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Archive for the tag “Earl of Arundel”

Was there a monstrous serpent and treasure hoard near Ludlow…or not?

 

We all know Thomas of Walsingham. Well, not personally, of course, although sometimes it seems like it. He was a very busy fellow, and did not always record simple ‘history’, but included some strange stories as well. In the year 1344, he recorded a ‘remarkable tale’ about John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, 7th and final earl of his line.

Warenne was one of the nobles who disapproved of Piers Gaveston, but wavered about killing him and was eventually part of Edward II’s party. He and his brother-in-law, the 9th Earl of Arundel, were the last two nobles to stay loyal to the king after Isabella and Mortimer took over. When Arundel was executed, Warenne went over to the queen’s side. He had no children, and was eventually succeeded by his nephew, the 10th Earl of Arundel. He died in 1347 at the age of 61, after making strenuous efforts to produce a legitimate heir of his own! He was estranged from his first wife, kept a mistress who gave him illegitimate children, and then married again to a young wife who gave him no children at all. Well, we can’t say the earl didn’t try!

This story has often been wrongly told of Bromfield in Herefordshire, but is actually much more likely to have been Bromfield, just north-west of Ludlow in the Welsh Marches. Why? Well, for one thing the latter was held by John de Warenne, which the former was not. Bromfield in Herefordshire had been in the hands of the monks of Bromfield Priory since the time of the Confessor, and the whole strange tale I am about to relate took place on the property of John de Warenne, and purports to relate exactly how the earl became quite as rich as he was. Not that he was ever a poor man, you understand.

It seems that a Saracen doctor came to Warenne, to tell him of a terrible serpent (dragon?) that lived in a cave near Bromfield. The Saracen begged permission to kill and remove the awful creature, which was about to terrorise the entire area. The earl, naturally enough, agreed to the request. Well, wouldn’t you? I mean, who wants a pesky huge, mean-hearted serpent on the loose on your land?

The Saracen said that he would perform his task alone, and after warning everyone to stay away from the cave, which posed mortal danger to anyone who did not know what they were doing, he went secretly to slay the monstrous serpent. Later, task done (or so he said) he returned to say he had rid the area of the threat.

Now, we all know that serpents and dragons in caves are there to guard huge treasure hoards, right? Yes, indeed, and it was soon around the area that this serpent too had been guarding such a treasure. No longer afraid of the cave, some local men went to search it…and after a while found the evidence they sought.

In the meantime, however, the earl’s men got wind of what was going on, and told him. Angry to think he was being swindled out of this huge treasure, he sent his men to get the treasure, which he took into his own coffers. And that, my friends, is how John de Warenne became as dizzily rich as he reputedly was.

Now, some accounts of this story say that the Saracen continued to warn of dangers in the cave, that he knew about the treasure and even said it was there! It’s said he intended to go back for it himself. But that seems unlikely to me. If he knew there was a hoard in the cave, why not go and get it in the first place? Why invent a mighty serpent guardian? And certainly why, when he came back a lauded serpent-slayer, would he tell the locals what was hidden in the cave?

Well, to be fair, perhaps he had indeed fought, killed and disposed of the beast. Who can say? But only a daftie would let slip that there was a huge hoard of gold or whatever just waiting to be found. He’d have been trampled in the rush!

I don’t know the truth of it, of course. Maybe there is a more comprehensive version of the tale? If so, I would like to hear it. In the meantime, if anyone tells you there is a monstrous serpent guarding a cave near you, don’t believe it. Just get to that cave pdq and get the treasure before someone else does!

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 

The Battle Of Shrewsbury, 1403

In order to appease (as he hoped) the Percy family Henry IV granted them all those parts of southern Scotland that they could conquer. Despite advice from Northumberland that royal assistance was not needed he set out in the summer of 1403 to march to the borders with a small army to support their siege of Cocklaws Castle.

On reaching the Midlands, Henry received news that the Percys were in revolt; after some initial hesitation he summoned the levies of several counties to his banner and force marched to Shrewsbury, arriving there just before the rebels.

At Shrewsbury was Henry’s son the Prince of Wales, who was responsible for defending the English marches from Owain Glyndwr. The Prince, who was aged about 16, had until recently enjoyed the advice and support of Hotspur’s uncle, Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester, a very experienced soldier who had served John of Gaunt and been steward of Richard II’s household. However, Worcester had deserted, taking with him more than half the Prince’s men. Unfortunately it does not appear how many men we are talking about – the state of royal finances was such that it was probably hundreds rather than thousands.

Hotspur had come south to Chester with an advance guard of two hundred men, presumably mounted. These included the Scottish Earl of Douglas, captured at Homildon the previous year, but now an ally. At Chester he denounced Henry IV as “Henry of Lancaster” and proclaimed Richard II, whom he promised would appear at a rendezvous at Sandiway in a few days. This was sufficient to raise a considerable army in Cheshire itself. It is likely that other recruits came from Flint and other parts of North East Wales and from Shropshire. To these of course were added Worcester’s contribution. Northumberland remained in the North. Either he genuinely fell ill, or he was blocked by Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland, or he simply moved too slowly.

Hotspur’s strategy is not clear. Glyndwr, with whom he was presumably in alliance, was many days march away in the south west of Wales. The most likely explanation is that he decided to seize Shrewsbury, which could then have served as a gateway to England for Welsh forces. There is also reason to believe that Hotspur expected reinforcement (that he did not receive) from various English peers. (The chronicler Hardyng reports that some years later Henry IV discovered a casket of letters sent by his nobles to Hotspur at this time. ) After the battle the Duke of York and others were accused of complicity, but absolved from blame by Henry himself. The men of Chester mustered at Sandiway as promised, but needless to say, Richard II did not join them.

It’s a straight road from Sandiway, through Tarporley and Whitchurch to Shrewsbury. Arriving on the outskirts Hotspur realised that Henry IV had forestalled him.

Hotspur chose a good defensive position about three miles north of the town. The ground sloped slightly upwards towards the north, meaning that the King’s men would have to advance uphill against some of the finest archers in England. There were also a number of small ponds, complicating offensive movement.

The sizes of the forces are not known; one source says that there were 20,000 dead. This is obviously absurd. Nevertheless everyone seems agreed that it was an exceptionally hard fought battle, and there were significant casualties

A guesstimate of mine would be that Hotspur had around 5000 men and the King a few more, maybe 7000. By and large the Percy army would be of better quality – more “professional” because it recruited from areas noted for warriors. Many of the King’s men would be amateur county levies from relatively peaceful shires.

Hotspur’s principal known commanders were his uncle, Worcester, and the Earl of Douglas. These were both experienced warriors, particularly Worcester. The important Cheshire knights, Vernon and Venables seem to have been next in rank.

As far as men of rank were concerned, apart from himself Henry IV’s most experienced commander by far was the renegade Scot George Dunbar, the Scottish Earl of March, a personal enemy of Douglas. The Prince of Wales and the earls of Kent, Arundel, Stafford and Warwick were all inexperienced young men in their teens and early twenties.

The Earl of Stafford was the husband of Henry’s cousin, Anne of Gloucester. Just prior to the battle he was created Constable of England (replacing Northumberland) and given command of the van.

The likely line up of the royal army being:

Prince of Wales     King         Stafford

(Left)                    (Centre)      (Right)

The battle opened with the traditional exchange of arrows, the shooting of the men of Cheshire being particularly devastating. Stafford was killed very early in the battle and the Prince was severely wounded in the face – though he continued to fight after treatment.

Hotspur and Douglas led an attack on the royal standard. Their objective was simply to kill the King. Fighting around Henry was bitter, and his standard bearer, Sir Walter Blount, was killed. It is known that Henry himself was engaged personally in the fighting.

Hotspur’s men thought that they were winning. A cry of “Henry Percy -King” rose from them. But then Hotspur was struck down – possibly by a stray arrow and the cry changed to “Henry Percy – dead”. The rebels routed off the field, pursued for miles by relentless royalists.

Worcester was taken alive, and executed next day in the town of Shrewsbury. As were Vernon and Venables. Douglas was treated as a POW and eventually allowed to return to Scotland. Northumberland was tried, but eventually released having been found guilty only of ‘trespass’ by Parliament – he was to rebel again, and be killed in battle like his son. (Henry was careful never to give another political opponent a Parliamentary trial.)

One King’s side many knighthoods were given, and there were also grants of confiscated lands. Edmund Earl of Kent was apparently created a KG on the field, a distinction so unusual that it suggests some act of exceptional personal bravery.

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