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Ancient Ratae, City on the Soar

In the second century BC, in a Britain still filled with wild boar, beaver, lynx, bears and wolves, a group of people settled  near to the River Soar. The descendants of Bronze Age peoples and Neolithic farmers, they built a series of huts on the east bank of the river, their settlement extending across some twenty acres. They called themselves the Corieltauvi; the closest translation of their name would be the ‘army of the land of many rivers.’ The exact  name of their settlement is unknown but it contains a Celtic root word similar to ‘rath’, meaning (approximately)  ‘ramparts’, which can be found in many Irish place names today. This humble Iron Age settlement is the origin of modern day Leicester.

Roman  interest in this area of Britain began when they realised it was a place of strategic value; and so it became an intersection of the Fosse Way and Gartree Street. There might have been some opposition from the local Corieltauvi, but the tribesmen proved no match for the might of Rome; a fort or base was soon established on the banks of the Soar for the Legion XIV.  Quite simple in plan and  housing approx 500 men,  the fort was surrounded by a ditch and rampart; it retained the name of the ancient British settlement but in a new, Larinised form–Ratae.

The new fort brought  much  trade to the area and a small civilian settlement quickly sprang up. A few years later a second fort was constructed nearby—it is thought this defensive structure may have been built in response to Boudicca’s revolt. However, the brave British Queen’s chariots never rolled up to Ratae’s earthen ramparts.

About 30 years later, most of the Legions were recalled from Britain and the forts on the Soar handed over to civilians,  although they were remained part of the Roman Empire. Ratae became an important  tribal administrative capital.

Emperor Hadrian’s visit to the town in 122 AD seems to have  sparked a new rebuilding phase. Outmoded wooden structures were dismantled and local granite and millstone grit from Derbyshire brought to build a forum, basilica and colonnades. A few decades later, a public bath house was constructed—today its remains are known as the Jewry Wall, Britain’s largest free-standing piece of  Roman architecture. Water for the baths came to the site from Knighton Brook via an aqueduct. Some of the earthworks surrounding the water channel still survive and are known as Raw Dykes (the word ‘Raw’ has the same origin as Rath/Ratae.)

At this time in Ratae’s history, the local population grew quite wealthy. Townhouses appeared with opulent mosaics, painted walls, heating and bathing facilities. A stone wall was built around the perimeter of the settlement, for added security for the residents of the town.

Temples to the varying gods  were built too, one being found near St Nicholas’ Church, which today retains much brickwork pilfered from the ancient Roman building. This temple was dedicated to Mithras, the bull-slaying god who was born on December 25 and whose cult was seen as a rival to Christianity.  He was a Persian ‘import’ and his all-male accolytes often held their rites in a secret underground chamber known as a Mithraeum. Other evidence has been found of British bull-gods, spear carrying sons of Zeus, and sea-gods.  Of great interest is the curse tablet discovered, in which a native British God, Maglus (‘Prince/princely’) is invoked for help in bringing about the destruction of a thief : “To the god Maglus, I give the wrongdoer who stole the cloak of Servandus. Silvester, Roimandus … that he destroy him before the ninth day, the person who stole the cloak of Servandus …”

By the 5th century, however, Ratae was in serious decline as the legions pulled out from Britain and Angles and  Saxons began to migrate from their homelands to settle in what is now England . Soon, the town was in ruins, abandoned and decaying . The famous Anglo Saxon poem THE RUIN speaks of the abandoned Roman townsThis masonry is wondrous; Fate broke it.
Courtyard pavements lie smashed; the work of giants is decaying.
Roofs are fallen, ruinous towers,
the frosty gate is ravaged,
chipped roofs torn, fallen,
undermined by old age. The grasp of the earth possesses
the mighty builders, perished and fallen…

The Roman Era of Ratae was over with Rome’s withdrawal from Brittania; the early Middle Ages had begun. After the Romans departed the  native Britons called the place, in their own tongue,  Caer Lerion or Caerlyr; the Saxons called it Ligora-ceastre, which by Domesday became Ledecestre, and then Leicester. Geoffrey of Monmouth claimed the town’s founder was King Leir (Leir-caister), and the prefix of this name may take its origins from a Celtic water deity known as Llyr.

Today, the remains of Roman buildings and artefacts  still frequently are excavated in Leicester. Some recent finds near High Cross have been of considerable importance.

The prevalence of these remains in the city is shown by the fact that when Richard III’s remains were recovered from the ruins of Greyfriars, it was initially thought he had an arrowhead embedded in his spine. As it turned out, the ‘arrowhead’ was a stray Roman nail that happened to have ended up under his body when the monks dug a hasty grave to hold him.

It is also interesting to realise that the last Plantagenet King now rests in a brick lined vault above the remains of one of Leicester’s Roman temples,  its scant  foundations discovered when restoration was made on  St Martin’s church in the late 1800’s.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leicestershire-39738436

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2318880/Is-left-park-Leicester-Roman-cemetery-archaeological-dig-ANOTHER-car-park-city.htmlhttp://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2318880/Is-left-park-Leicester-Roman-cemetery-archaeological-dig-ANOTHER-car-park-city.html

https://phys.org/news/2016-07-rare-discovery-late-roman-leicester.html

Roman Leicester artists impression

curse

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A view of Richard and Leicester – all the way from Lahore….

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

It is always interesting to find out how Richard’s discovery and reinterment, and the effect upon Leicester, is viewed from afar. In this case, Lahore. Mind you, I’m not sure Leicester will appreciate being situated “in the North of London”!

The elusive last Norman

Although Richard was found in Leicester five years ago, exactly where he was buried, and Henry I is close to being identified in Reading, Kingfinding is not always successful. As this blog shows, the 1965 excavation of the Faversham Abbey site to find King Stephen was unsuccessful.

It seems that his bones really were moved during the Reformation. Sometimes, there is truth in such a legend.

Descriptions of two important Ricardian books….

Here’s how Kent County Council describes the two important Ricardian books.

https://erl.overdrive.com/media/1389033

Richard III:A Small Guide to the Great Debate by Annette Carson

“Ever since the discovery of his lost grave in Leicester, the eyes of the world have been drawn to the twists and turns surrounding England’s King Richard III… Annette Carson, acclaimed author and expert on Richard’s reign (and one of the team who found him), has published A Small Guide to the Great Debate, a brief summary of the main arguments concerning his actions and reputation. Carson has researched and written extensively on Richard III. Her book Richard III: The Maligned King (The History Press, 2008) was revised in 2013 and sold out within 3 months. The print edition of A Small Guide was published on 1 July this year and is already stocked, in hundreds, by visitors’ centres at Leicester, Bosworth Battlefield and elsewhere. Written as a succinct, straightforward summary of the facts, this short handbook outlines how King Richard came to be portrayed as a monster-villain by the Tudors, and how a backlash in later centuries created the ‘Great Debate’ over his reputation, which still rages today. It also analyses the mystery of the ‘Princes in the Tower’, examining what people actually said and did at the time of their disappearance, and who profited from their removal. The book sets out all the main theories and arguments, together with their strengths and weaknesses, in a non-scholarly style, without imposing judgements and conclusions. An invaluable reference resource, it invites readers to weigh up the evidence and make up their own minds. Recommended for anyone interested in Richard III, for libraries and also as a reference for the media, A Small Guide sticks to the verifiable facts while offering insights you won’t find in conventional history books.”
https://kent.overdrive.com/media/1241128

The Last Days of Richard III and the fate of his DNA by John Ashdown-Hill

“The Last Days of Richard III contains a new and uniquely detailed exploration of Richard’s last 150 days. By deliberately avoiding the hindsight knowledge that he will lose the Battle of Bosworth Field, we discover a new Richard: no passive victim, awaiting defeat and death, but a king actively pursuing his own agenda. It also re-examines the aftermath of Bosworth: the treatment of Richard’s body; his burial; and the construction of his tomb. And there is a fascinating story of why, and how, Richard III’s family tree was traced until a relative was found, alive and well, in Canada. Now, with the discovery of Richard’s skeleton at the Greyfriars Priory in Leicester, England, John Ashdown-Hill explains how his book inspired the dig and completes Richard III’s fascinating story, giving details of how Richard died, and how the DNA link to aliving relative of the king allowed the royal body to be identified.”

NORTHAMPTON GREYFRIARS IN THE NEWS

Once upon a time, in Northampton, there was a horrid, huge, concrete bus station known locally as the ‘Mouth of Hell.’ It was, to the relief of many, destroyed earlier this year.

Now there are proposals for  a new series of shops, cinemas and even a trampolining centre on the site. While that is an improvement, one can only hope that there is a through archaeological investigation of the area before this can take place.

The ‘Mouth of Hell’ stood on  what was the old Greyfriars monastery, a large and important friary  in the medieval town centre. Leland describes  it as, ‘The Grayfreres House was the beste buildid and largest house of all the places of the freres, and stoode a little beyond the chief market place, almost by flatte north. The site and ground that it stoode on longid to the cite, whereupon the citizens were taken for the founders of it. There lay ii. of the Salysbiries buried in this house of Grey Freres. And as I remember it was told me that one of the Salisbyries doughters was mother to Sir Wylliam Par and his elder brother.’

Limited excavation  was done in the 1972 before the now demolished bus station was built, and some fragmentary burials and bits of tile, glass, pottery and metal were found. None of the burials appeared to be particularly high status and there were animal bones mixed amongst them. The church was located but its shape was unable to be defined, and the main buildings of the cloister joined the choir rather than the nave.

Greyfriars of Northampton  held several notable burials including Friar Bungay (famous in a play as a sorcerer who, with Friar Bacon, creates the Brazen Head to protect England–but in reality a notable scholar and mathematician !) and the 1st Duke of Buckingham, Humphrey Stafford, who was killed at the Battle of Northampton in 1460. He lost his life defending Henry VI in his tent, along with several other prominent Lancastrian lords. Buckingham was the grandfather of Henry Stafford, second Duke of Buckingham, who betrayed Richard III, and his wife was Anne Neville, the sister of Richard’s mother, Cecily Neville. (If the Duke were found, his y-DNA could be used to identify Henry Stafford’s bones if THEY ever turned up in Salisbury, possibly on another Greyfriars site!)

Below are the proposals for the Greyfriar’s site in Northampton. It might be worth contacting the relevant authorities in order to try to ensure that a proper archaeological assessment is given for this important friary, as some of the records for other medieval buildings around the town are scanty and rather poorly recorded.

http://www.northamptonchron.co.uk/news/ground-investigations-begin-at-former-northampton-bus-station-site-1-7676318

hell

Sources: British History Online, the Franciscans of Northampton

Excavations at Northampton Greyfriars 1972, J.H. Williams

 

The Friaries and Priories of Ipswich

wolseys-gate-1

On the bottom left is the Buttermarket Centre, formerly the home of the Whitefriars or Carmelites. There were Greyfriars (Franciscans, whose name survives near Princes Street) and Blackfriars (Dominicans, based near St. Mary’s Quay).

The mid-“Tudor” Christchurch Mansion, on the bottom right, is on the site of the Holy Trinity Priory. Whether this was newly built or merely adapted, is presently uncertain. There was also a Priory of St. Peter and St. Paul, partially replaced by Wolsey’s Gate (above).

ButtermarketCentre Christchurch_Mansion

Why those who say Richard’s rediscovery was a hoax are wrong, even without the DNA

This is a fascinating analysis of the evidence supporting the fact that it definitely was Richard! Click here for full post!

 

Portrait of Richard III

Work begins in Reading

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/06/12/archaeologists-begin-hunt-for-remains-of-henry-i/mullaney_car_park-xlarge_trans++NJjoeBT78QIaYdkJdEY4CnGTJFJS74MYhNY6w3GNbO8

Of course, some people knew exactly where to find Richard III.

The Madness of Henry VI …

… but precisely what form did it take? It was clearly different in effect from that of Charles VI, his grandfather. Charles was reportedly violent on occasion and sometimes believed himself to be made of glass but Henry was more withdrawn. Both doubted the paternity of their children, although the sheer number of Charles’ offspring, including two English Queens Consort, make such doubts less reasonable in his case.

The two most influential Henry VI biographies nowadays are by Ralph Griffiths and by Bertram Wolffe, who included a whole chapter on Henry’s mental health. What would a professional in that field make of the available evidence? Henry’s physical remains are of no available as his brain no longer exists. By contrast, Richard III’s long residence in Leicester’s Greyfriars led to his skin, flesh and organs decomposing, leaving his skeleton to attest clearly and precisely to his scoliosis.

Richard III grew up during Henry VI’s first reign and his time as “King in exile”. It should be much easier to diagnose Henry given the increased awareness of mental health issues today.

Just one missing word mars a conclusion

I have recently perused the critical pages (180-191) of Michael Hicks’ latest work: “The Family of Richard III”, relating to the evidence of the remains found in the former Greyfriars.

He states that the mitochondrial DNA evidence only shows that the remains are of an individual related to Richard III. He doesn’t admit that the Y-chromosome tests prove the existence of at least one “milkman” between Edward III and either Richard III or (more probably) the family of today’s Duke of Beaufort. He states further that the other physical evidence only shows a man of the right age group, with scoliosis who died in battle at any time in the right century – suggesting Lord Richard de la Pole as a random alternative, although we know where he was buried (the Augustine Basilica of San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro) and there is no evidence whatsoever that he could have been moved since 1525, apart from him being at least a decade older than his uncle at death. John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, also suggested, was seven years younger than Richard III.

The missing word is “and”, whereas “or” is widely implied. Take the set of people known to share Richard III’s mtDNA, as per point one, descended from Catherine de Roet or her sisters, her brothers having died either too early or at too great an age. Take the set of 25-40 year-old men with scoliosis who ate a good diet and died in battle from 1450-1530, as per point three, excluding those who are known or widely believed to be buried elsewhere. Now, because the evidence really is mutually supporting, look at the intersection, not the union, of those two sets – as demonstrated in Appendix 1 of Ashdown-Hill’s “The Mythology of Richard III” (pp.176-181) – it leaves only Richard III himself and very few obscure relatives who probably died in infancy.

What really disappoints me is that I expected some serious counter-evidence, such as Lady de Roet’s identity or, better still, that of her mother, allowing us to identify and investigate more of Richard’s hitherto unknown cousins. It doesn’t, although it does (p.190) identify that Catherine de Roet bore Swynford and Beaufort sons so close together as to create confusion (see the Y-chromosome reference). Once again, has Hicks hedged his bets by conceding the opposing case in the middle of a paragraph?Hicksosaurus

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