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THE CROSSRAIL RAILWAY PROJECT – A PORTAL INTO OLD LONDON

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No doubt archaeologists thought all their Christmases had arrived at once when first they heard the breaking news of the building of Crossrail, Europe’s largest infrastructure  –  which will be called the Elizabeth line and will open in phases from late 2018 – and the exceptional opportunities the excavations would bring.  However, did they ever imagine in their wildest dreams the wealth of artifacts that would be unearthed ranging from bison bones, 68000 years old, found at Royal Oak near Paddington, through the medieval period to Roman finds including a burial site beneath the area that once covered Liverpool Street Station.  Since the work begun in 2009 archaeologists have unearthed ‘tens of thousands of items’ from 40 sites spanning 55 millions years of London’s history and prehistory (1).The new railway will run from east to west through some of London’s most historical areas.  It has been described as a ‘layer cake of history hidden below the city’s streets’.IMG_4295.jpg

CROSSRAIL ‘LAYER CAKE’ OF OLD LONDON

 

LIVERPOOL STREET STATION

Some of the most interesting finds were discovered beneath Liverpool Street Station which stands right in the heart of what was once medieval London.  Of particular interest was the south-east corner where the ticket office once stood for this had been built over the Bedlam burial grounds (later known as Bethlehem Hospital) which had been in use since 1247 to 1815.  Eighty archaeologists worked on the site retrieving thousands of objects.  A total of 4,000 burials was uncovered including a plague pit containing 30 victims from the Great Plague of 1665. IMG_4300.JPG

One of the most poignant finds, a necklace that was found on the skeleton of a baby (modern re-stringing).  The beads are amber, white amber, cornelian, glass and bone.  

 

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Plague victim from the mass pit aged 17-25 probably male.

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Grave Marker for Mary Godfree, a victim of the Great Plague who died 2 September 1665.  

  • Excavation beneath that layer revealed a Roman burial ground.  Intriguingly several of the Roman skeletons were laid out neatly with their skulls between their legs.  The archaeologists have no explanation for this and perhaps its best left at that, a mystery.

 

CHARTERHOUSE SQUARE AND FARRINGDON

A large ditch was excavated to the south of Charterhouse Square.  It may be the remains of Faggeswell Brook which flowed into the Fleet River, the ditch formed the southern boundary of the cemetery and Charterhouse Monastery, founded in 1371 and suppressed in 1538.  Included in the items found, which had been dumped in the ditch to fill it in between 1580 and 1640 were leather shoes, parts of a horse harness dating back to the late 1500s , pottery and floor tiles dated to 1300 probably from the monastery.  The remains of a cemetery were discovered containing the remains of victims of the Black Death dating from 1348/9.  Twenty-five skeletons were discovered buried in three layers.

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TWO MEN IN THEIR 40S BURIED HOLDING HANDS FROM ONE OF THE LAYERS OF THE CHARTERHOUSE BURIAL PLOT

WORCESTER HOUSE, STEPNEY GREEN

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Reconstruction of  moated Worcester House, built around 1450 

Worcester House, a 15th century moated manor house built about 1450 probably on the site of an earlier house was previously known as King John’s Palace. Rubbish thrown into the moat gives an insight into the lives of those who lived there.  Among the many artifacts found were leather shoes, the remains of a horse harness dating from the late 1500s, dress pins, and a wooden ball which was probably used as a ‘jack’ in a game of bowls or skittles.  Henry Vlll is known to have loved bowls but banned poor people from playing it.

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16th century leather shoe

 

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Tudor Dress pin

 

Image result for crossrail charterhouse cemeteryWOODEN BALL USED FOR PLAYING BOWLS

However, this is not the end of the story for this old Manor House, for when the archeologists had finished over 4 tonnes of bricks were donated to English Heritage for restoring England’s Tudor buildings.

I have merely touched here upon a few of the wealth of wonderful finds from the Crossrail Archaeology.  Anyone wishing to delve deeper can find some excellent links to informative websites such as this.

  1. Tunnel: The Archaeology of Crossrail (Jackie Kelly, p8).

 

 

 

 

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The Abbey of the Minoresses of St Clare without Aldgate and the Ladies of the Minories

anne-darcy2Anne Montgomery nee Darcy.  One of the much respected Ladies of the Minories from the window of Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford, Suffolk.

Shakespeare said ‘all the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players’.  Following on from that if we may be allowed to say that the Wars of the Roses were a stage then surely some of the saddest players on it were the ladies of the Minories – the widows, mothers, sisters and daughters of some of the main players of that tragic and violent period who survived their menfolk but in what must have  been difficult and sometimes straightened circumstances.  I have here leaned heavily on W E Hampton’s excellent article, the Ladies of the Minories (1)

The Abbey of the Minoresses of St Clare without Aldgate was founded by Edmund Crouchback Duke of Lancaster and his wife, Blanche of Navarre,  in 1293 for the nuns that Blanche had brought to England with her.  Surviving until 1539  the abbey, which was very large,  was surrendered by the last abbess,  Dame Elizabeth Savage,  to Henry Vlll.  The abbey had already suffered what must have been a catastrophic loss in 1515 when 27 nuns and other lay people i.e. servants died of the plague (2)

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Edmund Crouchback, illustrations of his tomb in Westminster Abbey by Stothard from Monumental Effigies of Great Britain 1832

According to Edward Tomlinson who wrote A History of the Minories there is an old manuscript in British Museum ‘which appers to have escaped the notice of any historian’ which states that Edmund’s ‘hart ys buryed at the North end of the high Awter in the mynorysse And his body ys buryed at Westminster in the Abbey’.  This manuscript which is probably a transcript from a register kept in the Abbey contains ‘the names of all p sones beyng of Nobull Blode whiche be buryed wthin the Monastorye of the mynnorysse’.  The names of these illustrious burials are too numerous to name here but a few..

Dame Elizabeth Countess of Clare

Dame Isabel daughter of Tomas of Woodstock Duke of Gloucester

Margaret Countess of Shrewsbury daughter of Humphgrey Duke of Buckingham

Agnes Countess of Pembroke

Eleanor Scrope wife to Lord Scrope and Daughter of Raufe/Ralph Neville

Edmunde De La Pole and Margaret his wife

Elizabeth de la Pole, Edmund’s daughter (3).

Among those burials I am focusing here on those from the turbulent period of the Wars of Roses and the fall of the House of York..

I shall start with one of the leading ladies of this little band,  Elizabeth Mowbray nee Talbot, Dowager Duchess of Norfolk.  Elizabeth was the daughter of John Talbot lst Earl of Shrewsbury and sister to another lady of great importance from the period, Eleanor Butler.  Mother to the tragic Anne Mowbray child bride to Richard of Shrewsbury, Edward IV’s youngest son.  Elizabeth lived in the Great House within the Close for which she paid a rent of 10 pounds.  Elizabeth it will be remembered, on the sudden unexpected death of her husband was forced soon after to take a diminished dower in order to augment the revenue of her young son-in-law. Frustratingly Elizabeth’s thoughts on this  were, as far as is known, never recorded.  The   marriage of her daughter Anne to the youngest son of Edward IV and Elizabeth Wydeville,  whose own marriage had ruined her sister, Eleanor,   ensured that the vast Mowbray estates would pass to Richard if it should come to pass that her daughter died, which as it transpired is exactly what happened.   Anne died shortly before her 9th birthday at Greenwich one of her mother-in-law’s favorite homes.  Anne was buried in Westminster Abbey but her body was removed from there in 1502 when the chapel she was buried in was demolished to make way for Henry Tudor’s grandiose new chapel.  Anne was returned to her mother at the Minories and buried there –  ‘Dame Anne Duches of yorke doughter to lord moumbray Duke of Norfolke ys buried yn the sayed Quere’ (4)

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Elizabeth Mowbray, nee Talbot, Duchess of Norfolk as depicted in the window of Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford, Suffolk.

Although the glory days must have been over for Elizabeth with the demise of her husband – her retirement to the Minories  would have been a serious case of downsizing –  a look at her will tells us that she had not lost absolutely everything  as did  her daughter’s mother in law, Elizabeth Wydville, whose pitiful will tells us that she was left more or less destitute.  Ah well Karma is a bitch as they say.

Jane Talbot, sister-in-law to the above, having married Sir Humphrey Talbot.  Humphrey was the son of John Talbot by  his second wife Margaret who was a daughter of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick.  Jane’s interesting will which left numerous bequests especially to her servants also requested that ‘I Dame Jane Talbott, wedowe late the Wif of sir Humfrey Talbott knyght…  my body to be buried within the inner choer of the churche of the Mynores withoute Algate of London nygh the place and sepulture where the body of Maistres Anne Mongomery late the wif of John Mongomery Squyer restity and ys buried within the same quere’.

Anne Montgomery widow of John Montgomery who was executed in 1462, brother of Sir Thomas Montgomery, Sir James Tyrell was her nephew.  Anne was clearly a person much revered.  As well as Jane Talbot, Elizabeth Mowbray also requested to be buried close to her in her will made 6 November 1506 – ‘And my body to be buried in the Nonnes qwere of the Minorsesses without Alegate of London nyghe vnto the place Wher Anne Montgomery lyeth buried’.

Mary Tyrell.  According to Hampton ‘Almost certainly one of the sisters of Sir James Tyrell – probably the youngest – and therefore a niece of Anne Montgomery  (5 )

Elizabeth Brackenbury.  Daughter to the loyal Sir Robert Brackenbury, Richard III’s Constable of the Tower,  who died with his king at Bosworth.  Hampton mentions that Elizabeth”s poverty was clear in her will of 1504 and  that she found shelter under the wings of the Talbots and requested in her will that her debts to Elizabeth were to be paid –  ‘I Elizabeth Brakkynbury..beyng of goode and hole mind’ – all such money ‘as my lady’s grace of Norff’ to whom I am most specially bounde’ had paid, or was charged with, for Elizabeth ‘of her charitie’ was to be repaid (6).  Hampton also adds that there was some connection between Sir Robert and Sir Thomas Montgomery which could partly explain his daugher’s connection to these ladies, although it is not certainl if Brackenbury’s daughter was an inmate at the time of Anne Montgomery’s tenancy at the Minories.

Hampton wrote  ‘All of these ladies, with the possible exception of Jane Talbot had suffered great loss, but it would perhaps be unwise to to think too much of them as sheltering in the Minories, where life may not have been too severe.  They may as Dr Tudor-Craig suggests have gathered around the Duchess yet Anne Montgomery’s influence may have been greater spiritually’.

While some ladies had  been most grieviously  injured by Edward IV and his Wydeville wife – i.e. the shabby way Elizabeth Mowbray was forced to augment the revenue of her small son-in-law, the betrayal of her sister, Eleanor, the executions  of  William Tyrell and John Montgomery, further injury was inflicted by Henry Vll with the unjust attainder of Sir Robert Brackenbury and the execution and attainder of Sir James Tyrell.

FullSizeRender.jpgWynegaerde’s Panorama of London (1543)  in which the Minories can be seen just above  and to the left of the White Tower/Tower of London.  .  Note the close  proximity of the scaffold on Tower Hill, shown to  to the left of the Minories.  

Doubtless they were great comforters of each other and it is very easy to imagine them being of a great solace to Elizabeth Mowbray when her daughter’s remains were returned  to her.

The beginning of the end for the once grand Minories came when the last abbess, Dame Elizabeth Salvage surrendered the abbey to Henry Tudor Jnr in 1539.  Stowe describes how in place of  ‘this house of nuns is now built divers fair and large storehouses for armour and habiliments of war, with divers workhouses serving to the same purpose’ although there is  ‘a small parish church for inhabitants of the close, called St Trinities’ (7)  Some of the abbey walls survived until a fire in 1797.  Around 1566 the parishioners came into possession of what had once been the Minories church but  was now the parish church and set about ‘renovating’ it.  This involved the removal and destruction of ancient monuments and the adding of a steeple.  Finally around 1705 , having surived the Great Fire of 1666,  begun the final destruction of the fabric of  the ancient church and the rebuilding of a new one although the medieval northern wall was retained.

 

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Diagram of the 18th century Holy Trinity church showing the north 13th Century  retained.  This wall managed to survive the fire and bombs until clearance of the site in 1956-58.  

 

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The remains of the abbey after the fire in 1796

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Another print showing the abbey remains after the 1796 fire.

It would have been about this time that the building of new burial vaults was begun and in the process of which,   the ‘greater part of the ground beneath the parish church must have been evacuated which would have not been achieved without the unfortunate removal of the remains of those, who in the past centuries, would have been buried there’ (8). Alas!

The 18th century  church was finally destroyed after being bombed during the war.   But that is not the end of the story of our intrepid band of Minory ladies or indeed the Minories itself, for in 1964 the remains of Elizabeth’s daughter, Anne Mowbray were  discovered by an excavator driver in a vaulted burial chamber of the Minories which had somehow been, fortunately,  overlooked.   Anne was once again reinterred in Westminster Abbey as close to her original burial place as possible…but, that dear reader is another story.

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18th century Holy Trinity Church prior to its destruction by a bomb.    It was in the excavation of this area after the war that Anne Mowbray’s remains were discovered in a vault.

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Holy Trinity Church looking slightly less stark in this painting,1881, artist unknown.

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The area now covering where once stood the Abbey of St Clare (The Minories).  Such is progress.  

 

1. The Ladies of the Minories, W E Hampton, Richard lll Crown and People p195-201

2.  A Survey of London Written in the year 1599. John Stowe pp 122.1233.

3. A History of the Minories pp68.69 Edward Murrey Tomlinson M.A

4. Ibid p 69.

5. The Ladies of the Minories W E Hampton, Richard lll Crown and People p.19

6. Ibid p.198

7. A Survey of London Written in the year 1599.  John Stowe p.128.

8. A History of the Minories p 299 Edward Murrey Tomlinson

Coming up this year:

As you can see, Kit Harrington will soon portray Robert Catesby in a BBC drama about the Gunpowder Plot. Catesby, shot while resisting arrest, was one of 130731-e5cae8c8-18cf-4b66-aa08-3c4ae03e6428the lucky ones. Then again, our folk memory of the seventeenth century is not entirely accurate.

Here it is.

The Propaganda of Charles II

charlesiiGuest author Richard Unwin explains the context behind the discovery of those convenient bones:

Charles II came to the throne in 1660 after the period of Commonwealth when England, and particularly its entertainments, had been suppressed by Puritan authority. The security of the new reign was precarious and there were many in the country opposed to a return of the monarchy. The king needed good PR and he began by restoring those entertainments the English had enjoyed before the Civil War, which had been suppressed by the Puritans. The Restored theatres were immediately used to promote Court propaganda and would do so for most of the reign. Theatre had been banned under Cromwell and anyone performing as a player would be thrown into prison. Similar penalties were applied to those who might be in the audience at a performance.
The first playhouse to be constructed in the new reign was The Theatre Royal, at Drury Lane, which opened in 1663. This theatre, though unaffected by the Great Fire of London in 1666, burned down in 1672 as the result of an internal combustion. Because of the demand for entertainment, a new theatre was financed and built on the site of the old one. Thought by some to have been designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the second theatre opened to the public on March 26th 1674; the alleged bones of the Princes in the Tower were discovered just four months later, in July.
Upon the restoration of Charles II, old plays were, at first, resurrected for performance at the new venue. Many of these were rewritten and used as pure propaganda to promote the court of the restored monarch. Shakespeare’s language was out-of-date and soon his plays were being rewritten to suit the tastes of the modern audience. Charles was a devotee of the theatre and we find one of his most famous courtesans, Nell Gwynne as an actress at Drury Lane.
The playhouse at Drury lane was not the only one in Restoration London. There was another: Dorset Garden, also known as the Duke’s Theatre. The duke in question was the duke of York, Charles’ brother and destined to become James II. It was home to the Duke’s Company of players and renowned for its technical innovations, moving scenery and lavish productions. Later, in 1782, the Duke’s Company would merge with the King’s Company and move to Drury Lane, but in 1674 it was vibrant and in open competition for audiences with the Theatre Royal.
Villainy was not long becoming, in the popular public mind, synonymous with Shakespeare’s Richard III due mainly to the supposed murder of his nephews, popularly known as The Princes in the Tower. Sometime in 1661 there was a performance of Shakespeare’s play, the details of which are now lost. The prologue survives and it shows us King Richard presented as a dictator, (metaphorically Oliver Cromwell) set against one Henry Richmond who defeats him to become a benign monarch (King Charles II). It seems that this was propaganda used to promote the new reign. In the year 1667 the Duke’s Company performed a similar play, written by John Caryll. Its title was “The English Princess: or the Death of Richard the Third.” The author was a diplomatist and later became secretary to Mary of Modena, the second wife of James II. This particular play was printed in 1667, 1673 and pertinently, in 1674. Clearly the story of Richard III and the murder of the two Princes in the Tower had much currency throughout the period of the “discovery” of the Westminster bones and was current in the year they were found.
Throughout the reign of Charles II we find the villainous character of Richard III in a variety of plays, none of them Shakespeare’s and with a deliberate political bias. Of course, the character could also be used against the monarchy. In 1680, John Crowne adapted Shakespeare’s Henry the Sixth, Part Two converting it into an anti-catholic rant. It was sub-titled: the Misery of Civil War, performed at the Duke’s Theatre (Dorset Garden) and printed in the same year. In this version of Shakespeare’s play the malign character of the duke of Gloucester (Richard III) is enhanced, his crookback is emphasised and his brothers’ philandering in the play becomes a comment on the current Court. John Crowne, although said to be a favourite of Charles II, was known to have a moral repugnance for his Court. This was politically sensitive as the Exclusion Crisis, an attempt by parliament to prevent the accession of a Catholic monarch, was in full cry in this year.
Almost as if he was deliberately flouting the concerns of his people, his mistress, Louise de Kerouaille was a Catholic and a French spy to boot. She had replaced Barbara Villiers, (Lady Castlemaine) as Charles’ principal mistress. He ran her more or less currently with the actress Nell Gwynne. Bad luck had also brought about the Great Plague of 1665, which only came to an end due to the Great Fire of 1666 when much of the old City of London was consumed in the flames. Charles had also provoked war with the Dutch. The first war had been something of a success, but the second war had gone badly. In the year following the Great Fire, a Dutch fleet had sailed up the Medway and destroyed the British fleet supposed to be safe at anchor at Chatham docks. Ignominiously for the English navy, the Dutch boarded and captured the fleet flagship, the Royal Charles. This was the very vessel that had brought Charles to England from exile. They towed it back to the Netherlands as a trophy where the ship’s coat-of-arms can be seen on display to this day at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. It was England’s greatest naval defeat. The Dutch destroyed fifteen ships while the English scuttled others to block the river. The biggest ships, the Royal Oak, the Loyal London, a new ship, and the Royal James were burned. Afterwards, this misfortune, on top of the Catholic question and the scandals of his personal life meant King Charles and his government feared a backlash from the people of England who were becoming increasingly critical of his rule.
By the year 1674 then, we can see that Charles and his government had become highly unpopular and desperately needed to turn the mood of the people towards that which he had enjoyed at the beginning of his reign. We must remember that the Court establishment feared a resurgence of republicanism. At the same time there was the real threat, that Charles’ brother James would succeed him, provoking a Catholic revival and religious conflict. (This did indeed occur and James II’s persecution of Protestants led to his eventual removal and exile – the Glorious Revolution of 1688).
Charles’ strategy at the beginning of his reign had been to use the printed word and public performance in the restored theatres as propaganda to promote his monarchy. Perhaps what had worked in the heady days of the early 1660’s could work in 1674 too? The “chance” discovery of royal bones in the Tower of London, accompanied by a series of plays where the villain was understood metaphorically to be the dictatorial Oliver Cromwell and the possibilities for promoting the monarchy would be obvious to Charles II. Unfortunately what worked in 1660 seems to have failed in 1674. Charles II managed to cling on to his throne until his death in 1685. His brother would be the one to lose it.

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