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The Death of Robert, Earl of Gloucester

In writing Stephen and Matilda: Cousins of Anarchy, I was keen to apply the same narrow-eyed pursuit of solid facts that I hope comes across in my books on the Wars of the Roses. More than being about battles and, well, anarchy, I wanted to discover the real personalities behind the stories, the people who are sometimes lost in the moralising and misogyny of chroniclers. Few characters are as fascinating and worthy of admiration as Robert, Earl of Gloucester.

RobertConsul_TewkesburyAbbey_FoundersBook Monks of Tewkesbury Abbey, c. 1500-1525 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Robert, Earl of Gloucester and his wife Mabel FitzHamon from the Founders’ Book of the Monks of Tewkesbury Abbey

The first person to hold a peerage title centred on Gloucester was the oldest, and favourite, illegitimate son of Henry I; a man who might have been king. Henry I holds the record for the most known illegitimate children fathered by an English or British monarch. He had at least twenty-two, and possibly more, illegitimate sons and daughters. Robert was his oldest, born around 1090, either his grandfather William the Conqueror or his uncle William Rufus were on the throne and his father was the king’s third son, unlikely to inherit anything more than a hefty lump of cash.

The identity of Robert’s mother is not known for certain. Once conjectured to have been Nest, a daughter of Rhys ap Tewdwr, the last King of Deheubarth, it is more likely that she was a member of an Oxfordshire family, like the mothers of many of Henry’s other illegitimate children. She was possibly a daughter of Rainald Gay of Hampton Gay, but she remains lost in mystery. Her son, however, would be propelled into the political limelight, feted as the favourite son of a father who took the throne as Henry I.

Robert’s importance solidified after The White Ship Disaster of 1120, when Henry lost his only legitimate son. Shortly afterwards, Robert was created Earl of Gloucester, probably reflecting the amount of land and the number of honours his wife, Mabel FitzHamon, brought to him within the area. He also held extensive lands in Wales and Normandy. When Henry appointed his only other legitimate child, his daughter Empress Matilda, as his heir, he extracted oaths from his barons that they would support her. More than most, though, Henry would have been aware of the fragility of such pledges: he had not been his brother’s heir but had snatched the throne on William Rufus’s sudden death.

Robert was promoted further, given lands that made him one of the most wealthy and powerful men on both sides of the Channel. The plan was clear: Robert was to be a crutch for his half-sister as she tried to exercise power as a woman in a strictly man’s world. Crutches come in pairs, and the other one readied for Empress Matilda was her cousin, Stephen of Blois, Count of Boulogne. Stephen was the son of Henry’s sister Adela of Normandy and was another of Henry’s favourites, made powerful to help support Matilda.

Henry’s plans, however well laid, ultimately fell to pieces on his death in 1135. It is possible the king changed his mind on his deathbed, since he was at odds with Matilda and her husband Geoffrey of Anjou, but whatever really happened behind closed doors, it was Stephen who rushed to have himself crowned in place of Empress Matilda. Robert trod a difficult and strained line. He eventually submitted to Stephen, but the king was never quite sure of his cousin. Whether Robert had planned to remain loyal to his half-sister all along or Stephen’s suspicion drove him away is unclear – chroniclers have their ideas based on their prejudices, but Robert alone knew the secrets of his heart.

When Empress Matilda landed at Arundel Castle to formally launch her bid to take the crown in 1139, she was accompanied by her half-brother Robert. While she remained inside the castle until Stephen arrived, Robert sped west to his stronghold at Bristol, a castle deemed impenetrable and which would form the beating heart of Matilda’s bid for power for years. Robert became the military arm of his half-sister’s efforts, allowing her to overcome the problems of putting an army into the field. In 1141, it was Robert who led the army against Stephen at the Battle of Lincoln that resulted in the king’s capture. Later the same year, when Matilda was driven out of Winchester, it was Robert who fought a rear guard action to allow Matilda to escape safely, but which led to his own seizure by forces loyal to Stephen.

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Medieval knights riding into battle from wall paintings at Claverley Church, Shropshire

It is a mark of the importance to Matilda’s cause of Earl Robert that he was part of a prisoner exchange, his release secured with that of Stephen in a complex arrangement of hostages and releases. The chronicler William of Malmesbury, who knew Earl Robert and is unfalteringly positive about his patron, believed that Robert demonstrated his courage, guile and humility when he initially refused to be exchanged for the king, since he was a mere earl and worth less than Stephen. Even when he was offered control of the government, he still refused. It was Matilda who blinked first. Robert was perhaps not as clever as William of Malmesbury believed (if the earl didn’t exaggerate his role in the negotiations for his writer friend!). Matilda’s case was largely based on the illegitimacy of Stephen’s rule; he was not the rightful king and had broken his own oaths to support her. Robert, in recognising Stephen as a king and as one of higher worth than an earl, undid that pretence and handed Stephen all of the religious authority and infallibility that went with being king.

Robert died on 31 October 1147, aged around fifty-seven, at Bristol Castle, still trying to lift his half-sister onto the throne. He was buried at his own foundation of St James’s Priory in Bristol. The hammer blow to Matilda’s cause is amply demonstrated by her decision to leave England in the early months of 1148, abandoning her own claim to the throne but bequeathing the effort to her son, Henry FitzEmpress, the future Henry II. Robert had been a paragon of chivalry, and shared many attributed with his rival King Stephen. William of Malmesbury is full of gushing praise for the brave, chivalrous, unflappable earl, and it is clear that he was the strong core of his half-sisters efforts.

Many urged Robert to make his own claim to the throne in 1135 and afterwards. This presented problems, not the least of which was his illegitimacy. His grandfather, William the Conqueror had been a bastard, but becoming a duke was different from becoming a king, and William took England by conquest, not by right. Illegitimacy was always much more of a bar to becoming a king, with all of the associated religious aspects of being chosen by God. On the other hand, he was the favourite son of the old king, Henry I, and solved all of the problems of female rule that Matilda relentlessly encountered. Capable, both militarily and politically, he was more acceptable to some despite his illegitimacy than any woman would ever be.

Robert refused at every turn, and at every request, to even consider trying to make himself a king. It is perhaps unkind to suggest that he lacked confidence that he would succeed, because he relentlessly spearheaded his half-sister’s efforts to unseat Stephen. William of Malmesbury may not have been far wide of the mark when he admiringly assured his reader that Robert would not consider such a step because he accepted Matilda as the rightful heir to their father’s throne. He swore oaths to her and, once Matilda launched her bid for the throne and turned away from Stephen, he spent the remainder of his life trying to keep those promises.

Robert died without seeing the eventual success of their cause, but he never gave up. He managed to be the military arm of an attempt to implement female rule in England more than four centuries before it would finally be accepted. That he did so without blurring the lines of his half-sister’s claim to the throne or allowing himself to become embroiled in efforts to make him king speaks volumes for the man and his abilities. There is an awful lot to admire in this dedicated, honourable and capable first holder of a peerage based on the city of Gloucester.

Stephen and Matilda: Cousins of Anarchy is released by Pen and Sword on 30 October 2019.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stephen-Matildas-Civil-War-Cousins/dp/1526718332

The Maligned Queen in the Car Park

Added to the list of monarchs and notables found or potentially to be found beneath car parks, tennis courts, and other such mundane places must be the Queen of Henry III, Eleanor of Provence. Buried in Amesbury Priory after her body was kept in ‘storage’ by the nuns for two months while her son, Edward I, was away at war, the grave was lost, like so many others’, during the Reformation. Quite possibly  the architect Inigo Jones stumbled over the Queen’s gravesite while plans were being drawn up to build a classical mansion on the abbey site. He describes a chest tomb which, when pried open, revealed a skeleton wearing ‘rich garments.’ There are only one or two possibilities as to whom these remains might belong to, and Eleanor is the prime candidate. No further mentions of the remains exist and it is presumed the tomb was resealed and then the site built over and landscaped.

Some years ago, archaeologists did some geophysics on the large open green space in front of the current Amesbury Abbey (the classical mansion.) Nothing showed up of interest–not even buildings, let alone a Queen’s last resting place.

However, bits of lead and medieval glass were recently turned up by the spade in the nearby flowerbeds; presumably these came from the destroyed priory church. Measuring the ground to the approximate length of the church,  the site of the high altar appears to be somewhere between a large tree and a small car park for residents on the private estate. Eleanor’s grave is thought to be in this approximate area.

Eleanor of Provence is one of England’s least known queens, and probably one of the most maligned. In several books about her husband, Henry III, she scarcely gets a mention, save to chastise her for promoting her family members or to recount the notorious incident at London Bridge, when her barge was pelted with stones and rubbish. While the promotion of her family was one of her ‘failings’, in fact Eleanor was a model wife and a medieval mother who really cared about her children, even causing diplomatic issues over their care–for instance, when her son Edward fell ill at Beaulieu Abbey, she insisted upon staying with him, overriding the abbot who said that no woman, not even a queen, could stay in the abbey. There was no hint of any marital infidelities by either King or Queen, and Henry had known no mistresses or illegitimate children. Eleanor was so trusted in her abilities, she was made regent in his absence; she also gathered an army in France when Henry and Edward were taken prisoner.

Maybe, like Richard, her reputation should be up for a revamp.

She is not to be confused with another royal Eleanor buried somewhere in Amesbury–Eleanor, Pearl of Brittany.  That Eleanor was the daughter of Geoffrey Plantagenet, son of Henry II, and sister to the unfortunate Arthur of Brittany. She was England’s longest-serving political prisoner; accused of nothing,  her only crime was having royal blood and a strong claim to the throne by strict primogeniture.

There has been some confusion about the actual burial-place of both women, as the local parish church of St Mary and St Melor was once part of an abbey. Many people assumed that is was the church for the vanished priory. In fact, it was part of an earlier monastic foundation–there were TWO religious houses in Amesbury, although St Melor’s became the parish church at a fairly early date. It is most likely that this church IS where Eleanor of Brittany is buried, due to the Breton connection, and geophysics have shown there are several gravecuts before the high altar. However, Eleanor of Provence almost certainly lies  in the priory that stood in the fields to the back of the older foundation.

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Just what is Richard III’s DNA telling us….?

DNA - family tree

The following link arrived in my box this morning.https://figshare.com/…/Richard_III_The_Livingstons_…/4764886 I quote:

“18.03.2017, 07:26 by John Smith

“A skeleton excavated at the presumed site of the Grey Friars friary in Leicester in 2012 is almost certainly that of the English king, Richard III (1452 -1485), and mtDNA (which is passed from mother to child) extracted from the skeleton matches mtDNA taken from descendants of Richard’s sister Anne of York. However Y-DNA (which is passed from father to son) extracted from the skeleton apparently doesn’t match Y-DNA taken from descendants of Henry Somerset the 5th Duke Of Beaufort, who according to history descended from Richard’s 2nd great grandfather Edward III (1312 – 1377).

“The implication according to geneticists, and the media, is that there is a ‘false paternity event’ somewhere between Edward and the Somersets. Also, the false paternity events don’t end there, for only 4 of these 5 Somerset descendants match each other. And it may be worse even than this: the patrilineal line of a Frenchman named Patrice de Warren apparently traces back to Richard III through the illegitimate son of Edward III’s 4th great grandfather, Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou (1113 – 1151).

“But de Warren’s Y-DNA doesn’t match that of either Richard III or any of the Somersets. In this note, a formula for calculating the time of the most recent common ancestor is introduced, and some of its consequences outlined. This formula arises from a mathematical framework within which it is possible that the traditional genealogy is correct, and that Geoffrey Plantagenet was the father of a male line incorporating Richard III, all 5 Somersets, and Patrice de Warren.”

References:

http://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms6631

http://users.skynet.be/lancaster/Discussion Maclea.htm

https://figshare.com/articles/On_a_Question_Concerning_the_Littlewood_Violations_pdf/4240424

Me again: The above prompted me to look back at some of the articles that abounded in 2015, when discussion about Richard’s DNA was rife. I selected the following, if only because of the eye-catching family tree:-

http://globalfamilyreunion.com/…/01/03/king-richard-iii-dna/

As the saying goes, the thot plickens. Just who is the father of who…? Our posts here and here may well have answered this.

MISTRESS OF THE MAZE—Rosamund Clifford, Lover of King Henry II

Jane Shore is one of the most famous royal mistresses and certainly the prime one of the 15th century. Arguably, however, the most famous royal mistress in medieval English history  is the enigmatic Rosamund de Clifford, known as ‘Fair Rosamund’ or ‘Rose of the World.’

Like Jane, Rosamund seemed to have received a generally benign treatment from historians and later writers, despite one of her contemporaries, Gerald of Wales, making a cruel pun on her name and calling her ‘The Rose of Unchastity.’ In comparison Edward III’s young mistress Alice Perrers, was often depicted as greedy and grasping, and King John’s mistress, ‘queen’ Clementia, was mocked for giving herself regal airs and graces. Just as writers from Thomas More onwards lauded Jane Shore for her beauty and generosity and overlooked her dubious liaisons with William Hastings and Thomas Grey, Rosamund was generally seen in a wholly favourable manner, with her ‘rival,’ Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, taking the part of the villain, despite being the injured party, so to speak. Henry, a notorious womaniser just like his descendant Edward IV, seemed to get no blame for anything at all.

The Victorians and pre-Raphaelites who painted interpretations of Rosamund’s legend painted Rosamund as timid and meek, even a little simple-looking, while Eleanor was shown as being crafty and hard, with a sallow skin, pinched features and hooked nose—despite in reality being a notable beauty of the age herself. It appears Eleanor, being rather liberated for the era she lived in, was deemed by the Victorians as ‘unnatural’and unwomanly, having sought an annulment from her first marriage to Louis of France to marry the younger Henry and then by inciting her sons to rebel against their father. Rumours also abounded of consensual flings in her youth, including with her own uncle. Far better, it seemed, to be a naïve young girl at the command of the much older king than a determined ‘hussy’ like Eleanor who dared to do what SHE wanted!

Some attempts were made to change the more ‘unsavoury’ elements of Rosamund’s story to make it more palatable to the mores of 19th century readers. Suddenly she was not a young girl but of an age with the King—his first sweetheart whom he had married in secret, making her his rightful wife. This was nonsense; Rosamund’s parentage is known and accordingly the birthdates of her parents and siblings and, in all likelihood, Rosamund herself. In reality, she was probably only a teenager when she met Henry, and their affair seems to have started around 1166-7, when Henry’s youngest son John was born. Equally, the myth,also originating in this time, that she was the mother of Henry’s two most famous bastards, William Longspee and Geoffrey Plantagenet, Archbishop of York, has been proven to be false. Recently discovered documents show that William’s mother was Ida de Tosney, Duchess of Norfolk, and not only was Geoffrey too old to be Rosamund’s child, chroniclers wrote that his mother was a prostitute called Ykenai.

Rosamund, of course, is famous not just for the affair with King Henry but also for being kept in a maze near the now-vanished palace of Woodstock. The maze, which was meant to keep her safe from Eleanor, almost certainly did not exist, but there is ground disturbance at the site and a house may have once existed, perhaps with some kind of ornate garden, that had been built or adapted for Rosamund’s use. A well still flows on the spot, which has been known as Rosamund’s Well for around four hundred years at least, although its earliest known name was Everswell.

And what about the dramatic tale of Rosamund being murdered in person by Eleanor, given the choice of poison or a dagger? (Versions that are even more lurid have her roasted between two fires and attacked by toads!) Toads or no toads, murder by Eleanor is almost certainly untrue, since the Queen was imprisoned at the time Rosamund died, and no Queen would personally attend to such matter anyway, vengeful or not. There is a vague possibility one of her agents could have done the deed on her behalf, but at that time, the Queen had no finances to pay an assassin, being in straightened circumstances and reduced to sharing a bed with her maid in Old Sarum Castle.

However, what is known is that Henry officially announced his relationship with Rosamund to the court in 1174 and spoke of an annulment of his marriage with Eleanor shortly thereafter. A mere two years later, Rosamund had departed Woodstock and retired to Godstow nunnery, and then, abruptly, she was dead. Chroniclers say she died before the age of thirty. So something unfortunate did happen to Rosamund, though whether her death was natural or more sinister is impossible to say.

Henry did appear to genuinely love Rosamund, although his mistresses were legion—including, but not limited to, Annabel de Balliol, Duchess Ida, Alice de Porhoet (whose father was furious), Alis of France who was intended for his son Richard (only a rumour but possible given his reputation for seducing his wards), and the intriguingly named BelleBelle, for whom he brought rich robes at the same time as he brought gowns for the Queen. He ordered a lavish tomb made for Rosamund, which was raised before the high altar in Godstow Priory, and made monetary payments to the prioress.

The tomb became something of a shrine, decked with flowers and candles, until the arrival of Bishop Hugh of Lincoln in the years following Henry’s own death. Bishop Hugh was scandalised at the seeming veneration of the tomb of an ‘unchaste’ woman and ordered it removed to the nuns’ cemetery. It was duly dismantled and placed against the wall of the chapterhouse, where it was still visible for some years after the Dissolution. Around this time, a house was built incorporating the priory ruins, and when this was subequently destroyed in the Civil War, most of the remaining features of the priory vanished with it.

Rosamund has appeared in art and in song, and features in several novels about Henry II and his family, including by Sharon Penman, author of the famous Ricardian novel, The Sunne in Splendour. One solitary novel solely from Rosamund’s point of view was written in the 1970’s by Philippa Wiat, the Philippa Gregory of her day, but it was oddly flat and unexciting. However, in early 2017 MISTRESS OF THE MAZE was released, containing solid historical facts while incorporating the more fantastical elements of the legend, such as the Maze at Woodstock. Rosamund here is not the simpering icon beloved by overwrought Vctorian artists but a tragic flesh and blood woman caught up in the midst of the marital entanglements of Kings.

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Godstow Priory

Empress Matilda-Should She Be Listed as an English Monarch?

One of the most fascinating (and bloody) periods of English history is The Anarchy, when Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I (he who might well be found sometime soon in the ruins of Reading Abbey) fought her cousin Stephen of Blois (thought to be in Faversham Abbey) for the English throne. Battles raged across the land and barons, without permission, threw up adulterine castles everywhere and lived lawlessly. The times were so turbulent that it was said ‘Christ and His Saints slept.’

Matilda’s forces captured Stephen in 1141 and she came very close to being crowned, but violent crowds of Stephen’s supporters on the way to London stopped the Coronation from taking place. Then her biggest supporter, her half-brother Robert of Gloucester was captured at Winchester, and the only way to free him was to trade Stephen’s freedom for Robert’s.

In 1148, Matilda retreated from England for good and left the fighting to her son, Henry FitzEmpress, the son of Geoffrey Plantagenet–the future Henry II. In 1153 Henry and Stephen came to an agreement after the Siege of Wallingford, in which Henry was declared Stephen’s heir as the latter’s eldest son Eustace had died. The next year, Stephen died and Henry took the throne.

Matilda is generally not listed as one of the rulers of England but some believe that she should be. Although never crowned, she was Henry I’s heir and before the High Altar of All Saints, Northampton, Henry rallied his barons to swear loyalty to her and to support her claim to the throne. They swore at the time, but as often happened in the Middle Ages, the oaths were quickly broken once Henry died. The idea of a female ruler was not a popular one, although there was no legal impediment to it, as England, unlike France, did not have a Salic Law.

Many sources list Edward V, Jane and Edward VIII as monarchs of England, despite the fact that they were never crowned and their legitimacy to the position was disputed–so, if that is considered correct, why then is the Empress Matilda excluded from the list, as designated heir to Henry I?

Matilda is, of course ancestor to the line of Plantagenet kings that followed on from her son, and through her maternal side, they also have a line of descent from both King Malcolm of Scotland and the royal House of Wessex via St Margaret. Both claimants were, therefore, among Richard III’s ancestors.parents_of_henry_ii

 

An interesting post on the subject of Matilda from the FB page ‘House of Plantagenet History & Geneology’ :https://www.facebook.com/groups/41546823396/permalink/10154937093853397/

ARTHUR AND ELEANOR-TRAGIC SIBLINGS

A tragic but  often overlooked  story of a prince and princess and a wicked uncle is that of Arthur and Eleanor of Brittany. (Two later boys who may or may not have  been killed seem to elicit much  more sympathy, probably at least in part due to  a certain  play and some maudlin Victorian art!) King John gets a bad rap (“Foul as it is, hell itself is made fouler by the presence of King John,” chronicler Matthew Paris wrote in the 1230s!),  but it is interesting that his ineptitude as a ruler seems to be treated as a far greater crime than some of his misdeeds.

Arthur was the son of Geoffrey Plantagenet, younger  brother of Richard Lionheart and  older brother to John Lackland, and his wife the heiress Constance of Brittany. Arthur did not have the best start in life being born posthumously, his father having died shortly before his birth in either an accident at a joust or from a sudden heart attack. Geoffrey was only 27 when he died and was buried in Notre Dame Cathedral  in Paris.

As Geoffrey was older than John, his child was technically in line to the throne of  England and in 1190 Richard I named the three-year-old Arthur as his heir, since he had no sons of his own. This designation  bypassed Richard’s  younger but adult brother, John. Richard  repeated the nomination of Arthur as heir in 1196, at the same time, Arthur’s mother Constance proclaimed her son as duke of Brittany.

Bad luck followed, however—Ranulf de Blondeville, Arthur’s own step-father through his mother’s remarriage,  abducted  his estranged wife Constance,  and King Richard had to advance on Brittany to free both Arthur and his mother. Constance then fled her husband and was granted an annulment.

Later, in 1199, when Richard realised he was dying after being struck by an arrow during the siege at Chalus-Chabrol,  the king  suddenly did a  hasty about-face and changed his nomination for the succession from Arthur to John—he had changed his mind on his deathbed, fearing  that the Duke of Brittany was far too young to rule a country.

John was crowned king, but the French, who preferred Arthur’s claim, rose up to support the young boy of twelve. He marched with an army to Anjou but to little effect.

In 1200, a treaty was signed between King John and Phillip II of France, which finally quashed Arthur’s claims to the throne forever.  Within a short while, the young boy and his supporters were in open rebellion, even besieging Arthur’s own grandmother, the indomitable Eleanor of Aquitaine, in her castle of Mirebeau.

John arrived at Mirebeau with an army of his own, however, and Arthur was captured and taken to the Castle of Falaise where he was placed in the care of Hubert de Burgh.  It was said that at this time John ordered that Arthur be castrated and blinded. However, de Burgh refused and kept the young prince safe.

A short while later, Arthur was taken from de Burgh’s protection at Falaise and moved on to Rouen castle…and this was where he disappeared in or around April 1203.

The Margam Chronicle states :After King John had captured Arthur and kept him alive in prison for some time, at length, in the castle of Rouen, after dinner on the Thursday before Easter, when he was drunk and possessed by the devil, he slew him with his own hand, and tying a heavy stone to the body cast it into the Seine. It was discovered by a fisherman in his net, and being dragged to the bank and recognised, was taken for secret burial, in fear of the tyrant…

   While some of the above description relating to the murder may be nothing more than monkish exaggeration, it is interesting to note that Maud de Braose,wife of William de Braose, who was working closely with John at the time of Arthur’s disappearance, dared to accuse John to his face of murdering Arthur of Brittany.

    Needless to say, making this open accusation to a man like John did not go well for Maud—or  for her son William. After fleeing to Ireland, where they were eventually captured, they were both imprisoned in a castle, mostly likely Corfe, and starved to death.  Rumours abounded that in a desperate attempt at survival Maud ate her dead son’s cheeks…

Arthur was not the only tragic child of Geoffrey and Constance who suffered at the hands of King John. He had a sister Eleanor who was so beautiful she was known as the Fair Maid of Brittany. Even though she was female and the barons were not particularly supportive of her claim, John feared her closeness to the throne and hence kept her as a prisoner, moving her from castle to castle and displaying her occasionally to prove she was still alive. Her main place of imprisonment seems to have been Corfe; she was in residence there when John starved 22 knights to death when they tried to escape the dungeons.

Although captive, she was not treated particularly badly, having several maids, decent if bland clothes, and was probably able to ride out on occasion although under close supervision.

However, her imprisonment went on for  39 years, long after John’s death and into the reign of his son Henry III, even though she had committed no crime, and had never been tried or sentenced. John had decreed upon his deathbed that she must remain imprisoned for life.

Eventually, however, after her child bearing years were over,  Henry III permitted her  to join a convent and become a nun. When she died, she was first buried in Bristol, but later, in accordance with her own final wishes,  reburied in Amesbury abbey in Wiltshire.

Her final choice of burial site is  interesting. The Abbey Church of St Mary and St Melor has an unusual dedication, seen only in one other place outside Brittany.

St Melor was a young Breton prince, who was first mutilated and then murdered by his uncle. His relics lay on the high altar in Amesbury Abbey, where they had been brought by Dark Age monks.

Choosing to be buried in a church dedicated to this martyred, murdered boy, in proximity to the remains of a saint who had died in circumstances almost identical to those of  her brother, may have been the Fair Maid of Brittany’s last act of defiance.

 

+Today Eleanor’s grave is lost, another victim of the Reformation. However, before the high altar in the church of St Mary and St Melor, geophysics have shown that two grave cuts still exist deep beneath the flagstones.

It is certainly quite possible that one of these belongs to this tragic Plantagenet princess.

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Amesbury Abbey-high altar and corbels.

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Broom Sweeps Clean

The name Plantagenet came from Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou, who was reputed to wear a sprig of the yellow ‘planta genista’ (also known as the Broom plant) in his hat. However, the Encyclopedia Britannica has speculated that the Plantagenet name ‘more likely’ arose because Geoffrey supposedly planted broom to improve his hunting covers.

He married Empress Matilda, the daughter of Henry I of England and they had three children, including Henry, who succeeded to the English throne, founding the Plantagenet dynasty, as Henry II.

Geoffrey was described as handsome and red headed, jovial and a great warrior. He was born on 24th August 1113 and died after a sudden fever on 7th September 1152, aged 38, in Le Mans, where he was buried.

But what of the plant which gave him his nickname and the dynastic name of the Plantagenets?

There are many species of broom, but the particular one which Geoffrey wore is the Genista scoparius aka the Cytisus scoparius. It is a tough shrub with dense, slender green stems and very small leaves, which are adaptations to dry growing conditions. It still grows in the dry areas around Anjou and is common all over Western Europe. The flowers are small and yellow and bloom in spring and summer, preferring dry, sandy soil. The Genista scoparius is the Common broom and the most hardy, surviving temperatures as low as -25 degrees. It grows to an average of 1 -3 metres, occasionally 4 metres, high.

Its tough branches were ideal to use as a besom broom which is where its common name arises, but it was thought to be unlucky to use them for menial purposes when in full bloom.

Apparently, an old Suffolk tradition states:

‘If you sweep the house with blossomed Broom in May

You are sure to sweep the head of the house away.’

picture of Broom plant

It seems to have been used in a medicinal or herbal way as a decoction or tincture and was thought to cure kidney problems, gout, sciatica and joint and hip pain. If you would like to learn more about its medicinal and other qualities her is a very interesting link to a Modern Herbal:

http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/b/broom-70.html

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