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Edwardtide—a Celebration of Edward the Confessor, Saint and King….

From https://www.westminster-abbey.org/worship-music/services-times/edwardtide

“….Remembering St Edward, 13th-18th October 2020….During Edwardtide, we celebrate the life of St Edward the Confessor, King of England 1042–1066 and the re-founder of Westminster Abbey. St Edward was canonised in 1161, and to this day, pilgrims come to pray at his shrine…”

The above extract is from the website of Westminster Abbey (specifically from this page), and as I am not over-endowed with knowledge of such things, I had cause to wonder about a church festival of which I had not heard. It was also known as the Octave of St Edward the Confessor, and is still celebrated at Westminster Abbey, as the above link will tell you.

Well, as the name Edwardtide suggests, this isn’t just one day, but a week during October, from 13th to 18th, the 13th being the day in 1163 when the Confessor’s (uncorrupted) remains were translated within the newly rebuilt Westminster Abbey in the presence of both Thomas Becket and Henry II. Then, in the reign of Henry III, a dazzling new shrine was built especially for him. Today, 15th October, we are in the middle of Edwardtide!

Until I looked into this, I didn’t even know that a Confessor was a particular type of saint—one who suffered for faith and demonstrated sanctity in the face of worldly temptations, but was not a martyr. I suppose that over the years I had become so accustomed to references to “Edward the Confessor” that it never occurred to wonder why he was so termed.

Edward’s remains were inspected several times during the medieval period. Henry I and his wife Matilda (of Scotland, Edward’s great niece) had the tomb opened, and “Bishop Gundulf, who was present at the time, was said to have plucked a hair from Edward’s long white beard, for which he received a severe reprimand from the Abbot of Westminster”. I should think so too. Mind you, Henry II removed Edward’s burial robes and purloined his pilgrim’s ring, which wasn’t very devout. With Henry III full respect returned when that king built the wonderful shrine.

Unopened, please note!

Here you will find a very interesting account of the only surviving copy of an illustrated Anglo-Norman verse Life of St Edward the Confessor sponsored by Henry III and originally written in the late 1230s or early 1240s. At the above site it is described as “a masterpiece of mid thirteenth-century English illumination”.

Page from the Life of St Edward the Confessor

Edward ruled from 1042 until the fateful year of 1066, and was a member of the House of Wessex and our penultimate Anglo-Saxon king before the Normans arrived.

He was a successful king, “energetic, resourceful and sometimes ruthless” but problems began because he had no heir. He gradually withdrew from matters of state and  took up a more secluded and pious life of prayer. He died on the night of 4-5th January 1066, and on the 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany, was buried before the High Altar in Westminster Abbey. A century later he was canonised and became one of England’s national saints until supplanted in the mid-13th century by St George. His feast day is 13th October, which is the first day of Edwardtide.

His shrine was wonderfully decorated, and studded with gold, jewels and all manner of holy objects. It was a sight o see and drew pilgrims in their thousands, some of whom stole the jewels. For a much more detailed description of the burial and the shrine, and the replacement of the jewels, go to this article.

‘Chapel of St. Edward the Confessor. Shrine, etc, from the S.W’, in An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in London, Volume 1, Westminster Abbey (London, 1924).

Another king who revered the Confessor was Richard II, who is depicted with him in the illustration below, from the matchless Wilton Diptych, of which you can read more here

Edward the Confessor as depicted on the wilton Diptych, with Richard II kneeling in the foreground. Richard was the saint’s great admirer.

So, ladies and gentlemen, Edwardtide is now explained. It may not be one of the major Christian festivals, but it certainly exists!

THE THREE HUNDRED YEARS WAR – Part 1: the Devil’s brood

Preface

I conceived this article as a defence of King Henry V against the accusation that he was a war criminal. It became apparent, however, that my research was drawing me away from Henry’s campaigns towards a broader study of the origin and causes of the Hundred Years War. Soon, I was reading material going back to the Norman kings. But it was not until I began to organize my notes that I realised I was in fact researching a conflict that has its genesis in the coronation of the duke of Normandy in 1066 and did not end officially until the nineteenth century.[1] As I have neither the wit nor the time to survey the whole course of Anglo-French history over seven centuries, there are necessarily limitations to my approach and also to my subject matter. In the first place, my narrative relates solely to events occurring from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries; it was a period marked by continual fighting, of which the Hundred Years War is but an episode. In the second place, I am writing from an English perspective. In the third place, the limits of my ambition demand the omission of historical events and matters, which, however important they may be in themselves, are not strictly germane to my subject. In the fourth place, even though my narrative touches on war, this is not a military history. And in the fifth place, I make no claim that this is a scholarly work of original research or new interpretation. Since the facts upon which I rely are well known and relatively uncontroversial, I have used only those sources, books and articles found in the published historiography of the period and readily available to a dabbler in history such as I.

 

I have, for the sake of convenience, structured my narrative around three articles, each of which closes with the signing of a pivotal Anglo-French peace treaty. The treaties of Paris (1259), Bretigny (1360) and Troyes (1420) were all unsuccessful attempts to make a permanent peace. Although they resolved some process problems of the past, their collective failure to address the fundamental question of sovereignty created new ones for the future.   I am using them as markers in my narrative because, though they were unsuccessful, they chart the progressive escalation of the dispute from a limited quarrel between vassal and suzerain into an international war of conquest, driven by three interlocking and overlapping factors: rivalry, kinship and inheritance.

 

Prologue

Context is an important factor in any historical judgement and context for Anglo-French violence during the middle ages is found in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest. Once England’s Anglo-Norman polity steered the national focus away from the Nordic world dominated by the Scandinavians to the Latin world dominated by the French, a clash between the foremost kingdoms of western Christendom was inevitable: motivated by political, military, commercial, diplomatic and maritime rivalry. This was especially so, given their geographic proximity astride the strategically important Channel and their shared kinship, culture and language. The English kings and their barons were at this time and for all practical purpose French. They spoke French and not English. They adopted the French chivalric code. They aped French culture, fashion and art, and they had relatives in France. Most importantly, they held rights to inherited lands in France. It was the bitter squabbles arising from these inheritances that triggered a continuous cycle of hot and cold war between the two realms.

 

The unification of the English crown with the duchy of Normandy in 1066 created a situation that if not unique was certainly unusual. As the sovereign king of England, William the Conqueror was the equal of his French opposite number Phillip I (the Amorous). However, as Duke of Normandy William was also a French peer and bound to King Phillip by a feudal obligation of fealty and service (including the possibility of military service). There was in this arrangement an obvious risk that William’s royal sovereignty might be constrained by his French vassalage. The fact that the risk did not materialize during William’s reign was due to a combination of Norman strength and Capetian weakness. On William’s death, however, the kingdom and the duchy were divided between his sons. William Rufus received the English crown. Robert Curthose inherited Normandy. It was a sensible death settlement, which removed any conflict of interest for William II. However, it was unpopular with the new king and with his successor Henry I, who resented the loss of Norman power and wealth, and ever after sought the reunification of kingdom and duchy. For many reasons this was not possible until after the death of King Stephen, the last Norman king. Stephen died without a suitable heir of his body in 1154 and was succeeded by Henry Fitzempress[2] duke of Normandy and also of Aquitaine, and Count of Anjou and Maine. Henry II ascended the throne of England with the consent of the barons. He was the first and arguably the best of his line.

 

‘They come from the Devil and they can go to the Devil’[3]

Henry Fitzempress pro-genitor of the Plantagenet line was a French prince. He was born in Anjou in 1133 and he died there in 1189. His father was Geoffrey Count of Anjou and Maine, and conqueror of Normandy. His mother was the Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I, granddaughter of the Conqueror and one-time claimant to the English throne. He was by the time of his accession, an experienced soldier and man of affairs, and incredibly ambitious. In addition to his native French, he spoke some Latin but no English. For every year he spent in England, he spent two in France.

 

As Henry II king of England ‘by the grace of God’, Lord of Ireland and Scotland, duke of Normandy, duke of Aquitaine, and Count of Anjou and Maine, Henry held sway over lands and peoples stretching from the Grampian mountains in the north to the Pyrenees in the south, including most of western France. What is now called the ‘Angevin Empire’ is considered by at least one eminent historian to have been in its extent and heterogeneous nature comparable to the Holy Roman Empire[4]. Henry did not, however, gain this empire through conquest; he acquired it from his parents and from his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine[5]. Neither did his acquisitions amount to an empire in the conventional sense. Henry did not have an imperial title. His domains did not share a common legal code, language, culture or administrative bureaucracy. They did not have an imperial army or one capital city. On the contrary, each region had its own distinctive identity, culture, legal code and army based on feudal military service. The Norman bureaucracy, for example, most resembled the English system, whereas Aquitaine represented feudalism at its worst: effective governance was impossible there.

 

Although it was not obvious at the time, the vast Angevin inheritance laid the foundation for future conflict. Henry was now the mightiest of over-mighty subjects. He held direct sway over the larger part of France, including its two richest and most important duchies of Normandy and Aquitaine; whereas, Louis VII’s direct authority was limited to the Isle de France, a few square miles surrounding Paris.[6] Henry, had already shown himself to be a rebellious and inordinately ambitious subject and the authority he now wielded was a tangible threat to Capetian ambition; especially, as he had access to English and Norman wealth to finance his ambition. However, Henry’s priority on entering his new kingdom was to restore royal authority, which during the civil war between Stephen and Matilda had fallen into abeyance. It took him four years to destroy all the adulterine castles built without royal authority during the anarchy, and to ensure the resumption of all crown lands, rights and revenues alienated during Stephen’s reign. Henry also took the opportunity to lay sound foundations for the enforcement of royal justice throughout his realm. By 1158 he had succeeded to such an extent in England (though not Wales) that he was able to turn his attention to his continental inheritance.

 

As in England, so on the continent: Henry’s priority was to consolidate his hold over the French fiefs. Though he recognized his feudal obligations of fealty and service to King Louis VII, these were honoured more in the breach than the observance. By giving homage to Louis, he was simply paying lip service to the feudal myth that the man crowned in Rheims ruled the whole of France.[7] When it came to his French lands, Henry would do exactly as he pleased. He therefore, lost little time in strengthening their borders. His objective was to create a zone of vassal territories as a buffer against invasion, and also as a link between Normandy in the north and Aquitaine in the south. The most important of these territories were the Vexin, Brittany and Toulouse. The Vexin commanded the invasion route to Normandy from the northeast; Brittany gave Henry control of western France and acted as a link between Normandy and Aquitaine; Toulouse, strengthened Henry’s authority in the south and gave him a port on the Mediterranean shore. A combination of his own political acumen and Louis’ ineptness ensured that by the 1170’s Henry had overlordship of all three territories.

 

Louis erred by divorcing Eleanor the heiress of Aquitaine; it cost him control of that duchy and enabled her to marry his most powerful and dangerous rival. He compounded that gaffe by allowing Henry virtual carte blanche to acquire overlordship of the Vexin and Brittany. Henry was an experienced and competent soldier. He had no objection in principle to using force to gain his ends. However, he was not a lover of war for its own sake and preferred to achieve his objectives through diplomacy, of which he was a consummate master. That was his approach to the problems of the Vexin and Brittany. He first secured the betrothal of his son and heir ‘young Henry’ to Princess Margaret the infant daughter of Louis VII. It was a masterstroke, which not only intruded a possible Plantagenet king into the House of Capet but also brought the Vexin within Henry’s control as part of Margaret’s dowry. We could excuse, Louis’ sanguinity about the marriage and the dowry on the grounds that due to the bride and grooms tender years he believed that neither their marriage nor the loss of the Vexin could happen for many years — if they happened at all.[8] If Louis did believe that, he was badly mistaken. Henry, with his eye on the main prize, saw the childrens’ ages as no impediment to marriage. Within two years of their betrothal they were married, much to the ‘fury and dismay’ of King Louis VII.

 

The acquisition of Brittany was also achieved by a ruse that Louis should have spotted but didn’t. First, Henry intrigued to have his troublesome brother Geoffrey installed as lord of Brittany. Geoffrey died two years later; whereupon, Henry as his brother’s executor arranged for his own son Geoffrey to marry Constance the Bretton heiress. Although King Louis VII surprisingly acquiesced to the marriage, the Bretons did not. They rebelled at the prospect of a Norman overlord. It took Henry consecutive campaigns in 1166, 1167 and 1168 to bring his truculent vassals to heel.[9]

 

Henry first laid claim to Toulouse in 1159 on the dubious ground that it was part of his wife’s inheritance. He adopted a two- pronged strategy of diplomacy and force. Overtures of friendship to Count Raymond Berengar of Barcelona and the promise of a marriage between the count’s daughter and Henry’s son Richard, were backed-up by sending a powerful mercenary army to besiege Toulouse. King Louis who at last seemed to understand the danger posed by his most acquisitive vassal intervened decisively to resist Henry’s claim. He entered Toulouse and dared his ruthless vassal to attack him. It was a challenge that Henry declined. After satisfying themselves with some senseless pillaging in the local countryside, Henry and his mercenaries withdrew and agreed a truce. Toulouse eventually fell into Henry’s hands in 1173. The count of Toulouse, who was surrounded by enemies gave-up the unequal struggle to become Henry’s vassal. Angevin power had reached the Mediterranean shore.

 

By the 1170’s Henry’s Angevin empire was approaching its peak. And it was obvious even to the listless, easy-going Louis that it was a significant threat to the Capetian rule in France. Encouraged by his increasingly nationalistic advisors, it became Louis’ settles policy to challenge Angevin power by exploiting Henry’s vassalage to French advantage and by taking every opportunity to undermine Henry’s ducal authority. Louis’ first opportunity to implement his aggressive policy arose from the discontent within Henry’s family. Henry had decided to divide his domains among his sons. His eldest son Henry got England;[10] Richard received Aquitaine and Geoffrey was given Anjou and Maine. John got promises. However, these were purely titular honours, the boys were not given any actual authority. The Angevin empire would continue under Henry’s dominating and domineering leadership. It was a decision that unwittingly sowed the seeds of the Angevin downfall.[11] In 1173 Henry’s sons (except John) rebelled against him. They were aided by their mother Eleanor and her ex-husband Louis VII, who saw the opportunity to weaken Angevin power. The boys were keen but callow; they lacked the experience and the wherewithal to challenge their father. The rebellion — which started with an attack on Normandy by Henry ‘The Young King’ and Louis, and then spread to England — was a miserable failure. The rebels were no match for their energetic and seasoned opponent who defeated them in detail. They had no plan, objective or even a modicum of co-operation between the various elements. As it was, the rebellion was serious enough since it enjoyed the support of the nobility on both sides of the Channel. It would have been difficult even for Henry to cope if the rebels had had a plan and co-ordinated their efforts.[12]

 

The years 1175-1182 marked the zenith of Angevin power. King Louis was a broken man and Henry’s estranged wife Eleanor was in custody. His sons, however, were still not pacified. King Louis VII died suddenly on the 18 September 1180. His incapacity and weakness had facilitated Henry’s rise to power by enabling him to increase his domains and vassal territories to the point where he was seeking to extend his authority beyond the borders of France. It was indeed fortunate for the Capetian dynasty that Louis’ heir, Phillip Augustus, though still only fifteen was of a different mien to his father. [He] was possessed of great political sagacity…Though not a great soldier, he was a shrewd and quite unscrupulous diplomat…He gained more by making skilful use of his opponents mistakes than his own successes.”[13] Once he had established his personal rule in France, Phillip turned his attention to the destruction of Angevin power. His plan was to ferment and exploit the discord that already existed between Henry and his offspring. By 1185, he was ready to begin his great project. Following Geoffrey’s death in 1186, Phillip exercised his authority as suzerain to declare that the Vexin had reverted to the French crown.[14] Although Henry ignored Phillip at first, he was bought to the conference table when Phillip sent troops to occupy the Vexin. Phillip had flexed his muscles and forced Henry to seek a truce, which was quickly agreed. Nevertheless, the tide was turning against Henry. But it was the events consequent upon Saladin’s victory over the Christians at the battle of Hattin in 1187 that triggered a chain of events leading directly to his downfall. Hattin provoked large number of Christian knights to join the surviving Crusaders in the in the Holy Land. Henry and Phillip were slow to respond. Richard, however, was keen to go. Furthermore, since Richard was now heir to the throne following the premature death of Henry the Young King, he sought certain assurances about his position, which Henry could not give since he intended to supplant Richard with John as heir to the throne. It was the catalyst for the last and most poignant rebellion of Henry’s reign.

 

Henry began his final tryst with destiny by fermenting a rebellion against Richard in Aquitaine. Richard crushed this with his usual vigour and thereafter allied himself with Phillip Augustus, who had already seconded Richard’s right to the throne. On the 18 October 1188 ‘his demand to be recognised as heir apparent having been refused by Henry, Richard knelt before Phillip and did homage for all his continental lands saving only the fealty he owed to his father.‘ The end came quickly. Assailed on all sides, deserted by his family and most of his barons, driven from his birth place the now dying Henry was forced on the 4 July 1189 to submit wholly to the will of Phillip ‘in such a way that whatever the king of France should provide or adjudge, the King of England would carry out in every way without reservation’. Even so, the worst was left until the last: his favourite son John had also deserted him. He died soon afterward with the words ‘shame, shame on a conquered king’. He was fifty-six years old.[15]

 

Coeur de lion

King Richard the lionhearted hated peace and all the works of peace, and he passionately loved war.[16] He reigned for ten years, of which only five months were spent in England. The remainder of his reign was spent overseas as a Crusader, as the captive of the Holy Roman Emperor and campaigning in France against Phillip Augustus. He knew nothing of England. He did not speak English. And he thought nothing for selling the great offices of state and important royal castles to the highest bidder. He also empowered Prince John with virtual Palatine powers in Nottingham, Derby, Lancaster, Gloucester, Devon, Cornwall and Glamorgan. All of which made it easier for John to conspire with Phillip Augustus against Richard. Richard’s only experience of lordship was as duke of Aquitaine, a semi autonomous fiefdom. It seems he equated kingship with power and not responsibility.

 

He had no reason to fear the conspiracies of his brother or Phillip whilst on crusade, since the Anglo-French nobility were loath to attack the lands of an active Crusader. However, he was vulnerable after he fell into the hands of Frederick VI, the Holy Roman Emperor. Thereafter, Phillip took every opportunity to annex the Vexin and lay siege to Rouen, the capital of Normandy. John was no less anxious to profit from Richard’s absence. He hurried to France to pay homage to Phillip for Angevin lands and he became betrothed to Phillip’s sister. A plot was also hatched to invade England and seize the crown.[17] Richard’s throne was saved, however, by the timely actions of his mother, who obstructed John’s plans by procuring a renewal of the oath of allegiance to Richard given by every English noble. And in the nick of time, Hubert Walter arrived from the continent with the news that Richard was alive and being held for a ransom of 150,000 marks (about £1bn in today’s money). Due, in no small part, to the machinations of Phillip Augustus, the Emperor Frederick VI came to terms with Richard who was released. In a famous message, Phillip warned John of his brothers impending return “Look to yourself, the Devil is loosed[18] John fled to the French court.

 

Richard was aware that an oppressive ransom must be paid and that he had little choice for the moment but to accept the loss of a large chunk of Normandy and the other lands ceded by John to Phillip.[19] He was also well aware of a coming war between the Holy Roman Empire and Phillip Augustus for dominance of Christendom. It was a war in which Richard proved himself to be the willing instrument of Frederick’s resolution to break the power of France. Even as he journeyed home from Germany, Richard made alliances with the leading Flemish and German princes in what was the first ‘great coalition against the king of France’.[20] Despite set backs and the untimely deaths of Frederick and Richard, it held together by mutual economic interest and English gold until it was finally broken by the French victory at Bouvine in 1214.

 

Richard arrived back in England in early spring 1194. Within two months, he set sail again for France accompanied by a mercenary force of crack professional soldiers. He knew that the conflict with Phillip would be a long and arduous struggle for which the English Fyrd and his feudal levies would be unsuitable.[21] It was, in GO Sayles opinion the first international war of western Christendom. Richard and his picked force played a significant part in the fighting. Despite many tactical truces and ‘uneasy periods of peace’, the desultory fighting showed that Richard had lost none of his martial skill and spirit. By 1198, he had recovered almost all of the Vexin. In truth, Phillips resources were overstretched. His kingdom and the House of Capet were almost lost. That it never came to pass was due primarily to the deaths of Frederick VI and Richard I in 1199.

 

Softsword

It fell to King John to oversee the dismantling of the Angevin Empire. Richard’s death heralded a change in the balance of power between the French and English crowns. It was not just that John was not made of the same stuff as his brother; he was also in a much weaker position. The supporters of Prince Arthur of Brittany — son of John’s deceased brother Geoffrey — challenged his succession to the throne.[22] Phillip’s support for John’s claim came at a price. Phillip was intent of creating an explicit suzerain and vassal relationship between the king of France and the king of England. John had to do homage for his French fiefs and pay 10,000 marks for ‘relief’ of his fiefdoms. Furthermore, he was forced to acknowledge that in any conflict of loyalty, John’s French vassals owed a prior loyalty to the French crown. John was in a difficult position. He had neither the money nor resources to challenge Phillip. Normandy was not defensible at this time, and he had still to consolidate his rule in England. While he almost certainly did not like Phillips terms, John bought some time by accepting them: it was also cheaper than war. Even so, John’s acceptance of the terms marked his complete humiliation; he was now an acknowledged vassal of the French crown.[23]

 

Once his royal title was acknowledged, John set about gaining control of his most troublesome duchy. Aquitaine was a notoriously independent fief. This was not due to any special privileges the Aquitaine’s had been granted, but purely to the fact that they took their vassalage lightly. Only armed force could keep them in order. And it was in these troubled waters that Phillip was most keen to fish next. He challenged John’s authority by commanding him to accept homage from the Count of Angoulême and his nephew the Count of Limoges both infamous rabble-rousers noted for their antipathy towards the dukes of Aquitaine.[24] The Angoumois lay at the heart of Aquitaine and was strategically important. With this in mind, and thinking he might be able to pacify Angoulême, John ‘cast aside’ Isabella of Gloucester his wife of ten years and married the Count of Angoulême’s daughter Isabella. In doing so, he disrupted the plans of Hugh le Brun Lord of Lusignan who was already betrothed to her. The Lusignan’s waited for some time; possibly they were expecting John to compensate them for their disappointment. However, John was oblivious to their hurt and did nothing to placate them. His complete disregard for other peoples’ feelings alienated even his allies and soured their loyalty. On this occasion, he turned the Lusignan’s into formidable enemies, whereas they might have made equally formidable allies.[25] Their relationship became to strained that the Lusignan’s complained to Phillip that John had ‘unjustly attacked them’. Their appeal came at a bad time for Phillip but he could not ignore it. His instinct nevertheless was to handle it with a light touch. Having met both parties, Phillip agreed not to pursue the matter of the appeal if John did his feudal duty and allowed his vassals to present their grievance in his feudal court. Unfortunately, John was not acting in good faith. He offered the Lusignan’s their day in court but did everything he could to obstruct and humiliate them. He even charged them with treason and invited them to prove their innocence in trial by combat with his champion. It was an outrageously provocative offer and rather than demean themselves the Lusignan’s appealed once more to Phillip. John was therefore summoned to Paris to explain his errant behaviour to a bench of French barons. Predictably, John ignored the summons and was punished. Aquitaine, Anjou and Poitou were forfeit to the French crown.[26] Phillip was now taking the opportunity to rid France of Angevin dominance. He formally broke all feudal ties with John and invaded Normandy.

 

Phillips determination to enforce his royal authority throughout France and his innate antagonism towards the Angevins ensured that an enduring peace was unlikely. Even so, the fighting that started in 1202 was due to John’s stupidity in bullying his vassals and ignoring his suzerain. Nor did his foolishness end there. Warren compares the contest between Phillip and John to a card game in which John holds most of the trump cards but plays them so badly he fails to win a trick. He continued to antagonize friend and foe alike with his intolerant personality and tyrannical ways. In particular, his complete disregard for the advice William des Roche and his attempt to belittle the most powerful baron in Anjou cost him dear Spurned and publicly humiliated, William joined the royal forces against John. As a result, John was forced to cover the Loire, while simultaneously trying to reach for Normandy: it was impossible.[27] But most damaging of all to John was the rumour of the death of Arthur of Brittany.[28] It caused the Bretons to turn against John and attack Normandy from the southwest. By 1204 Phillip had complete possession of Normandy

 

The situation in England was equally problematic. John’s rule was oppressive. The English barons were already beginning to take collective action to resolve individual grievances. At the heart of their discontent were John’s financial extortions. He was so desperate to raise an army to recover Normandy and protect what was left of the Angevin lands that he did not modify his unscrupulous financial demands. Nevertheless, by 1206, he was able to lead an army of sorts to France. Landing at La Rochelle between July and October, John mounted several ‘pin-prick’ raids against targets in the southwest of France. Limited though this campaign was, it rattled Phillip and enabled John to recover part of Poitou. However, he soon realised that if he wanted to recover Normandy and all his other lands, he needed a much bigger army and an international alliance to do it. He therefore returned to England and began to plan that next campaign; nevertheless, his fortunes continued to deteriorate.

 

Between 1207 and 1213 John argued with the Pope; England was interdicted and he was excommunicated. At home, he annoyed the English barons to such an extent that in 1216 they rebelled and sought to replace him with a French Capetian prince. And yet, despite these problems John still managed to raise a larger army and to revitalize the coalition of Flemings, Germans and English that had almost defeated Phillip during King Richard’s reign. Fear of growing French power had moved the Holy Roman Emperor and the Count of Flanders to make common cause with John against Phillip Augustus. Although, John had expectations of an Alliance with Count Raymond IV of Toulouse and King Peter of Aragon, it came to nothing as Peter’s Cathar forces were already embroiled in a nasty little war with French Crusaders[29].

 

John launched a two-pronged attack against Phillip in February 1212. An army comprising Germans under the command of the Holy Roman Emperor, Flemings commanded by the Count of Flanders and English troops led by the earl of Salisbury landed in the north. In the south, John with his contingent of mercenaries and a ‘goodly number of English knights’ landed at La Rochelle. John’s strategy was to make Phillip divide his forces and then to defeat him in detail, but it didn’t work. John made initial progress, receiving the homage of the Lusignan lords and advancing beyond the Loire. His failure to provoker Phillip into anything rash, however, sowed the seeds of failure. Desperately, John moved southwest to besiege the castle of La Roch-aux-Moines. Soon a royal army under Phillip’s eldest son Louis appeared before him in battle order. Though John was keen to engage the enemy, the Lusignan’s and the Poitouvins were not. Taking John’s gold was one thing but risking all in the chance of battle was quite another. John was, therefore, forced to raise his siege and retreat to La Rochelle. Meanwhile in the north, Phillip’s army destroyed the coalition force on the 27 July 2014 at Bouvine, ending any hope John had of reconstructing the Angevin empire. Phillip was now the most powerful ruler in Christendom; he had destroyed Angevin power and installed his own tame candidate as Holy Roman Emperor.

 

The Treaty of Paris 1259

The loss of Normandy was followed, in 1215, by the signing of Magna Carta, which established that in theory John was not above the law; in fact, he continued to act as though he was and the Great Charter failed to curb his excesses. On the 21 May 1216, therefore, Prince Louis, the eldest son of the French king landed in Kent with a French army at the invitation of the English barons. He came to depose John and seize the English Crown, to which he had a tenuous claim. It was a time of extreme crisis for the House of Plantagenet, which faced being replaced by the House of Capet. Within a few months the French army and rebel barons controlled almost half of England, including crucially, London and the Home Counties. Only John’s death on the 18/19 October 1216 prevented his deposition in favour of the French claimant.

 

John’s heir was his son Henry of Winchester aged nine. When John knew he was dying, he entrusted young Henry to the care of the Pope and to Sir William Marshall ‘the greatest knight in Christendom’ with twelve men of substance and quality, who were united in their to loyalty to Henry. The English heir also had the support of the church and crucially the Pope.[30] But above all, Henry possessed the inestimable advantage of not being King John. Nor was he associated with his father’s mistakes. His supporters acting with commendable speed crowned young Henry at Worcester before the end of October 1216. It was the crucial first step in defeating the pretender Louis who despite, his strong position could not find an English bishop to crown him. Henry’s coronation made Louis look like a usurper. Seven months later, Louis’ army of French troops and English rebels was routed by royal troops at the battle of Lincoln, ensuring that Plantagenets and not Capetians reigned in England.[31]

 

Henry’s reign though long was not glorious. He was an easy-going but ineffective king and certainly no soldier.[32] He lacked the resources and the inclination for continuous campaigning, and had continually to deal with rebellions against his misgovernment. In fact, the English position in France deteriorated under Henry. Louis IX overran Poitou (northern Aquitaine) and consolidated the French Crown’s holdings in the south. It was as much as Henry could do to hold onto southern Aquitaine (now called Gascony for convenience). Louis desired Gascony on the grounds that following the death of Arthur of Brittany (circa 1203), it had reverted to the French Crown. In 1259, Henry, fearful of the loss of Gascony and lacking baronial support for another campaign, made peace with Louis in Paris.

 

The Treaty of Paris was meant to resolve all the issues that lay between Henry III and Louis IX. Under its terms, Henry abandoned all claims to Normandy, Poitou and all his other fiefs except Gascony, for which he did homage. Despite resolving the immediate dispute, the treaty raised others for the future, which ultimately proved insoluble by peaceful means. Louis was criticised by his nobles for being too soft, but he had no doubt who was in the stronger position following the Paris treaty. The vassalage of the English Crown was now enshrined in an international treaty rather than in feudal custom. Louis said he would rather have the English king as a vassal than an irresponsible enemy. In the event, Louis was too optimistic. The Treaty of Paris created a new feudal relationship between the two monarchs, which was to prove irreconcilable with English sovereignty.

 

In the first place, it replaced ‘ordinary homage’ with ‘fealty homage’, which was a superior homage placing an unbreakable obligation on the English Crown to provide military aid to the French king against any of his enemies, whenever it was demanded. Furthermore, English Kings were expressly forbidden from acting in concert with, or giving help to the enemies of Louis IX and his successor’s. It is not difficult to see how this treaty obligation would damage England’s military, diplomatic and economic interests. The notion that a sovereign king could be the vassal of a foreign power was revolutionary. It went well beyond Henry’s ducal authority by proscribing the Crowns prerogative to make treaties, war or peace as the king thought best for his kingdom. I need hardly add that the Treaty of Paris was repugnant to Englishmen.

 

In the second place, it undermined Henry’s ducal authority in Gascony by providing for the interference of French royal courts in the local affairs of Gascony. It was precisely this provision that encouraged Gascon factionalism between pro-French and his pro-English vassals. The fact that the Treaty was followed by thirteen years of relative peace was due more to Henry’s incapacity than the utility of the treaty. Henry died in 1272 and was succeeded by his son Edward, a man of completely different mien to his father.

[1] The English claim to the French throne was not officially abandoned until 1803, during the Napoleonic wars.

[2] The name Plantagenet is purely as a term of convenience in this article. Henry Fitzempress (as he was known to his contemporaries) did not adopt Plantagenet as his family name. It was not until the fifteenth century that any member of the English royal family styled themselves as Plantagenet and that was Richard, Duke of York in 1460.

[3] AL Poole – Doomsday Book to Magna Carta (Oxford 1982 edition) p.344n.2; this is Heraclius Patriarch of Jerusalem’s well-known judgement of the Angevins, after Henry declined to go to Jerusalem’s assistance in 1185.

[4] Poole p.318; see also Christopher Allmand – The Hundred Years War (Cambridge 2001 edition) pp.7 & 8

[5] He inherited England and Normandy from his mother, Anjou and Maine from his father and Aquitaine from his wife.

[6] WL Warren – King John (Eyre & Methuen 1978 edition) pp.54-56; although Louis VII was the feudal overlord of all French provinces, they were under the personal control of lesser aristocracy who were more or less autonomous. There was no feeling of patriotism that bound these lords to the king of France as their natural leader. Henry’s actual obligation to pay homage to Louis was more imaginary than real. He was so powerful that Louis dared not rebuke or punish him for breaches of protocol. This was not the case, however, after Phillip Augustus succeeded his father.

[7] Henry’s situation was not unique. William the Lion did homage for his earldom of Leicester to Henry II. Later, following his involvement in the rebellion against Henry of 1173-74, William was forced to give homage to Henry as his overlord for the kingdom of Scotland.

[8] Richard Barber – Henry Plantagenet (Boydell 1964) pp. 91-92; Claudia Gold – King of the North Wind: the life of Henry II in five acts (William Collins 2019) pp.217-218; Henry sent Thomas Becket, his Chancellor, to Paris to prepare the ground for this marriage, which was the cornerstone of his Vexin policy and in support of which he spared no expense. In a marked display of wealth and power, Becket overawed Louis and the Parisians with his generosity, and the size and bearing of his entourage. However, when Henry followed this up by travelling to Paris, he did so in a style so humble and simple, that Parisians were even more astonished. His approach worked perfectly.

[9] The Bretons and the Normans were traditional and inveterate enemies. As late as spring 1940, they showed themselves to be the toughest soldiers in the French army .

[10] Henry’s eldest son Henry was crowned co-king of England in 1170. Thereafter, he was known as ‘Henry the Young King’. It is the only time in English history that a father and son have reigned simultaneously.

[11] Barber p.140; citing EW Stubbs (Ed) – Roger Benedict (from 1169); the Chronicle of the reign of Henry II and Richard I AD 1169-92, commonly known under the name of Benedict of Peterborough (Rolls Series 49, London 1867) p.6, for a scholarly account of Henry’s troublesome progeny; also Poole p.318; Gold p   . See also, Frank McClynn – Lionheart and Lackland (Vintage 2007) passim for a popular assessment of Henry’s children.

[12] Poole pp. 330-338; contains a useful summary of the course of the rebellion; Barber pp.160-183 provides a more detailed account; see also Gold pp.197-250 for a modern interpretation of events

[13] Poole p.342

[14] Barber pp.213-233; Henry the Young King had died in 1183 fighting Richard and his father for Aquitaine. Geoffrey of Brittany was on the point of insurrection when he died in 1186.

[15] Barber pp. 229-233; Henry was taken ill during the winter of 1188/89 and it had returned in the summer. He was also suffered from blood poisoning from a wound on his head. He was literally dying while Phillip was making his demands but insisted on remaining in the saddle; though he had to be supported. He died on the 6 July 1189. Only his beloved bastard son Geoffrey remained at his side

[16] GO Sayles – The Medieval Foundations of England (Methuen & Co 1966) passim

[17] Poole p.383; Flemish mercenaries assembled at Witsand and the cooperation of Denmark was obtained. Richard was aware of these events but remained sanguine “My brother John” he said ” is not a man to conquer a country if there was anyone to offer even the feeblest of resistance”. Anyhow, Phillips Danish alliance broke down owing to the intervention of Pope Innocent III and Frederick VI, who both thought he was meddling in Danish affairs. Phillip had not yet realised that his plans for a strong and united France clashed with the Emperor Frederick’s own ambition for the hegemony of Christendom.

[18] Poole p.365

[19] Poole p.366; the raising of the ransom, burdensome though it was, is testament to the soundness of the English Exchequer and the fiscal systems introduced during Henry II’s reign. It transpired that the English were not required to pay the whole ransom; Frederick remitted 17,000 marks as an inducement to Richard to join a Germanic coalition against Phillip. Leopold of Austria, who was the lord that actually kidnapped Richard received 25,000 marks for his trouble.

[20] Poole p.367; publishes the list of Richard’s allies

[21] Warren pp.56-63; Poole p.389; the English Fyrd was essentially a home defence force and the feudal obligation of his English and French vassals was for short service. Furthermore, those in the south of France had no direct interest in a campaign in the north. The recruitment of picked professional soldiers from the plethora of Anglo-Norman knights and men-at-arms was expensive, but it was the best answer to Richard’s dilemma. Besides, the use of mercenaries by the kings and princes of Christendom was commonplace.

[22] Warren pp.48-50; the question of the English succession at this time is not without interest. Richard nominated John as heir apparent in the full knowledge of Arthur’s primo geniture claim as the eldest son of Geoffrey (Johns deceased elder brother). Although the late king’s wishes were not of paramount importance, in cases like this where there are two claimants there is always an element of election. To the English Barons, the argument that the grandson of Henry II should take precedence over his surviving son lacked credibility for three reasons. First, the inheritance of the crown based on primo geniture was a continental concept alien to English culture and custom at this time. Whether or not it was ‘introduced’ by the Normans is immaterial, since the fact is that no eldest son of an English king inherited the crown unopposed between 1066 (William I) and 1272 (Edward I). And as Dr Warren observes even Ranulph Glanville the English doyen of medieval jurisprudence found this a difficult question. He produced arguments for and against Arthur. Besides, and perhaps crucially, Arthur was a minor who had been raised in France by traitors (Geoffrey rebelled against his father the king.) and it was said that he hated England. Moreover, his father had never himself been heir to the throne. Ultimately, Arthur was passed over because he had no support among the English barons. The situation regarding the Angevin French fiefs was, however, more complicated as inheritance followed continental law. John had to establish his right to that by force of arms.

[23] Warren p.54; the payment of relief by the vassal to the suzerain was commonplace in feudal societies. But as Warren points out, nobody had ever asked Henry II or Richard I for such a payment. They seized their inheritance; they did not ‘negotiate for it. Neither had the French king ever dared to prescribe their relationship with their vassals.

[24] The Count of Angoulême asserted a de facto independence by ignoring the dukes of Aquitaine and a de jure independence by swearing fealty direct to the French crown. Richard defeated him in battle but he was unbowed and continued to challenge the duke with Phillip’s assistance.

[25] The Lusignan’s were a well-heeled family with a famous ancestry. Hugh le Brun had a distinguished reputation for service in the Holy Land. His uncle had a reputation for heroism second only to the Coeur de Lion himself. They were also rebellious vassals of the duke of Aquitaine. However, their prowess in battle in the Holy land earned them the comradeship and then the firm friendship of King Richard. Indeed, they played a big part in helping Richard to quell the troublesome Angoulême’s. Hugh’s betrothal to Isabelle was meant to end their destructive quarrel.

[26] Warren pp.74-75 and Appendix A; the legality of Phillip’s expropriation of Normandy is the subject of scholarly discussion. John was summoned to Paris as the duke of Aquitaine and Count of Poitou. He was not summoned as the duke of Normandy. Although It would have been necessary to rectify that omission, it is not clear whether a subsequent judgement was passed on John as duke of Normandy. Of course, Phillip did not need a court judgement to conquer Normandy. It was the prize jewel of Angevin lands in France, and Phillip was determined to have for the crown. However, he did need to justify the legitimacy of his seizure of Normandy to a sceptical French polity. Dr Warren deals with this point in his biography of John.

[27] Warren pp. 80-84; Roche supported John’s claim to the throne in 1199. He was a most able and effective ally to John between 1199 and 1202. “ With William as an ally, John could have tackled Phillip in Normandy confident that the strategically vital counties along the Loire were in safe-hands”

[28] Warren ibid; Arthur simply disappeared. The rumours of his death were very damaging to John’s cause. Although there s a suggestion that John killed Arthur in 1203 in a drunken rage; however, it is not conclusive evidence.

[29] In the summer of 1213, French Crusaders under the command of Simon de Montfort routed Peter’s army at the battle of Muret. King Peter was killed in the melee and Raymond fled to Toulouse, his power broken.

[30] Sir Maurice Powicke – The Thirteenth Century (Oxford 1982 2nd edition) pp.1-2: in 1213, following John’s difficulties with the Church in Rome, he confessed his disobedience and did penance, including giving homage to the Pope for his kingdom, which was now a Papal fief. John was then accepted back into the church. It was the best thing he could have done because it prevented young Henry from being usurped by French Louis. Pope Innocent III took Henry under his protection and provided a papal emissary to work with William Marshall and the twelve trustees to defend Henry’s interests.

[31] Most of the rebel barons returned to royal loyalty after Henry’s coronation. The few remaining recalcitrant who survived Lincoln also submitted.

[32] Powicke p.84: professor Powicke calculates that between 1224 when he assumed his majority and 1259, Henry made three serious efforts to recover and protect the Angevin lands in France; from spring 1224 until spring 1227; from August 1229 until June 1231 and finally from June 1442 until April 1443, a total of sixty-nine months (just over one month for every year of his reign).

Another C12 female monarch

For nineteen years, as Matthew Lewis relates here, England was torn between Matilda, Henry I’s only surviving legitimate child, and Stephen of Blois, his nephew. She married Geoffrey of Anjou before their son Henry II succeeded her rival, but her position was difficult because of her gender. The concept of a “Queen Regnant” was unknown at the time and she sought the title “Lady of the English”, as used by Ethelfleda of Mercia. There was some suspicion that Geoffrey sought to assume her authority.

Here is an edition of Melvyn Bragg’s excellent In Our Time, about Matilda’s contemporary Melisande, who was Queen of Jerusalem between 1131 and 1153. She was married to Fulk of Anjou, Geoffrey’s father and thus a male line ancestor of all Plantagenets, who really did assume much of Melisande’s authority, which is why some nations had a Salic Law, precluding female monarchs and inheritance through the female line.

The Inspirational Borders and Lothians

via The Inspirational Borders and Lothians

Britain’s top burial sites?

This Sun article, which originally confused Richard’s Leicester with Henry I’s Reading, lists what they consider to be Britain’s top burial sites, although there is no detail on the supposed “Princes” in that urn, especially now that there is evidence to test the remains.

Are there any others you might have included?

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 HOLY HAND OF ST JAMES FROM READING ABBEY

A fascinating article  from the Royal Berkshire History site on the preserved hand of St James, which was discovered in 1796 walled up in the ruins of Reading Abbey and now resides in the Catholic Church in Marlow.  Recently,this medieval artefact has undergone scientific analysis with interesting results.

Reading Abbey was a highly important place in the Middle Ages. Not only  was it the burial place of a King  (Henry I–lost and still waiting to be found) and a child of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine (a boy who died of a seizure and was buried at his great grandfather’s feet)  but it contained a great many relics, including bits of the True Cross, Christ’s sandal, Christ’s foreskin (apparently 17 of these existed, ahem), crusts  from the ‘Feeding of the Five Thousand’, head hair from the Virgin Mary, pieces of Mary’s tomb and so on. These appeared to have been shipped in from Constantinople. The abbey became a great draw for pilgrims and it was here Edward IV first publicly presented Elizabeth Woodville as his “wife” and guided her to a chair of estate as Queen of England.

One of the most famous  relics at Reading was the arm of St James, which was probably donated by the Empress Matilda. Having survived both the Reformation and Cromwell, the mummified hand has recently given up some of its secrets…including the fact it cannot have belonged to St James, as the date is wrong. (So here we have a case of bones long thought of as belonging to a certain individual being found by science to be someone else’s, despite centuries of deeply-held belief. Hopefully science will continue to verify such relics where possible. *Cough “Princes in the Tower” Cough.*)

Interestingly,  a preserved hand  was found in the city of Salisbury many years back, within a  medieval house  known as The Haunch of Venison, now currently a pub/restaurant (and supposedly very haunted!). The smoke-dried hand grew many legends, including that the hand was cut from a cheating whist-player in the 1700’s  (there were some old playing cards placed by it at some time) or that it was a ‘Hand of Glory’, a magical talisman used by thieves to put an inn’s tenants to sleep while the thieves robbed them. However, a local  historian surmised it might have in fact been a religious relic hidden during the  reformation; the Haunch had belonged  to the nearby  church of Thomas a Becket, and was used to lodge craftsmen who were building the spire of Salisbury Cathedral. Unfortunately, the hand had a habit of being stolen from the pub, and the last time it was snatched in 2010, it was never returned. A replica lies in its place but any chance of dating and learning more of its past it is now lost…unless it mysteriously returns again!

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preserved hand from Salisbury

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mummified hand of St James

THE CASE OF THE RUNAWAY NUN

Below is a rather amusing recently discovered account of a young nun in York called Joan of Leeds, who escaped her convent in the early 15th c by pretending to be dead and leaving a fake body in her  place.

Many monks and nuns, especially those who had entered a monastic house at a very young age and not by their own free will found themselves unsuitable for the religious life as they grew older. Most of the escapees  would vanish to join a prospective lover.

Even royalty sometimes left monasteries under a cloud. Edith, later known as Matilda, the wife of Henry I was in Wilton Abbey for her education, not to become a nun. However, when it came time for her to marry, many insisted that she had taken vows while in the convent and hence was not eligible. Edith was having none of it. To show them she was truly not a nun, she flung her wimple to the ground–and trampled on it.

 

THE NAUGHTY NUN–JOAN, WHO FAKED HER OWN DEATH

 

 

nuns

The Castle of Leicester and St Mary De Castro

Leicester Castle

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Leicester Castle as it appeared in 1483

 

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The Castle gardens

Since 2015 going to Leicester is the equivalent of going to visit the tomb of the last Plantagenet King who died in battle: Richard III. Everything there speaks of him from the Visitor Centre named after him, to The Last Plantagenet Pub not to mention attractions and shops that display his portrait or sell items with the name of the king. Of course, the Medieval Cathedral where the warrior king was buried in 2015 is the most visited place in Leicester but if you go there, don’t forget to pay a visit to the remains of Leicester’s Castle and its church St Mary De Castro. It is difficult today to imagine how the Castle could be at the time of Richard III but it is still there indeed even in a different shape. 

IMG_2840The Castle was probably built immediately after the Norman Conquest so around 1070. The Governor  at that time was Hugh de Grantmensil one of the companions of William the Conqueror. The Castle was the favourite residence of John of Gaunt, first Duke of Lancaster and the fourth son of Edward III. From the north end of the hall, it was possible to access the lord’s private apartments whilst from the south end there was access to a kitchen above an undercoft called John of Gaunt’s cellar where beverage and food were stored. Some people erroneously think it was a dungeon. 

The castle today looks totally different. What remains are the Castle’s Mound (Motte) located between Castle View and Castle Gardens. The Motte was originally 30-40 feet Prince Rupehigh topped with a timber tower. Unfortunately no buildings survived  and the motte was lowered in Victorian times to form a bowling green.

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The Castle House

The Great Hall is the oldest surviving aisled and bay divided timber hall in Britain. Even though the exterior is Victorian, the building still retains some of its original 12th century timber posts. The criminal court in the castle’s Great Hall was the scene of Leicester’s “Green Bicycle Murder” trial 1919 so exactly 100 years ago.

Other things are still visible of the ancient castle. The wall, the remains of the castle especially the Turret Gateway also known as Prince Rupert’s Gateway, the Castle Gardens (once used for public executions) the Castle House and the stunning church of St Mary De Castro.

St Mary De Castro

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St Mary De Castro

Close where the Castle stood, there is an ancient church called St Mary De Castro. It is a very special place especially for Ricardians. In this church Geoffrey Chaucer married her second wife, Philippa de Roet and 44 people were knighted in just one day among them Henry VI and Richard Plantagenet Duke of York, Richard III’s father. He was just 15 years old. However, the most famous event to be remembered today is that it is said that Richard III worshipped there before leaving for Bosworth and prepared himself for his last battle.

St Mary De Castro means St Mary of the Castle. It was built in 1107 after Henry I gave the

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The Chapel in St Mary De Castro ground to Robert de Beaumont 1st Earl of Leicester. It was the chapel of the castle and a place of worship within the bailey of the castle. It is assumed but there is no proof of evidence, that Ethelfleda, daughter of King Alfred the Great, had founded a church on the very spot where today is St Mary. It also seems that there was a college of priests called the College of St Mary De Castro founded before the Norman Conquest.

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The tower of St Mary was built not beside the church but inside of it so visitors can see 3 sides of it while still in church. The medieval spire, rebuilt in 1783 was declared dangerous in 2013. Following the unsuccessful attempt to raise money to save it, it was demolished in 2014. The church’s structure is quite odd because in ancient times there were two churches. One was the mentioned chapel of the castle, the other a church for common people. This explains why there are two sedilias and two piscinas both from medieval times.

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Henry VI and Richard III

Curiosities

It is said that King Richard III’s mistreated body was brought to this church to be washed before being displayed for the world to see he was actually dead. Considering the evident haste he was buried in and the lack of respect showed by the Tudors, it is unlikely this ever happened.

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The Nave of the Church

Philippa de Roet, Chaucer’s wife, was the lady-in-waiting of Philippa of Hainault one of Richard III’s ancestors.

In this church Edward of Lancaster and John of Lancaster are buried. Both died in infancy.

 

 

Romsey Abbey and the “dark, disturbing” painting….

Romsey Abbey painting

Well, I’m afraid I find the above picture outlandish. She looks as if her neck has been twisted and then pulled! Why do religious houses think such things are desirable and respectful? To me they are anything but. I know, I know, it’s a matter of taste, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder, etc. etc., but this particular work remains outlandish! The scene depicted is of the lady’s hands producing holy light…instead she looks like a throttled chicken in a habit!

 

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