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A book about heraldry and livery on the medieval battlefield….

As a member of the Mortimer History Society, I have been notified that the above book has been greatly reduced in price at Oxbow Books. I’ve ordered it – including £4 postage!

The blurb for the book is as follows:
“The medieval battlefield was a place of spectacle and splendour. The fully-armed knight, bedecked in his vivid heraldic colours, mounted on his great charger, riding out beneath his brightly-painted banner, is a stock image of war and the warrior in the middle ages. Yet too often the significance of such display has been ignored or dismissed as the empty preening of a militaristic social elite. Drawing on a broad range of source material and using innovative historical approaches, this book completely re-evaluates the way that such men and their weapons were viewed, showing that martial display was a vital part of the way in which war was waged in the middle ages. It maintains that heraldry and livery served not only to advertise a warrior’s family and social ties, but also announced his presence on the battlefield and right to wage war. It also considers the physiological and psychological effect of wearing armour, both on the wearer and those facing him in combat, arguing that the need for display in battle was deeper than any medieval cultural construct and was based in the fundamental biological drives of threat and warning.”

I hope it’s as good as it seems, and will be sure to post my review.

PS: Later. To be honest, I found this book hard going. Maybe my mood wasn’t quite right. I’ve abandoned it for the time being, and will give it another go some other time.

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The Most Noble Order of the Garter….

Plan of the Garter Stalls at St George's Chapel, Windsor

We all know of the Order of the Garter, and the legend of how it began, but what do we actually know about this, Britain’s oldest and most noble order of chivalry? If you visit this page, you will learn a great deal. I wish the illustrations were enlargeable, and thus more detailed, but they’re still good. What I would like to see is a comprehensive list of who sat in each stall, and when. Yes, you can see that if you go to St George’s, but for this armchair “historian”, I’d like a proper list, with pictures, to pore over!

There is another interesting site here, which contains 360 degree views, including the Quire, showing the garter stalls.

 

 

The wrong Lady Anne….!

For Honour and Fame - Nigel Saul

Having just acquired Nigel Saul’s For Honour and Fame, about chivalry in England from 1066 to 1500, one of my first actions was (as always!) to go to the pages that refer to Richard III. Well, it’s second nature to any Ricardian, I think.

So, on page 279, I read:

“. . .A generation later there was to be another, still greater, heiress who was to play a role in the preservation of specifically chivalric memory. This was Anne Neville, daughter of Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, and sister and heiress of his son Henry, duke of Warwick, who died young. Anne’s self- appointed task in the last years of her life was to cherish and protect the memory of her late father, one of the Lancastrian monarchy’s greatest captains. . .”

Um. . .eh? For a moment the penny didn’t drop, and I couldn’t fit Anne Neville with such a claim. Then I realized it was one of those banes of all writers, a monumental blooper. It was not Anne Neville who was meant, but her mother, Anne Beauchamp.

Phew!

So, the mix-up of Lady Annes is an error by either Nigel Saul, or his publisher, Bodley Head. Oh, and the book then goes on to mention Richard III’s “seizure of the throne”, which did not impress this incurable Ricardian. He has two further, brief, mentions. So, if you’re looking for books that deal in any meaningful way with Richard III, give this one a miss.

Proceedings in the Court of Chivalry….

Court of Chivalry

Here is a link that explains just how important it was to bear and display the correct arms. Just think of the Battle of Barnet, when in the fog the Earl of Oxford’s “star with rays” was mistaken for Edward IV’s “sun in splendour”, leading two allies to turn upon each other. Needless to say, Edward emerged the victor.

When there was a dispute about who had the right to bear particular arms, it was heard before the Court of Chivalry, and one of the most celebrated of such cases was that between the Scrope and Grovensor families, which occurred during the reign of Richard II and saw evidence given by a huge portion of the aristocracy. Some had important evidence to give, others had little to add, but they all turned up. It was a matter of immense importance to them all that specific arms were borne by specific men. Any confusion, and another Battle of Barnet situation could and probably would arise. One needed to know and be certain of who was friend and who was foe.

To read more about the Scrope and Grosvenor dispute, I recommend the following book, which goes into great detail about who said what. Very interesting indeed. An insight into the world of late-14th-century society and chivalry.

Scrope and Grosvenor

The title of this book may suggest it is all in Latin, but it isn’t. Although there are passages in Latin and medieval French, the book is mainly in English.

 

 

Richard III and Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar aka ‘El Cid’

To continue my series of posts about Richard’s notable genealogical connections, my latest discovery is that he was directly descended from Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar – El Cid!

Statue of El Cid

Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar – El Cid

This time the connection is through his mother’s line and you can see the tree below (in two parts) with red dots showing the direct line of ancestors leading to El Cid.

Picture of Richard III family tree 1

Picture of Richard III family tree 2

But who was El Cid?

In an animated version of his story, he is described as: ‘A man who becomes a knight, a knight who becomes a hero, a hero who becomes a legend!’ But what is fact and what fiction? He is seen as the National Hero of Spain, a heroic warrior who fought to drive the Moors (Muslims) out of Spain. However, he actually fought both against and for the Moors.

There are many published versions of his life and some fictional incidents have passed into history as fact – something he shares with Richard. So, I have read a book  (El Cid: The Making of a Legend by MJ Trow) which analyses all the written records of his life in chronological order and each incident is assessed using likelihood and common sense. Like Richard, contemporary reports are few and the stories became more and more elaborate as time goes on, like a snowball gathering snow. So, let’s start from the beginning.

Rodrigo was born in Vivar, near Burgos, in Spain in about 1043. His family was wealthy and connected to the King, Ferdinand I, being court officials, although they weren’t major players.

Photo of staue of El Cid riding Babieca, his war horse

Statue of El Cid riding Babieca

One legend associated with Rodrigo is about his horse, Babieca. It is said he was offered the pick of an Andalusian herd of horses by his godfather as a coming of age gift and his choice was considered a weak one, causing his godfather to cry: ‘Babieca!’ which means ‘idiot’. However, there are other theories such as that the horse was a gift from a barbarian and the name came from that. Whatever the truth, Babieca certainly became a formidable warhorse and has his own tomb in the monastery of San Pedro de Cardeña, where Rodrigo himself was first buried.

Picture of swords - colada is number 8

‘Colada’ is no. 8

Like the legendary King Arthur, El Cid also had a special sword – in fact more than one. These swords were named ‘Colada’ and ‘Tizona’ and one (possibly actually ‘Colada’ but labelled ‘Tizona’) still survives and is displayed in the Museum of Burgos. In 1999 it was tested and confirmed to be made in the eleventh century in Moorish Cordoba and contained Damascus steel (which is made by a special process that is no longer known today). It is 36.8 in long and weighs 2.5 lb and the hilt is a later edition as is also the inscription which reads:

‘Yo soy la Tizona [que] fue hecha en la era de mil e quarenta’ (I am the Tizona, who was made in the year 1040). And on the reverse side:

‘Ave Maria gratia plena; dominus mecum [sic]’ (Hail Mary, full of grace; the Lord be with me).

Sword 'Tizona' on display in Madrid before 2007

‘Tizona’ on display in Madird before 2007

Rodrigo was the sworn man of Sancho, one of Ferdinand’s three sons, the others being Alfonso and Garcia. As a young man, in 1057, he fought for Sancho against the Moorish stronghold of Zaragoza, making its emir, Al-Muqtadir, one of Sancho’s vassals. However, in 1063, he also fought on Al-Muqtadir’s side against Ferdinand’s half-brother, Ramiro I of Aragon, and his army, who were besieging Zaragoza. Ramiro was killed and the Aragonese army routed and it was rumoured that Rodrigo fought and beat an Aragonese knight in single combat, thereby winning the title Campeador – which translates roughly as ‘Champion’. He is referred to as such in this sixteenth century chronicle of his life.

Page of Chronicle of El Cid

Translation: Chronicle of the very brave knight, El Cid, Rodrigo Diaz, Champion.

Sancho was assassinated in 1072, probably by his brother Alfonso, who wanted to take over Sancho’s lands, and Rodrigo transferred his allegiance to him. The legend has it that he forced Alonso to swear on the Bible in public that he had had nothing to do with Sancho’s murder but, although this is possible, there is no proof of the incident. It is certainly true that the relationship between Rodrigo and Alfonso was difficult and twice Alfonso exiled Rodrigo. The reasons are disputed, but one possibility is because of rumours spread about him by rivals.

In the first of these exiles, in 1080, he offered his services to other rulers in Spain (which then consisted of many small kingdoms), and in 1081, El Cid was accepted by the Moorish king of Zaragoza, Yusuf al-Mu’taman ibn Hud, and served both him and his successor, Al-Mustain II. It was during this period that he was given the title El Cid (The Lord or Master – probably from the Arabic ‘Al-Sayyid’) and served as a successful general of the predominantly Moorish armies, at times against Alfonso.

He became such a formidable foe that, around 1087, Alfonso recalled him for a short time but, when he was exiled for a second time, Rodrigo seems to have decided not to rely on Alfonso’s goodwill but make his own fortune.

Signature of El Cid

El Cid’s signature: ‘ego ruderico’ (I, Rodrigo)

Rodrigo had married Jimena in 1075 and another legend has arisen about their relationship, namely that he had killed her father in one of his first battles and that their relationship was therefore understandably strained. However, again there is no evidence that this is true.

Rodrigo eventually invaded and occupied Valencia, which he conquered by gradually getting control of surrounding towns and lands and finally gained by siege with a combined Christian and Moorish army. He became Valencia’s ruler in 1094, to all intents and purposes a king there. The city was both Christian and Muslim, and both Moors and Christians served in the army and as administrators.

However, after living there peacefully with his wife, Jimena, for about five years, the Almoravids, (Berbers originally from North Africa), besieged Valencia to try to take it back and El Cid died on June 10th 1099, probably from the effects of deprivation and starvation because of the siege.

This belies the well-known film version of his story starring Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren which has a very dramatic scene: after Rodrigo’s death from a battle wound, El Cid’s wife, Jimena dresses him in his armour and mounts him on his famous horse, Babieca, (tied on to prevent him falling off). She sends him off into battle again to inspire his men, who are unaware he has died. A vivid image, but a false one. However, there is a plausible source for this myth, the probably true story that he was buried sitting upright on his throne. His tomb was desecrated during a later attack on the town and some of his bones were lost, but the remains which were saved were reburied in Burgos Cathedral, where they still rest to this day.

Tomb of El Cid and his wife Jimena

Tomb of El Cid and Jimena

It is clear that he was a courageous warrior and intelligent tactician. Before battle, Rodrigo often ordered that classical Roman works on military themes should be read aloud to him and his soldiers, both for entertainment and inspiration. He also utilised brainstorming sessions to discuss tactics and accepted or considered suggestions and ideas from his men. However, he was also ruthless at times and merciful at others. He often used unexpected strategies, utilising what modern tacticians would describe as ‘psychological warfare’ — terror tactics, surprise attacks and distractions for example. He is known to have executed a man by having him buried up to his armpits and then burned alive. In contrast, having captured one of his greatest enemies, Count García Ordóñez, he held him for three days and then let him go.

He probably gained his reputation as a great warrior because he was undefeated in battle (and he fought many, many battles over the years). Regarding one of them, the Historia Roderici tells us ‘… it happened that Rodrigo Diaz fought alone with fifteen enemy soldiers; seven of them were in mail; one of these he killed, two he wounded and unhorsed and the remainder he put to flight by his spirited courage.

To sum up, like Richard, Rodrigo is seen as the ultimate chivalric hero, almost a saint, by some (he was in fact proposed for canonisation by one of his descendants, Don Diego Hurtado de Mendoza) and an unscrupulous, violent chancer, only out for his own ends, by others. Fortunately for Rodrigo, it is the heroic persona that has become the accepted legend, whereas for Richard it is the evil one. Doubtless, for both, the truth is somewhere in between these two extremes.

 

 

 

Image credits:

El Cid by Stan Sheb via Creative Commons licence.

Babieca statue by CarlosVdeHabsburgo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.

Colada by Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon 6. Auflage 1905 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Tizona image by Infinauta (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Chronicle in public domain.

Signature by Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (c. 1050-1099) Created in vector format by P4K1T0 (File:Firma del Cid.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Tomb by Zarateman (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.

A book on Medieval warfare, not only Renaissance….

a book on medieval warfare - not just Renaissance

Um, I don’t think Edward III and the Black Prince are Renaissance, but the book might be interesting. Perhaps it more concerns the build-up to Renaissance warfare?

 

Murrey and Blue interviews Michael K. Jones

  • Which of the Black Prince’s military achievements is the most impressive and why?

The main attraction in writing a biography of the Black Prince was to bring to life his martial exploits, for Edward of Woodstock, the eldest son of Edward III, captured the imagination of fourteenth century Europe. The chronicler Jean Froissart described him as ‘the flower of all chivalry’; the Chandos Herald, who fought with him, saw him as ‘the embodiment of all valour’. Thomas Walsingham wrote: ‘He never attacked a people he did not conquer; he never besieged a city he did not take.’ Even the French were impressed. A Valois chronicler stated: ‘He was one of the greatest and best knights ever seen. In his time, he was renowned the world over and won the respect of all.’

The Black Prince won his spurs at Crécy, on 26 August 1346, aged just sixteen. Edward III’s army used the longbow to deadly effect – annihilating the French nobility – and the Prince fought with conspicuous courage that day. Nine years later he received his first independent command as king’s lieutenant in Gascony, conducting a brutal plundering raid that scorched the earth of Languedoc. But it was at Poitiers, on 19 September 1356, that he won a truly remarkable victory over the numerically superior French, capturing their king, Jean II. In the battle’s aftermath, Jean was forced to accept the terms of a treaty which marked the zenith of England’s dominance in the Hundred Years War.

Edward of Woodstock then became Prince of Aquitaine, ruling – from 1362 – over a vast swathe of territory in southwest France. Five years later, he led an Anglo-Gascon army into northern Spain on behalf of the exiled ruler Pedro of Castile and won his last great success. At Nájera – on 3 April 1367 – he routed the opposing Franco-Castilian army of Enrique of Trastamara and restored Pedro I to the throne.

In purely military terms, the battle of Nájera was the Black Prince’s most impressive achievement. He skilfully reconnoitred the terrain before making a daring night-time march around his opponent’s position, drawn up on a wide plain to the east of the town. As dawn broke, his army made a surprise attack upon Enrique’s left flank. This was instinctive generalship – the Prince deploying his bowmen and dismounted men-at-arms with devastating effect before throwing in his cavalry to pursue and cut down his fleeing foe. The chronicler Henry of Knighton said simply: ‘It was the greatest battle to have taken place in our time.’

Yet, in a broader context, Nájera represented a flawed triumph. The Prince’s conduct of the campaign was on occasions hesitant and lacklustre, and although this was redeemed by a fine victory, its consequences (in which the army succumbed to a dysentery outbreak and Pedro reneged on financial obligations he had promised to repay) left him struggling with sickness and massive debt.

It was the battle of Poitiers that made the strongest impression on contemporaries. Here the Prince showed the full range of his talents: tactical acumen and astonishing courage during the course of the fighting and praiseworthy chivalry – in his treatment of his captured opponent, King Jean II – in its aftermath. It was the summit of his career as England’s warrior-hero.

  •  Do you think the Black Prince would have made a good king?

 The Black Prince passed away on 8 June 1376 – just over a year before the death of his father – after enduring a long and painful illness. His body lay in state in Westminster Hall and his funeral was then held at Canterbury Cathedral, some three and a half months later, on 29 September, amidst an outpouring of national grief. ‘Thus died the hope of the English’, Thomas Walsingham remarked. The poet John Gower hailed the Prince as an exemplar of knighthood: ‘He was never discomfited in a fight…he was a wellspring of courage.’ And in his funeral sermon Thomas Brinton, bishop of Rochester, evoked an era that seemed to be passing: ‘His wisdom appeared not only in his habit of speaking prudently’, Brinton emphasised, ‘but also in his manner of acting, because he did not merely talk like the lords of today but was a doer of deeds.’

Yet an idealised picture was being created. The Prince had, after all, been seriously ill for a long time and it suited contemporaries to remember the glorious victories of his prime rather than his final years in France, which were tarnished by the levying of a hearth tax on his Gascon subjects, the ill-fated resumption of the war and the sack of the French town of Limoges – although here hostile propaganda would play a part in unjustly blackening the Prince’s reputation.

The Black Prince’s generosity towards his fellow fighters left him constantly in debt.  A measure of financial prudence was necessary to be a successful ruler. However, if he had retained his health, his martial standing and easy rapport with the aristocracy would have been considerable assets as king. And at beginning of his rule as Prince of Aquitaine he did indeed show much promise, particularly in his commitment to justice and good government. In contrast, the last days of Edward III’s reign were beset by corruption and mismanagement, making the profound sense of loss at the Prince’s passing only too understandable.

  • Was any part of Richard II’s ‘tyranny’ justified?

Richard II was a very different man from his father. Intelligent and cultivated, he thought carefully about the dignity of kingship, possibly modelling some of his court protocol on what he had learnt of the magnificence of the Black Prince’s rule in Aquitaine. Yet he was no warrior – preferring instead to make peace with France – and his relations with his nobles were marred by distrust and outbursts of petty spite.

The period of ‘tyranny’, a description coined by the chronicler Thomas Walsingham, covered the last two years of Richard’s rule, from 1397-9, when the monarch took his revenge on the Appellants (a group of lords who had restricted his royal powers some eight years earlier), created a host of new aristocratic titles, imposed forced loans upon his subjects and strengthened royal power in the localities. In Richard’s eyes such measures were justified by his own concept of kingship, ‘an obligation laid upon him by God’, but political theory did not match practical reality. He ruled in a climate of fear, alienating many around him and ultimately sowed the seeds of his own downfall.

  • In the fifteenth century, did the Yorkists or the Lancastrians have a better claim to the throne?

 The Lancastrian dynasty began when Henry Bolingbroke, the future Henry IV, deposed the anointed king, Richard II, forcing him to abdicate. The Lancastrian claim to the throne derived from their descent from John of Gaunt (Henry’s father), the third surviving son of Edward III, through the male line. If the female line was given precedence the House of York had the better claim, through their descent from Lionel duke of Clarence (Edward’s second surviving son), through the marriage of Lionel’s daughter, Philippa, to Edmund Mortimer, earl of March – it was the granddaughter of this union, Anne Mortimer, Richard duke of York’s mother, who brought this claim into his family.

However enmity between the houses of York and Lancaster – founded upon this dynastic fault line – a feature of the drift to civil war in the 1450s, was by no means inevitable. Richard duke of York served Henry VI loyally as king’s lieutenant in France and it was only after his replacement by his hated rival Edmund Beaufort, duke of Somerset and fears that Somerset might manipulate the king and challenge York’s position within the realm as heir presumptive (evident in his articles against the duke in 1452) that the Mortimer claim, and the family’s descent from Lionel of Clarence, was once more considered. In short, it was Henry VI’s failure to dispense patronage and political influence even-handedly that propelled the house of York towards asserting its own claim to the throne.

  • Did Margaret Beaufort consistently plot to put her son, Henry Tudor, on the throne, or was she – initially at least – trying to engineer his return to England, and a position within the Yorkist realm?

It is a pleasure to see such a resurgence of interest in Margaret Beaufort – one of the great political survivors of the late middle ages – in fiction, non-fiction and TV. When I undertook my 1992 biography, with Malcolm Underwood, The King’s Mother, little was known about her political role and many of the key facts of her life misunderstood. Tudor historians would later insinuate that Margaret was always trying to advance her son’s claim to the throne but the reality was rather different.

Margaret Beaufort was always the pragmatist – and the archives of St John’s College, Cambridge, show her negotiating with Edward IV to secure a title and marriage for Henry Tudor within the Yorkist polity, a course of action that she continued to pursue at the very beginning of Richard III’s reign. It was only later in the summer of 1483 that Margaret began plotting against Richard. In the words of Polydore Vergil she ‘was commonly called the head of that conspiracy’, but whether her intention at this stage was to promote her son’s claim to the throne or merely to support Buckingham’s rebellion is far from clear. An accessible, recent account of these machinations can be found in the book I wrote with Philippa Gregory and David Baldwin, The Women of the Cousins’ War and in my piece ‘Mother of the Tudors’ in the BBC History Magazine (January 2017).

For Michael Jones’s author website see: www.michaeljoneshistorian.com

William the B … er, Conqueror

This piece, by Marc Morris in History Extra, describes the events that followed the previous usurpation from France. A lot more violent, indeed, than the early reign of the first “Tudor”, although his son and grandchildren changed that ..The Death of Harold at the Battle of Hastings, 1066.

The Black Prince whitened at last….?

BAL2369

On 8th June 1376, Edward, the Black Prince, died. From then until 29th September his body lay in state in Westminster Hall, and then was taken to Canterbury Cathedral to be buried on 5th October at Canterbury Cathedral.

His passing was greatly mourned through the land, and lamented because the elderly monarch, Edward III, was no longer the man he had once been, and the new heir was a little boy, the eventual Richard II. Not a satisfactory situation, with the prospect of a minority rule, with all the dreadful prospects that entailed.

Black Prince - garter

No one knows why Prince Edward was nicknamed the Black Prince (or when) but if something said at the time, by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Simon Sudbury, can be taken at face value, it wasn’t because the Black Prince was of dark colouring. Sudbury said that although Edward was dead, he had left behind a fair son, his very image, as heir apparent. Right, before you all rush to draw my attention to the ambivalence of the word “fair”, let me point out that I did mention something about “face value”. So, if Sudbury was speaking of colouring, and linking father with son (Richard II), dark doesn’t enter into it. We all know Richard II was fair, as in blond, with a complexion that flushed easily.

Richard II

Richard II- Wilton Diptych

Edward was idolized in his lifetime, and there was really only one thing that has always marred and dogged (blackened?)his reputation. That was at the sack of Limoges on 19th September 1370, when Edward was the ruler of Aquitaine. He is accused of ordering the slaughter of 3,000 inhabitants, and has always been vilified for this. Yet in every other way he was lauded and admired.

Sack of Limoges - 1370

However, it now seems that new evidence has come to light in France, from a French chronicle, that it wasn’t the English who committed the massacre, but the French themselves, who were enraged because Limoges supported the English.

 

Black Prince book

This new information has been brought to light in Black Prince, a new biography by Michael Jones. To read more about the discovery (and decide whether or not to spend the published price of £30 to read the book itself – cheaper elsewhere, e.g. Amazon) please go here.

Now, having said all that, I am pleased that new sources do appear from time to time, no matter how many centuries pass. So I have not given up hope that old documents, chronicles and rolls will turn up out of nowhere, proving that Richard III wasn’t guilty of all the crimes of which he’s accused. Not least the murder of his nephews. It’s waiting somewhere, folks. Don’t despair!

Douce Dame Jolie: Machaut’s ghostly music of love and death

Giaconda's Blog

400px-Machaut_Douce_Dame_Jolie.svg

Douce Dame Jolie was composed in the C14th by Guillaume de Machaut who lived between 1300 and 1377 around the area of Rheims in France. It follows the conventions of the ‘Ars Nova’ style which flourished in France and the Low Countries during the C14th and the structure of a ‘virelai’, a verse of three stanzas with a repeated refrain before the first and after each subsequent stanza.

Machaut was a master of this form and Douce Dame is probably the best known and most performed of his virelai pieces. Many contemporary performers continue to sing versions of the song with different tempi and voice styles but it remains consistently haunting and intoxicating to the ear.

The virelai was one of the three ‘Formes Fixes’, along with the ballade and rondeau which were popular in the C13th – C15th and together with motets and lais formed the basis of secular musical…

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