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Holiday in Morpeth Castle’s wonderful gatehouse….!

 

I love to stay at places with history. Especially medieval history. That is why I so love going to 14th-century Dartington Hall near Totnes in Devon. Now I have found somewhere else I’d like to go, although it’s in the opposite end of the country – Morpeth Castle in Northumberland. Well, the castle gatehouse, to be precise. From everything I see at these websites, it’s well worth the effort!

The much restored gatehouse has been converted into very pleasing accommodation.

As an aside, in 1516 Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister and the widow of James IV of Scotland, stayed at Morpeth for four months as she fled to seek refuge with her brother in England. She must be one of the few women who actually sought protection from that man!

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An angelic Tudor mystery in Devon….

The great hall at Dartington Hall, near Totnes in Devon, is a magnificent example of 14th-century architecture, but there is a little oddity that not everyone will notice. It concerns the supporting figures on the corbels supporting the five-bay hammerbeam timber roof.

The figures are angels holding the heraldic shields of the families that have owned the Hall. The lord who built the hall in the 14th century was John Holand, Earl of Huntingdon, Duke of Exeter. He was the younger of Richard II’s two half-brothers, and his angel is displayed on the left above. All the other angels (bar one), are the same, including those of Margaret Beaufort, who owned the Hall from 1487-1509, but is not thought to have ever visited it. The estate then reverted to the Crown.

Sir Arthur Champernowne gained possession of Dartington Hall in 1554 (he exchanged other properties with Thomas Aylworth, Lord of Dartington) and his descendants owned the property until 1925, by which time it was derelict. The Champernownes were of Anglo-Norman descent, and influential, especially in the West Country.

Now for the oddity. At some point, perhaps under the auspices of Sir Arthur, one of the angels in the great hall was altered. It is on the north side of the roof, and yes, like its fellows, it displays a coat-of-arms (that of the Champernownes) but the figure holding the shield is no longer an angel. Instead it has been changed into a Tudor serving man, with his wings severely chopped. (See illustration on above right.) Now, I am not the one claiming the figure is a Tudor servant, it is described as such by Anthony Emery, who has written a large work on Dartington Hall.

Why has this angel been changed? Emery states that the Champernownes cut back this corbel, but gives no reason. Was it an attempt by Sir Arthur to show that he was a loyal servant of the Tudors? I cannot think of any other reason. Can you?

The Holand Dukes rose against Richard III? Wrong!….

screen-and-gallery-great-hall-dartington-hall-2016-2

For those of you who do not know, I am very fond of Dartington Hall. I read all I can about it, and its history, originally because of an intention to write about its creator, the first Holand Duke of Exeter, but now because I just plain love the place as well.

These Holand Dukes of Exeter – the first, John Holand, being the younger of Richard II’s two half-brothers through Joan of Kent – only survived for three generations, coming to an end in 1475 with the suspicious death of the third duke, the apparently unlovable Henry Holand. The duke in between, another John Holand, son of the first duke, was responsible for inventing the Duke of Exeter’s Daughter, a vile instrument of torture, a rack, which can still be seen at the Tower.  Not a legacy to commend the second duke, methinks.

I digress. Edward IV handed over Henry’ Holand’s estates to the wife from whom Holand was divorced, Edward’s eldest sister, Anne, Duchess of Exeter. Anne was by then married to Thomas St Leger, whose involvement in the Buckingham rebellion led to his execution by Richard III. This is as close as Henry Holand gets to rising against Richard III – through his ex-wife’s second husband!

Imagine my surprise then, when reading an introduction to a booklet about the hall by Anthony Emery, esteemed author of such works as ‘Greater Medieval Houses Of England and Wales 1300-1500’, to find the following statement:

“The Hall remained in the hands of the Holand family for a further 75 years [after the death of the first duke in 1400] but was forfeited to the Crown by the third generation after their unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Richard III.”

Huh? It can’t be a typo between II and III, because the Holands didn’t try to overthrow Richard II, on whose side they most definitely were, and anyway, Richard II was long gone by the time the third duke’s body washed up mysteriously on the shore at Dover. So I would like to know how Anthony Emery concludes that ‘they’ somehow rose against Richard III. They did rise against Henry IV at the end of 1399/ beginning of 1400 but came off worst – the first duke met a very sticky end at Pleshey Castle. And the third and last duke, Henry, was on the Lancastrian side at Towton, but accompanied Edward IV for the 1475 expedition to France. From which he failed to return, except as the body on the beach. He died about eight years before Richard of Gloucester became Richard III.

After Anne, Duchess of Exeter, Dartington fell to her daughter by St Leger, another Anne, who inherited Henry Holand’s estates through her mother. Well, it seems that when  the duchess died in January 1476, St Leger did all he could – ‘by seditious means as it is notoriously known’- to get reversion of his late wife’s estates, including the Holand properties, and to secure them for the other Anne, his daughter by the duchess. Emery says it all fell through when St Leger paid the price for joining Buckingham against Richard. Presumably it all then went to the Crown, because from March 1487 to 1509, it was held by Margaret Beaufort – whose coat of arms is one of those supporting the rafters of the great hall.

During the reign of Elizabeth I, Dartington was acquired by the Champernowne family, which held it for eleven generations, until in 1925 selling it to Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst, who  restored it lovingly to its present glory.

So where does Emery gets his ‘fact’ about the Holands rising against Richard III? He also makes sweeping statements and claims concerning the first duke, whom he appears to loathe as much as some historians loathe Richard, but that’s another matter.

Tales of a Ricardian Traveler – Debunking a Myth at Dartington Hall

RICARDIAN LOONS

Lady on Horseback Lady on Horseback, mid-15th c., British Museum

Dartington Hall, near Totnes in Devon and just southeast of Dartmoor National Park, represents a uniquely British form of historical contradiction. It is both medieval, having parts of a Grade I-listed late 14th century manor house, and modern, being the current home of the Schumacher College and formerly the site of a progressive coeducational boarding school which broke all the molds of English education and even attracted the attention of MI5. Today, it operates a hotel, restaurant and conference center, and has Grade II* listed gardens.

Our visit was prompted by the prospect of staying briefly in the house built between 1388-1400 by John Holland, first earl of Huntingdon and duke of Exeter. The Holland dukes of Exeter were themselves highly controversial figures and their history is closely intertwined with that of the Houses of York and Lancaster. We didn’t…

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On the trail of the House of York….

Cerne Abbey

Here are eight places associated with members of the House of York. The first is Cerne Abbey, which Anne Neville visited in 1471. Included in the list is my favourite place in all the world, Dartington Hall in Devon.

Read on….

http://www.historyextra.com/article/feature/trail-yorks-8-places-associated-richard-iii%E2%80%99s-family

Wishful thinking for a Christmas ghost or two….

John Holland's Ghost

A ghost story for Christmas may seem a little ill-placed, but nevertheless it has become something of a tradition. There was a time when BBC TV would not have been the same without something ghostly on Christmas Eve. Now we may or may not see anything like that. Dickens was greatly to blame, with Scrooge and his ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come.

I do not claim to be in Dickens’ class (hardly!) but I too have written such a seasonal ghost tale, part of which is true. Unfortunately, it is the ghosts themselves who are fictional. At least, I think they are. It came about because, as a writer of historical fiction, I long ago decided that I would attend to the story of John Holland, the 1st Earl of Huntingdon and 1st Duke of Exeter. I have said before in another post that he was the younger of Richard II’s two half-brothers. Passionate, handsome, fiery, brave and well skilled in the lists of love, as well as the lists themselves, he was one of the most colourful figures at Richard’s court. He came to a very sticky end, beheaded after Christmas, in January 1400, at Pleshey Castle, after becoming involved in the Epiphany Rising. It was a plot to overthrew Richard II’s usurper, Henry IV, and went pear-shaped, as the modern saying goes, and John paid the price. It was a brutal execution, a true hacking, but he died proudly and bravely. Quite a fellow. (As a side note that may intrigue Ricardians of the Richard III persuasion, Richard’s supporters were betrayed by a traitor to their cause, who informed on them to Henry. The similarities to what happened at Bosworth are quite startling. Another Richard betrayed by a so-called ‘friend’, who turned coat to support another Henry.)

Well, my interest in John Holland began way back in the 1970s, and I assembled an entire book of research, detailed chapters, the lot, only to be diverted into a another genre, that of 19th-century Regency England. Then, recently, Richard III was rediscovered. He was the inspiring figure who first got me writing, and I was delighted to think he had actually been found after all those centuries.. He fired me all over again, and my fingers fair smoked at the keyboard. But John Holland remained at the back of my mind.

I discovered that his favourite home, Dartington Hall in Devon, which he built, was now a hotel. Nothing could keep me away, so I hauled my husband along and we stayed there for a few days in autumn. It is the most beautiful house, set in rolling Devonshire countryside, on a hillside above the River Dart. I can well understand why John Holland loved it there so much.

Nothing even remotely supernatural happened, much as I wished it. Just a glimpse of the hall as it had been in Holland’s time? Please? But no, no such luck.

A year later we went again, not long before Christmas, and this time I was determined not to wish for anything at all. But being determined and actually succeeding were two different things. Deep down, I did wish. For something, anything. I stood in the breathtaking  courtyard, gazing at the house and the great hall, imagining all sorts of things. I sat in the porch, looking up at a famous ceiling boss of Richard II’s White Hart badge nestling on a red-rose cushion, surrounded by protective gold wheatears – the wheatear was John Holland’s badge. I went into the screens passage, imagining all the time, and then into the great hall, with the huge fireplace before which John and his royal wife, Elizabeth of Lancaster, would once have been seated on the dais, presiding over feasts and banquets.

My grey cells worked overtime, and a ghost story began to form. In it, I met the ghost of John Holland himself. You will find the story at http://somehistoryrewritten.wordpress.com/2014/12/14/wishful-thinking/ Yes, wishful thinking indeed. Although I am sure that on Christmas Eve, when it’s dark outside and I have had a glass or two of Christmas cheer, I could convince myself it wasn’t imagination at all, but really happened…

I hope you read and enjoy it, and I wish you all a Merry Yuletide and a Prosperous and Fulfilling New Year.

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