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How did those Canterbury pilgrims hear at the back…?

There is something that has always puzzled me about Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales: if there were up to thirty pilgrims (which is what’s reckoned) how on earth could one of them (at a time)tell a tale that the other twenty-nine could hear?

In the text Chaucer has his pilgrims point out places they’re passing, so it would seem the stories were being told as they rode along. But someone at the back of the cavalcade couldn’t possibly hear someone at the front. Could they? I can only conclude that the tale-telling went on when they halted at the wayside, or stayed somewhere overnight.

Or…someone had a medieval megaphone!

Detail of mural by Ezra Winter illustrating the characters in the Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. Carol Highsmith Archive.
Canterbury Pilgrims by Paul Hardy

Oh where, Oh where, has Chaucer’s “Foul Oak” gone….?

 

 

The Baginton Oak, Warwickshire

According to Project Gutenberg, on 6th September 1390 Geoffrey Chaucer was mugged at a place called the Foul Oak, but not the Baginton Oak. Rather was it on what we now call the Old Kent Road but was originally the Roman Watling Street, leading out of London, on the way to Canterbury and Dover.

“….[Chaucer was] Clerk of the King’s Works at the Palace of Westminster, the Tower of London and various royal manors. In 1390 he was employed to repair St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, and to erect scaffolds at Smithfield for Richard II. and his Queen, Anne of Bohemia, for them to view a great tournament….

“….He was also appointed one of the Commission for the repair of the roadways on the banks of the river between Greenwich and Woolwich. About this time a great misfortune overtook the poet. In the pursuit of his duties,{84} with the King’s money in his purse to pay the workmen, he was robbed by highwaymen twice on the same day. The first time at Westminster of £10, and the second at Hatcham, near the ‘foul oak,’ of £9, 3s. 8d. This was a serious loss, and he was forgiven the amount by writ dated 6th January 1391….”

Well, it’s not actually known if he was robbed more than once; but he certainly was set upon near Hatcham, at a place called the Foul Oak. He was en route from Westminster to Eltham, with funds to pay for something or other – I’m not sure exactly what. He was beaten up, the money, his horses and goods taken. And if the king hadn’t absolved him by accepting his story, he’d have had to pay it all back himself!

Hatcham was a small manor on the Old Kent Road, and has now disappeared, except for a few street names,. As for the mysterious Foul Oak, well, it’s a will-o’-the-wisp! Presumably it was simply a tree, not a disreputable tavern. Whatever, it was frequented by gangs of robbers, an ‘accolade’ that in later years went to nearby Blackheath. The countryside around Hatcham, then little more than a hamlet, was wooded and not exactly highly populated. Ample opportunity for criminals to go about their business.

Medieval Robber Knights attacking a Merchant Caravan during the 12th Century, from.
‘The Illustrated History of the World’ Published by Ward; Lock & Co; 1890

Medieval Robber Knights attacking a Merchant Caravan during the 12th Century. From ‘The Illustrated History of the World’ Published by Ward; Lock & Co; 1890

I’ve looked and looked for an exact site of this famous incident, which was also notorious because in 1384 “…Nicholas Brembre, while in office as mayor of London for one day, snatched 22 people all of whom had been arrested and incarcerated in London’s Newgate prison for various offenses, some accused, some felons, and some chaplains. He took them, their arms bound, in the silence of night by force to a place called Foul Oak in Kent, and without the voice of a judge they were mercilessly allotted a capital sentence, and their blood ran in rivulets from their veins, except for one who escaped alive by means of some barely plausible excuse….” Hard to imagine Sadiq Khan resorting to such violent activities!

from British Library MS Royal 20 C VII f. 203v

Brembre was violent and corrupt, and according to Medievalists.net https://www.medievalists.net/2016/05/the-mayor-of-london-the-first-the-cursed-and-the-worst-mayor-in-londons-history/ “….seemed to have run London like medieval Tony Soprano, and in the end, made more enemies than friends, ultimately leading to his demise….”

The rebuilt Christ Church Greyfriars, by Wren, opposite St Paul’s Cathedral

 

The route Chaucer took was clearly very well trodden, not only by those on their way to Canterbury and Dover, but also to those en route for Eltham Palace. Kings, magnates and their retinues rode that way. It would have been a route well known to Richard III, and all monarchs until Eltham felt out of favour, so why has the Foul Oak disappeared from the records, except in connection with the two incidents described above? We’ve all seen maps with gallows tree clearly marked at crossroads, so why not a place were so many executions had occurred and where robber gangs were known to lurk?

So, if anyone reading this knows more about the Foul Oak and its association with the Father of English Literature, please do comment, because I’ve love to know.

 

Chaucer was a “hot” young man in tighter than tight tights….?

 

As the author of this Guardian review points out, when we think of Chaucer, we visualise a rather chubby, light-hearted, witty, somewhat cheeky middle-aged man as portrayed in the few portaits we have of him, such as the one above.

Well, it would seem that as a younger man he was indeed cheeky! And not in the conversational context! When he was a page in the household of Elizabeth de Burgh, we’re told he wore a paltok and “….long leggings, or tights. Contemporary sources say they emphasised the genitals, as they were laced up very tightly over the penis and bottom, so you could see everything….” Good heavens! And to make matters worse, a paltok was “….a kind of extremely short tunic ‘which failed to conceal their arses or their private parts’….”

And this is Chaucer, over whose works many a schoolchild, university student, historian and general enthusiast has laboured for centuries? The Father of English Literature? Will I ever ‘see’ him in the same light again? His characters, yes, but not the great man himself!

This biography, new in 2019, promises to be well worth the reading. I certainly will be!

available at Amazon

 

Lancastrians unfairly condemn another King Richard (Part II)….

 

From Part Two described below

This article Lancs Live article is Part Two of a three-part series concerning the history of the House of Lancaster, which we reviewed earlier.

Almost at the beginning (well, three short paragraphs in) I found “…. Edward II whose piety could not make up for his lack of leadership….” Piety? Edward II? Well, he has a posh tomb in Gloucester Cathedral, but otherwise I don’t recall him being particularly pious. In fact, it was one area in which he was conventional!

The article also describes Edward II as Henry’s great-grandfather. No! Edward III was Henry’s grandfather. Guess who was his great-grandfather? Why yes, pious old Edward II!

So this didn’t encourage me to hope that Part Two was going to be an improvement on Part One. How right I was to have reservations.

The first offering in the trilogy had been a complete dissection of “stubborn and narcissistic” Richard II, without anaesthetic. He was everything bad under the sun, and clearly deserved everything he got. However, the angelic Lancastrian usurper, Henry IV, was one big shining halo with wings. No matter that Henry stole the throne and murdered Richard for becoming a terrible tyrant. No, Richard wasn’t a tyrant, nor did Henry invade England in order to regain his father’s inheritance, which nasty Richard had taken from him. That’s simply not true, Richard didn’t do any such thing. And if you disagree with me, I refer you to the excellent Terry Jones, who wrote about it quite brilliantly in his book Who Murdered Chaucer? The proof is there that Henry invaded with the specific purpose of going for the throne – the dutiful, honourable maltreated cousin routine was a load of codswallop.

Small wonder then that “From time to time Henry IV also showed his ruthless side”. Well, shucks, that’s astonishing. And he so chivalric and wonderful. 

Well, the article goes on, and poor Henry dies, worn out by all the rebellions, uprisings and other little trials that a poor hard-done-by usurper is going to have to face. Just ask the execrable Henry VII. Henry IV wasn’t a well man when he died, but he breathed his last in his bed, unlike the unfortunate king he murdered in order to scramble to the throne. Another fact he shares with Henry VII.

Then we had Henry V, of course, who did much to restore faith and respect for the throne. I won’t have a go at him. (But I’m sure I could if I really, really tried…)

The next instalment of this trilogy deals with Henry VI – who was indeed a pious king. To the point of idiocy, from all accounts. The worst king we’ve ever had. Whether I’ll read it is doubtful. If Richard II was put through such a mill, I just hate to think what they’ll do with Richard III. Two Richards, both maligned by history because of the machinations and skulduggery of members of the scheming House of Lancaster.

Would we have liked Chaucer to narrate audio books of his works….?

 

frontispiece to Troilus and Creseyde

There is an increasing appetite these days for audio versions of books. Whether just sitting at home, driving your car, or even out in the garden, listening to a famous actor reading to you, or even the author, is a great pleasure that sometimes beats reading the book for yourself.

Which makes me reconsider the medieval period, especially 14th-century England, when Richard II’s court enjoyed being read to by the likes of Geoffrey Chaucer. We all know the famous illustration above. The usual remarks about the scene are that (a) most of the court probably couldn’t read, or (b) it was just a passing fashion, a chance to be seen where it mattered. Besides, back then no one read silently, they did so aloud. Except in some parts of the Church, I think.

But was it really the done thing to sit around listening to someone reading out loud? Chaucer was probably a brilliant narrator, especially of his own work, and must have been very entertaining indeed. Just like listening to an audio book today, except that you actually saw him in the flesh as well, complete with his nods, winks, knowing smiles and crafty glances. What’s not to like about sitting around giving him your full attention?

I know I’d be among those sitting on the grass looking at and listening to the master!

Geoffrey Chaucer

 

What distilled spirit might perk up a 14th-century English prince? Was the hard stuff even around then…?

 

Edward of Woodstock, the “Black Prince”
taken from https://davedoeshistory.wordpress.com/2018/08/09/the-first-duke-of-cornwall-edward-the-black-prince/

Rightly or wrongly, when someone has had a shock, it’s often the impulse of those around him/her to offer a “stiff drink”. This usually means spirits, although I admit that in Britain a cup of tea is as likely “to do the trick”! The spirits thing appears in novels and films, and is well known. But what happened back in 14th-century England? Did they even have distilled spirits? For drinking, that is, because maybe such things were indeed available for medicinal use. At what point did medicinal become recreational? When was it realized that if handled with care, spirit could be a very pleasing and restorative tipple?

As a writer, I wanted to find a suitable pick-me-up that might have been administered to the Black Prince toward the end of his life, when after many years of debilitating illness he became prone to fainting. The search was on. What was available as a quick restorative?

I started by asking the following question on the excellent British Medieval History group on Facebook:- “Does anyone know of a distilled spirit that was available in 14th-century England? All the ones that are common now—whisky/whiskey, brandy, vodka, rum, gin, etc. etc.—seem to be much later. At least, they do according to Merriam-Webster. Did they simply have different names? Or is M-W wrong? So, any ideas, ladies and gentlemen?”

Well, the members of the group were extremely helpful, full of suggestions, in fact, and I thank them, most sincerely. They’re stars, each and every one. But so many of them responded that I can’t possibly credit them all by name, so what follows now is a sort-of compilation of these suggestions and my own additions. And the images are my choice, of course, and may not fully indicate the type of drink referred to in the text.

To begin with, mead cropped up a lot in the answers, and yes, it was certainly around then, but it’s made by fermenting honey and water, so isn’t distilled. Therefore it doesn’t have the kick of spirits. Other common drinks were ale and wine. But nothing distilled.

Something called aqua vitae (which is usually taken to mean whiskey/whisky) was around in Ireland in 1405, but had a very detrimental effect at Christmas that year.  The 17th-century Irish Annals of Clonmacnoise record that the death of a chieftain was blamed on “taking a surfeit of aqua vitae”. That must have put a damper on the proceedings. The use of “taking” rather confirms that the aqua vitae was drunk and not applied in some other way—but only for the good of his health of course. Well, one supposes it was for the good of his health.

Merriam-Webster defines “aqua vitae” as follows:- (1) Alcohol, especially alcohol obtained by distilling vinous liquids, and (2) A strong liquor (such as brandy or whiskey).  The name derives from the Middle English aqua vite, from Medieval Latin aqua vitae, literally, water of life; probably from the use of brandy as a medicine. First Known Use: 15th century – sense (1). (So it was brandy as well?)

However, undeterred by that unfortunate death at Christmas, the Irish seem to have persevered, because we now have their superb whiskey. Practice does indeed make perfect, although I can’t say how many other casualties there may have been along the way.

Whisky was apparently distilled in Scotland as early as 1495, because a Friar John Cor of Elgin received a payment for aqua vitae, which is recorded in the Exchequer Rolls. This doesn’t mean whisky wasn’t around a lot earlier, of course, just that this seems to be the first recorded mention. Nor, I suppose, does it mean that the aqua vitae in question was necessarily whisky.

It seems that Armagnac, the French brandy, was first written of in the early 14th century. It’s made from distilled wine. Did it cross the Channel/La Manche to delight the nasty roast-beefs? The Hundred Years War won’t have stopped it, that’s for sure.

Armagnac
taken from https://www.visitfrenchwine.com/en/vineyard/visit-the-vineyards-of-armagnac-wine-tourism

Next we come to gin. Someone else wrote: “When analysing a clay pot that was part of a Beaker Culture burial in Scotland (Ava) they found it contained meadowsweet. Their best guess is it came from a distilled Gin like drink. This was obviously long before the Medieval period, but everything available to them was available in the medieval period.”

Meadowsweet? I hadn’t heard of it being used in this way. I suppose the scent isn’t unlike elderflower, which is definitely put in drinks. So I searched for using meadowsweet to make gin, and find that it’s still used for this! See https://theginisin.com/botanicals-list/meadowsweet/ As you will have gathered, I’m not a gin afficionado.

taken from https://www.aroma-academy.co.uk/blogs/news/aroma-of-the-week-gin-aroma-kit-meadowsweet

Some highly respected novelists have referred to a form of gin. Elizabeth Chadwick mentions “ginevra” in her C12th and C13th books, which is a word for gin and refers to juniper, from which that spirit is distilled.  Ellis Peters, in her Cadfael novel St Peter’s Fair, refers to a “strong geneva liquor” and “juniper liquor”.  I would have every faith in these writers knowing what’s correct for their period. So I think some form of gin was available in England by the 14thcentury.

Alchemists and apothecaries may have produced spirits for medicinal purposes, using an apparatus known as an alembic to distill alcohol. See this article I quote one member of the BMH group: “Alembics made of pottery were at least known in the time of Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400), who described “an erthen pot…ycovered with a lampe of glas” in the Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale from the Canterbury Tales, but medieval references remain sparse. The earliest archaeological evidence of distilling equipment in England dates back to the late thirteenth century.” But again, whether the resulting spirits were actually drunk is another matter. Use as a medicinal cure-all seems to have been the general idea, so whether it was taken internally or externally I really can’t say.

taken from https://wellcomecollection.org/works/byc35rfx

Another possibility is freeze “distillation”, which seems to have been known in England at that time. “Not a true distillation process, more like freeze concentrating where drinks like mead and cider were left outside in winter and the water was taken out of them as it froze.” This may indeed have been current in the 14th century, but this present winter of 2019/2020, where I live in the Vale of the River Severn, I’d have been hard put to have the temperatures drop enough to freeze anything! Frost has been thin on the ground, so to speak.

taken from http://www.castlesandmanorhouses.com/life_05_drink.htm

And finally rum, which, of course is usually associated with a pirates and navy men. Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum… But how old is it? I resorted to Wikipedia, which may not always be carved in stone but is nevertheless extremely useful, and found the following:-

“….Vagbhata, an Indian ayurvedic physician (7th century AD) “[advised] a man to drink unvitiated liquor like rum and wine, and mead mixed with mango juice ‘together with friends.’” Shidhu, a drink produced by fermentation and distillation of sugarcane juice, is mentioned in other Sanskrit texts.[13]

“….According to Maria Dembinska, the King of Cyprus, Peter I of Cyprus or Pierre I de Lusignan (9 October 1328 – 17 January 1369), brought rum with him as a gift for the other royal dignitaries at the Congress of Kraków, held in 1364.[14] This is feasible given the position of Cyprus as a significant producer of sugar in the Middle Ages,[15] although the alcoholic sugar drink named rum by Dembinska might not have resembled modern distilled rums very closely. Dembinska also suggests Cyprus rum was often drunk mixed with an almond milk drink, also produced in Cyprus, called soumada.[16]….”

So… ”It’s rum, Jim, but not as we know it.” (Sorry, couldn’t help it.)

This is an interesting article about the history of distilling and if you go to the links in the captions of the above images, you will find some of them take you to more sites about medieval drinking habits. Cheers.

The Walbrook – river of mystery…!

Showing the area of Dowgate in the centre of the riverfront.

Ah, what a romantic picture the title of this post conjures. It is certainly not descriptive of the now invisible Walbrook , which had to be covered because it stank so much. Well, the smell was one of the reasons for it being enclosed. I have recently been researching the Walbrook’s exact course. Or, at least, trying to. From the wilds of Gloucestershire, I have been an armchair researcher. No tramping around sewer systems for me!

The area where the Walbrook begins, Finsbury and Moorfield, circa 1565

The stream has been covered over and built upon since the mid-15th century, but before then it was a very important feature, cutting the capital almost exactly in half from north to south. North being its source in the area outside the old city wall, now known as Finsbury; south being the shore of the Thames at Dowgate, where it is believed there was originally a delta. The Walbrook is thought to have split into two branches, and this lower portion of its course is called Dowgate, because it was a water gate in the Roman wall around the capital. At least, this is what I understand.

Roman London, showing the mouth of the Walbrook in the red circle, immediately to the left of the palace.
Drawing of the outfall area at Dowgate, showing Cannon Street Station in the background.
Dowgate Dock, illustration from Besant.

It wasn’t a long river, and the extent of its navigability is unknown. Some historians claim that barges could pass upstream as far as Bucklersbury (and Sir Thomas More’s first marital home at the Old Barge/Barge Inn).

From:- Ericawagner’s blog

“….We turn into Bucklersbury and stand outside St Stephen Walbrook, one of Wren’s fairest creations. In its earlier incarnation it was [Sir Thomas] More’s parish church, and his first wife was buried within its walls. Ackroyd dismisses the firm ground upon which we stand, indicating where the river Walbrook would have run, just past the church. ‘His house was called the Old Barge, and barges would come and dock just outside. It’s funny to think of it now. The river was the main means of communication. It wasn’t exactly like Venice, but closer to Venice than it is now.’

“Bucklersbury is now home to forbidding cliffs of offices, but More’s residence would have been as intimidating, in its way. He was a successful lawyer, close to the courts of two kings, and from 1510 under-sheriff of London. ‘It was a big house,’ Ackroyd says. A surviving inventory details ‘a gret cage fir birds’, ‘a gret mapp of all the world’ and ‘a table (picture) of Sir Thomas More’s face’.”

The sites of More’s Old Barge Inn at top right, and Cloak Lane at bottom left.

Now, I don’t know when the Old Barge/Barge Inn was built, but if the Walbrook was culverted in the mid-15th century, I can’t help thinking it would have invisible to More, who was born in 1478, married in 1505, and moved to Chelsea in 1520. This being so, I don’t really see how barges could still have been sailing there during his time at the Old Barge/Barge Inn.

The origin of the story of the Walbrook having been navigable to the Olde Barge appears to have been William Maitland, in his History and Survey of London:-

The author of a PhD thesis reasons that the Walbrook may only have been navigable as far as Cloak Lane, as also shown in the map above, and described as follows:-

From:- this thesis :-

“…Zone A carries the estuarine stretch of the Walbrook. The bed of the river flattens slightly south of Cannon Street and this trend continues through to the Thames. As HWST was 1.50m OD at the beginning of the Roman period and the riverbed was at 0.30m OD, the Walbrook would have been tidal through the whole of this stretch and into the southern half of the Bloomberg Development. However, HWST fell to 0.00m OD by the middle of the 1st C and remained at this lower level until the 4th C. Under these conditions, the Walbrook would have been tidal only as far as Cloak Lane to the south of Cannon Street…”

But this very detailed and technical thesis also concludes that in fact the Walbrook was only of service to vessels for about 50 yards from the Thames.

In The London Encyclopaedia, Christopher Hibbert insists that the Walbrook was never navigable. Anywhere. Full stop.

Someone has to be wrong. And yet, is the very name of More’s home an indication of its original situation? After all, why call something the Old Barge Inn if it had nothing whatsoever to do with barges? So, in Chaucer’s time, might the Walbrook indeed have been navigable to this point at Bucklersbury? As Maitland would appear to have believed?

Bucklersbury

Another disputed point about the Walbrook’s course is whether or not it formed a meander immediately north of the Chaucer residence in (Upper) Thames Street. This is because in 1873, F.J. Furnivall discovered an important document that had a bearing on Chaucer’s property. It was a quitclaim deed, dated 19th June 1381, in which [one] Geoffrey Chaucer named himself as the son of John Chaucer, vintner of London, and released his interest in a tenement once owned by his father, located in Thames Street in the City of London.

A busy medieval street, maybe resembling Thames Street

Thames Street is still a very long street, now divided into two portions, Upper and Lower, and so it is necessary to define this building’s whereabouts more accurately. The above deed, which was written in Latin, was printed in Life-Records of Chaucer, published by the Chaucer Society in 1900, and again in the Crow-Olsen Chaucer Life-Records, and describes the location of the tenement as follows:-

The whole area is now loomed over by Cannon Street Station, of course, but certain points in the translation above are important. I was always under the impression that the Walbrook simply flowed north to south, passing to the east of the Chaucer residence. Well, according to the image above, it did indeed pass to the east, but also to the north, because there was a meander there in Chaucer’s time. The Walbrook flowed quite swiftly from its source, but on nearing the Thames, the land flattened considerably, and the river seems to have indulged in a curve.

This now-lost river is also described as being crossed by many bridges. Right. Well, I have found vague references to unnamed bridges and some references to specific bridges, but there’s one bridge which I think must have existed, yet it is never mentioned. What happened when the Walbrook crossed (Upper) Thames Street?

The blue circle marks the intersection of the Walbrook/Dowgate and Thames Street

All this is important to me, because the characters in my work in progress have to move around in this very area. But there is a resounding blank when it comes to the intersection with Thames Street. I want my characters to proceed to and fro along this important thoroughfare, and if I am to describe their surroundings with any vividness and accuracy, I cannot ignore the Walbrook.

This map very definitely shows a bridge over the Walbrook, immediately north from the Thames, in Thames Street. But was there one?

Thames Street seems to have originated as the waterfront itself, but gradually the buildings and wharves on the Thames extended south, resulting in Thames Street becoming a little further inland. It was that much further inland in Chaucer’s time. So, what happened when the considerable traffic of the city came to the Walbrook? Did they all pole-vault? Of course not, so there must have been a proper crossing. Mustn’t there?

Well, two things. One, was there a fixed bridge? If the Walbrook was navigable for barges, then the flow must have been considerably lower than Thames Street, in order to permit vessels to pass beneath. Or two, the bridge must have been a drawbridge/swingbridge. I refuse to believe there was a ferry. Or a ford.

So, what is the answer? Which version of the Walbrook is the true one? Was there a meander behind the Chaucer residence? Did Sir Thomas More reside beside thronged waters that were the scene of commerce and bustle? What happened at the intersection between the Walbrook and Thames Street? Was the Walbrook even navigable at all?

See also: this map.

https://knowyourlondon.wordpress.com/2015/10/26/walbrook-dock/

https://knowyourlondon.wordpress.com/2017/11/13/walbrook-and-dowgate-overview/

Click to access SP13%201991%20Middle%20Walbrook%20valley.pdf

Click to access 7-the-citys-rivers-the-walbrook-and-the-fleet.pdf

Click to access BLA-web.pdf

Britain’s Most Historic Towns (2)

This excellent Channel Four programme, presented by Professor Alice Roberts, with Dr. Ben Robinson in the helicopter, has returned for a new series. The early venues were Dover (World War Two, visiting the underground base, concentrating on the retreat from Dunkirk and subsequent Channel defence, meeting some survivors, wearing ATS uniform and riding in a tank), her home city Bristol (Georgian, with slavery, gin, chocolate and great architecture featured) and Cardiff (where coal and the Marquess of Bute brought much prosperity in the Edwardian era, before it could supplant Machyllenth as Wales’ capital).

The series then moved on to Oxford to illustrate the Civil War sieges, where Alice Roberts’ Worsleyesque love of dressing up saw her in New Model Army uniform, playing real tennis and viewing Charles I’s ersatz capital. Episode five illustrated Plantagenet Canterbury, featuring St. Augustine, Becket, Chaucer, the Black Death and Peasants’ Revolt. We were also shown a copy of the Magna Carta. The last show was about Stewart Stirling, where she visited the Castle and walls, brewed beer, played with a replica antique football and visited a well, illustrating how individual Stewart monarchs were vulnerable, even to internal opposition, but the line was secure.

Edmund of Langley, Bishop of York….?

Edmund of Langley before the King of Portugal, from Wavrin’s Chroniques d’Angleterre

How’s this for a blooper? The youngest of Edward III’s sons was “Edmund Langley, later bishop of York”. Um, I wonder what Edmund‘s wives, children, and the line of the House of York would have thought of THAT!

The blooper is from The Life and Times of Chaucer, by John Gardner. Edmund is listed correctly in the index!

The Castle of Leicester and St Mary De Castro

Leicester Castle

leics castle

Leicester Castle as it appeared in 1483

 

IMG_2839

The Castle gardens

Since 2015 going to Leicester is the equivalent of going to visit the tomb of the last Plantagenet King who died in battle: Richard III. Everything there speaks of him from the Visitor Centre named after him, to The Last Plantagenet Pub not to mention attractions and shops that display his portrait or sell items with the name of the king. Of course, the Medieval Cathedral where the warrior king was buried in 2015 is the most visited place in Leicester but if you go there, don’t forget to pay a visit to the remains of Leicester’s Castle and its church St Mary De Castro. It is difficult today to imagine how the Castle could be at the time of Richard III but it is still there indeed even in a different shape. 

IMG_2840The Castle was probably built immediately after the Norman Conquest so around 1070. The Governor  at that time was Hugh de Grantmensil one of the companions of William the Conqueror. The Castle was the favourite residence of John of Gaunt, first Duke of Lancaster and the fourth son of Edward III. From the north end of the hall, it was possible to access the lord’s private apartments whilst from the south end there was access to a kitchen above an undercoft called John of Gaunt’s cellar where beverage and food were stored. Some people erroneously think it was a dungeon. 

The castle today looks totally different. What remains are the Castle’s Mound (Motte) located between Castle View and Castle Gardens. The Motte was originally 30-40 feet Prince Rupehigh topped with a timber tower. Unfortunately no buildings survived  and the motte was lowered in Victorian times to form a bowling green.

IMG_2844

The Castle House

The Great Hall is the oldest surviving aisled and bay divided timber hall in Britain. Even though the exterior is Victorian, the building still retains some of its original 12th century timber posts. The criminal court in the castle’s Great Hall was the scene of Leicester’s “Green Bicycle Murder” trial 1919 so exactly 100 years ago.

Other things are still visible of the ancient castle. The wall, the remains of the castle especially the Turret Gateway also known as Prince Rupert’s Gateway, the Castle Gardens (once used for public executions) the Castle House and the stunning church of St Mary De Castro.

St Mary De Castro

IMG_2845

St Mary De Castro

Close where the Castle stood, there is an ancient church called St Mary De Castro. It is a very special place especially for Ricardians. In this church Geoffrey Chaucer married her second wife, Philippa de Roet and 44 people were knighted in just one day among them Henry VI and Richard Plantagenet Duke of York, Richard III’s father. He was just 15 years old. However, the most famous event to be remembered today is that it is said that Richard III worshipped there before leaving for Bosworth and prepared himself for his last battle.

St Mary De Castro means St Mary of the Castle. It was built in 1107 after Henry I gave the

IMG_2860

The Chapel in St Mary De Castro ground to Robert de Beaumont 1st Earl of Leicester. It was the chapel of the castle and a place of worship within the bailey of the castle. It is assumed but there is no proof of evidence, that Ethelfleda, daughter of King Alfred the Great, had founded a church on the very spot where today is St Mary. It also seems that there was a college of priests called the College of St Mary De Castro founded before the Norman Conquest.

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The tower of St Mary was built not beside the church but inside of it so visitors can see 3 sides of it while still in church. The medieval spire, rebuilt in 1783 was declared dangerous in 2013. Following the unsuccessful attempt to raise money to save it, it was demolished in 2014. The church’s structure is quite odd because in ancient times there were two churches. One was the mentioned chapel of the castle, the other a church for common people. This explains why there are two sedilias and two piscinas both from medieval times.

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Henry VI and Richard III

Curiosities

It is said that King Richard III’s mistreated body was brought to this church to be washed before being displayed for the world to see he was actually dead. Considering the evident haste he was buried in and the lack of respect showed by the Tudors, it is unlikely this ever happened.

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The Nave of the Church

Philippa de Roet, Chaucer’s wife, was the lady-in-waiting of Philippa of Hainault one of Richard III’s ancestors.

In this church Edward of Lancaster and John of Lancaster are buried. Both died in infancy.

 

 

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