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How strict was medieval royal court mourning at Christmas….?

Christmas garland - 1

Medieval Christmas

Medieval Christmas

I know I have (more than once!) written of a strange string of coincidences connecting Richards II and III and their queens, both named Anne. Now I have come upon another question that puzzles me. It is well known that Richard II loved his Anne deeply, and was distraught when she died suddenly in the summer of 1394. He and his court were plunged into mourning, he had Sheen palace razed to the ground because he could not bear to go where he and she had been so happy, etc. etc.

Richmond's Islands, 1720

Richard II and his queen had a lavish lodge, La Neyt, built on an island in the Thames at Sheen, so they could be alone together

One way Richard chose to distract himself was an expedition to Ireland, where trouble was brewing for English rule. No English monarch had been there since King John (when he was still a prince). Richard II took a huge army over, and believed himself successful in reasserting English power, as witness the illustration below, of him received homage/knighting Irish kings. At Christmas 1394, barely six months after Anne’s death, historians tells us that Richard had a whale of a time with entertainments, revels and all the usual celebrations of the period.

Henry-VIII-at-Court-at-Christmas - 2

Royal celebrations at Christmas – Henry VIII

Now, does this sound like a monarch and court in full mourning for a beloved consort? No. Was Richard II, who was a very emotional man, able to set his grief aside and order revels, both for the season and the “victory” over the troublesome Irish kings? [It wasn’t to be long after Richard’s return to England that those kings started stirring again – well, I would have too!] Or have these junketings been overstated or even falsely reported?

Dublin - Richard II knighting the Irish kings - 1394

Richard II receiving the Irish kings, 1394

Whatever, it was Christmas, and we have a King Richard, sunk in grief for his Queen Anne. I now find myself wondering what might have happened if Bosworth had gone the other way, and Richard III were still king at Christmas 1485. He was another king in deep mourning, having lost his Anne in March that same year (and his son the year before). He too would have had something to celebrate – defeating Tudor, and enjoying the Christmas season. Even if negotiations were in full swing for his remarriage, would he have thrown mourning for Anne to the winds and had a lavish old time of it? Perhaps he would think his court and the realm at large was in need of a happy time at last, and so he would set his own feelings aside? Maybe that’s what Richard II had thought before him?

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

The giving of New Year gifts at the court of the Duc du Berri.

I’m genuinely curious about this business of kings in mourning, because Richard II made it clear he adored Anne of Bohemia, and as far as we are concerned, Richard III and Anne Neville loved each other too. Their shared agony on the sudden death of their only child, Edward of Middleham, suggests a great closeness, if nothing else. Maybe both marriages were first entered into for political reasons. Anne of Bohemia brought nothing to her marriage, except her family and connections; Anne Neville brought half the Warwick inheritance, which was nothing to sniff at. I believe that both marriages became love matches, and that whether the kings liked it or not, they were obliged to marry again as soon as possible.

Betrothal of the French Princess to Richard II

The betrothal of Isabella of Valois to Richard II.

Just over a year following Christmas 1394, Richard II married the six-year-old Isabella of Valois, daughter of the King of France. One theory for this odd choice of bride—by a childless king who was beset by uncles and cousins hungry to succeed him—is that it was a way of staying faithful to Anne for longer. Such a very young second wife would not be expected to be available for consummation before she was, at the very least, twelve.

It was still 1485 when Richard III’s envoys commenced negotiations for him to marry Joanna of Portugal, who is known to posterity as the Blessed Joanna, Princess of Portugal. She was eight months older than Richard, and in the end did not marry anyone. These 1485 negotiations were not only for Richard’s marriage, but for that of his eldest niece, Elizabeth of York, who was to marry Joanna’s cousin, who would become Manuel I.  This sounds a workmanlike arrangement, made because, as I have said, a childless king had to marry again, quickly. At least Richard III’s chosen bride would be able to provide him with heirs, unlike little Isabella of France. And he was arranging a very good marriage for his illegitimate niece.

So, just what was the protocol for this sort of thing? Did mourning mean just that, mourning? Nothing less. Or could it be dipped into and out of, as the situation dictated?

Christmas garland - 3

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Richard’s last Easter in 1485….

 

Easter is here again, and in these modern times it is only too often thought of as a time of pretty bunnies, fluffy chicks, chocolate eggs, hot cross buns and the joys of spring. But in the past it was a very different occasion, for it was the most important time of the year for the Christian church, because it marked Holy Week. Many of us still regard it in this more solemn light, of course, but what was it like in the time of Richard III? In particular, what did Richard himself do at this particular time?

I confess here and now that a lot of what follows has been paraphrased from John Ashdown-Hill’s Last Days of Richard III, in which a great many more details can be found.

funeral-of-anne-of-bohemia

Not Anne Neville, but Anne of Bohemia, a century earlier

In 1485, Easter came only a week or so after Queen Anne’s death (Wednesday, 16th March) and Richard must have been feeling bereft and alone. He had lost his son, and now his wife. . .and the king’s Easter duties had to be attended to. I doubt if he felt like doing anything except shut himself away to grieve, but that was not allowed.

On Sunday, 27th March, Richard must have appeared in public for the Palm Sunday procession at Westminster. It was the beginning of Holy Week, and Richard had to attend to certain religious obligations, not least the traditional “touching” for the disease known as the King’s Evil, better known to us now as scrofula. The ritual had been enacted in England since at least the time of Henry II, and was not confined to Easter, but Holy Week was the main occasion. English and French kings were believed to have healing hands that could cure sufferers; only for scrofula, not for any other condition. And first, the monarch had confessed, received absolution and taken Holy Communion, so that he was in a state of grace.

the king touching for scrofula

Then, when he was seated, the sufferers came before him one by one. He washed his hands and then touched the terrible sores of each person. At the same time, a chaplain chanted “Super egros manus imponent et bene habebunt.” (“They will lay their hands upon the sick and they will recover.” Mark 11:18.)

Henry VIII curing the king's evil

Henry VIII curing the King’s Evil

When each person had received the royal touch (perhaps one of the new gold angels, with the Archangel Michael on one side, and “Per crucem tuam salva nos Christe Redemptor” (“Christ, Redeemer, save us by your cross”) on the other.

Richard’s ordeal may not have been as great as those afflicted with this dreadful ailment, but it was bad enough because on Wednesday, 30th March, he had to appear at the Priory of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem (Knights Hospitallers) in Clerkenwell to publicly deny that he intended to marry his niece, Elizabeth of York. And this so swiftly upon Anne’s death.

The next day, Maundy Thursday, he must have appeared at St Paul’s Cathedral for the mass of the Last Supper. After a reading from John 13, it was the ancient custom for the monarch to don an apron and go down on his knees to wash the feet of thirty-two poor men – one for every year of Richard’s life. He then presented them with the apron he had worn and the towel with which he had dried them. “Additional gifts followed, including for each man a gown, a hood, a pair of shoes, bread, fish, wine and a purse containing thirty-two silver pennies.”

Maundy-Thursday

On the first day of the new month of April, Richard performed the penitential rite of ‘creeping to the Cross’. This required him to “prostrate himself, and then—without getting up, “slowly approach the symbol of the crucifixion” in a semi-prostrate condition.

There was more, but this is enough to show how much was demanded of the monarch during Holy Week. And in this particular year, 1485, it must have been particularly harrowing for Richard. It was also the last time he would ever see Easter, for on 22nd August that year he died at Bosworth.

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