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The Royal Progress of Richard III

Following his coronation, Richard III – like all medieval monarchs – went on his “royal progress” through the realm.  Along with an entourage in excess of 200 household men, ecclesiastics, supporters, and administrative officials, he visited towns and cities as far west as the River Severn, as far north as the River Ouse, and as far east as the River Witham.  It was while he was staying in Lincoln along the River Witham when he received the news that the Duke of Buckingham and others were in open rebellion in the south.  This required the king to respond accordingly by making his “Great Journey” towards Salisbury.  It was not unusual for uprisings to occur during the royal progress of a new monarch.  During his royal progress in 1461, Edward IV had to respond to insurrection in Wales and dispense hard justice by presiding over the execution of a Lancastrian traitor.[1]  This article will not cover Richard III’s “Great Journey” to suppress Buckingham’s rebellion, as that was not part of the planned royal progress and is better addressed elsewhere.  For this discussion, we will define Richard III’s royal progress as being from when he first left Windsor on July 21 to the time he received news of the rebellion on October 11.  We will also include the king’s January 1484 visit to Canterbury, as it seems to fit the pattern of the royal progress and may have been on the original itinerary.  First, however, it is important to understand the reason why a king went on royal progress.

The Iconography of Power

Sir John Fortescue (1397-1479), the preeminent Chief Justice under Henry VI and one of the most influential medieval writers about English government, wrote of the necessity for the monarch to use ceremony, etiquette, and organized pomp to advertise his status and strength to the realm and to foreign countries.  He encouraged the king to wear luxurious clothes, furs and jewels, to bedeck his household and chapels with rich tapestries, vessels and ornaments, and to acquire expensive horses with ostentatious trappings.  If he did not do so, wrote Fortescue, he would be living below his estate and would be overshadowed by ostentatious magnates, upsetting the natural balance of power.[2]  If Richard III had not gone on royal progress or had something less than magnificent, it would have sent a message that he was insecure in expressing his royal authority or was not “up to the job”. The Arrivall of Edward IV makes this very point when it depicts Henry VI, in the last days of his “readeption”, processing through the streets of London with such a lack of regality that the people lost confidence in him.[3]  The Great Chronicle of London makes a similar observation that it seemed “more like a play than the showing of a prince to win men’s hearts” and provides the infamous detail about Henry VI being dressed dowdily in a long blue gown, as though he had nothing more resplendent to wear.[4]

The progress taken by a king after his coronation was just one of the many ways the monarch could project what modern historians have called the “iconography of power” – a set of highly visual and ritualistic ceremonies that were shared by a common culture and used by the governing class to create or sustain political and social consent.  The goal was to persuade “opinion formers” and to secure the loyalty of the common people.[5]  Thus, an effective king would engage in “triumphant entries” into cities and towns – lavish parades with spectacles and religious ceremonies to celebrate military victories, welcome a foreign queen-consort to her new homeland, or entrench a hereditary claim to the throne.  The latter can be seen with the Duke of York’s reburial in 1476.[6]  The Crowland Chronicle was perfectly correct to make the observation that Richard III’s royal progress was aimed “to attract to himself the affection of many people” with many feasts and entertainments.[7]  But it was also a time for the king to mingle with his subjects and to hear and address their petitions and concerns.

Lest we think this was a phenomenon unique to England in the medieval age, the era that followed saw even more complicated and drawn-out spectacles.  The royal progress taken by the newly-minted Charles IX and his mother Catherine de Médicis in 1564-1566, for instance, lasted 27 months and took in more than 100 towns.[8]  As we shall see below, it was simultaneously important to the towns and cities that received the monarch and provided the infrastructure and performers to welcome him.  It was a display of their political status too: the grander their reception of the king, the more respect and favor they might hope to receive from him.

In terms of distance and days spent, Richard III’s royal progress was not dramatically different from Edward IV’s in 1461, the latter of which, over the course of two months, traveled 620 miles and involved great pomp and ceremony.  Edward’s itinerary, unlike Richard’s, focused on southern and western England and included Canterbury, Sandwich, Ashford, Lewes Priory, Arundel, Bishop’s Waltham, Salisbury, Bristol, Gloucester, Hereford, and Ludlow, returning to London via Stony Stratford.  This reflects how the north and midlands of England were not securely Yorkist following the Battle of Towton.  Edward IV had to deal with roiling insurrection in the north and in the Welsh Marches, and his royal progress was intended to involve a military campaign embarking from Hereford.  This turned out to be unnecessary, thanks to the successful efforts of Lords Herbert and Ferrers of Chartley in suppressing lawlessness.  Instead of a military campaign, Edward IV’s entourage went to his childhood home and family powerbase of Ludlow where, surprisingly, he was greeted with little fanfare thus suggesting it was an impromptu visit.[9]

Richard III’s royal progress not only skipped over Ludlow, but his itinerary also involved distinctly different geographical areas from those of his brother’s.  In a very literal sense, Richard was tracing a map of the cities having particular meaning to his personal history and his expression of royal authority.

The Royal Progress of Richard III 

July 21-August 1:  Reading (1 night) – Oxford (4) – Woodstock (2) – Minster Lovell (3)

The first leg of Richard III’s royal progress went in a northwest direction from Windsor Castle towards Oxfordshire.  The first destination was Reading, a relatively short 20-mile journey.  The king was in the company of John Lord Howard (recently made Duke of Norfolk), the Duke of Buckingham, the Bishops of St. Asaph and St. Davids, and many others. Queen Anne would later join the entourage at Warwick Castle. While staying in Reading, Richard executed an indenture guaranteeing the widow of William Lord Hastings, Katherine Neville, his protection and to secure for her the enjoyment of her husband’s lands, goods, and privileges, the custody their male heir, and the wardship of the young Earl of Shrewsbury who was married to their daughter, Anne.[10]  As we shall see, dispensing mercy and justice was an integral part of the king’s progress.

At Oxford University, an assembly of regents and scholars greeted the king.  This group was headed by William Waynflete (the Bishop of Winchester and founder of Magdalen College) and the University’s chancellor who at that time was Lionel Woodville, Bishop of Salisbury.[11]  The reference to Woodville has sparked some controversy amongst historians, as he had taken sanctuary earlier in June and had been under some suspicion.  Whatever those suspicions were, they were ostensibly resolved by the time of the king’s visit to Oxford and there is no hint of any discord.  Less certain is whether the Duke of Buckingham was present, for he is not specifically mentioned in the college register.  In any case, the king was entertained with academic debates in Latin on the subjects of philosophy and theology, and tours of the colleges.[12]  He rewarded the disputants and won the hearts of the fellows.  The register describing the visit closed with the words “Vivat Rex ineternum” (“let the king live forever”).[13]

The king then spent one or two nights at the royal hunting lodge at Woodstock, the birthplace of Edward III’s sons Edward the Black Prince and Thomas of Woodstock, the first Duke of Gloucester.  It had once been a splendid palace with an enclosed park in which lions and camels were kept, and this could have provided an opportunity to do some hunting and catch up on business.  A king never stopped working while on royal progress and had to respond to a constant flow of events, petitions, and diplomatic missives, which is why he would be accompanied by staff from various government offices.

Richard’s entourage traveled to Minster Lovell Hall, the home of Francis Viscount Lovell, his faithful friend and Lord Chamberlain.  This was one of the few times Richard III stayed in a private residence during his reign.  It had undergone several enlargements to its great hall and the building of a tower, both completed by 1455, so it would have been a suitable lodging for such distinguished guests.[14] Perhaps the most notable thing about the king’s time here is the text of a warrant dated July 29th issued from Minster Lovell and addressed to Chancellor John Russell, concerning a mysterious enterprise.  It has been suggested that it refers to a forthcoming trial of unnamed persons for the murder of the king’s nephews.  However, historian Rosemary Horrox believes that John Stow’s Annals gives a more accurate description of the enterprise as being one to rescue the princes from the Tower under cover of confusion caused by fires started in the city.  The four conspirators, two of whom served in Edward IV’s household, were tried at Westminster and executed.[15]

August 2-27:  Gloucester (2 nights) –Tewkesbury (1) – Worcester (3) – Warwick (6) – Coventry (2)  – Leicester (4) – Nottingham (8)

From Minster Lovell, Richard went on to Gloucester where he took up residence in St Peter’s Abbey (now Gloucester Cathedral) for two nights.  Here, for the place that bore the name of his ducal title, the king granted a charter of liberties releasing it from paying Ł45 of the Ł60 for the fee farm, giving its burgesses the right to choose their own mayor and coroner, allowing it to have its own sheriff to preside over a court, to incorporate themselves as an entity, to acquire lands and tenements, and to have standing to plead or interplead before the king’s justices or any other justices in the courts of England.  Some of these rights and privileges were retained by Gloucester up to 1974.[16]  In 1538, the borough was granted a coat of arms with the red and white roses of Lancaster and York along with a boar’s head – a reference to Richard III’s favorite badge.

Gloucester’s St Peter’s Abbey had wealth and prestige. It was the place where Henry III was crowned king of England, and where Edward II was buried following his deposition.  Parliaments had been summoned there twice (1378 and 1407), but due to a combination of factors, including the Black Death and competition from nearby Bristol, the town borough was having some economic difficulty.  Nevertheless, Gloucester had performed an extremely valuable service for the Yorkists when it closed its gates to Margaret of Anjou’s army in 1471, forcing it to march on to Tewkesbury.[17]

Undoubtedly with this history in mind, Richard bestowed the liberties mentioned above and also presented the city with a sword, which is believed to have been his own; it can still be viewed at Gloucester City Museum.  It was also at Gloucester that the Duke of Buckingham took his leave from the royal progress; what prompted this is unknown.  Buckingham’s manor house at Thornbury, from where Lionel Woodville would later be issuing letters on September 22, was only 25 miles away, and he was holding Bishop John Morton in custody in his castle in Brecon, in Wales, about 70 miles from Gloucester.

Although we have no description of Gloucester’s reception of Richard, we can assume that it was similar in pomp to the royal entry of Edward IV into Bristol in 1461.  When Edward arrived at Bristol’s Temple Gate, a “great giant” attended by three lords delivered the keys of the town to him and a poem comparing the king to William the Conqueror was recited.  As the entourage processed to Temple Cross, the king beheld the spectacle of Saint George on horseback “fighting with a dragon, and the king and queen on high in a castle, and his daughter beneath with a lamb.  And at the slaying of the dragon there was a great melody of angels.”[18]  Edward granted the town a royal charter, oversaw the trial and execution of the Lancastrian rebel Sir Baldwin Fulford, and left with an extra fifty marks in a loan from his host, mayor William Canynges.[19]  “The event provides a small snapshot of what the progress of the monarch involved in this fraught period of political insecurity and highlights the multifaceted role the king played.”[20]

From Gloucester, Richard progressed to Tewkesbury for one night, where he had been a commander in the battle of 1471 that regained the crown for Edward IV.  Tewkesbury Abbey was also the place where his brother George was buried following his execution for treason in 1478.  George apparently still had outstanding debts to the Abbot, and Richard ordered that those debts be satisfied with revenues from nearby royal manors.[21]  It is likely Richard paid his respects at the battlefield and George’s tomb, symbolically highlighting not only the Yorkist military triumph over the Lancastrians but also the implications of George’s death.[22]  Titulus Regius, the 1484 parliamentary act which settled the crown on Richard, would specifically mention the attainder of George and his heirs as a reason why Richard was the next legitimate heir to the throne.  Titulus Regius also sets out to show that Edward IV’s children were illegitimate due to the bigamy of their parents.  Therefore it is not surprising that Ludlow, where Edward IV’s Prince of Wales had had his household for almost a decade, was not part of Richard’s royal progress despite the fact that it could have easily been put on the itinerary.  It is probably safe to assume that Richard would not have had a very warm reception there.

The entourage traveled to Worcester, where the king resided at the Cathedral Priory, and then moved on to Warwick Castle, where Queen Anne joined the royal party, and there was a pause of several days.[23]  Warwick Castle had been the place where the Kingmaker imprisoned Edward IV in 1469, and became George of Clarence’s principal residence after his marriage to Isabel Neville.  Coming into possession of Warwick Castle after George’s attainder, Richard instigated the construction of two gun towers, the Bear and Clarence towers, and he probably spent time inspecting the ongoing work during his six days there.

The royal party then moved to Coventry before progressing to Leicester and then Nottingham.  The choice of Coventry may have been logistical, but the symbolic value of a Yorkist monarch making his royal progress there would have been noted.  In 1471, Coventry had lost its civic liberties as punishment for backing the Kingmaker during the readeption of Henry VI. In 1469, Edward IV suffered the humiliation of being captured near Coventry, and Earl Rivers and Sir John Woodville were executed by the Kingmaker at Gosford Green on the edge of the city the same month.  Coventry had strong Lancastrian connections, but in 1474 it worked hard to redeem itself by welcoming the king, his queen, and his heir, with festivities and streets filled with performers, music and singing, pipes running with wine, incense burning, and cakes and flowers being cast to observers.[24]  That Richard chose to honor Coventry with his royal progress shows how successfully it had been converted to a Yorkist city.

At Leicester, the king began to occupy himself with planning his royal entry into the city of York.  He issued a summons for 19 knights and 52 gentlemen to meet him at Pontefract on August 27 in anticipation of the procession.  Those summoned included Northumberland, Surrey, Lincoln, Lovell, Fitzhugh, Stanley, Strange, Lisle and Greystoke, and the bishops of Durham, Worcester, St Asaph, Carlisle and St David’s, with their attendants, to be with him when he reached York.[25]  Edward of Middleham was named Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, with the powerful earl of Kildare being appointed as acting deputy.[26]  It was also from Leicester that Richard issued a letter to Louis XI, which was cheekily delivered by one of the grooms of his stable, in which he promised to honor past treaties and requested the French to refrain from molesting English merchant ships.[27]

The king then progressed to Nottingham Castle, where he would spend much of his reign and complete the remodeling work started by Edward IV.[28]  While there, Richard created his son Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester:  “And we invest him as the custom is by the girding on of the sword, the handing over and setting of the garland on his head, and of the gold ring on his finger, and of the gold staff in his hand.”[29]  The decree uses language that suggests some trepidation (“We have turned the gaze of our inward eye to the greatness of this noble state and of its members, having great care that, in the great anxieties which press upon us, those who are necessary to support us should not now seem to be lacking”), but many historians believe the verbiage is typical for such proclamations.  It also poetically employs celestial imagery, and as historian Anne Sutton observed, presages the concept of the monarch being like the sun with his court surrounding him like planets:  “The clarity and charity of the sun’s light is so great that when it is poured on the other heavenly bodies the sun shines with no less light and splendor, nor does it suffer any diminution of its strength, rather it is pleased to be seen, to shine as a king in the midst of his nobles and to adorn the greater and lesser stars in the whole court of heaven with his outstanding light.  Which without doubt we should take as an example seeing the vocation to which we are called, that is, by the favour of the almighty to govern and be set at the head of all the mortals of this realm.”[30]

At Nottingham, Richard’s secretary John Kendall wrote to York’s mayor, recorder, aldermen, and sheriffs, complimenting the city, saying how fond the king was of it, and “hinting broadly that a splendid reception for the king and queen would be in order upon their arrival in York”.[31]  The civic leadership in York was ahead of Kendall, and had already been discussing the expected visit as early as the end of July.[32]

August 27-October 17:  Pontefract (2 nights), York (23), Pontefract (19), Gainsborough (1), Lincoln (6)

 Richard III’s royal progress spent the largest portion of its time in the north – a total of 44 days – indicating a dramatic shift from where Yorkists had traditionally drawn support.  Although Richard’s father and brother had borne the title Duke of York, the north was a bastion of Lancastrian support for much of the Wars of the Roses.  In 1460, the duke’s decapitated head was displayed at York’s Micklegate Bar in a mocking tribute; in 1461-64, there were Lancastrian uprisings in Carlisle and Hexham; in 1471, the city of York reluctantly opened its gates to Edward IV only after he promised to seek his ducal inheritance and not the crown.[33]  That Richard had chosen York as the city for his most prominent display of royal authority, one that the Crowland Chronicler described as a second coronation, shows how much had changed in the intervening years.[34]  The city of York was no longer repulsing a pretender to the throne, but was instead welcoming a king and paying tribute to a prince who had often interceded on its behalf.

The royal entry was carefully timed and organized to maximize its symbolic meaning. Those 71 lords and knights who had earlier been summoned now joined the king and queen at Pontefract, along with Prince Edward, who had journeyed from Middleham.  On August 29, the sheriff of York and other officials met the royal entourage with their rods of office at Tadcaster and led it towards the city.  At Breckles Milles, still outside the city, the procession was joined by the mayor and aldermen, dressed in scarlet, and by other civic officers and leading citizens in their ceremonial robes.  Although a litter had been provided for his journey from Middleham, the king’s 10-year old son rode on horseback during the entry into York, indicating he was not as frail as some have suggested.[35]  The residents of York were on hand to greet the procession as it passed by St James’ Chapel and into the city through Micklegate Bar.  Just within the walls, on streets hung with tapestries and arras, was staged the first of three pageants for the entertainment of the royal party, with the next being staged at the bridge crossing the River Ouse, and the third in Stayngate.

The date of the royal entry, August 29, was the Feast of the Decollation [Beheading] of St John the Baptist.  In 15th century England, the image of the head of St John the Baptist on a platter was symbolic of the Eucharist sacrament and the doctrine of transubstantiation.  This feast day had special importance to York’s Guild of Corpus Christi, of which the king and queen had been members since 1477, because it was dedicated to honoring the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.[36]  The guild was responsible for presenting the famous mystery plays (the Creed and Corpus Christi plays) in which the streets of York became venues for processions and staging of various scenes from the Bible and Christ’s life and passion.  Richard III’s royal progress in York drew upon these traditions.  Not only did he specifically request a performance of the Creed Play, but his royal entry through York also followed the same processional route used during the annual June Feast of Corpus Christi.  “As their actors trod the Via Crucis through their own streets, so now their king came among them as the incarnate and temporal representative of divine order.  Richard would not have missed the significance of making his triumphal entry on what was, in York, tantamount to a second Feast of Corpus Christi”.[37]  For Yorkist adherents who remembered the decapitation of Richard’s father and the display of his head on Micklegate Bar, the symbolic import of commemorating the Baptist’s decapitation would have been much more politically charged and may have represented a kind of atonement for the injustices of bygone days.

As the cavalcade moved through the city, the mayor, John Newton, delivered a speech of welcome and offered a gift to the king of one hundred marks of plate.  Newton himself had contributed Ł20 to the royal presents, and spent additional sums on entertainment during the royal visit.  The royal procession carried on through the city to York Minster for an ecclesiastical reception.  The Cathedral Church of St Peter of York would have been an impressive backdrop for the royal reception.  The great tower had been rebuilt early in the century, and the southwestern tower was almost new.  It was at the west door of York Minster that the king was formally received by a delegation of ecclesiastics headed by the dean.  The dean was Dr. Robert Booth, a Cambridge-educated legist and a member of a highly accomplished Lancashire family.  Booth became dean in 1477 through the patronage of his uncle, Archbishop Lawrence (d. 1480), who had been Keeper of the Privy Seal and Chancellor of England in the reign of Edward IV.[38]  The current Archbishop of York, Thomas Rotherham, was out of favor and thus not in attendance; he would, however, be restored not long after this event, and would serve as one of the triers of petitions during Richard’s III only parliament.

An eyewitness recorded the events as the dean and his fellow clergymen, all strikingly vested in copes of violet silk, welcomed the visitors.  The king was sprinkled with holy water and censed as he made his way into the cathedral church.  Richard was not a passive actor in the ceremonies taking place.  He made his way to a prie-dieu beside the baptismal font, and there he said a Paternoster; some historians suggest this was the first time an English king led a congregation in public prayer.  “The succentor of the vicars choral began the liturgical response De Trinitate with the words Honor, virtus, and it was finished by the choir standing before the steps of the high altar.  Then there was a pause long enough for a Paternoster and an Ave Maria.  Then Dean Booth began the prayer Et ne nos inducas for the benefit of the king.  Following the prayer, the dean and canons processed to their stalls in the cathedral choir, together with the other clergy, as the organ intoned the Amen.  We are told that the officiating prelate (prelate executor officii), most likely Dean Booth, began the psalm Te Deum laudamus, which was concluded by the choir and organ.  Immediately thereafter the succentor chanted the antiphon of the Trinity beginning with the words Gracias tibi, Deus, with a versicle and prayer to the Trinity.  The service now being concluded, the royal party left York Minster for the short walk northwest to the palace of the Archbishop of York where the royal family stayed during their visit.”[39]

On August 31st, the king decided to have his son invested as Prince of Wales while in York.  On this date, Richard sent an urgent message to Peter Courteys, keeper of the Great Wardrobe in London, outlining goods he wished transported to York.  These included two short gowns of crimson cloth of gold, a cloak with a cape of violet lined in black velvet, a stomacher of purple satin and another of tawny satin, enough white cloth of gold for the trappings of a horse, other gowns, spurs, and five coats of arms for heralds, together with forty trumpet banners and 13,000 badges of Richard’s white boar emblem.  Processional banners were requested of the Virgin Mary, Trinity, St George, St Edward, St Cuthbert, and one of Richard’s arms, along with three coats of arms beaten with fine gold for Richard himself.[40]

The week of September 1st to the 7th was filled with banquets and hospitality leading up to Prince Edward’s investiture.  On Sunday, September 7, the Creed Play (an abbreviated version of the cycle of mystery plays) was performed for an audience that included the king, the mayor, twelve aldermen, and York’s Council of Twenty-Four.  The next day, September 8th, the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was the occasion of Prince Edward’s investiture as the eighth Prince of Wales to be recognized by an English king.  The same eyewitness that recorded the king’s arrival in York provides the account of events.  “A procession led by the king and queen, both wearing crowns, entered York Minster for mass.  The procession included Prince Edward, temporal and spiritual lords, and other dignitaries.  The officiating prelate was Bishop William Dudley of Durham, and the focal point of the high altar of the cathedral was enhanced by silver figures of the twelve apostles, as well as other ornaments of gilt and numerous relics, all provided by the king.  The assemblage remained at mass until the sixth hour of evening.  Then, following mass, all returned to the archbishop’s palace, and there in the hall before dinner the king invested his son as Prince of Wales by arming or girding Edward with a sword, presenting him with a gold rod and ring, and placing a coronet on his head.  A four-hour dinner, during which the royal family sat crowned, continued into the evening.”[41]  On the same day, Richard made knights of his illegitimate son John of Gloucester and the ambassador from Queen Isabella of Castile (Gaufrid de Sasiola) who had joined the royal progress at Warwick in the company of Queen Anne and who had come to England expecting Edward V on the throne.[42] The ceremonial sword used in Prince Edward’s investiture is still on display at the British Museum.[43]

On September 17th, the king summoned the mayor, aldermen, and other citizens to meet with him in the Chapter House of York Minster.  “It soon became apparent that Richard had been dazzled by his reception in York.  The king, without any petition on their part (or so the record states), thanked the assembly for their good service to him before he came to the throne and at his recent coronation.  Richard cited the decay and poverty of the city, which was indeed experiencing an economic slump, although it was still likely second in size only to London in the kingdom.  He then went on to promise that the city would have a substantial reduction in the annual fee farm due to the crown, from a sum on the order of Ł160 to about Ł100, and Mayor Newton was appointed Richard’s chief serjeant-at-arms with an annual fee of Ł18 5s.  The financial arrangements were also meant to encourage trade in York by allowing any lawful non-resident to sell in the market of York without paying tolls.”[44]

The royal party departed York on September 20th or 21st, having stayed there for more than three weeks.  From there, the king went to Pontefract for 17-18 days, and then traveled to Gainsborough, where (according to local history) he spent the evening of October 10 at Gainsborough Old Hall, a grand manor house built by Sir Thomas Burgh in 1460.[45]  Richard was at Lincoln on October 11, and made a gift to Barnard Castle of Ł40 toward the building of the Church of Our Blessed Lady, and gave some money to the wardens for the feast of St. Martin.[46]  It was here that he first heard that a great rebellion had broken out in the southern counties, headed by his erstwhile ally, Henry Duke of Buckingham.  The uprising was originally meant to restore Edward V to the throne but when rumors of his death spread, the Lancastrian claimant Henry Tudor was invited to join the rebellion.[47]  On hearing the news of the rebellion, the king moved to Grantham, where he wrote to Chancellor Russell asking for the Great Seal, and expressed in a postscript, added in his own hand, his outrage at the desertion of Buckingham.[48]

January 10-17:  London to Canterbury and Sandwich

The southern rebellions cut short the king’s progress, but by January he was able to resume a “convivial and splendid” role.[49]  He invited the citizens of London to his Epiphany feast on January 6 at Westminster Palace’s White Hall, during which he wore his crown.  He presented the mayor with a gold cup set with pearls and gems, offered to make the borough of Southwark part of the city’s jurisdiction, and to give Ł10,000 for the building of walls and ditches around it.  “Richard was rewarding the citizens for their financial assistance, and he was also, like Edward IV before him, adeptly making available the luxuries of his court – its wines, cooking, fine napery, music and good manners – beyond its usual aristocratic confines, and welcoming to it his merchants and townsmen.”[50]

The king then traveled with an entourage to Canterbury, where there was a formal reception along the lines of how Edward IV had been received in 1461.  This can be deduced from the Canterbury City Archives, which date Richard’s entry from January 10-12, 1484: “For the Lord King on his first coming to Canterbury — And paid for a purse bought at London – 26s 8d, which purse with Ł33 6s 8d in gold, collected from the mayor and his brethren and thirty-six of the better sort of persons of the city of Canterbury, was given and offered to the Lord King and which the Lord King with gracious actions ordered to be redelivered to the said persons from whom the said sum had been collected.  This being done the said purse was given to Doctor Langton, at that time Bishop of St. Davids, on account of his many acts of kindness and favours to the citizens of Canterbury.  Upon all these considerations the aforesaid mayor and his brethren presented the following gifts to the Lord King.  Firstly paid to John Burton for four great fattened beefs – Ł7.  And paid to the same John Burton for twenty fattened rams – 66s 8d.  And paid for twenty capons of various prices given to the Lord King – 21s 10d.  And paid for six capons given to the Bishop of St Davids and other bishops then with the King – 6s.  And paid to John Stoubregge for two gold beads given to the Bishop of St Davids and the Bishop of ‘Seynt Tasse’ – 5s 4d.  TOTAL Ł13 6s 6d.”[51]

Richard then departed from Canterbury to Sandwich where he stayed several days overseeing the preparation of ships to send against the Bretons and French.[52]  Edward IV, similarly, had taken in Sandwich while on his royal progress.  Richard appears to have fitted in a visit to Dover where the citizens bought an ox and capons to feed him and his entourage at the castle.  A note in the Canterbury Chamberlain’s Account records that the King’s secretary was given three gallons of red wine and two gallons of white wine by order of the mayor on the occasion when “the Lord King returned from Sandwich to Canterbury”.[53]

The Canterbury records note that, rather than lodging at the Archbishop of Canterbury’s palace or St. Augustine’s Abbey, the king was accommodated at a place called “Le Hale” outside the city.  The Le Hale costs included payments for carpentry work, repairing the road, for the carriage of furniture, cushions and for hangings of cloth of gold and silver loaned by various citizens, and for the provision of wine and food.  This would explain the “first coming” or “first arrival” to be the occasion of the ceremony of the purse with presumably one or more other “arrivals” into the city after the king’s return from Sandwich.[54]

One author[55] has offered the theory that the mention of “Le Hale” refers to a hill in the Royal Forest of Blean near the town of Harbledown, the latter of which was part of the established route where pilgrims would remove their shoes and walk penitent to the Shrine of Thomas à Becket.  The road was likely quite travel-worn and in need of repairs although this could probably be said for other local roads.  The same author deduces that King Richard’s mental state was burdened by guilt from past nefarious deeds and his choice of Le Hale as base camp indicates he walked as penitent pilgrim from Harbledown to Canterbury.

Whether King Richard traveled on The Pilgrim’s Way cannot be determined with any accuracy since the precise location of “Le Hale” has never been ascertained.  But even if he did act as a pilgrim, this is no more evidence of a particularly guilty mind than when Henry V came on pilgrimage to Canterbury soon after Agincourt and then again the following year in 1416 with the Emperor Sigismund.[56]  It would have been an act of conventional piety, albeit with the added spectacle of the king’s presence.  Whatever we are to make of this leg of his progress, King Richard returned to London a few days before the opening of parliament on the 23rd of January, and proceeded to take the reigns of government without any outward signs of remorse or a guilty mind.

Final Observations

What can we conclude about Richard III’s royal progress?  Historians uniformly observe it shows he was well aware of the importance of public display as part of the art of kingship.  He was adept with the techniques used by a king to cultivate the good will of his subjects.  He achieved this by easing their financial burdens, granting charters, and – where possible – using his own money to defray expenses.[57]  One of the striking differences between Richard’s royal progress and Edward IV’s is how often Richard declined gifts of money compared to how often Edward accepted them.  It also shows he was effective at dealing with city officers and the ecclesiastical community.  So successful was the precedent of Richard III’s use of royal display in his coronation and progress that Henry VII copied much of it in 1485.[58]

Questions still remain.  For instance, where did Richard intend his royal progress to go before it was interrupted by “Buckingham’s Rebellion”?  Was he intending to progress from Lincoln to Fotheringhay, his birthplace and the final resting place of his father, brother Edmund, and uncle?  It would have been a fitting bit of symbolism.  Would he have then progressed to Cambridge University to visit the construction work on King’s College chapel or to tour Queen’s College, both of which would become beneficiaries of his royal generosity?  It is enticing to think of the possibilities.

Also, why did Richard seem to make a sudden decision to invest his son Edward as Prince of Wales in York when the precedent was to do so at Westminster?  Was this necessitated by the mysterious “enterprise” noted in his July 29th letter to Chancellor Russell, which may have required him to firmly establish Edward of Middleham as his heir and thus dilute any popular uprisings in the name of Edward IV’s sons?  Or was it merely a reflection that York was a more reliable ally than London during this politically delicate time?

Finally, how did the people of England respond to Richard III’s royal progress?  The Crowland Chronicler was particularly sour, noting that while King Richard was popularly received, his royal progress nevertheless wasted the large treasure acquired by Edward IV through diligence and thrift.  Although that has been shown to be untrue by Rosemary Horrox’s review of the financial memoranda,[59] we do have an eye-witness account rendered by Thomas Langton, Bishop of St David’s.  Langton was with the king at York, and later in Canterbury, and his words ring more faithful to the historical record than those of an unknown cleric who harbored a deep prejudice against northerners.

In Langton’s words:

He contents the people where he goes best that ever did prince; for many a poor man that hath suffered wrong many days have been relieved and helped by him and his commands in his progress.  And in many great cities and towns were great sums of money given him which he hath refused.  On my troth I liked never the conditions of any prince so well as his; God hath sent him to us for the weal of us all.[60]

– Written and Copyrighted 2020 by Susan Troxell, originally published in the Ricardian Register, the journal of the American Branch of the Richard III Society

Author’s Note:  I would like to credit Dr. Compton Reeves and Pamela Tudor-Craig, in particular, for their very detailed descriptions and analyses of Richard III’s entry into York.  Their articles, which provided a wealth of information for this essay, are listed in the Sources below.  Rhoda Edwards’ Itinerary provides a definitive resource for Richard III’s whereabouts, citing to Signet Office and other government records.

SOURCES:

 Carolyn Donohue, “Public Display and the Construction of Monarchy in Yorkist England 1461-1485”, Ph.D. Dissertation, University of York, 2013.

Rhoda Edwards, The Itinerary of King Richard III 1483-1485 (Richard III Society, 1983)

P. W. Hammond, “Richard III at York”, The Ricardian, No. 41 (June 1473), pp. 3-4

P. W. Hammond & Anne F. Sutton, Richard III: The Road to Bosworth Field (London 1985)

Rosemary Horrox, “Richard III and London”, The Ricardian, Vol.  VI, No. 85 (June 1984) pp. 322-329

Horrox & Hammond (eds.), British Library Harleian MS 433 (Richard III Society, 1980)

David M. Luitweiler, “A King, a Duke and a Bishop”, The Ricardian Register (Winter 2004) pp. 4-10

Mulryne, Aliverti, Tastaverde (eds.), “Ceremony and the Iconography of Power”, Ceremonial Entries in Early Modern Europe: the Iconography of Power (Ashgate, 2015)

Nicholas Pronay & John Cox (eds.): The Crowland Chronicle Continuations 1459-1486 (Alan Sutton, 1986)

Compton Reeves, “King Richard III at York in Late Summer 1483”, The Ricardian, Vol. XII, No. 159 (December 2002), pp. 542-553

Cora L. Scofield, The Life and Reign of Edward the Fourth King of England and of France and Lord of Ireland, Volume 1 (London, 1923)

Anne Sutton, “The Court and its Culture in the Reign of Richard III”, in Richard III: A Medieval Kingship (John Gillingham ed.), New York, 1993, pp. 75-92

Anne Sutton, “Richard III’s visits to Canterbury”, The Ricardian, Vol. 5, No. 73 (June 1981), pp. 363-366

Anne Sutton & Peter Hammond (eds.), The Coronation of Richard III: the Extant Documents (Alan Sutton 1983)

H. Thomas & I. D. Thornley, The Great Chronicle of London (Alan Sutton 1983)

Pamela Tudor-Craig, “Richard III’s Triumphant Entry into York, August 29th, 1483, Richard III and the North (Horrox, ed.), University of Hull (1986), pp. 108-116

Pamela Tudor-Craig, Richard III NPG Exhibition, 2d ed. (1977)

Warkworth’s Chronicle (Camden Society, reprinted 1968)

 

[1] Scofield, p. 201.

[2] Sutton, Coronation, p. 76, quoting Fortescue.

[3] From The Arrivall:  “Hereupon, the ix. day of Aprell, th’Archbyshope callyd unto hym togethars, at Seint Powles, within the Citie of London, suche lords, gentlemen, and othar, as were of that partye, [with] as many men in harneys of theyr servaunts and othar as they cowthe make, which, in all, passed nat in nombar vj or vij{m} men, and thereupon, cawsed Henry, called Kynge, to take an horse and ryde from Powles thrwghe Chepe, and so made a circute abowte to Walbroke, as the generall processyon of London hathe bene accustomyd, and so returned agayne to Powles, to the Bysshops Palays, where the sayd Henry at that tyme was lodged, supposynge, that, whan he had shewed hym in this arraye, they shuld have provokyd the citizens, and th’enhabitants of the citie, to have stonde and comen to them, and fortified that partye; but, threwthe it is, that the rewlars of the citie were at the counsell, and hadd set men at all the gates and wardes, and they, seynge by this manner of doinge, that the power of the sayde Henry, and his adherents, was so litle and feble as there and then was shweyd, they cowld thereby take no corage to draw to them, ne to fortefye theyr partye, and, for that they fearyd, but rathar the contrary, for so moche as they sawe well that, yf they wolde so have done, ther myght was so lytle that it was nat for them to have ones attemptyd to have resystid the Kynge [Edward] in his comynge, whiche approched nere unto the citie, and was that nyght at Seint Albons.”

[4] Thomas, Great Chronicle, p. 215.

[5] Mulryne, p. 1.

[6] See, for instance, Anne Sutton & Livia Visser-Fuchs, “The Entry of Quyeen Elizabeth Woodville over London Bridge, 24 May 1465”, The Ricardian, 2009, pp 1-31.

[7] The Crowland Continuator was not as accurate when describing it as a squandering of Edward IV’s huge treasure.  As Rosemary Horrox showed in her study of the financial memoranda under Edward V, Edward IV’s treasury had already been depleted when Sir Edward Woodville was given charge of the fleet in the days following Edward IV’s death.  Horrox, Financial Memoranda of the Reign of Edward V, in Camden Miscellany, Vol. XXIX (London 1987), p. 213.

[8] Linda Briggs, “Concernant le service de leurs dictes Majestez et auctorité de leur justice: Perceptions of Royal Power in the Entries of Charles IX and Catherine de Médicis (1564-1566), in Mulrayne (ed.) Ceremonial Entries pp. 37-52

[9] Scofield, vol. 1, p 197.

[10] Harleian MS 433, vol. 2, pp. 4-5.

[11] Luitweiler, pp. 4-6, citing Magdalen College Register “A” f.27.b.

[12] Reeves, p. 545.

[13] Luitweiler, p. 9.

[14] Tudor-Craig, NPG, p. 55.

[15] Horrox, “Richard III and London”, p. 326, note 11.

[16] “Richard III and the City of Gloucester”, https://gloucestershirearchives.wordpress.com/2015/03/16/richard-iii-and-the-city-of-gloucester/

[17] http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1386-1421/constituencies/gloucester

[18] Scofield, p. 199.

[19] Donohue dissertation, p. 30.

[20] Donohue dissertation, p. 30.

[21] Edward IV had earlier ordered that the same royal manors convey 100 marks to the Abbot of Tewkesbury to satisfy George’s debt.  However, it is interesting to see how Richard refers to his two brothers in this grant, referring to “oure late brothere the Duc of Clarence whome god pardonne” versus “the famous prince of moost noble memorie king Edward the iiijth”.  Horrox and Hammond, Harleian MS 433, vol. 2, p. 7.

[22] PRO C81/886/18Reeves, p. 545.

[23] Reeves, p. 545.

[24] Donohue, pp. 30-31.

[25] Tudor-Craig, Triumphant Entry, p. 109.

[26] Reeves p. 545, citing Horrox and Hammond, Harleian MS 433, vol. 1 p. 75; Hammond and Sutton, Richard III: The Road to Bosworth, pp. 130-34.

[27] Hammond/Sutton, pp. 128-129.

[28] Reeves p. 545.

[29] Pamela Tudor-Craig believed that the proclamation of Edward of Middleham as Prince of Wales may partially explain why Buckingham parted ways with Richard III and rebelled.  Under Edward V, Buckingham was appointed Chief Justice and Chamberlain of north and south Wales, and upon Edward V’s coronation, would remain so until the king had a male heir.  But with Edward V’s deposition, Richard III effectively and “prematurely” cut short Buckingham’s status (and revenue streams) in Wales since the new Prince of Wales would come into his majority within a half-dozen years or so.   “By declaring his son Edward Prince of Wales, Richard III in effect ended his minority.  The letters sent by the newly created prince from York to the knights and esquires of north and south Wales to continue to pay their dues to our ‘right trusty & righte entirely beloved Cousyne the duc of Buckingham’ did not convey the same message as they had contained on 15th May when Buckingham received those Welsh offices during the Protectorate.”  From that point onwards Buckingham was only the agent, who would be required to transfer the funds to the Prince of Wales.  The letters from the new Prince of Wales went out on September 16.  By October 11, Buckingham was known to be in rebellion.  Tudor-Craig, Triumphant Entry, pp. 109-110.

[30] Hammond/Sutton, p. 138 citing Harleian MS 433 vol. 2, pp. 82-3.  Tudor-Craig, Triumphant Entry, p. 109-110.

[31] Reeves, pp. 545-6.

[32] Hammond/Sutton 139-40, citing Harleian 433 MS, vol. 2, p, 42.

[33] Warkworth’s Chronicle, p. 14.

[34] “Wishing therefore to display in the North, where he had spent most of his time previously, the superior royal rank, which he acquired for himself in this manner, as diligently as possible, he left the royal city of London and passing through Windsor, Oxford and Coventry came at length to York. There, on a day appointed for the repetition of his crowning in the metropolitan church, he presented his only son, Edward, whom, that same day, he had created prince of Wales with the insignia of the gold wand and the wreath; and he arranged splendid and highly expensive feasts and entertainments to attract to himself the affection of many people.  There was no shortage of treasure then to implement the aims of his so elevated mind since, as soon as he first thought about his intrusion into the kingship, he seized everything that his deceased brother, the most glorious King Edward, had collected with the utmost ingenuity and the utmost industry, many years before, as we have related above, and which he had committed to the use of his executors for the carrying out of his last will.” Pronay & Cox, Crowland Chronicle, pp. 161-163.

[35] Tudor-Craig, Triumphant Entry, p. 109.

[36] Alexandra Johnson, “The Plays of the Religious Guilds of York:  The Creed Play and the Pater Noster Play,” Speculum, 1975, pp. 55-90.

[37] Tudor-Craig, Triumphant Entry, pp. 111-113, quotation from p 113.

[38] Reeves, p. 547.

[39] Reeves, p. 548.

[40] Reeves, pp. 548-9.

[41] Reeves, pp. 549-550.

[42] Reeves p. 550.

[43]http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=43481&partId=1

[44] Reeves p. 550.

[45] https://www.gainsborougholdhall.com/about-the-old-hall/royal-visitors

[46] Hammond/Sutton, Road to Bosworth, p. 137.

[47] Hammond/Sutton p. 141.

[48] Hammond/Sutton p. 144.

[49] Sutton, Court & its Culture, pp. 77-79.

[50] Sutton, Court & its Culture, pp. 77-79.

[51] Hammond/Sutton, 152-153, citing Canterbury City Archives, Chamberlains’ Accounts, Michaelmas 1483-Michaelmas 1484, f. 13b, quoted in The Ricardian, 1980, vol. 5, p. 283.

[52] Edwards, Itinerary of Richard III, p. xiii.

[53] Sutton/Hairsine, “Richard III’s visits to Canterbury”, p. 365.

[54] Sutton, “Richard III’s visits to Canterbury”, pp. 365-66.

[55] Amy License, “New evidence: Was Richard III guilty of murdering the Princes in the Tower?, New Statesman, 5 March 2013.

[56] “Canterbury and the Battle of Agincourt,” January, 2016 lecture given by Dr David Grummit, Canterbury Christ Church University, reported in https://blogs.canterbury.ac.uk/kenthistory/canterbury-and-the-battle-of-agincourt/.  Adam of Usk also reported that Henry V walked barefooted from Shrewsbury to St. Winefride’s Well, which is believed to have occurred in 1416.

[57] Reeves, p. 551.

[58] Sutton, Court & its Culture, pp. 77-79.

[59] See note 7, above.

[60] Adapted from Hammond/Sutton, p. 135.  Richard developed the work of the royal council receiving the petitions of the poor who could not afford the usual processes of the law.  He appointed a special clerk to deal with these matters.  From this developed the Court of Requests.  (“December 27, 1483.  Grant for the life to the king’s servitor John Haryngton, for his good service before the lords and others of the council and elsewhere and especially in the custody, registration and expedition of bills, requests and supplications of poor persons, of an annuity of Ł20 at the receipt of the Exchequer and the office of clerk of the council of the said requests and supplications, with all commodities.”  Hammond/Sutton 151, citing Calendar of Patent Rolls 1476-1485, London 1954, no. 1152, p. 413.)

 

Lancastrians unfairly condemn another King Richard….

 

taken from the article referred to below

The article that prompts this post is the first of three concerning the history of the House of Lancaster. There are some sweeping statements that are eminently challengeable, but then it’s Lancastrian about Lancastrians, so bias is bound to be present.

The first Lancastrian monarch usurped the throne of his first cousin, Richard II, whom he then had murdered, and he had to justify this dreadful act for the rest of his life. There was, of course, a later Henry (VII) who represented the House of Lancaster and killed the incumbent king, Richard III by treachery in battle. So Lancastrian Henrys seemed to specialise in taking thrones by ridding themselves of the Richards who were already the anointed kings. Biased? Moi? Well, it goes with the territory if you happen to support the other side.

The article claims that Richard II and his cousin, Henry (to be IV) formed a “strong bond” as boys. Well, they were first cousins, but I don’t think they were ever that close. Henry was forever being held up as a shining example of manly strengths and virtues etc, whereas Richard was “…pampered…the coming saviour…compared himself to Christ…had a mean streak…[and] ever inflating ego”. Furthermore “…whilst Richard swanned about court with his young councillors pandering too him, Henry Bolingbroke was fighting in tournaments, learning the art of war, building his prestige”.

Right, well that’s Richard neatly encapsulated as a self-centred weirdo par excellence!

Apparently “Within four years of his reign thousands of angry peasants, led by the rebel leader Wat Tyler, stormed London.” This was Richard’s fault? No, he was a boy of fourteen, it was the magnates and royal advisers who were in charge. Especially Henry’s father, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, who was loathed across the land. But mustn’t mentioned that.

Anyway, this is a flavour of the article, which goes on to rip Richard apart while raising Henry on an ever higher pedestal. Like Richard III, Richard II is almost always bad-mouthed by historians, but I don’t think he was the dangerous, tyrannical prat he’s made out to be. On the contrary, there was far more to him than meets the casual eye, and his motives have been misunderstood. He tried hard to change the status quo in England, but in the end he failed. And he deserves better than this pro-Lancastrian article.

One thing. A typo, I trust. “Henry was popular, a military leader and willing to listen to the ascent of parliament, he was everything Richard wasn’t.” One wonders exactly how high Parliament ascended….

 

 

What distilled spirit might perk up a 14th-century English prince? Was the hard stuff even around then…?

 

Edward of Woodstock, the “Black Prince”
taken from https://davedoeshistory.wordpress.com/2018/08/09/the-first-duke-of-cornwall-edward-the-black-prince/

Rightly or wrongly, when someone has had a shock, it’s often the impulse of those around him/her to offer a “stiff drink”. This usually means spirits, although I admit that in Britain a cup of tea is as likely “to do the trick”! The spirits thing appears in novels and films, and is well known. But what happened back in 14th-century England? Did they even have distilled spirits? For drinking, that is, because maybe such things were indeed available for medicinal use. At what point did medicinal become recreational? When was it realized that if handled with care, spirit could be a very pleasing and restorative tipple?

As a writer, I wanted to find a suitable pick-me-up that might have been administered to the Black Prince toward the end of his life, when after many years of debilitating illness he became prone to fainting. The search was on. What was available as a quick restorative?

I started by asking the following question on the excellent British Medieval History group on Facebook:- “Does anyone know of a distilled spirit that was available in 14th-century England? All the ones that are common now—whisky/whiskey, brandy, vodka, rum, gin, etc. etc.—seem to be much later. At least, they do according to Merriam-Webster. Did they simply have different names? Or is M-W wrong? So, any ideas, ladies and gentlemen?”

Well, the members of the group were extremely helpful, full of suggestions, in fact, and I thank them, most sincerely. They’re stars, each and every one. But so many of them responded that I can’t possibly credit them all by name, so what follows now is a sort-of compilation of these suggestions and my own additions. And the images are my choice, of course, and may not fully indicate the type of drink referred to in the text.

To begin with, mead cropped up a lot in the answers, and yes, it was certainly around then, but it’s made by fermenting honey and water, so isn’t distilled. Therefore it doesn’t have the kick of spirits. Other common drinks were ale and wine. But nothing distilled.

Something called aqua vitae (which is usually taken to mean whiskey/whisky) was around in Ireland in 1405, but had a very detrimental effect at Christmas that year.  The 17th-century Irish Annals of Clonmacnoise record that the death of a chieftain was blamed on “taking a surfeit of aqua vitae”. That must have put a damper on the proceedings. The use of “taking” rather confirms that the aqua vitae was drunk and not applied in some other way—but only for the good of his health of course. Well, one supposes it was for the good of his health.

Merriam-Webster defines “aqua vitae” as follows:- (1) Alcohol, especially alcohol obtained by distilling vinous liquids, and (2) A strong liquor (such as brandy or whiskey).  The name derives from the Middle English aqua vite, from Medieval Latin aqua vitae, literally, water of life; probably from the use of brandy as a medicine. First Known Use: 15th century – sense (1). (So it was brandy as well?)

However, undeterred by that unfortunate death at Christmas, the Irish seem to have persevered, because we now have their superb whiskey. Practice does indeed make perfect, although I can’t say how many other casualties there may have been along the way.

Whisky was apparently distilled in Scotland as early as 1495, because a Friar John Cor of Elgin received a payment for aqua vitae, which is recorded in the Exchequer Rolls. This doesn’t mean whisky wasn’t around a lot earlier, of course, just that this seems to be the first recorded mention. Nor, I suppose, does it mean that the aqua vitae in question was necessarily whisky.

It seems that Armagnac, the French brandy, was first written of in the early 14th century. It’s made from distilled wine. Did it cross the Channel/La Manche to delight the nasty roast-beefs? The Hundred Years War won’t have stopped it, that’s for sure.

Armagnac
taken from https://www.visitfrenchwine.com/en/vineyard/visit-the-vineyards-of-armagnac-wine-tourism

Next we come to gin. Someone else wrote: “When analysing a clay pot that was part of a Beaker Culture burial in Scotland (Ava) they found it contained meadowsweet. Their best guess is it came from a distilled Gin like drink. This was obviously long before the Medieval period, but everything available to them was available in the medieval period.”

Meadowsweet? I hadn’t heard of it being used in this way. I suppose the scent isn’t unlike elderflower, which is definitely put in drinks. So I searched for using meadowsweet to make gin, and find that it’s still used for this! See https://theginisin.com/botanicals-list/meadowsweet/ As you will have gathered, I’m not a gin afficionado.

taken from https://www.aroma-academy.co.uk/blogs/news/aroma-of-the-week-gin-aroma-kit-meadowsweet

Some highly respected novelists have referred to a form of gin. Elizabeth Chadwick mentions “ginevra” in her C12th and C13th books, which is a word for gin and refers to juniper, from which that spirit is distilled.  Ellis Peters, in her Cadfael novel St Peter’s Fair, refers to a “strong geneva liquor” and “juniper liquor”.  I would have every faith in these writers knowing what’s correct for their period. So I think some form of gin was available in England by the 14thcentury.

Alchemists and apothecaries may have produced spirits for medicinal purposes, using an apparatus known as an alembic to distill alcohol. See this article I quote one member of the BMH group: “Alembics made of pottery were at least known in the time of Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400), who described “an erthen pot…ycovered with a lampe of glas” in the Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale from the Canterbury Tales, but medieval references remain sparse. The earliest archaeological evidence of distilling equipment in England dates back to the late thirteenth century.” But again, whether the resulting spirits were actually drunk is another matter. Use as a medicinal cure-all seems to have been the general idea, so whether it was taken internally or externally I really can’t say.

taken from https://wellcomecollection.org/works/byc35rfx

Another possibility is freeze “distillation”, which seems to have been known in England at that time. “Not a true distillation process, more like freeze concentrating where drinks like mead and cider were left outside in winter and the water was taken out of them as it froze.” This may indeed have been current in the 14th century, but this present winter of 2019/2020, where I live in the Vale of the River Severn, I’d have been hard put to have the temperatures drop enough to freeze anything! Frost has been thin on the ground, so to speak.

taken from http://www.castlesandmanorhouses.com/life_05_drink.htm

And finally rum, which, of course is usually associated with a pirates and navy men. Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum… But how old is it? I resorted to Wikipedia, which may not always be carved in stone but is nevertheless extremely useful, and found the following:-

“….Vagbhata, an Indian ayurvedic physician (7th century AD) “[advised] a man to drink unvitiated liquor like rum and wine, and mead mixed with mango juice ‘together with friends.’” Shidhu, a drink produced by fermentation and distillation of sugarcane juice, is mentioned in other Sanskrit texts.[13]

“….According to Maria Dembinska, the King of Cyprus, Peter I of Cyprus or Pierre I de Lusignan (9 October 1328 – 17 January 1369), brought rum with him as a gift for the other royal dignitaries at the Congress of Kraków, held in 1364.[14] This is feasible given the position of Cyprus as a significant producer of sugar in the Middle Ages,[15] although the alcoholic sugar drink named rum by Dembinska might not have resembled modern distilled rums very closely. Dembinska also suggests Cyprus rum was often drunk mixed with an almond milk drink, also produced in Cyprus, called soumada.[16]….”

So… ”It’s rum, Jim, but not as we know it.” (Sorry, couldn’t help it.)

This is an interesting article about the history of distilling and if you go to the links in the captions of the above images, you will find some of them take you to more sites about medieval drinking habits. Cheers.

Queen Joan? Oh, no she wasn’t….!

 

The illustration above is from Dan Jones’s book Summer of Blood: the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. Part of the caption is “Queen Joan, Richard II’s mother, pleading with the rebels as the Savoy burned”. Elsewhere in the same book, Joan is referred to as the queen mother.

According to Merriam Webster, the first known use of ‘queen mother’ is 1560, and it is defined as “a queen dowager who is mother of the reigning sovereign”. Joan, of course, was never a queen. She was married to Edward, Prince of Wales (the Black Prince) who died before he ascended the throne. So Joan was only Princess of Wales. This applied even when her son became Richard II. Being the mother of the king didn’t make her a queen (ask Margaret Beaufort!) so Dan Jones’s caption is incorrect, and should read “Joan, Princess of Wales, Richard II’s mother, pleading with the rebels as the Savoy burned”.

How many wives did Sir Simon Burley have….?

Plaque showing location of scaffold on Tower Hill
“Simon of Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury 1381 Sir Robert Hales 1381 Sir Simon de Burley, K.G. 1388 Richard Fitzalan, 3rd Earl of Arundel 1397 Rev. Richard Wyche, Vicar of Deptford 1440 John de Vere, 12th Earl of Oxford 1462 John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester 1470”

Sir Simon Burley, childhood friend, tutor and magister of Richard II, was executed today, 5th May, in 1388. He was the son of a Herefordshire knight, was brought up with the Black Prince, and rose to be one of the most powerful men in the land when he ruled the king’s household. Richard adored and revered him; relied on him. But such a dazzling career, built from nothing but his wits and the sheer childhood good luck that thrust him close to the Black Prince, ensured that he had dangerous enemies. Magnates found themselves excluded increasingly from access to young King Richard (unless they went through Simon) and they didn’t like it one little bit. They wanted great changes in the royal household, formed the group that is known to posterity as the Lords Appellant, and eventually succeeded in having Simon beheaded on Tower Hill, even though Richard II and Anne of Bohemia (on her knees) pleaded for mercy.

The Lords Appellant confront Richard II
Anne of Bohemia begs for the life of Sir Simon Burley

Whether Simon was a good man and good influence on Richard, or a grasping, over-ambitious example of malignity is rather beside the point for the purposes of this article, because I am concerned with the complexities of his marital affairs. Affairs as in the marriages themselves, not what he may have been up to outside his vows.

Many sources say he wasn’t married at all, and therefore had no children. The first part of that sentence is incorrect, the second part correct, because he doesn’t seem to have left any issue. No legitimate issue, that is. For all I know he could have populated a small village.

I came upon Sir Simon’s private life when deciding to include him in the book I’m writing that’s set around the reign of Richard II. I wasn’t going to feature him too much, but then decided I had to. So I needed to know what was what with him, commencing in 1375. From there it was an uphill toil all the way…. 😕

Nigel Saul covers Simon’s marriages in his biography of Richard II (Yale version, p 114). It seems that when Simon was serving in Aquitaine under the Black Prince, he met a lady named Marguerite de Beausse, widow of the seigneur de Machecoul. At least, I imagine this was when they met, and Saul appears to think so too. It may not be so, of course, but there is a mention of Marguerite in French records of the period. My old French isn’t too good, but the gist appears to be that when Marguerite died, there were problems involving her husband Sir Simon Burley and how/what she bequeathed to whom. This eventually required Charles V to make a judgement in July 1369. So we can be sure that Marguerite was Simon’s wife and that she died before that date.

The next we hear of Simon is that he’s married to Beatrice Stafford, widow of Lord de Roos, daughter of Ralph Stafford, 1st Earl of Stafford.

BUT, hang on there, if you look at the genealogical tree below, you will see that this is an error. Beatrice Stafford wasn’t married to Simon, but to his nephew, Sir Richard Burley. This is certain from other sources, as I will soon show

Burley Pedigree – Anecdotes of Sir Paul Pyndar

So, was Simon married to another Stafford lady? It’s also strange that his next supposed wife was a daughter of Lord de Roos. After all, Richard’s Beatrice Stafford was the widow of a Lord de Roos. Maybe uncle and nephew married two Stafford ladies at the same time? Two ladies also associated in some way with this Lord de Roos? Or Simon had one Stafford wife and one de Roos? Whatever, I can only find confirmed references to Beatrice Stafford, widow of Lord de Roos, marrying Sir Richard Burley. It is she who definitely links the names Burley, Stafford and de Roos.

This I know from Dugdale (pp102-103) who gives illustrations of a tomb in old St Paul’s (destroyed in Great Fire) which was erroneously attributed to Simon but was actually that of Richard and Beatrice. She obtained a royal licence to build it, and financed it all, eventually joining her husband there. Another source is the Memorials of the Order of the Garter, Beltz, page 293, which gives details of the same “Simon Burley” tomb and explains that it was actually the resting place of Richard and Beatrice.

Notice on tomb in Old St Paul’s
from Dugdale
Tomb of Sir Richard Burley and Beatrice Stafford, Old St Paul’s
from Dugdale

I learn from London Remembers that in 1392 King Richard and John of Gaunt built a tomb [for Simon] in the presbytery of the abbey church of St Mary Graces on Tower Hill. See the Museum of London.

St Mary Graces, also known as Eastminster, 1543
by Wyngaerde

So, who were the other ladies who may or may not have married Sir Simon? Did they ever actually exist at all – or are they simply confused with his nephew’s wife? Did Simon only ever marry Marguerite de Beausse?

If you know the truth about the occupants of his puzzling marriage bed, please let me know, because the mystery is driving me to distraction!

Did Richard III wear the Black Prince’s Ruby at Bosworth….?

Imperial State Crown, with the Black Prince’s Ruby at the front
from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Prince%27s_Ruby

“….It is said that Henry V wore it [the Black Prince’s Ruby] in his jewel-encrusted helmet at the battle of Agincourt, and Richard III did also at the battle of Bosworth….”

I found the above sentence in a post on the British Medieval History Facebook group. How very intriguing. It’s something I had never heard before. Did Richard really wear the priceless but cursed gem at Bosworth? If so, was he (as one friend has suggested) emulating Henry V? Or even the Black Prince himself?

The ruby is actually “a magnificent 170-carat red spinel, the largest uncut spinel in the world. This particular precious stone, known as ‘the Great Imposter’, has a traceable history dating back seven centuries and is rumoured to be cursed, as its consecutive royal owners have been dogged by adversity, misfortune, tragedy or just downright bad luck.

I learn every day, because not only had I never heard the Richard-at-Bosworth story, but I didn’t know the stone was also called the Great Imposter!

One thing is certain; the ruby certainly doesn’t always mean good luck for its owner, as can be seen at here, which provides a potted history of the ruby’s progress through the centuries. Thankfully, our present queen seems to be bearing up remarkably well in spite of the supposed curse.

It didn’t bring good fortune to the Black Prince, who suffered a truly miserable demise, as did Richard II. The usurper Henry IV didn’t enjoy good health or a happy, trouble-free reign. Henry V was doing brilliantly, until his health was destroyed at an early age. Henry VI…well, he was just the wrong man in the wrong place, and not at all suited to be king. Edward IV was also doing brilliantly, until he took the eye off the ball and allowed himself to go to seed, so to speak. He died young.

Then there is poor Richard, for whom true happiness was always to be elusive. He tried hard to do the right thing, but it’s like being a present-day driver. You can do everything by the book…it’s just the other idiots on the road! Can the ruby be blamed for the deaths of Queen Anne Neville and Richard’s only legitimate son? And for the betrayal and defeat he suffered at Bosworth?

Graham Turner – my favourite image of Richard at Bosworth.
Is it possible that the jewel at the front of his helm is the famous ruby?
from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leicestershire-23106651

And if the fatal gem then proceeded to Henry VII, it didn’t bring him a contented life either. Success as a king, maybe, but he was beset by foes and pretenders to his stolen throne, and I think personal happiness eluded him, especially after the death of his queen, Elizabeth of York. He died in his bed, but it was a miserable death.

The interest of this blog ends with Henry VII – well, it does for me. But the Black Prince’s Ruby has certainly brought mixed blessings to his successors.

Anyway, back to whether or not Richard could have worn it at Bosworth. Does anyone know of this story? Is it fact, or fiction? I hope someone can provide the answer.

Might there be another reconstruction of another English king called Richard….?

3-D model of King Richard III from the channel 4 programme ‘Richard III: The King in the car park’. Experts revealed what he would have looked like (Daily Mail grab).

We all know the amazing reconstruction of the head of Richard III, and the confirmation it gave of how he really had looked. Forget Shakespeare’s Richard III, the real man had been young, good-looking and altogether normal, except for scoliosis that affected his spine. But when he was dressed, it wouldn’t have shown, especially in the sumptuous clothes of the 15th century. So, no murderous, hump-backed monster he. Ricardians always knew it, but the reconstruction from his skull was final, undeniable proof.

I have always been fascinated by the actual appearance of great figures from the past, and want to know if my imagination is creating something even remotely close to the truth. Take Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. I can imagine so much about him, but all I really know of his physical appearance is from his stone likeness of the tomb of his Beauchamp father-in-law in Warwick. There he is, one of many hooded weepers around the tomb, but does that rather grim face really bear any resemblance? Frustratingly, we will probably never know.

Warwick, the “Kingmaker”

Now, while Richard III was the first king I could ever have called my favourite, he now has a companion, his predecessor with the same name, Richard II. And for Richard II, we have what is reckoned to be the first true painted likeness of a King of England – the full-length portrait that now hangs in Westminster Abbey.

Richard II, Westminster Abbey

Richard II’s looks would seem to have been almost oriental, with heavy-lidded, almond-shaped eyes, but his complexion is pale and his curling hair a tumble of auburn curls that is decidedly not oriental. There is another likeness of him, as an older man, taken from his tomb, which bears a marked resemblance to the Westminster Abbey portrait.

 

Richard II, from his Tomb Effigy

Richard III’s portraits were eventually proved to be very like the real man. But would the same be said of Richard II’s portraits, if we were to be fortunate enough to see a reconstruction of his head?

To me, Richard II is visually unlike any other king, but then, we don’t actually know what his predecessors (and some of his successors) really looked like. I think we can be sure from Richard III, Henry VII and onward, but before then, the likenesses we have are rather standard, as if selected from a pattern book.

Effigy of Edward, Prince of Wales, father of Richard II

For instance, we have no true portrait of Richard’s father, the “Black Prince”, unless we count his tomb effigy in Canterbury Cathedral. But as this depicts him in full armour, with close-fitting headwear that rather confines and squashes his features, it’s hard to say what he was really like.

Edward III

However, we surely have a credible image of Richard’s grandfather, the great Edward III, because his tomb effigy is based upon this death mask. And so we see a handsome old man with long hair and matching beard, and a slight droop of the mouth that is reckoned to be proof of a stroke. But we still do not have an actual portrait of him. His grandson’s likeness in Westminster Abbey holds the honour of being the first.

So, did Richard II look like his Westminster Abbey portrait and effigy?

Tomb of Richard II and Anne of Bohemia

In the case of Richard III, we had his skull and sufficient advance in scientific and artistic knowledge to recreate his head. We may not have the skull of Richard II, but we do have the next best thing, because his tomb was opened in 1871, and very detailed drawings were made of his skull, complete with measurements.

One of the 1871 sketches of Richard II’s skull – Fox News

Thought to have been lost, those drawings have been rediscovered in the basement in the National Portrait Gallery, together with a cigarette box containing what are believed to be relics from Richard’s tomb—fragments of wood, probably from the coffin, and a piece of leather thought to have been part of the king’s glove.

The find was made by archivists who were cataloguing the papers of the Gallery’s first director, Sir George Scharf, who had been invited to witness the opening of royal tombs (Richard II, Edward VI, Henry VII, James I and Elizabeth of York) and the date on the cigarette box containing the relics matches that of Sir George’s visit—31st August 1871.

Sir George Scharf

One thing the drawings prove is that Richard was not bludgeoned to death, for there is no sign of damage to the skull. So Shakespeare was wrong about that! He’s wrong about a lot of things when it comes to kings by the name of Richard.

There is more about the skull drawings and relics at this blog and at this article.

And for more of the images, go to this post.

The ghosts of Hellens Manor….

Sometimes, a glance up at the TV screen captures the attention unexpectedly. This happened when Most Haunted was on, and the episode concerned Hellens Manor, Much Marcle in Herefordshire. Hellens is an ancient manor house set in the heart of one of our most picturesque counties. So I took a look at its website  which told me:-

“In 1096 the Manor was granted to the de Balun family who witnessed the signing of the Magna Carta by King John. Thereafter by marriage, deed and gift it passed through the powerful Mortimer family to the Lords Audleys by 1301, who were created Earls of Gloucester in 1337. A nephew, James, one of the Black Prince’s 12 boon companions, rented the Manor yearly from his uncle the Earl for a pair of silver spurs. He eventually leased it to Walter de Helyon whose family gave their name in time to the house. Their descendants still live here, and Walter’s effigy can be seen in St Bartholomew’s Church. (Further information can be found at muchmarcle.net)

“Among Hellens’ attractions are the haunted rooms prepared for Bloody Mary Tudor and her tutor Fetherstone; the Stone Hall and its great fireplace bearing the Black Prince’s crest and the Minstrel Gallery. More recently, in the 19th century Hellens was owned by the Radcliffe Cooke family. Charles Radcliffe Cooke, born at Hellens, was the local MP. Known as the “Member for Cider” he was a passionate supporter of the farming industry in Herefordshire. He encouraged the growth of the cider industry, and was a great believer in the health-giving properties of cider. Our cider mill dates from his time.”

Health-giving properties of cider? Maybe he’d seen too many of the house ghosts! Facetiousness aside, the house and its grounds are quite wonderful, and I find it hard to believe (living as I do not far away in Gloucester) had not heard of it before. It’s a gem, and well worth a visit. But perhaps not after dark.

Bloody Mary’s Bedchamber

From the Lizard to Deptford Bridge – a guest post

An Gof and the Cornish Rebellion 1497

As the early summer sun seared upon Bodmin Moor, sweeping south westwards to Goonhilly Downs , which straddles a swathe of the Lizard Peninsula , the tortured arid landscapes  weren’t the only features of 1497 Cornwall, threatening to ignite in a blaze of fiery agitation. In  1337 the great Plantagenet King Edward III decreed his young son (Edward) “Duke of Cornwall”. The relevant  Charter recognized that Cornwall , was one of the “remarkable places in our kingdoms”. The Duchy acknowledged Cornwall’s “difference” while maintaining a substantial connection to the dynastic regime . It also took jurisdiction of an earlier institution called the Stannaries, which were re-founded  in 1201 during the reign of King John. They offered Cornish tinners (who in 1586 were reported to be “so rough and mutinous , multitude , 10,000 or 12,000 the most strong men in England”! ) licence from the  regular system of law. The Stannary Parliament enjoyed considerable authority which could even overrule Westminster laws. However, there was no exemption from the king’s taxes. 

By  the early 1490s, due to a diminishing  annual tin yield, all was not well . Tensions arose when the Council of Prince Arthur, Duke of Cornwall , declared tougher regulations for the tin industry. Subsequently  as might have been expected of a maverick spirited people the rules were mostly breached . This show of audacity was swiftly curtailed  by an indignant Henry VII who suspended the Cornish Stannary government . Thus the scene was set for an even  greater conflict which revolved around the enduring contention of taxation.

Perkin Warbeck, who was a pretender to the English throne had garnered support in Scotland , which had the effect of precipitating additional national taxes to finance military action against his northern allies. John Arundell , Richard Flamank, John Trevenor, and Thomas Erisey, were the tax assessors in Cornwall. Not surprisingly the hard pressed  Cornish were soon griping about the unwelcome burden to be foisted on them . The initial expression of blatant insurrection was voiced in  the distant parish of St Keverne, situated on the Lizard Peninsula .  The poorest were exempted from the tax, and  it’s been indicted that a prime motive for the dissenters’ rage was the detested tax collector Sir John Oby. The chief advocates of Cornish disapproval were a tough St Keverne,  blacksmith called Michael Joseph , known as An Gof (The Smith) and an  articulate Bodmin lawyer , Thomas Flamank ; son of the tax assessor Richard Flamank . Consequently  their impassioned rhetoric had the effect of giving rise to an insurgent march towards London. On reaching Wells, in Somerset, they were joined by James Tuchet, “Lord Audley”, who became the commander of the force . By June , the rustic band of brothers were closing  on their destination but were to be disappointed as they weren’t reinforced by the previously rebellious men of Kent. Some became disheartened and deserted the cause. The Great Chronicle of London , described a rebel army of 15,000 who were “favoured” by the people of the territories they’d passed through….”but  which became reduced to between 9,000 -10,000 when it eventually  set up camp at Blackheath.

Tragedy at Blackheath:

The rebel encampment was wisely sited on top of a hill ; the plan being  to attack Henry Tudor’s  army (whose total number of 25,000 included 8,000 soldiers assembled by Lord Daubeney in readiness for war with Scotland) from the high ground ; however, in reality victory over  well equipped troops under experienced leadership  by a company  of peasants armed with little more than bows, arrows, scythes and pikes would have been a miracle . Thus, on the morning of the 17th of June 1497, the Cornish found  their position surrounded by the king’s  forces , though Henry, himself  with a huge reserve and artillery kept out of danger at St George’s Fields, in the suburbs of London !  Rebel archers were stationed to block entry to their chosen ground via Deptford Bridge ; letting fly with arrows a full yard long , “so strong and mighty a bow the Cornishmen were said to draw” ! Though initially tested , Daubeney broke through with (depending on conflicting sources) reported losses of between 8 to 300.  Inexperience told when the Cornish  failed to support the archers defending the bridge, offering Royal troops  the opportunity to storm across to engage their men  who had  neither horse nor artillery . Soon , outnumbered and with vastly inferior weapons, the rebellious enterprise, whose slain were put at between 200 and 2,000, which had started out with such burning  fervour was over and, by 2pm Henry VII was riding triumphantly through London . The three principal leaders of the rebellion were all captured and executed . An Gof and fellow Cornishman Flamank, were both drawn, hanged and quartered at Tyburn, on the 27th of June 1497 while Audley, their noble associate was beheaded at Tower Hill on the 28th. Their heads were then gibbeted on London Bridge.

So it was that the Cornish Rebellion of 1497 ended in military defeat , yet has since catapulted the names of it’s valiant local  heroes to Cornish legendary status. Uncannily  the last words of An Gof, are reported as being that he should have “a name perpetual and a fame permanent and immortal” . Thomas Flamank’s were said to be, “Speak the truth and only then can you be free of your chains”.

Other names mentioned as having joined the 1497 uprising are :

John Trevysall from Madron
William Antron from Antron
John Tresynny from Penryn
John Rosewarne from Rosewarne
Ralph Retallack from St Columb
Richard Borlase from St Wenn
Thomas Polgrene from Polgrene
John Allan from Stoke Climsland
William Ham from Stoke Climsland

Fifty priests and 69 women were also involved .

If Henry Tudor thought that the crushing of the Cornish at Blackheath , would discourage them from further insurgence, he was mistaken and, a mere two months later, they were again mobilising ; this time under the leadership of none other than Yorkist pretender Perkin Warbeck, who was proclaimed King Richard IV at Bodmin! A new force, numbering in the region of 6000 men which included members of the minor Cornish gentry marched into Devon, where they laid siege to  Exeter, but following hand  to hand fighting were repulsed and moved on to Taunton , which was the place where, bewildered and vexed, they were deserted by Warbeck ! Following their surrender some  were executed, but the majority were pardoned ; those with material resources having to pay for the privilege .

Henry VII imposed heavy fines  on Cornwall, which only served to sustain resentment . However, by 1508 he opted for a change in strategy to gain the allegiance the Cornish, with the Charter of Pardon, which restored the Stannaries.

 

Article by Max Retallack, a descendent of Thomas Flamank : 2019

Flamank Coat of Arms : Thomas Flamank was co leader, with Michael Joseph “An Gof “, of the Cornish Rebellion of 1497.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Statue depicting Cornish 1497 Rebellion leaders Michael Joseph “An Gof” and Thomas Flamank , sited at the entrance of the village of St Keverne, Cornwall, to commemorate the 500th Anniversary of the uprising .

Why I dislike John of Gaunt….

Wycliffe on Trial, by Ford Madox Brown

As Ricardians, we know very well now, history can be twisted to suit. The matter of those strawberries and what happened next, for instance. I mean, the different versions are legion, even to the point of whether or not Thomas, Lord Stanley was ever present at all, let alone injured in a scrap and obliged to hide under a table. So delightful and worthy an image.

Anyway, while researching an earlier event (1377) I have come upon another did-he?/didn’t-he? scenario, this time involving the Duke of Lancaster/King of Castile, John of Gaunt. He from whom the Beauforts, the House of Lancaster and the Tudors are descended. I have never been very fond of him, not even after reading Anya Seton’s Katherine.

To me, at this 1377 point in history, he was a scheming heap of double standards, arrogance, blatant dishonesty and unworthiness. (Don’t hold back viscountessw, tell it how it is!) He was bungling, a lousy military commander, and quite determined to prevent the bloodline of the sole female offspring of his older brother, Lionel, from getting anywhere near the throne. Oh, no, dear John of Gaunt wasn’t having any of that! A right to the throne through a woman? Heaven forfend. Besides, Johnny-boy wanted the throne for himself and his own descendants, even though he was lower in the pecking order than Lionel had been. What a hypocrite! He himself was claiming the throne of Castile through his second wife! And he was even Duke of Lancaster in right of his first wife. Yet, suddenly, the throne of England had to be different. No female intrusions, pul-eeze!

Edward III was no better, because he claimed the throne of France through his mother, but he developed a very convenient memory when he was persuaded by Gaunt to sign an entail that excluded women from the succession. Mind you, I do wonder if Edward would have signed any such thing if he had not been put under extreme pressure by Gaunt. Edward was elderly at the time, perhaps in his dotage, and very, very tired. He was a mere shadow of the great king he had once been, and still bereft from the loss of his beloved queen, Philippa of Hainault. He was now becoming doddery, and was reliant for comfort on his disliked mistress, Alice Perrers, whom it suited Gaunt to support because she gave him more access to his father. Some might say Edward III was a sitting duck when it came to Gaunt’s overweening ambition.

Edward III, tomb effigy

In early 1377, Gaunt was strongly suspected of wanting the throne for himself, and old rumours were resurrected (presumably by his supporters) that called into question the legitimacy of Joan of Kent’s marriage to the Black Prince. And therefore also questioning the legitimacy of her son by the prince, the future Richard II. The Black Prince was not known by that name then, of course, he was Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales (or, as I’ve recently seen him identified, the Prince of England). Joan had a chequered history, it’s true, but she was lawfully married to the Black Prince.

Joan of Kent and her son, Richard II
Tomb of the Black Prince, Canterbury Cathedral

 

Well, the Pope said Joan was the Black Prince’s wife, so she had to be, right? I won’t go into the whys and wherefores of her story, just that legally, at this point in time, she was the wife/widow of the Black Prince, and her little son by him, Prince Richard, was trueborn. Anyway, two-faced Gaunt was prepared to secretly sponsor attacks her reputation one day…and the next rush off to seek her protection when a mob was (justifiably) out for his blood. If I’d been her, I’d have thrown him to the wolves!

I believe it was with all pips squeaking that Gaunt swore to protect his nephew, the boy who would become Richard II. Protect the child? Hmm. Back in those days the lives of youngsters were notoriously delicate and at risk, and I do not doubt that Gaunt’s fingers were crossed behind his back as he made his vow. With Richard out of the way, or childless—although waiting for such to prove the case was an unknown risk, and could mean a long period of impatient thumb-twiddling and foot-shuffling for Gaunt and his family—and Lionel’s Mortimer descendants forbidden the crown, there would be no argument when a Lancastrian backside was plonked upon the throne. Which, of course, happened in due course when Gaunt’s eldest son stole Richard II’s crown and probably murdered him.

Old St Paul’s Cathedral

Where is all this invective leading? Well, simply to a scene at St Paul’s, at the trial of Gaunt’s friend and protégé. Wycliffe/Wyclif (and other spellings) who was believed by many to be a heretic. Or verging on it. There was a confrontation between Gaunt and the man who had hauled Wycliffe before a Church trial, William Courtenay, Bishop of London, who was also a son of the Earl of Devon.

John of Gaunt and the Bishop of London arguing at St Paul’s.

The Church had been provoked by some of Gaunt’s activities, and did not like the rumours, so another rumour (or an old one resurrected) began to circulate, that Gaunt was a changeling. It was claimed that his mother, Philippa of Hainault, had confessed as much to William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester, telling him to only let the truth be known if it seemed Gaunt was about to become King of England. Gaunt, needless to say, was livid, and deprived Wykeham of all manner of things. Mind you, in Gaunt’s place, I’d have been livid, too, but handsome is as handsome does, and (to use the language of the school playground) he started it! Courtenay and the bishops were intent upon getting at Gaunt through Wycliffe—punishing the duke himself being out of the question.

Wycliffe was escorted to the trial by Gaunt and the Earl Marshal, Henry Percy, who was a man capable of putting force before common sense. He angered the onlookers outside St Paul’s by clearing the way through them with much more strength than necessary. The trial opened with Courtenay telling Wycliffe to stand throughout the proceedings, and Gaunt declaring Wycliffe should be allowed to sit. Gaunt and Courtenay couldn’t bear the sight of each other, and the disagreement got out of hand. When Gaunt was heard to mutter something about dragging the bishop out by his hair, there was uproar that would to lead to the riots from which Gaunt had the brass neck to expect Joan of Kent to save him.

The above is the gist of the ‘facts’ as I have always understood them, but now, in a book entitled Lady of the Sun (a biography of Alice Perrers, by F George Kay) I find a much more colourful account of the flashpoint in St Paul’s:-

“…Gaunt lost his temper, knocked off the Bishop of London’s cap and started to drag him out of the way by his hair…”

Um, that’s slightly different from a mere heated exchange of words and a sotto voce threat. So, which is the right version? Something muttered? Or a violent laying-on of ducal hands?

F George Kay goes on to say that:-

“…The onlookers surged to the rescue of the Bishop. Gaunt and Percy [Earl Marshal and Gaunt’s sidekick, whose heavy-handedness had started the proceedings on the wrong foot] fled for their lives…and went by boat to Kennington. [Where Joan of Kent was residing with the little prince.]…)

Even with the missing words, this account implies that Gaunt and Percy fled from the scene of the trial, across the Thames and into Joan’s protection in one fell swoop. They knew she was popular with the people, and respected. The presence of the little prince was an added plus. One fell swoop? Not quite true. After the scene involving the Bishop of London’s hair, Gaunt and Percy went on their way in their own time, taking Wycliffe with them. The onlookers in the streets were shocked and angered by the quarrel, but were not, as yet, a rampaging mob.

It was the next day that things escalated and the rioting began, when London was informed that Percy had high-handedly imprisoned a man at the Marshalsea prison in Southwark for (apparently) no good reason. This imprisonment was the touch-paper.

When the mob went into action, Gaunt and Percy were sitting down to dine at the inn of a friend, a rich merchant named Sir John d’Ypres.

Small medieval dinner

The hors d’oevres had just been served (neat touch in the account of the eternally spiteful Walsingham) when a frightened messenger arrived to tell them the Marshalsea had been attacked and prisoners (or the prisoner) freed, Next, Percy’s house in Aldersgate had been ransacked as the mob looked for him (presumably with some dire punishment in mind). From Percy’s abode, the dissatisfied, frustrated, even angrier mob marched upon Gaunt’s fortress-like palace, the Savoy, broke in, and began another ransacking. Had either Gaunt or Percy been found, would they have been killed there and then? I don’t know, but it seems likely. What a difference to English history Gaunt’s early demise would have made!

Marshalsea Prison, Southwark, newly built in 1373
The house of Henry Percy, Earl Marshal, was somewhere near here.
The Savoy, Gaunt’s palace on the Thames

Anyway, on learning the awful news, Gaunt and Percy took to their highborn heels, bolted from d’Ypres’ house for the Thames, and then took a boat across the river to Kennington to throw themselves on her mercy. Joan was clearly nobler than them, because she took them in and defended them! Eventually—and no doubt very smugly—it was William Courtenay, Bishop of London, who calmed the mob and dispersed them. And he still had his hair!

Kennington Palace, but later than 14th century

So, here is another famous occasion for which the accounts are mixed. Maybe February 1377 isn’t of as much interest to Ricardians as anything that went on between 1483 and 1485, but I find it fascinating that such different slants can be extracted from brief accounts. Historians then adopt their preferred version, and claim it as the truth.

Oh, and F George Kay doesn’t say Gaunt allowed the rumours about Joan’s marriage to be spread, he says that Gaunt stood up in Parliament and suggested the succession should be discussed! Parliament was shocked. What was there to discuss? Until then they’d all been satisfied that the succession would go to Prince Richard. Gaunt was clearly reminding them all about the doubts concerning the Black Prince’s marriage. Did Gaunt really make such a suggestion? Would he do it? Would he stand there and publicly dig up doubts and questions about the marriage of the heir to the throne, and the legitimacy of the next king? He was already very unpopular, and widely suspected of having designs on the throne. Well, I am perhaps not the best person to ask. I’m not exactly unbiased! But then, nor was Gaunt. And Parliament’s response was to invite the prince to come before them, so they could acknowledge him and see that all his father’s estates, etc. were bestowed upon him forthwith. This was, perhaps, not what Gaunt had planned. Certainly it was a very public a rejection of any designs and ambitions he nurtured for himself.

It will by now be very clear that I have no time for John of Gaunt. Maybe he became a steadying influence in later years, but at the time of which I now write, he was a dangerously ambitious, scheming magnate who was prepared to do whatever it took to get his own way. He didn’t give a fig who he hurt, or about family loyalty—except when it suited, and especially when it came to sucking up to and manipulating his elderly, worn-out father, Edward III. He ‘persuaded’ Edward to disinherit his son Lionel of Clarence’s daughter, and her son (Roger Mortimer, the future Earl of March) from the succession, in order to insert himself in the nicely cleared slot. And he wasn’t above permitting his supporters to spread whispers about the Black Prince’s marriage and the legitimacy of the future Richard II.

If you wonder what did happen with the succession, read Appendix Two of Ian Mortimer’s The Fears of Henry IV, which explores and explains it all in great detail. Throughout Richard’s reign, Gaunt endeavoured to persuade him to name Gaunt’s son, Henry, as heir presumptive. Richard resisted, and seemed to regard the Earl of March’s son as heir. Richard made an entail of his own, superseding that of his grandfather, Edward III. In the end, of course, the entails were useless, because Gaunt’s son and heir usurped the crown and did away with Richard. Job done. Except that Gaunt never knew how successful his line finally became, because he died before Richard, and thus before Henry’s Lancastrian backside graced the throne.

I don’t just dislike Gaunt, I loathe him! His machinations were the root cause of the bloody Wars of the Roses. But I know that he has many supporters, and they will not agree with anything I’ve said. They will probably regard me as being guilty of the very things I’ve commented on: fake news and twisted facts!

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