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A Guide to English Medieval Government….

Court of King's Bench - time Henry VI

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.

Whilst researching my new biography of Henry III, a tantalising thought began to emerge from bits of evidence.

Was Henry III autistic?

https://mattlewisauthor.wordpress.com/2016/10/17/was-henry-iii-autistic/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Henry-III-Son-Magna-Carta/dp/1445653575

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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A sword made for Richard’s son….?

Prince of Wales sword

The following is taken from an item in one of the Mortimer History Society newsletters. It was by a member, Stefan Zachary, and concerns a sword of state in the British Museum.

Prince of Wales sword - 3Prince of Wales sword - 2

 

Mortimer Heraldry on a Sword of State 

This sword is dated c1460-70 and it is said to be a ceremonial sword of the Prince of Wales. On one side of the hilt is the English Royal coat of arms and also those of Wales, Cornwall and St George. On the other side are the arms of Mortimer quartered with de Burgh. This quartering was first used by Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March (d1398) as his mother was Philippa de Burgh, Countess of Ulster.

The title ‘Prince of Wales’ was first used by an English monarch by Edward I, who gave it to his son and heir, the future Edward II. So, given the age of the sword, it is possible that it was made for Edward, Lancastrian son and heir of Henry VI. Or, that the Yorkist Edward IV gave this sword of state to his son Edward (later Edward V) in 1470. In 1472 King Edward IV set up a council to advise and assist his young son in performing his duties and this council blossomed into the Council of Wales and the Marches, based in Ludlow, that survived until 1689.

The other possible recipient of this fine sword was yet another Edward, the son of Richard III, created Prince of Wales in 1483. Only he and Edward V, among these heirs, were of Mortimer descent.

Would Richard use vellum? Or paper?….

An argument has arisen for and against using vellum for recording our laws, as stored on the amazingly full shelves of the Act Room. Paper is indeed more perishable. Just imagine having the Magna Carta on paper! How insignificant it would appear. Not insignificant in content, of course, but all the same…

I have seen the magnificent charter that Richard III granted to the City of Gloucester. It is quite exquisite, and so vivid and crisp after all this time that it might have been signed and sealed only a few years ago. If it had been on paper, it would certainly not look the same.

So, vellum or paper? In the long run, given that vellum lasts 5,000 years or more, I guess the vellum has my vote. I know there are all sorts of reasons and sensibilities against it, but I’m still in favour of its continued use. It would have been used for the Lindisfarne Gospels, Domesday Book, Magna Carta, Edward I’s Treason Acts, de Heretico Comburendo, Titulus Regius, Richard’s bail laws and Henry VIII’s attainder against the insane Viscountess Rochford.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/conservative/12156813/Vellum-should-be-saved-in-a-bid-to-safeguard-our-great-traditions-says-minister.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

Act Room, Houses of Parliament

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