When looking for information about a residence associated with the ill-fated Sir Simon Burley (executed by the Lords Appellant in 1388) I had cause to investigate the properties around London’s Leadenhall Market. It seems Leadenhall stems from a mansion on the site, owned at the beginning of the 14th century by Sir Hugh Neville, which had a lead roof, and was thus called Leaden Hall/Leadenhall.
Anyway, Sir Simon and his brother possessed a residential property in the grounds of Leadenhall mansion. But that is by the by, because the search lead me to the fascinating 19th-century tale of a gander called Old Tom. If you want to read about this valorous bird, who survived to the age of 37 in a market where poultry was sold (!) go to this article.
He passed away of natural causes on 19th March 1835, and his obituary was published in The Times:-
In memory of Old Tom the Gander.
Obit 19th March, 1835, aetat, 37 years, 9 months, and 6 days.
‘This famous gander, while in stubble,
Fed freely, without care or trouble:
Grew fat with corn and sitting still,
And scarce could cross the barn-door sill:
And seldom waddled forth to cool
His belly in the neighbouring pool.
Transplanted to another scene,
He stalk’d in state o’er Calais-green,
With full five hundred geese behind,
To his superior care consign’d,
Whom readily he would engage
To lead in march ten miles a-stage.
Thus a decoy he lived and died,
The chief of geese, the poulterer’s pride.’
And he has a bar named after him!
We Ricardians know all about the problems, if not to say mysteries, that can arise from the final resting places of famous figures from the past. It doesn’t help that in the medieval period especially a person’s remains could be moved from place to place. Edward IV had his father and brother moved from Pontefract south to Fotheringhay, and Richard III had Henry VI moved from Chertsey Abbey to St George’s Chapel, Windsor. And, of course, for centuries there was the puzzle as to whether the remains of Richard III himself were thrown contemptuously into Leicester’s River Soar, or actually buried at Greyfriars. The latter eventually and very famously proved to be the case.
Now I have happened on another “where was he buried?” mystery, this time from the end of the reign of Edward II. While researching a few details about the later-in-the-14th-century marital goings-on of the 10th/3rd Earl of Arundel, Richard Fitzalan, known as “Copped Hat”, I found myself reading about his first wife, Isabel le Despenser, whom he married on this day, 9 February, in 1321. She was the daughter of Hugh Despenser, 1st Lord Despenser, known to history as Despenser the Younger, to distinguish him from his father, who was, yes, Despenser the Elder. Both were favourites of Edward II, and came to the fore after the abduction, trial and execution of another of the king’s favourites, Piers Gaveston. All three came to nasty ends, as (probably) did Edward II himself, and there is there is a famous illustration of the hanging, drawing and quartering of the younger Despenser in Hereford, see above.
Because of her father’s attainder and shameful execution, Isabel became an inconvenience to Copped Hat. Besides which his lustful and ambitious eye had fallen upon Eleanor of Lancaster, who’d be a much more advantageous Countess of Arundel. As Copped Hat was one of the richest and most influential magnates in the England of Edward II’s son, Edward III, he didn’t have any trouble at all in gaining the Pope’s permission to annul his first marriage, thus clearing the way for Eleanor to slip into the earl’s marital bed.
Where is all this leading? Well, to the fact that the younger Despenser’s widow was apparently granted her husband’s remains (well some of them – ‘the head, a thigh bone and a few vertebrae’) and she had them buried in a lavish tomb at Tewkesbury Abbey.
But in 2004 there were reports that Despenser’s remains had been found during archaeological excavations at Hulton Abbey in Staffordshire. These “new” remains lacked the very bones that had been returned to the younger Despenser’s widow and buried at Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire.
So, if the Hulton Abbey remains are indeed those of the younger Despenser, why wasn’t all of him returned to his widow? Why send her some of him, and then bury the rest at Hulton Abbey? He died in Hereford, and was then buried in Staffordshire and Gloucestershire?
“….[executed in the Tower of London was] William Hastings, who tried to support the claims of Edward VI [sic] children to the throne in 1483….”
The above is a quote from this link – which contains boo-boos, as you can see from my quote. Well, was that why Hastings was executed? For trying to support the claims of Edward IV’s children, not those of the precocious Edward VI, who died at fifteen? Let’s be honest, no one really knows what Hastings did to warrant swift trial, sentence and execution, so such a broad statement is a little OTT, although the crime must have been pretty serious. Despite the history as claimed by traditionalists, Richard III was not a man to react in such a way lightly. His record of head-lopping was relatively small, unlike many other kings, who notched up quite a total in just as short a time. Nor was Richard the sort of man who would gladly murder his brother’s children, of that I feel certain. So why does he get all the opprobrium?
Forget the heartstring-plucking story of the boys in the Tower. No one knows what happened to them – certainly not that Richard had them exterminated in their beds.
There were may reasons why Hastings might plot against Richard, and one (in my opinion) was the realisation that in Richard’s reign he, Hastings, wouldn’t enjoy anywhere near the same position and influence as he had in Edward IV’s. The Hastings nose was out of joint, perchance?
He might also have known about Edward IV’s pre-contract with Lady Eleanor Talbot…which was what made Edward’s sons and daughter illegitimate and led to Richard ascending the throne. If that was the case, it wouldn’t be Richard who wanted him out of the way. Indeed, Richard would be one of the last people to sweep him into eternity. Step forward any number of Woodvilles, who wanted to be back in power and couldn’t be if someone could prove there’d been a pre-contract.
There’s also the possibility that supporters of Henry Tudor wouldn’t want Hastings around if he knew about the pre-contract. Very inconvenient when Henry pledged to marry Elizabeth of York and unite England’s warring Houses of York and Lancaster. Well, that was his noble claim, of course. In fact he resented having to marry her and just had a fancy to usurp the throne. He had to legitimise her and her siblings, and thus her missing brothers, giving them a much better claim to the throne than his own.
Hmm, Hastings was therefore an exceedingly inconvenient presence if he could somehow prove she was definitely illegitimate – um, not that Henry’s family history erred on the side of legitimacy, come to think of it. They may have been legitimised by Richard II and confirmed as such by Henry IV, but the latter also made a point of barring them from the throne. Henry VII’s blood claim was therefore very washy, and he relied upon conquest to justify his usurpation. Having to marry Elizabeth in order to satisfy the strong Yorkist element among his nobility must have stuck in his craw.
That’s not to say the ensuing marriage did not become a happy one, but I doubt very much if it started out that way. It wouldn’t have started out at all if Hastings had put his oar in and strengthened Richard’s case. With him vouching for the existence of a pre-contract, far more wavering Yorkists would have accepted in 1483 that Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Edward IV’s last remaining brother, was indeed the rightful occupant of England’s throne.
So, we have the Woodvilles and Henry VII as Hastings’ likely enemies. Who knows what “horrible plot” they may have cooked up and seen that Richard heard about it? That he believed Hastings was scheming against him is quite clear. He thought/accepted that his own life was in danger because of whatever it was Hastings was supposedly up to. Only a fool would do nothing about it, and stand idly by until the Grim Reaper struck. But contrary to traditionalist insistence, Hastings was not hauled out immediately and executed over a tree trunk or whatever. There was a trial, conviction and sentence.
No doubt many of you will not agree with my reasoning, but it’s what I genuinely think.
Within walking distance of Hereford Cathedral, stands an imposing hotel called the Green Dragon. That was not always its name, however; in the 15th c it was The White Lyon and was used as the headquarters of Edward of March, soon to be Edward IV, around the time of the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross. It had a long-term history of receiving important visitors even before the Wars of the Roses, being a popular hostelry for pilgrims to the shrines of St Thomas Cantilupe and the Saxon St Ethelbert in the cathedral.
On February 2, after Edward won the day at Mortimer’s Cross, he retired to Hereford with several of the enemy commanders as prisoner–including the elderly Owen Tudor, “grandfather” of Henry Tudor. Tudor, as an important prisoner, was held in the White Lyon while his fate was decided. He believed he was going to be shown mercy, perhaps because of his age–but Edward had no inclination to show clemency and Owen Tudor was promptly beheaded in the Market Place. A plaque on the ground commemorates his execution. It was said that after he was beheaded, a madwoman took his head, set it up on the market cross and lit candles around it as she combed the blood-matted hair…
There is also another Wars of the Roses connection in Hereford that few seem to know about. In the Town Hall is a fine collection of plate, Town Charters dating back into the Middle Ages sealed by Richard Lionheart and Henry III, and ceremonial swords and maces. One of these is the ‘Mourning Sword‘ (You’ll note that Gloucester also has a ‘Mourning Sword’ presented by Richard III). This was given to the city by Henry VIII and was supposed to have been the battle-dented, broken sword of his “great-grandfather” Owen Tudor.
I was fortunate enough to find out about this item on a trip to Hereford where I inadvertently booked into the Green Dragon without having an idea that ‘Ed was here’ some 600 years before me! I had no idea about the sword either until reading a local magazine. So off I trotted to the Town Hall, not sure if the item was available for public viewing or not. The first gentlemen I spoke to at the desk, didn’t seem certain–he rang upstairs and asked, “Do we have a Mourning Sword?’ A few minutes later I was being ushered up the stairs to meet the Mayor’s assistant, who very kindly offered to show me the treasures of Hereford’s past.
The sword is in a case with two maces and a Cap of Maintenance. It is not used in any of the regular ceremonial functions of Hereford and will only be taken out for public use upon the death of the monarch. The assistant explained its history to me, then, to my great surprise, opened the cabinet, removed the sword and handed it to me. “You can take off the sheath,” he kindly offered. Unlike the other 17th C sword in a nearby case, which was light, poorly balanced and purely for show, unsheathed the Mourning Sword was clearly a finely-balanced medieval blade, showing the odd mark from use. It had been broken near the hilt and the hilt replaced by another showing the arms of Hereford.
It was a great honour to handle this ancient weapon, and although Owen was on the ‘opposite’ side to where my sympathies lie, I must admit I felt a shiver pass down my spine as I held it, and as I walked back to the White Lyon/Green Dragon in the heavy, eerie fog, I could only think of that cold February Day when the Parhelion shone in the sky and the blood of the man who ‘once laid his head in Queen Catherine’s lap’ spread out on the cobblestones of Hereford.
THE WHITE LYON, HEREFORD
THE MOURNING SWORD, TOWN HALL, HEREFORD
For those interested in such things, Macy’s online is offering a portrait of a ‘man in a decorative hat.’ Ideal for any room…especially your bathroom/washroom/toilet! (Just not the bedroom, please; those little mean eyes would doubtless follow you.)
The picture in question happens to be by Holbein…and wait, the ‘man’ depicted, hat or no hat, is none other than Henry VIII!
Clearly someone at Macy’s is not a history buff, or perhaps they just wanted to ignore the roly-poly tyrant and concentrate on his much more appealing titfer.
Whatever the case, if Henry were alive, I am sure he would see to it that this omission of his royal name would end with a great removal of hats…and heads with them.
Who do you think you are? is always an interesting programme and is disappointing to see only eight episodes in the series. In the past, Sir Matthew Pinsent, Frank Gardner, Danny Dyer and Clare Balding have all been revealed as proven descendants of Edward I. That has not happened in 2019 and few lines have gone back as far as the eighteenth century, so I hoped that the concluding episode’s research could beat that.
As it turned out, it did go back a long way. The subject was Mark Wright – not the red-haired central defender (left) who scored against Egypt in 1990, heading home a Gascoigne free kick, but a “reality show” star and former semi-professional full-back who was born only three years before that, who had a feeling that his complexion pointed to some Italian ancestry. This Mark Wright (right) was accompanied in the earliest scenes by Eddie, his paternal grandfather, who had collated his knowledge in advance, particularly about his own grandfather and namesake.
Edward Wright senior was a builder whose materials occasionally fell off the back of carts and was imprisoned for this on one occasion. On another, he was said to have left for America after another conviction and passenger lists proved that this really happened as opposed to being a cover for another “stretch”. With the help of Mark Smith (left), the arms and militaria expert from Antiques Roadshow, he proved that Edward Wright sourced horses for the British Army before signing up after reducing his age to serve in the First World War.
Next, Mark discovered that his grandfather’s mother came from a Jewish line named Simons/ Simmons, through which he was able to visit the 1701 Bevis Marks synagogue (right), built for the Sephardi (Iberian and North African) Jewish community whom Oliver Cromwell had allowed back into the British Isles.
Further research took him to Spain, in particular Jaen in Andalucia, where his ultimate known ancestor Antonio de Castro/ David de Mendoza, a fencing master, was born in 1661 and then brought up there. This was a family of “conversos”, but frequently came under suspicion from the Inquisition. Antonio, as he was known, was arrested and tortured, tried, convicted and imprisoned before escaping to Amsterdam with his wife and children, where they resumed an overt Jewish life. His nephew Miguel was then arrested and, possibly because of Antonio’s activities, burned, a fate he shares with an ancestor of Simon Sebag Montefiore, her brother and sister. On a brighter note, Mark was able to meet a distant cousin who is also a Mendoza descendant.
Wright actually showed a real flair for genealogy, enthusiastically drawing up tables on paper and spotting the religious significance of the name Mendoza. Might we hear more about his family some time?
Well, while researching the Painted Chamber of Westminster Palace, with particular reference to the “Good Parliament” of 1376, I couldn’t help imagining today’s House of Commons faced, not with someone like John Bercow (whose birthday it is today and is quite short with a head), but Edward the First! Can you just imagine old Longshanks putting up with all the parliamentary shenanigans we’re witnessing today? He’d see there were so many heads displayed on London Bridge there wouldn’t be any room left!
Which leads me to combine the subjects of Speakers and beheadings. How many of them actually met with this fate? If you go to this list you’ll be able to see all the Speakers until 1707. There is a link to subsequent Speakers. The man to be accepted (now) as the first true Speaker was Sir Peter de la Mare, although the title Speaker was not yet established.
It would seem that the following unfortunates were executed: Sir John Bussy (died 1399), Sir Thomas Tresham (died 1471),William Catesby (died 1485), Sir Richard Empson (died 1510), Edmund Dudley (died 1510), and Sir Thomas More (died 1536). Sir William Tresham, father of Thomas, was murdered/lynched in 1450. Back then it didn’t do to enter politics if your name was Tresham!
Maybe there were others who met a sticky end, if so, no doubt you will tell me!
As this excellent article relates, Frederick Solms-Baruth III was among those convicted after “Operation Valkerie”, the Wagnerian name for the July 1944 plot to kill Hitler through a bomb in a suitcase. Led by Claus von Stauffenberg (left), it almost succeeded but von Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators were almost all tortured and many executed horribly as early as the following day, although that isn’t the only echo of the mediaeval era in this case.
As it happens, Solms-Baruth was not among those put to death in the months following the failure of the bomb plot as he lived to 1951. However, just days after their arrest, many of them signed legal documents conveying their property to “third parties” who were effectively Gestapo stooges. It is, of course, beyond all credibility that these documents were signed without duress. Furthermore, was it not just a modern twist on the “attainder” – used to deprive many individuals of their assets in mediaeval and early modern times, without the actual necessity of executing all of them.
We have already shown how Shakespeare was inadvertently influenced by contemporary or earlier events in setting details – names, events, badges or physical resemblance – for his Hamlet, King Lear and Richard III. What of Romeo and Juliet, thought to have been written between 1591-5 and first published, in quarto form, in 1597?
The most notable point is that Romeo’s family name is Montague. The barony of Montagu was a courtesy title of the Earldoms of Salisbury and Warwick and Henry Pole, the last holder, was executed in 1538-9, as we have shown. His grandson, Henry Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon and a prominent figure for two thirds of Elizabeth I’s reign, died in 1595. Is that why Shakespeare chose a particular surname for the male lead character that doesn’t sound very Italian?