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THE STRANGE LEGEND OF USK CASTLE

In a tiny town in Wales, a ruined castle stands on rising ground amidst a haze of dark trees. An atmospheric round tower, cracked  by time; shattered walls, the remains of hall and chapel. Privately owned, a garden drops down the hillside before it, to an old house  which appears to contain much castle stonework. Modern statuary of gargoyles peep out from a tangle of flowers as birds fly from their nests in the towers toward the town beyond, with its grey church, once an ancient priory.

This is  Usk Castle, and it has an interesting history, and a legend that might contain a grain of truth. A Roman fort once stood nearby and the castle itself may be situated on the site of an Iron Age hill-fort. The first castle was likely  built in Norman times by  Richard de Clare and William the Conqueror’s banner-bearer,  Tristram Fitz Rolf . Later, around  1120,  the Marcher Lord,  Richard Fitz Gilbert de Clare strengthened the castle’s defences, perhaps building in stone for the first time. His tenure there was long so long; Iorwerth Ap Owain killed  him in an ambush in a dark, wooded pass called ‘the ill way of Coed Grano.’ The place today still contains a commemorative marker known as the ‘Stone of Revenge.’ Later still,  Usk was held by William Marshal and then returned to the de Clare family with Gilbert de Clare, earl of Hereford (son of Joan of Acre, daughter of Edward I), who was slain at Bannockburn in 1314.

The last events of high drama at the castle seem to have taken place in 1405,  when Welsh prince Owain Glyndwr attacked the town of Usk and the garrison gave battle, capturing Owain’s  son.

The rest of the 1400’s may have been quieter in Usk, but just as interesting. For a time, Usk Castle was held by Edmund Mortimer, earl of the Marches,  and from him it eventually passed to Richard, Duke of York, whose mother was Anne Mortimer, granddaughter of Philippa, the daughter of Lionel of Clarence, Edward III’S third son. The Duke of York was also patron to nearby Usk Priory, today the parish church. William Herbert (senior) was  the Duke’s steward in the area. When Edward IV came to the throne, Usk became a crown possession, and of course it was also subsequently held by Richard III.

Several references of the 1800’s (earliest 1828) to the York family at Usk are rather noteworthy. They state the Duke of York spent ‘considerable time’ at the castle, and that both Edward IV and Richard III were born there. Now, it is known for a fact that Edward was born in Rouen, France and Richard at Fotheringhay, in Northamptonshire, but could there be something in this old tale, which was repeated in more than one source? Is there some sliver of folk memory here, recalling that the Duke’s sons had been in residence in Usk at some time? Edward was not all that far far away at Ludlow with Edmund as a youth, but what about Richard?

It is interesting to look at the stable isotopes detected on Richard’s teeth. They showed that his earliest childhood was spent in a geographic  area of England that would correspond with Fotheringhay; then the isotopes appear to indicate he spent some time in a wetter environment more consistent with western Britain. We know he was with his family at Ludlow at the time of the Battle of Ludford Bridge and the subsequent sacking of the town. Could he have spent some time prior to that at Usk? Was Duchess Cecily in residence there for a while with her younger children?  I somehow doubt  the Duke would have  his wife and children ride all the way from Fotheringhay to Ludlow with hostilities about to break out in the area, so it only makes sense to assume they were already dwelling somewhere in the region.  Perhaps they were at Usk and the Duke ordered them to Ludlow, which had a larger, stronger, more  defensible castle. The distance between Usk and Ludlow is around 50 miles, a much shorter distance than  that between  Fotheringhay  and Ludlow. That latter route would also have taken in more of the Lancastrian dominated areas in the Midlands. Certainly, the possibility is there and many legends are not just pulled from thin air.

Vintage article on the castle:

USK CASTLE FROM VICTORIAN HISTORY BOOK

 

USK CASTLE:

 

 

Mer de Mort reviewed

Anything new from the Legendary Ten Seconds is always to be greeted with delight, and this new album does not disappoint. It tells the story of the House of Mortimer from its beginnings in France, to its ultimate destiny on the throne of England, through its descendants of the House of York, Edward IV and Richard III.

The narratives are read by actor John Challis, who played Boycie in Only Fools and Horses and who now lives at Wigmore Abbey. (Lucky man!)

Mortimer Overture. Impressive opening, with an almost marching rhythm – it’s possible to imagine one of the Mortimer earls riding past at the head of his dazzling retinue, and then disappearing along the road. I liked this very much. One of my favourite tracks.

Mortimer Castle. I liked the harmonies on this track. The background is perfect in the chorus, and I particularly liked the echo effect.

The Marcher Lords. And a powerful, influential and often tetchy lot they were too! A wise king handled them with caution! This is a strong song, and one can picture the generations of Mortimers standing firm.

When Christ and his Saints Slept. This one is about the period known as the Anarchy, which ended when Henry II ascended the throne. Once again, I particularly liked the background, which adds so much.

De Montfort. Tells a bloody story of the battle that ended with the death of Simon de Montfort. As a reminder of how brutal those days could often be, Roger Mortimer sent his wife de Montfort’s head as a trophy! Some good sounds in this one, making me think of heads being lopped!

The Round Table 1279. A song about an “Arthurian” tournament, creating a dazzling scene of knights in armour, fine horses, and beautiful women.

Two Thousand Marks. About the Roger Mortimer, and his dealings with Piers Gaveston, the influential favourite of King Edward II. This Roger eventually deposed the king and became the lover of Queen Isabella. We all know the outcome, and this song bowls along as it relates events.

The Privy Seal and the Royal Shield. Another song about Roger, and Mortimer participation at Bannockburn. I liked this one a lot. A great join-in chorus.

The King of Folly. Opens with a trumpet and set firmly in the year 1329 and great celebratory events at Wigmore Castle. A very enjoyable tune and rhythm.

The Tragedy of Roger Mortimer and the Mystery of Edward II. A haunting guitar solo opening for this song about Edward II’s fate at Berkeley Castle. Did he really die there? A quaint atmosphere pervades this song, which seeks the truth about Edward’s demise. . .and relates how his great foe, Roger Mortimer, eventually paid the price for his overreaching ambition. Maybe Edward lived on in obscurity.

Leintwardine. How Edward III, the man who ordered Roger Mortimer’s execution, went to Leintwardine to lay an offering of golden cloth at the feet of a statue of the Virgin Mary. I liked this one. It’s quietly understated, and a little eerie. Perhaps because a Mortimer Earl never did wear the crown, although it is from one of their daughters that the House of York descended.

Mer de Mort. A song that gives a voice to Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March. This is a delightful song, and one of my favourites on the album.

Mer de Mort, Part II. Once again Edmund expresses his feelings, and laments that his elder brother has no grave. This song echoes the first Mer de Mort, but is different. Very sad.

Henry VI. A song about the last Lancastrian king, who was to lose his throne to the Yorkist Edward IV, a descendant of the Mortimers. I like the rhythm of this song, which moves along pleasingly. It actually took a fair time to get rid of Henry VI! He was an incompetent king, but he went in the end, thank heaven. A good track.

Sunnes of York. Another easy treat, relating the tale of the how the House of Mortimer became the House of York. And tells of the final generation of Yorkist brothers, Edward IV, George of Clarence and Richard III. The House of York did not only claim the throne through the name of York, but, importantly, through the Mortimers, who descended from a more senior branch of the royal family. Familiar LTS territory. This song bowls along.

The Chapel of Sir John. A brisk rhythm for a rather spooky song, about what is seen in the windows, floor and screen of the medieval chapel of Sir John Evans in St  Matthew’s Church, Coldridge in Devon. The words recreate the atmosphere, and so does the music. An excellent conclusion.

This album marks a great advance in the LTS repertoire. A richer, fuller sound that sets it apart. Very much to my liking, and I hope, to yours.

Recommended!

Films about the monarchy in Britain….

Not that I think William Wallace counts as part of the British monarchy. I don’t believe Old Longshanks would have had any of that! Anyway, to read an article about films concerning various kings and queens, go here.

But where’s King Arthur?????

A historian fisks “The Outlaw King”.

In this article, Fiona Watson discusses the main points and the errata in the series The Outlaw King, about Robert I’s accession and reign. It deals with issues such as Robert I’s lineage, Wallace’s execution, the killing of Comyn and his encounter with Edward II at Bannockburn, although the latter wasn’t active at Loudoun Hill in early 1307, as the programme states.

At least, as she concludes, it is more accurate than Braveheart.

Edward Bruce, Ill-Starred King of Ireland

On the Hill of Laughart,near Dundalk, Co. Louth, in Ireland,  lies a large, speckled stone slab  covering the remains  of a man called Edward Brus…thebrother of the rather more famous Robert the Brus, KING OF Scotland. (The actual ‘Braveheart’.)

Little known, Edward was, briefly, the High King of Ireland, but ended up dying in battle and having his remains quartered and sent across the country to various Irish towns. His head was shipped to King Edward II in England, destined for London Bridge. Later, what remained of Brus was gathered and hastily  buried in the churchyard on the Hill of Laughart in a simple grave.

Edward Brus was one of several younger brothers of Robert; his exact date of birth is unknown, as is his birth position in the family. There were three other brothers too, Niall , Thomas and Alexander,  but all of them were  captured  by English and executed, so Edward,  as the surviving younger brother, was temporarily heir presumptive to the Scottish throne.

However, when Robert’s wife, Elizabeth de Burgh, was freed from captivity and rejoined her husband, it was speculated that soon the Brus would have an heir. Edward Brus began to look for different ways to gain a crown for himself. He turned his gaze to Ireland, where he may have been fostered by the O’ Neill clan as a boy, and with Robert funding and assisting his campaign, mounted an invasion, with the ultimate goal being to drive out the Anglo-Irish lords…and claim sovereignty himself His first battle on Irish soil was against Sir Thomas de Mandeville; Edward was victorious in his effort and stormed on to take Carrickfergus. Once it was in his hands,  many  of the local chieftains gathered in council and agreed that the Brus should become High King of Ireland.

However, they were fickle in their loyalties and swiftly broke their oaths to Edward, with several of the chieftains who had bent knee at Carrickfergus trying to attack by stealth as he rode with his forces through the Moiry Pass. Again, he managed to defeat his foes and marched onwards, burning and  pillaging in his wake, until he reached Dundalk. There he besieged the town and brought it to its knees, slaughtering both the Anglo-Irish and the native Irish residents in the bitter aftermath.

Opposition forces were quickly mustered, with the leaders being the de Burghs (who were relatives of Robert the Brus via marriage) but Edward refused to give battle and eventually the de Burghs, and their ally Butler of Ormonde had to retreat from their positions through lack of supplies. Once they had retreated, Edward Brus pushed forward again, this time defeating the soldiers of Thomas de Burgh and capturing Thomas’ cousin, William Liath de Burgh. Edward II hurriedly called a parliament in Dublin to discuss the crisis, but no further move was taken by the king to  stop Brus at that time.

 By November of the same year, Brus was marching doggedly toward Kells.  Sir Roger Mortimer arrived to confront him, bearing  a  missive from the pope bidding  the Irish chieftains and the clergy to reject Edward Brus’ claim to kingship and to cede to the rule of Edward II.  The Battle of Kells was fought was fought in which Mortimer was defeated; after fleeing to Dublin, he returned to England seeking aid from the king. The triumphant Brus went on a spree of looting and sacking local towns, and even raided a Cistercian monastery.

In 1316, Brus was finally crowned Ard Ri--the High King of Ireland. This appointment brought no peace to either side, as that dread spectre, famine, struck Ireland the very next year. The weather turned, foul with frigid temperatures and incessant rain sweeping across the land and  destroying essential crops. Edward II could not get supplies to his men, people on both sides of the conflict died of starvation, and the situation with Brus continued to fester

The end came for Edward Brus when a knight called Sir John de Bermingham joined forces against him with Edmund Butler. Vengeance was foremost on Bermingham’s mind; Brus had hung his uncle from the walls of Ardee Castle. A vicious battle was fought at Faughart, and this time, Edward Brus’ luck ran out–he was defeated and killed, reputedly by an English soldier called John Maupas, and his body mutilated for display in Ireland and England.

Brus’s short, troubled reign was not looked on favourably by either the native Irish or the Anglo-Norman aristocracy of Ireland, although he is the ancestor of a current Duchess. He was described as the ‘destroyer of Ireland’ and it was written that during his tenure there came only ‘death and loss’ and that due to the famine that arrived with his ill-starred reign ‘people used to eat each other throughout Ireland.’

 

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