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SARUM LIGHTS–A COMMEMORATION

2020 is the 800th Anniversary of the founding of Salisbury Cathedral. Before ‘New Salisbury’ came into existence, the town stood on the windy cone of Old Sarum, a huge iron-age hillfort with massive earthen ramparts. There was a particularly forbidding Norman castle on the height, with a windswept bridge over a deep moat–here, Henry II kept his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine imprisoned for some sixteen years,  served by a single loyal lady-in-waiting. The old town also had a cathedral, begun somewhere after 1075. It was rather an ill-fated building, however, being severely damaged in a storm just five days after consecration.  Sometime in the late 12th century, it was decided to move the cathedral from the height due to the lack of water. The cathedral was dismantled and much of the stonework taken down to the new site near the river, where the town of Salisbury as we know it would grow around it. The first stones of the English-style Gothic building were laid in 1220, in the reign of Henry III, with foundation stones being laid by, among other notables, the King’s half-uncle, William Longespee and his wife Ela, Countess of Salisbury, a remarkable woman who later became Sheriff of Wiltshire.

To commemorate the founding of Salisbury cathedral, a light show recently took place within the great building  with projections of  charters, drawings, stained glass, saints and rulers who played a part in Salisbury’s history. On the bleak ruins of Old Sarum, beams of light were shot high into the night sky so that they were visible from Salisbury town centre.

There are many interesting monuments inside the cathedral, including that of founder William Longespee (who was thought to have been poisoned–and a RAT found in his skull when his tomb was opened was full of arsenic!), Sir John Cheney, the 6ft 6 giant who was unhorsed by Richard III at Bosworth, and possibly Lionel Woodville, who was Bishop there until Buckingham’s rebellion, when he fled to Brittany hearing of  Buckingham’s failure. Salisbury also has one of the copies of Magna Carta and the tallest spire in England. The building of the cathedral was fictionalised in the best-selling novel ‘PILLARS OF THE EARTH’ by Ken Follett, which recently was made into a TV series.

 

SARUM LIGHTS VIDEO

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.

Mer de Mort reviewed

Anything new from the Legendary Ten Seconds is always to be greeted with delight, and this new album does not disappoint. It tells the story of the House of Mortimer from its beginnings in France, to its ultimate destiny on the throne of England, through its descendants of the House of York, Edward IV and Richard III.

The narratives are read by actor John Challis, who played Boycie in Only Fools and Horses and who now lives at Wigmore Abbey. (Lucky man!)

Mortimer Overture. Impressive opening, with an almost marching rhythm – it’s possible to imagine one of the Mortimer earls riding past at the head of his dazzling retinue, and then disappearing along the road. I liked this very much. One of my favourite tracks.

Mortimer Castle. I liked the harmonies on this track. The background is perfect in the chorus, and I particularly liked the echo effect.

The Marcher Lords. And a powerful, influential and often tetchy lot they were too! A wise king handled them with caution! This is a strong song, and one can picture the generations of Mortimers standing firm.

When Christ and his Saints Slept. This one is about the period known as the Anarchy, which ended when Henry II ascended the throne. Once again, I particularly liked the background, which adds so much.

De Montfort. Tells a bloody story of the battle that ended with the death of Simon de Montfort. As a reminder of how brutal those days could often be, Roger Mortimer sent his wife de Montfort’s head as a trophy! Some good sounds in this one, making me think of heads being lopped!

The Round Table 1279. A song about an “Arthurian” tournament, creating a dazzling scene of knights in armour, fine horses, and beautiful women.

Two Thousand Marks. About the Roger Mortimer, and his dealings with Piers Gaveston, the influential favourite of King Edward II. This Roger eventually deposed the king and became the lover of Queen Isabella. We all know the outcome, and this song bowls along as it relates events.

The Privy Seal and the Royal Shield. Another song about Roger, and Mortimer participation at Bannockburn. I liked this one a lot. A great join-in chorus.

The King of Folly. Opens with a trumpet and set firmly in the year 1329 and great celebratory events at Wigmore Castle. A very enjoyable tune and rhythm.

The Tragedy of Roger Mortimer and the Mystery of Edward II. A haunting guitar solo opening for this song about Edward II’s fate at Berkeley Castle. Did he really die there? A quaint atmosphere pervades this song, which seeks the truth about Edward’s demise. . .and relates how his great foe, Roger Mortimer, eventually paid the price for his overreaching ambition. Maybe Edward lived on in obscurity.

Leintwardine. How Edward III, the man who ordered Roger Mortimer’s execution, went to Leintwardine to lay an offering of golden cloth at the feet of a statue of the Virgin Mary. I liked this one. It’s quietly understated, and a little eerie. Perhaps because a Mortimer Earl never did wear the crown, although it is from one of their daughters that the House of York descended.

Mer de Mort. A song that gives a voice to Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March. This is a delightful song, and one of my favourites on the album.

Mer de Mort, Part II. Once again Edmund expresses his feelings, and laments that his elder brother has no grave. This song echoes the first Mer de Mort, but is different. Very sad.

Henry VI. A song about the last Lancastrian king, who was to lose his throne to the Yorkist Edward IV, a descendant of the Mortimers. I like the rhythm of this song, which moves along pleasingly. It actually took a fair time to get rid of Henry VI! He was an incompetent king, but he went in the end, thank heaven. A good track.

Sunnes of York. Another easy treat, relating the tale of the how the House of Mortimer became the House of York. And tells of the final generation of Yorkist brothers, Edward IV, George of Clarence and Richard III. The House of York did not only claim the throne through the name of York, but, importantly, through the Mortimers, who descended from a more senior branch of the royal family. Familiar LTS territory. This song bowls along.

The Chapel of Sir John. A brisk rhythm for a rather spooky song, about what is seen in the windows, floor and screen of the medieval chapel of Sir John Evans in St  Matthew’s Church, Coldridge in Devon. The words recreate the atmosphere, and so does the music. An excellent conclusion.

This album marks a great advance in the LTS repertoire. A richer, fuller sound that sets it apart. Very much to my liking, and I hope, to yours.

Recommended!

Castles for Sale

After a long period of being up for sale, it seems Sheriff Hutton Castle has at last found a buyer. With any luck, maybe there will be better access to the ruins than in the past.

SHERIFF HUTTON SALE

In the same week the announcement {link to 4th June) came that Sheriff Hutton was sold, another castle with Wars of the Roses connections came on the market–this time Wigmore Castle in Herefordshire. It became a castle of the Mortimers during the reign of William Rufus, when the King seized it from its owners and presented it to Ranulph de Mortimer.

It was besieged by Henry II when its owner at the time Hugh de Mortimer refused to give up Bridgnorth castle. Some outlying earthworks may remain from the seige.

It was also the home of Maude Mortimer (maiden name de Braose) who helped rescue the young Edward I from captivity. An ardent Royalist, after the battle of Evesham Maude placed the head of Simon de Montfort, still on the tip of a lance, in the Great Hall and held a sumptuous banquet to celebrate the Royalist victory.

One of the most famous residents was Roger Mortimer, the supposed lover of Queen Isabella, who had become the most important person in the land after the deposition of Edward II. It was Roger who also acquired Ludlow Castle for the Mortimer family through his marriage to the heiress Joan de Geneville. He held an impressive tournament there with the court, including the young Edward III, present. Of course, a few years later, Edward captured Mortimer and had him executed for his part in his father’s downfall.

The male Mortimer line  died out so the castle was passed on through Anne Mortimer, the mother of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York. It was from the walls of Wigmore that Edward IV marched out to his victory at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross, a few miles down the road.

Today the castle is in the care of English Heritage (and will presumable remain so after the sale as the details say the new owner does not have to worry about the upkeep)  It has only had minimal excavation and the decision was taken to let the site be ‘one with nature’ with bushes and trees growing  wild around the ruins. The entrance archway is quite astonishing because it has sunk so deeply into the surrounding earth, with a good deal of stonework being buried far below.

Oh, if those buried walls could rise again and those ancient stones speak about the things they have seen!

WIGMORE SALE

 

RETURN OF THE TURBULENT PRIEST’S TUNIC

In 2020 there are planned commemorations of the martyrdom of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. King Henry II blew his top, shouted words to the effects of ‘Who will rid me of this turbulent priest? and four knights clunked off towards Canterbury, thinking the King would reward them well if they disposed of Thomas. The rest, as they say, is history. Henry  was publicly flogged for his part in the crime and Thomas Becket became a popular saint, in fact one of the most popular saints of the Middle Ages.

As part of the commemorations, Canterbury has applied to the Vatican to have Becket’s blood-stained tunicle returned to England for a time. Apparently,  rumour has it that Henry VII gave the relic to Rome as part of a trade off in 1485, hoping that if they got the bloodied vestments, they in turn would make the Lancastrian Henry VI  a saint.

His ploy didn’t work. Henry VI remained un-beatified and the Vatican kept the tunicle, which most likely saved it from destruction when Henry VII’s son Henry VIII had the saint’s shrine destroyed.

A few years ago, the item was examined by forensic specialists who believe it is indeed authentic, unlike many other relics.

BECKETSBLOODYTUNICRETURNS (click for article)

 

 

Bestwood Park, where Richard used to hunt….

I can’t say that this article is all that informative, or, indeed, erudite, but it is about Bestwood Park, which as we all know was a favourite hunting park for many of our monarchs. Including Richard, of course, and he does get a mention.

If nothing else, the wintry illustrations show what it may have been like if Richard chose to hunt, or even just ride, there during the colder months.

I remember Bestwood from my teens, when I lived in nearby Hucknall. I cycled there at dusk one summer evening, and was greatly spooked by a creepy old building set among thick trees. Not for the faint-hearted!

A corkscrew made from bits of Old London Bridge….

London Bridge corkscrew

In 2014, a broken Victorian corkscrew made from pieces of old London Bridge was bought for £40,000 at an auction in Essex, over 100 times its asking price. See this article/, from which the following is taken:-

“The corkscrew, the components of which are thought to be up to 800 years old, was bought by an “anonymous European collector” at the sale in Colchester.

“Sold by Reeman Dansie Auctioneers (which last year old a collection of photographs showing German pilots from WWI drinking champagne) the corkscrew had an asking price of just £400 – £600.

“John Benson, the auctioneer at the sale, said the bid “caught us all unawares” and apparently there was a round of applause when the gavel came down.

“Engraved with the words: “”Made from the Iron Shoe that was taken from a pillar. That was 656 Years in the Foundation of Old London Bridge,” the corkscrew was made by Ovenston of 72 Great Titchfield Street in London.

London Bridge - The new bridge was built 180 feet west of the old Bridge and for a time Londoners could see both the old bridge and the new side-by-side.

The new bridge was built 180 feet west of the old bridge and for a time Londoners could see both the old bridge and the new side-by-side.

“However, despite being in relatively good condition the corkscrew does not work properly, the catalogue explaining that the “ratchet does not engage with the spring”.

“Old London Bridge was built between 1176 and the early 13th century, paid for with a tax on wool imposed by King Henry II (when England was the centre of the European wool trade), famously covered in houses and shops (see below) it was torn down in 1831 when new London Bridge was opened (and which now resides in Havasu City, Arizona).

“The current London Bridge is at least the fourth incarnation of the famous span and was built between 1967 and 1972, opening in March 1973.”

London Bridge - toward the end

London Bridge toward the end

 

 

NEW EXCAVATIONS AT CLARENDON PALACE

Clarendon Palace is a little known historical site. Most  people in Salisbury know it’s there; less can tell you how to reach it. There is no car park; you won’t find tourist coaches. Pull in on the narrow leafy green lane then you must walk, like a Hobbit leaving the Shire, past farms and across a green landscape, eventually ascending a rise where you join a wooded track following the line of an old Roman road. Salisbury Cathedral spire is behind you, a needle in the haze; before you lie the woods, hiding all for a brief time. Then you see the trees part near a thatched cottage– a gaunt grey ruin appears before you in a field that is sometimes home to a pack of friendly llamas.

It is badly ruined; only one substantial wall remains, a stone platform with shallow steps and outlines of chambers in the ground. The steps to the one-time treasury lead into a slumping earthen pit. Bits of the red roof tiles lie scattered over  the site; sometimes you can find one in good condition with the hole for a large medieval nail still intact.

These are the remains of a grand Plantagenet Palace. Henry II  founded it and it was there his struggles with Thomas Becket began,  but it was in the time of his grandson, Henry III, that it began to truly flourish. Henry enlarged and beautified it for his Queen, Eleanor of Provence, adding in a fireplace carved with figures representing the 12 months of the year, gardens, stained glass and a chapel painted with scenes from the life of St Katherine. The pink, golden and grey  tiled floors were a wonder ; some were found in post-war excavations, and are now in the British Museum.

It was at Clarendon Palace in the summer of 1453, that Henry VI first exhibited  his first signs of madness–he became catatonic, slumped down insensible. Chroniclers stated he ‘suddenly was taken and smitten with a frenzy and his wit and reason withdrawn’.

After that, the Palace was seldom in use (although, interestingly, another possible mistress of Edward IV was called ‘Catherine of Claringdon’, which is probably Clarendon), falling into total disrepair after 1485.  Elizabeth I stopped there once  but the chambers were so ruinous by that time she had to find alternative accommodation in a ‘banqueting hall.’

Recently it has been announced that new excavations will be taking place at the Palace, the first in over 30 years, and there are plans to hold a medieval fair in 2020 (it will be interesting to see how they work that one with the parking!) Perhaps there are still treasures to be found and maybe  the Palace will become better known, but I hope in a way it never becomes too popular, for as it stands, in ruined isolation, you can imagine the presence of shades of kings, with the only sounds in the world being the wind in the trees and the birdsong…

 

CLARENDON PALACE NEW EXCAVATIONS

 

Reconstruction of the Palace, and tiles from the chapel.

Joan Plantagenet Queen of Sicily

joan_of_england

Joan Plantagenet Queen of Sicily

Being a Sicilian living in the UK, I am fond of both countries’ history. I have often wondered if there was a link between these two islands and I soon found one: Joan Plantagenet Queen of Sicily.

The story of this woman is so interesting and compelling especially because Joan was a very strong and determined person, a well-known characteristic predominant in the Plantagenet ancestry.

During her short life, Joan went through a series of events worthy of an adventure movie. She lived for just 33 years but so intensely and enough to be still one of the most important characters in the turbulent history of Sicily.

Daughter of Henry II and Eleonor of Aquitaine, Joan was also the sister of Richard I better known as the Lionheart. She was born in October 1165 (the day is unfortunately unknown) at Château d’Angers in Anjou. She was the seventh child of her family and she spent her youth both in Winchester and Poitiers. She received an excellent education as she was a princess so she was expected to marry a royal person. Apart from studying French, Latin and English, she also learned music, sewing, singing and horseriding, one of her favourite pastime.

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La Cuba, the royal palace of the Plantagenets in Palermo

She was so beautiful and intelligent that William II of Sicily married her when she was only 12. On 27th August 1176, Joan left England to sail for Sicily where she married and was crowned Queen of Sicily in Palermo Cathedral on 13th February 1177. Her voyage was dreadful but Joan soon forgot it as she enjoyed both her marriage and the warm climate of Sicily.

Very soon, her life started to meet the first obstacles. She was unable to produce an heir for the throne of Sicily so she was in danger of being refused by her husband but William was a very good man and rejected the idea of annulling their union as he truly loved her. Unfortunately, William died in November 1189 and Sicily fell in the hands of the bastard cousin of William, Tancred who seized the dowry of Joan including many lands. In 1190, Richard the Lionheart, the favourite brother of Joan, arrived in Italy on his way to the Holy Land. He warned Tancred to give back the dowry and when he refused, Richard took Messina and put the city on fire. Tancred was obliged to return the dowry.

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Palermo Cathedral

Sadly, the adventures of Joan were not over. Richard put her and his future wife Berengaria on a ship to send them back to England but it seems that travelling by sea was not the best way for Joan. A terrible storm stranded the ship to Cyprus while Richard’s ship landed in Crete. At that time Cyprus was in the hands of the despot Commenus who immediately tried to take advantage of his unexpected luck. He tried to capture the two women but once again the valiant Richard saved his sister imprisoning Commenus.

The link between Richard and Joan was a very strong one. She loved him and he was always ready to save her from perils. Notwithstanding this though, Richard tried to arrange a wedding between Joan and Saladin’s brother to put an end to the Holy War but he had to come to terms with the Church. The high ranks of it warned Richard he would have been excommunicated so the wedding never took place. Eventually, Joan married Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse. This union was blessed with the birth of children.

Joan had all the qualities and the spirit of the Plantagenets. After she recovered from the birth of her last child, she decided to make right all the wrong done to her husband and she put Les Cassés under siege. Unluckily, traitors started a fire and she had to abandon the camp. She was pregnant again and she decided to ask his brother for help but she soon discovered he had aready died.

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Fontevrault Abbey

She asked and obtained to have a tomb granted in Fontevrault Abbey. This was not a place suitable for women especially if pregnant but Joan could have it. Tired for the effort of the siege and devastated by the death of her beloved brother, Joan died in childbirth on 4th September 1199. The child was born thank to a Cesarean section after Joan’s death. He was named Richard and died soon after being baptized.

Joan was buried in Fontevrault Abbey close to her brother Richard as she had always desired.

Dyer or Dire?

Many of you will remember the episode of “Who do you think you are” in which Danny Dyer was revealed as a descendant of Edward III. In this new two part series, he “meets” a few prominent ancestors, some even more distant.

The first episode began with Rollo, ancestor of the Dukes of Normandy, which saw Dyer visit Sweden, although Danes and Norwegians also claim that Viking dynast, to learn sparring with a sword and shield. Then he went to the Tower to talk about William I and Dover Castle for Henry II, discussing his rebellious sons and his mixed relationship with Becket. At every stage, riding a horse, jousting or dyeing (Dyeing?), he was accompanied by a professional genealogist (Anthony Adolph, in a cafe opposite Buckingham Palace) or a historian, if not one of television’s “usual suspects”. At the end, Dyer visited France to learn of a slightly different ancestor – St. Louis IX, although Margaret of Wessex is another canonised forebear.

The second episode did feature some real historians: Elizabeth Norton, Chris Given-Wilson, Tobias Capwell and Tracy Borman. The opening scene had Isabella on the Leeds Castle drawbridge shouting at Edward II (Dyer): “Git aht ov moi carsel” (you may need Google Translate, but not from French). We were shown an image of Hugh le Despencer’s grisly execution, without pointing out that there were two of that name, followed by Edward’s confinement in Berkeley Castle, forced abdication and the legend of his even grislier end. Henry “Hotspur” Percy, who died in battle at Shrewsbury, followed as Dyer tried on late mediaeval armour. The next scenes concerned Sir John Seymour at Wolf Hall, inveigling his daughter into Henry VIII’s world, as Dyer dressed up and tried “Tudor” dancing. We then moved on to Helmingham Hall as Catherine Cromwell married Lord Tollemache, whose successor met Dyer, his cousin, again. The series concluded with a “sugar banquet” as the star’s family joined in, dressed as Elizabeth I’s contemporaries.

Both programmes were informative about mediaeval life, such as the “silver pennies” bearing Dyer’s image and the West Ham badge, although his stereotypical East London patois grates a little. It brought to mind Ray Winstone as Henry VIII (“I have been betrayed!”) or Nick Knowles‘ egregious Historyonics.

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