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Just WHY did Buckingham think he could cross the flooded Severn….?

Buckingham and Flooded Severn

On this date, St Luke’s Day, 18th October, in 1483, apparently egged on by that notorious Lancastrian plotter, John Morton, Bishop of Ely, Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham unfurled his banners in rebellion against his cousin, King Richard III. Morton was supposedly Buckingham’s prisoner, handed over to him by Richard for safe keeping. Safe keeping turned out to mean listening to Morton’s every seditious word and treating him as an honoured house guest. To make the king’s task all the more difficult, and to spread his resources thin, uprisings were already in progress elsewhere in England. Richard was therefore alert, and in swift action to secure his realm.

The whys and wherefores of Buckingham’s revolt are not of consequence for this article, because one thing about his action that 18th October has always bothered me. He was well acquainted with the Severn. He had to cross it every time he went to and from England from his stronghold in Brecon, so he would know the hazard it presented. This would be especially so at times of spring tides, and of the widespread floods that barred his way on this occasion. After ten days of endless rain and stormy weather, the river had burst its banks to a huge extent. Buckingham’s decision to cross anyway was not just unwise, but suicidal. Even allowing for a bridge, the approaches to which were miraculously not submerged, crossing over with an army of men would take time, and every minute counted when he was taking on a commander as clever and experienced as Richard. Maybe Buckingham felt that he had no choice. He had committed himself to join the rebellion, and maybe he saw some great prize in store if it succeeded. Maybe the prize was Richard’s crown.

Learning of Buckingham’s treachery, Richard called him “the most untrue creature living”, which is a measure of the hurt and incredulity he felt toward the second cousin upon whom he had showered rewards and position. Richard was no slouch when it came to military matters, and immediately ordered the destruction or blocking of all the bridges and river crossings that Buckingham might intend to use.  Richard wanted the duke trapped on the Severn’s western bank, where he was being harassed from behind by the Welsh Vaughan family. The longer his forces could be held back, the less secure his position became. Richard knew that soon the dissatisfied Welshmen forced into Buckingham’s service would begin to desert. Buckingham had never treated them well, and they resented him.

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Gloucester West Gate

Gloucester’s old West Gate

It is now generally agreed that Gloucester was Buckingham’s goal, because it provided the most direct route to London. But to cross there, over the long Westgate causeway that was raised over the channels of the Severn and the marshy island that lay between them, meant marching right through the city, for that was the only access and egress from the Welsh side. Did Buckingham have reason to think the gates would be flung open to him? The records suggest that choosing Gloucester was no last-minute decision, Buckingham had definitely intended all along to take that route, approaching through the Forest of Dean, so maybe he did have allies in the city. Or Morton did. It was to prove immaterial anyway, because the floods had turned the Severn into a sea. Buckingham and his army could not set foot on the causeway, let alone the city streets.

Tewkesbury on island in floods 2007

Tewkesbury Abbey on an “island” during the floods of 2007

The first crossing upstream of Gloucester was a ford just south of Tewkesbury at Lower Lode. Such a crossing would require very low river levels, which was most unlikely in October, around the equinox. In the middle of a hot, dry summer, perhaps. Otherwise, forget it. There was a ferry, of course…but imagine the time needed to convey a whole army, horses, weapons and all, even if the river were not in flood. With all that water, no ferryman would embark on such a hazardous exercise. The next bridge was at Upton on Severn, some way upstream, and had probably already been dealt with by Richard.

All factors concerning the arduous matter of crossing the Severn had been encountered in 1471 by Margaret of Anjou, prior to the Battle of Tewkesbury, and she did not have floods to deal with as well. She was trying to take her army into Wales. Buckingham was the other way around. See: https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/2017/05/03/at-the-gates-of-gloucester-in-1471/

The warning signs would have been there for Buckingham and Morton all the way from Brecon, beginning with the River Usk which flowed past the castle and town. If the Usk was in spate on its way to the Bristol Channel and estuary, so too would be the next river to cross, the Wye, and finally the Severn itself. In between  the various streams in the Forest of Dean would no longer be sparkling, trickling, babbling little brooks, but  mini-torrents crashing their way down the gradual slope toward the sea.

The Severn still floods in prolonged bad weather, and is worse during the equinoxes. It sometimes floods in the summer too, as in July 2007. It is also subject all year around to a notorious wave, called a bore, that twice a day races in from the estuary and is confined and raised by the narrower channel of the river itself. Back then it could flow inland as far as Worcester. Now it is stopped at Maisemore weir, outside Gloucester. Some bores are small, some large, and in October are usually the latter. They swell any floods still more, and when the Severn bursts its banks, it spreads for miles.

Gloucestershire floods

Buckingham, and his nemesis Morton, could not possibly have been in ignorance until the moment of actually seeing the floods. Didn’t they have any scouts? Any local guides? Couldn’t they use their eyes all the way from Brecon? At the very least they should have anticipated it something.. Once closer to the Severn, they probably couldn’t even locate the riverbank, which would be somewhere in the great expanse of fast-flowing, muddy water that was pierced here and there by trees and dwellings.

Buckingham_Finds_the_Severn_Impassable

The following descriptive report is also quoted here (and https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/tag/buckingham-rebellion/)  and serves to illustrate exactly how foolhardy Buckingham was to even consider the crossing. “In the second year of Richard III in the month of October 1483, as the Duke of Buckingham was advancing by long marches through the Forest of Dean to Gloucester, where he designed to pass with his army over the Severn, there was so great an inundation of water that men were drowned in their beds, houses were overturned, children were carried about the fields swimming in cradles, beasts were drowned on the hills. Which rage of water lasted for ten days and nights, and it is to this day in the counties thereabout called ‘The Great Water’ or ‘The Duke of Buckingham’s Water’ (Gloucester Journal November 1770).”

Our inability to understand, only guess, Buckingham’s motives in rising against Richard, lead us to view him as an arrogant numbskull. Did he actually hate Richard with a vengeance? Had Morton, that unholy man of God, convinced him of his own birthright and invincibility? Blessed him in the name of the Lord? Promised the aid of the saints? Vowed he could part the Severn Sea with a brandish of his crozier? We may never know. All we know is that the duke and his army reached the Severn and couldn’t cross. His Welshmen deserted him, Morton melted away too, and Buckingham had to flee north, eventually to be captured hiding near Shrewsbury.

Morton the Man of God - 2

Buckingham was taken prisoner to Salisbury, tried and beheaded, begging to the end for the chance to explain himself to Richard, who refused to receive him. Part of me wishes Richard had granted the request, because Buckingham’s explanation might have been interesting. Might? It would have been interesting. Illuminating, even.  On the other hand, Buckingham’s son and heir later told that his father had a dagger hidden on his person, which he intended to plunge into Richard at the first opportunity.

buckingham_death_plaque

Should anyone wish for a more light-hearted approach to the saga of Buckingham, Morton and the Severn floods, in 2014 I wrote a spoof called Row, row, row your boat.  I hope it amuses.

And if you’re ready for another laugh at Buckingham’s expense…

Buckingham's Big Mistake

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Richard’s in the driving seat….!

the-last-plantagenet-1

I can’t agree that Leicester is shamelessly “milking” Richard III for all he’s worth. On the contrary, it seems to me that it’s Richard in the driving seat, and Leicester is having to rush around to keep up with him! Not that Leicester is complaining. Why should they? Richard was an excellent king who knew what he was doing, so of course they bow to his commands! I would too.

The above comments were inspired by this article.

Wetherspoons now have two hostelries named after Richard, the other being The Lord High Constable of England, in my home city of Gloucester. Come on Wetherspoons, York, why not a Duke of Gloucester? Or a Good King Richard?

The menu at Wetherspoons, Gloucester Docks.

To see a list of all Wetherspoons, go here.

 

Swords associated (one way or another) with Richard III….

Richard at Bosworth

The sword was a vital weapon in the medieval period (as can be seen in the hand-to-hand combat in the illustration of Bosworth above) and there would not have been a knight, lord, magnate or king who did not possess a minimum of one. Most would have had a number. We will never know how many swords Richard III possessed, but as far as I am concerned, there are five swords I associate with him…and one of these may have been made for his son. These swords are not all real weapons, some are from art. Only the first actual sword in the following list could have belonged to Richard himself, and of this, only part may remain of the original, as he presented it to the City of Gloucester in 1483.

Mourning Sword, Gloucester

Mourning Sword of Gloucester

This was on display at the recent Richard III Exhibition in Gloucester. Tradition says that it is Richard III’s own personal sword, given to the Mayor of Gloucester during Richard’s 1483 visit. The silver decoration is in the Elizabethan style, and says ‘Francisco me fecit’. A bladesmith of that name was working in Toledo in the 1570s, which means that these elements of the sword post-date Richard’s period. But if you look closely at the handle you will see there is an iron core beneath the silverwork. This may be what remains of the sword given by Richard. I am not sure why it is called the Mourning Sword, which we also described here.

Ceremonial Sword of State for the Prince of Wales

“Though the blade of the above sword was made in Germany, its pommel and hilt are English. Its ornamentation indicates it was meant for the Prince of Wales: its engraved hilt shows the Royal arms of England being held aloft by two angels above the arms of Wales and Cornwall; the opposite has the arms of the Earldoms of March and Chester. This double edged sword was thus not meant for battle, but would have been carried before the Prince during ceremonial processions, such as when he was invested with his title.” Two Princes also held the title of Earl of Chester in the late 15th century. Edward IV’s oldest son, also named Edward…and Richard III’s son Edward… The above photograph is from the British Museum and you can see some very detailed photographs of this ceremonial sword here.

 

Richard-III-Broken-Sword-235456-Society-of-Antiquaries-of-London

Broken Sword Portrait

Not my favourite Richard portrait by any means, and certainly not my favourite sword because, being broken, it bestows an entirely false impression of the man himself – “…A broken sword can be interpreted as symbolic of failure; in a regal portrait, as symbolic of prematurely ended reign by violence, battle, deposition and usurpation…” The only reason Richard “failed” was because he was betrayed, not because of any shortcomings on his part. Just think, a few more yards and he’d have extinguished Henry Tudor! If only he had! As for usurpation, well we all know who did that, and it wasn’t Richard!

Damage to Richard's sword - statue in Leicester

Sword held by Richard’s Statue in Leicester

From the Leicester Mercury. A council spokesman said: “We became aware of the damage to the Richard III statue early last week and are liaising with specialist companies to investigate the best way of repairing it. “The joint at the hilt of the sword has been bent. We do not yet know the extent or cause of the damage. A detailed survey will be carried out later this week, but it is likely that the damage will cost several thousand pounds to put right. “In the meantime, the statue will be fenced off as a safety precaution.” There will always be morons around who think such criminal damage is funny.

From Rous

My fifth and final sword is from Rous. As you see, the illustration depicts Richard in full armour, holding a sword that seems to be half his height in length. He may have been a slightly built man, but he was master of the sword (and every other weapon a knight needed to use). This little picture rather brings the fighting Richard to life for me.

Well, that’s five swords. Would anyone add more?

 

 

 

Llanthony Secunda Priory, one of Gloucester’s great treasures….

Llanthony Secunda is so-called because the Augustinian monks of the Vale of Eywas in the Black Mountains of Wales were driven from their original home, beautiful Llanthony Priory, and retreated to Gloucester, where they built this second priory.

I have taken the following from a page at http://www.llanthonysecunda.org/:

“Gloucester was an important city in medieval England and several kings visited the city; five of these are also thought to have visited Llanthony. Eleanor of Provence, widow of Henry III and mother of Edward I, lived at Gloucester castle in 1277 but was granted permission to build a bridge over the river so that she and her ladies-in waiting could exercise in the prior’s garden at Llanthony.*

“A century later when Richard II held a parliament in Gloucester, he too used the Priory’s gardens. In 1500 and 1501 Henry VII stayed at the Priory which at the time was under the control of its most famous Prior, Henry Deane. Henry Deane was one of the most important men in the kingdom in his latter years, but he seems to have begun his clerical career as a student at Llanthony Secunda. After studying at Oxford he returned to Llanthony and was elected its prior aged about 27.

“He also had some Royal favour early on and was a royal chaplain to Edward IV; he was even closer to the first of the Tudor monarchs, Henry VII, after he obtained the throne in 1485. Granted papal permission to retain his post as Prior whilst taking on other appointments, he obtained both temporal and clerical influence.  In 1494 he was appointed Chancellor of Ireland and was briefly Deputy Governor two years later; he was responsible for building the defences of the English Pale.

“Resigning his post, he was made Keeper of the Great Seal in 1500 and involved in peace treaties between England and Scotland. He was briefly Bishop of Bangor and was responsible for the rebuilding of the cathedral and reorganising its finances, then translated to Salisbury for a year before finally being made Archbishop of Canterbury in 1501; it was only then that he relinquished his post at Llanthony Secunda. He officiated at the marriage of Arthur, Prince of Wales, and Catherine of Aragon in 1501.”

* I do not quite understand this reference to a bridge over the river, because both the castle and the priory are on the same bank of the Severn, as can be seen on the map below, on which the castle and the priory’s grounds are clearly shown at the south of the city. Another point (imagining the gardens to be on the other side of the river) is that a fixed bridge at this point would interfere with the “port” of Gloucester, i.e. the quay that was situated from the castle riverbank bank northwards. So any bridge would have to be capable of being opened, to allow masted sea-going vessels to pass freely to and fro. However, a little further delving makes me think it wasn’t the river that Queen Eleanor’s bridge spanned, but the enlarged ( in 1267) ditch that went around the southern portion of Gloucester, and was fed by water from the Twyver stream.  The 13th-century enlarging work apparently destroyed some of the priory’s property. It seems this ditch was still partly filled with water in the 1700s.

For more information about the history of Gloucester, see

http://www.historictownsatlas.org.uk/sites/historictownsatlas/files/atlas/town/gloucester_text.pdf

 

At the gates of Gloucester in 1471….

The Battle of Tewkesbury in May 1471 was to prove decisive for the reign of our first Yorkist king. The opponents were Margaret of Anjou and the Lancastrians, versus King Edward IV and the Yorkists. Margaret was defeated, and her heart and spirit was broken by the death in battle of her only son, Edward of Lancaster, Prince of Wales.

death of prince edward

This article is concerned with what happened immediately before the battle, when there was a game of hide and seek between the foes. Margaret set off north from Bristol, intending to cross the Severn at Gloucester, which was the first bridge over the dangerously tidal river. Edward had been thrown off the scent, but suddenly realized what she was doing, and set off north on a parallel route, up on the drove road along the edge of the Cotswold escarpment, while Margaret’s exhausted army trudged the wetter alluvial road in the vale of the Severn.

It was clear to Edward that she planned to enter Gloucester and cross the bridge, the only access to which was through the town. The main road to the west crossed three branches of the Severn and low-lying meadows by a series of bridges and a long causeway.

west_prospect_of_gloucesterbig

unknown artist; Westgate Bridge, Gloucester

Edward sent a swift rider ahead to order the governor of Gloucester, Sir Richard Beauchamp, to close the gates against the Lancastrians and hold the town. Sir Richard was the son of a staunch Lancastrian, but was now loyal to Edward, and did as he was commanded.

North East view of Gloucester from Wotton, 1712

Margaret could have taken Gloucester by force, but it would have been time-consuming, and she did not dare to risk Edward’s forces coming up behind her. She decided to march on north for the town of Tewkesbury, where there was a ford over the Severn at Lower Lode. The next bridge over the river was further north again, at Upton-on-Severn. The ford was impassable, Edward was almost upon her, and so Margaret prepared to make a stand. The rest, as they say, is history.

lower lode tewkesbury

If you visit Gloucester today, it is hard to associate anything with the Gloucester of 1471. Oh, there are four main streets that form a crossroad in the heart of the city: Southgate, Northgate, Eastgate and Westgate. But the gates themselves have long since gone, and the streets are now pedestrianised. There are medieval buildings, if one knows where to look, but a great deal of wanton 1960s damage was done to Gloucester’s soul. The cathedral remains, however, and is still (in my opinion) the most handsome of all our cathedrals. But perhaps I’m biased.

gloucester cathedral

What has also gone forever is the castle from where Sir Richard would have commanded his men as Margaret’s host banged at the gates. First it was dismantled until only the keep was left, and this was used as a gaol. Then that too was pulled down, and HMP Prison Gloucester was built. That is also no more, and in excavations they have found the remains of the old castle keep. What goes around, comes around.

Gloucester castle keep still in use as gaol in 18th century

remains of castle keep, gloucester

See http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3351160/Is-rival-Tower-London-Huge-medieval-castle-discovered-buried-beneath-prison-s-BASKETBALL-court.html

The original castle nestled in the south-western curve of the old city walls, beside the river and quay, and would have been able to overlook the approach to the South Gate. This is surely the way Margaret would have come.

EPSON MFP image

EPSON MFP image

The land on the floor of the Severn vale is flat Severn clay, which after rain is like thick half-set glue. Whether it had been raining or not I don’t know, although I imagine that the impassable ford at Lower Lode meant there had been a quantity of rain in recent days. Well, there had been somewhere upstream on the Severn, if not in Gloucestershire. Or, of course, there was the Severn bore to consider, with the notoriously hazardous wave sweeping well inland. I have been told that it was not unheard of for it to sweep all the way to Worcester. There is a weir at Gloucester now, to stop it, but in 1471 Tewkesbury was well within reach. And spring tides are high in March, April and May.

If these conditions prevailed, Margaret’s men would have been even more disheartened. More than that, the land south of Gloucester was marshy anyway back then, the river would spread out of its bed. Thus the main road from Bristol was on another causeway. Not the ideal landscape and conditions for a medieval army that was already weary. (The land had been drained a great deal by the time the illustration below was drawn.)

EPSON MFP image

Gloucester - Kip - 1712

Map of 1712 showing South Gate and Castle (middle, bottom, just above river)

With the gates closed firmly against them, Margaret marched on north, and Sir Richard Beauchamp’s men came out behind her army and harried the rear, capturing some guns. He was to be knighted after the battle.

Magraret prisoner tewkesbury

An artist’s impression of Margaret of Anjou being taken away in defeat

A MEMENTO MORI BEAD FROM GLOUCESTER

Recently excavations at Gloucester cathedral have unearthed some exciting new finds. Perhaps the most intriguing was a ‘Janus’ Bead of the 15th c., so-called because it is ‘two faced’ like the God Janus, with one face gazing forward and the other backward. What makes this one even more interesting, is that it is also a ‘Memento Mori’ item, with a skull on one side and a living man’s face on the other.

‘Memento Mori’ jewellery was quite common in the Middle Ages and later transformed into what was known as mourning jewellery (ie the Whitby jets items of the Victorians.).  In one of Richard III’s portraits he appears to be wearing a Memento Mori ring with a skull image. A three-faced bead not unlike the one from Gloucester, but made on the Continent, is in the Victoria and Albert Museum. In the case of the single bead from Gloucester, it appears to have originally belonged to a set of Rosary beads. Momento Mori images were not, of course, restricted to adornment but  were also found in art and on tombs–effigies that show both the deceased and/or a decaying corpse are quite common from the later medieval period. Edward IV apparently wanted such an effigy upon his grave but it was never made.

The image on the bead from Gloucester is of a man wearing headgear that indicates high status,  and may be meant to be a depiction of the  the bead’s owner.

 

http://www.borderarchaeology.com/results-are-back-find-out-more-about-our

 

beads

Two suns over Gloucester….

two-suns-over-gloucester

The above is not a picture of the event I saw, but resembles it.

At around 2.30 in the afternoon of Sunday, 11th December 2016, driving home after being out with my family for lunch at the Hatherley Manor Hotel near Gloucester, my sister-in-law and I saw a two-sun parhelion.

It is the first time I have seen a ‘sun dog’, and even though the sky was one of broken clouds,  the two suns were still  unmistakable. It was like the picture above, except the left sun was smaller. If only I’d had my camera! But even if I had, the lane was winding, narrow and high-hedged, and not at all suitable for stopping. By the time we reached a sensible place to park, the second sun had gone.

While it was there, it was breathtaking to see. I can imagine the effect three such suns would have had at Mortimer’s Cross. Edward IV was very smart to convince his men that it was a sign of God’s approval for his cause! Some say the ‘sun in splendour’ was already his badge, some that he adopted it after his victory at Mortimer’s Cross. Either way, that day was truly momentous.

Of course, others will say the parhelion story is just a myth. I hope not, and much prefer it to have been true.

 

King Richard seen driving around Gloucester….!

nissan-x-trail-riii

Here’s a laugh, at my expense. A few days ago, while waiting at traffic lights in Hucclecote, Gloucester, I saw (wait for it!) Richard III driving a Nissan X-Trail! It was one of those moments.And it was Gloucester, which seemed so appropriate. There he was, the hair, the face, the hat, and even a robe-collared coat. The illusion was very convincing indeed…for a split second. Then I realised ‘he’ was a ‘she’ anyway. If it had been a male driver, I’d have wondered if Richard and time-travel were not solely the preserve of fiction after all!

Well, at least it wasn’t a Courser. OK, no more car jokes.

THE MOURNING SWORD ON DISPLAY AT SUDELEY CASTLE

Sudeley Castle certainly seems to be making the most of its Ricardian connections these days.The latest news is that they will temporarily have Gloucester’s ‘Mourning Sword’ on display up until October 20th.

This sword was given to the city by Richard while he was on his first progress in 1483. He also gave them his cap of maintenance, which unfortunately  no longer exists. The sword has been refashioned several times in its long history but appears to retain at least part of its original core.

The right to have a sword carried before the mayor is specially conferred upon the city of Gloucester by  Richard’s charter, dated 2nd September, 1483.

http://www.gloucestershire.gov.uk/archives/article/117081/Richards-Gift-to-Gloucester

Sudeley is also worth visiting because it is believed Richard stayed there prior to Tewkesbury, and later built the now-ruined great hall, which must have been a real eye-catcher when complete. Besides the sword, the Richard III collection contains  a spur  from Tewkesbury Field, and Sudeley’s own version of a reconstruction of Richard’s face.

As additional interest for medievalists, nearby Hailes Abbey is worth a visit while in the area;  I have no evidence Richard ever visited it, but it contained an important relic, the Holy Blood of Hailes, which I am sure  would have interested him. (The ruined abbey was the burial site of Richard of Cornwall, brother of  Henry III, his wife Sanchia of Provence and his murdered son, Henry of Almain.)

 

mourningsword

Would Richard use vellum? Or paper?….

An argument has arisen for and against using vellum for recording our laws, as stored on the amazingly full shelves of the Act Room. Paper is indeed more perishable. Just imagine having the Magna Carta on paper! How insignificant it would appear. Not insignificant in content, of course, but all the same…

I have seen the magnificent charter that Richard III granted to the City of Gloucester. It is quite exquisite, and so vivid and crisp after all this time that it might have been signed and sealed only a few years ago. If it had been on paper, it would certainly not look the same.

So, vellum or paper? In the long run, given that vellum lasts 5,000 years or more, I guess the vellum has my vote. I know there are all sorts of reasons and sensibilities against it, but I’m still in favour of its continued use. It would have been used for the Lindisfarne Gospels, Domesday Book, Magna Carta, Edward I’s Treason Acts, de Heretico Comburendo, Titulus Regius, Richard’s bail laws and Henry VIII’s attainder against the insane Viscountess Rochford.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/conservative/12156813/Vellum-should-be-saved-in-a-bid-to-safeguard-our-great-traditions-says-minister.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

Act Room, Houses of Parliament

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