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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Godstow Priory

What do Matilda and Margaret, Eleanor and Elizabeth, plus two Henrys, add up to…?

To my mind, it adds up to two very similar situations that are two centuries apart.

Henry I deathbed - stand-in pic

Let us begin in the 12th century. On his deathbed, Henry I of England named as his successor his only surviving child, his daughter, the Empress Matilda. He obliged the nobility to agree. They reneged, of course. A woman as queen in her own right? Cue mass hysteria among the male upper classes and uncontrollable fits of the vapours in the Church. And cue a sharp move by her cousin, Stephen, who promptly had himself crowned before she could even return to England.

To cut a long story short, Matilda fought first for herself, supported by her powerful half-brother, Robert of Gloucester. When it became clear she would never be accepted because she was a woman, Matilda fought on behalf of her eldest son. He, thanks to her tireless efforts, eventually became Henry II—and yes, he is one of the two Henrys.

There was nothing Matilda would not have done to see her son on the throne, and her aim came to fruition. And when he was crowned, she became the highest woman in the realm. She wasn’t monarch in the own right, but came darned close!

Then came the time when Henry II chose a queen. Not just any queen, but beautiful, spirited Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was not only a powerful, troublesome lady with a mind very much of her own, but was also prepared to scheme and manipulate on behalf of her sons by Henry. Against Henry.

Eleanor’s reputation was not squeaky clean. She had been married to the King of France, only for the marriage to be annulled and custody of their two daughters given to Louis. She had been on a Crusade with her husband, and halted at Antioch, where she encountered her uncle, Raymond of Poitiers, who was described by William of Tyre as “a lord of noble descent, of tall and elegant figure, the handsomest of the princes of the earth, a man of charming affability and conversation, open-handed and magnificent beyond measure“. There were whispers because Raymond and Eleanor spent such a great deal of time together and seemed so very intimate. She quite clearly found her uncle preferable to her husband. The whispers increased when she declined to leave Antioch with said husband, who eventually took her away by force. She was a lady to whom scandal seemed drawn, but it is only her ‘acquaintance’ with Raymond that is of interest for this article.

Raymond of Poitiers

Raymond of Poitiers

The difficulties between Henry and Eleanor commenced when the latter came up against Matilda, who was not about to surrender the position of First Lady. As far as Matilda was concerned, Eleanor was simply Henry’s wife, with no claim to any power. A baby-making machine, no more or less. Open warfare threatened.

fighting women

Was Henry caught in the middle? Well, in a way, but he loved his mother because of all she had done to put him on the throne. Then (so the story goes) he fell for one of his many mistresses, a lady known as Fair Rosamund Clifford. It was too much for Eleanor. Already furious about playing second fiddle to Matilda, she now had to endure his immense infatuation for younger  woman. Eleanor stormed off to her lands in Europe, there to plot with her sons against their father.

the lion in winter

If you have seen the film The Lion in Winter, you will know that Eleanor and Henry were played by Katherine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole. Oh, how the sparks and flames flew when they were on screen together. Eleanor was indeed very beautiful, but I don’t think Henry resembled O’Toole. According to Gerald of Wales [he had} “a reddish complexion, rather dark, and a large, round head. His eyes were grey, bloodshot, and flashed in anger. He had a fiery countenance, his voice was tremulous, and his neck a little bent forward; but his chest was broad, and his arms were muscular. His body was fleshy, and he had an enormous paunch, rather by the fault of nature than from gross feeding.” Definitely not the gorgeous Peter.

* * *

Now we must fast forward to the fifteenth century, and Lady Margaret Beaufort, yet another mother who would stop at nothing to see her son on the throne. Meet that son, Henry VII, the second Henry concerned in this article. Unlike Henry II, who was a direct blood heir, Henry VII’s forebears descended through a rather convoluted and weak line that included the bastard strain of the Beauforts (illegitimate offspring of John of Gaunt and his mistress, Katherine de Roët.

When Henry, taking for himself the role of legitimate heir of the House of Lancaster, was helped to Richard III’s throne by traitors, his formidable mother became First Lady—she was known as the King’s Lady Mother. Like Matilda, Margaret also had a helpful half-brother, John Welles, Viscount Welles, but he was hardly in the same class as the mighty Robert of Gloucester.

I could not find an illustration of John Welles, but this is his father, Lionel, Lord Welles, who died at Towton.

Henry always supported whatever Margaret did. She was, perhaps, the only person he ever trusted completely. His was a suspicious, secretive, paranoid character. He was not a mother’s boy, but came pretty close.

Then he too took a wife. He had to, he’d promised it in order to win the support of discontented supporters of the House of York (to which his defeated predecessor, Richard III, had belonged). If Henry had tried to wriggle out of it, there would have been uproar, because the promise entailed marrying the eldest Yorkist princess, Richard III’s niece, Elizabeth. Henry VII did not like having to do as he was told, but wasn’t given much of a choice.

Elizabeth of York - for WordPress

It is hard to imagine anyone less like Eleanor of Aquitaine. Elizabeth of York was reportedly lovely, but was mostly so quiet and apparently inactive that she barely offered a defiant squeak when Henry and his mother belittled her. She must have loathed Margaret, who swanned around almost as if she were the king, not Henry.

However, like Eleanor before her, Elizabeth had also been caught up in a scandal. It too involved an uncle, Richard III. There were strong rumours that something went on between uncle and niece—so strong that Richard was forced to deny it all in public. Whether there was any truth in it all will never be known, although I doubt very much that Richard returned any incestuous affection. That falls into the realm of fiction. He was intent upon arranging a foreign match for her. But the story clings to Elizabeth’s memory. Maybe she did love Richard, who, unlike his Shakespearean namesake, was actually a handsome young widower at the time in question.

Richard III for WordPress

Henry VII may have come to feel affection for his queen (perhaps because she was so unlike his domineering mother!) but she always took second place to Margaret. There is no known equivalent of Fair Rosamund in Henry’s life, so Elizabeth was never challenged on that score. Even if she had been, I doubt if she would have flounced off in a fury as Eleanor did. Perhaps Henry’s problem with his marriage was that he could not forget the rumours about Richard.

Maybe Elizabeth was one of those people who work quietly in the background, getting her own way when she wanted, but never openly defying either Henry or Margaret. Well, she did once, and Henry was so startled at the unexpected stamping of her Yorkist foot, that he backed down. I’d love to have been there, just for the joy of seeing his face.

So, there we have it. Two grimly determined mothers-in-law, two daughters-in law touched by rumours of incest and consigned to second place. And two Henrys who were loath to take on their mothers. Two M’s, two E’s and two H’s!

Matilda and Margaret could not have the throne in their own right, but were prepared to fight tooth and nail to put their sons there. Eleanor was another in the same mould, but Elizabeth of York was not. Neither daughter-in-law was afforded proper prominence in the eyes of her husband.

As for the Henrys, well, while their mothers could not rule alone as the true monarch (heaven forfend!) these sons were quite happy to lay claim the throne through the female line. So, a woman’s blood was good enough pass on to a son who would be crowned, but was next to worthless if she tried to assert herself by becoming “king”.

 

WHERE KINGS ONCE RELAXED(AND WHERE YOU CAN STAY TOO)

Recently Leicester has revamped one of its hotels to include a Richard III room. If you are on the road in the Midlands, perhaps visiting Nottingham Castle  (where Richard spent considerable time during his short reign and which is currently undergoing a rehaul of visitor facilities that should hopefully see more mention of Richard) another interesting place to consider staying is Bestwood Lodge, now a Best Western Hotel, which lies in Arnold,  just 4 miles outside Nottingham city centre.

An eerie Gothic Victorian structure, looking for all the world like something straight out of an Agatha Christie mystery novel, Bestwood stands in the middle of parkland with miles of walks radiating out from it.  Haunting and atmospheric, with tiled floors, spindly turrets, mock medieval statuary, ornate open fireplaces, and a rising central cupola, it has rooms dedicated to several of the kings who once stayed in the now-vanished royal hunting lodge lying buried deep beneath its foundations.

Richard III is one of the kings who visited Bestwood, and besides having a room named after him, he also is remembered in an ornamental plaque affixed to the wall in the ‘great hall’. It was at Bestwood, where Richard had retired to hunt in the forest, that he received the news that Henry Tudor and his forces had landed at Milford Haven.

A cross in the grounds near to the Lodge recounts the medieval history of Bestwood on its base:

BESTWOOD WAS FORMERLY A ROYAL RESIDENCE MUCH RESORTED TO BY THE EARLY ENGLISH KINGS FOR HUNTING IN SHERWOOD FOREST,/ EDWARD III, BY HIS LETTERS PATENT, DATED AT HIS PARK OF BESTWOOD 1st SEPTEMBER 37.E.3 (1364) PARDONED AND RELEASED CERTAIN/ RENTS ISSUING OUT OF “LINDEBY HAY AND BULLWELL RISE, TO THE PRIORY OF NEWSTEDE.” AND IN THE INQUISITION TAKEN AT St./ JOHN’S HOUSE, NOTTINGHAM.” THE FOURTH OF THE NONES OF JULY IN 35 HENRY III” (1251) BEFORE GEOFFREY LANGLEY, JUSTICE OF/ THE FOREST, IT IS CALLED A “HAY OR PARK OF OUR LORD THE KING WHEREIN NO MAN COMMONS” AND EARLIER STILL, KING HENRY 1st/ GRANTED TO THE PRIORY OF LENTON TO HAVE “TWO CARTS TO FETCH DEAD WOOD AND HEATH OUT OF BESCWOOD”. HENRY II, ABOUT 1160/ GRANTED THE CONVENT TO HAVE EVERY DAY “TWO CARTS OF THREE CARRETTS TO BRING THEM DEAD WOOD OR HEATH, AS MUCH AS THEY/ SHOULD NEED FOR THEIR OWN USE.” IN AUGUST 1485, ACCORDING TO THE “YORK CITY RECORDERS”, RICHARD III WAS AT BESKWOOD/ FOR THE PURPOSE OF HUNTING WHEN HE HEARD OF THE NEAR APPROACH OF HIS RIVAL HENRY TUDOR, AFTERWARDS HENRY VII./ THOROTON, WHO WROTE IN THE YEAR 1677, SAYS, IT, BESKWOOD HATH A VERY FAIR LODGE IN IT, AND IN RESPECT TO THE/ PLEASANT SITUATION OF THE PLACE, AND CONVENIENCY OF HUNTING AND PLEASURE THIS PARK AND LODGE HATH, FOR THESE MANY/ YEARS, BEEN THE DESIRE AND ACHIEVEMENT OF GREAT MEN.

Bestwood is also supposed to be haunted—but not by Richard. Rather, it is the mistress of Charles II, Nell Gwyn, who floats unseen through the hotel leaving behind the scent of fresh orange peel…

http://www.bestwoodlodgehotel.co.uk/information/history/

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THE LOST PRIORY OF AMESBURY

The palatial 17thc mansion called Amesbury Abbey (now a private nursing home) stands in beautiful landscaped gardens near the curve of the Avon and on the edge of the Stonehenge World Heritage Landscape.

The original monastic building from which it takes its name, the Fontrevraudine Priory of Amesbury, is long gone, a victim of Henry VIII’s Reformation—not one stone remains visible above  ground (although rumours abound that a piece of external wall along the perimeter of the property might be medieval.)   However, painted tiles dating between the 12th and 15th C often turn up when the gardeners do the rose-beds, along with fragments of glass and other relevant debris. This has recently led experts to pinpoint the probable position of the vanished priory church, standing slightly north of the present house.

The priory was originally built as a daughter house of Fontrevaud, after the town’s first abbey, founded in Saxon times by Queen Elfrida, was dissolved in 1177. The old Benedictine nuns were sent upon their way (most of them having supposedly lived scandalous lives!) and 21-24 nuns from Fontevraud in France were moved in, along with some English sisters from Worcestershire.

The early Plantagenets, who had a great affinity with Fontevraud, the final resting place of Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Richard I, greatly favoured the Amesbury daughter-house. Eleanor of Aquitaine’s foster daughter, Amiria, decided to take the veil there, and when Eleanor herself died in 1203, the prioress paid a rent from the Exchequer to the Abbess of Fontevrault to have a chaplain pray for Eleanor’s soul.

It was not all about religion. King John had rather secular dealings with the priory in 1215 when the barons were in revolt. He hid part of the royal treasury in the vaults for safekeeping.

In the reign of John’s son, Henry III, the priory seemed to come to renewed prominence. The king visited personally on several occasions and granted  the priory nuts, firewood, wine, and a communion cup.Henry’s son, Edward I kept a close connection  to the priory  and sent his daughter, Mary of Woodstock, to join the order as a young girl. Mary seemed to enjoy travelling and playing cards more than she enjoyed being a nun, however; she ran up huge gambling debts to the tune of £200 while attending her father’s court. The 7th Earl of Surrey, John de Warenne, also claimed to have had an affair with her. Her burial place is not known but it is very likely in Amesbury.

Mary’s cousin, Eleanor of Brittany also became a nun at Amesbury, but eventually she  migrated overseas to the Abbey of Fontrevrault itself, where she rose in the ranks to  become the abbess. There were a few conflicts with her cousin over the years, possibly because she disapproved of Mary’s less than nunly behaviour. Eleanor the Abbess of Fontevrault is not to be confused with an earlier Eleanor of Brittany, who willed her body to Amesbury after dying in a convent in Bristol. That Eleanor was the sister of Arthur of Brittany, most likely murdered by King John, and she was a prisoner for most of her adult life due to her closeness to the crown. Her remains might be in the older abbey (now the  parish church of St Mary and St Melor) rather than in the lost priory, as it was because of St Melor, whose life story mirrored that of her unfortunate brother, that she wished to be interred at Amesbury.

The most famous resident of Amesbury Priory was Henry III’s widow, Queen Eleanor of Provence, who was Mary and Eleanor’s grandmother. She may never have become a fully professed nun and had her own private quarters built for her use. Eleanor was a strong woman, beautiful but not popular with her English subjects, and had at one time been appointed regent of England in her husband’s absence.

Originally, Eleanor had intended to be buried next to Henry III in Westminster Abbey, when the time came. However, a problem arose. The space had been usurped by the body of Eleanor of Castile, wife to her son Edward I, who had predeceased her; so, when Eleanor died in 1291, the nuns were not quite certain what to do with the body. They waited several months for the king to arrive and decide where she would be buried. When he finally reached Amesbury, he allowed his mother to be interred before the high altar in the priory church,  with all due ceremony and many lords attending.

The last great lady of royal blood to reside in Amesbury priory was Isabel of Lancaster, daughter of Henry 3rd Earl of Lancaster. She arrived there in 1327 and ended up as prioress. She was the granddaughter of Edmund Crouchback, hence great granddaughter of Henry III and Eleanor of Provence, showing that family connections were still strong.

The priory does not feature overmuch in records after the late 1300’s, although some of the floor tiles are 15th c. It is possible it fell on hard times during this period. After the death of her husband, Margaret, Lady Hungerford, resided at the priory between 1459 and 1463. While she was there her lodgings burnt down, destroying £1000 of her personal possessions. The nuns asked that she restore the damaged buildings; the cost to her was £20. In 1463 she Margaret left the convent when her son, Robert, 3rd Baron Hungerford, was executed at Newcastle after the Battle of Hexham. The Hungerford lands were seized by Edward IV,  and divided between Richard of Gloucester and Lord Wenlock.

The priory was, naturally, dissolved in the Reformation. In 1540, it was given to Edward Seymour. A year later, the spire of the church was pulled down and the buildings roofs were torn off to take the lead.

Wind and weather soon took their toll and then later building and landscaping obliterated all that was left of this once-great religious house…which was not only a holy place, but the final resting place of a Queen.

Sources: A History of Wiltshire, Vol 3

 

TO BE CONTINUED

A GREENWOOD WEDDING ?

May 1 has just gone past–a date known in ancient Britain as the Feast of Beltaine, the ‘Fires of Bel (the Shining One)’. Of  all the old important pre-Christian dates, this is the one that the Church was never able to Christianise in any obvious way, retainings its traditions of merriment, dancing and bawdiness right down to the present. Even Halloween (All Hallows) had a vague Christian veneer placed over its supernatural and ancestral elements, and Midsummer’s Eve was associated with St John as well as with the summer Solstice several days earlier and the burning hilltop  bonfires.

It was of course on May 1 that Edward IV was supposed to have married Elizabeth Woodville, in a secret ceremony attended by her mother, a priest and child. The date is interesting, as May marriages were at one time considered to be unlucky. An old rhyme goes ‘Marry in the month of May and you will surely rue the day.’ The reason for this was that the time of the year was considered to be a frivolous one, connected with faithlessness and a lack of constancy.

May 1 in particular was the time for ‘greenwood weddings’–temporary ‘marriages’ that were of dubious legality. Often these, if they lasted longer than a few  nights, went on no longer than the traditional ‘year and a day’ of old-time fairy stories. The couple would then part, if they wished, and go on their seperate ways, no harm done.

Unless you were a king of England, of course, who may well have already pre-contracted a marriage in a similar style and who was expected to marry a foreign princess…

The fact that several sources quote May 1 as the date of Edward’s wedding is interesting. It may quite literally be the case…or it could well be that the writers (or those from whom they had gleaned the information from) were aware of the traditional significance of May 1 in regards to impermanent, irregular marriages.

Indeed, far be it from the idea some traditionalists seem to take, that Edward’s marriage was perfectly acceptable to all before Richard ‘invented’ the idea of a pre-contract, it seems that that many already had doubts of its legality. Mancini, for instance says that Elizabeth Woodville,  years before the events of 1483,  was  reproached with calumnies ‘namely that according to established usage she was not the legitimate wife of the king.’ He seemed to believe  this was because she had been married before and hence was not a virgin, but there was no such impediment to marriage within the English royal house–Eleanor of Aquitaine,for instance, had been married and had several children before espousing Henry II. So it had to be something else. Later Mancini mentions Edward being legally contracted to another woman. He mistakes this for Bona of Savoy, who Warwick sought as a bride for Edward, and he does not seem to doubt the veracity of  this ‘proxy marriage’, although he has the wrong woman.

Certainly, it seems that many people in late medieval England believed *something* was irregular about Edward and Elizabeth’s marriage, and giving it the traditional May 1st day may well be affirming that fact.

A recent article from History Today on Edward’s marriage and those of his infamous grandson Henry VIII:

http://www.historytoday.com/eric-ives/marrying-love-experience-edward-iv-and-henry-viiiedliz

 

 

RICARDIAN AND MEDIEVAL NORTHAMPTON

When people think of places connected with Richard III, they sometimes think of Northamptonshire due to his birthplace at Fotheringhay…but seldom of the town of Northampton itself.
However, the town, although having lost in grandest medieval structures in two devastating fires, still has features of interest to Ricardians, Wars of the Roses students and medievalists. It was a highly important place in the Middle Ages, though declining in fortunes after the Black Death, due to its strategic location.
The following is a short guide to extant places and to places long gone, which Richard may have seen or passed on his brief but important stay in the town:
St James Abbey: At the foot of the former lift-testing tower known as the Lighthouse, once stood the important Abbey of St James. The scallop was its symbol, denoting an affinity with pilgrims on the way to the shrine of St James de Compostela in Spain. In his will written before his execution at Pontefract Castle, Anthony Rivers mentions this abbey; apparently he had taken some land from the monks and was trying at the last to make amends. The abbey was completely razed in the Reformation; modern day archaeologists could only guess at the plan when excavated. Over 250 burials were discovered, some high status.
Northampton Castle: Now the site of the railway, the castle was once a great royal residence. Several parliaments were held here. Henry II came face to face with Thomas a Becket in the castle and uttered his famous line, ‘Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?’ King John stayed here while buying a pair of boots from the town’s famous cordwainers. By Richard’s time, the castle, like many others across England, was beginning to decline and was being used more and more as a prison. It is unlikely he stayed in the decaying pile when, as Duke of Gloucester, he arrived in Northampton in 1483, expecting to meet Rivers and Edward V.
In 1662 much of the castle was demolished, though some parts remained as a gaol. Some earthworks and masonry survived into the 1860’s but the coming of the railways saw those scant remains razed. All that remains today is the postern gate, no longer in its original position, and earthworks on either side of St Andrew’s Road. One of these mounds does contain chambers that were excavated then refilled for preservation.
St Peter’s Church: Standing near the castle, St Peter’s is a fine medieval church, built around 1130 by Simon de Senlis II, and a happy survivor of the great fire. It is situated near the site of a Saxon royal palace, and inside is a large Saxon coffin lid decorated with a Green Man. Norman arches abound and the capitals of the pillars are heavily decorated with foliage, scrolls, and beasts. One carving shows a man being swallowed by amonster, perhaps representing Jonah and the Whale.
St Gregory’s Church: A little further down Marefair, is Freeschool Street. Here lies a large heap of rubble and brick behind fencing, overgrown and rubbish-strewn. On this site stood St Gregory’s church; at the corners of the pile a small amount of ashlar blocks can be traced and other remains have been found in nearby cellars. In 1980’s digs a charnel house was found nearby, belonging either to St Gregory’s or the chapel of Mary Magdalene. St Gregory’s also had an interesting legend: it housed a relic called The Holy Rood in the Wall, supposedly brought back to England by a pilgrim who found it near the spot where Christ was crucified. An angel appeared to the pilgrim when he reached Northampton, telling him that here in the heart of England a church must be built. The church has a Ricardian association—it was in the patronage of the Hastings family, who founded a Guild in 1473 for the Holy Rood in the Wall, and it may be the church where King Richard appointed a chaplain to ‘pray for him in a chapel before the Holy Rood at Northampton.’
All Saint’s Church: Passing further into the town, medieval street names appear such as Gold and Silver Street and the Drapery. The central church in town is All Saints or All Hallows. The original medieval church was destroyed in the Great Fire of Northampton, leaving just tower and crypt; the present building dates from around 1680. It was the largest church in town and thought to be where the Barons swore oaths to Henry I to support his daughter Matilda as Queen. One lord who swore the oath was Stephen of Blois; he ended up taking the crown for himself, and the country was plunged into civil war. There was also an incident when a thief and murderer was wrongly ascribed saintly miracles at his tomb within the church…a riot ensued over it and swords drawn in church before the St Hugh of Lincoln halted the fracas by leaping on the tomb and waving his crozier.
The Market Square: The churchyard of All Saints was originally used for market trading; this expanded into the present Market Square after Henry III forbade the use of the churchyard. It is one of the largest Market Squares in England and here in 1469 William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, and his brother Sir Richard were executed by Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, after the battle of Edgcote. It is probable that this area, near the now-vanished 14th c Guildhall was full of hostelries, and it may be in this area where Richard of Gloucester and the Duke of Buckingham met Anthony Woodville and found he had not brought young Edward V with him as agreed. His excuse was that the town might be too crowded with so many men arriving, but this was a poor excuse as Northampton had held parliaments; his words would have aroused immediate suspicion in the two Dukes.
St Katherine: This chapel of ease in College Lane was built for prayers for the souls of plague victims (Northampton was heavily affected by the plague, which sent the town into steep decline…Richard III reduced the town’s fee farm in 1484 due to the hardship still experienced there.)  St Katherine’s walls have gone but the churchyard with some flattened graves remains and retains a gloomy atmosphere. The college of All Saints, founded by Henry VI, once stood in this area too; not to be confused with the earlier Northampton College that once rivalled Oxford and Cambridge. Its licence however was revoked in the time of Henry III.
Greyfriars: Largest and most lavish of Northampton’s monastic buildings, Greyfriars stood on the site of Greyfriars bus station, now also demolished. It had a church, two cloisters and a school. Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, grandfather of Henry Stafford, was interred here after his death at the battle of Northampton in 1460. Several burials were discovered in 1972 excavations and occasionally surrounding roads have been known to collapse into hidden underground chambers.
St John’s and St Thomas’s Hospitals: St John’s is a fine medieval building at the bottom of Bridge Street near the site of the old town walls, the only non-religious medieval structure still extant in Northampton. It is said some of the dead from the Battle of Northmpton were brought here. St Thomas’s Hospital, built in 1450 and dedicated to Thomas Becket, also stood nearby in a dilapidated condition till the Victorians destroyed it completely. One window at St John’s contains a male figure and the name Richard Sherd—he was master there in 1474.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre: Situated on Sheep Street, this church is one of only four round medieval churches in England. It was built by Simon de Senlis I after he went on Crusade and visited Jerusalem. Made in imitation of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre there, it is roughly half the size of the original.
Other sites: St Giles is another remaining medieval church but has few notable features. At least 6 or 7 other churches and chapels existed, along with the smaller religious houses such as those of the Poor Clares and Friars of the Sack. A leper hospital, St Leonard’s, stood outside the main centre at Cotton End. Another major priory, St Andrews, stood on the far side of the castle near the river, and it was here Becket stayed while awaiting trial. Not one stone remains, although some buildings survived the Dissolution.
Delapre Abbey and the site of the Battle of Northampton: Simon de Senlis built St Mary de la Pre, near Hardingstone, during the reign of King Stephen. It was the only house of Cluniac nuns in England. The body of Eleanor of Castile, wife of Edward I, rested at Delapre for a night and an Eleanor Cross still stands a little up the road, its top broken by lightning. The present building at Delapre is a more modern house but the lower floors follow the line of the nunnery cloisters, and there is at least one medieval door/staircase and a medieval stone lamp.
In 1460 the Battle of Northamptom was fought in the nearby fields, a major battle of the Wars of the Roses. Here Edward Earl of March, along with the Earl of Warwick, faced the forces of Henry VI. Lord Grey of Ruthin betrayed his Lancastrian lords and allowed the Yorkists access to the enemy camp. The Duke of Buckingham, Lord Egremont, Lord Beaumont and the earl of Shrewbury were Lancastrian notables who died protecting the King’s tent. Other Lancastrians were driven back into the river and slain. Henry VI was captured, housed for the night in the abbey, then taken to the Tower of London. Some of the dead from the battle were probably interred in the abbey.

NorthamptonMap_1610

Broom Sweeps Clean

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apparently, an old Suffolk tradition states:

‘If you sweep the house with blossomed Broom in May

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

picture of Broom plant

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

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

Richard’s ancestress on a rugby shirt

As the European rugby season enters another phase this week, we can focus on Blanche de Castile (1188-1252), granddaughter of Henry II, wife of Louis VIII, mother of and regent to (St.) Louis IX and great-grandmother of Isabelle, who married Edward II to become Richard III’s great-great-great-grandmother.

In 2008, Stade Francais developed a new third choice shirt, festooned with images of Blanche on their usual blue and pink colours. Those of our readers who are colourblind will wonder what the fuss is about:

StadeFrancais

A little of the history of Dartmouth in Devon….

My recent research into the comings and goings of those involved in the Perkin Warbeck mystery revealed some interesting facts about the history of Dartmouth, now famous and loved for the coastal beauty that brings thousands of people to see it every summer. In the course of delving around for information, I came upon what is to me an exceedingly interesting piece from the By the Dart website. http://www.bythedart.co.uk/Triangular%20Trade%20-%20The%20Making%20of%20Dartmouth/ and have taken the liberty of reproducing some of it here. I take no credit at all for the contents, which is all down to the folk at By the Dart.

Maybe it does not mention Richard III, but it does give a glimpse of what Dartmouth was like during his time. The town’s past was as colourful as its present.

cog ship - 15th century - Dartmouth, Devon

Triangular Trade – The Making of Dartmouth

In the 13th Century, Dartmouth’s rich became wealthy often by participating in the Bordeaux wine trade.

The King, Henry II, father of Richard the Lionheart and the cowardly John – he of Robin Hood and Magna Carta fame – ruled a large area of France, including Aquitaine and Bordeaux.

This led to a rather handy situation in which imports of the famous Bordeaux wine were not subject to import duties. Men with ships capable of sailing back and forth across the unpredictable Bay of Biscay – such as John Hauley, the town’s Mayor, MP and brigand for hire – probably made their fortune from this trade.

But then in 1453, Bordeaux fell to the French, thanks to the inept rule of Henry VI, and suddenly rich merchants had nowhere with which to trade for free….

But then came Newfoundland.

From the early 16th century, fishermen had been travelling from Dartmouth, across the Atlantic in tiny boats, and spending the summer months fishing in the abundant fishing grounds off Canada’s Newfoundland shore.

For most of that time they had shared the fishing grounds with Spanish ships, and were in fact outnumbered by them. But then the Spanish confiscated a number of British ships in a Dutch harbour and gave the Crown a great excuse to throw its weight around. Many of the Spanish ships fishing the Newfoundland shore were boarded and taken to England. Spain, stretched by a protracted war in Europe, left the area completely undefended.

Suddenly there was a chance to make the fishing grounds really pay – and Dartmouth sailors were at the forefront of the charge to do so. The triangular trade was born.

24 ships would set out each spring, collect salt from the Bay of Biscay, and then sail for the Newfoundland shores – 16 would fish and 8 would prepare the catch using the salt and collect other valuable products such as oil for lamps and soap from the fishes’ livers.

The ships would be packed over the season and then would sail to the Mediterranean or sometimes to the Caribbean. They would exchange the fish products for wine, fruit or sugar – and then sail back to England to sell these valuable products, along with some of the fish. Boats would flock to Dartmouth to buy the fish and other products. The people of Dartmouth bought wood and high quality products including beautiful cloth, and began to lead an easier life.

They also began to build the town’s infrastructure which we see around us today.

This trade started around the same time that Britain was creating strong ties with Portugal – the two countries fought together against their common enemy Spain – and so British traders were  spared heavy import and export duties on goods.

Portuguese wine was discovered to ‘age’ well into Port after being used as ballast in some of the boats on their two leg trading mission. Dartmouth ships began to have their holds stocked with the stuff to age as they sailed across the Atlantic and then sold on for a high profit.

It was on this ‘triangle of trade’ that Dartmouth’s wealth was based for the next two centuries . . . .

. . . . Brave men sailed across a wide and merciless sea in ships modern sailors would hesitate to take around to Torbay for this influential trade. Hard work, detailed planning and a determination to bring prosperity to their community resulted in the remarkable growth and development of Dartmouth.

First Published June 2011 By The Dart

– See more at: http://www.bythedart.co.uk/Triangular%20Trade%20-%20The%20Making%20of%20Dartmouth/#sthash.nLmfJzwT.dpuf

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