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Witchcraft (4): Witchcraft American Style

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A typical afternoon in modern day Salem, Massachusetts

Why do the Salem Witch Trials continue to fascinate after three hundred and twenty five years?  Why do tourists and locals, wiccans, witches, warlocks and wizards continue to walk the crowded streets of this pretty little seaside city in Massachusetts in search of magic and mayhem?  What propels them to stroll the narrow streets, licking ice cream cones and crowding into The House of Seven Gables, the Witch House and Frankenstein’s Castle?  Why do so many people take the walking tours of a city that only boasts two buildings that existed in the 17th century and never claimed Dr. Frankenstein as a resident?

When I visited in 2016, I was stopped by a nice lady wiccan who after cooing over my dog, informed me that my wire-haired terrier was an old soul who may have been one of the first victims of judiciary malfeasance.  While this may explain Dingo’s behavior, it didn’t explain why this city continues to fascinate. After all, most of the historical action took place in the nearby town of Danvers, formerly known as Salem Village.  In this bucolic town you can search for the secret grave of witchcraft-trial victim, Rebecca Nurse, who bravely declared her innocence to the end.  She is buried somewhere on her graceful homestead which is maintained to this day by volunteers – her house a picturesque bright red colonial saltbox.  Or you can walk along the lonely remains of the parsonage of  the Reverend Samuel Parris and ponder how could so much suffering and horror emerge from such a tiny dot on the landscape of Massachusetts Bay Colony?*

Better to get back to Salem and join the pirates and ghouls – where terror and death are neatly packaged and sold as tourist trinkets!

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The Rebecca Nurse Homestead

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The foundation of the parsonage of the Reverend Samuel Parris where the trouble began.

The founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in New England in the early 17th century brought enormous financial benefits to both the new world and the old world in industries such as shipbuilding, fur trading, fisheries and lumber.  As this colony developed, it also became a midway trading point from Europe to Africa and the Caribbean.  Goods from England, Portugal, France and Spain were used to purchase West African slaves to work in the sugarcane brakes and tobacco fields.   In turn, luxurious products such as  tobacco, sugar, molasses, indigo dye, rice, rum and cotton, produced by slaves and slave masters were exported back to Europe. This is the notorious “Triangle Trade” of molasses, rum and slaves.  But for the yeoman Puritans of New England, they could only scratch out a living on a hard and rocky soil, living on the edge of enormous dark forests while enduring brutal winters and terrifying Indian raids and massacres.  It is this harsh background, along with a religion obsessed with soul-crushing Original Sin, that many historians believe produced the unhinged behavior that would eventually lead to the gallows death of 19 innocent souls on a charge of witchcraft.**

In January of 1692, two children, Betty Parris and her cousin, Abigail Williams, fell ill in the household of the Reverend Samuel Parris.  Their illnesses were unusual in that they appeared to be violent fits rather than ordinary childhood indispositions.  According to “The Witches:  Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692 Salem” by historian Stacy Schiff, “they barked and yelped.  They fell dumb.  Their bodies shuddered and spun.  They went limp or spasmodically rigid…Abigail attempted to launch herself into the air, flinging her arms and making flying noises.”  Frightened, Rev. Parris was reluctant to turn to his congregation for help.  The villagers had gone through many ministers, all of whom failed to pass muster, including the hapless Parris.

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The Reverend Samuel Parris

Born in England and raised in Barbados by an English plantation owner, Samuel Parris arrived in Massachusetts from the Caribbean in approximately 1680 after failing as both a large-scale farmer and businessman.  It was there he may have acquired the slave Tituba who would play a leading role in the witchcraft drama.***  He enrolled at Harvard yet failed to acquire a degree.  In desperation, he turned to the ministry and eventually drifted to this flinty community by the sea.   He soon discovered that after chores, the villagers’ main hobbies included endless litigation over property rights, denying their pastoral leader much needed firewood and expressing displeasure at what they considered his high-handed demands****.  Nonetheless, he called in a Salem Village doctor, William Griggs, who took one look at the girls’ bizarre behavior and diagnosed “An Evil Hand” at work.  Reverend John Hale of nearby Beverly also confirmed the diagnosis of witchcraft.  Hearing that, the girls, along with a 12 year old afflicted neighbor, Ann Putnam, accused Tituba and two other women of tormenting them through supernatural means.  These women were Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne.  As is often the case with witchcraft accusations, both were considered ne’er do wells and shrews.  Goodwife Good was a near vagrant.

The phrase “all hell broke loose” has never been put to better effect.  Within a month, Ann Putnam’s father, Thomas, from a large,  litigious family and a militia sergeant during the brutal King Philip’s War, filed formal complaints against the women with local magistrates, John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin.  As Mary Beth Norton notes “In the Devil’s Snare,” “the accusations moved from the religious to the legal realm” with devastating speed and ease.  So many people were accused by so many accusers that the judges were compelled to move the court from a tavern to the meetinghouse which had also served as Salem Village’s church.  When the head count exceeded thirty, Constable Joseph Herrick apparently moved the prisoners from his own home to the dank prisons of Salem Town and Boston.

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A reconstruction of the Salem meetinghouse which stands close to the parsonage and Rebecca Nurse’s farm.

The slave Tituba was one of the first called to testify and while refusing to call herself a witch, admitted to dabbling in witchcraft.  She testified to hellish culinary achievements such as baking a witchcake and suggested to the court she may have signed the Devil’s Book.  (Signing legal documents with Lucifer appears to have been a New England invention not an Old England one.)  She too implicated Good and Osborne and evoked fearsome images of the three of them riding broomsticks in the night as far as Boston.   Her confession was a shrewd move on her part because, invariably, those who quickly admitted their guilt escaped execution while those who did not invariably wound up on the gallows.  Both Good and Osborne denied being witches; Good was hanged and Goody Osborne died in a stinking prison awaiting execution.

Such unusual jurisprudence to our modern minds was nonetheless a consequence of colonial law which looked for guilt far more than innocence.  The highly imaginative accusations of very young girls  – demonstrated in histrionic fashion whenever court was in session – carried far more weight than the protestations of law-abiding and church-going adults.  People who quickly admitted to wrongdoing might escape with a prison sentence or be set free.  Admirably if tragically, very few of the accused admitted to consorting with the Devil.

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One of the victims testifies in typical fashion

In many ways, New England witchcraft accusations and trials mirrored the trials and convictions of Common Law England.  Witches were not burned at the stake in either country and torture was generally avoided.  In both countries, accusations of witchcraft frequently arose over unexplained losses or petty disputes.  According to David D. Hall, writing in 1985 in The New England Quarterly, “this conflict emerged whenever someone rejected a neighbor’s request for aid.  Hence…the sequence of rejection, anger, guilt and accusations of witchcraft.  Guilt turned into accusations of maleficium (sorcery) when and if misfortune followed, for misfortune lent itself to interpretation as revenge by the offended party.” Thomas Putnam, father of afflicted Ann, had recent unexplained losses of livestock – a horse and cow had dropped dead without explanation.  It was he who brought one hundred and twenty accusations of sorcery to the court.  That appears to have been one-third of all accusations.  He, himself, modestly testified against only seventeen of the accused.

Although the Salem Witch trials are remembered for the wild behavior and absurd accusations of the “victims” (memorably dramatized in Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”) the colonial behavior also differed markedly from the Europeans.  Firstly, the head count of the executed were puny compared to Europe.  Approximately 80 people died during the century of witch-hunting in America.  According to David D. Hall “…in the same decades that saw some 300 English witches executed, the Scottish authorities put to death an estimated 1,300 persons out of a much smaller population.”  Secondly, American witches tended to lead far duller, more constrained lives – almost puritanical in their wizardry.  They flew on broomsticks from one hick burg to another or had dull legal conferences with the devil.  Occasionally they moved furniture around households in mischievous fashion or fiddled nastily with Saturday night’s baked beans.  It must be said, though, that at the Salem trials, the accusations of spectral violence – from biting throats to choking to pricking with hot pokers and pins – far exceeded the usual witchy claims and must, in some way reflect repressed fury and depression on the part of the young women.  On the other hand, as Stacy Schiff points out: “Continental witches had more fun.  They walked on their hands.  They made pregnancies last three years.  They turned their enemies’ faces upside down and backward.”  When European witches flew, they traveled to far more exotic places than hidebound Boston.  They had lascivious encounters with the devil and his minions while sexual affairs were strictly verboten among the Massachusetts Bay sorcerers.

By early autumn of 1692, nineteen people were led to the gallows, convicted of being witches.  (Several more died in prison.)  Some of their names come down to us in culture and history:  John Proctor, who maintained his innocence to the end became the hero of “The Crucible.”  Giles Corey, irascible and vitriolic towards the judges and accusers, was the only victim tortured to death:  pressed with larger and larger stones upon his naked body until he expired.  The seventy-one year old Rebecca Nurse was a paragon of virtue within the community until Thomas Putnam’s wife accused the old woman of engaging her in a spectral wrestling match.  Dragged in front of Judge Hathorne, she remained unruffled and quietly defiant.  Meanwhile, her large and worthy family took up her cause, bravely submitting petitions testifying to her good character.  They directly confronted the Putnam family and one sharp-eyed daughter witnessed one of Rebecca’s accusers, Goodwife Sarah Bibber, surreptitiously jabbing herself with pins to produce bloody pricks.  This was too much even for a Salem jury – Rebecca was acquitted.  At this good news, the judges flew into a fury and jurors was forced back into the jury room.  They deliberated twice more and emerged to unanimously convict her.  She, along with four other women, were sent to the gallows on July 19th, 1692.   While Rebecca Nurse maintained her dignity it is noteworthy to mention that Sarah Good did not.  Pulled and prodded up the stairs of the gibbet, she harangued her judges and added a final curse on Judge Nicholas Noyes:  “God will give you blood to drink!”  Many years later, he died during a hemorrhage, blood filling his throat.

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An over-the-top depiction of Tituba bewitching the Parris household

By late autumn, the crisis had exhausted itself and accusations tapered off.  Increase Mather, a leading Puritan and president of Harvard, wrote a treatise condemning the use of spectral evidence at witchcraft trials. His writings on the subject happily influenced future judiciary proceedings.

Author Christopher Bigsby  evokes the bleak aftermath of the witch hunt: “depredations of the countryside:  unharvested crops, untended animals, houses in disrepair…the breaking of the social contract that binds a community together, as love and mutual respect binds individuals.”  Despite the cruel upheaval of the summer, life slowly resurrected itself.  Salem villagers returned to their neglected farms for harvest while others quietly buried their dead in unmarked graves.  Many of the children and teenage girls who made accusations left the village only to find they were not wanted in other villages. Several of them ended up accused of crimes such as adultery or had children out of wedlock or made abusive marriages.  Many of the them died young.  And yet one remained to tell a tale:

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Notes:

*The parsonage was excavated in 1970 by local historian, Richard Trask.  He maintains that the town of Danvers was unhappy with the archaeological dig because it once again brought up the trial and its attendant horrors.  Mr. Trask is a descendant of John Proctor.

**According to historian David D. Hall, traditionalist Salem historian, Charles W. Upham, “insisted that Calvinism, or the Puritan version of it, perpetuated a literal belief in witchcraft that clergyman such as Cotton Mather put to devastating use.”  This has since been disputed although it is demonstrably true that the Puritan clergy of New England at this time had a very real belief in the supernatural and its attendant evils upon the populace.

***The origins of the slave Tituba have been disputed.  Many historians believe that she was a black slave from Barbados while others suspect she may have been a Native American because she was married to a man eponymously named John Indian.  All agree she was not native to the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

****Parris irritated his congregants when he purchased gold candlesticks to replace the pewter ones used at the meeting house.  The candlesticks are used to comic effect in Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.”

Acknowledgements:

Witchcraft and the Limits of Interpretation by David D. Hall published in The New England quarterly, Vol. 58, No 2 (June., 1985), 253-281.

The Witches:  Suspicion, Betray and Hysteria in 1692 Salem by Stacy Schiff, published by Back Bay Books/Little, Brown and Company, 2015.

In the Devil’s Snare by Mary Beth Norton, published by First Vintage Books, 2003.

The Devil in Massachusetts by Marion Starkey, published by Alfred A. Knopf, 1949.

The Crucible by Arthur Miller, published by Penguin Books, 2003.

Witchcraft (2): The Pendle Trials

Lancashire, in the early 17th Century, was one of the poorest and least populated counties of England, where even many gentry families had an income of less than £100 a year. The Forest of Pendle, which lies between Burnley, Colne, Clitheroe and Whalley in a remote corner of the county close to the Yorkshire border, has been described as ‘wild, bleak and backward.’ (1)

Pendle was not a forest in the normal sense of the word, but a former royal hunting preserve with particular customs of its own. Much of it was moorland, and most of the rest pasture of moderate quality, with little in the way of arable farming, the climate and the quality of the soil imposing severe limitations. Although in the 21st Century it is a relatively prosperous area, few of its 17th Century inhabitants were well-off. Most survived as farm labourers or servants, and many were close to destitution, particularly those who were aged or infirm. Because of the customs of the area, it was however possible to enjoy a cottage with ‘squatter’s rights’, even though that cottage might be a miserable hovel.

There was also the matter of religion. It is commonly said that Lancashire at this time was one third Catholic, but this is probably an understatement, particularly in rural areas such as Pendle. The Puritan element in Lancashire tended to be clustered in towns such as Manchester and Bolton, where many of the inhabitants were independent cloth workers. Of course, it must be understood that not all Catholics were recusants; some attended the Church of England services from time to time in order to avoid fines, and the exact religious sympathies of many families is hard to discern with assurance. It is certain that some at least nominally Protestant families had a more benign attitude to their Catholic neighbours than did others. Equally it should be understood that practically all so-called ‘Puritans’ remained full, observant members of the Church of England and were not, at this time, a separate denomination. Indeed, the Jacobean Church of England was firmly Calvinist in outlook – something which is not always recognised – and the Armenian innovations of Charles I and Archbishop Laud were still some years in the future.

King James I saw witches as his enemies, not least because of the alleged attempt of the so-called North Berwick witches to drown him and his wife on their way back from Denmark. His obsession with witchcraft led him to write a book on the subject.  After the Gunpowder Plot, he had a similar view of Roman Catholics. Any magistrate who wanted to win the King’s approval could do no better than to crack down on supposed witches and Catholics. As far as witches were concerned, a great deal of firm evidence was not necessarily required. After all, a sovereign capable of believing that witches were able to sail the sea in sieves (as the North Berwick witches were supposed to have done) was not short of credulity in this matter. The best “evidence” (if it could be procured) was the confessions of the alleged witches themselves. The techniques for obtaining such confessions were not necessarily fair or pretty. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act was still far away in the future.

In Pendle there were two rival families of alleged witches, each headed by an elderly grandmother. In the red corner, so to speak, were Anne Whittle (alias Chattox) and her daughter, Anne Redfearn. In the blue corner, Elizabeth Southerns (alias Demdike) with her daughter, Elizabeth Device, and grandchildren, Alison Device, James Device, and Jennet Device. These people somehow eked out a living by a combination of begging (sometimes with threats), casual labour on farms, possible “outwork” for the local textile trade based in Colne and, doubtless, “healing services” for local animals and people. In an age before vets, farmers often relied on the local wise woman to heal their sick animals. Also, such doctors as existed were well beyond the pockets of the poor, who could only make use of herbal remedies or prayer if they fell ill.

It is quite possible that some of the alleged “incantations” of the “witches” were nothing more sinister than mangled versions of Latin prayers. In The Stripping of the Altars, Eamon Duffy describes the use of such prayers in Chapter 8, Charms, Pardons, and Promises. What was once seen as a harmless request for God’s assistance, was now seen as, at best, a form of superstitious magic and at worst an appeal to the Devil. The fact that Catholic belief still had a grip in rural Lancashire, and that “official” Christian ministry was rather thin on the ground in the area may also have contributed to the continuation of ancient traditions.

Matters came to a head in March 1612. Alison Device, who was visiting the Trawden area, either begging or procuring supplies from farms, or both. On the edges of Colne she met a pedlar, one John Lawe of Halifax, and asked him for pins. (It appears these were of the type used to fasten cloth “pieces” onto wooden frames, which demonstrates that the family were probably involved in the textile trade.) Unfortunately Mr Lawe, after a long journey with his pack on his back, was more interested in getting into the pub for a drink than making a small sale. Some sort of argument developed – possibly Alison set her dog on him – and a few moments later Lawe collapsed in the road. In all probability from a stroke. Locals carried him into the nearby Greyhound Inn. Alison took a last look at him and then departed in some haste.

There, had all things been equal, the matter might have ended. Unfortunately for Alison her reputation as a “witch” went before her, and when Lawe’s son arrived in Colne to see his father (who was paralysed on one side) the locals let him know of her history. Abraham Lawe went at once to the “Malkin Tower” (the Device family’s grandly-named residence) to confront Alison and take her to Colne to face his father, who accused the girl of bewitching him. Alison (who may genuinely have believed in her own power) admitted that she had, and begged John Lawe to forgive her, which he did.

Despite John Lawe’s generosity of spirit, Alison was hauled off to Read Hall (several miles away) and put in front of the local J.P., Roger Nowell. Her mother and brother were also brought there.

Somehow, and by whatever means, Nowell extracted a string of confessions from these people that involved Alison, her grandmother and the rival “Chattox” and her daughter and made up a juicy case of alleged witchcraft.

Alison’s grandmother “Demdike”, along with “Chattox” and the latter’s daughter, Anne Redfearn, were brought before Nowell on the basis of Alison’s evidence. Surprisingly (you might think) both “Demdike” and “Chattox”, both elderly and more or less blind, made full confessions, both admitting they had sold their souls to the devil. Anne was more reticent, but was accused by “Demdike” of making clay images of people with intent to injure them by witchcraft. All three, plus Alison, were committed for trial at Lancaster Assizes.

Even this was not the end of it. On Good Friday 1612 there was an alleged gathering of witches at the Malkin Tower, and a conspiracy was hatched to blow up Lancaster Castle and rescue the prisoners. The main evidence for this came from Alison Device’s brother and sister, the latter a girl of about eight. No one seems to have asked the obvious question – how on earth were a group of poor people supposed to obtain and transport sufficient gunpowder to blow up a castle?

On 27th April Nowell and his fellow J.P. Nicholas Bannister, on the basis of reports of this meeting, committed a further eight persons for trial: Elizabeth Device, James Device, Alice Nutter, Katherine Hewitt, John Bulcock, Jane Bulcock, Alice Grey and Jennet Preston. The “odd one out” among this group was Alice Nutter, a woman of some local consequence.

In fairness to the “legal system” of the time, such as it was, it must be said that not all witches sent for trial were convicted. Indeed, the three so-called Salmesbury witches, before the court at the same time as those from Pendle, were acquitted. Even Anne Redfearn was acquitted of the first  murder charge brought against her, but was immediately brought back and found guilty of another murder.

The star witness for the prosecution was the young child, Jennet Device. As for the rest of the accused, apart from Alison, found guilty of harming John Lawe by witchcraft, nearly all were found guilty of murdering one person or another by witchcraft. The exceptions were “Demdike” who died in prison awaiting trial, and Alice Grey, who was acquitted.

All were hanged; though Jennet Preston, a resident of Yorkshire, was both tried and executed at York.

It is strange to record that in later years James I began to have doubts about “witchcraft”. This was because his own examinations of sundry “witches” and their accusers had revealed examples of fraud that were obvious even to him. However, this change in his attitude came far too late to help the “Pendle Witches”.

(1) Bull, S., The Civil Wars in Lancashire, p.15.

Sources:

The Lancashire Witch Conspiracy, John A. Clayton.

The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology, Rossell H Robbins.

Website: http://www.pendlewitches.co.uk/  (This contains several of the alleged confessions and much detailed information about the case that cannot be included in so short a post as this.)

North Berwick Witch Trials: http://www.witchcraftandwitches.com/trials_north_berwick.html

Are we still ruled by superstition….?

Above are the Venerable Bede and King Cnut, who are concerned in the following extract from Medieval Man by Frederick Harrison:-

“…Only Bede wrote about such subjects as astronomy and geography; and his knowledge of these was conditioned by the teaching of the Church. As time went on, as much reliance was placed on charms as on prayer and the skill of the leech. The need was met by the creation of the order of exorcists, which, in the third century A.D., was added to the other orders conferred by the Church. At certain periods of the year, evil spirits that were regarded as the cause of bodily or mental disorders were exorcised by the appointed ministers of the Church. The ministry was no sinecure, for the demand for it was great. Using his book of exorcisms, the exorcist would bid the evil spirit depart by invoking the Name of the Trinity.

“Side by side with the exorcist there lived and worked in Anglo-Saxon England the wizard, the witch and the “medicine man”, all of whom were ready to sell their skill in even such obscure and troublesome problems as unrequited love, to which end drugged beer and ale could work wonders.”

“…With the belief in witchcraft went a belief in elves, who were supposed to live on high land, in woods or near water. Anyone who suffered from the disease of the water-elf, one symptom of which was manifested by livid finger-nails and watery eyes, could be cured only by the used of certain herbs and incantations. There was a kind of hiccup known as the elf-hiccup. Dwarfs were shunned as workers of evil and as being in league with the devil. Their fabled power to make themselves invisible by wearing the “hell-cap” or “hell-clothing” made them specially fearsome. Storms and tempests and even death were caused by witches and wizards. An attempt was made by King Cnut to put a stop to these superstitious practices; his actual words are worth quoting as revealing his enlightened nature:

“…and we forbid earnestly every heathenship, that a man reverence idols, that is, that a man reverence heathen gods, the sun or the moon, fire or flood, waterwylls or stones, trees of the wood of any sort, or love witchcraft, or perform underhand work in any wise, either by way of sacrifice or divining, or perform any act of such delusions…

“Yet even Bede believed that storms could be raised by witches. He records that the ship in which Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre, and Lupus, Bishop of Troyes, were voyaging home was driven out of its coursed by demons, who, however, dispersed when the two holy men bade them, in the Name of the Trinity, depart. Then the storm ceased.” Extract ends.

Cnut was indeed enlightened by the standards of his day, and although we smile when we hear the story of how he ordered the sea to retreat, he was actually teaching those around him a very wise lesson. Not that many were prepared to learn from it. And Bede not only believed in witches, but accepted that issuing orders in the Name of the Trinity would send demons packing. Why did it never occur to him that if that was all it took, how come the demons kept coming back for more?

For Christians, the Lord’s Prayer protects against evil, and is uttered in the Name of the Trinity, yet through the centuries, right until now, a great many continue to believe in witches, the black arts and Satanism.

In The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England, Ian Mortimer writes:

“…The word which best sums up the medieval attitude to the Devil, miracles and everything in between, is superstition.” How true. There were all sorts of stories, such as so-and-so saw the Devil enter the local church, or in the dairy, souring the milk. Yet, a national disaster, which you might expect to be laid at Beelzebub’s door, would be taken as a sign of the Almighty’s displeasure with, say, wicked Londoners, or even humankind in general. One cannot help but wonder what Cnut might have had to say about the giant hailstones that fell during a terrible storm in 1360, killing many men and horses. How enlightened might he have been then?

Yet for all belief in witches, there were, apparently, no more than a dozen cases of supposed witches being executed for the whole period between the Norman Conquest and the Reformation, and most of these had been involved in plots against the monarch or his friends. (See Hibbert, The English – a Social History – 1066-1945, p.261) Witch-hunts and all that vile hysteria came to England in the Seventeenth Century.

So, what conclusion can be drawn from the above? Perhaps that for all their superstition and general gullibility, the people of Anglo-Saxon and Medieval England were more tolerant than those of Seventeenth Century. Witches appear to have mingled with the general populace, and been treated with a reasonably healthy respect. And yet, in 1487, came the Malleus Maleficarum. http://www.malleusmaleficarum.org/ Hardly a friendly treatise on witchcraft! Yet we are told there were only twelve executions of witches.

I don’t know what Cnut would have made or it all, because I’m darned if I know what even I think! Was witchcraft dreaded? Is it still dreaded? Does that uncertainty mean that beneath my modern veneer, I’m just as superstitious as my forebears?

Excuse me while I cross my fingers behind my back….

 

 

A further selection of Scropes….

The name “Scrope” was usually pronounced, and sometimes spelled, as “Scroop”.am

To follow yesterday’s post

William, Earl of Wiltshire c1351-1399

William was the second son of Richard Scrope, first Baron Scrope of Bolton. In his younger days he was sometimes associated with John of Gaunt, who made him Seneschal of Aquitaine in 1383.

Subsequently, he secured the favour of Richard II, who made him Vice-Chamberlain of the Household in 1393, and granted him the castle and lordship of Marlborough. In that same year his father purchased the Kingdom of Mann for him, an example of provision was made for a younger son without dividing the main inheritance. He was given the Garter in 1394, and after the fall of Arundel, Gloucester and Warwick in 1397 was made Earl of Wiltshire and given a share of the confiscated lands. In 1398 he was promoted to the important post of Lord Treasurer.

Although Scrope gets little mention in the accounts of Richard II’s reign it is clear that by this time he had become a very influential man. He was given the custody of a number of royal castles, including Wallingford and Beaumaris. He was left in England when Richard II went to Ireland in 1399, and was, in effect, the “active ingredient” in a government under the chairmanship of Edmund of Langley, Duke of York.

When Henry Bolingbroke invaded, Scrope was one of several men who abandoned the Duke of York and took refuge in Bristol. When that city fell to Bolingbroke’s forces, Scrope was captured and summarily beheaded. (He may have had a “trial” of sorts before the earls of Northumberland and Westmorland, but this is by no means certain.)

When one considers the gallons of ink that have been used in bemoaning the execution of the saintly Anthony Rivers in 1483, it is rather surprising to discover that Henry IV has received no similar criticism for the execution of Scrope, which amounted to plain murder, Henry holding no office at the time and thus acting as a lawless, private individual. Historians do not seem to think Scrope worth arguing about, although it is hard to discern what he had done to Henry that merited such savage treatment.

Subsequently, Henry’s first parliament threw a cloak of legality over the murder and confirmed the forfeiture of Scrope’s lands and possessions.

William Scrope had married Isabel Russell, daughter of Sir Maurice Russell of Dorset and Gloucestershire. Although Sir Maurice was far from being a minor member of the gentry, and was particularly active in Gloucestershire, his daughter was not an aristocrat, still less a Plantagenet, and this may help explain why Henry allowed her almost nothing to live on.

Richard, Archbishop of York, 1350-1405

Richard was the third son of Henry, first Lord Scrope of Masham. He received his first rectorship as early as 1368, although he was not actually ordained priest until 1377. The very next year he was no less than Chancellor of the University of Cambridge! He had, of course, achieved considerable academic success, but it seems likely that patronage also played its part. He was a papal chaplain in Rome from 1382-1386, and became Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield in 1386. His diplomatic career included a visit to Rome to further Richard II’s attempt to have his grandfather, Edward II, canonised. He was translated to the see of York in 1398.

Richard was possibly under the influence of the Percy family, with whom his family had connections, and made no attempt to prevent the deposition of Richard II. Indeed, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, he formally led Henry to the throne. On the other hand, when the Percy family rose in rebellion against Henry in 1403, there is no significant evidence that he was involved.

Henry IV remained deeply unpopular, not least in the North and there were a number of conspiracies against him in the years that followed. Unfortunately for them, his enemies never quite managed to coordinate their plans and bring their strength against him at the same time. 1405 was the year of the so-called Tripartite Indenture, the plan to divide England and Wales between Owain Glyndwr, the Earl of Northumberland. and Sir Edmund Mortimer. Owain had at last received armed French assistance, and was poised to invade England. It was in these circumstances that Richard Scrope, no doubt working in collaboration with Northumberland, raised an army of about 8,000 men which assembled on Shipton Moor. With the Archbishop were his nephew, Sir William Plumpton, and the young Thomas Mowbray, Earl Marshal and earl of Nottingham and Norfolk.

They were met by a force headed by Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland, which Northumberland had failed to intercept. Instead of engaging, the Archbishop agreed to parley and was tricked by false promises into disbanding his army. After that he, Plumpton and Mowbray were promptly arrested. After a travesty of a trial – a trial in which Chief Justice refused to participate – all three were beheaded.

Scrope was buried in York Minster and his tomb became an unofficial shrine. Lancastrian kings naturally sought to discourage to the cult, while the Yorkist kings, equally naturally, looked upon it with favour. However, Scrope was never officially canonised. It need hardly be said that Scrope was the first Archbishop to be executed in England – Becket, after all, was simply murdered – and with the sovereign’s full authority.  He was also the last prelate to be so dealt with until the Tudor era.

The Pope excommunicated all those involved in Scrope’s death, although the sentence was never published in England. Henry IV eventually secured a pardon by offering to found two religious houses; these were not, in fact, founded in his lifetime, but came to being under Henry V, and were the last such to be created in the medieval period.

It was soon after Scrope’s death that Henry was struck by the mysterious illness which made the rest of his life a misery. Naturally, his enemies ascribed his affliction to the vengeance of Richard Scrope.

Henry Scrope, Lord Scrope of Masham, c1370-1415

Henry Scrope was knighted by Richard II in 1392, and was retained by that king for life in 1396. Nevertheless he rapidly transferred his allegiance to Henry IV in 1399 and served him loyally in various capacities throughout his reign. His first wife, Philippa de Bryan, was a Welsh heiress (or perhaps more correctly a heiress of lands in Wales) and part of his effort was directed towards guarding her lands against the Glyndwr rising. He inherited the Masham barony from his father in 1406, but seems to have been “running the family business” so to speak for some years. He was briefly Lord Treasurer in 1410, possibly because of his connections to Prince Henry (who was running the government at the time because of Henry IV’s illness) and Sir Thomas Beaufort. In this role he was successful, and actually left a surplus in the Treasury at the end of his service.

In his private life, Scrope made a second marriage in 1410, to Joanne (or Joan) Holland, Duchess of York, the widow of Edmund of Langley. Joanne was a wealthy woman – T. B. Pugh estimated that her survival for thirty-two years after Langley’s death cost the York family in excess of £30,000. Quite apart from this, Joanne had a portion of the earldom of Kent (following the death of her brother, Edmund, in 1408) and also a share in the lands of her second husband, Lord Willoughby. The joint income of Scrope and his wife was around £1,800 a year, a vast amount for a mere baron.

Unfortunately Joanne and her husband did not live in wedded bliss, and it appears that around 1413 she left him, at least for a time, taking with her about £5,000 worth of his property and decamped to her Yorkist dower castle, Sandal. In his will of June 1415 he offered her a choice of his belongings to the value of £2000 in return for her abandoning any claim to one third or one half of his goods. This suggests his belongings must have amounted to more than £6,000! Since Joanne was already engaged in a quarrel with her Willoughby stepson over personal property, it seems she was not a lady who considered material possessions to be unimportant.

It should not be overlooked that Henry Scrope was a nephew of the late Archbishop of York, and it may be that his loyalty to the Lancastrian regime was not a fervent as it appeared on the surface. In any event he allowed himself to be drawn into the conspiracy known as the Southampton Plot led by Joanne’s stepson, Richard of York, Earl of Cambridge, which sought to replace Henry V with the Earl of March.

It is equally possible that Scrope went into the conspiracy with every intention of betraying it. It appears certain that he did his best to persuade the Earl of March not to get more deeply involved – hardly the action of a convinced plotter – and that he remonstrated with Walter Lucy, March’s close adviser over the matter. Scrope was not even invited to a crucial supper party at Cranbury, held by March and attended by Cambridge, Lucy and Lord Clifford.

However, it was March, not Scrope, who disclosed the conspiracy to Henry V, and the result was that Scrope was executed and all his lands and possessions forfeited. Duchess Joanne acted very promptly to secure a share of the proceeds, including a solid gold statue of the Virgin and various items of plate stamped with the Scrope arms that she claimed as her personal property. It appears nothing was done to retrieve the various expensive items she filched. Scrope’s brother and heir, and his mother, were not so fortunate. Although Henry V intended to permanently alienate most or all of the family’s lands, he had an attack of conscience on his death-bed, and the youngest Scrope brother, and eventual heir, John, was able to rebuild much of the inheritance.

It is, in fact, unlikely that Henry Scrope was guilty of intending the deaths of Henry V and his brothers. It is much more reasonable to say that his offence amounted to Misprision of Treason at worst.

Sources:

Complete Peerage, G.E. Cokayne

Henry IV of England, J.L. Kirby

1415, Ian Mortimer.

The Fears of Henry IV, Ian Mortimer

Henry V and the Southampton Plot, T.B. Pugh

The History of England Under Henry the Fourth, J.H. Wylie

Notes:
This explains how closely the three rebels and Sir Ralph Scrope were related. Note that Sir William of Bracewell’s sons married two de Ros sisters and that the Bolton branch lived on into the seventeenth century although the Masham male line died out early in Henry VIII’s reign. Furthermore, Richard, Bishop of Carlisle, was Richard III’s cousin.

The treacherous Welshman who supposedly killed Richard III….!

 

Rhys ap Thomas

A few days ago I watched a TV documentary about Rhys ap Thomas, The Man Who Killed Richard III. It made my Welsh blood boil! The man was a bullying, thieving snake, not a hero! Anyway, here is the TV company’s blurb:-

“Who killed Richard III?

http://www.historychannel.com.au/shows/man-killed-richard-iii/

“This is a story of conspiracy and betrayal, of a lust for power and a lost allegiance; the story of the man who killed King Richard III.

“In this documentary we set out to prove that the Welshman Sir Rhys ap Thomas, master of Carew Castle in Pembrokeshire, killed King Richard III, changing the course of British history.

“Sir Rhys ap Thomas had sworn allegiance to King Richard III. He had accumulated lands and status in Wales that were dependent, in part, on his loyalty to Richard. But at the Battle of Bosworth he betrayed him, fighting on the side of Henry Tudor. He dealt the fatal blow to Richard III.

“We uncover what drove Rhys ap Thomas to betray not only his master but a King – and we reveal his remarkable story; from a childhood embroiled in the War of the Roses and exile to the continent, to a determined and ambitious man who brought an abrupt end to the Plantagenet line, carving the way for his own rise to power at the heart of the Tudor dynasty.”

Whether the fellow really did kill Richard at Bosworth I don’t know. Nobody really does, but he gets the kudos…or notoriety, according to which side you support. Welsh blood or not, I support Richard. Go on, you hadn’t guessed, had you? My unbiased views masked it completely.

The documentary made much of the fact that Rhys would have supported Richard against Henry Tudor, had not Richard demanded custody of Rhys’ four-year-old son as a hostage, to make certain of Rhys’ loyalty. This, apparently, was too much for the Welshman’s honour, so he refused, and Richard (who was clearly and rightly suspicious anyway) was alerted to his duplicity. Well, honour didn’t figure much in Rhys’ later career, which was decidedly dishonest and acquisitive of property that was not his to take. Hmm, in that regard he is worthy of Henry VII. He was certainly ambitious in many ways, having numerous mistresses with whom he attempted to populate the whole of Wales! Or so it seemed.

They referred to Richard III as Richard of York. Sorry, that was his father. Richard III was Richard of Gloucester. Oh, and there was a Duke of Oxford. Sorry, he was only an Earl. Who are these people who are paid to do the research? And there was no mention of WHY Richard came to the throne, just that he did and was believed to have killed his nephews in the process. Convenient, because it made him sound as horrible as Rhys. The word ruthless cropped up as well. with regard to Richard, of course.

It was selective reporting of which Tydder would have been proud, and it gave me indigestion. And me born in Pontypridd and brought up in Cilfynydd and St Athan!

The programme did dispose of one myth, the one where Rhys vowed loyalty and swore to Richard that Henry Tudor would only passed through Wales over his body! The story goes that this was achieved by Rhys lying under a bridge while Tudor and his invading army passed over. It seems that the truth is that the two armies (Tudor’s and Rhys’) simply took different routes and thus avoided each other until, presumably, the English border was reached.

There was an almost redeeming moment. Right at the very end. The presenters had to admit that Rhys was a turncoat. That’s putting it mildly. I wonder if he would have been so keen to support the Tudors if he’d known that his family was to lose everything and Henry VIII was to execute his grandson as a traitor?

Anyway, it’s believed that right at the end of his life, Rhys had cause to reflect upon his guilt where Richard was concerned. Nice one, Rhys. Wait until the pearly gates appear out of the mist in front of you, and then hastily repent and seek forgiveness. I only hope the Almighty had been making copious notes over the years!

A humorous account of what really happened with Rhys and that bridge can be found here.

Note: Rhys’ grandson, Rhys ap Gryffudd (aka fitzUryan), who was executed for treason in 1531/2, was married to Katherine Howard, granddaughter of the first Duke of Norfolk. They were ancestors of Lucy Walter.
Sir William Parker, who was a standard bearer at Bosworth, was the grandfather of Jane, Viscountess Rochford, who was also beheaded under Henry VIII, with Katherine’s cousin and namesake.

Why Castle Isabel became Castle Philipp….

ShrawardineCastle12002

There are numerous castles in the Welsh Marches. I was going to say countless, but I’m sure someone will have counted to the very last motte. Among the lesser known is Shrawardine (pronounced Shray-den), in Shropshire, not far from Shrewsbury. What remains of it overlooks the River Severn, and as there was another fortification of some sort on the other bank, at Little Shrawardine, it is believed they guarded a crossing of some sort.

It is not known when there was first a castle at Shrawardine, but it is mentioned in 1165, and it led a chequered life until 1244, when it came into the hands of the Fitzalan family, Earls of Arundel. The castle was rebuilt under John Fitzalan, the seventh earl, who renamed it Castle Isabel, after his wife, Isabel d’Aubigny.

Thus it remained until the eleventh earl, Richard Fitzalan (beheaded 1397) married the young widow, Philippa Mortimer, Countess of Pembroke. It would seem he doted on her, for he too rebuilt and refurbished Shrawardine castle (his most important castle in the Welsh Marches – his main residence was Arundel in Sussex) and changed its name to Castle Philipp.

A romantic lot, these Fitzalan men? Well, I can’t imagine why either earl would rename a castle after his wife unless he loved her. If they felt nothing, the castle would have remained plain Shrawardine throughout.[1]

[1]See Lords and Lordship by R.R. Davies, p. 87. “…Richard, earl of Arundel (d.1397), renamed Shrawardine castle (Shropshire) Castle Philippa in honour of his wife, Philippa Mortimer, and doubtless transformed it to suit her tastes and needs…” I have seen it named Castle Philipp, Chastel Philipp and Castle Philippa and several other variations.

To read more, although not about Richard and Philippa, because for a long time, although it was known there was a Castle Philipp, it was not known it was Shrawardine, please see: http://www.castlewales.com/shraw.html and http://www.cpat.org.uk/projects/longer/shraward/shraward.htm and http://castlefacts.info/castledetails/castleDetails3?uin=13187

 

 

Black Vaughan of Hergest Court in Herefordshire….

 

Hergest Court, showing water in which the ghost of Black Vaughan is supposedly trapped - photograph from Google

Hergest Court, showing the pool in which the ghost of Black Vaughan is supposedly trapped beneath a stone – photograph from Google.

Thomas Vaughan ap Rosser was born in 1400, and nicknamed ‘Black’ Vaughan because of his black hair; or perhaps because of his black nature. No one knows which. His main residence was Hergest Court, near Kington in Herefordshire, and his wife was Ellen Gethin of Llanbister, Radnorshire. She was, from all accounts, a formidable woman, maybe even prepared to dress as a man in order to take part in an archery contest. Her purpose was not to aim at the target, but at the heart of the cousin who had killed her young brother. True? Who knows?

Thomas Vaughan had interests in the Stafford lordships of Huntington, Brecon and Hay, and in 1461 Edward IV appointed him receiver of Brecon, Hay, and Huntington during the minority of Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham. Thomas supported Edward in the Wars of the Roses, but while marching toward Banbury in 1469, to aid the Yorkist cause at the Battle of Edgecote, he was captured by the Lancastrians.

Battle of Edgecote - from YouTube link below

You can see an interesting animation of the Battle of Edgecote here  – from which the above illustration is taken.

The Lancastrians took Thomas to Pontefract and beheaded him. His body was returned to Kington, to the church of St Mary, on the hill above the village. In due course Ellen joined him there, and their alabaster effigies still adorn their tomb.

Thomas 'Black' Vaughan and his wife, Ellen Gethin - The Terrible

Thomas ‘Black’ Vaughan and his wife, Ellen Gethin, known as ‘The Terrible’.

There is some doubt about which Thomas Vaughan is actually meant in this story. Maybe Black Vaughan died actually during the Battle of Edgecote, and wasn’t captured or executed in Pontefract. Indeed, some sources claim that the Thomas Vaughan of this story was the traitor, Sir Thomas, who in early 1483 turned upon the Lord Protector, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, in the attempt by the Woodvilles to deny Richard his rights by seizing the person of the boy king, Edward V, and having him crowned. Thus they, not Richard, would be in charge of the realm. This Sir Thomas was indeed executed at Pontefract. And rightly so.

Death was not the end of Black Vaughan, for he began to make his presence felt again, overturning farm wagons in broad daylight, and frightening women as they rode to market. He could even take on the form of a huge fly in order to torment horses. Once, as a bull, he entered the church during a service.

St Mary's Church, Kington, Herefordshire

St Mary’s Church, Kington, Herefordshire

In the 19th century, Kilvert was told the following story by a local man. “Twelve or thirteen ancient parsons assembled in the court of Hergest, and drew a circle, inside which they all stood with books and lighted candles, praying. The ghost was very resolute, and came among the parsons roaring like a bull. ‘Why so fierce, Mr Vaughan?’ asked one of the parsons mildly. ‘Fierce I was a man, fiercer still as a devil’, roared Vaughan, and all the candles were blown out except one, held by a very small, weak parson (also, says legend, named Vaughan). He hid the candle in his boots and so kept it alight, all the time praying hard until at length the violent spirit was quelled, and ‘brought down so small and humble that they shut him up in a snuff box’. The ghost made one humble petition—’Do not bury me beneath water’. But the parson immediately had him enclosed in a stone box, and buried him under the bed of the brooks and Hergest thenceforth was at peace.”

The Hound of the Baskervilles

The Hound of the Baskervilles

After that, so it is said, Hergest Court was haunted by a black dog that appeared every time a member of the Vaughan family was to die. (Don’t these entities always do that?) Conan Doyle visited the court, and used the black dog as a model for The Hound of the Baskervilles.

 

The Battle Of Shrewsbury, 1403

In order to appease (as he hoped) the Percy family Henry IV granted them all those parts of southern Scotland that they could conquer. Despite advice from Northumberland that royal assistance was not needed he set out in the summer of 1403 to march to the borders with a small army to support their siege of Cocklaws Castle.

On reaching the Midlands, Henry received news that the Percys were in revolt; after some initial hesitation he summoned the levies of several counties to his banner and force marched to Shrewsbury, arriving there just before the rebels.

At Shrewsbury was Henry’s son the Prince of Wales, who was responsible for defending the English marches from Owain Glyndwr. The Prince, who was aged about 16, had until recently enjoyed the advice and support of Hotspur’s uncle, Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester, a very experienced soldier who had served John of Gaunt and been steward of Richard II’s household. However, Worcester had deserted, taking with him more than half the Prince’s men. Unfortunately it does not appear how many men we are talking about – the state of royal finances was such that it was probably hundreds rather than thousands.

Hotspur had come south to Chester with an advance guard of two hundred men, presumably mounted. These included the Scottish Earl of Douglas, captured at Homildon the previous year, but now an ally. At Chester he denounced Henry IV as “Henry of Lancaster” and proclaimed Richard II, whom he promised would appear at a rendezvous at Sandiway in a few days. This was sufficient to raise a considerable army in Cheshire itself. It is likely that other recruits came from Flint and other parts of North East Wales and from Shropshire. To these of course were added Worcester’s contribution. Northumberland remained in the North. Either he genuinely fell ill, or he was blocked by Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland, or he simply moved too slowly.

Hotspur’s strategy is not clear. Glyndwr, with whom he was presumably in alliance, was many days march away in the south west of Wales. The most likely explanation is that he decided to seize Shrewsbury, which could then have served as a gateway to England for Welsh forces. There is also reason to believe that Hotspur expected reinforcement (that he did not receive) from various English peers. (The chronicler Hardyng reports that some years later Henry IV discovered a casket of letters sent by his nobles to Hotspur at this time. ) After the battle the Duke of York and others were accused of complicity, but absolved from blame by Henry himself. The men of Chester mustered at Sandiway as promised, but needless to say, Richard II did not join them.

It’s a straight road from Sandiway, through Tarporley and Whitchurch to Shrewsbury. Arriving on the outskirts Hotspur realised that Henry IV had forestalled him.

Hotspur chose a good defensive position about three miles north of the town. The ground sloped slightly upwards towards the north, meaning that the King’s men would have to advance uphill against some of the finest archers in England. There were also a number of small ponds, complicating offensive movement.

The sizes of the forces are not known; one source says that there were 20,000 dead. This is obviously absurd. Nevertheless everyone seems agreed that it was an exceptionally hard fought battle, and there were significant casualties

A guesstimate of mine would be that Hotspur had around 5000 men and the King a few more, maybe 7000. By and large the Percy army would be of better quality – more “professional” because it recruited from areas noted for warriors. Many of the King’s men would be amateur county levies from relatively peaceful shires.

Hotspur’s principal known commanders were his uncle, Worcester, and the Earl of Douglas. These were both experienced warriors, particularly Worcester. The important Cheshire knights, Vernon and Venables seem to have been next in rank.

As far as men of rank were concerned, apart from himself Henry IV’s most experienced commander by far was the renegade Scot George Dunbar, the Scottish Earl of March, a personal enemy of Douglas. The Prince of Wales and the earls of Kent, Arundel, Stafford and Warwick were all inexperienced young men in their teens and early twenties.

The Earl of Stafford was the husband of Henry’s cousin, Anne of Gloucester. Just prior to the battle he was created Constable of England (replacing Northumberland) and given command of the van.

The likely line up of the royal army being:

Prince of Wales     King         Stafford

(Left)                    (Centre)      (Right)

The battle opened with the traditional exchange of arrows, the shooting of the men of Cheshire being particularly devastating. Stafford was killed very early in the battle and the Prince was severely wounded in the face – though he continued to fight after treatment.

Hotspur and Douglas led an attack on the royal standard. Their objective was simply to kill the King. Fighting around Henry was bitter, and his standard bearer, Sir Walter Blount, was killed. It is known that Henry himself was engaged personally in the fighting.

Hotspur’s men thought that they were winning. A cry of “Henry Percy -King” rose from them. But then Hotspur was struck down – possibly by a stray arrow and the cry changed to “Henry Percy – dead”. The rebels routed off the field, pursued for miles by relentless royalists.

Worcester was taken alive, and executed next day in the town of Shrewsbury. As were Vernon and Venables. Douglas was treated as a POW and eventually allowed to return to Scotland. Northumberland was tried, but eventually released having been found guilty only of ‘trespass’ by Parliament – he was to rebel again, and be killed in battle like his son. (Henry was careful never to give another political opponent a Parliamentary trial.)

One King’s side many knighthoods were given, and there were also grants of confiscated lands. Edmund Earl of Kent was apparently created a KG on the field, a distinction so unusual that it suggests some act of exceptional personal bravery.

Jack of Lincoln, be not bold….?

800px-John_de_la_Pole,_1st_Earl_of_Lincoln_svgWe all know the couplet that was supposedly pinned to the Duke of Norfolk’s tent on the eve of Bosworth. Well, it could as easily be applied to John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln.

Jack of Lincoln, be not bold, for Dickon, thine uncle, is bought and sold.

Lincoln could  have taken the simple way out after the battle, and stayed obediently in Henry Tudor’s court, possibly enjoying great rewards for showing this new loyalty. Or so someone is claiming. I doubt if Lincoln ever had any intention of sucking up to Henry. His Yorkist blood was rich and thick, and he could never accept the new rule. He knew the Tudor axeman was honing his blade almost from the word go, and that Henry was merely biding his time for an excuse to do away with this great lord of the House of York. Lincoln bolted for Burgundy at the earliest opportunity, and returned to the Yorkist fold, which he had never really left. He was prepared to do anything to see Tudor toppled and York restored.

So how dare a modern “Tudor-Lancastrian” describe him as having thrown away a brilliant future at HT’s court by being too darned ambitious? Ambitious? Too faithful to his roots, more like. And how brilliant a future would it have been to end up on Tower Hill, with his head parted from his body?

Henry Tudor was rabidly anti-York, fearing it at every turn, as well he might. He was to systematically dispose of everyone whose blood was even vaguely York. And those he spared (due to an oath) he consigned to his monstrous son, Henry VIII, for the dirty work to be continued. I only wish Lincoln’s invasion had ended differently at Stoke Field. We’d have been spared the disgustingly bloodthirsty Tudors and their reigns of terror.

 

IS THIS THE FACE OF CLARENCE’S DAUGHTER?

mw05579.jpg

Portrait of an Unknown Lady formerly known as Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury

For many years this was believed to be  a portrait of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, daughter of George Duke of Clarence, and a  niece to two kings.  Tantalisingly the lady is wearing a black ribbon around her wrist with a jewel of gold fashioned like a little barrel.  Surely this was Margaret’s tacit recognition and acknowledgment of her father’s death by drowning in a butt of Malmsey?

barrel 2.png

Close up of the barrel jewel attached to the black ribbon and the W monogram.

I noticed however that this portrait, in the National Portrait Gallery , is now described as that of an Unknown Lady, formerly known as Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury.  Baffled by this turnabout I contacted the Gallery who very kindly clarified the matter for me.  In 1963 the portrait underwent detailed investigation by the Gallery’s Scientific Department the results of which showed ‘what appeared to be  extensive repainting,  including the ermines spots on the headdress, scumbling on the white fur of the sleeves, also the ermine edge to the bodice ‘ (1) but worse still,   ‘the gold barrel shaped jewel  was almost certainly a  later addition as almost certainly were the black ribbon and W monogram jewel.  Without stripping the picture it would be impossible to access how accurately it recreates motifs originally there and how far it is ficticious’  However the report goes on to say there is, so far, no reason why the portrait in its original condition should not have represented Margaret Pole, so there is still hope, although  ‘ these doubts may only be resolved by the reappearance of another  16th century picture of her that was known to have existed.  The W shaped jewel is inexplicable unless the portrait was intended  for her granddaughter Winifred'(2).   Could it possibly be a direct decendant  of Winifred had these additions added to the portrait in homage and draw attention  to Winifred’s noble lineage? The portrait was once at Barrington Hall – Winifred Pole had married into the Barringtons and the family prided themselves on their descent from her.  Alternatively , the Roy Strong catalogue suggests this could be a 17th or 18th century Barrington lady dressed up as the Countess! Bad news, maybe, for those who once believed this was without a doubt a portrait of Margaret.

The matter is  further muddied by notes from Hazel Pierce’s biography of Margaret – Margaret Pole Countess of Salisbury, Loyalty, Lineage and Leadership,  which state:’ The panel is of oak and tree ring dating suggests that it was felled in 1482 thus the most likely period of use is believed to have been between 1515 and 1525 (3).  The notes go on to say that ‘Initially it did appear that the ermine spots on the outer part of the headdress had been painted over the original craquelure, which indicated that these were later additions along with with the ermine spots on the outer sleeves.  However when the portrait was finally cleaned in 1973 the ermine spots did not disappear, neither did the barrel bracelet or the ‘W’ suspended from the sitter’s fingers, which suggests they may have been original after all.  The barrel will refer to Clarence and the W to Warwick.  Therefore the results of the cleaning result once more to the portrait being an authentic likeness of Margaret, Countess of Salisbury.  I am grateful to the National Portrait Gallery Archives for this information’ (4).

Finally, perhaps I am mistaken but is there anyone else that can see the similiarities  in this portrait of the much older Margaret  with that of the young,  fuller faced Margaret,  as drawn by Rous?

Pole,Margaret(CSalisbury)01_small.jpg

Lady Margarete from The Rous Roll

Is it only me who can detect the similarities of the same  almond shaped eyes, and the small rosebud lips?

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Lady Margarete from the Rous Roll

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If I cannot pursuade you of this  –  then can I ask  for consideration to be given as to why,  someone, at a later date, if this were the case which is now doubtful, would  take the trouble to add the barrel on the ribbon unless they had  known for certain that this portrait was indeed a true likeness of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury?

(1) Roy Strong Tudor and Jacobean Portraits 1969 p 272

(2) Ibid

(3)  Hazel Pierce Margaret Pole Countess of Salisbury Loyalty, Lineage and Leadership p.198

(4) Ibid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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