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.
St Erasmus in Bishops Islip’s Chapel, Westminster Abbey by Joseph Mallord William Turner c.1796. The original chapel of St Erasmus, built by Elizabeth Wydeville, was the site of Anne Mowbray’s first burial and after recovery of her coffin she was reburied in the rebuilt Chapel.
Anne Mowbray, Duchess of Norfolk, was born in Framlingham Castle, Suffolk on Thursday 10 December 1472. John Paston wrote ‘On Thursday by 10 of the clock before noon my young lady was christened and named Anne’ (1). Anne died, just 8 years later and a few weeks short of her 9th birthday at Greenwich Palace,one of her mother-in-law’s, Elizabeth Wydeville, favourite homes, on the 19 November 1481, where presumably she was being raised. Anne was the sole heiress of John de Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, who died suddenly on the 14 January 1476 when Anne was three years old. This left her as one of the most sought after heiresses of the time and ‘ten days later it was known that Edward lV was seeking her as a bride for his younger son, Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York'(2). Agreement was eventually reached between King Edward and Anne’s mother, Elizabeth Mowbray nee Talbot, the Duchess of Norfolk that the Duchess, with the Duchess agreeing ‘to forego a great part of her jointure and dower lands in favour of her daughter and little son-in-law, Richard, Duke of York. This act settled also settled the Norfolk lands and titles on the Duke of York and his heirs should Anne Mowbray predeceased him leaving no heirs’ (3) which is precisely what transpired. Nothing has survived of Elizabeth Mowbray’s personal thoughts on this. The children were eventually married on the 15 January 1478 in St Stephens Chapel, Westminster, with the bridegroom’s uncle-in-law, Richard Duke of Gloucester leading her by the hand and Anne is perhaps best known for being the child bride of one of the ‘princes’ in the Tower.
Framlingham Castle, Suffolk. Home to the Mowbrays and where Anne Mowbray was born Thursday 10 December 1472.
Her father-in-law sent three barges to escort her body back to Westminster, where she lay in state in the Jerusalem Chamber before being buried in the Chapel of St Erasmus in Westminster Abbey which had been built recently by Elizabeth Wydeville, the funeral costs amounting to £215.16s.10d. This chapel was pulled down in 1502 to make way for a new Lady Chapel built by Henry Vll. When the chapel was demolished Anne’s coffin was removed to the convent of the Minoresses of St Clare without Aldgate, where her mother, Elizabeth Mowbray, in the interim, had retired to. It was believed that Anne had been reburied, along with others in the new chapel, dedicated to St Erasmus by Abbot Islip who had managed to rescue the Tabernacle from the old chapel and set it up in the new chapel which is now known as the Chapel of our Lady of the Pew.
It is intriguing to remember that Anne’s mother, Elizabeth Mowbray nee Talbot was the sister to Eleanor Butler nee Talbot. So ironically Anne’s aunt, Eleanor, was her father-in-law’s true wife, the irony of which surely would not have been wasted on King Edward unless he was suffering from selective amnesia! Her mother’s privy thoughts on this matter, assuming Eleanor had told of her secret marriage to Edward, are unrecorded as are her thoughts on the ‘unjust and unacceptable'(4) division of the Mowbray inheritance. The explanation of this rather unsavoury treatment of the Mowbray inheritance is rather complex and I wont go into it here suffice to say anyone interested in finding out more should read Anne Crawford’s article, The Mowbray Inheritance (5) which covers the matter more than adequately.
Elizabeth Mowbray nee Talbot. Her portait from the donor windows in Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford, Suffolk.
Anne, the nature of her final illness eludes us, would no doubt have gently receded and become forgotten in the mists of time had not her coffin been discovered by workmen on the 11 December 1964 and she was propelled into front page news leading to her descendant, an outraged Lord Mowbray, protesting in the strongest possible terms about the treatment of her remains. This quickly led to the matter being swiftly resolved, and Anne’s remains, surrounded by white roses, were once again laid in state in the Jerusalem Chamber, as they had been nearly 500 years previously. Anne was reburied in the Chapel of St Erasmus, with erroneous and histrionic reports stating that she had been interred ‘as near as possible’ to the remains of her young husband, Richard, whose purported remains lay in the infamous urn in the Henry Vll Chapel. Later Lawrence Tanner, Keeper of the Muniments and Librarian of Westminster Abbey (and in a position to know) was to debunk this myth writing that he, himself, had suggested that Anne’s remains be reinterred ‘very near to the probable site of her original burial place’ which was what duly happened(6).
Anne’s lead coffin with latin inscription, with her ‘masses of brown hair’.
So what happened from the time of the discovery of Anne’s lead coffin to her reburial in the Abbey? The story is taken up by Bernard Barrell, a former member of the Metroplitan Police, who was now an ‘unofficial police contact’ whenever a coffin was unearthed in the area. According to Mr Barrell, in December 1964 workmen using a digging machine opened up a deep void in the ground revealing a brick vault filled with rubble, wherein they found a small lead coffin. A police constable being called to the scene the coffin was transferred to Leman street Police station. When Mr Barrel was called to the police station he was able to identify where the coffin had been discovered as the site of the former convent and was medieval in date. After satisfying the Coroners office that the burial was medieval and of archaeological interest he was instructed that if he was ‘unable to dispose of the coffin to a bona fide claimant’ within 24 hours it would be buried in a common grave in the City of London Cemetery, Manor Park. In the nick of time Mr Barrell noticed a plate attached the upper surface of the coffin which had been damaged when removed from the ground and stood upright. On cleaning the plate with a wet cloth, Mr Barrell revealed a medieval ‘black letter’ text in Latin which was difficult to decipher however he could make out two words ‘Filia Rex’ (Son of the king). Realising this was no ordinary burial but that of someone of high station a medieval latin scholar was summoned to the station who deciphered the whole text. The coffin was then taken by police van to the museum of London, where the remains were examined, the coffin conserved and repaired. (7)
Lawrence Tanner then takes the story over.
‘I saw the body a few days after the coffin had been opened and a very distressing sight it was and after again, after it had been cleaned and beautifully laid out in its lead coffin. She had masses of brown hair’. Tanner as already explained, suggested that a grave be made as near to where she was previously buried. And ‘There on a summer evening, after having laid in state covered by the Abbey Pall in the Jerusalem Chamber, the body of the child duchess was laid to rest. It was a deeply moving and impressive little service in the presence of a representative of the Queen, Lady and Lord Mowbray, Segrave and Stourton (representing Anne’s family), the Home secretary, the Director of the London Museum and one or two others (8)
Anne’s lead coffin surrounded by white flowers and candles, lying in state in the Jerusalem Chamber, on the Westminster Pall.
And so, on the 31 May 1965, Anne was reburied in an honourable place, with tenderness, love and care. It has been said that her coffin, at the Minories, had been forgotten and the intention was for her to be reburied when the new chapel was completed. But I’m unconvinced. Although as far as I can ascertain it was never mentioned in Elizabeth Talbot’s will, only that she be buried near to Anne Montgomery, I believe that the widowed Duchess of Norfolk, then living in retirement at the convent, requested that Anne, her little daughter be returned to her, finally, with the intention that when her time came, she would be buried near to her daughter. John Ashdown-Hill has written that ‘The remains of Elizabeth Talbot, Duchess of Norfolk, must have been lying quite close to those of her daughter…they were apparently not noticed, or any rate, not identified when Anne’s body was found’ (9)
The epitaph on the coffin may be translated as “Here lies Anne, Duchess of York, daughter and heiress of John,late Duke of Norfolk, Earl Marshal, Earl of Nottingham and Warenne, Marshal of England, Lord of Mowbray, Segrave and Gower. Late wife of Richard Duke of York, second son of the most illustrious Prince Edward the Fourth, King of England and France, and Lord of Ireland, who died at Greenwich on the 19th day of November in the year of Our Lord 1481 and the 21st year of the said Lord King”.
To begin this post, I will confess to having an attachment to the date of birth that Richard III wrote in his personal prayer-book. In his own hand, he inscribed next to the entry for October 2 the words “hac die natus erat Ricardus Rex anglie IIIus apud ffoderingay Anno D’ni mcccc lijo” (“at this day had been born King Richard III of England, at Fotheringhay, in the year of our Lord 1452”). I was born on October 2, five centuries later. As a student of “Ricardian” history, it’s a point of pride for me to be born on the same calendar day as Richard — which makes me rather eccentric to say the least.
Richard III’s Book of Hours – with handwritten notation of his birthdate (L)
Nevertheless, it’s rare that we get to see anyone from the medieval period writing down their birthday, and so it…
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(A Merry May Yesterday to you all! But before I begin, let me confess that I have gathered information for this article from the work of others, and the relevant webpages/sites are listed in the text and at the end.)
Yes, one of the above illustrations is of Joan of Arc, perhaps the most famous cross-dresser in history. The other is from http://io9.gizmodo.com/what-kind-of-armor-did-medieval-women-really-wear-1502779338. The point of including these pictures is that they show woman in armour. That is, a woman in traditionally male fighting attire. Bear this in mind as you read on.
As the title of this article suggests, I wish you to imagine the following. A May Day tournament is in progress somewhere in 14th century England. It is a glorious day, with the fresh green leaves of late spring, and all the flowers of the season in full bloom. Children dance around a maypole, a fair is doing roaring business, as are hawkers, ale tents, pie-sellers and all the other traders who feature at such events.
Colour is a feast for the eye, and everyone, including the populace, is in their best clothes. Banners stream, music plays, polished armour shines, hooves thud, weapons clash, and the crowds cheer. Heralds announce their lords, blacksmiths’ hammers clang, and trumpets blare.
Clad in their costly armour and riding their richly caparisoned coursers, the knights enter the field. Each one is preceded by his squire, riding the courser and carrying his master’s crested helm and lance. Next comes the lord himself, in gleaming jousting armour, on foot, led on a golden chain by a lady on a palfrey. She wears her knight’s colours, as does the squire, and the courser is similarly garbed. Behind the lord come his minstrels. Finally, the lord mounts his great horse, making it prance and toss its head to show off his horsemanship. All is ready for the jousting to commence.
There are few spectacles more popular than this, and everyone from the surrounding towns and villages have flocked to watch the flower of nobility meet in ferocious combat.
Then, all of a sudden, the proceedings are interrupted, as reported in a complaint by Knighton in Chronicon: “…troops of ladies attended, sometimes as many as 40 or 50, dressed up in all sorts of extraordinary masculine attire. They were young, beautiful, and wealthy. They acted so bold that they were often called rude. They dressed in “diverse and wonderful male apparel, in parti-colored tunics, with short caps and bands wound round the head, and girdles bound with gold and silver, and daggers in pouches (scabbards?) across their body…they paraded about the lists on carefully chosen chargers or equine beasts of some other well-groomed kind, ruining both their bodies and their fortunes by their wanton and scurrilous behaviour…But they neither fear the anger of God nor blush at the comments of God-fearing citizens…” Good heavens above! I knew nothing of all this.
(Please pretend these are beautiful ladies – I fear our medieval Amazons did not leave a picture for posterity!)
Tournaments were the sole preserve of the men; women were there to adorn the proceedings and gaze longingly at their chosen knights. Right? Well, wrong—if the above quote from Knighton is correct.
The two pictures above show us how women were usually seen at jousts. On the left is how we always imagine them, watching and sighing over their heroes. One such hero is the dazzling fellow on the right, who is—wait for it—Ulrich von Liechtenstein! Yes, for fans of the film “A Knight’s Tale”, starring the late Heath Ledger, such an Ulrich really did exist! But in the 13th century, not the 14th, as depicted in the film. The point of including Ulrich here is that on his helm he wears a large, warlike Venus. I have seen other illustrations where Venus is baring all. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulrich_von_Liechtenstein
Above right is a drawing of women in men’s clothing, but above left it is men dressed as women. It seems that the latter situation often occurred at tournaments, and that for jousting men wore their armour beneath female clothes. They took part in hastiludes with the best of their opponents, eventually hurling aside their gowns to display their true masculine metal…er, mettle. So, looking at the illustration below, who is to say that it really is a woman carrying the distaff? Might “she”, at any moment, metamorphose into a burly knight who’ll be no pushover?
A “female” knight triumphantly revealing himself to be a man was apparently quite acceptable. But, the other way around…? I don’t think it ever happened, but what if, after achieving some notable points against an opponent, a “knight” changed into a woman? I doubt the poor defeated fellow, shamed for having been bested by a female, would ever recover. A soft lot, men, eh?
In the thesis indicated at the end of this article, the following passage is quoted. It concerns events in a French medieval tale entitled “Berengier au Long Cul”:
“Though the husband is a man and is knighted, he is not from noble blood and therefore the wife, though being a woman, can more easily succeed as a knight than he can. She has true chivalry running in her veins, and this is the reason that she is attested to be able to convince her husband that she is a valiant, successful knight. As he is not, he does not accept the knightly code and refuses to joust valiantly, instead submitting himself to the humiliation that his wife forces onto him.”
So, in order to carry off the pretence with any hope of success, the woman in question had, at the very least, to be of knightly blood. Anything less and she would fail abysmally. These tournament cavalcades of ladies dressed as men were therefore all blue-blooded.
To sum it up, I turn to Gael Stirler at http://stores.renstore.com/feminism-fashion-and-cross-dressing-in-the-14th-and-15th-centuries#.WNJgG7msmTN where it is stated that there was indeed a short-lived female tournament maiden movement (no further mention after the 14th century):-
“A century before Joan of Arc put on armor, cross-dressing women were not as rare as you may think. The clothing styles for men and women were similar except for length and headgear. Women occasionally wore short tunics when riding or traveling abroad on foot, as much for comfort as safety. Popular romances and saint’s biographies contained stories of young women who wore masculine disguises to move about society with the freedom of men. They wore men’s clothing as a sign of their celibacy, and willingness to defend it. Some even fell in love with women in these stories.
“Even earlier, Galvano della Flamma described “Amazons of Milan with golden girdles and hard masculine hearts” who wore masculine clothing in public. So it seems that there was a loosely organized, secular, feminist movement, perhaps fashion based, in the 14th century. Since little was written about it in its time, this movement probably had no strong leaders or role models, no philosophy like the Beguine movement, and seemed to only attract women when they were young.
“What we can surmise from these descriptions is that this wasn’t a few naughty girls who showed up at one or two tournaments but that it had to have been a movement made up of many well-born ladies who travelled all over to attend tournaments. They were not combatants, but were, somehow, allowed to parade with the knights on the list field. Imagine 40 or 50 beautiful ladies wearing elegant short tunics covered with embroidery, edged in fur, with glittering belts of gold and silver, their heads topped with marvelous liripipe chapeaus, all of them riding large, beautifully groomed horses. It would be a sight worth traveling to see.”
Indeed it would!
Hmm…and then there was the rise of the May Day Robin Hood plays. I suppose, Robin and his merry friends were chaps…weren’t they?
For medieval female cross-dressing, there is information at the following additional sites.
For a thesis on the subject of female cross-dressing in general, go to
And for information about May Day itself, look at https://medievalisterrant.wordpress.com/2013/04/30/may-day-in-the-middle-ages/,
Lewis, Katherine J. et al, editor, Young Medieval Women, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1999.
References about Tournament Maidens:
Brook, Iris, English Costume from the Early Middle Ages Through the Sixteenth Century Dover Publications, Mineola, 2000 reprint of 1936 original.
Newton, Stella Mary, Fashion in the Age of the Black Prince:A study of the years 1340 to 1365, Boydell Press/Rowman & Littlefield, Suffolk, 1980.
28th March is the Feast of St Alkelda, a lady who has two churches named after her, one in Middleham, the other in Giggleswick. That seems clear enough. BUT there does not appear to be a St Alkelda. “She” may even be a well, there being a theory that the name Alkelda derives from an old word for holy well or spring.
To read much more on this interesting matter, go to the Darlington & Stockton Times’ article, from the 27th March 2015.
Thanks to the contemporaneous accounts given by Croyland (1) and the Acts of Court (2) we have a good insight into the events that followed, almost immediately, the death of Queen Anne i.e. the rumours that Richard, in his eagerness to marry his niece, hastened the death of his wife with the aid of poison – his denial, made publically, ‘in a loud and distinct voice’ (3) in the Great Hall of the Priory of the Knights Hospitaller of St John, Clerkenwell – pushed to it by Sir Richard Ratcliffe and William Catesby, although Croyland adds, rather slyly, it was not what he really wished himself..and there is no need to go into all the detail here as it is well known.
The Gate House of the Priory of the Knights Hospitaller of St John at Clerkenwell.
I would have thought, hopefully , that nowadays, the idea that Richard could have poisoned Anne is now perceived as ridiculous, a complete and utter nonsense. However, not entirely so. Indeed Prof Hicks in his biography of Anne – Anne Neville Queen to Richard lll (“The first time in ages that a publisher has sent me a book that I actually want to read” opines David Starkey – well he would wouldn’t he?) wrote, in a chapter headed ‘Past her Sell By Date’ that ‘she was unwell, languishing and died, unattended and indeed unregretted by her husband”(4). What? Anne the Queen, dying a lonely death, cruelly neglected by her uncaring husband? – its a Scandal!. And where was Richard at that desperately sad time? One way to find out..check Rhoda Edwards wonderful little book – The Itinerary of King Richard lll 1483 – 1485(5). And there we have it..the truth of the matter. From the onset of Anne’s fatal illness, not long after Christmas 1484 to her death on Wednesday 16 March 1485, Richard never left the Palace of Westminster, where she lay dying, except for a total of ll days when he was at Windsor.
I would say that there could be no stronger indication than this, that, yes, Richard did love his wife and was loyal to her to the end. He could have gone elsewhere, made his excuses, got away from it all but he didn’t. He stayed with her until the day she died – finally leaving Westminster on Thursday 12 April – never to return. Five months later, he too was dead. Clearly he gave to Anne the loyalty that he was to find so disastrously lacking in others to himself. But then again, this was a man whose motto was Loyaltie me Lie.
Following the deposition of Richard II, his leading supporters among the nobility were put on trial before Henry IV’s first parliament. Well, all apart from the Earl of Wiltshire who had – in plain terms – been murdered at Bristol on Henry’s orders before Henry became king. (As a Lancastrian, Henry was of course allowed to do this sort of thing without receiving any criticism from historians.)
Some brief pen-pictures of the men in question may be helpful, since they will be unfamiliar to many readers:-
Edward, Duke of Aumale, highest ranking of the accused, was the elder son of the Duke of York, and was thus first cousin to both Richard II and Henry IV. Despite his relative youth (26 in 1399) he had been high in Richard’s counsels since the early 1390s and had received an astonishing array of offices from the king, being, among other things, at one point both Lord High Constable and Lord High Admiral. A devious man of considerable ability, described by one chronicler as a ‘second Solomon’, his contribution tends to be underrated by historians. He was also a survivor. Despite involvement – or alleged involvement – in several plots against Henry IV, he was to survive long enough to be the leading English casualty of Agincourt. Nevertheless, in the Parliament of late 1399 he had a most torrid time. It is likely that Richard II intended Edward to be his heir.
John Holland, Duke of Exeter was King Richard’s half-brother – they shared the same mother, Joan of Kent. He was married to Henry IV’s sister, Elizabeth of Lancaster. Exeter was at this time in his late 40s. He had not always been a strong supporter of Richard, and had at one point been quite closely associated with his father-in-law. However, during the 1390s he had become increasingly important as a member of Richard’s inner circle.
Thomas Holland, Duke of Surrey was Exeter’s nephew, the eldest son of Thomas Holland, late Earl of Kent. Another relatively young man, he had recently replaced his deceased brother-in-law, Roger Mortimer, Earl of March (killed 1398) as Lieutenant of Ireland. He had also replaced Aumale as Lord High Admiral.
John Montagu (or Montacute) Earl of Salisbury, who was in his late 40s, had only succeeded to his uncle’s earldom in 1397, having been for many years merely Sir John Montagu. His uncle had alienated many of the family estates – there was bad blood between them – and Salisbury was by some way the least wealthy of the accused. Nor had he received any particular rewards in land from King Richard. Acting as Richard’s ambassador to France, he had been unfortunate enough to earn Henry Bolingbroke’s personal enmity because of the message he had brought to Charles VI on Richard’s behalf – which was essentially that Henry should be treated as persona non grata. Salisbury was known to be a Lollard – an early Protestant – and attracted some hostility for that reason. King Richard himself was generally hostile to the Lollards but nevertheless tolerated Salisbury and a few other followers of that movement at his court.
Thomas Despenser, Earl of Gloucester was married to Constance of York and was thus Aumale’s brother-in-law and the Duke of York’s son-in-law. 26 years old at this time, he had commanded King Richard’s rearguard in the 1399 campaign in Ireland and been one of the king’s strongest supporters during the upheaval of 1397. Even without the rewards given to him in 1397, he was a very wealthy man, in terms of landed income much more so than his father-in-law. The jewel in his crown was the very valuable Marcher Lordship of Glamorgan.
They had all served as ‘counter-appellants’ in 1397, when Richard II had taken his revenge on his uncle, Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester and the earls of Arundel and Warwick. All, except Salisbury, had received generous grants of forfeited lands. All except Despenser (Gloucester) and Salisbury had also participated in the partition of the Lancastrian estates earlier in 1399. As a group, they were very much Richard’s ‘Party’ and it cannot be denied that most of them had been very handsomely rewarded for their loyalty. Apart from Salisbury they were all closely linked to Richard by blood or marriage or both.
The outcome of the trial – to cut a long story short – was that the accused lost the lands granted to them in 1397 and those who had received upgraded titles (everyone except Salisbury) lost them and reverted to their pre-1397 status. For the purpose of this article, I shall continue to refer to them by their Ricardian titles, to avoid unnecessary confusion.
The group were placed into the temporary custody of the Abbot of Westminster, who was a Ricardian himself. It appears that they immediately began to conspire against Henry, although on the face of it the King meant to rehabilitate them fairly quickly. With the exception of Salisbury – against whom Henry maintained a rather obvious grudge – they were, for example, very quickly restored to the Council. Edward of Aumale even received confirmation of some valuable land grants, including the Lordship of the Isle of Wight. Of course, Edward was rather a special case, being the King’s cousin, and perhaps more importantly, York’s son. The Duke of York (who had been Richard’s Keeper of England during the King’s absence in Ireland) had given Henry quite strong support, almost from the minute he surrendered to him near Berkeley Castle a few months earlier.
In addition, Edward had not been aligned politically in quite the same way as the others. Richard divided his army in Ireland – allegedly on Edward’s advice – sending the smaller portion to North Wales under Salisbury while returning himself to South Wales with the remainder. When Richard broke up his army near Carmarthen he actually left Aumale behind, possibly fearing that his cousin was no longer reliable in view of the defection of the Duke of York at Berkeley. It seems likely that this defection was a principal cause – if not the main cause – of the King’s panic and his decision to join Salisbury in North Wales. (This decision led to the collapse of his cause and his eventual capture by Bolingbroke.) The other lords involved were all with the King to the bitter end.
A note on sources. The main sources for the Epiphany Rising are Walsingham and Traison et Mort. Both have their issues. Walsingham (though used as a principal source for the reign) is hopelessly biased against Richard II, and frequently reports rumours, however ridiculous, if they tend to Richard’s discredit. He can not infrequently be caught out in direct falsehoods. Traison, on the other hand, was written by a French member of Queen Isabelle’s household. He is heavily biased towards Richard, tends to blame Edward of York for the King’s downfall, and reports details of matters of which he cannot possibly have had direct knowledge, such as the manner of Richard’s death.
The key to the plot was an attempt to assassinate Henry IV (and perhaps his sons) at Windsor Castle. The great army that Henry had assembled to place himself on the throne had, for the most part, gone home. Therefore the King was vulnerable to an attack from a small force, which was all the conspirators could assemble. (Many of their retainers had found alternative patrons by this time, or were otherwise unreliable, and in any event, for obvious reasons, only the most loyal could be trusted in a scheme of this kind.)
At the same time, a number of risings were to be provoked across England, and King Richard was somehow to be released. (His exact location was almost certainly not known to the conspirators.) Richard was to be represented, in his absence, by his clerk and double, Richard Maudelyn, who was probably either a half-brother or cousin of the deposed monarch.
By one means or another, the plot was revealed to Henry at the last moment. Traison blames Aumale, who accidentally revealed the plot to his father, York. The pair of them then hurried to warn the King, Edward being immediately pardoned. Walsingham merely says that Henry was ‘forewarned’ but does not disclose the method. Another source, Continuatio Eulogii, says that one of the King’s squires picked up the intelligence from a prostitute who had previously slept with someone involved in the plot. A final possibility must be that Elizabeth of Lancaster got wind of her husband’s dealings and sent warning to her brother.
Most modern historians tend to dismiss Aumale’s ‘serious’ involvement in the plot. Even so, it is hard to see how he, with his connections, could have remained innocent of what was going on. On the other hand, it must be recognised that many in England (and even more in France!) were deeply suspicious of his motives throughout, and accusations or mutterings of treason against him continued regularly for some years. It is hard to discern how much of this was smoke and how much fire.
Be this as it may, the fact remains that Henry and his sons escaped from Windsor with only hours to spare, so whatever warning was received came at the last minute, in true dramatic style.
The King’s escape was, in effect, equivalent to the defeat of the conspiracy, as the rebels did not have the forces to match those which Henry was soon to raise from London and the surrounding counties. According to Traison they held the bridge at Maidenhead for some hours, which was probably as good a fight as they could make of it. They also sought to recruit from the various towns and villages they passed, and according to Walsingham also visited Queen Isabelle (Richard’s very young wife) at Sonning, seeking her support and that of her household.
Unfortunately, the news that Henry was not far behind them with a large and growing army could not be long concealed, and tended to put a damper on recruitment. The rebels’ retreat rapidly turned into flight, which came to an end at Cirencester, where, exhausted, their ‘army’ camped in the fields while the lords took up lodgings in various inns. What happened next is unclear, but it appears the inhabitants of the town realised that the lords were fugitives, and besieged them in their lodgings. A fire started, and Surrey and Salisbury surrendered, and were initially lodged in the abbey. However, when the townsfolk of Cirencester grasped the measure of the damage done to their town by the fire, they dragged the two lords out again, and summarily executed them without legal authority. Walsingham states that Salisbury, who was a Lollard, refused to make confession before his death.
The mystery of Exeter and Gloucester.
According to Traison these two lords were at Cirencester, escaped their burning inn by climbing out of the window, and fled in different directions. In the case of Exeter in particular this seems most unlikely. Walsingham states that he remained in London, which makes sense if his role was to raise the Ricardian element among the citizens. Such men were in a minority, but they certainly existed, and if Henry had not escaped they might well have put themselves forward. Exeter was eventually captured in Essex. He was also murdered by the local population without lawful authority, at Pleshey Castle, seat of the late Duke of Gloucester, the uncle Richard II had (possibly) had murdered in 1397. The location was, of course, highly significant.
Had Exeter been in Cirencester, he would surely have been wiser to flee towards Devon, where he had extensive land holdings, than eastward, directly into the teeth of Henry’s forces. I therefore conclude it is most unlikely he was at either Windsor or Cirencester. Though, as an experienced warrior and tough fighter he would have been something of an asset if he had been.
Thomas Despenser, Earl of Gloucester, is barely mentioned by Walsingham at all, except in the matter of his escape and capture. Again, there is at least a possibility he was not at Windsor or Cirencester and that he never left Cardiff. Indeed, it may be he was guilty of nothing more than misprision of treason at worst. Hearing that the King’s men were on their way to arrest him, he took ship from Cardiff, carrying a considerable amount of portable wealth. However the ship’s captain refused to take him anywhere but Bristol, where the citizens chose to prove their loyalty to Henry by murdering him.
If Despenser was indeed innocent of any active involvement in the plot, it might help explain his widow’s bitter hatred of Henry, which culminated in her plot, in 1405, to remove the Mortimer heirs from Windsor Castle and place them in the protection of Owain Glyndwr.
Many of the lesser supporters of the plot were assembled at Oxford for trial. Maudelyn, Sir Bernard Brocas and William Feriby were brought to London, to be hanged and beheaded at Tyburn. Sir Thomas Blount and twenty-five others from Cirencester were hanged, drawn and quartered at Oxford. Another thirty-seven received pardons, and at least one, Salisbury’s stepson, was actually acquitted. Roger Walden (the deposed Archbishop of Canterbury), the Bishop of Carlisle and the Abbot of Westminster were all imprisoned for a short time, and Henry Despenser, Bishop of Norwich, fell beneath an uncomfortable level of suspicion, but was not proceeded against.
A number of small risings broke out across England in support of the plot, but all subsided with little fuss. The one in Chester was perhaps the most serious and led to a brief siege of the castle. Ironically the man who put it down, the Bishop of St. Asaph, was soon to number among Henry’s enemies as a firm supporter of Owain Glyndwr.
As for the widows, Henry treated Elizabeth of Lancaster and Constance of York with considerable generosity – of course they were his sister and first cousin respectively. These two remained very rich ladies indeed, and did superbly well compared to the widows of ‘traitors’ in the Tudor period or even the Yorkist era. The other widows had less kindly provision, although the worst treated of all, the Countess of Wiltshire, had suffered from Henry murdering her husband before he even became king, and had no connection to the plot.
In the aftermath of the plot it appears that Henry (and almost certainly his Council) decided that King Richard’s life should be cut short to discourage any further rebellions in his favour. Richard died at Pontefract on 14th February 1400. Various explanations are given, but the most likely seems to be that he was starved to death. Despite this, and the public display of his body in St. Paul’s, rumours that he had escaped and was alive and well in Scotland continued to plague Henry – and indeed his son. That a ‘Richard’ was living at the court of Scotland is an undoubted fact – whether he was the real Richard is quite another matter.
The most useful source by far is Chronicles of the Revolution 1397-1400 by Chris Given Wilson.
The Usurper King – Marie Louise Bruce
Fears of Henry IV – Ian Mortimer
Richard II – Nigel Saul
As we take down our Christmas trees and put away our recordings of “Santa Baby,” perhaps some of the readers of the Murrey and Blue are preparing to stroll forth on Twelfth Night to sing the charming “Gloucestershire Wassail” song for friends and neighbors this January 5th of the new year 2017. This is the traditional day in which folks raise the wassail bowl and wish good health and happiness to all of mankind. And it is followed the next day by the Epiphany when the son of God, Jesus Christ, is proclaimed to all the world.
I had never heard this particular carol until I purchased a cd several years ago called “An English Country Christmas” which included choral groups from The Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford to The Choir of Queens College Cambridge to The Oxford Girls’ Choir. It also featured two soloists: the folk singer Ian Giles and the sweet-voiced English soprano, Sara Stowe. Her lilting rendition of the “Gloucestershire Wassail” – a carol of medieval origin but taken up by the Victorians – is sung acapella while punctuated by bells and Mathew Spring’s zitherlike hurdy-gurdy. It is so strikingly ethereal that I soon floated away on a magic carpet of music to the medieval court of Richard the Third on that last Christmas of 1484 before tragic circumstances brutally ended his reign and swept in the harsh, modern age of wolfish Tudors. Surely, it was such a splendid Christmas of costume and dancing and thrilling music that scandalized the pious priests who either witnessed it or cattily reported upon it.
From what little research on the carol that I could find, the composition is a traditional one that was collected by the great composer Vaughan Williams in 1912. Its lyrics were a delightful mystery to me but this stanza provided a clue:
And here is to Dobbin and to his right eye
Pray God send our master a good Christmas pie
And a good Christmas pie that we may all see
with the wassailing bowl we’ll drink to thee.
Even a urbanite like me could surmise that Dobbin refers to a working horse and that perhaps all the other living creatures named are horses as well. But then I came across the beautiful illumination above which clearly shows that the carol mixes horses with cattle. Each of the animals’ body parts are wittily toasted – Colly and her long tail, Fillpail and her left ear and Broad May and her horns – which shows, even in medieval times, the English love and reverence towards all the beasts of the field. And the song also pays tribute to the lord of the castle who receives gifts of beef, pie, corn and beer from his devoted people.
Returning once more to our favorite King, I’d like to think of him during a very different time – at home on a snowy evening in Middleham during the Christmas season, surrounded by family and friends like Francis Lovell, when he was still the beloved Duke of Gloucester and before the death of an errant brother would send his life into a tailspin. A muffled knock comes to the door and he turns from his pretty wife and calls to his young servant to answer it:
Then here’s to the maid in the lily white smock
Who tripped to the door and slipped back the lock
Who tripped to the door and pulled back the pin
For to let these jolly wassailers in
For those who would like to hear Miss Stowe’s version, I include a You Tube link. I hope it works but sometimes copyright laws intrude on our enjoyment. If it doesn’t work, I encourage everyone to go to You Tube and simply type in “Gloucestershire Wassail”. It should come up like this: