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Why did lovers come to celebrate St Valentine’s Day….?

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How did St Valentine become the patron saint of lovers? The answer to that is the stuff of legends. One story has it that he was a peaceful man, as well as a great peacemaker, and while tending the roses in his garden, he heard a couple quarrelling violently. He cut a rose and went to mediate between them. When he gave them the rose, their love for each other returned.

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Another story is that he was chosen to be the patron saint of lovers because his day is close to the pagan feast of Lupercalia, a Roman festival of fertility. One thing is certain, by the time of Richard III, the giving of loving kisses and gifts was in full swing.

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Ford Madox Brown, 1845-1851

I think we should credit Geoffrey Chaucer with a large part in the promoting 14th February as ‘St Valentine’s Day’ as the ‘day of love’. There is a widespread tradition that on St Valentine’s Day all the birds chose their mates. “…for this was on St Valentine’s Day, when every fowl cometh there to choose his mate.”

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The Parliament of Birds by Carl Wilhelm de Hamilton (1668-1754)

Chaucer wrote a poem to celebrate the occasion, and called it ‘The Parlement of Foules’, or ‘Parliament of Fowls’. It was meant to be read out on St Valentine’s Day, and is believed to date from the year fifteen-year-old Richard II married Anne of Bohemia, also fifteen. Maybe it was written for the royal couple.

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The illustration above is of Richard and Anne’s coronation – he seems a little old for fifteen!

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Dante Gabriel Rossetti as Geoffrey Chaucer reading.

Whatever the truth, Chaucer created a symbol of spring love, with birds singing and twittering joyfully. Quarrelling too, with the royal and aristocratic birds of prey lording it over lesser birds. A full translation can be read at http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/English/Fowls.htm

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Danish love poems for Valentine’s Day

To know how medieval lovers celebrated St Valentine’s Day, look at http://uk.businessinsider.com/medieval-valentines-day-celebrations-2016-2?r=US&IR=T.

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And to learn of ten great royal romances of the medieval period, try https://e-royalty.com/articles/the-ten-great-medieval-royal-romances/

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Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville

The oldest existing medieval Valentine love letter, from teenaged Margery Brews to John Paston, is revealed at http://www.historytoday.com/rachel-moss/medieval-valentine (and it is included in a very informative and interesting article about medieval Valentines by Professor Sarah Peverley at https://sarahpeverley.com/tag/medieval-valentine/

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And finally, if you fancy something light-hearted and a little silly, go to https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/?s=right+royal

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Some historical figures of Ipswich

Mid Anglia Group, Richard III Society

Terry Hunt of the EADT writes here about some famous pechaucerople with Ipswich links: Chaucer (as an ancestor of Richard’s brother-in-law) and Wolsey (Richard’s contemporary) are obvious cases, as is Dickens. He doesn’t mention Thomas Cromwell (after whom the Square is named) but he does mention Charlie Chaplin, whose grandparents lived here.

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Which man fathered the first Beaufort….?

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Here is the scene. The mother with her newly born child, her ladies, the air of relief and happiness. But presumably she is a faithful wife, and her delighted husband will soon be summoned to see his new offspring. No doubt he hopes for a son.

But what if she isn’t a faithful wife, and the sire of her baby isn’t her late husband. What’s more, the father is a royal prince?

The following article must be viewed against the 14th-century background of the Hundred Years War, the reigns of Edward III and Richard II, the plague and the convoluted private life of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster . . . forebear of Margaret Beaufort, and therefore of Henry VII and the Tudors.

Just when did Gaunt (b. 6 March 1340 – d. 3 February 1399) become the lover of his children’s married governess, Katherine, Lady Swynford (b. 1349/50, d. 10 May 1403)? And was he first the lover of her sister, Philippa, who was married to Geoffrey Chaucer? In fact, were all the children born to Chaucer and Philippa actually Gaunt’s offspring? (See John Gardner, The Life and Times of Chaucer (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, INC., 1977), 158-162.)

I do not place much faith in this claim about Gaunt and Philippa, but if it were true, it raises an interesting point. Here is an extract from The Duchesses of Lancaster: an examination of English noblewomen’s exercise of power and influence during the fourteenth century, a thesis by Amanda Elizabeth Sanders.

“. . . Gaunt and Katherine confessed to having an affair during his marriage with Constance and that he was godfather to her eldest daughter with Hugh Swynford, which was seen as incest . . .” 

Why was it considered incest? Because in the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 it was recorded that anyone’s wife, or sexual partner, is related to her sisters in the first degree, which is incest. It was considered incest up to the fourth degrees of affinity. (See Harry Rothwell, English Historical Documents, 1189-1327,” in Love, Sex, and Marriage in the Middle Ages: A Sourcebook, ed. Conor McCarthy, (London: Routledge, 2004), 68-69.) Gaunt, being Philippa’s lover first and godfather to Katherine’s daughter Blanche Swynford, would have been considered to commit incest with Katherine, because she was within the degrees of affinity.

Well, I think I follow all that. My education stopped at GCE ‘O’ level in 1960, and I did not take history or religious education. A vital part of Henry VII’s ancestry was that his mother, Margaret Beaufort, could claim descent from John of Gaunt, and therefore Edward III . . . but it just might be that Gaunt had nothing whatsoever to do with John Beaufort’s conception, except to later claim fatherhood. (Note for those who do not know: Beaufort is the name granted to all of the children of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford.)

Disregarding any possible incest, the point of interest for me is that Gaunt and Katherine confessed to being lovers during his marriage to Constance of Castile. Call me Doubting Thomas, but I think it more likely they were lovers before that marriage, a conclusion I have reached while in pursuit of the all-important dates for the start of the affair with Katherine.

These matters are of great consequence to Ricardians (and Tudorites) because the parentage of Gaunt and Katherine’s eldest son, John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset, can be called into question due to his actual date of birth not being known. The event is generally stated to be ‘circa 1373’, and anything ‘circa’ in mediaeval terms can stretch quite a way in either direction. Certainly to the middle of 1372, which is the date I believe.

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To explain why, it is necessary to tell something of Katherine Swynford’s marriage to Sir Hugh Swynford (1340-September 1371), a fairly lowly knight of Kettlethorpe in Lincolnshire, whose only claim to distinction, apart from the identity of his wife, was being “small, stocky and known by his fellows as ‘the battling Saxon ram’!” He was a fierce and shrewd warrior, and clever battle tactician, with a beautiful but unfaithful wife from a lowly background in Hainault. But Katherine Swynford had been raised in the household of Queen Philippa, also from Hainault, and had the formal education and knowledge of court that made her ideal to become the governess of the queen’s grandchildren, Gaunt’s brood by his first duchess, Blanche of Lancaster.

In 1369, while Gaunt was away fighting the war on the continent, Katherine was called to Bolingbroke to spend Christmas with Blanche. But she arrived to find the duchess dying of the plague. Katherine took care of her, and managed to find a priest to administer the Last Rites. Katherine’s loving attentions were appreciated, and on his return to England, Gaunt invited her to come south to London to attend Blanche’s funeral. When she eventually went home to Kettlethorpe, he had rewarded her ‘for the care shown to the late Duchess and for the Lancastrian children after their mother’s death’. She had been granted her own blazon, consisting of three Catherine wheels, which Gaunt had designed, bestowed and registered himself. She also received, as a pension, ‘all issues from, and profits from his towns of Waddington and Wellingere to be paid yearly’.

Lavish rewards indeed! If I were Hugh, I’d be highly suspicious about the nature of the attentions Katherine had paid. And to whom! But there is no proof that anything had yet gone on between Katherine and the duke. Just a very strong hint, in my opinion.

There aren’t any known contemporary portraits of Gaunt and Katherine, so (to give a flavour) here is a rather romanticised view, taken from the cover of an edition of Anya Seton’s excellent novel, Katherine. Fiction maybe, but Katherine was very lovely, and Gaunt was indeed a royal prince.

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Next, Hugh went to France to fight in a company led by Sir Robert Kindles, from whom Gaunt would take over command. In 1371 Hugh was seriously wounded and taken to Bordeaux in Gaunt’s train. The duke found him suitable lodgings and instructed his own personal physician, Brother William Appleton, to care for him. A certain Nirac de Bayanne, the duke’s servant (and Hugh’s enemy of old) is mentioned at this juncture, although he had actually entered the story a little earlier because he (and therefore Gaunt?) figured quite considerably in Swynford affairs.

From http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=ancestorsearch&id=I920

“ . . . May 1367 . . . when the registers note that John of Gaunt appointed his servitor, Nirac de Bayanne, as Steward over Kettlethorpe until Hugh could be sent home. They also record that he stood sponsor to Blanchette, Hugh and Katherine’s daughter born in May 1367 and ordered for her the silver and gilt cup as a baptismal gift . . .”

Hugh and Nirac did not get on at all, and I imagine Hugh resented the man’s presence on his land and in his house. Especially when Katherine was there and gave birth to their daughter.

Now we come forward to Bordeaux again, September 1371, and Hugh recovering from his wounds (or from dysentery, or both, according to opinion). Katherine arrived to be among the English ladies of Gaunt’s forthcoming second duchess, the Infanta Costanza (Constance) of Castile. Gaunt had sent that same Nirac de Bayanne to be Katherine’s escort, and was apparently highly annoyed when she went straight to tend her ailing husband.

The following has been gathered (not word for word) from http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=ancestorsearch&id=I920.

. . . Less than a week after Katherine’s arrival, Hugh was dead. His death surprised everyone as he had been making a good recovery. [It was thought he had been poisoned by the hate-filled Nirac de Bayanne, either from personal dislike or on the duke’s instruction.] Katherine seemed to have been genuinely shocked and upset by her husband’s passing. Aided by Brother William, she arranged for Hugh’s body to be returned to England and Kettlethorpe for burial. Unusually, she returned to court in Bordeaux, rather than accompany the body home. Hugh was buried, and faded into obscurity, leaving Katherine free to enter into a liaison with John [Gaunt] . . .

. . . Nirac was posthumously implicated in Hugh’s death. He is reputed to have confessed to poisoning Hugh, and on his deathbed repeatedly stated that neither John nor Katherine was aware of what he had done. (Hmmm. Maybe she didn’t, but I’d hazard Gaunt knew full well. Hugh was an inconvenience with a husband’s rights, and Katherine had just miffed the duke by putting her husband first. Were those conjugal rights being enjoyed? Might ducal jealousy have raised its head?) . . .

. . . It is known that John and Katherine disappeared for several weeks prior to his second marriage (which took place on 21st September 1371 near Bordeaux). She returned to England and was obviously pregnant because (in the summer of 1372?) she gave birth to John, later John Beaufort. It was assumed that John was Hugh’s posthumous child, but when Henry (My note: second Beaufort son) was born to [Gaunt] and Katherine, they acknowledged John as theirs . . .

Back to my narrative. So, September 1371 was a vital month in this story. Hugh probably died in about the first week, and Gaunt married Constance of Castile on 21st. Between the death and marriage, Gaunt and Katherine disappeared together . . . and they were not intent upon needlepoint, I’ll warrant. Katherine was not pretending to be a grieving widow, nor was Gaunt being much of a bridegroom. Given this conduct, I strongly suspect them of hanky-panky while poor old Hugh lingered.

When Gaunt returned to England not long after his wedding, he did not bring his new duchess with him. Going straight to the Savoy, he spent Christmas with his children by Blanche of Lancaster . . . and their widowed, pregnant  governess was there too. If tongues did not wag into a thunderous racket, I would be absolutely amazed!

How intriguing is the whole scenario, because if it was thought Katherine’s child could be Hugh’s posthumous offspring, then presumably everyone in Bordeaux believed he had recovered enough to be capable of siring it! Maybe he would have survived had fate, or Nirac de Bayanne, not intervened.

So . . . was Hugh the real father of John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset? He was still alive for the likely period of the earl’s conception. Might Katherine have warmed her husband’s bed and Gaunt’s during the same week? Should John Beaufort have actually been named John Swynford?  His date of birth is unknown, and is given as ‘circa 1373’, which certainly could have encompassed the middle of 1372, which is nine months or so from September 1371.

And on top of all this, we have the interesting point mentioned at the very beginning. If Gaunt had been the lover of Philippa Chaucer before he tumbled into bed with Katherine, the latter relationship would have been regarded as incestuous, as well as adulterous. Their Beaufort children were subsequently legitimised, and specifically excluded from any claim to the throne, but I can’t imagine that, according to the then rules, they could be freed from the stigma of incest. Could the Pope have done that? I don’t know. (An aside: Presumably this means that Henry VIII’s activities with the Boleyn sisters was incestuous too?)

Oh, to get to the truth of it all, for the possibility exists that Margaret Beaufort, the scheming mother of the first Tudor king, might have only been the granddaughter of the obscure Kettlethorpe knight, Sir Hugh Swynford, not any offspring of Gaunt.

But there was more scandal, because when it came to blood descent, the man she took as her first husband, Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, father of Henry VII, was most likely not a Tudor at all, but a Beaufort/Swynford by a son of the  same John who had been conceived in Bordeaux in September 1371!

How could this be? Well, according to entirely different and equally salacious whispers, Edmund Tudor’s father wasn’t Owen Tudor (the supposed second husband of Queen Catherine of Valois, widow of Henry V) but was sired by one Edmund Beaufort, third son of the Bordeaux John Beaufort/Swynford. Catherine of Valois was widely rumoured to have had an affair with this Edmund Beaufort, who would not/could not marry her, but got her with child anyway. Catherine swiftly married Owen Tudor, maybe for love, maybe for protection. (Note: It cannot be proved that they actually did marry, but tradition has it they did.) The baby was born a Tudor, but naming him Edmund certainly fanned the rumours.

So, Margaret was Beauchamp on her mother’s side, but either Beaufort or Swynford on her father’s. Edmund Tudor was half Valois, and either Beaufort or half Swynford, but most likely not Tudor. Poor old Henry, all that playing upon his Welshness, and even naming his son and heir Arthur, when all the time there was most likely no proud descent from great Welsh heroes, both mythical and real, and certainly no link to Camelot. Or to Gaunt and Edward III. I would love to have seen the faces of Margaret and Henry had they discovered all this to be true.

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Richard and John de la Pole I and II….

Hull de la Poles

This article is about the de la Poles and their connection with Hull. The author rather muddles some members of the family but there are no nasty comments about Richard III.

http://www.hulldailymail.co.uk/…/story-29118778-…/story.html

PEDRO I, THE CRUEL OR THE JUST?

Pedro I, Peter the Cruel, was the great great grandfather of Richard III and Edward IV, through Peter’s daughter, Isabella, wife of Edmund of Langley.(Another daughter, Constance of Castile, married John of Gaunt.)

Pedro or Peter has an interesting story—his life, his death and his subsequent reputation.
Born August 30, 1334, Peter was the last of the House of Ivrea, coming to the throne at age sixteen after the plague-related death of his father, Alfonso XI. Standing around 6 foot tall, he was muscular and handsome, with blond hair, fair skin and pale blue eyes. A patron of the arts, Peter was well read and learned…but he had a familiar vice: he ‘loved women greatly.’

He had a powerful and influential mother, Maria, who King Alfonso had seemingly ignored for his mistress, Eleanor or Leonor of Guzman. Maria perhaps imbued young Peter with hatred for his many bastard half-brothers and their mother Eleanor—and when Alfonso died, Queen Maria ordered her rival Eleanor put to death.

Peter did break free of his mother’s influence, however, and took a mistress, the beautiful     Maria Padilla…who he then married in secret. Maria Padilla influenced Peter greatly, causing a fall-out between the young King and one of his top ministers and supporters, Juan Alonso de Albuquerque.

Queen Maria, thinking that Maria Padilla was only her son’s mistress, pressed upon the young man to make a worthy alliance by marrying Blanche of Bourbon. …He reluctantly agreed but this meant he had to deny ever marrying Maria. Almost immediately after the wedding, he abandoned his new Queen, and a few years later Blanche, imprisoned in various castles,  died—reputedly at Peter’s command, though the circumstances are sketchy and controversial, ranging from poison by herbs to being shot with a crossbow. (Removing the unwanted Blanche did not stop Peter’s penchant for bigamy; later, he began another bigamous marriage with Juana de Castro, whom he also promptly deserted. Maria Padilla remained his love throughout all, and they had four children including Isabella and Constance.)

In the civil wars that troubled Spain, Peter soon became ‘notorious’ for a number of murders, including slaying a contingent of Moors at a banquet in order to replace their leader with someone more in line with his cause. Meanwhile, his half-brothers from his father’s relationship with Eleanor Guzman assailed him with armies composed mainly of mercenaries. Eventually, driven from his lands, he fled to Galicia, where he ordered the murder of an Archbishop and a Dean who opposed him. While there, he also met with one of his half-brothers, Fadrique, who had supposedly come looking for reconciliation. Apparently as they spoke, he had Fadrique hit over the head with a mace by an assassin…and then Peter sat down calmly and ate his lunch overlooking the cooling body.

Peter’s main rival was his half-brother Enrique (Henry). Henry liked to insult Peter by calling him such names as ‘King of the Jews’ to foment unrest against him through anti-Semitic feeling. Peter himself was known to be quite fair to Jews, and took measures against any activities harmful to Spain’s Jewish population.

Edward the Black Prince threw in his lot with the exiled Peter and used his strength and military prowess to return him to the throne. However, Peter was unwilling or unable to repay the debts he owed Edward after the campaign, and, as his health declined, the Black Prince left him and returned to England.

Henry continued to wage war against Peter. Eventually, Peter holed up in the fortress of Montiel, where he attempted negotiations with a well-known ‘double dealer’, Bertrand du Guescelin. Bertrand promptly fared to Henry’s camp and informed him of all Peter’s plans, and asked Henry for additional funds if du Guescelin would betray the King.

Henry agreed to his terms, and du Guescelin persuaded Peter to come to his tent on a matter of importance. When he arrived, Henry was hiding inside. Peter’s rival half-brother pulled a dagger, fell upon the king and promptly stabbed him to death. His body was left lying on the ground for three days, and was abused and mocked by his foes—similar to the fate off his descendant, Richard III, after the battle of Bosworth.

So was the ‘terrible tyrant’ Peter, deposed by the supposedly ‘noble Henry’, a thoroughly evil and universally hated man who eventually got his just deserts? Certainly Peter was a hard King, a fierce and uncompromising warrior who carried vengeance to an extreme; however the civil wars of the Iberian peninsula did have a particularly bloody character, even beyond those that took place in England, with personal vendettas carried to extreme levels …and certainly not all of those vendettas were carried out on Peter’s behalf.

Some time after his demise, Peter received another name besides Cruel—Peter the Just. Many said that he only killed those who would not submit to the law, and that he ruled fairly over common men. The main source of the evil legends about him came from one work—that of the Chronicler Pero Lopez de Ayala, who was serving under King Henry, Peter’s usurping bastard half-brother. Naturally, he had to bolster his new master’s rather shaky claim to the throne by ramping up the crimes of the former king.

As with some of chroniclers writing about Richard III, even Ayala’s essentially hostile tract does in fact mention positive points about the king—in Peter’s case, that many of his subjects regretted his death, especially the merchant classes.

Some of the more lurid tales about Peter seem, just as with Richard, somewhat folkloric and apocryphal in nature. Did he kill his unwanted wife Blanche by poison or by crossbow? The question might actually be, did he kill Blanche at all…the circumstances of her death remain an unproven legend, and contemporary accounts other than the biased Ayala’s state she died of ‘natural causes.’ The other macabre story of Peter calmly eating lunch over his murdered half-brother Fadrique’s body also smacks of legend rather than reality—it is similar in tone to Shakespeare’s lines in his play, Richard III, when Hastings is dragged away for execution and Richard says; Off with his head! Now, by Saint Paul I swear,
I will not dine until I see the same.

Interestingly, the English remembered Peter the Cruel in a much more positive light than the nobles of  Henry of Trastamare’s court—Chaucer even mentions Peter in The Monk’s Tale and recalls him as noble and honourable, rather than cruel.

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SOURCES:
NNDB
Clara Estow—Peter the Cruel of Castile
Barbara Tuchman—A Distant Mirror

A Slightly Different Ricardian Novel

I, RICHARD PLANTAGENET :TANTE LE DESIREE:

Richard III fiction is ‘big business’ these days, after some years of stagnation in the 1990’s and first decade of this century. Many of the new novels, in order to keep their subject matter fresh, have added fantasy elements or alternative history, or have been written from the viewpoints of invented or minor characters.
The newest Ricardian novel to appear is ‘I, Richard Plantagenet’: Tante le Desiree by J.P. Reedman. This novel, part 1 of two ( the second, due out in March deals with Richard’s accession to the throne and all that comes with it) covers Richard’s years as Duke of Gloucester, from the Battle of Barnet in 1471 through to the end of the Scottish Campaigns in 1482. Several things make this offering slightly different from the more standard novels on Richard’s life.
One is that the story is told in first person—from Richard’s point of view. Very few authors have attempted to use this first person voice—Rhoda Edwards wrote a chapter or two from Richard’s POV in her excellent novel The Broken Sword, and one other alternative novel uses it as well. However, I, Richard Plantagenet is the first novel to use Richard himself as first person narrator in a complete, detailed account of his entire adult life.
A second difference is that the book uses humour. Now, it is not in any way, shape or form a comedy book, and the battles don’t pull any punches, but the medieval world was more ribald and bawdy than many believe—just look at Geoffrey Chaucer’s works! (Interestingly, Geoffrey is related to Richard by marriage.) Many of the Ricardian novels out there are so sad and mournful (and yes, of course it is a tragic tale and many of these are wonderful books that truly stir the emotions)…but didn’t the poor guy have any fun at any time in his short life? Richard had several illegitimate children, so he must have experienced young love or lust (presumably pleasurable for him!) and no doubt, he had amusing or even raucous times with the other young men who were his friends, such as Francis Lovell and Robert Percy. And doubtless he spent what were surely enjoyable times with his wife at Middleham and Barnard castles, as well as Christmas at the Lendal in York, and attending the York Corpus Christ celebrations (he and Anne were members of the Guild) where elaborate religious plays took place in huge carts that rolled about the city. These events have been fictionalised in I, Richard Plantagenet to show that there was more to his existence than high drama and war; a lighter view of Richard’s life, you might say. (And who could resist poking a bit of fun at Anthony Woodville’s poetry?)
The dialogue used also is of a more modern style than is usual in Ricardian novels, and even (gasp!) contains occasional usage of a well-known swear word…which may seem very modern to those used to reading ‘medieval speak’ in novels but was actually in use and gaining vogue in the 15th century… This hopefully gives a slightly more natural and less formal feel; although they were nobles, these were also young men who were soldiers. Soldiers swear. They just do.
Most important perhaps, is the fact that events in Richard’s life that are lesser known or often glossed over in fiction have been included and brought to some prominence. Richard and the Bastard of Fauconberg, a little known trip to Norwich in 1471, the reburial of the Duke of York, Richard’s visit with Louis the Universal Spider at Amiens, his attendance at Prince Richard’s wedding to Anne Mowbray (along with Buckingham), and the Scottish wars all are covered, several of these in depth. Memories of the death and then the subsequent exhumation and reburial of the Duke of York are a recurring theme throughout…and foreshadow the future events in the next book (and the momentous finding of Richard within our own century.)RICHARDCOVER1net

 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Richard-Plantagenet-Book-Tante-Desiree-ebook/dp/B0187RJR7E

 

Chaucer, “The Kingis Quair” and Richard III

https://e-royalty.com/featured-articles/the-first-great-english-poetry/

Geoffrey Chaucer, having married Phillippa de Roet, was to be Richard III’s great-great uncle by marriage. He was also the grandfather-in-law of Richard’s sister, Elizabeth. James I married Joan Beaufort, Chaucer’s niece, the cousin of Richard’s paternal grandfather.

William Caxton and the Birth of English Printing

caxton 2It is always a pleasure to visit the sumptuous J. Pierpont Morgan Museum and Library located in the Murray Hill section of New York City.  Built in 1906, designed by the esteemed architectural firm of McKim, Meade and White, it is breathtakingly beautiful as well as a unique source of medieval riches, housing one of the smallest yet select collection of illuminated manuscripts and medieval art.  Every once in a while, the curators dip into this archival treasure trove and fish out something that makes spending the exorbitant exhibition costs well worth it!  This year, they have given us a tiny but interesting group of printed manuscripts from the late 15th century produced in Ghent and London from the printing press of English merchant and diplomat, William Caxton.  Caxton came twenty years after Johann Gutenberg but apparently wasted no time learning the craft and using his knowledge of English, Latin and French to produce key works of literature, ranging from the Bible to Chaucer and Malory, an early encyclopedia as well as the first illustrated English book, “The Mirror of the World” published in 1481.

In this, of course, he was helped along by those highly intelligent royals – The Plantagenets – starting with Margaret of York (Duchess of Burgundy) who patronized the finest book artists in Europe.  On display is one of her illuminated manuscripts called “Apocalypse” written or translated by the scribe, David Aubert, and published in 1475.

caxton 3William Caxton Lunette, Morgan Library

In 1476, probably encouraged by Margaret,Caxton set up a press at Westminster Abby with illustrious clients such as Earl Rivers and the future Richard the Third.  Sadly, while much emphasis is placed on Margaret’s and Edward IV’s encouragement of Caxton, there is no mention of Richard the Third in the exhibit. As Ricardians know, Richard had a library of his own and was a great champion of the English language as well as a patron of Caxton.  Two books on display – one an unusual Canterbury Tales with woodcuttings and a volume simply called”The Royal Book,” a much-used edition with a leather embossed cover and rubricated lettering, date directly from his reign (1483).

caxtonThe Canterbury Tales, 1483

Perhaps the most interesting, and certainly the most intimate exhibit is a printed indulgence from the workshop of Caxton requesting that Richard Hopton, headmaster of Eton College, be forgiven for promoting war against the Ottomans. Included is the papal seal of Pope Innocent VIII – a blood-red wax replica of what looks like a mitre worn by a bishop. The seal was so carefully broken that it retains a perfect shape.

Perhaps the most important takeaway of this exhibition is Caxton’s work to help stabilize the English language by promoting one dialect – the so-called London dialect – which went on to form the basis of modern English.

The Exhibition last through September 20, 2015.

Pilgrimages Then & Now

The topic of pilgrimages recently came up & I thought to write about the history of & recent resurgence of one of the most popular pilgrimages in the Middle Ages, the Camino de Santiago. There are many different routes leading to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain, but the most popular is the one almost all of them (except the trail out of Portugal) meet up with at some point: the Camino Francés.

The Camino de Santiago actually traces a much earlier path called “The Milky Way” which led to the end of the Earth (or Finisterre), but most pilgrims stop at the Cathedral in Santiago to pay respects at the tomb of St. James the Greater. During the Middle Ages, only 2 other pilgrimage routes were more popular: the one leading to Rome, & the one leading to the Holy Land.

Pilgrims came from all over Europe, at all times of the year. The more well-to-do were able to make their pilgrimages in the spring to fall, while the poor would most likely only get permission from their lords to go in the winter.

Vast numbers of pilgrims’ hospitals were established all along the route, and it was for the most part guarded by the Knights Templar. Remnants of Templar churches can be found all along the Camino Francés, most notably the round church at Eunate, just outside of Pamplona. None of the medieval hospitals are in operation as such today, but you can walk past ruins of them all along the Way. While the pilgrims’ hospitals are now gone, you can still find lodging in many convents & monasteries along the way, & even in some churches. Given the size of the ruins I have seen of these hospitals, however, I’d have to guess that the numbers of pilgrims they served were huge.

The pilgrimage to Compostela was widely known in England. Chaucer’s Bath of Wife made a pilgrimage there, according to the “Canterbury Tales,” while in real life, Earl Rivers made his own way to Santiago. It is unknown if Richard III ever journeyed to Spain, but he did make pilgrimages to Canterbury, Walsingham, & other religious sites in England. However, even today, the journey is not easy. It is physically, mentally, & spiritually grueling, & many times the hardest thing you have to battle is your own inner voice suggesting that you quit. Unlike medieval pilgrims, however, modern pilgrims do not have to contend with battles between Moors & Christians or worry about bandits stealing their horses.

At several places along the Way, pilgrims then & now encounter places made famous by the tales of Charlemagne & romanticized in “The Song of Roland.” In fact, the Valcarlos Route over the Pyrenees follows the route taken by Charlemagne & Roland, and ends at a small village called Roncesvalles (Ronceveaux in French), which has greeted pilgrims & held daily masses for them for over 1000 years.

If you want to get a feeling for how medieval people lived, or see first-hand places & things that Richard III would have been familiar with, walking the Camino Francés is a good way to do it. The towns you walk through, especially the smaller ones, are still on their medieval footprint. In areas where fighting was heaviest, the towns are situated on tops of steep hills, always a welcome site after a long, hot day’s walk, I can attest.

At the end of your journey, you reach the Cathedral in Santiago & are rewarded with your own Compostela with your name written in Latin on it, so long as you can prove you walked the last 100 kilometers. You are also allowed to give the statue of Saint James that sits behind the altar a hug, & then descend into the crypt where his coffin is. Being a few feet from the grave of someone who knew Jesus is a heady experience today, so you can imagine how medieval pilgrims felt about it. All pilgrims, ancient & modern, do get to use the scallop shell as their personal device or on their coat of arms, if they have one. Unlike medieval pilgrims, however, modern pilgrims do not get time off for good behavior from Purgatory or other indulgences.

There are many good online sources where you can research & plan your own Camino, if you feel called to go.

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