Here is an article from English Historical Review, 1st June 1998, telling of how and why Richard, 3rd Duke of York, laid claim to the throne of England. The root cause was an entail to the will of Edward III, who was admittedly in his dotage at the time. The entail, which excluded a female line from ascending the throne, spoils that otherwise excellent king’s legacy as far as I’m concerned. But then, I’m a modern woman who doesn’t hold with the denying of rights simply because the ones being denied are the female of the species! Or the denial of anyone’s true and honest rights, come to that. True and honest being the operative words.
The mastermind behind this entail was Edward’s 3rd son, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, who sought to eliminate any claim from the descendants of his 2nd eldest brother, Lionel. Those descendants were, of course, through the female line, which line happened to be the one from whom Richard, 3rd Duke of York, was descended. Gaunt’s purpose was to see that his own line took precedence. It did in the end, but not in a way old Edward III could have foreseen, and not through the entail. Instead it took the form of Gaunt’s son and heir usurping and murdering his first cousin and rightful king, Richard II, heir of the great Black Prince. Gaunt’s son took the throne and became Henry IV, the first Lancastrian monarch.
So it seems that gallant Gaunt leaned on his dying father to achieve his own ambitious ends. But that’s the House of Lancaster for you! And it was Gaunt’s double-dealing chicanery that eventually led to Richard, 3rd Duke of York, claiming the throne that was his by right. And it all led to what we know as the Wars of the Roses.
However, there just might be some doubt about the entail’s existence. According to Penny Lawne’s biography of Joan of Kent: “…In preparation for his [Edward III’s] death he drew up his will, one of the witnesses being Sir Richard Stury, and in an entail specifically designated Richard (II) as his successor…” There is no mention of excluding any female line, but then, Lawne is very pro-Gaunt throughout, so I suppose the nitty-gritty of such an entail was better omitted. Unless, of course, all the entail ever really did was designate Richard of Bordeaux as the old king’s successor. In which case, where did the story of Gaunt’s pressure and interference come from? Ah, well, later in her book, Lawne lays the blame at the feet of Walsingham, who “held Gaunt in particular contempt, convinced he wanted the throne for himself, and repeated virulent gossip and rumours current about the duke…” Walsingham, it seems, even went so far as to portray Gaunt trying to persuade the Commons to discuss the succession, and was so intent upon removing opposition that he requested a law be passed to forbid a woman from inheriting the throne, “which would obviate the claim of Lionel’s daughter Philippa, who arguably held the most legitimate claim to the throne after the prince’s son”. So, this business of excluding females’ claims was due to Gaunt browbeating the Commons, not to Edward III’s entail?
Well, not being a fan of John of Gaunt, I am quite prepared to believe he put the screws on his dying father, in order to ensure the House of Lancaster becoming heir to Richard II’s throne, in the event of Richard childless demise. But I can also believe he’d go to work on Parliament. Gaunt was ruthless when it came to furthering his own family, and how better to achieve this than paving the path to the throne? Either way, he tried to see the succession go to the House of Lancaster.
Richard, 3rd Duke of York, quite rightly, did not think the House of Lancaster had any business wearing the crown. He was descended from Lionel, Duke of Clarence, and truly believed his (senior) line had precedence. I believe so too. Maybe it was through the female line, but it was perfectly legitimate, and until the demise of Edward III and that pesky entail (or Gaunt’s other forceful activities), there had not been a bar on women taking the throne. Yes, they had to stand back while their brothers took precedence, but if those brothers died, then they themselves had every right to be crowned. Lionel of Clarence only had one child, a daughter. His right passed to her, not to his conniving next brother, Gaunt.
Richard of York WAS the rightful king.
Now, of course, it has all been changed, and women can take precedence even if they have a younger brother(s). The line goes through age, not gender. And about time too!
Today in 1461, Lady Eleanor Talbot married Edward IV, either on her Warwickshire lands or in Norfolk. As Ashdown-Hill has shown, she was older than Edward, a widow, from a Lancastrian background and the ceremony took place in secret during the spring, five factors that also apply to Edward’s bigamous marriage almost three years later.
It has been suggested that the marriage may have required a dispensation because the bride’s father (John, Earl of Shrewsbury) was the godfather of the groom’s sister (Elizabeth of Suffolk), a relationship that might fall under the doctrine of affinity. This would not have been possible for a secret ceremony of which only Lady Eleanor, Edward and (possibly) Canon Stillington knew at the time.
However, Barnfield has conclusively shown that, although Shrewsbury became part of Elizabeth’s family through this connection and she of his, his family and hers did not merge as a whole. Their nearest common royal ancestor was still Edward I (p.21, Eleanor). In other words, affinity does not beget affinity.
Eleanor, as the Earl of Shrewsbury’s daughter, was a person of some distinction in fifteenth century, for Shrewsbury had been a famous and much-admired warrior, whose reputation was about as high as a reputation could be. Moreover, quite apart from any personal charms she may have had, she was a well-connected lady who was, among other things, first cousin to the Duke of Somerset, whom Edward was trying to conciliate. It is quite possible that Edward saw this as a “marriage of the roses”, intended to take the wind out of certain hostile sails.
It is equally possible that Edward simply could not resist this attractive widow and discovered – as she had a strong reputation for piety – that the only way to get into her bed was to go through a form of marriage with her.
Many people discount the possibility that Edward married Eleanor, and cling to the view that it was something Richard III dreamed up one afternoon in his spare time. The problem with secret marriages (and this is why the Church deplored them) was that by their very nature there was no certain proof. There might or might not be witnesses, but if there were they would certainly have been few in number. It must be appreciated that for even the most formal marriages, celebrated in church, no written record, no certificate was kept. The only “proof” was the word of the parties concerned and of those who witnessed the event.
However, sufficient proofs were submitted to persuade Parliament that the event took place. What proofs these were we can never know, but just because no written evidence is extant, we should not assume that it never existed.
Well, my opinion only, of course, but where are John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford/de Roët? I don’t believe his first wife, Blanche, was his greatest love. That honour went to Katherine, for love of whom he went to extraordinary lengths, enduring scandal and opprobrium, but eventually making her his third duchess. And managing to legitimize his Beaufort children by her.
As for Edward II and Piers Gaveston. No, they don’t warrant inclusion, I’m afraid. Not because it was gay, but because it became dangerously spiteful, petty, posturing and not a little ridiculous. It ultimately destroyed all concerned. Then Edward II showed even less judgement by moving on to the dreadful Despensers. There was nothing great or romantic about his conduct in allowing his favourites such enormous power. I find his reign fascinating, but always want to shake him until his royal teeth rattle.
Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn? Hmm. That gross man always thought with his codpiece, not his heart. The same goes for his maternal grandfather, Edward IV, the contents of whose codpiece appear to be overactive in the extreme.
Katherine of Valois and Owen Tudor? I have grave misgivings about this one. I believe she was more interested in Edmund Beaufort, 4th Earl of Somerset, and that when she became pregnant and he wouldn’t/couldn’t marry her, lowly Owen Tudor was hastily drummed up to “do the honours” of claiming to be the unborn child’s father. Maybe Owen already had a good and understanding relationship with Katherine? This might have made him acceptable to her in her hour of need. I may be wildly wrong about this, of course, but (once again) it’s my opinion.
Edward III and Philippa of Hainault? Yes. The Black Prince and Joan of Kent? Yes. Richard, Duke of York, and Cecily Neville? Yes. Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon? Yes. Edward I and Eleanor of Castile? Yes.
Who else is missing, apart from Katherine Swynford? Well, Richard II and Anne of Bohemia. Theirs was another political royal match, but they fell deeply in love. He was utterly distraught when she died suddenly.
Richard III and Anne Neville? George of Clarence and Isabel Neville? I think both couples are strong contenders. Whatever else may be said, about the brothers only wanting the Warwick inheritance, and so on, it seems to be an irrefutable fact that the Neville sisters won their York husbands’ hearts. Maybe it can be argued that their father’s inheritance was a great big carrot to both men, but the fondness/love that eventually came into being was real enough. Both men were heartbroken by their wives’ deaths, and George could not cope with Isabel’s loss. Richard, perhaps stronger emotionally, was equally as broken, but did not fall apart as George had done. Am I misjudging these marriages as well? No. I stick to my opinion!
No doubt, you will stick to yours too!
In March 1461, the Lancastrian forces of King Henry VI were decisively thrashed at Towton, the Yorkist army of King Edward IV winning the day after a bitter and close-fought battle. After that, England fell into the hands of the first Yorkist king. At least, that is what Edward would have liked. In truth, repeated incursions across the Scottish borders during which castles such as Alnwick and Dunstanburgh were quickly snatched continued for some years until the battles of Hedgeley Moor and Hexham in 1464 finally quashed Lancastrian assaults in the north.
One place is often forgotten in the story of the Yorkist takeover of England and Wales. Harlech Castle became the last, stubborn enclave of Lancastrian influence in Edward IV’s kingdom and was not brought under his control until 1468. The siege of Harlech Castle is often cited as the longest siege in British history, but that doesn’t paint an entirely accurate picture. For most of the seven-year period from 1461-1468, the castle wasn’t under direct attack, though assaults did come sporadically. It is perhaps more accurate to consider the resistance of Harlech Castle as it being held against Edward IV for seven years.
Harlech became a crucial foothold for Lancastrians in the same way that Calais was important to the English in France. An enclave within territory otherwise belonging to the enemy was both precarious and vital. Part of Harlech’s success lay in geography that is very different to what can be seen today. Walking the open walls around the top of the castle offers a glorious view of the mountains to the north, the town to the east, the coast running away south and the flat plains to the west that lead to the sea. It is this western aspect that is substantially altered. In the fifteenth century, the sea came right up to the castle, as witnessed by the presence of the Water Gate just outside the castle’s western walls. From here, the castle could be restocked and relieved with little that the Yorkists could do about it. Jasper Tudor had been driven from the Welsh coast and was probably in Ireland at this point, providing him with the perfect vantage point from which to send supplies to Harlech and to get intelligence and rumours both in and out.
The garrison at Harlech was commanded throughout the siege by Dafydd ab Ifan ab Einion, a veteran of the Hundred Years’ War who appears to have served in Rouen. He has been linked to the forces commanded by another famous Welsh soldier named Matthew Gough, who had been killed fighting Jack Cade’s forces in London in 1450. In 1460, following the Battle of Northampton, Queen Margaret fled to Harlech Castle before escaping to Scotland and probably placed Dafydd in command at this point. Harlech became a sanctuary for dissident Lancastrians. In 1463, the Sir Richard Tunstall appeared there for about a year. A member of Henry VI’s household from a Lancashire family, Tunstall had been knighted by Henry in 1452. After his sojourn at Harlech, he headed north to fight alongside Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset at the battles of Hedgeley Moor and Hexham. After the defeats there, he found Henry and saw that he was secreted safely in Lancashire. Tunstall then returned to Harlech, perhaps recognising the importance of keeping a foothold on the Welsh coast.
The final demise of Harlech was caused by a failed Lancastrian invasion. In June 1468, Jasper Tudor landed at Barmouth a few miles south of Harlech. Edward IV had made known his intention to invade France and Louis XI’s response was to fund a Lancastrian invasion on Edward’s western flank. Jasper managed to capture Denbigh Castle, from where he held court in Henry VI’s name and launched raids further into Wales. This was enough to convince Edward to act decisively. Well, sort of. Edward planned to lead an army into Wales himself to crush the insurgency, only to delegate the task at the last moment to William Herbert. William took half the men he had raised around the mountains to attack Harlech from the north. His younger brother Richard Herbert was to approach from the south with the other half of the army, giving each brother around 4,500 men each. Richard encountered Jasper Tudor’s force south of Harlech and caused them to disperse and flee. When the brothers arrived at Harlech, a true siege began and did not take long to conclude.
With food running short and no sign of supplies from the seas, Dafydd ab Ifan ab Einion surrendered the castle on 14 August 1468. Sir Richard Tunstall was taken into custody amongst the fifty or so prisoners seised from the fortress. Although he was taken to the Tower, Edward IV pardoned him, only for Tunstall to join the readeption government was Henry VI’s chamberlain. Tunstall was attainted when Edward IV regained power and managed to obtain the reversal of this punishment within a couple of years. He went on to serve both Edward IV and Richard III, the latter inducting him into the Order of the Garter before Tunstall was reported in the Ballad of Bosworth Field as one of four English knights to immediately join Henry Tudor when he landed in Wales in 1485. For his final victory against this remnant of Lancastrian resistance, William Herbert was given Jasper Tudor’s forfeited earldom of Pembroke.
Today, Harlech Castle is a stunning monument to Edward I’s campaign to impose himself on Wales. The sea has retreated from its w”Men alls, but it looms over the vast, flat plains left behind and still dominates the coastline to the north and south. The famous song Men of Harlech is widely believed to refer to this prolonged resistance to Yorkist rule, becoming something more like a Welsh national call to arms than a description of a long-running siege as part of a fight between two English royal houses. The 1873 version by John Oxenford romantically describes:
Echoes loudly waking,
Hill and valley shaking;
‘Till the sound spreads wide around,
The Saxon’s courage breaking;
Your foes on every side assailing,
Forward press with heart unfailing,
‘Till invaders learn with quailing,
Cambria ne’er can yield!
A modern visitor can walk the long entrance ramp that has replaced the old, open, wooden staircase into the castle and stroll the grounds at will. The walls remain open, and a pretty challenging walk as the wind blows in from the seas. If you pause for a moment there, it is easy to imagine standing there in the cold and high wind, heavy armour serving to help root your feet, but threatening to help drag you down from the walls with one false step. There can have been little romantic in August 1468 as cannon thundered from the town into the walls and food began to run short. With no hope of relief, surrender to an implacable and unforgiving enemy can only have held terror for those Men of Harlech, that last bastion of Lancastrian loyalty in England or Wales.
In 1484, King Richard III created a minor equity court to deal with minor disputes in equity; these are disputes where the harshness of common law would be acknowledged by those appointed by the Crown. Equity courts were mostly seen as the Lord Chancellor’s remit, and the split of the Chancery Courts from the Curia Regis happened in the mid-fourteenth century. By the time of King Richard III, the Chancery Court had become backlogged from cases pleading the harshness of the common law, and the Court of Requests was no doubt and attempt to remove minor equity cases from the backlog and free up court time – Richard’s attempt at reducing bureaucracy and better administration.
So successful was the Court of Requests that it survived Richard’s reign, and was formalised by the Privy Council of Henry “Tudor”, the usurper. It was a popular court, because the cost of cases was relatively low and justice was swifter than the common law courts, which would ultimately prove its undoing.
Two Masters of Requests Ordinary were appointed by Henry VIII, and another two Masters of Requests Extraordinary were appointed by Elizabeth I. One of these was Thomas Seckford, of Woodbridge in Suffolk.
Thomas was an influential man, even before Elizabeth appointed him to the Court of Requests in 1558. He was MP for Ripon in November 1554, just months after his Grey cousins were executed, and was then elected MP for Orford (a fishing village on the Suffolk Coast which had two MPs despite only having a handful of residents) in 1555 and again in 1558. He was MP for Ipswich in 1559 and for Suffolk in 1571. Seckford Hall, (right) near Woodbridge, is known to have hosted Elizabeth’s court as she progressed, and was built in 1530 as the Seckford Family home; it is now a hotel, while a golf club sits within what was once its grounds. The A12 Martlesham bypass sweeps across the Finn Valley in front of the hall, giving wonderful views to motorists but somewhat destroying the character and appearance of the building and grounds. As an interesting side note, the hotel contains furniture from Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, including (allegedly) the chair Henry the Usurper died on.
Thomas Seckford commissioned Christophe Saxton to create the first surveyed atlas of the realm, which Elizabeth granted him a patent for its sole publication for ten years. This made him an even wealthier man and he added to his estates Clerkenwell, endowing the Seckford Almshouses with income from Clerkenwell. His wealth also led to the establishment of a free school, Woodbridge School, which is a minor public school. His wealth still helps young and old in Woodbridge today.
The Court of Requests fell foul of the common law courts at the end of the 16th century. Angry that business deserted them in favour of the more efficient Court of Requests, the common law courts overturned a number of decisions of the Requests Court, and banned them from imprisoning people; ultimately this was to prove their undoing, and the English Civil War, which led to the invalidation of the Privy Seal, was the final death of the Court, set up all those years before by King Richard for the better delivery of justice.
Thomas Seckford (left) died in January 1587, although we are not sure exactly when, whilst in his early seventies. His mother was Margaret Wingfield, relating him to both the de la Pole and Brandon families, and her mother was an Audley. In fact, Thomas could claim double descent from Edward I, through Joan of Acre, as well as many other great mediaeval magnates, including Edmund “Crouchback”. At his death, Thomas Seckford remained without issue, just like his fellow long-term royal servant Henry Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon. I need hardly add that Huntingdon was his cousin.
The painted tapestry below is from Rothley Chapel in Leicestershire.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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….
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.
Humphrey Duke of Gloucester from the Talbot Shrewsbury Book
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)
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
The cavities from Greenwich Palace believed to be for storing food, drink or even ‘bee boles’.
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.
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.
The Chair with the Stone of Scone intact
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.
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.