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A Scottish Crown Jewel found in Durham Cathedral?

Has the Black Rood of Scotland been hiding in plain sight, indeed? Well, David Willem think so and is speaking about it in Edinburgh on Wednesday, how Margaret of Wessex took this cross to Scotland in 1068, how Edward I removed it along with the Stone of Destiny but it was returned and relocated again, to Durham, after David II’s defeat at the nearby Neville’s Cross. It is known to have been there until about 1540.

At Durham Cathedral, a similarly jewel-encrusted gold cross was found in St. Cuthbert’s grave in 1827. Is this the missing part of the Scottish Crown Jewels?

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Oh, the bells, the bells….!

bell-ringing - 1

Natural disasters were not to only thing to bring chaos to the great Benedictine abbey at beautiful Winchcombe in the Gloucestershire Cotswolds. Not just the 1091 lightning strike on the tower of the Abbey church of St Mary, which opened up “a huge crack in the walls, large enough for a man to pass through and destroyed one of the beams: major reconstruction became both inevitable and pressing”. Not even the 1363 “whirlwind [that] damaged the Abbey church”. Indeed not, because humankind created rather large disturbances of its own.

The following is from http://www.winchcombeparish.org.uk/winchcombe-parish/our-churches/historical-notes/

“During the late 13th/early 14th century, the abbots of Winchcombe had spent greatly on enlarging and improving the east end of the Abbey church, as well as taking out expensive loans to purchase more lands. As a consequence the Abbey urgently needed to raise more funds.  The Bishop of Worcester conducted a formal visitation in 1329 and his injunctions show that he found extravagance and inadequate self-discipline within the community.  They also hint at financial corruption, abuse of power and general mismanagement. (Me: Oh, dear!)

“Worse was to follow as the 14th century moved forward.  In 1318 the Bishop was called upon to arbitrate in a dispute between the abbot and William de Preston the Vicar.   In 1337 Edward III went to war with France and to pay for this he demanded loans from land owners as well as higher taxes.  This increased the demands the Abbey made on the townspeople and their tenants. From 1340 – 1388 there are reports of armed men, including chaplains, breaking into the Abbey’s precincts and outlying manors, holding the monks captive and making off with their goods.

bell-ringing - 5

“Then, to add to all these problems, in 1348/9 the Black Death swept across the country, reducing the population by about one third.  Farms and animals were left uncared for, further reducing the income available to both the Abbey and to St Peter’s.  By 1351 there are reports of dilapidations, alienation of property and complaints by some monks to the Bishop and Archbishop.  Two years later in 1353, the Abbey was, in effect, declared bankrupt and a royal commission appointed to manage it.

“Ten years later, in 1364, a whirlwind damaged the Abbey church and in 1366 the abbot and prior were found guilty of making fraudulent claims to property in the town.  John Brightman, who was the Perpetual Vicar of St Peter’s from 1366-89, sued the abbot for repairs to the chancel of St Peter’s.  On at least one occasion he took the law into his own hands, and with his curate and a party of townspeople he broke into the Abbey and assaulted some of the staff. (Me: How very Christian!)

“John Brightman was succeeded by Thomas Power (1389-1415), who continued the struggle to get the abbot to pay for the maintenance of the chancel. Thomas took his case first to the Bishop of Worcester and lost with costs, then to the Archbishop’s court and lost with further costs. Finally Power appealed to the Papal courts in Rome and lost for the last time.  Pope Urban’s ruling in 1389 not only confirmed the decisions of the lower courts but also removed of the vicar’s security of tenure, granting authority to the abbot and the monastic community to appoint and remove vicars at their pleasure (although there is no record that this power was ever used). “Having failed to obtain legal redress, Power, like his predecessor, took the law into his own hands and began ringing the church bells at times designed to disturb the monks’ sleep and their prayers.   bell-ringing - 2-

The abbot appealed to the Pope, who ruled the bells should not be rung after the evening curfew nor before Prime, the morning act of worship, and should always be rung moderately.  In 1400 the Archdeacon found that the papal ruling was being ignored, so he excommunicated both vicar and parishioners.”

It was, of course, Henry VIII who had the final say.

Virtually visit and enjoy Waterford’s history and its many treasures….

Waterford Museum - figure of Edward III

I have never been to Waterford in Ireland, but having just browsed at leisure through their museum’s wonderful website, I feel as if I know the city intimately. There are virtual tours that really do make the viewer feel present. Thoroughly recommended!

This figure is from one of the virtual tours, and depicts an incredibly lifelike, believable Edward III, copied from the medieval illustration to (our) right.

 

War, English Delusion, and the effect on the Economy

I have a theory that a lot of what we call “history” arises from the “hospital pass”. (For those who don’t know, this term comes from Rugby. It’s where the ball is passed to you at a moment or in a situation where the opposition is bound (or at least likely) to recover the situation with a violent tackle.)

A good example of this are the events arising from the Hundred Years War. Now yes, there were genuine issues arising between England and France. These mostly arose from the status of Guienne, which the kings of England held as vassals of the kings of France. (Though it is ironic that some of the issues were the very issues that the English imposed on their Welsh and Scottish* vassals.)

*To avoid response from angry Scots, during the time when the Scots accepted vassalage, for example the reign of John Balliol.

The fact remains that France had about five times the population Of England and was (almost) correspondingly more wealthy. For the English to take on France in a major war (as opposed to a small one) was always going to be a stretch.

Ah, but you say, Edward III and the Black Prince succeeded! Did they not have glorious victories at Crecy and Poitiers? Did they not actually capture the French king and impose a humiliating peace on him? (Treaty of Bretigny.)

Yes, they did, with the benefit of novel tactics, excellent leadership and, let’s be honest, some help from Lady Luck.

BUT! (And it’s a very big but.) The French were not stupid. They soon figured out new tactics to defeat the English, the most important of which was “Don’t meet the English in pitched battle.” It doesn’t sound very impressive, does it, but the effect was remarkable. The English armies that went to France in the later 14th Century did a fair bit of damage (especially to poor people and their property) but they failed utterly to enforce the treaty or cause the French government to collapse. Moreover, these campaigns were costly in cash and lives.

What is too often forgotten by English historians (who are all too apt to pleasure themselves silly over Edward III’s “greatness”) is that by the end of his reign England was practically bankrupt, in a fair degree of political chaos and under regular attacks from French raids along the south coast.

At which point poor Richard II and his advisers took over this legacy of “glory”.

The English (or more particularly their ruling class) were frankly deluded. Yep, they wanted to carry on with the war. Why, they wanted to enforce the Treaty of Bretigny. Did they want to pay for it? Did they heck as like.

So, make peace instead? What, are you a traitor, sir!

There were of course truces. As the century dragged on, these were to become more regular. But the cost of the war led to desperate measures in the treasury. Which led to the introduction of the Poll Tax. Do I need to spell out how that went down?

Richard II actually offered to lead an army to France. Yes, really. Would Parliament pay for it? Would they heck!

So we come to 1386, with the French poised to attack across the Channel. Make no mistake, this was a serious threat. Probably more of a genuine threat than anything prepared by Napoleon or Hitler, hard though that may be to believe. The King goes to Parliament to ask for money to defend the nation. Does Parliament pay up? No, it goes spare, and forces on Richard a commission to run the country for 12 months.

Now this in turn (to cut a long story short) leads on to the Appellant Crisis and the judicial murder – for that was what it was! – of many of the King’s friends and advisers and the banishment of others. Do the Appellants do a better job? Do they somehow magically cut taxation and give the French a damn good thrashing? Do they heck as like. They prove just as clueless in government – if not more clueless – than the people they replaced.

Eventually, largely because John of Gaunt comes home and supports King Richard in his policies, and after a whole lot of haggling and abortive proposals, a peace of sorts is achieved. Not until late 1396 though, and it is in fact a 28 year truce, that leaves some of the awkward issues unsolved.

You might thing people would be delighted. But many of them weren’t. No, they wanted to carry on the war that they didn’t want to pay for. It’s one of the issues that makes Richard unpopular and leads to his downfall. Next post will relate the Lancastrian aftermath.

(This post reblogged From The Yorkist Age.)

 

The origins of Marshalsea courts and prisons….

La cité de Dieu

While trawling around looking for information about Marshalsea courts in the time of Richard II, I came upon this WordPress blog (by Mercedes Rochelle) that covers the subject.  I quote the article in full:-

“Today when we hear about the Marshalsea we think of the infamous 19th century Southwark prison with all its associated tortures. But come back with me to the 14th century and you’ll see that the word has a totally different meaning—at first, anyway. Originally, the marshalsea (not capitalized—also known as the avenary) was the largest department of the household, in charge of taking care of the horses: feeding, grooming, and stabling. At the same time, the Marshal was a great officer of the royal and noble household, who functioned as the enforcer—the policeman, if you will—and the jailer. Where the Marshalsea (capitalized) came into play was in relation to the court of the verge (or the court of the steward and Marshal of the household). The steward presided over the court of the verge and the Marshal enforced its will.

“The Marshalsea court can be traced back to the second half of Edward I’s reign; it was the legal arm of the household. In practice it tried cases involving servants of the crown, whether sinning or sinned against: theft, debts, contracts, acts against the royal dignity, and trespassing—anything short of murder. This involved activity that took place within the verge, which was a twelve mile radius from the king’s presence. If anyone refused to cooperate with the king’s servants—such as Purveyors—they could be tried at the Marshalsea court. Interfering with Purveyors was one of the bigger offenses. Their job was to gather supplies for the itinerant court, such as food, wood for heating, oats and hay for the horses, etc. and these purchases were almost always a bone of contention. They rarely paid in cash; instead, they often gave the long-suffering supplier a note to be cashed at the exchequer—when the funds were available, that is. The supplier could wait months to get paid, if he got paid at all. But if that long-suffering merchant refused to contribute, the penalty could be severe. At the same time, the steward investigated complaints of extortionate behavior by the king’s servitors, though one can only wonder how often they decided in favor of the offended party.

“Cases tried in the Marshalsea court were exempted from the common law courts; it became a separate tribunal, free from the technicalities and costs of traditional courts. Because of the itinerant nature of the king’s household, cases had to be tried quickly. Pleas of trespass and debt concerning outsiders often reverted back to the common law courts if the king moved on, taking the verge with him. Within the verge local officials were forbidden to trespass on the duties of the king’s officers; at the same time, they were found guilty of “contempt of the king” if they permitted the escape of suspected felons. There were plenty of conflicts between the local municipalities who wanted to try their own cases and who temporarily fell within the verge, and the government which didn’t always mind the boundaries.

“Needless to say, the Londoners were often within the influence of the Marshalsea since the king was frequently in or near the city. Criminals were known to have crossed the Thames to Southwark to avoid punishment, since they could not be brought before the city authorities when the Marshalsea was present. The government tried to extend the Marshalsea’s jurisdiction into the city of London, but this was violently resisted and eventually dropped. Nonetheless, many formal protests were raised in successive Parliaments well into Henry IV’s reign. In 1373 Edward III ordered a building 40 feet long and 30 feet wide to be constructed “in the high street” for his own convenience, to hold pleas, keep prisoners, and hold other king’s courts.  It was one of the first of London’s symbols of oppression to suffer the wrath of the Peasant’s Revolt, though it was rebuilt the following year. The king’s sergeant-at-arms and keeper of the Marshalsea, Richard Imworth, was brutally murdered by the rebels two days after they destroyed the prison.

“As time went on, reportedly by 1430, the Marshalsea became known as a debtor’s prison, and was notorious by the 18th century, when it was rebuilt about 130 yards south of its original site. You can learn all about it from Charles Dickens whose father was imprisoned there in 1824.”

Thank you Mercedes!

So who did Anne Mowbray take after….?

GENEALOGICAL TREE

What is one of the first things we say on seeing a new baby? Something along the lines of how much the new arrival takes after his/her father/mother/uncle/aunt/grandfather etc. etc. For those of us with a great interest in history, it is almost irresistible to compare various historical figures in the same way. For instance, we think of Edward IV, 6’ 4”, handsome, glamorous and so on. Then we think of his grandson, Henry VIII, who was much the same. And the looks of both deteriorated abysmally as they aged. Birds of a feather.

Edward IV and Henry VIII

Edward IV and Henry VIII

I won’t even mention Henry VII and his mother, Margaret Beaufort, who were completely interchangeable!

Henry VII and his mother, Margaret Beaufort

The very proper Lady Eleanor Talbot was a well-connected widow for whom it seems the young King Edward IV fell so heavily that he was prepared to promise marriage in order to get her into his bed. It was the only way he’d have his wicked way. But when he consummated this promise, he made it a marriage in fact. Edward must have thought he had this inconvenience covered. His vows with Eleanor were exchanged in secret, and the whole clandestine marriage was kept under wraps afterward. Then he fell for another attractive widow, Elizabeth Woodville, who, the legend goes, waylaid him on the highway, wearing black, her arms around her fatherless sons. She would not give him what he wanted either, unless he married her. Aha,  the incorrigible Edward no doubt thought, I’ll pull the same trick as before. This time, however, he chose the wrong lady. Elizabeth Woodville and her large family were a whole new ball game, as the saying goes.

Elizabeth Woodville waylays Edward IV

Edward came clean about this dubious marriage, probably to spite the Earl of Warwick (the Kingmaker). Eleanor, the injured wife, said nothing, even though she lived on for four years after this unlawful second marriage. Elizabeth Woodville was never any more than Edward’s mistress, and all her children by him were illegitimate. The rest, they say, became England’s history.

I was asked to take two portraits—apparently reliable likenesses created by modern science—of two particular medieval ladies, Eleanor Talbot and her niece, Anne Mowbray (see The Mythology of the “Princes in the Tower”, figs. 5-6)—to see if such a swap-over brought out any family likeness. Well, this particular tweaking was beyond my capabilities because the angles of the faces were too different. So my next thought was to see if these ladies bore any likeness to other members of their families. By examining their families, I mean parents and grandparents. If I try to go further, far too many of England’s aristocratic lines will be drawn into the equation. And what with there being so many remarriages and half-families, it can very quickly get out of hand.

I am very conscious, too, that all of these people can only be assessed from contemporary descriptions, tomb effigies, portraits or drawings. The first portrait of a king of England that is known to be a true likeness, is that of Richard II in Westminster Abbey. We know it’s accurate because he wanted it to be, and approved the result, complete with those strange, heavy-lidded eyes. Richard’s tomb effigy is therefore accurate as well, because the same features are there.

Richard II

The Westminster Abbey effigy of his grandfather, Edward III, was clearly taken from a death mask, and shows his mouth with the droop that indicates a stroke. Accuracy, it seems. But what of Edward III’s eldest son, Richard II’s father, Edward of Woodstock, known to history as the Black Prince? Well, we have his effigy in Canterbury Cathedral, but it seems stylised. . .except, perhaps for the same heavy-lidded eyes? Or am I seeing something that isn’t actually there? Edward III does not seem to have resembled his grandson at all.

Edward III and the Black Prince

Edward III and Edward of Woodstock, known as the Black Prince

But these are royalty, with a capital R. Just how much accuracy was involved amid the nobility in general is impossible to assess. However, being a game lass, I’m prepared to have a go at detecting the all-important family likeness when it comes to Eleanor and Anne Mowbray, and Elizabeth Talbot, Eleanor’s full sister and Anne’s mother.

Elizabeth, Eleanor and Anne

left to right: Elizabeth Talbot, Eleanor Talbot and Anne Mowbray

Let us discuss what is known of Eleanor and Elizabeth’s appearance. Eleanor appears to have been striking, with a large nose, longish face, slanting eyes and small chin. She has been given almost black hair and eyebrows. To me, Elizabeth has the same shape of face as Eleanor. Her portrait is from a medieval stained glass window, but there is, of course, no way of knowing if the creator of that window was attempting to produce a true likeness. The long face appears in turn to have been inherited from their father, John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury. His tomb effigy, although damaged, seems to depict the same facial structure as Eleanor and Elizabeth. The only thing that can be said is (provided the effigy is meant to be accurate) he had a long face and fairly strong chin. Unless, of course, the chin is actually meant to be a small beard. I cannot tell, having only seen photographs.

The Tomb of John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury

One thing we do know about him is that he had dark, almost black hair. Here are three other likenesses of him that show this, albeit his hairstyle being that awful crop worn so unflatteringly by Henry V. By the time of John Talbot’s death, his hair was long again, or so his effigy suggests. Of the three images, the two smaller ones show the long face. The large one does not. Two out of three? I’ll go with the long face.

Three images of John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury

Subsequent Talbot Earls of Shrewsbury were of the half-blood to Eleanor and Elizabeth, descending from their father’s first marriage. Trying to work out which illustrations are of these earls, or more of the 1st earl, has proved most unsatisfactory. I thought I’d found the 2nd and 3rd earls, only to discover the same illustrations elsewhere claiming to be of the first John Talbot. So I left well alone, and stuck to likenesses that I know are of Eleanor and Elizabeth’s father, the 1st earl.

All in all, I feel it very likely that Eleanor—and maybe Elizabeth too— had John Talbot’s dark hair. Not necessarily, of course. My mother had very dark hair, and my father was blond. I am blonde. And Lady Anne Mowbray had red hair. Where did that come from? Eleanor and Elizabeth’s mother, Margaret Beauchamp? Or her own father, John Mowbray, 4th Duke of Norfolk? Or somewhere else entirely, after all she had Plantagenet blood too. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find a reliable likeness of Margaret, but There is one source that shows us almost certainly the appearance of Margaret’s father, Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick. I refer to his amazing chapel at St Mary’s in Warwick.

Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick - his tomb in Warwick

So, was he a prime example of the Beauchamps in general? Did they even have a “look”? Maybe they were all different. In his tomb effigy, we see him with that dreadful cropped hairstyle (albeit with curls) made famous by the best known portrait of Henry V. In Beauchamp’s case it’s hard to tell if it’s the cut that gives him a high, wide forehead, or if he did indeed have a high, wide forehead. His chin is small, his mouth thin and straight, and his nose small and pointed, but he too has rather heavy-lidded eyes. Or so they seem to me. And what colour was his hair? Red, perhaps? If there is a likeness between the 13th Earl of Warwick and little Anne Mowbray, it seems unlikely that her looks have anything to do with her Talbot or Mowbray blood, but come from her maternal grandfather, Richard Beauchamp. Yet who knows? The case is unproven.

mourners around Richard Beauchamp's tomb

Some of the mourners that surround Richard Beauchamp’s tomb

Warwick married twice, and Margaret Beauchamp was the offspring of his first wife, Elizabeth Berkeley. What was she like? Hard to say. There are a number of mourners depicted on Warwick’s tomb, little figures swathed in robes. Is Elizabeth Berkeley one of them? They are not named, except for two, one being Richard Neville, the Kingmaker, and the other his sister. Both were the children of Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury. She was the wife of Richard Beauchamp’s son and heir, Henry Beauchamp, Duke of Warwick, whose early death brought greats riches and titles to her brother, the Kingmaker, who was married to Richard Beauchamp’s only other child, Anne Beauchamp.

Richard Neville, the Kingmaker, and his wife, Cecily. Mourners on the tomb of Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick

Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, the Kingmaker, and his sister Cecily Neville, who became Duchess of Warwick.

Anne was the only child of John Mowbray, 4th Duke of Norfolk, and on his unexpected and early death, she became a great heiress. Was it from him, not Richard Beauchamp (or both) that she gained her red hair? I cannot find a portrait of John Mowbray, 4th Duke of Norfolk, but this is a representation of another John Mowbray (the 2nd Duke) that seems fairly reliable as being him. It is from Doyle’s ‘Official Baronage,’ after an engraving by W. Hollar, from a window in St. Mary’s Hall, Coventry. There is no way of knowing if he typifies the Mowbray “look”, and I do not detect him in Anne’s likeness.

John Mowbray, 2nd Duke of Norfolk

Anne attracted the avaricious interest of Edward IV, who had had been her aunt’s husband. Eleanor Talbot had passed away in 1468, a few years before Anne’s birth. Edward IV decided to snap Anne up for his younger son, Richard, Duke of York (who would became one of the so-called “Princes in the Tower”. Both were still small children when they became husband and wife. She died shortly afterward, and Edward IV held on to her entire inheritance for her widower, Richard. The following illustration is imagined, of course!

marriage anne mowbray and richard duke of york

Her Plantagenet kin are well-known to us all, of course, and I can’t say I look at her and think of any of them.  In the picture below, one of the ladies on the left is Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, mother of Edward IV and Richard III. I do not see any of these ladies as resembling Anne Mowbray. But then maybe these likenesses are run-of-the-mill, not serious attempts at portraits.

One of the ladies on the left is Cecily Neville.

The next illustration is of Thomas Berkeley, 5th Lord Berkeley, who was Eleanor and Elizabeth’s maternal grandfather. His nose looks rather obviously repaired (invented, even) so his looks cannot really be assessed. He and Lord Lisle, one of the Talbots, were at each other’s throats for a long time, until he finally defeated and killed Lisle at the Battle of Nibley Green on 20th March 1469/70. Incidentally, Lisle was the brother of Eleanor and Elizabeth, but his tomb effigy looks like a carbon copy of the Black Prince’s at Canterbury.

left, Thomas Berkeley, 5th Lord Berkeley,, and, right, John Talbot, 1st Lord Lisle

left, Sir Thomas Berkeley, and right, John Talbot, 1st Lord Lisle

Below is a drawing from the tomb of Henry Bourchier, 1st Earl of Essex, who was the son of William Bourchier, 1st Count of Eu and Anne of Gloucester. He was, therefore, Anne Mowbray’s great-uncle (I think!) Again, if there is a likeness that has passed down to Anne, I cannot perceive it.

henry-bourchier

Henry Bourchier, 1st Earl of Essex

So here is my conclusion. If there is a resemblance between Anne Mowbray and her aunt Eleanor, it is not evident to me. They do not seem in the least alike. Eleanor and her sister Elizabeth are Talbots through and through. Little Anne Mowbray is not a Mowbray or a Talbot, but a Beauchamp. I see a definite resemblance to her maternal great-grandfather, Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick.

I see no likeness between Richard Beauchamp and his granddaughters, Eleanor and Elizabeth, but his echo surely sounds strongly in little Anne. In Richard and his great-granddaughter I see the same high, wide forehead, small nose and chin, and general similarity, albeit between adult male and female child.

Anne Mowbray and her maternal grandfather, Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick

I anticipate that many who read this will disagree with my assessment, and I look forward to seeing comments. There will be no argument from me, because I know it all has to be conjecture.

 

 

 

Five important royals who didn’t ascend the throne….

BlackPrince

Edward of Woodstock, known to history as the Black Prince

Would these be your five? Or do you have other suggestions?

PS Who can spot their deliberate mistake?

IS THIS THE FACE OF KATHERINE de VALOIS?

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Catherine de Valois wooden funeral effigy on the left and the stone head thought to represent her on the right.

Westminster Abbey is the home to a collection of unique and wonderful medieval wooden funeral effigies.  These are to go on show once again in June 2018 with the opening the Abbey’s new Jubilee Galleries.  Some of them are definite death masks such as those of Edward III and Henry VII although there is very little doubt that they are all portraits of those they represent (1).  The one I am focussing on here is that of Katherine de Valois, wife to Henry V.  There are few if any surviving portraits of Katherine so her effigy is especially interesting as to how she actually looked.  To give a brief résumé Katherine’s remains were removed from their original burial site in the old Lady Chapel when it was demolished to make way for Henry Tudor’s grandiose new Chapel.  They were then left above ground, next to her husband’s monument for the next two hundred years.  Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary on visiting the abbey he was able to take Katherine in his arms and kiss her on the lips.  Poor Katherine.  Eventually in 1778 Katherine was placed in a vault.  Finally in the 19th century, Dean Stanley had her reburied beneath the alter in her husband’s chantry.  Thank goodness for that!

Now fresh interest has recently been ignited by the discovery of a stone head in Meath, Ireland, which is believed to represent Katherine. Here is an interesting article covering the story.

Take a look at the wooden effigy and the stone head,  compare and judge for yourselves.

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Katherine’s effigy in Westminster Abbey

  1.  Recollections of a Westminster Antiquary Lawrence Tanner p138

 

The Thame Hoard….

Buckingham - St Rumwald's Well - map

Reliquary Ring from Thame Hoard

I’m surprised that I have never heard of this hoard before. It was found in 1940, so has been in the public eye for longer than I’ve graced this earth.

 

The Great Commoner?

Today in 1768, William Pitt the Elder, known as the “Great Commoner”, retired as Prime Minister after two years’ service. He earned this title by serving in several other Cabinet roles from the House of Commons whilst a succession of peers, such as the Duke of Newcastle, were Premier, although his wife Hester nee Grenville was created Baroness Chatham in suo jure. Pitt’s most prominent widely known ancestor was his paternal grandfather Thomas, who had been Governor of Madras and William himself finally took a peerage, as Earl of Chatham, in summer 1766 when he became Lord Privy Seal as well as Prime Minister, being a peer for almost twelve years.

It is possible to trace his ancestry back further than Thomas, however. Eight generations back, on his mother’s side, are Henry VIII and Mary Boleyn together with the Digby and Throckmorton families of Gunpowder Plot infamy. Hester is even more interesting genealogically in that her ancestors can be shown to include Edward III, albeit by the Beaufort line which was illegitimate in the first instance, as the Careys still are. However, her ancestors also include John Howard, 1st Duke of Norfolk, leading us to Edward I’s second marriage. Interestingly, of the seventy peerages specifically created for women, Hester and her mother (Countess Temple) both feature among the recipients.

The Pitt children, including John (2nd Earl) and William (the Younger) thus have all of these lines of ancestry.

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