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LONDON’S LOST AND FORGOTTEN RIVERS

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Jacob’s Island formed by a loop in the River Neckinger c1860.  Formerly known as Folly Ditch. Watercolour  J L Stewart 1829-1911

Here is a link to a very interesting article on London’s lost and forgotten rivers with details of  some interesting finds including, my favourites , a 12th century triple toilet seat,  a Roman bracket cast in the shape of a thumb, Bronze Age and medieval swords and  a dogs collar  finally engraved with ‘Gray Hound’

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12th century triple toilet seat..

As The London Museum curator Kate Sumnall succinctly puts it “They are still there, and they’re flowing.  Some off them you can still see, others are beneath our feet, but the little clues around London survive.  Once you start paying attention to them the rivers jump out at you and you realise that you know far more about them than you think’.

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The River Fleet shown on the ‘Copperplate’ map of London c 1553.  

The Fleet  rose on Hampstead Heath,  flowed  beneath Fleet Bridge , now the site of Ludgate Circus,  and Holborn Bridge past Bridewell Palace, built by Henry VIII and into the Thames.

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Bridewell Palace and Blackfriars Monastery at the entrance to the River Fleet.  From a model by John B Thorp 

Archaeologists still argue about the exact route of the River Tyburn but it is agreed that it flowed from the Hampstead Hills,  across Regents Park to form an eyot which was called Thorney Island whereupon stood Westminster Abbey and the old Palace of Westminster.Westeminster_Abbey.jpg

Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster once stood on the eyot  formed from the  River Tyburn known as Thorney Island..

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The eyot known as Thorney Island 

The River Walbrook, short,  but as it was the only watercourse to flow through the City it was both an important source of water as well as a conduit to remove sewerage.  It may have come by its names because it flowed through London Wall.  The source of the Walbrook is still argued over but one plausible suggestion is that it begun its life near St Leonards Church, Shoreditch,  meandering down and under what is now The Bank of England and entering the Thames close to where  Cannon Street Station now stands.   As time passed it was vaulted over, paved and made level to the streets and lanes and thus built over …alas.IMG_5735.jpg

Map of London c.1300 with the River Walbrook shown 

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The River Walbrook, as it now flows beneath the Bank of England.  Photograph taken by Steve Duncan 2007

The River Wandle, one of the longest of London’s rivers,  passed through the boroughs of Croydon, Sutton, Merton,  Wandsworth and Lambeth to join the Thames on the tideway. It flowed through the grounds of Croydon Old Palace, sometime  residence of Margaret Beaufort and where the  young widowed Katherine of Aragon lived for a time, when that place was but a quiet village and at one time renowned for its fish, particularly trout.  However eventually becoming an open sewer leading to outbreaks of cholera and typhoid ,  it too was culverted over in the 19th century.

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Croydon Church with the River Wandle flowing past …

The Neckinger is believed to have risen close to where the Imperial War Museum now stands, crossed the New Kent Road and flowed either  past or through Bermondsey Abbey, where disgraced Queens were sent to languish and die.   A loop in the Neckinger became known as Jacob’s Island.  The Neckinger met the Thames via St Saviours Dock which was created by the Cluniac monks of the Abbey in the 13th century who named it after their patron saint and built a watermill there.

Are there any South Londoners out there?  You have your very own river..the Effra.  Now culverted it once flowed, roughly,  from the hills of Norwood, once part of the Great North Wood, Upper Norwood,  Dulwich,  Brixton and Kennington until it met the River Thames at Vauxhall.

I have only touched upon the copious amount of information that is readily  available on London’s lost rivers.  Its amazing to think that these historic rivers survive beneath the feet of thousands of Londoners as, totally unaware,  they go about their business…

For anyone interested to find out more about London’s rivers, there is an exhibition ‘Secret Rivers’  at The London Museum from 24 May to 27 October 2019 covering the histories of the Rivers Effra, Fleet, Neckinger, Lea, Wandle, Tyburn and Walbrook.

 

 

 

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The Pink Queen

John Ashdown-Hill’s last book, a biography of Elizabeth Wydville, was published in July. To mark this, it is time to compare the flow of her life with that of his other subject Lady Eleanor Talbot (1). Generally, Lady Eleanor’s social status, as determined by their fathers and husbands is higher at any point, or even relative to age, until Edward IV favoured the Wydeville clan in the aftermath of their “marriage”.

The other essential differences, of course, are that her relationship with Edward IV was made public and that she had many children by him. “The Pink Queen” also refers to St. Seberga of Ely, whose feast day is 6th July (2) and who we have shown to be a collateral ancestor of Richard III, crowned on that day in 1483.

Sources:
1) Eleanor: The Secret Queen (Appendix 1,pp.253-260, 2016 paperback).
2) The Pink Queen (p.113).

Did Elizabeth Wydville die of the plague….?

Elizabeth Woodville

We all know that on 8th June, 1492, Elizabeth Woodville died in relative obscurity in Bermondsey Abbey, and it has been imagined that she died a natural death, perhaps brought on by her greatly reduced circumstances and exclusion from court. (Although perhaps she preferred to hide away because she’d simply had enough of court life and court intrigue?) Anyway, she came to prominence because of her scandalous (at the time and since) marriage to Edward IV.

Edward IV

Henry VII disliked her, and because of this, maybe her daughters saw the wisdom of “dropping” her. Maybe. It just isn’t known. What is known is that Henry, being a fond son-in-law, relieved her of her possessions.

Now, thanks to a recently discovered letter, there is a new theory about the actual reason for her death. According to this article :-

“….Euan Roger is a records specialist at the National Archives and while looking through 16th century documents, he found a letter from the Venetian ambassador to London which seems to indicate Elizabeth’s death came about because of the feared illness. The document was written in 1511, some nineteen years after she had died, but Euan Roger believes its description of ”the Queen-Widow, mother of King Edward” can only refer to the most famous Woodville of them all.

“….The letter states that she has died of the plague and “the king is disturbed”….”

Being written some nineteen years after Elizabeth’s demise casts a rather curious light on the tenses used in the letter. She “has” died of the plague? The king “is” disturbed? Would the Venetian ambassador really express himself like that so many years after the event? And which king? Henry VII had died in 1509, and the present king in 1511 was his son, Henry VIII.

Something doesn’t seem quite right, and yet, as Mr Roger concludes, to which other Queen Elizabeth could the letter refer? Henry VII’s queen, Elizabeth of York (eldest daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville) died in 1503, but she wasn’t a widow and did not have a son who could be termed “King Edward”. Elizabeth Woodville was a widowed queen, and her eldest son by Edward IV is still referred to as King Edward (V), so she does indeed seem to be the only candidate.

Elizabeth of York

It is an interesting thought that Elizabeth Woodville passed away of the plague, but it doesn’t alter the fact that she was sidelined and virtually ignored. And that the reason was probably (in my opinion) Henry VII’s gut-wrenching fear that the truth about her clandestine marriage would out. He depended upon his marriage to Elizabeth of York to legitimise his reign, because it “united” the warring factions in the realm. It was to make such a marriage possible that he very carefully overturned Richard III’s claim to the throne, which was based upon the illegitimacy of Edward IV’s marriage, and therefore of the children born of it. Yet by doing this, Henry also legitimised his new queen’s missing brothers, and I think he spent the rest of his life agonising about the triumphant return of one or the other of the missing boys he himself had given a superior claim to the throne than his own.

While Elizabeth Woodville lived, she was a danger to him. She could at any time confirm that Richard III had been correct to take the throne, because her children were baseborn and Richard was the true heir. Would this thought “disturb” Henry VII? Yes, I rather think so.

Which brings another possibility to mind. Was Elizabeth perilously close to broadcasting the truth? Had something happened to trigger this? If so, her sudden demise might be very desirable. Blaming the plague for what was actually a murder might be a neat solution. There is no proof to support such a theory, of course, but I have always believed that Elizabeth of York’s brothers, the “princes in the Tower” were disposed of after the Battle of Bosworth, and were therefore Tudor victims. Richard III did not do it, but has borne the brunt of the blame throughout history. Maybe the plague/unhappiness didn’t dispose of Elizabeth Woodville either.

But the tenses in the letter are still problematic, and, like Mr Roger, I can only arrive at the same conclusion: the king and queen in question are Elizabeth Woodville and Henry VII.

Henry VII

 

1968 accuracy about Richard’s resting place….

Here is an extract that I found interesting. It’s from a 1968 booklet titled Discovering London 3: Medieval London, by Kenneth Derwent, published by Macdonald, and while it doesn’t condemn Richard, a previous paragraph states that the disappearance of Edward V and his brother “were disposed of” and that “the circumstantial evidence points most strongly to the Duke of Gloucester”. Well, I have a huge quibble about that!

Anyway, to the extract:-

“RICHARD III. Brother of Edward IV and uncle of Edward V. Ruled from 1483 to 1485.

“After his brother’s death, the Duke of Gloucester stated that Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville had not been legal, since the king had been previously betrothed to a Lady Eleanor Talbot. In those days betrothal was as binding as marriage, and if this were so Edward’s subsequent marriage would be invalid and the children of it illegitimate. On these grounds Parliament offered the crown to Richard of Gloucester who, after modestly declining for a while, accepted it.

“In 1485 Richard III, as he was known, was defeated and killed at the Battle of Bosworth, near Leicester, by Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, who claimed the crown by reason of a distant descent from John of Gaunt.

“Richard was buried at Greyfriars, near Leicester, but no trace of his grave remains.”

Well, I have some more quibbles, of course. The word “modestly” implies falsity, when I think Richard really did hesitate about accepting the crown. Or am I being unduly picky? And, of course, Henry Tudor was NOT the Earl of Richmond.

But my main reason for posting this extract is that in 1968 Kenneth Derwent was right about where Richard had been laid to rest!

THE HOLY HAND OF ST JAMES FROM READING ABBEY

A fascinating article  from the Royal Berkshire History site on the preserved hand of St James, which was discovered in 1796 walled up in the ruins of Reading Abbey and now resides in the Catholic Church in Marlow.  Recently,this medieval artefact has undergone scientific analysis with interesting results.

Reading Abbey was a highly important place in the Middle Ages. Not only  was it the burial place of a King  (Henry I–lost and still waiting to be found) and a child of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine (a boy who died of a seizure and was buried at his great grandfather’s feet)  but it contained a great many relics, including bits of the True Cross, Christ’s sandal, Christ’s foreskin (apparently 17 of these existed, ahem), crusts  from the ‘Feeding of the Five Thousand’, head hair from the Virgin Mary, pieces of Mary’s tomb and so on. These appeared to have been shipped in from Constantinople. The abbey became a great draw for pilgrims and it was here Edward IV first publicly presented Elizabeth Woodville as his “wife” and guided her to a chair of estate as Queen of England.

One of the most famous  relics at Reading was the arm of St James, which was probably donated by the Empress Matilda. Having survived both the Reformation and Cromwell, the mummified hand has recently given up some of its secrets…including the fact it cannot have belonged to St James, as the date is wrong. (So here we have a case of bones long thought of as belonging to a certain individual being found by science to be someone else’s, despite centuries of deeply-held belief. Hopefully science will continue to verify such relics where possible. *Cough “Princes in the Tower” Cough.*)

Interestingly,  a preserved hand  was found in the city of Salisbury many years back, within a  medieval house  known as The Haunch of Venison, now currently a pub/restaurant (and supposedly very haunted!). The smoke-dried hand grew many legends, including that the hand was cut from a cheating whist-player in the 1700’s  (there were some old playing cards placed by it at some time) or that it was a ‘Hand of Glory’, a magical talisman used by thieves to put an inn’s tenants to sleep while the thieves robbed them. However, a local  historian surmised it might have in fact been a religious relic hidden during the  reformation; the Haunch had belonged  to the nearby  church of Thomas a Becket, and was used to lodge craftsmen who were building the spire of Salisbury Cathedral. Unfortunately, the hand had a habit of being stolen from the pub, and the last time it was snatched in 2010, it was never returned. A replica lies in its place but any chance of dating and learning more of its past it is now lost…unless it mysteriously returns again!

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preserved hand from Salisbury

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mummified hand of St James

Secret Marriages – Edward IV & his Two Wives, the Novel

Over the years there has been lots of fiction written about Edward IV, Elizabeth Woodville and of course Richard III. However, there is one one figure in their story who often gets a mention, but  is rarely portrayed as a living person, with the events long after her death in 1468 taking the forefront instead.  This, of course, is Eleanor Boteler, or more correctly, Eleanor Talbot, daughter of  the  Earl of Shrewsbury. Possibly the only novel in which Eleanor  has played a major role is John Crowne’s THE MISERY OF CIVIL WAR, which first appeared in 1680! (In this work, very strangely, Eleanor dies at Edward’s hands at Barnet,  after first cursing him!)

In SECRET MARRIAGES, a new short novel, Eleanor takes the forefront through most of the book, although some chapters are from Edward’s point of view and still others from Elizabeth Woodville’s. Amongst other things, the novel covers Eleanor’s heritage, which has been rather ignored by certain ‘historians’, many novelists and the general public (when the latter  know  about her at all). I recall one blogpost where someone stated ‘Ricardians say she was the daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury’. Well, ‘Ricardians’ don’t ‘say’ anything–for that is exactly who she was without question! And her ancestry is far more complex than just being the Earl’s daughter–few seem aware, in fiction or otherwise, that Warwick was her uncle by marriage, and Anne and Isabel, his daughters, her cousins. Eleanor’s mother was Margaret Beauchamp, half-sister to Warwick’s wife, Anne Beauchamp. She also had distant royal descent–certainly not a ‘nobody’ as some have tried to make her.

She had living relatives of high status too. Her sister, to whom she seemed close,  was none other than Elizabeth, the Duchess of Norfolk, mother of Anne Mowbray, who was married as a child to Richard of Shrewsbury, the younger of the ‘Princes in the Tower,’ but died at a young age. (Her coffin was found in the 60’s  in a demolition site which stood on top of the medieval remnants of the Poor Clare’s convent. Interestingly, this was not Anne’s original burial site; she’d been interred in Westminster Abbey, but good old Henry VII had shunted her body out to the nuns when he pulled down St Erasmus’ chapel to build his own chapel.) Anyway, Duchess Elizabeth attended the Coronation of Richard III, and there was no protest from her or  her family that Eleanor had been ‘slandered’ or the story ‘made up.’.

SECRET MARRIAGES also tries to give a picture of where, with the the scanty surviving evidence as teased out by the late Dr John Ashdown-Hill, Eleanor may have lived and where the marriage with Edward may have taken place (thought to be sometime around June 1461). One likely candidate is scenic Burton Dassett in Warwickshire, with its fine church filled by interesting medieval carvings. The story goes on to show Eleanor’s patronage of Corpus Christi College in Cambridge  (a carving of a Talbot hound still adorns the buildings) and attempts to recreate the bustle of medieval Norwich and the House of the Carmelites where she was laid to rest, now sadly destroyed save for a ruined archway, although the magnificent and perhaps unique entrance portal still survives, although not in situ, inside the Courts of Justice across the river.

Hopefully, SECRET MARRIAGES, can bring Eleanor Talbot a little more into the light–the Queen who might have been. And for the naysayers about Edward’s first marriage, look at Edward IV’s history with Elizabeth Woodville–he kept that marriage secret for months after it took place. Do you really think he might not have done the same thing before?

 

SECRET MARRIAGES NOVEL-UNIVERSAL LINK

 

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The Trial That Should Have Happened in 1483

RICARDIAN LOONS

Putting aside the mystery of what ultimately happened to Edward IV’s two sons, one enduring difficulty for a student of history is whether Richard III used the proper legal procedure in having them declared illegitimate because of their father’s precontracted marriage to Eleanor Talbot.  The most (and only) significant defect appears to be the failure to refer the issue to a church court for determination.[1]  But it seems no one has fleshed out how an ecclesiastical tribunal would have litigated such an extraordinary and unprecedented matter, let alone identified which church court would have had authority to hear it.

As a retired litigator of 20 years, I undertook the challenge of researching medieval English church court procedures and precedent cases to answer four questions: Which church court would have decided the precontract issue? How would it have conducted the litigation? What evidence would it have heard? How conclusive would…

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Richard III: Bound by Loyalty?

via Richard III: Bound by Loyalty?

The reign(s) of Edward IV….

 

If you want the bare bones of Edward’s reign(s), supposedly born today but on an impossible date, here they are, although there is no reference to his valid marriage in 1461. To me, Edward IV, for all the good he did as king, was rather a prat. Sorry, but there’s no other word for it. He was led by the contents of his codpiece, and didn’t pay enough attention to those he offended.

 

So if Edward IV ….

… is either Mr. Rochester or Captain Mainwaring and other characters have been identified, is Henry VII represented in popular culture, other than here?

You may recall that he promised to marry Elizabeth of York, OR one of her sisters if she was already taken, which is more about becoming Edward IV’s posthumous son-in-law than is romantic inclination. Had Bosworth been fought a month later, she may well have been Duchess of Beja and future Queen of Portugal. It also seems unlikely that “Tudor” sought permission from Elizabeth or her mother, whatever his subsequent propaganda says.

Here is an American ballad from the 1880s and a cartoon character who regularly sang it. Note the line in the final verse, after Clementine drowns in an accident : “… ’til I kissed her little sister …” – the song’s narrator wasn’t that selective either. Then there is this satirical version

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