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The Staple

In early medieval times, ‘the staple’ meant England’s staple export: wool. But it was inconvenient and inefficient for the king’s men to collect the customs duties that were payable on the exported wool from every one of the hundreds of little English ports all around the country. London, Bristol, Ipswich and Sandwich were major ports but little ships could sail from any small harbour or river estuary. Therefore, since wherever the ships had sailed from, they were all taking their cargo of wool to Flanders (modern day Belgium and north-east France), it was easier to collect the customs when they arrived at their destination. In 1313, Edward II ordained that all merchants had to land their ‘staple’ at a port he would designate. During the Hundred Years War, England acquired Calais from the French and from the mid-fifteenth century until 1558 this port became the convenient Calais Staple, where customs duties were collected on all English wool exports.

From “A Year in the Life of Medieval England” by Toni Mount.

The image is Old bird’s-eye view plan of Calais by Braun & Hogenberg 1597

The three saints of 6th July….

an early church

6th July is a day of three saints, St Godelva (d. 1070), St Sexburga of Ely (679-700) and St Merryn of Andresey. I have only previously heard of St Sexberga. Were they all celebrated on this day in medieval churches? (The above illustration is merely an example of an early church – the building depicted is not specifically concerned with any of the three saints.)

Who were they, these three holy ladies who share a day in early July?

St Godelva of Gistel (aka Godelieve, Godeleva, Godeliève and Godelina) was a Flemish saint. According to Wikipedia she was a pious young girl and then a beautiful woman, much sought after by lusty suitors. A lord called Bertolf/Berthold was determined to marry her, and sought the help of her father’s overlord. Successfully married to her, although maybe not able to get into her bed, Berthold ordered his servants to feed her with only bread and water, which she promptly shared with the poor. She managed to escape and go home to her father, but he, with two bishops and the Count of Flanders, forced her to go back to her husband. She escaped again and returned to her father. Her husband then had her strangled by two servants and tossed into a pool, to make it appear that she had drowned by accident. She died on 6th July 1070.

Legend has it that Berthold married again and had a daughter, named Edith, who was born blind. St Godelva intervened and cured her. Berthold repented his sins and went to Rome for absolution. Then he went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and became a monk. Edith founded a Benedictine monastery at Gistel, which was dedicated to Saint Godelieve. This saint is regarded as a “weather saint”, like St Swithun. I do not know why.

St Sexburga of Ely (also various other spellings) She is the only one of the three of whom I had heard before, she led a blessedly dull life in comparison with Godelva. She was the queen of a king of Kent, as well as an abbess and she had four sisters. Her marriage produced two daughters, and two sons, both of whom ruled. Sexburga acted as regent until her eldest son came of age.

St Sexburga

Next, she founded the abbeys of Milton Regis and Minster-in-Sheppey, where one of her daughters became a nun. Then Sexburga moved to the monastery at Ely, and succeeded one of her sisters (St. Etheldreda) as abbess. Her saintly status came when her coffin was opened after sixteen years, and her body was found to be miraculously preserved. No terrible death, then, just a good, pious and holy woman.

As a matter of interest to Ricardians, and indeed to anyone interested in the ancestry of the Kings of England, Sexburga was the great-niece of Raedwald, the king of the East Angles, who died circa 616-627. He was a very sensible man, who on conversion to Christianity, did not forbid the continued worship of the old Anglo-Saxon gods. Raedwald may be the king who is buried at Sutton Hoo, and thus provided us with such amazing treasures from that far-off time. Collateral descent from Raedwald leads through the Houses of Wessex and Dunkeld, to include Richard III, which means that Sexburga was one of Richard’s ancestresses. Richard’s coronation was on St Sexburga’s Day, which cannot have been an accidental coincidence!

The third saint is St Merryn of Andresey. It seems that she is also known as St Modwenna/Monnina, who was a Christian anchorite on the island of Andresey in the River Trent at Burton-upon-Trent, just across from the then abbey. She is said to have been the daughter of a pagan Irish king, who rejected a robber baron’s offer of marriage, and then gathered a troop of virgins around her to travel to Britain. She raised a number of churches, particularly in southern Scotland. Conflation may have introduced elements from other saints, so that Modwenna’s father sought to have an incestuous relationship with her, or tried to force her to marry his powerful pagan ally. Or maybe her father finds her when she runs away, beheads her and seals her body in a cave.

Andresey Island - Burton upon Trent, Staffs.

Another version of her story: “Born to the Flemish nobility, the daughter of Hemfried, Lord of Wierre-Effray. Married to Bertulf of Ghistelles, a Flemish nobleman, who abandoned her before the wedding feast was over. Abused by her in-laws, especially her mother-in-law, Godelieve was variously locked in a cell, starved, and subjected to assorted physical and mental abuse. Her father threatened to turn the husband and in-laws over to state and Church authorities; Bertulf appeared to repent, Godelieve returned to him, and was soon after murdered; she is generally considered a martyr. Always a friend of the poor and sick, post-mortem miracles ascribed to her include restoration of  sight to her step-daughter.”

St Modwenna

The road to sainthood was usually a terrible one, mostly strewn with danger, torture and, ultimately, martyrdom. Of the above three ladies, only St Sexburga was blessedly free of such things. She led a flawless Christian life, and—presumably—died a natural death. It is good that this is so, and that her kindly and pious ways led to becoming a saint. It seems a pity that she would not have known of her destiny when she passed away. But I think that her descendant, Richard III, honoured her example. Not that I imagine he strove to be a saint! No, but I do think he did all he could to reign by example. Thanks to traitors, he was murdered in battle before he could prove himself to the full.

So…which of these ladies was most generally venerated on 6th July in medieval times? One? Two? Or all of them?

No hops, onions or cabbage before 1400, not even in Nuneaton….

Nuneaton History

Once again, looking for one thing led to another – this time to a fascinating site about the history of Nuneaton. It provides interesting year-by-year, century-by-century snippets about historic events, the weather, and…did you know that hops, onions and cabbage were introduced from Flanders in 1400? No, nor me.

http://www.nuneatonhistory.com/uploads/1/8/6/8/18680466/nuneaton_history_alan_cook.pdf

Keeping it in the family

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

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

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

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

The Survival of the Princes in the Tower

The Survival of the Princes in the Tower has finally been released. There was a delay in some copies reaching readers in September, so by way of apology I blogged a little extract which can be found below. I also wrote a piece for On the Tudor Trail which was quite well received and can be found here.

I’m hoping this book will add a new dimension to an old debate and at least cause readers to think again about what they believe are the facts of a story seriously lacking in any hard, definitive facts.

It seems that a lot of the hardback copies of The Survival of the Princes in the Tower are not reaching people after the release on Thursday. I’m told there has been a delay getting copies to the warehouse, but that they are there now and should be shipped early next week. The Kindle version […]

via The Survival of the Princes in the Tower Extract — Matt’s History Blog

Found in Wiltshire …

This piece, “Christ Blessing”, as rediscovered recently in the Holy Trinity Church, Bradford-on-Avon,_92853172_church14 is by the Flemish artist Quentin Metsys the Elder (1466-1530), not his grandson (c.1543-89). How fortunate that it appears to have saved the church.

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