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Richard III, the Merovingians, Rothley, the Templars and The De Castro Code….!

The painted tapestry below is from Rothley Chapel in Leicestershire.

Templar painting at Rosley Chapel

Strangely, since the article that prompts me now (see link below) was written in 2012, no one appears to have noticed the great likeness of the depicted English king to Richard III. At least, if they have, I don’t know of it. It’s Richard, even to his clothes. Clearly, he has been based on the famous portrait in the National Portrait Gallery.

Richard for De Castro Code

 

But clearly too, the Templars were no longer a huge force in Richard’s time. Nor is the royal banner appropriate to the 15th century, when the English kings also laid claim to the crown of France. (To read more about Rothley Temple, which is now part of the Rothley Court Hotel, there is an informative article at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rothley_Temple and another at http://knightstemplarvault.com/rothley-chapel/. There is more again, with many illustrations, at http://www.rothleyparishcouncil.org.uk/rothley-temple-and-the-chapel-of.html.)

So let’s consider the De Castro Code article for a moment. It’s a very interesting and clever allusion to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, and to conspiracy theories in general. I love a good conspiracy theory, from the so-called fraud of the moon landings to whether Hitler lived on in South America after World War II. I’m not saying I believe them, just that they fascinate me. So do not even mention Rennes le Château or pirates’ buried treasure at Oak Island. Or Atlantis being in Antarctica or a real flying saucer being captured at Roswell and kept at Area 51. All juicy stuff, and eminently readable.

Rennes le Chateau

In the case of the illustration at the beginning of what I now write, it appears to depict Richard III with Templar knights, the conspiracy is referred at (very neatly and appropriately) as The De Castro Code. (St Mary de Castro is a church in Leicester) Dan Brown’s world-selling novel concerned a theory that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, and founded the Merovingian dynasty of French kings. With the Norman Conquest of 1066, families with Merovingian blood came over to England. They were the de Beaumonts and the de Montforts. Leicester first Norman earl, Robert de Beaumont, married a lady of undoubted Merovingin descent, so that their son, Robert le Bossu (who built Leicester Abbey), became the first truly Merovingian earl.

Leicester Abbey

Death of Simon de Montfort at Evesham 1265

The death of Simon de Montfort at the battle of Evesham

This Merovingian line only died out when Simon de Montfort was killed in 1265. So for 200 years, Leicester was a Merovingian stronghold in England, with rulers who claimed divine descent. Well, I doubt they promoted such a claim at the time, for it would have brought the wrath of Holy Church down upon them, and the awful fate that would entail. An English king was hardly likely to defend nobles who boasted such a claim. Anyway, the upshot of all this is that the Merovingians were also in England. Specifically Leicester. What might this imply – if they were indeed of divine descent?

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Cropped from painting  in Rothley Chapel

So, what is the artist saying? Was he an early Ricardian, pointing out on the q.t. that Richard was as betrayed and defamed as the Templars had been? After all, the Stanleys betrayed him on the battlefield, and the Tudors defamed him at every whipstitch.

Or… Might there be a hint that Richard had Merovingian blood in his veins? That would mean Edward IV and George of Clarence had as well, of course, but the artist seems concerned only with Richard.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have not covered everything from the article, such as all the other similarities with The Da Vinci Code’s conclusions (St Mary de Castro even has a window depicting the Last Supper, and a possible Mary Magdalene), nor have I wondered about the Templar connection with the similarly named Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland, but I leave you to cogitate this most puzzling of new Ricardian mysteries….

Last Supper window, st mary de castro church

The following link takes you to the original article.  http://www.thiswasleicestershire.co.uk/2012/11/the-de-castro-code.html

Postscript: I have been reminded (by Christine Smart – thank you, Christine!) that in the spring of 1484, the Silesian ambassador had a conversation with Richard, in which the latter expressed a desire to go on a Crusade. http://staffblogs.le.ac.uk/crusading/2014/03/20/a-crusading-richard-iii/ This may well be the inspiration for the painting. But it cannot be said for certain. An element of mystery still remains.

Another Postscript: While examining a Google image of the Rothley Temple painted tapestry—more information about which is infuriatingly elusive—I wondered if it was possible the unknown artist had signed it somewhere. All the usual places proved negative, but then I spotted something which looks like a signature to me, but can’t be made out because the resolution of the illustration is too poor. I have indicated its whereabouts in the illustration below. Opinions please? A larger version of the picture is at the beginning of this post.

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GREENWICH PALACE – HUMPHREY DUKE OF GLOUCESTERS PALACE OF PLEAZANCE

Gloucester-Talbot-Shrewsbury-Book.jpegHumphrey Duke of Gloucester from the Talbot Shrewsbury Book

 

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A print by an unknown artist now in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich depicting the Palace c 1487.

Greenwich Palace, or Placentia as it is often known, was built around 1433 by Henry V’s brother, Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, who named it Bella Court after he had been granted the Manor of Greenwich by his nephew Henry Vl.  There had been   been an even older palace on  that site, perhaps dating from the reign of Edward l.  Henry lV dated his will from his ‘Manor of Greenwich January 22nd 1408′ and the palace appears to have been his favourite residence.  However, the grant in 1433 of 200 acres of land was for the purpose of enclosing it as a park.  It would seem that Humphrey was pleased with the spot because 4 years later he and his ill-fated wife, Eleanor Cobham,  obtained a similar grant and in that, licence was given for the owners to ’embattle and build with stone’ as well as ‘to enclose and make a tower and ditch within the same and a certain tower within the part to build and edify’ (1)

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Part of the drawing of Greenwich Palace by Anthony van der Wyngaerde 1558 with Duke Humphrey’s tower on top of the hill.

Accordingly soon after this  Humphrey commenced building the tower within what is now the site of the Royal Observatory which was then called Greenwich Castle,  and he likewise rebuilt the old palace on the spot where the west wing of the Royal Naval College now stands which he renamed from its agreeable situation, Pleazaunce or Placentia although this name was not commonly used until the reign of Henry Vlll.

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Another view of van der Wyngaerde’s drawing of Greenwich Palace c 1558

Upon Humphrey’s death the palace was granted to his nemesis, Margaret of Anjou.  Margaret added embellishments including terracotta tiles bearing her monogram, filled the windows with glass and built a landing stage and treasure house (2)

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A view of Greenwich Palace from a print published by the Society of Antiquaries 1767

Later Edward IV enlarged the park, stocked it with deer and bestowed it as a residence upon Elizabeth Wydeville.  Greenwich has been mentioned as one of Elizabeth’s favourite homes and it certainly crops up regularly in Edward’s itinerary (3).  A joust was held there on the occasion of Richard of Shrewsbury’s marriage to Anne Mowbray and it was there at Greenwich  on the 19th November 1481 that Anne tragically died at the age of just 8 years old and a few short months later,  Edward and Elizabeth’s own daughter,  the 15 year old Princess Mary also died on either the 20th or 23rd May 1482.  The manuscript covering Mary’s death says she died ‘in the town’  but it is probable this meant the palace and presumably she would have ‘lain in the chapel of the palace with appropriate services and perhaps the attendance of her parents'(3).  A week after her death, on the 27th May,  Mary’s body was taken to the parish church of Greenwich on the first stage of the final journey to St Georges Chapel, Windsor.  Mary may have been visited by her father,  Edward lV,  a few days before her death.  He was at Canterbury on the 17th and back in London on the 23rd which may have been the day that his daughter breathed her last so clearly if he did indeed visit he did not linger.  Numerous Wydeville ladies were conspicuous among the mourners including Jane, Lady Grey of Ruthin, sister to the queen and Jacquetta, another sister’s daugher,  Joan Lady Strange, wife of George Stanley.  Another niece, Lady ‘Dame’ Katherine Grey, possibly the daughter of Jane Wydeville was also present.  Dinner for the funeral group was at the palace after which Mary’s body was taken from the church and begun its last sad journey to Windsor.  Mary’s funeral is more than adequately covered in The Royal Funerals of the House of York at Windsor by Anne F Sutton and Livia Visser-Fuchs.  It may well be that sisters-in-law Anne and Mary knew each other well and that perhaps  Greenwich Palace was being used as a royal nursery in much the same way as Sheriff Hutton was later  to become, although the age gap would surely have prevented them from being actual playmates.

 

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The Royal Window, Canterbury Cathedral.  Elizabeth Wydeville and her daughters.  Mary is shown as the last figure on the right hand side.  Greenwich was one of Elizabeth’s favourite homes and where her daugher Mary died in 1482.

Greenwich Palace  conveniently came into Henry Tudor’s hands when Elizabeth Wydeville was,  ummmmm,  retired to Bermondsey Abbey on an altogether frivolous charge. It is true to say that Tudor heavily rebuilt the palace between 1498 and 1504, renaming it Placentia, (the pleasant place),  and the result of which is that any reference to Placentia usually finds it referred to as a Tudor palace but it is the earlier years of the palace with its Lancastrian and  Yorkist links that I find the most intriguing.

 

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Modern plaque commemorating the ‘building’ of Greenwich Palace by Henry Tudor.  Visitors could be forgiven for mistakenly thinking , with no mention made of the earlier palace, that Tudor was reponsible for the building of Greenwich Palace from the onset.  

Later in its long history the palace was to see many important events including the birth of Henry Vlll in 1491.  Henry jnr spared no expense in beautifying Placentia and his marriage to Katherine of Aragon was solemnised there on the 3 June 1509.  Many sumptious banquets, revels and jousts were held there – in Henry’s ‘Manor of Pleazaunce’  – and both his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth were born there.  Details of these and other less salubrious events such as the arrest of Anne Boleyn are readily available to anyone who is interested in the Tudors and their shenanigans and I will not  cover them here.  The Tudors were emulated  by the Stuarts in choosing Placentia  as a favourite residence until Charles ll,  finding the old palace greatly decayed,  ordered it to be taken down and yet another new palace to be built.  Thus Greenwich or Placentia – whichever name you prefer arose, phoenix like from the ashes and a new chapter in its long history commenced.

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As a footnote to Greenwich Palace and its rich history, much excitement has been created by the discovery by archaeologists  working on the painted hall at the Old Royal Naval College  of the discovery of two room, thought to have been used as kitchen or laundry rooms from the old palace.  One of these rooms featured a lead-glazed tiled floor and wall cavities which may have been used to store food and drink or even ‘bee boles’ which would have housed beehive baskets or ‘skeps’ during the winter when the bee colonies hibernated.

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The cavities from Greenwich Palace believed to be for storing food, drink or even ‘bee boles’.

  1. Old and New London, vol 6 p.165 Edward Walford.
  2.  The London Encyclopaedia pp 345, 346.  Edited by Weinren and Hibbert
  3.  The Private Life of Edward lV John Ashdown-Hill pp 48,49,62,63, 87, 88, 114, 115, 117, 118, 119, 155, 157, 158, 188, 189, 190,191, 192, 204, 205, 206

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A pastoral tale

This article investigates why, as the Mediaeval Warm Period drew to a close, Britain (and particularly England) developed differently to many nations of Southern Europe.

Sandbrook mentions two major cultural factors: the tradition of salting bacon because ham could not be dry-cured and the evolution of the wool trade through the systematic elimination of the flock’s only natural predator – the wolf – through a hunting campaign led by Peter Corbet, from a Shropshire family, under Edward I. Corbet, who fought at Falkirk, may even have given his name to this.

Sheep could now safely be domesticated and their numbers greatly expanded. In Florence, the Medici saw the banking system develop as a result. In England, the best evidence is all around us. Whilst the Woolsack (left) has been a dominant feature of the House of Lords for centuries, the wealth generated

by the wool and cloth trade is reflected in properties throughout the country, but particularly in East Anglia, the region generally closest to the European mainland and the other territories of the Hanseatic League. In particular, Lavenham (below), Hadleigh and Woodbridge still have many such distinctive timber-framed houses, the former having been regarded as a town in the late mediaeval and Early Modern eras.

As Sandbrook goes on to explain, in his review of Robert Winder’s “The last Wolf”, writers from Chaucer (who married into the de la Pole family of wool barons) to Eliot and Orwell wrote of the traditions of the wool trade. It continued long after Corbet’s 1281-90 campaign and was to benefit from the technological developments of later centuries.

The Coronation Chair and Stone of Scone

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As we reminded you yesterday, Richard and Anne were crowned on the 6th July 1483,  a crucial part of the ceremony being when Richard was crowned with St Edward’s crown and invested with  the royal regalia while sitting on the Coronation chair also known as St Edward’s chair, named after Edward the Confessor.  It is this glorious chair that I want to focus upon now.

In 1296 when  Edward I,  aka Longshanks, returned from Scotland he brought with him the Stone of Scone, also known as the Stone of Destiny,  symbolic of Scotland’s sovereignty,   which he had removed from Scone Abbey, giving it into the care of the Abbott of Westminster Abbey.  Edward, not for nothing known as the Hammer of the Scots, and wishing to hammer it home in no uncertain terms that from now on it would be English and not Scottish monarchs who would now be crowned whilst sitting on this stone, a large block of red Perthshire sandstone, instructed that a chair be constructed to house it and thus was this wonderful chair created.  Master Walter of Durham, King’s Painter, whose skills also included carpentry, was commissioned  to build and decorate the chair for which he was duly paid 100 shillings.

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The Chair with the Stone of Scone intact 

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The Stone of Scone also known as the Stone of Destiny.

Since 1308 every royal derrière has sat on the chair while being  crowned except for Edward V, Mary II and Edward VIII.  Made of oak, gilded and inlaid with glass mosaics, traces of which can still be found today, while faint images or birds, flowers and foliage still survive  on the back.  Up until the 17th century the monarch would sit on the actual stone with presumably a cushion for comfort until a wooden platform was then added .  The four gilt lions were made in 1727 to replace the originals which themselves were not added until the 16th century.

The stone itself has in recent times undergone several adventures.  It was stolen, or rescued, depending upon which way you look at it,  by Scottish Nationalists on Christmas Day 1950 – in the process of which they managed to break it in half.  It was later discovered in April 1951 and after being kept in a vault for some time, eventually returned to Westminster Abbey and replaced in the chair in February 1952.  This was not the end of the stone’s travels for in July 1966, Prime Minister John Major, announced that it was to be returned to Scotland.  This was duly done and the stone now rests in Edinburgh Castle.

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The chair as it is today minus the Stone of Scone

This  wonderful and irreplaceable chair has been disgracefully abused in comparatively recent times, from the numerous graffiti mostly carved in the 18th and 19th centuries by the pupils of Westminster School – its baffling how this systematic graffiti carving  was allowed to carry on –  one graffito could perhaps be forgiven but on such a large scale? – were they simply allowed to just carry on?..but I digress – to the dark  brown varnish applied in 1887 for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, a suffragette bomb in 1914 to the damaged caused when the Scottish Nationals wrenched the stone from the chair.  However I’m sure should the shade of Richard,  who would have seen the chair in pristine condition, ever return to the Abbey, he would still be able to recognise it and that it would bring back memories, for him,  of that most glorious day, when he and his ‘beloved consort’ were both crowned King and Queen of England.

A Guide to English Medieval Government….

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Court of the King’s Bench Time of Henry VI

If, like me, you become puzzled or just downright confused by all the different offices, posts, departments and so on of English medieval government (many of which still exist today), then the site below is very helpful for clearing the confusion. After all, is it not bewildering to find that ‘in the king’s presence’ doesn’t mean he was present at all? “From the reign of Edward I, a Chief Justice of Common Pleas headed the panel of judges. Common Pleas was known contemporarily as ‘the Bench’ (banc), while King’s Bench was called ‘Coram rege’ (in the presence of the King – although the King was not actually present.)”

I recommend a dip into Medieval English Government by J.P. Somerville.

Llanthony Secunda Priory, one of Gloucester’s great treasures….

Llanthony Secunda is so-called because the Augustinian monks of the Vale of Eywas in the Black Mountains of Wales were driven from their original home, beautiful Llanthony Priory, and retreated to Gloucester, where they built this second priory.

I have taken the following from a page at http://www.llanthonysecunda.org/:

“Gloucester was an important city in medieval England and several kings visited the city; five of these are also thought to have visited Llanthony. Eleanor of Provence, widow of Henry III and mother of Edward I, lived at Gloucester castle in 1277 but was granted permission to build a bridge over the river so that she and her ladies-in waiting could exercise in the prior’s garden at Llanthony.*

“A century later when Richard II held a parliament in Gloucester, he too used the Priory’s gardens. In 1500 and 1501 Henry VII stayed at the Priory which at the time was under the control of its most famous Prior, Henry Deane. Henry Deane was one of the most important men in the kingdom in his latter years, but he seems to have begun his clerical career as a student at Llanthony Secunda. After studying at Oxford he returned to Llanthony and was elected its prior aged about 27.

“He also had some Royal favour early on and was a royal chaplain to Edward IV; he was even closer to the first of the Tudor monarchs, Henry VII, after he obtained the throne in 1485. Granted papal permission to retain his post as Prior whilst taking on other appointments, he obtained both temporal and clerical influence.  In 1494 he was appointed Chancellor of Ireland and was briefly Deputy Governor two years later; he was responsible for building the defences of the English Pale.

“Resigning his post, he was made Keeper of the Great Seal in 1500 and involved in peace treaties between England and Scotland. He was briefly Bishop of Bangor and was responsible for the rebuilding of the cathedral and reorganising its finances, then translated to Salisbury for a year before finally being made Archbishop of Canterbury in 1501; it was only then that he relinquished his post at Llanthony Secunda. He officiated at the marriage of Arthur, Prince of Wales, and Catherine of Aragon in 1501.”

* I do not quite understand this reference to a bridge over the river, because both the castle and the priory are on the same bank of the Severn, as can be seen on the map below, on which the castle and the priory’s grounds are clearly shown at the south of the city. Another point (imagining the gardens to be on the other side of the river) is that a fixed bridge at this point would interfere with the “port” of Gloucester, i.e. the quay that was situated from the castle riverbank bank northwards. So any bridge would have to be capable of being opened, to allow masted sea-going vessels to pass freely to and fro. However, a little further delving makes me think it wasn’t the river that Queen Eleanor’s bridge spanned, but the enlarged ( in 1267) ditch that went around the southern portion of Gloucester, and was fed by water from the Twyver stream.  The 13th-century enlarging work apparently destroyed some of the priory’s property. It seems this ditch was still partly filled with water in the 1700s.

For more information about the history of Gloucester, see

http://www.historictownsatlas.org.uk/sites/historictownsatlas/files/atlas/town/gloucester_text.pdf

 

My versions of mediaeval Kings

Why is it that one particular image will capture the perceived essence of a medieval king in one’s mind?

When one hears music for the first time, it will be that first rendition/interpretation that stays, and by which one will judge all others. At least, that is how it is with me. No matter how many recordings of Max Bruch’s incomparable Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor I hear, the only one that will always be ultimate perfection is by Jascha Heifetz, who passed away in 1987. The recording I have is on vinyl, from the very early 1960s. It is matchless, and reduces me to tears every time I hear it.

I am not saying that images of medieval kings do the same, just that there will always be one that stands out and cries, “Here I am! This is how I really was!” Except The above likenesses are not from the kings’ actual periods, because most medieval illustrations are standardised and give nothing away of the real men within. So my impressions are gained from paintings or performances that arrest my attention.

Above you will see some of them. You may not agree with my choice, but that is the point. They are my choice. Edward I will always be Patrick McGoohan to me. A face like handsome granite, and a voice like gravel. The ultimate in strong kings.

Blake Ritson in ‘Pillars of the Earth’ epitomised my idea of the young Edward III, dashing and flirtatious, yet incredibly brave and a brilliant warrior. This performance brought Edward to the fore for me. Loved it. It was because of this Edward that I bought Ian Mortimer’s ‘Perfect King’, which is a great biography.

Alan Howard’s Richard II was visually perfect – as the real Richard II, not from anyone’s play. Richard II is perhaps one of the most complex kings to ever rule England. He fascinates, but never gives his inner self away. A monarch who really believed he was on the throne by divine right.

Tom Hiddleston created Henry V for me. This king has never inspired me, even though he did amazing things on the battle field. He just doesn’t do it, if you know what I mean. But if I think of him, I think Tom Hiddleston. One thing that is not in Henry’s favour, of course, if that he selfishly and thoughtlessly died young! If he hadn’t done that, his widow would never have become embroiled with someone called Tudor! So, it’s Henry V’s fault.

The painting of Edward IV and his family with Caxton was riveting from the first moment. There he is, larger than life and absolutely gorgeous in red with white fur. He is the Sun in Splendour. No wonder the fair sex fell at his feet. What an attractive, commanding figure he must have been. Such a pity that he deteriorated into a blob. I’m reminded of Elvis Presley, so fit and lithe as a young man, but an overweight parody toward the end. Edward IV, in  his prime,  is this image for me. Let’s not think of what he was to become.

Then we have Richard III, of course. Graham Turner’s painting says it all for me. This Richard should have won, and skewered Henry Tudor in the process. He was cheated of victory, but in these captured moments before the battle commenced, he is magnificent. Handsome, tragic, noble, trapped by circumstances that were created by others and forced upon him like millstones. No getting old and perhaps ugly for him, he will be young forever, and matchless forever. No wonder he still inspires such loyalty.

Finally there is the Whitehall mural of Henry VII, which was painted in the 17th century, after Holbein. Henry is tall, almost willowy, and definitely serpentine. Now that I have seen a picture of his funeral effigy here, I believe he really did look like this. Almost as if his limbs were on the point of disconnection. A real clothes horse. He wasn’t dressed, he was draped with kingly finery, and I am sure he didn’t walk, he glided. A flicking forked tongue as well? Probably not, but the last thing the unwary would ever hear would be a hiss…

Yes, I’ve missed some: Edward II, Henry IV, Henry VI…perhaps because I have yet to pinpoint them. I don’t think Henry VI will ever take shape for me, but I’d like to have a mental picture of Edward II and Henry IV. We know so much about them, but their physical appearance remains mysterious. To me, at least. They still swirl around in the ether of my mind, and will maybe drop down into place soon.

So, there you have some of my kings. What would your choice be?

A great review of Henry III: Son of Magna Carta.

https://mattlewisauthor.wordpress.com/2016/11/24/book-review-henry-iii-son-of-magna-carta-by-matthew-lewis/

THE LOST PRIORY OF AMESBURY

The palatial 17thc mansion called Amesbury Abbey (now a private nursing home) stands in beautiful landscaped gardens near the curve of the Avon and on the edge of the Stonehenge World Heritage Landscape.

The original monastic building from which it takes its name, the Fontrevraudine Priory of Amesbury, is long gone, a victim of Henry VIII’s Reformation—not one stone remains visible above  ground (although rumours abound that a piece of external wall along the perimeter of the property might be medieval.)   However, painted tiles dating between the 12th and 15th C often turn up when the gardeners do the rose-beds, along with fragments of glass and other relevant debris. This has recently led experts to pinpoint the probable position of the vanished priory church, standing slightly north of the present house.

The priory was originally built as a daughter house of Fontrevaud, after the town’s first abbey, founded in Saxon times by Queen Elfrida, was dissolved in 1177. The old Benedictine nuns were sent upon their way (most of them having supposedly lived scandalous lives!) and 21-24 nuns from Fontevraud in France were moved in, along with some English sisters from Worcestershire.

The early Plantagenets, who had a great affinity with Fontevraud, the final resting place of Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Richard I, greatly favoured the Amesbury daughter-house. Eleanor of Aquitaine’s foster daughter, Amiria, decided to take the veil there, and when Eleanor herself died in 1203, the prioress paid a rent from the Exchequer to the Abbess of Fontevrault to have a chaplain pray for Eleanor’s soul.

It was not all about religion. King John had rather secular dealings with the priory in 1215 when the barons were in revolt. He hid part of the royal treasury in the vaults for safekeeping.

In the reign of John’s son, Henry III, the priory seemed to come to renewed prominence. The king visited personally on several occasions and granted  the priory nuts, firewood, wine, and a communion cup.Henry’s son, Edward I kept a close connection  to the priory  and sent his daughter, Mary of Woodstock, to join the order as a young girl. Mary seemed to enjoy travelling and playing cards more than she enjoyed being a nun, however; she ran up huge gambling debts to the tune of £200 while attending her father’s court. The 7th Earl of Surrey, John de Warenne, also claimed to have had an affair with her. Her burial place is not known but it is very likely in Amesbury.

Mary’s cousin, Eleanor of Brittany also became a nun at Amesbury, but eventually she  migrated overseas to the Abbey of Fontrevrault itself, where she rose in the ranks to  become the abbess. There were a few conflicts with her cousin over the years, possibly because she disapproved of Mary’s less than nunly behaviour. Eleanor the Abbess of Fontevrault is not to be confused with an earlier Eleanor of Brittany, who willed her body to Amesbury after dying in a convent in Bristol. That Eleanor was the sister of Arthur of Brittany, most likely murdered by King John, and she was a prisoner for most of her adult life due to her closeness to the crown. Her remains might be in the older abbey (now the  parish church of St Mary and St Melor) rather than in the lost priory, as it was because of St Melor, whose life story mirrored that of her unfortunate brother, that she wished to be interred at Amesbury.

The most famous resident of Amesbury Priory was Henry III’s widow, Queen Eleanor of Provence, who was Mary and Eleanor’s grandmother. She may never have become a fully professed nun and had her own private quarters built for her use. Eleanor was a strong woman, beautiful but not popular with her English subjects, and had at one time been appointed regent of England in her husband’s absence.

Originally, Eleanor had intended to be buried next to Henry III in Westminster Abbey, when the time came. However, a problem arose. The space had been usurped by the body of Eleanor of Castile, wife to her son Edward I, who had predeceased her; so, when Eleanor died in 1291, the nuns were not quite certain what to do with the body. They waited several months for the king to arrive and decide where she would be buried. When he finally reached Amesbury, he allowed his mother to be interred before the high altar in the priory church,  with all due ceremony and many lords attending.

The last great lady of royal blood to reside in Amesbury priory was Isabel of Lancaster, daughter of Henry 3rd Earl of Lancaster. She arrived there in 1327 and ended up as prioress. She was the granddaughter of Edmund Crouchback, hence great granddaughter of Henry III and Eleanor of Provence, showing that family connections were still strong.

The priory does not feature overmuch in records after the late 1300’s, although some of the floor tiles are 15th c. It is possible it fell on hard times during this period. After the death of her husband, Margaret, Lady Hungerford, resided at the priory between 1459 and 1463. While she was there her lodgings burnt down, destroying £1000 of her personal possessions. The nuns asked that she restore the damaged buildings; the cost to her was £20. In 1463 she Margaret left the convent when her son, Robert, 3rd Baron Hungerford, was executed at Newcastle after the Battle of Hexham. The Hungerford lands were seized by Edward IV,  and divided between Richard of Gloucester and Lord Wenlock.

The priory was, naturally, dissolved in the Reformation. In 1540, it was given to Edward Seymour. A year later, the spire of the church was pulled down and the buildings roofs were torn off to take the lead.

Wind and weather soon took their toll and then later building and landscaping obliterated all that was left of this once-great religious house…which was not only a holy place, but the final resting place of a Queen.

Sources: A History of Wiltshire, Vol 3

 

TO BE CONTINUED

Another celebrity with royal descent …

… is the actor Danny Dyer. In the new series of “Who do you think you are?”_92420878_radiotimesddswordhi , he will be shown to have Edward III and William I as ancestors. In a previous series, Sir Matthew Pinsent was shown to be descended from Edward I via the Howards of Norfolk and an eighteenth century General.

Of course, Edward III had a large family that must have continued to expand over the generations but there would have been a counteracting tendency for his descendants to marry each other. Dyer has other interesting relatives, including Thomas Cromwell, with whom he shares other connections.

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