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The Castle of Leicester and St Mary De Castro

Leicester Castle

leics castle

Leicester Castle as it appeared in 1483

 

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The Castle gardens

Since 2015 going to Leicester is the equivalent of going to visit the tomb of the last Plantagenet King who died in battle: Richard III. Everything there speaks of him from the Visitor Centre named after him, to The Last Plantagenet Pub not to mention attractions and shops that display his portrait or sell items with the name of the king. Of course, the Medieval Cathedral where the warrior king was buried in 2015 is the most visited place in Leicester but if you go there, don’t forget to pay a visit to the remains of Leicester’s Castle and its church St Mary De Castro. It is difficult today to imagine how the Castle could be at the time of Richard III but it is still there indeed even in a different shape. 

IMG_2840The Castle was probably built immediately after the Norman Conquest so around 1070. The Governor  at that time was Hugh de Grantmensil one of the companions of William the Conqueror. The Castle was the favourite residence of John of Gaunt, first Duke of Lancaster and the fourth son of Edward III. From the north end of the hall, it was possible to access the lord’s private apartments whilst from the south end there was access to a kitchen above an undercoft called John of Gaunt’s cellar where beverage and food were stored. Some people erroneously think it was a dungeon. 

The castle today looks totally different. What remains are the Castle’s Mound (Motte) located between Castle View and Castle Gardens. The Motte was originally 30-40 feet Prince Rupehigh topped with a timber tower. Unfortunately no buildings survived  and the motte was lowered in Victorian times to form a bowling green.

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The Castle House

The Great Hall is the oldest surviving aisled and bay divided timber hall in Britain. Even though the exterior is Victorian, the building still retains some of its original 12th century timber posts. The criminal court in the castle’s Great Hall was the scene of Leicester’s “Green Bicycle Murder” trial 1919 so exactly 100 years ago.

Other things are still visible of the ancient castle. The wall, the remains of the castle especially the Turret Gateway also known as Prince Rupert’s Gateway, the Castle Gardens (once used for public executions) the Castle House and the stunning church of St Mary De Castro.

St Mary De Castro

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St Mary De Castro

Close where the Castle stood, there is an ancient church called St Mary De Castro. It is a very special place especially for Ricardians. In this church Geoffrey Chaucer married her second wife, Philippa de Roet and 44 people were knighted in just one day among them Henry VI and Richard Plantagenet Duke of York, Richard III’s father. He was just 15 years old. However, the most famous event to be remembered today is that it is said that Richard III worshipped there before leaving for Bosworth and prepared himself for his last battle.

St Mary De Castro means St Mary of the Castle. It was built in 1107 after Henry I gave the

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The Chapel in St Mary De Castro ground to Robert de Beaumont 1st Earl of Leicester. It was the chapel of the castle and a place of worship within the bailey of the castle. It is assumed but there is no proof of evidence, that Ethelfleda, daughter of King Alfred the Great, had founded a church on the very spot where today is St Mary. It also seems that there was a college of priests called the College of St Mary De Castro founded before the Norman Conquest.

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The tower of St Mary was built not beside the church but inside of it so visitors can see 3 sides of it while still in church. The medieval spire, rebuilt in 1783 was declared dangerous in 2013. Following the unsuccessful attempt to raise money to save it, it was demolished in 2014. The church’s structure is quite odd because in ancient times there were two churches. One was the mentioned chapel of the castle, the other a church for common people. This explains why there are two sedilias and two piscinas both from medieval times.

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Henry VI and Richard III

Curiosities

It is said that King Richard III’s mistreated body was brought to this church to be washed before being displayed for the world to see he was actually dead. Considering the evident haste he was buried in and the lack of respect showed by the Tudors, it is unlikely this ever happened.

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The Nave of the Church

Philippa de Roet, Chaucer’s wife, was the lady-in-waiting of Philippa of Hainault one of Richard III’s ancestors.

In this church Edward of Lancaster and John of Lancaster are buried. Both died in infancy.

 

 

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Illustrations of Stafford Castle….

Stafford Castle

I fear the exhibition in question was in 2017, but the website is interesting because if you go down to the second appearance of the above illustration of Stafford Castle, you will find that you can go through a number of scenes of the castle. Worth a look.

A constitutionally important “Tudor” servant

Sir Richard Rich

We tend to have rather a negative view of Sir Richard Rich, or Baron Rich of Leez as he became in February 1547, nowadays. In this, we are somewhat influenced by Robert Bolt’s portrayal of him, as a “betrayer” of More, together with the history of Trevor-Roper. One Bolt line, memorably delivered by Paul Scofield as More, was “Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world, but Wales?”, as Rich (John Hurt) becomes Attorney-General for Wales a few (film) minutes before More is executed. More is also quoted as saying that Parliament could make Rich King if it so wished.

Leez Priory

Rich, a lawyer, protege of Wolsey, Colchester MP, Speaker and Solicitor-General, was certainly involved in many of the events of the mid-“Tudor” period such as the prosecution of More and Fisher, accounting for Catherine of Aragon’s assets at Kimbolton Castle, supporting Cromwell in the Dissolution, quite possibly a personal hand in Anne Askew’s (unprecedented and illegal) torture, executor of Henry VIII’s will, the attempted prosecution of Bonner and Gardiner and the Seymour brothers’ fatal division. He then resurfaced under Mary I as an enthusiastic persecutor of heretics in Essex, before dying, nine years into the next reign, at Felsted where he donated money to the church and famous school in the village.

His descendants were granted the Earldom of Warwick and were heavily involved, on both sides, in the Civil War – one great-grandson, the Earl of Holland, fought for the Crown at the 1648 Battle of St. Neots and was beheaded the following March with the Duke of Hamilton (captured at Preston) and Lord Hadham (taken at Colchester).

Fake news in Cheshire in 1388? Or UFOs….?

Medieval UFOs

The above painting does not illustrate the Cheshire event of 1388.

According to Jonathan Hughes in  his The Rise of Alchemy in Fourteenth Century England, on a day in August 1388, during Vespers, when Richard II was recovering his authority as king, two stars were observed hovering at Haulton, (Halton, Runcorn) Cheshire. They were in the southern sky, midway between the heavens and the earth, and angels were seen to float about the earth for an hour before returning to heaven, as if signifying RII’s recovered kingship.

But I wonder if they were something else entirely?

In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales described Halton as follows:-

“. . .An ancient barony of Halton, having its seat at the village, was, with the constableship of Chester, given by Hugh Lupus, Earl of Chester, to his cousin Nigel; continued, for several centuries, to be held by Nigel’s descendants; and passed, through John of Gaunt, to the duchy of Lancaster. A castle here, on the brow of a hill, was built about the time of the Conquest; was a favourite hunting seat of John of Gaunt; was dismantled in the civil war of Charles I.; and is now represented by inconsiderable ruins; but includes a habitable portion, rebuilt after the Restoration. . .” From http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/place/2114

Halton Castle

So, in 1388, the area was ruled by Gaunt, who had become the 14th Baron of Halton in 1361. In 1388 he was still abroad on his unsuccessful quest to gain the throne of Castile. He was also the hugely powerful and much loathed uncle of King Richard II. There had been chaos in England since Gaunt’s departure, but Richard was beginning to claw back his kingly authority. One wonders if the strange stars and angels in the sky were indeed a political invention to warn Gaunt’s supporters that the crown was in the ascendant? Conversely, was it the work of Gaunt’s supporters, warning the king that the future of the crown was far from certain?

In other words, was the entire thing fake news? Such stories were widely believed in the superstitious, deeply religious medieval world, and, accordingly, carried great weight. Was there not the tale of Jacob’s Ladder in the Bible? With angels ascending and descending? Plus, communications weren’t the greatest, so telling people in Kent or Northumberland that something wondrous had happened way off in Land’s End…or Cheshire…would take some time to be disproved.

OR, have UFOs been haunting the Halton/Runcorn area for 600 years or more? Perhaps even longer? For instance:-

“1963, Runcorn – RAF veteran Dick Newby saw a ‘huge blue star-like object’ hurtle through the sky, just above the rooftops over Boston Avenue. He then watched as it burned a path over Halton Castle. He said: ‘I was very alarmed. I’ve seen plenty of shooting stars and airliners but this was neither. It looked nothing like a shooting star and was dead silent.’ ”

“1966, Runcorn – John Middleham of Runcorn saw a flying disc over Halton. From then on, armed with a cine camera, he constantly scanned the skies trying to capture UFOs on film. Three years later, he spotted a huge cigar shaped object with two smaller discs underneath the skies of Runcorn. 1968, Widnes: Police took chase in squad cars after a huge brightly lit flying cross was seen flying over Fiddlers Ferry power station. No explanation was given for the object which left the cars standing as it hurtled off at speeds in excess of 100 miles an hour.

“1969, Runcorn – Police received a report of a UFO landing on a playing field behind Pine Road.

“1972, Runcorn – Julie Robson, Joyce Baxter and son Paul saw an unusual flying object over Halton Brow during daylight. They described it as ‘resembling a flying teapot without a lid.’ ”

There’s more here … And here: http://www.historicalblindness.com/blogandpodcast//a-brief-history-of-unidentified-aerial-phenomena (from about halfway down the article, when the author gets to events from history).

All of which begs the question: What, if anything, was seen in Halton in 1388? Something that could be given a religious interpretation? Or something that began in the mind of an inventive medieval spin-doctor? Or, was it really a UFO incident…

space-aliens-clipart-n6is495

 

 

 

 

 

Another C17 coincidence

In the English Civil War, there was a Royalist commander named Richard Neville (left). Unlike his namesake and relative (right), this Colonel of Horse survived the campaign, fighting at the first Battle of Newbury and being with Charles I at Oxford at the conclusion of the first War. He became a High Sheriff, Lord Lieutenant, JP before he died, peacefully, at 61.

h/t Only Connect, who reminded us that there is also a publisher and a singer by this name.

Royal genealogy before it happens (2)

Seven years ago, before this blog officially began, a letter was published in the Ricardian Bulletin about the common Edward III descent of the Duke and Duchess, as she soon became, of Cambridge through the Gascoigne-Fairfax line.

Now it has been announced that Prince Henry of Wales and the American actress Rachel (Meghan) Markle, or Duke and Duchess of Sussex as they are to become, are to marry on May 19. Tracing her royal descent has been more difficult until this genealogical outline appeared in the Mail on Sunday, back to Sir Ralph Bowes (1480-1516/7). Bowes’ wife, Elizabeth Clifford, was descended from Edward III through the same Mortimer-Percy marriage as were the Cambridges.

In this case, we can see some active participation in “Tudor” and Civil War history as well as Scottish royal descent in both lines – thus Robert I is also a significant common ancestor (twice, along with his brother Edward). The Rising of the North was, of course, in 1569.

Here is more on her lineage and here we present a more complete pedigree for them both. Hopefully, Prince Henry being a second son with red hair and a beard is not a bad omen.

{as published in the March 2018 Bulletin}

Medieval palace site at Lathom being excavated by group of military veterans….

If you can stomach paragraph two of the article below (by Henry James) the rest is quite interesting! I have taken the precaution of copying the entire article because of a server problem that messed me around after a minute so. So I opened it again, copied, and it’s below, complete with link to the original.

Lathom

“A GROUP of military veterans, including some injured in Afghanistan and the Falklands, are taking part in an archaeological project at Lathom to help with their recovery.
The aim of Project Valhalla is to excavate part of the medieval palace fortress site at Lathom, which was the home of Sir Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby and his wife Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII.

“Stanley is immortalised as one of the heroes in Shakespeare’s Richard III as ‘The King Slayer’, as well as crowning Henry Tudor king at the battle of Bosworth in 1485. (Viscountessw: Heroes? He probably wasn’t even there – and Henry Tudor was only persuaded because he could hide at the back behind a curtain wall of bodyguards! So bah, humbug to them both.)

“In addition to its Tudor links, Lathom was also the site of one of the largest and longest sieges of the English Civil War and the only battle that was commanded by a woman, Lady Charlotte Stanley, Countess of Derby.

Lathom is listed in the Domesday Book. The original buildings and defences at this time may well have been wooden.

“A new castle was built in the 13th century of which no details survive and was probably replaced by the structure currently being excavated.

“This new structure, known as Lathom House and built in 1496, was possibly one of the largest castles in England. It had nine towers and was surrounded by a wall two yards thick and a moat eight yards wide. Its drawbridge was heavily defended by a gateway tower. In the centre of the site was a tall tower known as the Eagle Tower.

“However, nothing survives of this massive structure as a result of the English Civil War sieges of 1644-45, a series of armed conflicts between the Parliamentarians and Royalists.
After the Battle of Marston Moor in July, 1644, the north of England was largely under Parliamentary control apart from areas close to Royalist garrisons such as Lathom.
But in July, 1645 4,000 Parliamentary troops returned to begin the second siege. And although the garrison did not capitulate quickly, when it became clear that no relief could be expected, and supplies were running short, famine forced Colonel Rawstorne’s hand and he surrendered to Colonel Egerton on December 2.

The Parliamentary party regarded the fall of Lathom as an event of major importance and to prevent its reuse the fortifications were totally demolished.

The Lathom Castle Project team will be assisted on site by military veterans from the Forces Archaeological Heritage Association (FAHA) which gives veterans the opportunity to learn a series of skills including excavation, land survey, drawing and mapping techniques and building recording on a site of national importance. It also helps them rebuild self-esteem and learn skills that will help in securing employment and helping build community cohesion.

“The excavation at Lathom will start on Saturday, July 29 and run until August 13 involving more than 20 local volunteers and veterans.

“Head of the project, Paul Sherman, said: “Lathom Castle is one of the most significant post-medieval archaeological sites in the north of England. It also occupied a prominent role in the political and social history of our nation.

“This project is a unique opportunity to cast new light on some of the key people and events that shaped our history and culture. It also gives people the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Richard III, The Tudors, Shakespeare, the events of the Wars of The Roses and the English Civil War.”

 

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

Witchcraft (3): Matthew Hopkins

matthew_hopkins_witch-finder-_wellcome_l0000812If the witchcraft trials at North Berwick in the 1590s and later in England, of which Pendle in 1610 is an example, happened because James VI/I fervently believed in witchcraft, as shown by the three characters in Macbeth, it can be argued that the subsequent decline in such cases came because judges and Charles I took a more sceptical approach, Charles being a more Anglican King than his father. There was, however, a significant case in his reign at Lancaster in 1634.

This trend was reversed in the early 1640s when the start of the First English Civil War saw Charles lose his authority over several parts of his largest kingdom but particularly Puritan-inclined counties such as Suffolk and Essex. To fill this vacuum, various individuals assumed some Parliamentary aut240px-st-_johns_church_great_wenham_suffolk_-_geograph-org-uk_-_213446hority in finding witches. Matthew Hopkins, born in about 1620, was the son of a Puritan vicar who had held the living of Great Wenham and land in Framlingham. By 1643, Matthew was an innkeeper near Manningtree but could also rely on an inheritance from his father and appointed himself Witchfinder General. With John Stearne and four followers, he began hunting witches the following year across the whole of East Anglia, subjecting them to the “swimming” ordeal, psychological torture and sending them for trial. By 1647, when his The Discovery of Witches was published, about three hundred people from Bury St. Edmunds to Chelmsford had been hanged, out of the five hundred such executions throughout England between 1400 and 1700.

Early that year, magistrates in Hopkins’ own region began to demand more evidence and the convictions stopped. Hopkins died that August, probably from tuberculosis. Stearne, a decade older, lived on in Bury St. Edmunds until 1670. Their methods had already spread to the New World Colonies, where there was a hanging in Connecticut in May 1647. The first American witch-hunt continued until 1663 but it wasn’t to be the last …

Hey diddle diddle, it’s Richard III….!

hey diddle diddle

Sometime ago I read that the words of the old Hey Diddle Diddle nursery rhyme were in fact a reference to the story of Richard III. There are other theories, of course, including this of Elizabeth I:

“The story goes that Elizabeth, was often called a cat for the treatment of her court, the mice. When Elizabeth’s cousin Lady Catherine Grey eloped with Edward Seymour represented by the dish running away with the spoon, Elizabeth was not particularly impressed. The ‘dish’ and ‘spoon’ of the rhyme are sometimes said to be the Queen’s private server and food taster, but this theory too lacks evidence.” (This extract is from https://treasuryislands.wordpress.com/2011/10/26/origins-hey-diddle-diddle/)

The suggestion that the rhyme might be to do with Richard’s so-called usurpation of the throne connects Sir William Catesby with the cat (the fiddle being to kill the boys in the Tower), the Kingmaker with the cow (no idea about the moon!) Francis Lovell with the dog, and Richard himself as the dish running away with the spoon (anointing spoon at his coronation). Why the Kingmaker is in there, I can’t imagine, for he was dead and gone by 1383, which is when the presumed events of the nursery rhyme took place.

Mind you, if you go here, you’ll find Richard’s name cropping up in all sorts of places, including Humpty Dumpty! See also here.

A Google search for Hey Diddle Diddle or Humpty Dumpty with Richard III will bring up numerous sites that repeat/debate/pooh-pooh the likelihood of the rhymes’ origins in Richard’s story.

Humpty Dumpty - RIII

The king in the above illustration is presumably Henry VII?

Anyway, it’s all an interesting theory, but I do not know how much faith to place in it. Take a look, and see what you think.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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