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The Church of St. Alkelda at Middleham

History of St Mary and St Alkelda Church

If you go to Middleham, your priority will be to visit the castle of King Richard III but you can’t leave this fabulous town of the Dales without having a look at the church of St Mary and St Alkelda. This church is a must for visitors, especially Ricardians, and considering it is not a massive church, it has a lot to offer to those who love historical buildings.

The first church on the actual spot where the present church is built dates back to the 12th century but just a couple of stones are still there. The actual date of the foundation of the church seems to be the year 1280.

The dedication of the church is to the Virgin Mary and St Alkelda. Myth and folklore surround this saint and many even doubt her existence, even though in 1818, when the nave was dug, a stone coffin was found. When it was opened, the mortal remains of a woman were found and in the exact spot where tradition indicates St Alkelda was buried in the south east corner of the present church.  The meaning of her name derives from the Old English – Norse healikeld in Modern English “holy well”. It seems that there was a well close to the church and the water was very effective for eye problems.

The new church was built around 1350 while the tower was added in 1450 approximately. St Alkelda was martyred around 800 AD so it is possible that a Christian society was already active in Middleham. However, we need to go to 1280 to have a church there with a nave, aisles and a chancel. The following year, Mary of Middleham was born. She is thought to have been the heiress to the castle and the patron of the church. The first mention of the church is found in a taxation document by Pope Nicholas IV in 1291. The value of the church was fixed at £8. In 1310 the church was endowed with lands to increase the value of the building.

The Feast Day of St Alkelda was granted in 1388 by Richard II on 5th November and lasted 3 days. In 1470 Edward IV granted a license to found a chantry in the south aisle. Previously, in 1460 St Alkelda and the castle of Middleham was the house of Richard Neville, better known as Warwick the Kingmaker. After the death of Richard, Duke of York, Cecily Neville of Raby, his wife, moved with her children to Middleham. Warwick made Edward Plantagenet King Edward IV but when this latter failed the Kingmaker’s expectations by “marrying” Elizabeth Woodville and not a French princess, Neville plotted against him, planning to put on the throne George Duke of Clarence, the King’s brother, or to restore Henry VI. The outcome was the battle of Barnet, where Warwick lost his life. Middleham castle and lands including the church were granted to the youngest of Cecily Neville’s sons Richard Duke of Gloucester, who later became King Richard III. He married Anne Neville, one of Warwick’s daughters and inherited the Lordship of Middleham.

In 1477, possibly at Gloucester’s request, Edward IV, his brother, granted a license for transforming St Alkelda into a College with a Dean, six Chaplains, four Clerks, a Sacristan and six Choristers. In the Statute drawn up by Richard Gloucester, the Dean was appointed to lead perpetual masses for the Royal Yorkist family. A copy of the original statute is currently displayed on the left aisle under the white boar and the stained glass window depicting Richard and his family. When Richard became King Richard III, the church became known as the King’s College, Middleham. Sadly, in 1547, the Chantry was closed by Act of Parliament under Henry VIII’s Reformation of the Church. It seems that the Collegiate title was one in name only because it was never listed as an exempted Collegiate church in the Act for the Dissolution of Chantries in 1547 during the reign of Edward VI.

In 1538 Thomas Cromwell decided to allow couples to marry in St Alkelda without a license or banns. This practice stopped in the 18th century. Because of this, St Alkelda was a sort of Gretna Green in Yorkshire.

In 1839, Dean Wood tried to revive the Chapter appointing six Canons and reinstated the Cathedral form of service. In 1845 the status of Royal Peculiar ended. The Dean became a Rector and St Alkelda an ordinary parish church under the Bishop of Ripon.

St Alkelda has many valuable objects and decorations. Apart from the 14th century relief of the Crucifixion and the 15th century glass depicting St Alkelda’s martyrdom, the visitors can also appreciate the Saxon gravestones in the north aisle, the 14th century stone font and chancel arch. In addition to this, there is the Lady Chapel aisle with Richard III’s White Boar standard, a copy of his royal seal, a copy of the statute of the church signed by Richard Gloucester and the beautiful window depicting the King and his family.

There are many other artefacts and decorations in St Alkelda to see such as the medieval grave covers, the carved gargoyles, the copy of the Middleham jewel and much more. St Alkelda is a church belonging to the Anglican Diocese of Leeds.

St Alkelda Pilgrimage Way

There is a new plan going on as regards St Alkelda; a walking route around 35 miles long that follows an ancient prehistoric and Roman route for most of the way. It goes through the Yorkshire Dales National Park and it would take walkers 2-3 days to complete it depending on how experienced they were.

The route from Middleham goes via Coverdale, passing by little hamlets, Coverham Abbey, churches with monastic associations, evidence of ancient settlements, tumuli and an impressive earthwork. It then takes in Kettlewell (tourist centre), passes down Wharfedale to Kilnsey, up  and into the  limestone hill country, Mastiles Lane, an ancient trackway, Roman camp, the remains of 5 medieval wayfaring crosses. Il passes down Celtic and medieval field systems into Malham tourist centre and where the archaeological dig of St Helen’s chapel, holy well and graveyard, medieval and Anglo-Saxon, takes place in May. From there it goes past Malham Cove, peregrine falcon reserve, a spectacular limestone scenery, down to Stockdale Lane and descends to Ribblesdale past evidence of a Roman camp waterfalls,  limestone caves where prehistoric and Romano-British remains have been found,  Settle, market town and across the river to Giggleswick and its church.

On the route, we see how the different rocks – limestone and millstone grit mostly, produce different scenery, grass colours and flora. In St Alkelda’s day, there would have been marsh and bog around the rivers, woodland and even thick forest in places, the habitat of deer, wolves, bears, and wild boar. These animals are mentioned in some Celtic nature poetry, also Prayers for Protection! It was the monks and their sheep during the Middle Ages who changed the landscape to what it looks like today. The plan has just started but visitors and good walkers will soon enjoy the awesome St Alkelda Pilgrimage Way.

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The Champernownes of Devon

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The Champernownes (above), a Norman line whose alternative spellings include Chapman and Chamberlain, are surely Devon’s second family after the Courtenays of Powderham Castle, who hold the Earldom. From 1162, their (Domesday Book-cited) home was at Chambercombe Manor near Ilfracombe (middle right) but, by the early sixteenth century, this had passed to Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk, father of Jane (below left).

The Champernownes Arthur Champernowne (1524-78) moved the family from Polsoe, near Exeter, to Dartington near Totnes, where the Hall (middle left) was built in 1560 and his descendants lived there – the previous building had been owned by the Holland Dukes of Exeter. Kat Ashley, his aunt, was Elizabeth I’s governess, Sir Humphrey Gilbert and Sir Walter Raleigh (above right) were among his nephews, Henry Norris (executed over the Anne Boleyn case) was his father-in-law and Sir Edward Seymour, grandson of the Protector Somerset, married one of his daughters, launching a line of baronets, so Arthur’s close family were at the centre of the “Tudor” political scene.

Arthur was a Vice-Admiral as well as an MP in the south-west, as was his grandson Arthur and his Georgian descendant Arthur (ne Harrington), who married a relative of Crediton’s General Sir Redvers Buller (below).

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As this genealogy also shows, Champernownes married Courtenays at least once.

 

 

THE DEATH OF HENRY VIII

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Henry VIII, known as the Hamilton Portrait and once owned by the Duke of Hamilton, this portrait used to be at  Holyroodhouse.  Philip Mould.

The deaths of all three Tudor kings were protracted and wretched.  Whether this was down to Karma, bad luck (or good luck depending on what way you look at it) or just the lamentable medical treatments available at the time,  I know not.  Perhaps a combination of all three.  But I want to concentrate here on the death of Henry VIII.

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‘The Death of Kings’ by Clifford Brewer T.D. F.R.C.S is an interesting read and covers the death of Henry in detail.   The title is self explanatory, the book being a ‘medical history of the Kings and Queens of England’.   I have drawn heavily on the book for the information I quote here concerning Henry VIII, who by strange coincidence died on the 28th January being the date on which his father Henry Tudor was born.

Henry, long since grown corpulent, was becoming a burden to himself and of late lame by reason of a violent ulcer in his leg, the inflammation whereof cast him into a lingering fever, which little by little decayed his spirits.  He at length begun to feel the inevitable necessity of death. Goodwin Annales of England.

Henry’s symptoms are too numerous to detail here and death must have come as somewhat of a relief to him after much suffering.  The actual cause of death is still debated as is did he suffer from syphilis.  Brewer points out there is no proof either way and that although , if he had,  it could explain some of the ‘happenings in his reign’ there are points which contradict this.  For example there is no evidence that his long term mistress Bessie Blount suffered from syphilis which she surely would have contracted from him (neither did  their son Henry Fitzroy ever show signs of congenital syphilis).      The same can be said of Mary Boleyn or any of his wives.

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This is believed to be a bust of Henry as a child.  What a mischievous little chap he was, the little stinker…..

He is recorded as having suffered from a bout of malaria with recurrences throughout his life although these did not seem to incapacitate him too much.  Indeed he seems to have enjoyed  robust health engaging in ‘strenuous exercise and indulged in many jousts and tournaments both on foot and on horse. He did how ever have two lucky escapes both of which could have been fatal.  One was a jousting accident where his brother-in-law, the Duke  Suffolk’s lance shattered his helm and he was very lucky not to be blinded or even killed’.  Then in 1525 whilst  trying  to vault a very wide ditch using a pole, the pole broke and he was thrown headfirst into the mud where,   unable either to get up or even breath,  his life was  saved by a footman.  .

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Henry in his prime…a portrait by Joos van Cleve c1530-1535

This jousting injury might account for the belated development of several symptoms.   Henry was to alter in appearance and put on a considerable amount of  weight,  ‘his face become moonlike,  burying his small eyes in a puffy face and accentuating  his small mouth’.  After the execution of Anne Boleyn,  Henry became even more prone to fits of temper and instability.  His  great increase in weight made it difficult for him to take exercise. Henry also developed an ulcer on his leg and  Brewer speculates that this ulcer,  which was very offensive,  ‘and a trial to his attendants’  could have been either a varicose ulcer or the result of an injury received whilst jousting which damaged the bone leading to osteitis.   This could have led to further complications – amyloid disease in which a waxy  material is laid down in the liver, kidneys and elsewhere.  Not a pretty picture.  Poor Henry.

Henry,  as he got older,  became subject of violent attacks of temper and periods of loss of memory.   On leaving London on one occasion he ordered all the prisoners in Tower to be executed.   His character become more and more unstable and by 1546 Henry had become  grossly overweight,  his legs so swollen,  due to severe oedema,  that he was unable to walk and he was moved from place to place by means of lifting apparatus.

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Henry towards the end of his life showing the  abnormality on the side of his nose which might indicate a gamma that had healed with scarring..by Cornelis Metsys line engraving 1545.

‘Towards the end of January 1547 he begun to suffer from periods of partial unconsciousness alternating with periods of alertness.  He was probably passing into a uraemia coma.  Realising he was dying he sent for  Cranmer but by he time he arrived he had lost the ability to speak.  Grasping Cranmer’s hand in his,  he pressed it when asked if he  repented his sins.    This was taken as Henry’s repentance and he ‘died in grace’ ‘ …ummm I don’t think it quite works like that!  .  However, his huge and offensive body was transferred, with some difficulty,  into his coffin.  He was then taken to Windsor to be laid to rest beside Jane Seymour.  However that is not the end of the story for it is said that his coffin burst a leak and the church was filled with a ‘most obnoxious odour’.  And so Henry passed ignobly from this life and  into history and the short reign of his son Edward Vl commenced.    As it transpired Edward’s death was to be perhaps  even more awful that that of his father.   But that dear reader is another story.

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Henry’s coffin in the vault he shares with Jane Seymour and King Charles I, St George’s Chapel, Windsor.

Here is also a link to a an interesting video.

Some more Despenser connections

Last year, we showed how Anne Neville (and thus Edward of Middleham) were descended from Hugh Despenser the Elder, Earl of Winchester. Having followed up Kathryn Warner’s suggestion, this file allows us to add another Queen Consort, a King, a Lord Protector and a Lord High Admiral to the list of that Earl’s descendants.
This can also be connected to our previous post about the Seymour to Culme-Seymour line (slide 5 of this document).

Thou canst marry; er, sorry, thou canst not….

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I confess I had never considered this before. When Henry VIII made himself the head of the church in England, it became possible for hitherto celibate priests to marry. This situation continued under Henry’s son, Edward VI. But then, Catholic Queen Mary ascended the throne. . .and promptly sacked all those priests who had married.

Some had much to say on this unsatisfactory situation, including the religious reformer John Ponet (b. c. 1514, d. 1556). To read more, click here.

Note: There are other interesting matters/links on this site, which is concerned with medieval manuscripts, not simply Ponet’s thoughts on married/celibate priests. I have merely picked out the matter of the priests.

When ten royal tombs were opened….

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This article about what was found in ten royal tombs  is interesting because of the descriptions. Not that I would have liked to see Edward IV in his 3″ of goo….

 

A strange Reformation relic

Think of a cold week in this or your own country, with snow. On the last day, it thaws. You look out during the late afternoon and there remains a small patch of snow, in a seemingly random location.

 

In a way, the English Reformation was like this. It began, arguably, in 1534. By the end of the next decade, clerical celibacy was abolished and the Archbishop of Canterbury was among those priests who married , apart from a slight hiccup in the next reign.

Some three hundred or more years after the Act of Supremacy was still passed, there was still a requirement at Oxford University for its Fellows to be celibate. One such was the legendary mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (left) also known, by his reversed, “translated” forenames, as Lewis Carroll.

The irony is that Dodgson had considered entering the priesthood during his youth but may have rejected it because he dreaded the thought of preaching regularly.

Yet another target for the Cairo dwellers

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Last autumn, we reblogged posts to illustrate that the denialists of the history world, quite apart from their antics with respect to Richard III, quoted an obviously non-existent part of a document about Edward II and cited a book on botany, with reference to John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, that he couldn’t have owned because it was clearly published after his death, mentioning Queen Victoria who acceded two years after Chatham’s death.

This next case concerns two of the Seymour brothers, of whom Thomas,

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Baron Sudeley, was Lord Admiral and Edward, Duke of Somerset, was Lord Protector to Edward VI – both being roles in which Richard had served before succeeding. Sudeley was beheaded for treason in 1549 during Somerset’s Protectorate before the Duke fell in early 1552. Hester Chapman, a 1950s biographer of Edward, quoted the French ambassador, Antoine de Noailles, that John Dudley, then Earl of Warwick but later Duke of Northumberland, had persuaded Somerset to execute his brother.

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As Christine Hartweg explains, Skidmore, who wrote about the boy king more recently, made the same claim yet de Noailles did not arrive in England until May 1553, a matter of weeks before Edward’s death, as his papers, published in five parts, show and he did not write about previous events.

THE LOST FONT OF MARLBOROUGH CASTLE

Marlborough is a quaint little town in Wiltshire. It has a rather famous College (once attended by Kate Middleton) but no buildings dating much before Tudor times other than two heavily restored churches. However, it used to have a castle, and a rather important one too.

The first castle was built by William the Conqueror in timber, and he raised it on Marlborough’s most famous landmark–a huge mound (sometimes called Merlin’s Mound) that stands in the middle of the college grounds. This mound is not the usual motte and bailey but in fact a neolithic mound that is a smaller ‘sister’ to nearby Silbury Hill, the largest artificial mound in Europe. Later the wooden castle was replaced by stone; it held out for King Stephen during the Anarchy. King John made many changes and repairs, having been presented  the castle while his brother, Richard Lionheart, was king. His second wife the infamous Isabella of Angouleme spent some time there and some of his children may have been born within its walls. It was  a strange arrangement–Isabella was under the care of Hugh de Neville, whose wife had been one of John’s many mistresses. After John died in the early 1200’s, political prisoner Eleanor of Brittany, whose claim to the throne equalled or surpassed that of Henry III, was kept there for a while before being shunted off to another stronghold. After Henry died, however, it became a Dower House, used by the Dowager Queen, Eleanor of Provence, and then was held by a series of Queen after her.

By 1370,  Marlborough was unused, and in ruins by 1403. Edward VI passed it to his relatives, the Seymours, who built a grand house that is now part of the College. All traces of the castle vanished, save for the mighty mound with had already stood for thousands of years before the Conqueror built his castle.

However there is a rumour that one item from the castle  survived–a huge ornate stone font which had come from the freestanding chapel of St Nicholas. Local legend says  several of King John’s children were  baptised in this font.

And sure enough about a mile away, a massive stone font sits, seeming slightly out of place, in  the tiny, remote church of St George at Preshute (an old name meaning Priest’s Hut.). It is an enormous block of polished black stone imported from Tournai, and would hardly be likely to have originally belonged to such a small, out of the way church. A few similar fonts of Tournai stone  do exist in England, but they are in much grander buildings that St George’s–including Worcester Cathedral.

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Marlborough castle Font

 

 

Keeping it in the family

You will have seen him if you have been to Richard III’s final resting place. There are eight small statues on the main entrance (the Vaughan Porch, left) of St. Martin’s Cathedral but only one of them is wearing a doublet and hose, showing him to have lived a century later than the others. This is Lord Henry Hastings, as he was during his education alongside Edward VI and participation, with Northumberland’s daughter Lady Catherine Dudley in the triple marriage of May 1553. He was still Lord Henry as he served in the household of his great-uncle Reginald Cardinal Pole, travelling to Calais and Flanders and escorting Phillip II to England for his marriage to Mary I, whose succession had been aided by Lord Henry’s father, Francis, despite the family’s overt Protestant beliefs.

In 1562, two years after succeeding to the Earldom of Huntingdon, he was considered by some for the throne had Elizabeth I not recovered from a bout of smallpox. By 1576, on the death of his mother Catherine (nee’ Pole) he was the senior post-Plantagenet, barred from the succession maternally only by the Clarence attainder but he had a junior claim through his grandmother Anne Stafford, whose father and brother both had their attainders posthumously reversed.

From 1572 to his death in 1595, Huntingdon was Lord President of the Council of the North, a position previously held by Richard as Duke of Gloucester and then by the Earl of Lincoln, in which he ruled the part of England north of the Trent from the King’s Manor (above), formerly home to the Abbot of York. During this tenure, he re-established royal authority in the region after the Northern Earls’ Rebellion failed, attended Mary Stuart’s trial, ensured good relations with James VI and his regents, the Earl of Morton in particular, also helping to prepare defences against the Armada. For his long service for more than half the reign of the last “Tudor”, Huntingdon deserves to be remembered alongside Lord Burleigh and his brother-in-law the Earl of Leicester, although his Calvinist beliefs set him apart from them and their Queen. During his time, in 1586, the recusant Margaret Clitherow was pressed to death at York.

As Claire Cross points out in her iconic biography The Puritan Earl, Huntingdon took his role as head of the family seriously. We can read how his assets shrank during his lifetime and how his 42 year marriage was childless, such that his brother Sir George succeeded him as Earl, with senior descendants still alive in Australia, as Jones has shown. He died eleven days before Christmas 1595 and was connected to all four later “Tudor” monarchs but his strongest connection was to Elizabeth I. Just like her, he had been imprisoned at the outset of Mary I’s reign, probably because he was Northumberland’s son-in-law, although his father’s loyalty soon extricated him from this.

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