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The worst king in our history….?

This article is from 2015, but I’ve only just seen it. Amazingly, Richard III doesn’t even get a mention among the “worst kings in history”! So, either the list compiler slipped up, or they’ve finally realised he was one of the good guys!

Oh, and no question who took first place! Rightly so.

Britain’s Lost Battlefields (with Rob Bell)

Channel Five’s reputation for history programmes has risen greatly over the past few years. At the heart of this, first in a Great Fire of London series with Suzannah Lipscomb and the ubiquitous Dan Jones, has been the “engineering historian” Rob Bell, who has toured bridges, ships, buildings and lost railways in his own amiable, enthusiastic but authoritative style.

Now, only four days after completing series two of Britain’s Lost Railways, Bell is back, touring some of our great battlefields. The series, initially shown on 5Select, starts at Bannockburn, progresses to Hastings, Watling Street, Bosworth and Naseby, as well as Kett’s Rebellion. Perhaps the six episodes could have been shown chronologically by the battle years?

The third, fourth and fifth shows, however, do form a neat triangle in the East Midlands, if you accept the suggested location of the Battle of (the very long) Watling Street. Featuring historians such as Matthew Lewis, Julian Humphreys and Mike Ingram, the hangun (or arquebus) is described with respect to Bosworth, as is the evolution of the musket to the forms used at Naseby, together with commanders such as Fairfax and the Bohemian brothers: Rupert and Maurice.

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.

Plantagenet Ireland and Poynings’ Law

It is fair to say that most medieval English kings had little interest in Ireland except as a source of revenue. (The same was probably true about England and Wales but it seems too cynical to say it, and at least they did live there.)

Prior to the Bruce invasion, Ireland yielded between £5000 and £20,000 a year to the Exchequer. Even the lower figure was a useful sum in medieval terms, bearing in mind that the “qualification” for an earldom at this point was about £666. So in a bad year, Ireland gave the king the equivalent of more than seven earldoms, after expenses.

By the 1350s the net revenue was down to between £1,000 and £2,000, while by the start of Richard II’s reign Ireland was running a deficit. Given the general state of the Exchequer this was a Very Bad Thing and Something Had To Be Done. (1)

Of course, simply pulling out of Ireland and making a saving was unthinkable. Instead various half-hearted measures were tried, and various people lined up to take the place in hand, ranging from Robert de Vere (created Duke of Ireland!) to Thomas, Duke of Gloucester, the King’s uncle. The matter was evidently seen as (relatively) a low priority, and in view of the state of England at this time, this is quite understandable.

Eventually, in 1394, Richard II himself, personally, set out for the Emerald Isle with a well-equipped army 7000-8000 men. By the standards of English military expeditions in Ireland it was extraordinarily successful and well-executed. Not that Richard II gets much credit for it. By January 1395 the various Irish chiefs had begun to submit to Richard and by early Spring the capitulation was complete.

Richard, writing to his Council in England, stated that rebellion arose from past failures of government and that unless mercy was shown his opponent would ally with the “wild Irish”. He therefore proposed to take them under his protection until their offences had been purged or excused. (2)

This conciliatory policy towards the Irish speaks strongly in Richard’s favour. He intended that from now on there should be “liege Irish” as well as “liege English” and he tried to settle some of the many grievances (mainly about land) between the two groups. Of course this was a major task, and probably could never have been completed to everyone’s satisfaction even if Richard had remained in Ireland for ten years. However, it was a settlement of sort.

Unfortunately Richard was forced to cut his visit short due to issues in England, leaving the young Earl of March behind as Lieutenant. March was of course also Earl of Ulster, and in that capacity had land issues of his own., particularly with the O’Neill family. By 1396 March was leading major raids into O’Neill territory, and the short period of peace was under extreme strain. By 1397 Leinster was also in a state very close to war.

In 1398, not long after extending March’s term of office, Richard II decided to replace him with the Duke of Surrey, Thomas Holland. Surrey, Richard’s nephew of the half-blood, was another young and inexperienced man, with the added disadvantage that he had no hereditary lands in Ireland at all. He required, therefore, heavy subsidy from the Exchequer. Before the change could be completed, March had been killed in the fighting, as was his son in 1425.

King Richard now decided on a second personal visit to Ireland. This was a strange decision, given that he had just annexed the lands of Bolingbroke and Mowbray, and that Bolingbroke was in France, poised to invade England. However, we have the benefit of hindsight. Richard had no reason to suspect that the French, his supposed allies, would allow any such thing – and but for a temporary shift in power at the French court, they would not have done.

Richard’s second visit to Ireland was less successful. In a parley between Thomas Despenser, Earl of Gloucester and Art Macmurrough – who styled himself King of Leinster – the latter made it clear he was unwilling to submit. Before much more could be done Richard was forced to leave Ireland to confront Bolingbroke, and Ireland was once again left more or less to its own devices.

It is remarkable that any remnant of English lordship survived Henry IV’s reign, given the state of Henry’s Exchequer and the low priority given to Ireland by a king who was fighting on several fronts, including internal battles against his opponents. But the fact is that somehow, it did. Indeed Irish-based ships co-operated with Henry in the re-conquest of Anglesey.

Henry V and Henry VI were also unable (or unwilling) to give great priority to Ireland. Ralph A. Griffiths states “The isolated administration entrenched in Dublin and its ‘pale’ was more often than not subject to the rough dictates of Anglo-Irish magnates like Desmond and Ormond, and for some time past it had been assailed by a Celtic resurgence among the native Irish themselves that was cultural and social as well as military in character.” (3)

The attitude of the Anglo-Irish peers was to remain key, because unless and until the English government was willing and able to finance significant military intervention in Ireland, their power made them the most effective players on the island. Of course, the rivalries between them meant that the Crown was often able to play one family off against another.

In 1437 the author of The Libelle of Englysche Polycye expressed concern about the state of royal government in Ireland, suggesting the country could become a base for French, Scottish and even Spanish enemies, with whom hostile elements in Ireland could form an alliance. This fear of encirclement explains much of English/British policy towards Ireland over the next several hundred years, although in the short term very little was done about it, not least because England simply did not have the resources. (Such resources as were available were being thoroughly over-stretched in France.)

By this time the Irish revenues were failing to maintain the cost of government there, and even its most senior officers struggled to obtain their salaries. In 1441 it was reported that the charges of the Justiciar of Ireland and his underlings exceeded revenue by £1,456. (4)

In December 1447, Richard, Duke of York took on the role of Lieutenant of Ireland, with a salary of 4000 marks for the first year and £2000 in each of the following years of a supposed ten year appointment. York, who was very much at odds with Suffolk and Somerset at home, was effectively ‘promoted’ to a backwater. Those responsible doubtless thought that it would keep him quiet (and busy) for a long time. He was, of course, Earl of Ulster, and therefore had very significant landed interest in the country.

Not until summer 1449 did York actually set out – from Beaumaris. Even then he did so only because the King pressed him to go. He was received ‘ with great honour, and the earls of Ireland went into his house, as did also the Irish adjacent to Meath, and gave him as many beeves for the use of his kitchen as it pleased him to demand.’ (5)

That Richard, Duke of York, was a successful Lieutenant of Ireland is in some ways surprising. He was an aristocrat to his finger tips, and not generally noted for his people skills. If he had strengths they lay in his relative honesty and relative efficiency as an administrator and soldier. York failed miserably to unite the English nobility behind him, and yet he seems to have been well-regarded in Ireland. (In contrast to John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, who was positively hated in the same role.)

York quickly summoned a great council at Dublin which ensured the protection of certain hard-pressed castles and towns and also sought to address some of the more extravagant abuses of the Irish government.

His problem was that the money he had been promised largely failed to appear. He received less than half of what he should have in the first two years, and that was in tallies. After December 1449 he received nothing at all. (6)

This helps explain why York eventually threw in his hand and returned to England.

However, after the debacle at Ludford Bridge, York was sufficiently confident of his welcome to return to Ireland (with his second son, Rutland) and was able to use it as a secure base to plot the overthrow of Henry VI’s government.

York encouraged or allowed the Irish Parliament to pass legislation which left the country almost, but not quite independent, Henry VI’s sovereignty being reduced to little more than a cipher. It was even declared that the introduction of English Privy Seal Letters into Ireland was a breach of the country’s liberties. In return the Parliament voted York men and money, and rejected Henry VI’s attempts to remove York from office. The duke was not quite King of Ireland, but he was something very close.

Thereafter Ireland became strongly Yorkist – even into early “Tudor” times. It may be that York’s almost accidental policy of granting autonomy was the answer to the Question. In May 1487, a young boy was crowned at Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral (right) as “Edward VI”. He may actually have been the ill-fated Earl of Warwick by that name but is traditionally named as “Lambert Simnel”, who was taken to work in Henry VII’s kitchen after the battle of Stoke Bridge ended his insurrection the following month. In his identification of the boy (7), Ashdown-Hill uses historical, numismatic and physical evidence cogently, as ever, eliminating the other possibilities.

As a result of “Lambert”‘s coronation, Henry VII’s regime decided to control Ireland more closely. The “Statute of Drogheda” (left) (“An Act that no Parliament be holden in this Land until the Acts be certified into England”) was passed in early or mid-1494 and is described as 10 Hen.7 c4 or 10 Hen.7 c9. It is also known by the name of the newly appointed Lord Deputy at the time: Sir Edward Poynings (1459-1521) and specified that no Irish Parliament could meet until its proposed legislation had been approved by the Lord Deputy, his Privy Council, the English monarch and his Parliament. Ireland was thus legislatively subjugated and its status changed again under the “Crown in Ireland Act” in 1542, becoming a kingdom (“An Act that the King of England, his Heirs and Successors, be Kings of Ireland”) under the same monarch as England, in place of a lordship. Curiously, this was in the same year that Wales was subsumed by the Kingdom of England (Laws in Wales Acts). As the sands of the “Tudor” era ran out, the Earl of Essex was sent to suppress another Ulster rebellion but ignored his orders and returned home to aim for the crown. James VI/I’s subsequent plantations filled the power vacuum left by the O’Neills.

Consequently, the “English Civil War” is also known as the “War of the Three Kingdoms”, each of which had a different religious settlement as Charles I’s reign began. Similarly, legend has it that George I expressed to plant St. James’ Park with turnips and asked an aide the price: “Only three crowns, Sire”. Poynings’ Law is still in force in Northern Ireland, whilst it was fully repealed in the Republic as late as 2007.

Notes

(1) All figures are from Richard II, Nigel Saul, page 273

(2) For more detail see Saul, p 281.

(3) The Reign of King Henry VI, Ralph A. Griffiths page 411.

(4) The Reign of King Henry VI, Ralph A. Griffiths page 412.

(5) Irish chronicle quoted in The Reign of King Henry VI, Ralph A. Griffiths page 421.

(6) The Reign of King Henry VI, Ralph A. Griffiths page 421.

(7) The Dublin King, John Ashdown-Hill particularly chapters 1-5.

Royal redundancies….

Throughout history, members of royal families have not always died peacefully in bed. Some have abdicated, like Edward VIII, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and, this very month, the Japanese Emperor Akihito. Some were despatched bloodily, like Mary, Queen of Scots, Charles I and, of course, Richard III. Those who died peacefully in their beds with their throne still intact, could count themselves fortunate.

So it is interesting to find an article that lists some of these royal redundancies. To read it, please go to this article

Britain’s Most Historic Towns (2)

This excellent Channel Four programme, presented by Professor Alice Roberts, with Dr. Ben Robinson in the helicopter, has returned for a new series. The early venues were Dover (World War Two, visiting the underground base, concentrating on the retreat from Dunkirk and subsequent Channel defence, meeting some survivors, wearing ATS uniform and riding in a tank), her home city Bristol (Georgian, with slavery, gin, chocolate and great architecture featured) and Cardiff (where coal and the Marquess of Bute brought much prosperity in the Edwardian era, before it could supplant Machyllenth as Wales’ capital).

The series then moved on to Oxford to illustrate the Civil War sieges, where Alice Roberts’ Worsleyesque love of dressing up saw her in New Model Army uniform, playing real tennis and viewing Charles I’s ersatz capital. Episode five illustrated Plantagenet Canterbury, featuring St. Augustine, Becket, Chaucer, the Black Death and Peasants’ Revolt. We were also shown a copy of the Magna Carta. The last show was about Stewart Stirling, where she visited the Castle and walls, brewed beer, played with a replica antique football and visited a well, illustrating how individual Stewart monarchs were vulnerable, even to internal opposition, but the line was secure.

Bestwood Park, where Richard used to hunt….

I can’t say that this article is all that informative, or, indeed, erudite, but it is about Bestwood Park, which as we all know was a favourite hunting park for many of our monarchs. Including Richard, of course, and he does get a mention.

If nothing else, the wintry illustrations show what it may have been like if Richard chose to hunt, or even just ride, there during the colder months.

I remember Bestwood from my teens, when I lived in nearby Hucknall. I cycled there at dusk one summer evening, and was greatly spooked by a creepy old building set among thick trees. Not for the faint-hearted!

Hey, Richard II and St Edward the Confessor are one and the same…!

 

I have just watched a truly aggravating documentary from this 2014 series. In particular the episode called “Secrets of Westminster”.

It starts with the tomb of Edward the Confessor…for which they show the correct tomb, yes, but then include a lot of lingering close-ups of the tomb effigy of Richard II. The implication is, it seems, to inform the viewer that what they were seeing was the Confessor.

Then there was a section about Henry III…erm, showing Edward III. Again, no mention of Edward, to keep the viewer properly informed. Just the same hint that the tomb was Henry III’s.

The last straw for me was when they showed the wonderful roof of Westminster Hall, of which they spoke in glowing terms as being 11th-century. There was no mention at all of the hammerbeams, angels and so on actually being the 14th-century work of Richard II, who remodelled and improved the entire hall.

So I cannot recommend this awful programme, even though it was interesting in many other respects. The trouble was, I could not help wondering how many other bloopers there might be? Could anything be trusted, and taken at face value? Did Guy Fawkes really try to blow-up Parliament? Was Charles I really executed? Or were both stories muddled up. Maybe Charles was the one who tried to blow-up Parliament? And Guy Fawkes marched into the Commons and started the English Civil War? Who knows?

So don’t bother to watch it, unless you want to sit chucking missiles at the screen. You take your chances with the other episodes in the series. I won’t be viewing them.

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.

NEW EXCAVATIONS AT CLARENDON PALACE

Clarendon Palace is a little known historical site. Most  people in Salisbury know it’s there; less can tell you how to reach it. There is no car park; you won’t find tourist coaches. Pull in on the narrow leafy green lane then you must walk, like a Hobbit leaving the Shire, past farms and across a green landscape, eventually ascending a rise where you join a wooded track following the line of an old Roman road. Salisbury Cathedral spire is behind you, a needle in the haze; before you lie the woods, hiding all for a brief time. Then you see the trees part near a thatched cottage– a gaunt grey ruin appears before you in a field that is sometimes home to a pack of friendly llamas.

It is badly ruined; only one substantial wall remains, a stone platform with shallow steps and outlines of chambers in the ground. The steps to the one-time treasury lead into a slumping earthen pit. Bits of the red roof tiles lie scattered over  the site; sometimes you can find one in good condition with the hole for a large medieval nail still intact.

These are the remains of a grand Plantagenet Palace. Henry II  founded it and it was there his struggles with Thomas Becket began,  but it was in the time of his grandson, Henry III, that it began to truly flourish. Henry enlarged and beautified it for his Queen, Eleanor of Provence, adding in a fireplace carved with figures representing the 12 months of the year, gardens, stained glass and a chapel painted with scenes from the life of St Katherine. The pink, golden and grey  tiled floors were a wonder ; some were found in post-war excavations, and are now in the British Museum.

It was at Clarendon Palace in the summer of 1453, that Henry VI first exhibited  his first signs of madness–he became catatonic, slumped down insensible. Chroniclers stated he ‘suddenly was taken and smitten with a frenzy and his wit and reason withdrawn’.

After that, the Palace was seldom in use (although, interestingly, another possible mistress of Edward IV was called ‘Catherine of Claringdon’, which is probably Clarendon), falling into total disrepair after 1485.  Elizabeth I stopped there once  but the chambers were so ruinous by that time she had to find alternative accommodation in a ‘banqueting hall.’

Recently it has been announced that new excavations will be taking place at the Palace, the first in over 30 years, and there are plans to hold a medieval fair in 2020 (it will be interesting to see how they work that one with the parking!) Perhaps there are still treasures to be found and maybe  the Palace will become better known, but I hope in a way it never becomes too popular, for as it stands, in ruined isolation, you can imagine the presence of shades of kings, with the only sounds in the world being the wind in the trees and the birdsong…

 

CLARENDON PALACE NEW EXCAVATIONS

 

Reconstruction of the Palace, and tiles from the chapel.

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