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A History Walk in Wiltshire

Sometimes, in this very old country of ours,  even a simple afternoon’s walk out along the river  can come up with some rewarding historical data relating to the Middle Ages and the Wars of the Roses period. Recently I went for a walk near the Wiltshire Avon, from Figheldean to Netheravon, taking in  two little-known rural medieval churches, which proved to be of some interest.

At the Church of St Michaels and All Angels, where the worn effigies of two unknown 13thc knights lie in the porch, having been brought there from a now-lost nearby church or chapel, the advowsen was held in 1485-1487 by Francis Stourton. Stourton was the son of John Stourton who attended Richard III’s Parliament when attainders were passed on the Duke of Buckingham’s rebels. Unfortunately for Baron Stourton, his brother–in-law, Sir William Berkeley, had actually joined the Duke’s Rebellion. Richard said he would pardon Berkeley as long as John Stourton came up with a bond of 1000 marks. He agreed to pay the bond–but unfortunately, ungrateful William Berkeley promptly shot off to Brittany to join Henry Tudor, leaving Baron Stourton with a hefty bill. In-laws, eh?

One of the local manors, Alton Magna, also happened to belong at one time to the Earl of Warwick, Richard Neville. It is not certain  how he aquired it, as it had descended with the Honour of Leicester from Simon de Montfort, to Henry Duke of Lancaster, Henry’s daughter Maud, then her sister Blanche, the wife of John of Gaunt. When Blanche’s son became Henry IV in 1399 the honour of Leicester passed to the Crown.

Going along a pleasant leafy back road from Figheldean church, the traveller eventually comes to the village of Netheravon. Its church of All Saints has some similarities architectural qualities to that in Figheldean, including a very tall, stark tower. There was probably a Saxon  church originally  on site, and there is  visible Norman work that survives, including a carving of beasts on the capital of an exterior pillar.

The church was a prebendal church and one of the prebendaries in the 15th c happened to be Thomas Rotherham,who was first Bishop of Rochester, then Bishop of Lincoln and finally Archbishop of York. He was Keeper of the Privy Seal for King Edward IV and was appointed Lord Chancellor. When Edward died, Rotherham unlawfully handed the Great Seal to Elizabeth Woodville, and hence lost his position as Chancellor. He was present at the council meeting where Lord Hastings was arrested and then executed, and was himself arrested as part of the conspiracy. He went to the Tower, but not for very long; he was soon released and continued to be a player on the scene.

  As at Figheldean, the manor of Netheravon was held by the Duchy of Lancaster, first half of it, then eventually the whole. At one point one of the halves was held by the notorious Hugh Depenser the Elder and his family during  the reign of Edward II.  Upon their downfall, Queen Isabella was granted the estate  for life.  However, when her son, Edward III, captured her and Roger Mortimer at Nottingham in 1330, Edward gave the estate to Edward de Bohun. Later, through Mary, wife of Henry IV, it became part of the Duchy of Lancaster. Other local Despenser lands went to the Earl of Salisbury, which may be how Richard Neville came to own a manor in Figheldean.

Several local estates were also held by Sir William Beauchamp, husband to Elizabeth, suo jure Baronness St Amand; upon his death she held them jointly with her next husband, Sir Roger Tocotes. Sir Roger was a local landowner and sheriff who served George of Clarence for a while, but ended up as one of Buckingham’s rebels.

There is one other interesting feature of Netheravon. As you pass down the lane near the church, you will see the name ‘Beaufort’ clearly affixed  to a gate. The large, rather sombre mansion in the next field was owned by the Dukes of Beaufort -although not in medieval times, but rather from the middle of the 18th century, when the surname (Beaufort) and title (Somerset)  were reversed. Their stately pile, built by one Henry Somerset,  stands close to a Roman villa and is likely on the site of the medieval manor house of the Cormayles family.

 

 

The royal seals of Richard III….

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King John faces the barons at the sealing of the Magna Carta

According to Ian Mortimer in The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England, in the fourteenth century the king’s two great seals were kept by different people; one by the chancellor for sealing Chancery documents, and the other by the treasurer for Exchequer documents. The seals were huge at 6 inches across, and the one for the Chancery used red wax, the Exchequer seal used green.

The king’s own letters were sealed with a much smaller personal seal, the privy seal. In the reign of Edward III the use of the privy seal was increasingly delegated to its keeper, who could deal with routine business as directed by the king.

The king himself had a new ‘secret seal’ or signet made, to authenticate his personal letters and directions. This is kept by his secretary and is the precursor to the seals of office held by today’s Secretaries of State.

So, by 1400 there were four royal seals in operation: the secret seal, privy seal and two versions of the great seal.

Below you will find a selection of illustrations of Richard III’s seals.

You will find out much more about the English Royal Chancery and seals here , although this stops short of the 15th century. Information about seals throughout history, and around the world, is here.

There are seals aplenty here and if you wish to know how they are cleaned, try here.

Edward III’s manor house at Rotherhithe….

EIII's manor house, Rotherhithe.

“King Edward III is remembered in history for starting the Hundred Years War, annexing large parts of France for England, as well as being the reigning king during the period of the Black Death. What he is infinitely less well-known for, is building a small royal residence at Rotherhithe in South East London, the remains of which can still be seen today.

“When the residence was constructed in around 1350, Rotherhithe was a small hamlet set in low lying marshland. The manor house itself was built upon a small island directly next to the River Thames and consisted of a range of stone buildings around a central courtyard.

“There was a moat on three sides of the complex, with the north side being completely open to the River Thames. This allowed the king to arrive by boat and at high tide to moor up against the steps that led from the river to a gatehouse located in a tower. There was also a hall with a large and imposing fireplace, the king’s private chambers, kitchens and other buildings. Further south, on drier land, was an outer court with other buildings surrounded by an earth bank.”

Taken from http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryMagazine/DestinationsUK/Edward-IIIs-Manor-House-Rotherhithe/  where more can be learned of this manor house.

 

A tale of John of Gaunt and two sisters….

Chaucer_BellScott - reading to Philippa and Katherine with Gaunt

The above painting by William Bell Scott depicts Chaucer reading to an aging John of Gaunt. The ladies are the two men’s wives, Philippa and Katherine, born de Roët.

Everyone knows that John of Gaunt (1340-1399) had three wives, the last of whom was Katherine Swynford (nee de Roët, 1350-1403), who had been his children’s governess. She then became his mistress (during his second marriage to Costanza of Castile) and finally, in 1396, his third duchess. The last move, was very unpopular at the time, for it was felt Gaunt, a king’s son, had demeaned himself by marrying well below his station…and that she had reached up well above hers.

John of Gaunt

Katherine, married at twelve to a Lincolnshire knight, Sir Hugh Swynford, had a sister, Philippa (c. 1346–c. 1387) who was a damoiselle of the queen, and who by the end of 1366 had been married to Geoffrey Chaucer. Yes, the Geoffrey Chaucer, who was a very close friend of John of Gaunt. Was the Chaucer marriage a love match? After all, at the time he was a mere squire, whereas she was relatively highborn, the daughter of a prominent Hainault family of rich landowners, or so I understand the de Roët sisters’ background to be. The Chaucer union is subject to a lot of speculation.

Let us go back before 1366, before Philippa became Geoffrey’s bride. John of Gaunt is renowned for his interesting private life, as described above, and seems to have been a Plantagenet charmer par excellence. By inheriting the huge wealth and status of the Duchy of Lancaster (through his first wife, Blanche) he was the richest, most influential man in England, especially when his father, Edward III, began to descend into senility. Gaunt had an eye for a beautiful woman, and the suggestion is that the de Roët sisters were both beautiful. I don’t know if they warranted the description, but I doubt very much that they were plain, stodgy dumplings. Men like Gaunt are not drawn to the nondescript.

So, Katherine Swynford was governess to his daughters. At this time her sister Philippa was unmarried, and also the queen’s lady. The queen, another Philippa, was from Hainault too, so I imagine this was a very good reason to have Philippa de Roët close to her. And then there was John of Gaunt, master seducer. The suspicion is that his eye fell upon Philippa first. It wasn’t the done thing to deflower unmarried ladies, and maybe this precluded such an affair in his eyes, except that there are suspicious signs that he broke the rule.

John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford

He was not a dishonourable man, and took his responsibilities seriously. Dates fit for him to have bedded Philippa and got her in the family way. In September 1366, before leaving for a campaign in Spain, Gaunt granted Philippa a lifetime annuity. It was very generous, and surely he had no reason for doing such a thing. Some present-day thinking is that Gaunt protected her by paying his good friend Chaucer a great deal to marry her. She was to give birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, the appropriate number of months later. Elizabeth would become a nun and enter the prestigious royal Abbey of Barking.

BarkingAbbey-1500- royal abbey

For the rest of his life, Gaunt was especially kind to Elizabeth, who might well have been his daughter. His particular favour to her suggests he knew she was. There were also more gifts, opportunities and annuities to the Chaucers.

Was Gaunt Katherine Swynford’s lover at the same time he was bedding Philippa? That we’ll never know, just as we will never know the truth about his dealings with the latter. All those gifts and favours are suspicious though. Why would Gaunt bestow such bounty upon Philippa? Why continue to be so concerned about her? She was by then a married women. Did the affair continue after she became Chaucer’s wife? Was Chaucer a complacent husband, paid well enough to say nothing and just let his wife get on with it?

Chaucer

Or, as some of you will no doubt tell me, Gaunt did no such thing. The Chaucer marriage was a love match and Gaunt was merely a generous lord. Possibly. Possibly, too, Elizabeth Chaucer was of royal blood.

 

 

Edward III, slanting eyes and the legend of Melusine…

Melusine

These days, any mention of Melusine might conjure thoughts of Jacquetta of Luxemburg, Elizabeth Woodville, witchcraft and the like. But the story of Melusine was around before then.

On browsing through John Gardner’s Life and Times of Chaucer, I came upon the following anecdote, which begins with Gardner’s rather precise description of Edward himself:

“He was a handsome, fair man with a curly brown beard, gentle eyes and mouth, the eyes just perceptibly slanted like the eyes of all his sons. He was no ordinary mortal, one could see at a glance, and he liked to support the impression with a story…

“…Some hour hundred years ago, Edward III told his friends, the founder of his line, Count Fulke the Black, ruler of Anjou [Fulke III, 970–1040, ancestor of Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou] traveled to a distant land and returned with a bride whose beauty was unsurpassed in all the world. The four children she bore him were brilliant and handsome, like all Plantagenet sons and daughters after them, but they carried also a darker heritage. She kept it secret for many years, living a life more secluded than a nun’s. Then one day the count demanded that his wife accompany him to Mass, a thing she’d repeatedly refused to do. She did so this time, pale and trembling. When the priest raised the Host, the countess let out an unearthly shriek, rose into the air, flew out of the chapel window, and was never seen again. The truth was out. She was Melusine, daughter of the Devil!…

“…By the time Chaucer knew him, Edward III at least half believed the story…”

Fulke the Black of Anjou

Fulke III (the Black) Count of Anjou 970–1040

A quick look on the internet soon reveals this story to be widespread, although not necessarily in connection with Edward. Our House of Plantagenet was descended from the children Melusine left behind. Or so Edward III apparently believed.

Two things arouse my interest. Firstly that Edward liked to repeat the devilish tale to his friends, and secondly that he and his sons had perceptibly slanting eyes. Are we to think the eyes came from the Devil, via Melusine? I for one have never heard of this trait in Edward and his sons. Has anyone else? Although, on reflection, there is one monarch who fits this bill, Edward’s grandson, Richard II.

Gilt-Bronze Tomb Effigy of Richard II, Westminster Abbey

 

 

 

 

 

Blanche Mortimer – The Grandison Monument

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In the chancel of the church of St Bartholomew,  Much Marcle, Herefordshire can be found one of the most beautiful tombs chests in England, that of Blanche Mortimer, Lady Grandison.  I happened by chance on this lovely monument  some years ago.  I stood there entranced, unwilling to leave.  Blanche’s tomb has been described by Nikolaus Pevsner as follows “The head is strikingly beautiful, eyes closed and lips slightly parted.  Beautiful hands with long fingers..moreover the most surprising demonstration of realism in the way of her long skirt hangs down over the tomb chest”.   Simon Jenkins in his book “England’s Thousand Best Churches describes the monument as “An image as lovely as any bequeathed by a medieval church….the effigy might be the original for Sleeping Beauty’.    English Heritage describe it as one of the finest of its date in England.

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Close up of the attention to detail in the tightly buttoned sleeves of Blanche’s gown.

Blanche was born around 1316, dying in 1347 and  was the youngest daughter of the lst  Earl of March, Roger Mortimer who rebelled against King Edward ll.  He and Queen Isabella were lovers and probably arranged the murder of Edward.   Roger, was eventually overthrown by Edward’s son, Edward III and executed, but that is another story.    Blanche was married to Peter Grandison.   He is not buried besides her but lies in Hereford Cathedral.  Little is knows of their relationship but the meticulous  care, craftsmanship and attention to detailed  lavished on the design  and building of the tomb would indicate that Peter Grandison loved and missed his wife. And there, atop her tomb, lies Blanche to this day.  Her face, serene and lovely, her long gown hanging down gracefully in folds over the front of the tomb chest and her hands, beautifully carved, hold her rosary, although alas her little dog is missing his head.

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The tomb chest with its displays of the  Mortimer blue and gold  heraldic badge and the Grandison badge of blue, red and gold.

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Blanche’s husband, Peter Grandison’s  tomb in Hereford Cathedral

But that is not the end of the story for Blanche.  For  while the monument was being restored, Blanche’s lead coffin was found resting within the tomb chest.    This was most unusual as it has been thought that tomb chest monuments were built on top of or nearby where the dedicatee had been buried beneath the church floor or in a vault.  It is now known, through this discovery that some coffins were  placed inside the tomb chest itself.  After the restoration was completed, led by sculpture conservator Michael Eastham, the coffin was returned to the tomb chest with new steel supports to provide future protection.  The lead coffin was briefly examined but the decision was made not to disturb it.

 

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Blanche’s lead coffin

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Blanche’s effigy prior to replacement on top of the tomb chest.

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St Bartholomew’s very own ‘Sleeping Beauty’

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Blanche’s effigy after renovation..her little dog, although damaged,  still lying at her feet..

And so we leave Blanche and her little dog..serene and lovely..truly St Bartholomew’s very own sleeping beauty.

 

Just what is Richard III’s DNA telling us….?

DNA - family tree

The following link arrived in my box this morning.https://figshare.com/…/Richard_III_The_Livingstons_…/4764886 I quote:

“18.03.2017, 07:26 by John Smith

“A skeleton excavated at the presumed site of the Grey Friars friary in Leicester in 2012 is almost certainly that of the English king, Richard III (1452 -1485), and mtDNA (which is passed from mother to child) extracted from the skeleton matches mtDNA taken from descendants of Richard’s sister Anne of York. However Y-DNA (which is passed from father to son) extracted from the skeleton apparently doesn’t match Y-DNA taken from descendants of Henry Somerset the 5th Duke Of Beaufort, who according to history descended from Richard’s 2nd great grandfather Edward III (1312 – 1377).

“The implication according to geneticists, and the media, is that there is a ‘false paternity event’ somewhere between Edward and the Somersets. Also, the false paternity events don’t end there, for only 4 of these 5 Somerset descendants match each other. And it may be worse even than this: the patrilineal line of a Frenchman named Patrice de Warren apparently traces back to Richard III through the illegitimate son of Edward III’s 4th great grandfather, Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou (1113 – 1151).

“But de Warren’s Y-DNA doesn’t match that of either Richard III or any of the Somersets. In this note, a formula for calculating the time of the most recent common ancestor is introduced, and some of its consequences outlined. This formula arises from a mathematical framework within which it is possible that the traditional genealogy is correct, and that Geoffrey Plantagenet was the father of a male line incorporating Richard III, all 5 Somersets, and Patrice de Warren.”

References:

http://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms6631

http://users.skynet.be/lancaster/Discussion Maclea.htm

https://figshare.com/articles/On_a_Question_Concerning_the_Littlewood_Violations_pdf/4240424

Me again: The above prompted me to look back at some of the articles that abounded in 2015, when discussion about Richard’s DNA was rife. I selected the following, if only because of the eye-catching family tree:-

http://globalfamilyreunion.com/…/01/03/king-richard-iii-dna/

As the saying goes, the thot plickens. Just who is the father of who…? Our posts here and here may well have answered this.

Richard III, snooker and probability

One thing of which we can be certain is that Richard III never played snooker. It was not invesnookernted until 1875 in Jabalpur by a Colonel Chamberlain (1). Nevertheless, it is an excellent vehicle for demonstrating the laws of probability with particular reference to the descent of the Plantagenet Y-chromosome from Edward III.

Imagine that you have walked into a snooker club where a member lends you four white balls and fifteen reds, the white balls obviously from more than one set, but in a drawstring bag. The cue balls represent the paternal links from Edward III to Richard III and the reds represent the descent from Edward III to Henry, 5th Duke of Beaufort (2). We already know that the 5th Duke’s living putative descendants have a different Y-haplogroup to Richard III, indicating that there is at least one “false paternity event” in one or both lines, but “Somerset 3” has a different Y-chromosome to his putative cousins, showing that another such has occurred at some time since 1760.

The bag is now held towards you and you are invited to insert your hand and withdraw a ball but you cannot discern its colour until you are holding it outside the bag – we are assuming randomness a priori. The probability of one random ball being red is 15/19 or approximately 79%. If you withdrew two balls, the probability of both being red is 15×14/19×18 or about 61%. The probability of three balls all being red is 15x14x13/19x18x17 or about 47%.

The probability of any paternal link in these chains being false is the same as stated above. We only know that there is one such event and it is 79% likely to have been in the descent to the 5th Duke but 21% to Richard. We cannot yet assume there to be more than one broken link in either chain and it would take three “milkmen” for the red ball (Beaufort) probability to fall below 50% and for a York false paternity event to be probable.

(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_snooker

(2) http://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms6631

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?

Great St Mary’s Church, Cambridge and its Royal Patrons

Giaconda's Blog

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In the very heart of historic Cambridge, stands a tall and elegant late Perpendicular Gothic church, sandwiched between the colleges and market square.

The church of St Mary the Virgin has stood on the site since 1205; the first recorded rector being Thomas de Chiveley who was appointed in the reign of King John.

The church was burnt to the ground in 1290. The local Jewish population were blamed for this unfortunate event and were punished by shutting down their synagogue. After the rebuilding of the church it was re-named Great St Mary’s, to differentiate it from Little St Mary’s in 1351.

King Edward III was a benefactor of the church at this time, along with his re-founding of King’s Hall in Cambridge which was later assimilated into Trinity College during the reign of King Henry VIII.

dscf3096 Arms of King Edward III and his sons over the gateway to Trinity College…

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