murreyandblue

A great WordPress.com site

Archive for the tag “Henry II”

Fabulous discovery of more coins, but alas, none from the reign of Richard III….

coins

“…A spectacular hoard of centuries-old coins found in a brook in the borough [Atherton] gives a small but perfectly-formed window into the past…”

Fancy that. Thomas Jackson was poking around in a brook when he found a small rusty box, containing…43 old coins! How wonderful. The coins are apparently not that valuable. The earliest is from the reign of Henry III, the latest from the time of the Civil War.

It makes me want to don my wellies and set off for the nearest stream! Well done Mr Jackson.

For more about this, see here.

 

 

Advertisements

The Greatest Knight and Richard III

I have previously posted about my family history connections with Richard III here and I have since found out more interesting links.

One such is William Marshall. Called by some the greatest ever knight, he is one of my direct ancestors and also the direct ancestor of Richard III.

William had an eventful life. He was born in 1146 or 1147 and, as a young boy, he was used as a hostage by King Stephen when William’s father, who was supporting Matilda against Stephen, was besieged by the king in Newbury Castle. William’s father, John, when told that William would be hanged if he didn’t surrender, was reported to have said: “I still have the hammer and the anvil with which to forge still more and better sons!” The King made as if he was going to fire the young William at the castle from a pierrière (a type of trebuchet), but could not bring himself to harm the boy and he survived.

Photo of a Pierrière

Pierrière

Later, he was sent to Normandy to learn the business of becoming a knight, to be brought up in the household of William de Tancarville, a great magnate and cousin of young William’s mother. He was knighted on campaign in Normandy in 1166 and the next year was taken to his first tournament where he found his true calling. In 1168 he was injured in a skirmish and captured, but one of his captors aided him by smuggling  clean bandages (for the wound in his thigh) to him inside a loaf of bread, which may have saved his life. He was ransomed by Eleanor of Aquitaine, remaining a member of her household for the next two years.

A supporter of Young King Henry, son of Henry II, he travelled with him to Europe where they participated in knightly tournaments. From 1176 to 1182 both Marshall and the Young King gained prestige from winning tournaments. These were dangerous, often deadly, staged battles in which money and prizes could be won by capturing and ransoming opponents, their horses and armour. Marshall became a legendary champion in the lists: while on his deathbed, he claimed he had beaten five hundred knights during his tournament career.

Picture of mediaeval jousting

When the Young King died on 11th June 1183, he asked Marshall to fulfill the vow he (the Young King) had made the year before, to go on a crusade to the Holy Land, which William did, returning two years later and vowing to join the Knights Templar on his deathbed.

He rejoined the court of Henry II and aided him when Henry’s son, Richard, rebelled against him. Marshall unhorsed Richard in a skirmish and killed his horse to demonstrate that he could have killed the man. He was said to have been the only one ever to have unhorsed Richard, later to become Richard I, the Lionheart. Richard nevertheless welcomed Marshall to his court, after he became king, knowing his legendary loyalty and military prowess would be useful to him.

Richard fulfilled his father’s promise to Marshall of the hand in marriage and estates of Isabel de Clare and the marriage happened in August 1189, when William was 43 and Isabel just 17. He acquired great wealth and land from the marriage, including the castle of Pembroke, becoming one of the richest men in England. He also became the Earl of Pembroke eventually and the couple had five sons and five daughters.

Marshall was part of the council of regency for Richard while the king was on crusade and later supported King John although there were many fallings out over the years. However, he remained loyal to him despite their differences and was one of the few English earls to remian loyal to John during the first Barons’ War. King John trusted him to ensure the succession of his son, Henry III, and it was Marshall who was responsible for the kings’ funeral and burial at Worcester Cathedral. He was named as protector of the young king Henry III, who was aged nine, and acted as regent for him. He was now about seventy but he still fought for the young king at the head of his army and defeated Prince Louis and the rebel barons at the Battle of Lincoln.

When he realised his health was failing and he was dying in 1219, he called a meeting and appointed the Papal Legate, Pandulf Verraccio, as regent. In fulfillment of his vow, he was invested into the order of the Knights Templar on his deathbed and is buried in the Temple Church in London, where his tomb can still be seen.

Photo of the tomb of William MarshallTomb of William Marshall

During his life he served under five kings and lived a rich and full life. He founded Cartmel Priory and there is a memorial to him there:

Memorial in Cartmel Priory

Through his daughter, Isabel, William is ancestor to both the Bruce and Stewart kings of Scotland. Through his granddaughter Maud de Braose, daughter of his daughter, Eve, William is ancestor to the last Plantagenet kings, Edward IV through Richard III, and all English monarchs from Henry VIII right up to the present day queen. Actually, William is also the ancestor of Richard et al through another, older, daughter, Maud. See the family trees below. I have marked all the descendants of William Marshall with a green dot – you can see that Richard FitzAlan, the father of Lady Alice FitzAlan, was descended from Marshall on both sides.

Family tree of Richard

Family tree of Richard 2

Richard family tree 3

I wonder whether Richard inherited some of his heroic qualities from his illustrious ancestor – what do you think? And do you notice some other things they had in common?

 

 

Picture credits:

Pierrière by Jean-noël Lafargue (Jean-no) (Self-photographed) [FAL], via Wikimedia Commons

Jousting [Copyrighted free use], via Wikimedia Commons

Tomb of William Marshall by Richard Gough (Sepulchral Monuments in Great Britain. Vol 1.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sign at Pembroke Castle by Andrewrabbott (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

How Edward IV ascended the throne of England….

 

The Wars of the Roses did not commence, à la Bard, with white and red roses snatched and brandished in a garden by opposing lords, but they were foreshadowed at the turn of the fifteenth century when Henry of Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster, usurped and murdered Richard II.

Bolingbroke was the son and heir of Richard II’s uncle, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, through Gaunt’s first marriage, to Blanche of Lancaster. It was through Blanche that the dukedom came to Gaunt. Bolingbroke was therefore the undisputable heir of the House of Lancaster.

But Gaunt had other children by other women, especially a nest of illegitimate Beauforts by his liaison with Katherine de Roët/Swynford, who had been governess to his children by Blanche. Gaunt wanted the Beauforts to be legitimized, and Richard II eventually agreed. Letters Patent were issued in 1397.

When Bolingbroke stole the throne and murdered Richard, he also made sure that his half-siblings, the Beauforts, could not succeed to the throne. He did this by adding a clause to the original Patent of legitimation. This was popularly regarded as valid, but maybe it was not, because the original patent had received parliamentary sanction.

The Lancastrian line held power until the reign of Bolingbroke’s grandson, the weak, ineffectual Henry VI. At first childless, Henry had to decide on an heir. If the Beauforts were set aside, the next legitimate heir to the throne was Richard, 3rd Duke of York, who descended from Gaunt’s younger brother, Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York. But, York was also descended, through his Mortimer mother, from Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence, who was an older brother of Gaunt’s. Not the oldest, of course. That honour went to the Black Prince, father of Richard II.

Gaunt and the Lancastrians did their utmost to insist that rights to the throne could not descend through a female line. They were wrong. For instance, Henry II’s claim came through his mother, the Empress Matilda, whose opponent, Stephen, also claimed through his mother. So, the Lancastrians were good at dealing from the bottom of the pack. Gaunt himself laid claim to the throne of Castile in right of his second wife! And he had gained the incredibly wealthy and important dukedom of Lancaster through his first wife. But that was different, of course. Oh, of course. So, they were hypocrites.

This was the situation when Henry VI needed an heir. York felt, rightly, that he was the legitimate heir. He did not claim that the House of Lancaster had no right to the throne, only that he was the next heir. Then, miraculously (or by the divine intervention of the Beaufort Earl of Somerset) Henry VI’s queen provided the much-needed son. In the nick of time, eh? Poor Henry believed he was the father, but a lot of people saw hanky-panky at work…and Somerset’s Beaufort fruitfulness.

York’s claims went quiet again. But as the years passed, Henry’s queen, Margaret of Anjou, grew fearful that York’s designs on the crown would be at the expense of her son. She was aided and abetted in this by the powerful Duke of Somerset. York realized that he and his House were in danger of extinction, and chose to stand up for his rights.

Thus began the Wars of the Roses, a tussle that went on for decades and resulted in the crown going from Lancaster to York, and then back to Lancaster….if Henry Tudor can be described as a Lancastrian. He was descended through the Beauforts, who, according to Henry IV, could not succeed to the throne. But that is yet another story. So, too, is the fact that if the claim to the throne could descend through the female line, then Philippa, one of Gaunt’s daughters by Blanche of Lancaster, and thus full sister of Henry IV, had to be considered. She had married the King of Portugal, and had sons. Philippa’s younger sister, Elizabeth, had married the Duke of Exeter, but their line was not considered either. Besides, Philippa was the older sister, and her line not only legitimate, but secure. However, as far as I can ascertain, her claim does not appear to have been even vaguely considered.

By this time York was the father of four sons: Edward, Earl of March (Edward IV), Edmund, Earl of Rutland, George, Duke of Clarence, and Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Richard III). The first two were old enough to fight. Another of York’s great assets was the Earl of Warwick, who is now known to us as the “Kingmaker”.

With Margaret determined to protect her son’s rights, battles commenced, and fortunes swung. Then York and his second son, Edmund, were slain by treachery (the same fate as that suffered by the last of the sons, the brave Richard III) at the Battle of Wakefield. York and Edmund’s heads were displayed on the gate of York city. At least Richard III did not suffer that.

Now York’s eldest son, Edward, the new Duke of York, became the figurehead of the Yorkist cause. Bitterly angry about the fate of his father and brother, he took up the cudgels and, with Warwick at his side, triumphed over the Lancastrians to take the throne. He was proclaimed king on 4th March 1461. After a few years there was a hiccup, and he was forced to flee the country with his younger brother, George and Richard. Henry VI was reinstated. Edward returned, and after another bout of battles (and quarrelling with and alienating Warwick, to say nothing of having George switch sides more than once) Edward finally demolished Lancaster at the Battle of Tewkesbury on 4th May 1471. He gained victory with his brothers fighting at his side. Somerset was captured and beheaded. Margaret of Anjou’s son, the Prince of Wales, was also slain, and Margaret’s will finally broken. Days later, Henry VI, died in the Tower of “melancholy”. Hmm. Let’s just say that his survival would have been inconvenient to Edward, who wouldn’t want him returning to the throne again.

 

And so England had her first Yorkist king for the second time. If you see what I mean. The above is clearly somewhat condensed, and many of the finer points have had to be omitted, but it’s the gist of how handsome, dashing, charming Edward, Earl of March, became King Edward IV.

Robert S.P. Fripp’s “Power of a Woman”

Eleanor of Aquitaine was the daughter of a provincial Duke in France. Twice she married Kings and had many children, although she outlived most of them and several grandchildren, living into her ninth decade, suffering annulment and internal exile. Two of her sons became King of England and, through John “Sansterre”, she is the ancestress of every subsequent monarch.
In this book, Robert Fripp does for Eleanor what Graves did for Claudius, as she dictates her “memoirs” to a younger secretary. Most of us know much less about Eleanor than we would like and this is our opportunity to make amends.

 

The ten worst Britons in history?

This is a very entertaining and well-illustrated 2006 article, choosing one arch-villain for each century from the eleventh to the twentieth. The all-male list includes just one King but two Archbishops of Canterbury.

So what do you think?

Shepperdine, a hamlet on the shore of the Severn Estuary….

Shepperdine is a tiny settlement on the east shore of the Severn Estuary, SW of Berkeley, NW of Thornbury, and was once under the rule of the Berkeleys of Berkeley Castle, who hunted the now lost Horwood Forest that covered the area all the way to Bristol. This little part of England has not changed in centuries, but will soon be loomed over by a new nuclear power station, which will dominate everything and banish the past. So I am writing something about Shepperdine as I’ve known about it.

Shepperdine is generally referred to along with the manor of Hill, which is very close by. Hill was included in a grant of the Barony of Berkeley, bestowed upon Robert Fitzharding by Henry II after his accession in 1154. The manor stayed in the Berkeley family until coming into the possession of Robert Poyntz of nearby Iron Acton in 1418, whose family held it until 1609. I do not know much more of its history, except that the present manor house is a 19th-century building that replaced an earlier one.

joseph of arimathea's staff grows into hawthorn

It is said that Joseph of Arimathea didn’t only come to Glastonbury to strike his staff into the ground so that a holy thorn tree grew. No, indeed. Gloucestershire claims he visited Shepperdine too, and struck the ground with his staff again so that a second holy thorn grew, and, like Glastonbury, supposedly bloomed at Christmas. Unlikely? Well, no more so than Glastonbury’s claim, because Shepperdine is only a short voyage up the coast. I must come clean here, and admit that the story is probably the invention of a solitary priest in a nearby medieval chapel (now known as Chapel House) to boost income and alleviate his boredom.

Chapel House from distance

Part of the flat, marshy, dyke-crossed land between Hill and the estuary is known as the World’s End, and appropriately so. There, right beneath the sea wall, is Shepperdine, lonely, isolated, atmospheric and thought-provoking. It has also been known as Shepherdine and Shipperdine, and takes its name from the Danish vessels that beached here in Anglo-Saxon times, safe between the Severn and Horwood Forest.

LongShip2

Berkeley Vale has always been an area of farms, fields, orchards, sleepy villages and little winding back roads. It is famous for cider, perry, Single and Double Gloucester cheese, and all the other produce that comes from the rich land that lies in the lee of the sea defence. Stand on the levee with your back to the vale, and there is the wild, dangerously tidal Severn estuary, beyond which rise the hills of Wales and the Forest of Dean. From the Severn comes the wonderful harvest of the sea, salmon, eels and elvers, and all manner of other sea life. The vale has always had everything it needs, and had no need to change, which is why it is as unspoilt now as it always has been. As a matter of interest, Horwood Forest was disafforested in 1228, and to be certain of what this meant, I looked it up. Disafforest means to “reduce from the privileges of a forest to the state of ordinary land :  exempt from the forest laws”.

A walk along the sea wall (on top of which passes the Severn Way footpath) is to breathe more freely and clear the cobwebs that we all accumulate in our heads. But I feel sorry for that priest  on his own in the chapel, because to have such bracing, stimulating air day-in, day-out would be a little overwhelming, especially on a bleak winter’s day, with the incoming tide roaring and the wind howling. Too much fresh air already! Or whatever he would have muttered in mediaeval Latin! To himself, because there was no one there to listen.

For centuries the only way of getting along this coast was by water, or on foot or horse. And sometimes there was no getting along there at all because of floods. Shepperdine would have been engulfed in the Great Flood of 1607 (which is now suggested to have been a tsunami).

1607

The area has been on alert or inundated many times since then, and was in danger again in 2016

flood warning 2016

The Windbound Inn (closed in 2004 and now about to be/already is demolished) was only 7 metres above sea level, and nestled behind the levee that did not always protect it. The higher Severn tides can pour over the access to the Severn Way along the top of the levee. I read somewhere that water once poured down the inn’s chimneys to flood the place to a depth of four feet! What you see in the picture below is a modern first-floor gable extension, the original inn building is lower. The picture also shows how the inn huddles in the lee of the sea wall. In high tides, the water laps within feet of the building. In the distance in the photograph below you can see the old Severn suspension bridge, and a glimmer of the new crossing beyond it.

windbound behind embankment

Here’s a fascinating anecdote of Shepperdine from 18th September 1954 or 55. Lord Noel Buxtun walked right across the estuary, guided by a local man’s knowledge. The lowest point of the river is between Aylburton and Shepperdine, and is an old Roman ford. A zig-zag course was worked out for Lord Noel to follow. At the deepest point the river came up to his chest, but he made it to the other side.

Lord Noel Buxton crosses Seven on foot

Rather him than me! Be stuck in the middle of a two-mile wide River Severn, right up to the chest? And stay sane enough to keep walking? To say nothing of trying to remember whether you were on the zig or the zag. Of course, you’d need to be lacking in sanity to make such a crossing in the first place. The Beachley-Aust ferry wasn’t far away to the south, and to the north you could drive around via Gloucester. Much more sensible. But then, I believe his lordship also crossed the Humber like this. And the Thames, which he miscalculated and had to swim part of the way. Say no more, really.

The following passage is taken from Severn Tide by Brian Waters, who also wrote Severn Stream, about the inland reaches of the river.

“The building [the mediaeval chapel] is now known as Chapel Cottages, and stands as a buttress of the sea wall where the land bends into the river, and where the main channel of the Severn curves toward the chapel. Navigational lights stand on the shore beside the building and they remind us that Thomas, Lord Berkeley, who founded the chapel in the fourteenth century, was a practical man. He gave ‘competent lands’ to maintain a priest to sing there, and under his heirs the house became a chantry until the Reformation. It stands exactly opposite the monastic chapel of Woolaston across the river. The chapel served the secular purpose of being a guide to shipping and a landmark to sailors.

“One of its priests wrote this Latin phrase about the parish of Hill: ‘Hieme mala, aestate molesta, nunquam bona’— ‘Evil in winter, grievous in summer, and never good’. But the holy thorn is not the only flower to bloom here in midwinter, in January I have seen the grass of the sea wall studded with daisies, and have even put my foot on five of them, for there is a saying in parts of Gloucestershire that if you can put your foot over five daises then spring is here…”

“…The chapel building has undergone many changes, but the four walls now standing [1947], bleak and angular against the Severn, would appear to be the form of the original house. After the Reformation the chapel became a farmhouse, and only comparatively recently was it converted into cottages.”

Chapel House

What the original chapel looked like I cannot say, except that it would have been simple. Being got-at over the centuries has not improved its appearance!

It was derelict again when I walked there with my husband and daughter when she was a child, but is now a house again. We liked to go to the Windbound Inn and then stroll north along the embankment toward the chapel. Now the Windbound is no more, and soon there will be a new nuclear power station to tower over this amazing coastline. This will be to replace nearby Oldbury, which has been decommissioned.

The Windbound toward the end

 

 

 

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.

P1300373

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/

p1280011

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

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: