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Was the younger Despenser buried in two places at the same time….?

Execution of Hugh Despenser the Younger – Hereford, 24 November 1326

We Ricardians know all about the problems, if not to say mysteries, that can arise from the final resting places of famous figures from the past. It doesn’t help that in the medieval period especially a person’s remains could be moved from place to place. Edward IV had his father and brother moved from Pontefract south to Fotheringhay, and Richard III had Henry VI moved from Chertsey Abbey to St George’s Chapel, Windsor. And, of course, for centuries there was the puzzle as to whether the remains of Richard III himself were thrown contemptuously into Leicester’s River Soar, or actually buried at Greyfriars. The latter eventually and very famously proved to be the case.

Now I have happened on another “where was he buried?” mystery, this time from the end of the reign of Edward II. While researching a few details about the later-in-the-14th-century marital goings-on of the 10th/3rd Earl of Arundel, Richard Fitzalan, known as “Copped Hat”, I found myself reading about his first wife, Isabel le Despenser, whom he married on this day, 9 February, in 1321. She was the daughter of Hugh Despenser, 1st Lord Despenser, known to history as Despenser the Younger, to distinguish him from his father, who was, yes, Despenser the Elder. Both were favourites of Edward II, and came to the fore after the abduction, trial and execution of another of the king’s favourites, Piers Gaveston. All three came to nasty ends, as (probably) did Edward II himself, and there is there is a famous illustration of the hanging, drawing and quartering of the younger Despenser in Hereford, see above.

Because of her father’s attainder and shameful execution, Isabel became an inconvenience to Copped Hat. Besides which his lustful and ambitious eye had fallen upon Eleanor of Lancaster, who’d be a much more advantageous Countess of Arundel. As Copped Hat was one of the richest and most influential magnates in the England of Edward II’s son, Edward III, he didn’t have any trouble at all in gaining the Pope’s permission to annul his first marriage, thus clearing the way for Eleanor to slip into the earl’s marital bed.

Where is all this leading? Well, to the fact that the younger Despenser’s widow was apparently granted her husband’s remains (well some of them – ‘the head, a thigh bone and a few vertebrae’) and she had them buried in a lavish tomb at Tewkesbury Abbey.

But in 2004 there were reports that Despenser’s remains had been found during archaeological excavations at Hulton Abbey in Staffordshire. These “new” remains lacked the very bones that had been returned to the younger Despenser’s widow and buried at Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire.

So, if the Hulton Abbey remains are indeed those of the younger Despenser, why wasn’t all of him returned to his widow? Why send her some of him, and then bury the rest at Hulton Abbey? He died in Hereford, and was then buried in Staffordshire and Gloucestershire?

To read more about this medieval mystery, go to  the Reading University website and here 

If things had been different, might Richard and George have been buried at Fotheringhay….?

Richard, 3rd Duke of York

It occurs to me to wonder if Richard intended to be lain to rest at Fotheringhay with his father, the 3rd Duke of York, and brother, Edmund of Rutland. Wouldn’t he think he belonged with them – no matter how fond he was of his beloved Yorkshire?

Of course, things changed radically when he became king, because kings were (in general) buried at Westminster. Richard’s brother, Edward IV, was to start a new fashion for burials at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, which he himself had completed. I know there are other exceptions to Westminster, e.g. John at Worcester and Edward II at Gloucester, but perhaps Edward, once he became king, wanted to start a new trend—which he did, because there are now ten monarchs in St George’s Chapel.

The tomb of Edward IV, King of England and Elizabeth Woodville at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor, England (circa 15th century) from the Works of William Shakespeare. Vintage etching circa mid 19th century.

But do we know what George of Clarence really wanted? If he’d been a good boy and survived his considerable transgressions against Edward, would he still have picked Tewkesbury? That was where his wife Isabel was buried, but would he have wanted her to remain there when he himself died?

Entrance to vault of George of Clarence, Tewkesbury Abbey

Might he have wanted her to be moved to Fotheringhay, where they could lie together again? Moving remains around to suit later interments was quite common, as shown by the Duke of York and Edmund of Rutland being brought south to Fotheringhay. And Richard himself moved Henry VI from Chertsey to St George’s, Windsor. Maybe this latter act was an indication of what Richard Intended for himself? Who knows? He didn’t leave instructions, and so it is still a mystery to this day. All we do know is that he wouldn’t have chosen Leicester, because he had no connection with that city. He lies there today because at the time of his death it was the closest suitable place to the battlefield.

 

Tomb of Richard III at Leicester Cathedral of Saint Martin.

And from thinking all this, my musings wandered to whether or not Richard would think George wished to remain in Tewkesbury. On the instructions of Edward IV, Richard, as Duke of Gloucester, had originally escorted the remains of his father and second eldest brother south from Pontefract to Fotheringhay, and that experience must have been a hugely emotional and important time for him. Fotheringhay was surely the place he too expected to eventually be lain to rest? After all, he didn’t know that for the last two years of his life he would be king.

York Minster

York is always put forward as his inevitable choice, but we don’t know for certain. Once he was crowned, no doubt he felt he had to conform. He’d buried Anne at Westminster, and maybe, had he lived, there would have been a tomb there for them both, and for their son, who’d have been brought from wherever he was laid to rest. We still do not know where little Edward of Middleham was buried, all record has been lost.

Or maybe Richard too would have chosen Windsor, after all, that was where he’d moved Henry VI. Perhaps he intended his wife and son to go there too? The guesswork is infinite. Oh, for his fifteenth-century iPhone, and a casual note left on Medieval Messenger on the eve of Bosworth. Not that Henry Tudor would have honoured such a wish anyway.

Tomb of Henry VI, St George’s, Windsor.

If Edward had lived on, and Richard had never become king, what would have happened to the remains of both Richard and George? Let’s imagine they died before Edward, leaving him the only surviving brother. Even if they had specified their choice of burial place, I have a feeling that he’d have laid them to rest at Fotheringhay, with their father and other brother. And surely he’d have had Anne and Isobel and their children moved to lie with them? Or is that just too simple and neat a solution?

A very detailed, interesting and informative thesis with a lot about Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III…

Greyfriars, Leicester. showing probably site of Richard III’s original tomb. Drawing by University of Leicester. (not included in thesis)

There are few more fertile sources for intricate information about the medieval past (and other areas too, of course) than theses that have been published online. A prime website for these is White Rose eTheses on lineof which I have written before. I am mentioning the site again now because of finding a particularly absorbing 2016 thesis by Anna Maria Duch for her PhD at the University of York. It is titled The Royal Funerary and Burial Ceremonies of Medieval English Kings, 1216-1509 and can be found here.

It deals with all our medieval monarchs, but contains a great deal of interest to those who study the Wars of the Roses, and in particular Henry VI, Edward IV and, of course, Richard III. There is a long discussion of Richard’s motives in moving Henry VI’s remains from Chertsey, and again about whether or not he “disposed” of his nephews. The age-old question of that urn crops up as well.

Other kings aren’t neglected, I promise.

This is a book-length work, and needs close attention to be fully appreciated. A recommended read.

 

Was a chapel for the House of York planned at Westminster Abbey in 1483…?

A short while ago, I came upon a reference to the foundation stone of Henry VII’s chapel in Westminster Abbey (visible in this illustration of the abbey as it may have been in the Tudor period) have been laid first in April 1483. It was from here, as follows:-

“. . .Elizabeth [of York] was given a lavish funeral. She lay in state at the Tower, and was interred later at Henry VII Lady Chapel (the foundation stone of which was laid in April, 1483). She and Henry lay there together, their graves topped with an elaborate bronze effigy. . .”

I asked the Henry “Tudor” Society blog if they could clarify this date, which I thought would probably mean that Edward IV had some input or other. There was no response. I decided the whole thing must be an error, because the date  for laying of the foundation stone is always given as 1503.

Nevertheless, the point niggled away. What if it were true? What if that foundation stone had indeed been laid in April 1483? This, of course, led me to consider what was going on in that month of that year. Answer? The death of Edward IV. Not yet the accession of Richard III, because Edward’s eldest son was to be Edward V. Was Edward IV’s sudden death merely a curious coincidence? Regarding the date, not anything untoward.

I thought no more of it. Then, while pursuing the part of the reference below that refers to Richard III having removed Henry VI’s remains from Chertsey by violence, I noticed the accompanying details about the so-called saintly king’s intended resting place in Westminster Abbey.

It reads as follows, from The Archaeology of the Medieval English Monarchy by John Steane, page 183:

“. . .While Edward [IV] was king the remains of Henry VI were left in obscurity at Chertsey, whither they had been removed after his [Henry’s] mysterious death in the Tower. The government had given out that Henry died from ‘pure displeasure and melancholy’, but popular belief was that he had been murdered, possibly by the Duke of Gloucester. . . (Pause for savage expletives!!!) . . . Prominent political figures who died by violence were likely to earn a popular reputation for sanctity. In Henry VI’s case, bouts of insanity and a reputation for other-worldliness in his own lifetime may have encouraged the formation of a saintly cult. Richard III took steps to supervise this phenomenon more closely when he authorized the removal of the body of Henry VI from Chertsey to Windsor. Although not canonized he [Henry VI] was popularly regarded as a saint and pilgrims flocked to Windsor, contributing to a decline in the numbers wending their way to the shrine of St Thomas at Canterbury.

Tomb of Henry VI at St George’s Chapel, Windsor

“. . .A rather unseemly wrangle followed. [My note: When, exactly? In Richard’s reign, or after Bosworth?] The abbeys of Chertsey and Westminster both put forward claims to the body. Chertsey’s claim was on the grounds that Richard III had taken it by violence to Windsor [Huh? I hope this is just a generally accepted term for moving remains around, not yet another accusation to lay at Richard’s door.] Westminster based its case on the fact that workmen and vergers at the abbey had clear recollections that Henry had marked out a place for himself in the abbey choir during his lifetime. The canons of Windsor joined in, strenuously arguing in favour of the saintly royal corpse remaining there. The upshot was that the new chapel prepared at Westminster was used for its founder, Henry VII, while Windsor kept Henry VI under the south aisle of St George’s chapel. His arms are carved in the fan vaulting over the bay in which he had been reburied after his arrival from Chertsey. . .”

The above details are also to be found in Historical Memorials of Westminster Abbey by Dean Stanley, who says that Henry VII intended a new Westminster chapel for Henry VI, whom he thought would soon be canonised. But Henry VI wasn’t canonised, and Stanley believes Henry VII wasn’t prepared to lavish money on a non-saint. So he appropriated the planned chapel for himself alone. (This is on page 138 of my February 1911 edition.) All of which suggests that the present Henry VII chapel certainly wasn’t originally intended just for Tudor himself, but for him to rest beside St Henry VI. And presumably soak up the reflected glory.

So, a chapel at Westminster, already commenced for Henry VI, was eventually used for solely for Henry VII. .Oh, and by the way, this would presumably mean that Henry VII would be removing Henry VI’s remains by violence, since Windsor was hardly likely to surrender their royal golden goose without protest. And there is a strong suggestion that the remains were actually brought to Westminster, and when the canonisation failed to materialize, were returned to Windsor. Very respectfully, of course. And maybe followed by a Tudor scowl.

However, Henry VI had apparently already chosen his place in Westminster, but in the abbey choir, not Henry VII’s new chapel, which was erected on the site of the old Lady Chapel, behind the altar. This made me wonder if Henry VI’s known personal choice of Westminster had led to an earlier plan to accommodate the saintly king’s wish. OK, it’s a possible flight of fancy on my part, but it could perhaps offer an explanation for the intriguingly rogue mention of April 1483

I don’t think there is any doubt that in 1503 Henry VII commenced his own chapel, the one that is still there now. But just how much of a previous “new” Henry VI chapel might have remained very close by? An earlier foundation stone, perhaps laid around the time of Edward IV’s death in April 1483? It would have been superseded by the 1503 foundation stone, of course, but there is still the thought (mine, I own up) that another chapel could have been planned from the time of Edward IV/Richard III.

Then again, maybe in April 1483, this originally planned new chapel was not intended for Henry VI at all. Might Edward IV, knowing he was on his deathbed, have decided he wanted to be laid to rest in Westminster? I know he left in his will that it was to be Windsor, but might he have changed his mind at the eleventh hour? He surely wouldn’t normally have built anything for holy but pesky Henry VI, whom he’d despatched to obscurity in Chertsey. Out of sight, out of mind. Edward had no reason to think fondly of Henry VI, unless, of course, his own imminent death made him want to take precautions for an assured entry into heaven. In which case, of course, why not bring the holy chap to Windsor? But just maybe, with the Grim Reaper approaching the castle,  a grand joint venture with Henry VI at Westminster would seem just the necessary safeguard? Being nice to the royal “saint” would earn brownie points in heaven and on earth, which I’m sure is what Henry VII was to think in turn. Edward would also have been content that his son and brother, Richard of Gloucester, would carry out these last-minute plans. Edward had no scruples about intending his illegitimate son to ascend the throne at Richard’s expense. In fact, I don’t think Edward had many scruples at all. If any. But that’s beside the point.

However, if Edward had decided belatedly on his own burial in Westminster, it did not come to fruition. He was interred in Windsor. That is not to say that his successor, Richard III, did not intend to honour his late brother’s possible last wish (if such a wish had existed). Who knows what Richard had in mind? He left no record, so people like me have to read the facts and try to interpret them, and as I am not a historian, the result is rambling articles like this!

Moving human remains around to different places was quite common back then. In 1476, on Edward’s instructions, his father and brother had been removed from Pontefract to Fotheringhay, escorted on the journey by Richard, so it was certainly established practice in their immediate family. Richard had Henry VI brought from Chertsey to Windsor, even though Henry had wanted to rest in neither, but in Westminster. But this may have been expediency on Richard’s part, to accommodate the growing cult around Henry’s tomb. Maybe even to reflect a heavenly glow over Edward IV? Like so many things with Richard, we cannot know anything for certain.

So. . .what was this possible other chapel at Westminster? Surely not anything to do with the old Lady Chapel, which was definitely pulled down to accommodate Henry VII’s grand plan. No, for there seems to be a suggestion that this enigmatic earlier project was something new in April 1483. Might it have been a magnificent tomb for the House of York? Might Richard have eventually planned to bring Edward IV from Windsor and George of Clarence from Tewkesbury? Maybe his father and older brother Edmund from Fotheringhay? Perhaps even Henry VI from Windsor? Whatever his motives and final intentions, the chapel if it existed (for this is all “reading between the lines” on my part) was somewhere Richard would have seen, with great sadness, as a final resting place for his queen, his son. All too soon, of course, it would have been his own too.

But it was never built. Maybe never even planned. Who knows? I just have this feeling that Henry VII was almost pipped at the post by a Yorkist chapel. If only everyone today flocked to see the York Chapel, with all the grand tombs of the family of Richard III. If only. . .

 

 

 

Royal burials at St George’s Chapel….

st__georges_chapel

This article is quite interesting, although Richard only gets a brief mention, for moving Henry VI from Chertsey to Windsor. Edward IV is in there, of course, and Henry VII’s endeavours too, although he’s not buried there, of course. Wasn’t it grand enough for him? Whatever, he built himself an extravagant but truly beautiful resting place in Westminster Abbey.

Royal Burials: St George’s Chapel

See also our previous article.

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