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Modern woman just would not kowtow as expected to in the past. . .!

Medieval Maidens

 

There are times when researching the past is, for a woman of today, a very insulting experience. This morning at the hairdresser I dipped into a book called Medieval Maidens: Young Women and Gender in England, 1270-1540. (No Hello, Heat or OK for me!)

Yes, I knew before I started that I wouldn’t like a great deal of what went on for women back then, but I came upon some details I would rather not have known concerning the ladies who waited on queens. By ladies, I mean quite high-ranking women, like the Countesses of Oxford and Worcester, and Dame Katherine Grey.

Here is the passages that caught my eye:

“Women servants sometimes played a role at meals and feasts, but one more closely bodily and intimate than the service of food. At Elizabeth of York’s coronation feast two of her ladies, Dame Katherine Grey and Mistress Ditton, ‘went under the table where they sat on either side [of] the Queen’s feet all the dinner time’. It is difficult to see what purpose this could have served other than to convey an impression of feminine presence, but it is powerful as an expression of lowly but intimate service.

“Throughout the meal, served to the queen by Lord Fitzwalter as sewer and by knights, the Countess of Oxford and Countess of Rivers ‘kneeled either side of the Queen, and at certain times held a kerchief before her Grace’, to collect her spittle and wipe her mouth.”

“A few decades later the countesses of Oxford and Worcester stood by Anne Boleyn at her coronation feast and intermittently ‘did hold a fine cloth before the queen’s face when she list to spit or do otherwise at her pleasure’, and she too had two gentlewomen under the table at her feet.”

Ew. . .

Are we to take this at face value? They actually did kneel under the table by the queen’s feet? I looked online to see if I could find any contemporary illustrations that would confirm this, and only found one. It’s of a woman scrambling around on her knees to serve a group of men.

womanservant under table

Or did it mean they knelt before the table as in the  illustration that follows? But no again, for this woman is serving food, and Phillips specifically says that particular honour was left to men. At great royal do’s anyway. And this woman here could hardly dump the roast peacock and sprint around to attend to the queen’s spittle! So I guess that under the table meant just that. Underneath it.

serving on knees

Hey, now here’s a warming thought. If high-ranking ladies were expected to perform such tasks, wouldn’t it be nice to think of Margaret Beaufort having to kneel under Anne Neville’s coronation feast table? Ready to wipe the royal nose or whatever? Oh, joy.

Mad Margaret

Today we accept having to wipe the mouths and noses of our children, and of invalids and the very old and frail, but would we do that for healthy young women. . .???? It just goes to show how very different life was then. We like to have a romantic notion of court life, but there was so much about it that simply does not sit with our modern sensibilities. Fancy having to kneel under the table throughout a meal. Did they have to vie for space with the king’s hounds? Margaret would certainly win that scrap!

Henry VIII close stool

And then there is the close stool. I know it was regarded as an honour to be in charge of this for the king, and so the queen too, I imagine. But having to wipe their bottoms for them as well? I’m told that part of the reason for this was the awkwardness created by their rich, voluminous robes, and maybe so, but the thought revolts me. I’m a modern woman, without any real idea how very strict and inflexible etiquette and rules were for our predecessors. I wouldn’t last five minutes at a medieval court. Bow and scrape to those who consider themselves my superiors? No wonder the grandest women resented having to show deference to Katherine de Roët, the governess who made it to being Duchess of Lancaster! Catch her spittle for her? They’d rather do the spitting!

Maybe Katherine Swynford in blue, kneeling, front(Katherine may be the lady in blue and ermine kneeling at the front of this illustration. And other ladies in the scene may have considered themselves far superior!)

I’d see all these folk in Hades first. Um, well, I’d see Hades, but probably by my intractable self. The only person I’d be prepared to bow to would be the monarch herself/himself. The rest can go whistle! Right, I wouldn’t last long.

One thing I will say. If anything, this under-the-table grovelling demeaned the queen or king as much as, if not more than, the one doing the grovelling. But then again, this is my modern-day sensibility creeping in. I don’t view it in the same way they did back then, when all grovelling came from those below the monarch.

The book I mentioned at the beginning of this article is very interesting and full of details, with many actual cases. That women were second-class citizens I had always known, but it didn’t occur to me that such high-class women would be expected to perform such disagreeably menial tasks. Yes, we’ve come a long, long way since then, but, ladies, we’re still second class citizens in many ways! I do trust that in another 500 years our future selves will look back on the 21st century and marvel that women now are still paid less than men for the same work, and so on.

Wanna bet?

 

 

 

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Something unexpected

After eleven revelatory history books in a decade, and two more forthcoming, this51ohY7c6V6L is very different. I wonder whether any of the subject matter is relevant to his research? There is only one way to find out.

Just like buses …

… you wait over a year for a new book from John Ashdown-Hill and two turn up almost together: Cecily Neville (left) on 30 April and those “Princes” on 15 July, with another volume on Elizabeth Wydeville to follow …

A new book about Barnard Castle and Teesdale….

Author Barnard Castle and Teesdale book

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

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

 

Children’s book treatment for Richard III, thanks to Cross Roads-based woman….

Carol Fellingham Webb

Carol Fellingham Webb

Carol’s support for King Richard has led her to write this book about his childhood. In the spring there will be another book, following his life until the fateful Battle of Bosworth on 22nd August, 1485.

I hope both titles do really well for her, and that she will find another aspect of Richard, or the 15th century, to start writing a third! Good luck, Carol.

 

Two Richards, one fate….

Two Richards

This post harks back to a previous one of 5th November 2014. Both concern the similarities between the lives and deaths of Richard II and Richard III, but I have now come upon a passage in a book that is actually about Richard II, but much of which could be applied to Richard III. The book is The Medieval Python, by and about Monty Python’s Terry Jones, Chapter 4, Terry Jones’s Richard II by Nigel Saul.

“For Terry Jones, Richard II is a much maligned ruler. Obstructed by a gaggle of obscurantist barons, deposed by a slippery usurper, and with his reputation besmirched by Lancastrian propaganda, Richard, in Terry’s view, is deserving of better in the eyes of posterity. Far from the self-centred, vengeful monarch portrayed in textbooks, Richard, for Terry, was actually a wise and beneficent ruler who sought the good of his people. In his final years, when he ruled without baronial constraint, he conducted what Terry calls ‘a bold experiment in ideal kingship’. Its aim was to shield the king’s humbler subjects from the policy of aggressive war with France that suited only the warmongering baronage. After 1399, however, when Henry IV seized the crown from his cousin, history was rewritten to blacken the former king’s name. Our assessment of Richard’s kingship, Terry argues, should be based not on the hostile Lancastrian accounts, but on sources that date from the king’s own lifetime. In particular, we should try to judge Richard’s achievement in the light of contemporary expectations of kingship for the common good. Viewed in this light, Richard can be seen for what he was—an exponent of the ideas in the ‘mirrors of princes’ literature, a monarch who triumphed over faction, ruling in the common interest. . .”

Saul goes on to argue against Jones’ judgement, but that is beside the point. I think you will have to agree that these two Richards (forget the so-called Lionheart) were subjected to very similar, very cruel fates.

As I said in my previous post (indicated above) the similarities are astonishing, even to both being married to Annes who died before them and left them childless, and both being removed from life by Henrys who proceeded to ruin their reputations with endless lies. Oh, and they both have the misfortune to attract Shakespeare, who is always on the wrong side! Well, I think he is.

 

A MAN WHO WOULD BE KING: THE DUKE OF BUCKINGHAM AND RICHARD III

The Duke of Buckingham is rather a ‘dark horse’ figure in the history of Richard III. No one knows for sure why he  aided Richard to take the throne only to turn upon him in rebellion a few months later. Simplistic ideas such as ‘he repented of his ways after the princes were murdered’ don’t stand scrutiny, especially when he was the first one to suggest that Edward V be housed in the Tower, and also  when the number of documents naming him as their potential killer (if indeed they were killed at all) is taken into account. Whatever happened to Edward IV’s sons, no doubt Buckingham knew…

A MAN WHO WOULD BE KING by J.P. Reedman  is a new novel written from Buckingham’s first person perspective. He is certainly no ‘hero’ and the character flaws that appear even in cotemporary accounts are visible, but the addition of wry humour makes the character palatable to the reader, even amusing in his pomposity. His life is covered from his birth at Abergavenny Castle in Wales to his death on the scaffold in Salisbury. Essentially it shows what must have been the life of many a young noble in this period–a childhood full of deaths and seperations and disappointment–which was later reflected in his emerging character.

The ancestry and background of the Staffords was heavily researched for the novel too, and it becomes very clear how ‘Lancastrian’ they were. Not only did Buckingham’s grandfather die attempting to protect Henry VI in his tent as the Battle of Northampton, but his mother was Margaret Beaufort, daughter of Edmund Duke of Somerset who was killed at St Albans. The other Margaret Beaufort, Henry Tudor’s mother, was Buckingham’s aunt by marriage. Several other uncles on the Beaufort side lost their lives at Tewkesbury, fighting for Lancaster.

Henry, called Harry in the novel, is intensely proud of his heritage, harkening back tiomes and time against to his ancestry from Thomas of Woodstock, youngest son of Edward III–who seems, from the descriptions to be similar in temperament to Buckingham, being named in one popular history as the ‘Bully of Woodstock.’  Buckingham also had a copy of the document legitimising the Beauforts–only it was the early document without the addenda barring them from the throne. Between owning that and applying to wear the Arms of Thomas of Woodstock unquartered, it seemed Harry Stafford was very aware of his royal lineage. (This awareness and the classic ‘Stafford personality’ brought his son Edward to doom in the reign of Henry VIII.)

In the novel, Harry meets Richard  intermittently over the years (I have come to believe they knew each other more than what is sometimes suggested by both fiction and some historians, although they do not appear to have been close friends) and attempts from the start to use him to gain favour with Edward, who never gave Buckingham any high positions save one–High Steward at George of Clarence’s trial. He begins a subtle manipulation, which changes entirely in its focus when Edward dies suddenly in 1483.

 

 

 

Significant opportunities missed?

Robert Stillington is likely to have been born in about 1420 and was consecrated as Bishop of Bath and Wells on 30 October 1465. As we know, in spring 1483, he confessed his knowledge of Edward IV’s bigamy. Based on Stillington’s evidence, the Three Estates voted to cancel the coronation of Edward V, inviting Richard Duke of Gloucester to become king instead, as described by the (otherwise hostile) James Gairdner as “almost a constitutional election”.

Richard III succeeded as a result of this decision but Stillington’s status remained unchanged during this reign. Edward IV had raised Canon Stillington to the first available see after his own second secret marriage ceremony and Richard could have rewarded him similarly on two, three, four or even five occasions.

As the late David Baldwin’s Richard III (pp.172-3) reveals, two Bishops died during Richard’s reign – had he been of similar character to the first Lancastrian, the second or fourth “Tudor”, there may have been three:
1) William Dudley (Durham) died on 29 November 1483 and John Shirwood was appointed. The Prince-Bishopric of Durham was the next highest see in the province of York and Thomas Wolsey (right) was to be translated there from Bath and Wells in 1523, although he had already been Archbishop of York for nine years and was really only an administrator in the other dioceses.
2) Lionel Wydeville (Salisbury), who had hitherto thought himself to be Edward IV’s brother-in-law, died some time in late 1484. Thomas Langton was translated from St. David’s and Hugh Pavy appointed there. Both of these diocesan livings were better than that of Bath and Wells. Earlier than this, he could have been deprived for treason. Langton was appointed as an administrator from March 1484.
3) John Morton (Ely) was arrested in June 1483 for treason and might have been deprived after his attainter, as Cranmer was summer 1553. Again, Ely was a more lucrative see.
4) Peter Courtenay (Exeter) joined the Buckingham rebellion in autumn 1483 and fled to Europe after attainder – another comfortable senior vacancy.

So there we have it. As we also showed here, Richard III had several good opportunities to promote Robert Stillington after his election by the Three Estates but took none of them, clearly implying that he regarded the cleric as having merely performed his conscientious duty, not a favour of any kind.

Three new books about Herefordshire villages….

Herefordshire Archive and Records Centre (HARC)
& Logaston Press
invite you to celebrate the launch of three Parish histories
at 7.30pm on Tuesday 7th November
at HARC, Fir Tree Lane, Rotherwas, Hereford HR2 6LA

With short talks by the authors Refreshments available

Eardisley's Early History and the story of The BaskervillesEardisley’s Early History
and the story of The Baskervilles
Edited by Malcolm Mason
This book details the results of research projects commissioned by Eardisley History Group, including a geophysical survey and archaeological excavation of the castle; a building survey of some of the outlying farms and their barns by Duncan James; an evaluation of the earthwork remains at Bollingham and in The Pitts, an area between The Field and Eardisley Wootton; and an account of the changes in the road pattern in recent centuries, and the various projected routes of the tramway. It also includes new research by Bruce Coplestone-Crow on the Baskerville family

The Story of DilwynThe Story of Dilwyn
by Tony Hobbs & Andrew Stirling-Brown
This book gives an outline history of some of the post Domesday landowners and their families, along with what is known of the castle site and development of the churches at both Dilwyn and Stretford, and the brief appearance Dilwyn made in the Civil War. Much of the book then focuses on the past 150 or so years, giving the history of various properties, the school, and those of the local shops, pubs, businesses and some of the farms, together with much social history on the recent life of the village.

 

History of Lyonshall

A History of Lyonshall
From Prehistory to 1850
by Sarah & John Zaluckyj
This book covers the evidence for both prehistoric man in the parish and for settlement in the Roman period, the building of the Saxon dyke, and the arrival of the Normans. It relates the history of the lords of the castle, some of whom had a role on the national stage, and then, from the 1600s, that of the wider population of the parish. The effects of enclosure as strip fields were amalgamated is detailed. Included are various overseers’ efforts to help the poor, as well as accounts of theft, slander and drunken misbehaviour. The shift of the village centre and the effect industries and the industrial revolution with the coming of the tramway are also explored.

ALL PROFITS GO TO HARC

History of Royals Tackles the Princes

I was excited to be asked to contribute to an article in Issue 18 of History of Royals magazine about the fate of the Princes in the Tower. It helps when I have a book on the way next month called The Survival of the Princes in the Tower – and it probably gives away the theme of my contribution.

The other six contributors are full-on big hitters of medieval history: Derek Wilson, John Ashdown-Hill, Michael Hicks, Josephine Wilkinson, Alison Weir and AJ Pollard. Dizzying company to find myself in! That list of names will most likely give away the themes of each of their contributions too.

HistoryOfRoyalsArticle

There is a lot of traditionalist mantra on display, relying heavily on Sir Thomas More or the lack of evidence of their survival as damning proof of Richard III’s guilt. There is also plenty of interpretation and several statements to take pretty strong issue with, but I’m certain some readers will be saying the same about my contribution and writing it off as revisionist, Ricardian lunacy.

I wonder whether that’s because there’s no answer to the suggestion that the boys weren’t killed in 1483 at Richard’s instruction. Evidence? Well, that would be telling. You’ll just have to grab a copy of the book next month!

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