harold II has taken place, followed by Westminster Hall, where Wallace, Fawkes and Charles I were all sentenced to death. Half of the evolving city’s population fell victim to the Black Death, after which Richard Whittington, younger son of a Gloucestershire knight, really did serve as Mayor three or four times under Richard II and Henry IV. The population then increased exponentially to the days of the wealthy Cardinal Wolsey, who built Whitehall Palace before falling from Henry VIII’s favour, so Henry and his successors occupied it from 1530 until the fire of 1698. This part ended with Elizabeth I knighting Drake aboard the Golden Hind.

Week three covered the Great Fire, which the trio had previously examined in much greater detail, although they did mention Pepys’ description, the probable origin in a Monument Lane bakery, the timber-framed buildings of the old city and the easterly wind that spread the fire. Although we can see the new St. Paul’s today, Wren’s original plan for the area was even more radical, featuring a Glasgow-style grid of streets. London then expanded to the west for merchants and their imports via the Thames, whilst the poor stayed in the east where gin was popular. In the nineteenth century, industrialisation caused the city’s population to rise rapidly, although smog became a factor.
London Bridge became the city’s first rail terminus, in 1836, before Euston was built and Paddington was soon added to serve Brunel’s Great Western lines. The steep hills of Hampstead were overcome through a man-made valley, as Bell showed by visiting the abandoned Highgate station, allowing London to expand to the north. Poor water hygiene caused a cholera outbreak, which Bazalgette’s civil engineering solved with pumping stations, sewers and the reclaiming of land. Heavy traffic then necessitated the strengthening of the ancient bridges. The reclaimed land (Embankment) and Great Fire site (Monument) are both remembered on the Underground map.

The series concluded by pointing out that road congestion was quite possibly worse in 1860 than it is now, as trains were banned from running within two miles of the epicentre at street level. The solution was to run them underground, with the Metropolitan line being started first by “cut and cover” and the Northern line, authentically bored, to follow. Residents moved out of the first engineered areas to the east, leaving Shoreditch and Whitechapel overcrowded with twice the mortality level of London as a whole. By 1890, the capital had five million residents and Charles Booth’s “poverty map” highlighted a quarter of these, with the worst cases in the East End, where “Jack the Ripper” preyed on some of them. From the maps, living conditions were addressed and the worst slums demolished. Following Edward VII’s accession in January 1901, recognisable modern buildings such as Admiralty Arch, the MI5 building and the War Office arose. Visitors could stay in hotels such as the Savoy and shop at Selfridges as we can do today. Suffragettes were active before the First World War, during which they suspended their activities and many worked in armaments manufacture, for instance at the Royal Ordnance factory known as the Woolwich Arsenal.
Air warfare came to London with Zeppelin bombs in 1915. In the remainder of the conflict, there were thirty raids killing forty thousand people, including thirty children at Poplar in 1917. Armistice Day was followed by the “Spanish ‘flu”, which was generally three times as deadly as the war itself, with some 20,000 deaths in London alone. In the following years, houses were built along the expanded Metropolitan Lane, taking in towns such as Pinner and Harrow, and advertised in a “Metroland” magazine to raise the population to 8.6 million. The Blitz brought the Second World War to London a year after the start but, importantly, after the corrugated tin structures known as Anderson shelters were made available. It happened on fifty-seven consecutive nights in the first instance and a total of two million homes were damaged or destroyed. Replacing these and housing Commonwealth immigration from 1948 was hampered by the Green Belt so that London could no longer expand outwards, only upwards. As freight expanded, containers could no longer fit into the Thames so the docks were less busy from the sixties, in favour of more coastal ports. However, Docklands regeneration was initiated in the eighties as the City was pushed eastwards to Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs. In a further effort to relieve congestion, the great Crossrail project opens later this year with twenty six miles of new tunnels, forty-two metres below ground, providing a unique archaeological opportunity to view London’s past.

In conclusion, it is possible to enjoy a history programme with Dan Jones, so long as he has at least two colleagues and cannot simply indulge his prejudices against particular figures. The second half of the series was more a social and economic history, which is a further restraint.

On the trail of the golden dragon of Wessex….

Royal coat of arms of Elizabeth I in the church of St Thomas and St Edmund at Salisbury

Royal coat-of-arms of Elizabeth I in the church of St Thomas and St Edmund in Salisbury

The Golden Dragon of Burford in Oxfordshire isn’t a takeaway! It’s the pagan banner of the Anglo-Saxon King of Mercia, Aethelbert, who was defeated at the Battle of Burford in AD 752 by Cuthbert, King of the West Saxons. Aethelbert’s golden–dragon banner was taken, and for centuries the outcome of this battle was celebrated in the town by a procession and much festivity. In the 1979 parade, 25 local schoolchildren provided the legs of a 50’ dragon!

Burford - Golden Dragon Procession in 1979

My first port of call for the (completely unassociated!) information I was actually looking for, happened to take me to this site , where I found:-

“Malmesbury and other chroniclers record a battle between the West Saxons and Mercians at Burford in AD 752. In the end Æthelhum, the Mercian standard-bearer who carried the flag with a golden dragon on it, was killed by the lance of his Saxon rival. The Anglo-Saxon Chronical records “A.D 752. This year Cuthred [Cuthbert], king of the West Saxons, in the 12th year of his reign, fought at Burford, against Aethelbaldof the Mercians , and put him to flight.”

Aethelhum/Erle Adellum the standard-bearer turned up elsewhere.

We read also y’ Cuthred, King of y”^ West Saxons, encountring King Ethelbald,

had y” standard of y” golden Dragon borne before him by Earle Adellum. \_Ro. Hoveden,

  1. 234, No. 20, jf 740.]

The historian William Camden (1551–1623) wrote

“… in Saxon Beorgford [i.e. Burford], where Cuthred, king of the West Saxons, then tributary to the Mercians, not being able to endure any longer the cruelty and base exactions of King Æthelbald, met him in the open field with an army and beat him, taking his standard, which was a portraiture of a golden dragon.”

The origin of the golden dragon standard is attributed to Uther Pendragon, the father of King Arthur, of whom Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote:-

“[Uther Pendragon] “… ordered two dragons to be fashioned in gold, in the likeness of the one which he had seen in the ray which shone from that star. As soon as the Dragons had been completed this with the most marvellous craftsmanship – he made a present of one of them to the congregation of the cathedral church of the see of Winchester. The second one he kept for himself, so that he could carry it around to his wars.”

In the late 16th or early 17th century the people of Burford still celebrated the anniversary of the battle. Camden wrote: “There has been a custom in the town of making a great dragon yearly, and carrying it up and down the streets in great jollity on St John’s Eve.” The field traditionally claimed to be that of the battle is still called Battle Edge.

Next I was led to this site

“. . . The Battle of Burford took place in 752AD and the King of Mercia, Aethelbald was defeated by King Cuthred, the King of the West Saxons. King Cuthrd won the battle and took the standard, a golden dragon. The field where the Battle took place was called Battle-Edge located beside Sheep St and Tanners Lane. There are houses there now but one of the houses is called Battle House. In 1852 some men were making a road from Burford to Barrington and discovered a large stone weighing nearly three tons which was found to contain the remains of a human body with remnants of a leather cuirass studded with metal nails. The coffin is still preserved in the Burford church. Apparently, in years gone past, there was a street parade through Burford, with the dragon as its focus. . .” 

By now quite interested in the golden dragon and the mystery burial at Burford, I found:-

According to Reverend Francis Knollis’ description of the discovery, “On 21 November 1814 a large freestone sarcophagus discovered near Battle Edge 3 feet (0.91 m) below ground, weighing 16 long hundredweight (1,800 lb; 810 kg) with the feet pointing almost due south. The interior is 6 feet (1.8 m) long and 2 feet 2 inches (0.66 m) wide. It was found to contain the remains of a human body, with portions of a leather cuirass studded with metal nails. The skeleton was found in near perfect state due to the exclusion of air from the sarcophagus.” The coffin is now preserved in Burford churchyard, near the west gate. 

“Whose fame is in that dark green tomb? Four stones with their heads of moss stand there. They mark the narrow house of death. Some chief of fame is here! Raise the songs of old! Awake their memory in the tomb.” – Ossian 

The coffin is no longer inside the church, but outside. If, indeed, it ever was inside:-

This saysA stone coffin was found in 1814 a mile from Burford, on a new road being constructed from Upton to Little Barrington. The coffin contained a human skeleton and pieces of metal studded leather – possibly hobnail shoes or sandals. The coffin and its contents were dated as Roman. The remains were removed to the British Museum and the coffin was recorded as being placed in Burford Church in an aisle called ‘Sylvesters’. 

However, a recent visit to the church, and information gathered from the Verger, revealed that in fact the coffin was never inside the church. It sits by the churchyard wall to the north-west side with other large stones. The verger explained that the second large stone coffin was probably medieval, the stone (half) sitting on top of it was reported to be part of the top of the Roman coffin, and the large stone leaning against the wall was the top of the medieval coffin. One of the other stones, seen in the photographs, could be the other half of the Roman top.

So, was the 1814 Roman, and therefore nothing to do with the battle of AD792? Or was the medieval coffin more relevant? It depends, of course, upon what one means by “medieval”. It would be interesting anyway to learn to whom such a striking burial (the one in 1814) belonged. A stone sarcophagus weighing almost three tons, buried three feet underground? With four marker stones topped with moss? And there was a perfect skeleton inside? If it had anything to do with the battle, it could not be the unfortunate Aethelbert, who was “put to flight”, not killed. Maybe it was Erle Adellum, the bearer of the golden dragon standard? Or was he another Sir John Cheyne, and lost the standard, but lived to tell the tale. Or not tell it, probably, since Cheyne was a giant and was unhorsed by the much smaller Richard III with a broken lance. (Oh, I love that story!) Whoever he was, his skeleton seems to have disappeared now, or is stored somewhere in a box. Hmm, sound familiar?

In Britain, the golden dragon is definitely associated with Uther Pendragon, and thus, presumably, with King Arthur himself. Being able to claim such famous ancestors was a great thing for royalty and nobles in the medieval period, and so heraldic golden dragons have turned up a number of times. Harold Godwinson carried the golden dragon, and there is a school of thought that believes (because he carried it, and was the final Saxon king) the golden dragon was the last truly authentic flag of England.

Harold with the golden dragon...or is it white...or white and gold

Harold carrying a dragon shield – is it a golden dragon? A white dragon? Or a white-and- gold dragon? Whatever, it’s a dragon with gold on it!

At least one of the Plantagenets used it too. “By 1300, a banner of St Edmund was displayed in Westminster Abbey alongside banners of St George and St Edward and a special standard bearing a golden dragon commissioned by Henry III.”

Henry III

It was also used by Owain Glyndŵr, and purloined in a red form by the Tudors. But sometimes Elizabeth I was known to have substituted the red dragon supporter for a golden one (see top picture above). And the golden dragon still crops up in present-day county coats-of-arms, e.g. Dorset. Mostly, of course, those counties that are in what was once the Kingdom of the West Saxons.

So, how important should the golden dragon still be to the heraldry of this country? But, I suppose, it would only go the same way as the red dragon of Wales. . .and be omitted from the Union Jack.

Golden Dragon

A Scottish Crown Jewel found in Durham Cathedral?

Has the Black Rood of Scotland been hiding in plain sight, indeed? Well, David Willem think so and is speaking about it in Edinburgh on Wednesday, how Margaret of Wessex took this cross to Scotland in 1068, how Edward I removed it along with the Stone of Destiny but it was returned and relocated again, to Durham, after David II’s defeat at the nearby Neville’s Cross. It is known to have been there until about 1540.

At Durham Cathedral, a similarly jewel-encrusted gold cross was found in St. Cuthbert’s grave in 1827. Is this the missing part of the Scottish Crown Jewels?

Tostig of Northumberland

Here is Mercedes Rochelle’s excellent post about Tostig Godwinson, brother of Harold II. He was Earl of Northumbria for ten years before the rebellion

in that region in late 1065. He then tried to overthrow Harold from the south in May and from the north in September, with Norwegian support, ending in his defeat and death at Stamford Bridge. With Harold, he had taken part in a partial conquest of Wales in 1063. The Kirkdale Sundial, which also reads “IN TOSTI DAGVM EORL+” (“in Earl Tostig’s day”), is pictured left.

The parallels with George, Duke of Clarence (above right), who acted against Edward IV in the 1469-70 readeption and apparently sought to do so in 1477 are interesting.

The Bayeux Tapestry – in action….!

If you haven’t seen this before, it’s well worth watching. Very clever.

A SAINT’S SHRINE IN OXFORD

Oxford’s Christ Church Cathedral lies in the precincts of  the college of the same name. Originally it was the church of St Frideswide’s priory, and contained a shrine bearing the saint’s relics. This shrine was destroyed in the reformation but has since been pieced together as much as possible. The remains include some rare carvings of the ‘natural world’ including heads wreathed in foliage which may  represent Frideswide and her nuns. Next to the shrine is what is called a ‘watching chamber’, where someone would keep watch over the gold and jewels that decorated the saint’s shrine. The watching chamber was built in the late 15th or early 16th century, possibly  by none other than the infamous Bishop John Morton…

Frideswide was a particularly venerated in the Oxford area, and  one of Francis Lovell’s sisters bears her name.

The church also contains several notable medieval burials, including the beautiful tomb of Elizabeth de Montfort (died 1354), Baroness Montacute, an ancestor of  Richard Neville–Warwick the Kingmaker. Bright colours remain on the  tomb-chest even today–although the faces were all smashed off the carved weepers during the Reformation. The numerous weepers once depicted Elizabeth’s children.The remains of a chantry chapel with a painted vaulted ceiling extends from  the Baroness’tomb.

There is also the effigy of an enormous knight whose identity is not known for certain–it is given as Sir Henry de Bathe or Sir George Nowers,  a companion of the Black Prince who died in 1425. (It is more likely to be the latter. )Whoever it was, the armour detail is very fine and the skeleton within was about 6ft 8!

 

A WEEKEND IN A MEDIEVAL MANOR IN WALES

If you are looking for a pleasant medieval weekend away you could do worse than  staying at the manor house of St Pierre, near Chepstow in Wales. The deerpark may be a golf course now but there are still acres to walk, an ancient church,  and a handsome twin-towered gatehouse surrounded by a courtyard.

The church of St Peter retains some Saxon stonework but also Norman work, including a memorial slab in Norman French to one of the founding early members of the St Pierre family, Urien de SaInt Pierre, who died in 1239.

Sometimes around 1380, the manor came into the possession of Sir David Ap Phillip, who served under both Henry IV and Henry V. Henry must have trusted Sir David well, for not only did he make him governor of Calais,  it is said he hid the crown jewels at the manor house of St Pierre during his absence from England. Sir David had a son called Lewis, and the family decided from then on to adopt the name ‘Lewis’ as their surname.

Lewis, David Ap Phillip’s son, had a son called Thomas Lewis, who  was a supporter of the Yorkist cause. Unfortunately he was killed at the Battle of Edgecote in 1469.

A pleasant walk from the manor house will take you to  another interesting historical village called Mathern. It has a holy well sacred to the early king (and saint) Tewdric, who was supposed to have washed his battle wounds there before dying,  as well as a fine church where the king was buried in 630 (the present building is 15th c.). His stone coffin was apparently still visible in 1881, and local reported you could look in it and see his skull, complete with spear-wound.

Mathern also has the lived in (private) remains of a palace belonging to the Bishops of Llandaff. Some of the extant remains date to around 1419. There is also another ancient  house, Moynes Court, which is occasionally open to the public.  The present building is mostly from the 1600’s but has subsumed and earlier house and there are earthwork remains from what may have been a moated manor.

 

St Pierre and church

 

 

 

 

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