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Why bury a chest of books….?

Here is a puzzle, circa 1400. Why would a usurped king’s half-brother bury a chest of books in the ground at the church in his Devon estate? The usurped king was Richard II, the half-brother John Holand, Earl of Huntingdon (had been Duke of Exeter), the Devon estate Dartington.

Dartington - for Chest of Books buzz

This was just before Holand joined the Epiphany Rising against Richard’s murderer and usurper, Henry IV – a rebellion he, Holand, did not survive. The titles of the books are not known, but apparently the key to the chest is still in existence.

JH'S CHEST OF BOOKS

The 15th century tower is all that remains of the church, which is adjacent to Dartington Hall, only a few steps from Holand’s private apartments in the main house.

I learned of this strange activity in “William called Long Will” by Michael Bennett:-

“More intriguingly, he [Holland] was the owner of a chest full of books that, prior to the conspiracy that led to his execution in 1400, he hid in the ground in Dartington church.63

63The titles of the books are not recorded. The label to the key to the chest is extant in the exchequer records (Clavis de quadam cista plena diversis libris qui fuerunt Iohannis nuper comitis de Huntingdon in terra absconditur in ecclesia de Dartyngton in comitatu Devonie): Kew, TNA, E 101/699/25.”

If anyone has any ideas – other than Holand’s desire to prevent the books from falling into other hands – please comment. It doesn’t seem that he buried other valuables at the same time, just the books.

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How the House of Mortimer was cheated….

Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March

Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March

Here’s how the great House of Mortimer petered out and was supplanted by a Lancastrian usurper who killed the reigning king and stole his throne. Then, under the House of York, the House of Mortimer triumphed again….until, in 1485, along came another Lancastrian usurper to kill the reigning king and steal the throne…..

Never trust a Lancastrian chancer named Henry. And if you’re a king called Richard, watch your back!

Discovered in Norwich

Whilst visiting Norwich to see the Whitefriars plaque to Lady Eleanor Talbot, Richard’s sister-in-law, in Tomblands near the Cathedral, I happened to take lunch in a particular hostelry, the Glass House. It is principally named for the city’s stained glass industry and various panels, also commemorate the author Harriet Martineau, the rebel Robert Kett, Cotman and the other “Norwich School” artists.

The panel nearest the main door was this one (left). Sir Thomas, who bore the name of a North Norfolk village, served John of Gaunt, helped to implement Henry IV’s usurpation before joining Henry V as an archery commander at Harfleur and Azincourt, and eventually dying in 1428. The other pictures are of Sir Thomas,  Henry IV and the Upper Close at Norwich Cathedral. 

And the king’s hair seethed with lice at his coronation. . .!

Do not read on if you’re squeamish about blood-sucking parasites. No, I’m not referring to Henry VII, but his equally usurping Lancastrian predecessor, Henry IV.

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When we think of medieval coronations, and see contemporary illustrations, we see the glamour, colour and solemnity of the occasion, hear the singing, smell the incense, observe the wonderful robes and so on. The last thing we modern folk would expect would be to learn that the new king’s head was infested with lice! Oh, yuk! But that is what was found at the coronation of Henry IV.

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It is not something I had heard before, but yesterday, on reading King Richard II by Bryan Bevan, I discovered: “It was fortunate for Henry that the sacred oil of Edward the Confessor was used during the anointing ceremony, but it was found that the new King’s head was full of lice.” And Adam Usk claimed that shortly after the coronation his [Henry’s] hair fell out, supposedly a result of lice. Another report says that he had his hair close-cropped because of head lice, which may explain the sudden baldness report. Although when his remains were examined in the 19th century, he was found to be completely bald, albeit with a full beard. This is how he appears on his circa 1437 tomb in Canterbury Cathedral.

Canterbury, made around 1437

Yes, I know that such parasites were much more abundant in times gone by, but this must have been a bad case to warrant such specific mention. There is no excuse for Henry. Adult lice can be squashed and removed, even if the nits are a trickier matter. The necessary combs were available, so for a King of England to be crowned when he was that lousy and crawling is an awful indictment. It wasn’t as if he didn’t have an army of servants to attend to such matters!

I cannot imagine his murdered predecessor appearing like that. Richard II was a fastidious man who took infinite care with his appearance.The first louse foolish enough to advance upon him would have been exterminated at first contact! I’m sure Richard would have had the shuddering habdabs if such an unwelcome visitor were to dare to sully his royal pate! The nit comb must have been very regularly applied, to ensure such a thing didn’t happen.

220px-Richard_II_King_of_EnglandLice were mainly associated with the lowest people in society. So much for Henry of Bolingbroke. But then, he was low. He, no more than Henry VII, had any business sitting on the throne, and both achieved their aim by the violent death of the rightful incumbent.

According to http://nitwitslice.com/a-short-history-of-head-lice/ “…One myth tells that to lure the lice off of the scalp, one would make a fur vest and wear it throughout the day and night hoping lice would make their way onto the warm fur. As ridiculous as that may sound, with no real medical knowledge of how to alleviate the problem who knows how many medieval men or women may have actually attempted this practice…” Who indeed.

What was the medieval view and treatment of these parasites? All lice, not just those on the head? According to Shakespeare’s Medical Language, by Sujata Iyengar:

“. . .lice were thought to develop from corrupted humors in the blood, and to escape through small holes or pores in the skin. If the patient had been cursed by God, as in the plagues of Egypt, lice-infestation was incurable, but if the infestation was natural, sufferers ought to abstain from foods that would breed phlegm and particularly from figs and dates, and to wash their bodies twice a day in salt water and a mixture of lye and wormwood. Mustard-plasters and quicksilver dissolved in grease or oil was also effective. . .”

Head Lice

Ew….!

A “cure” for head lice that has existed since at least 1526 (Treasure of Pore Men) recommends pounding olive oil with Rhenish wine and the unidentified “Aruement”, which could well be arrowmint, and applying it to the body. An alternative was to smear the body with grease from an ungelded pig, mixed with brimstone and quicksilver in Rhemish wine and arrowmint. It was suggested in The Castel of Helthe (1539) that eating dried figs breeds lice, since the dessicated fruit is by complexion so hot and dry.

The above is all very well for the rich, but how many really poor people could afford such ingredients? I think the nit comb was probably the best they could do. Maybe such an implement was passed around as needed, which, of course, would ensure the transmission of the parasite. But then, transmission of this sort was not understood, although it was understood that “the homeless, the poverty-stricken, the overcrowded, and children suffered disproportionately from infestation”.

A social pastime?

So. . .can Henry IV be excused for turning up at his coronation in such a lousy state? No. Nits are sods to remove, but not the living adults. To get into such a terrible state of infestation, he cannot have done much about checking the parasites’ relentless advance. Perhaps he liked their company.

Oh, I do love an opportunity to give Bolingbroke yet another thumbs-down! He had no right to Richard II’s throne, he stole it. The right should have passed down through the Mortimers from Lionel of Clarence, not through John of Gaunt. So it’s boo! hiss! to Henry IV. And his lice.

For more:

http://www.medievalhistories.com/medieval-hair-colours/

https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/some-of-historys-most-beautiful-combs-were-made-for-lice-removal

https://www.licedoctors.com/blog/history-of-head-lice-treatment.html

The Fears of Henry IV, by Ian Mortimer.

BBC History Magazine’s history weekends this autumn….

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Well, all this should be very interesting indeed…except for Hicks on Richard III, of course. Now, if it were to be Richard III on Hicks….yes, that would be worth the effort!

“If your interest in royal history is piqued by the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, make a date in your diary to come to BBC History Magazine’s two history weekends this autumn. Tickets have just gone on sale for the weekends in Winchester (5-7 October) and York (19-21 October), and they are already selling fast.

“Each weekend will see more than 30 leading historians delivering talks on all manner of historical topics, and there is much to appeal to enthusiasts of Britain’s royal heritage.

“For medieval and earlier kings and queens, we’ve got: Levi Roach on Aethelred the Unready; Max Adams on King Alfred; Pragya Vohra on King Cnut; Ellie Woodacre on medieval queenship; Michael Hicks on Richard III; Catherine Nall on Henry IV; Nicholas Vincent on King John; and Nick Barratt on Henry and his restless sons.”

STATEMENT IN STONE

Most old castles will have graffiti both old and new pecked into their stonework somewhere. People like to leave A symbol for posterity (often unfortunately.) Very few ancient buildings, however, have the owner’s name graven into them for for eternity.

Not so at Caldicot in Wales. If you walk around to the back of the castle, you will clearly find the name ‘Thomas’ carved into one of the stones low in the arch of the postern gate. This Thomas happens to be Thomas of Woodstock (born 1355), 1st Duke of Gloucester, Earl of Buckingham and youngest son of Edward III.

Thomas was married to Eleanor de Bohun; Eleanor’s name is also on the door frame, although not as prominent as her husband’s. Her sister was Mary de Bohun, who married Henry Bolingbroke, the future Henry IV. The sister were co-heiresses of the huge Bohun inheritance.

Thomas was one of the Lords Appellant who rose against Richard II, who was Thomas’s nephew. Thomas had early on showed disrespectful behaviour to the young king, bursting into his presence unannounced and speaking to him in a manner deemed improper. He was involved in a rebellion in 1388, which weakened Richard’s reign, and participated in the ‘Merciless Parliament’ which curbed Richard’s powers to rule.

However, when Richard married his second wife and began to forge continental alliances, Thomas became wrathful and angry once more. He complained bitterly to one of his knights that the king should have been invading France, not making a marriage with a French princess. He scorned the king as being indolent and only interested in food and drink instead of war and glory.

Soon after, he approached Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, the grandson of Lionel of Clarence, and tried to involve him in a plot to depose and imprison the king and his new young wife. Roger, uneasy, made his excuses and vanished over to Ireland.

Word of Woodstock’s potential plot reached the king and Thomas was arrested in the presence of the king himself, who had ridden out with him, pleasantly enough it seemed, from Thomas’ castle  at Pleshey–then suddenly galloped on before him, leaving the guards to deal with Woodstock, who was hustled out of England on a ship and taken to Calais Castle. There, two months after his capture and just after giving his ‘confession,’ he died suddenly–rumours says he was strangled or suffocated by a mattress on or around September 8..

Thomas’s claim to Caldicot Castle was through Eleanor; it was part of the Bohun inheritance.He did not get to spend much time there but did order much building–the Woodstock Tower and the massive gatehouse with its vast apartments and unusual ornamentation.

The castle passed to his daughter Anne of Gloucester, who married, as her second husband, Edmund Stafford, later killed fighting at the Battle of Shrewsbury. They had a son, however, called Humphrey, who became the 1st Duke of Buckingham; a loyal Lancastrian, he died for their cause at Northampton. Humphrey’s grandson, of course, was the notorious Henry Stafford, suspect in the disappearance of the ‘Princes in the Tower’ and a rebel who lost his head in Salisbury on November 2 1483…

 

Um, where’s Lionel of Clarence in this scheme of things….?

Tudors

Well, well, this author appears to have expunged Lionel of Clarence and his line from the annals of history, in order to make the Lancastrian claim to the throne senior to that of York. When, thanks to Lionel, it ended up the other way around. Lionel was the 2nd son of Edward III, Lancaster the 3rd, and York the 4th. Put 2nd and 4th together, and you have something rather more superior than the 3rd. Yes? Yes.

 

Clarissa Dickson Wright and the Art of Medieval Food

 

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The late Clarissa Dickson Wright is known to the English-speaking countries of the world as one of The Two Fat Ladies – the middle-aged motorcycling cooks who zipped around the English, Welsh and Irish countryside, one at the wheel of a Triumph Thunderbird, the other stuffed into the sidecar wearing what appeared to be a Biggles pilot helmet.  Jennifer Paterson, the elder, learned to cook in Benghazi and London as a saucy au pair for the upper classes.  After she tired of minding the kiddies, she appeared as a regular on the British Candid Camera and as the cook for the Spectator Magazine’s weekly lunches.   She was fired from the Spectator when she chucked all the kitchen crockery out of an upper floor window because the accountants left dirty tea cups in the sink.  Her culinary talents must have been formidable because she was retained long after she had tickled Enoch Powell’s bald spot during one lunch while girlishly cooing “koochie koo!” at the thunderstruck MP.  Hospitalized in 1999 and told she had a month or so to live, she was asked if she wanted to speak with a social worker.  “No,” she boomed, “I’m watching a Fred Astaire film.”

Clarissa Dickson Wright, although as insouciant as her other half, was a different kettle of medieval fish.  Born to an Australian heiress and the Queen’s surgeon, Arthur Dickson Wright, she grew up in London amid the upper classes of Scotland, Ireland, England and Oz.  Both her parents were connoisseurs of fine food and drink and during a time of strict food rationing her father was importing pigeon from the Middle East and caviar from Iran.  In this lavish environment, Clarissa learned to appreciate beautifully prepared food and drink but choose the law as her profession.  At 21, she became the youngest person called to the bar, working as a barrister at the Inns of Court.  Those who have read her hilarious and chagrined autobiographies “Spilling the Beans” and “Riffling Through My Drawers,” know that upon her beloved mother’s death, she collapsed into a sybaritic existence that decimated the family fortune and landed her penniless and drunk in a London jail with only Saki’s short stories as company.  Once sober, she rebuilt her life around food and its preparation, employed as a cook in private homes and as manageress of the well-known shop in Portobello Road called “Books for Cooks.”  In 1996, she and Jennifer came under the eagle eye of a sharp-witted BBC producer who decided to pair the women in a television program centered around their many talents.  These included Paterson’s basso profundo singing style, cocktail-shaking and motorcycling skills.  Dickson Wright brought her sharp wit and extensive knowledge of the history of English food.  “Two Fat Ladies” became an instant hit that was sadly cut short after its fourth season when Jennifer was struck down by cancer.

Dickson Wright, happily, went on to a solo television career bringing her knowledge of not only food but of country life to the British Isles.  Unfortunately, the programs were not available to Americans until fans of Clarissa uploaded them onto You Tube.  Two wonderful shows – 2008’s “Clarissa Dickson Wright and the King’s Cookbook” and 2014’s “Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner” – are there for the viewing.  Both explore the long history of cooking in England and push back against notions of bland food prepared by a garlic-phobic nation.  She makes a grand case that English food during the 14th Century achieved an artistic level that could rival France.

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Dash Barber as the young King Richard II in “Clarissa and the King’s Cookbook”

“The King’s Cookbook” takes us into the world of Richard II (1367-1400) and his lavish lifestyle at table.  Deep within the British Library, we are shown the original Forme of Cury (translation:  Method of Cooking), Richard’s compilation of 196 recipes complete with food stains and marginalia.  We are shown directions for making blancmange (originally made with capon), salad (with nary a piece of lettuce in sight) and blubbery roasted porpoise.  We learn that he employed over 300 kitchen staff.  These included saucers, milkers, boners, choppers, spit boy, roasters and scribes who sat in a vestibule writing down “receipts.”  All of them (with the exception of the scribes) were half naked because of the intense heat.  They struggled mightily under the aegis of the Master Chef who sat upon a throne in the kitchen overseeing the work.  They were expected to maintain rigid sanitary conditions.  In an extension of these rules – which would benefit most Waffle Houses in the USA – he demanded his guests be provided with spoons and napkins and prohibited them from eating with fingers or belching, farting and fighting.    In an interesting aside, Clarissa notes that while medieval cooking compilations do not include vegetable recipes, they were always included in meals and feasts.  Herbs and vegetables were foraged in the wild and/or grown in private kitchen gardens.  They were simply picked daily without much thought to recording how they were used.  In the program “Lunch,” we see a lamb pottage (“in a pot”) being cooked over an open fire by docents and volunteers in medieval dress.  As they peer into the bubbling pot, Clarissa laments today’s lack of available mutton which was once so popular and has lost favor among modern people because of its gaminess.*  We are also disabused of that most pernicious notion of the medieval era that expensive and rare imported spices were used to cover up the smell and taste of rotten meat.  Nothing could be further from the truth as several historians interviewed note with vehemence.  Medieval cooks, like our modern chefs, knew how to use ingredients economically and intelligently.  As they point out, only chilies would have disguised the taste of bad meat and they had not yet been imported from the Americas.

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Clarissa Dickson Wright at the British Library with the original Forme of Cury


The louche King Richard continued his wanton ways, taxing and spending his country into anarchy all to please his exquisite palate and discriminating taste.  “I will not dismiss one scallion from my kitchen on the grounds that Parliament asked me to, ” he famously sneered, much like a medieval Richard Olney faced with a shipment of bad wine.  Of course, as is usually the case with tyrants and run-away budgets, the citizenry was soon fed up and hankering for a change.  In 1399, he was brought to heel by the usual aggressive and ambitious upstarts that tended to gather around the edges of powerful Yorkists.  In this case, it was Henry Bolingbroke, who after a false promise of freedom confined Richard to Pontefract Castle with neither a napkin nor spoon in sight.  He then proceeded to starve the king to death in an ironic execution that mirrored the death several decades later of alcoholic George, Duke of Clarence, who was supposedly drowned in a butt of Malmsey.  Mordant Lancastrian wit!

So ended the life of the first foodie king who, at least, never burned a cake unlike a certain predecessor.  Instead, he left us with one of the earliest English-language cookbooks in western history which is offered free-of-charge on Kindle.

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“I give this heavy weight off my head, and this unwieldly sceptre from my hand”

Two recipes are mentioned in “The King’s Cookbook” from The Forme of Cury.  One is Goose Madame or Goose in Sauce Madame.  The other is the simple and delicious:

Pears in Red Wine

2 Pears, 2 cups of good red wine, 1/2-1 cup of sugar depending on taste, orange zest, 1 cinnamon stick, star anise (optional).

Cut the bottoms off of peeled pears so that they stand up.  Place in a deep saucepan and pour in the red wine.  Add all other ingredients and simmer until pears are a deep jewel-like red and easily pierced with a knife.  Cool and serve on a white plate with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or sweetened ricotta.

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The website Coquinaria, devoted to medieval cuisine, has a recipe for Goose Madame in which it is advised that it be served at Christmastime.  We are now in the midst of high summer but perhaps it can be tucked away for later in the year or read for pure amazement at the list of ingredients that would delight Yotam Ottolenghi:

Stuff Goose Sauce Madame

1 large goose

For the stuffing: 2-4 tart apples, 2 pears, 2 Tbs. chopped parsley and 1 tsp. of sage and savory, 2 garlic cloves, chopped, 20-30 grapes, skinned.

For the sauce:  1 Tbsp of goose fat, 1 small onion, chopped, 1/2 liter (2 cups) of dark stock, 1/4 cup red wine, 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar, white breadcrumbs, galingale (or ginger), cinnamon mace, cloves, cubebs (a type of peppercorn), salt to taste, giblets.

Salt to taste

the neck and giblets of the goose

Stuffing prep:  Boil the unpeeled apples for an hour in water.  Drain and cool.  Peel pears, decore them.  Cut them in small pieces.  Mix in the chopped herbs, garlic and peeled grapes.

Put the stock in a boiling pan, add the giblets.  Bring to a boil, let simmer a couple of hours.  Strain through a fine sieve.

Sauce:  Heat some of the goose fat and fry the onion in it.  Add the strained stock and red wine and the bread crumbs.  Let this simmer a short while until thickened.  Now add the stuffing from the goose, spices and wine vinegar.  Bring to the boil once more.

Set the temperature at 180C or 350F.  Stuff the goose, secure the filling and place goose on a rack.  Baste regularly and after about two to three hours, take it out and let it rest for 10-15 minutes for the juices to redistribute.  This can be served whole or sliced with stuffing and sauce.

 

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Goose with Sauce Madame


*One of New York City’s oldest chop houses, Keen’s Steakhouse, no longer serves mutton although it is still advertised.  What you smell the minute you enter this wood-paneled old restaurant are giant lamb chops sizzling on the platter.

Both “Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner” and “Clarissa and The King’s Cookbook” are available in sections on You Tube.

Recommended reading:  all are available on Amazon:

A History of English Food by Clarissa Dickson Wright

Clarissa’s England:  A Gamely Gallop through the English Counties

Feast Days: Recipes from “The Spectator” by Jennifer Paterson.  Miss Paterson follows the Catholic liturgical calendar with recipes and amusing comments on the more eccentric saints of the Church.

 

 

 

Edmund of Langley

 

                                          Edward III tomb – Westminster Abbey

Today marks the anniversary of the death in 1402 of Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York, an undervalued and almost forgotten prince. Edmund deserves his place in history. Without him the House of York itself would never have existed, and its later members, who everyone finds so interesting, would never have been born.

It is worth remembering that Edmund had little in the way of landed property. Much of his income came from exchequer grants. Now, I am not suggesting he would have been better off as a brewer, or a pig farmer, but by the standards of 14th Century dukes he was virtually a pauper. (His son-in-law, Thomas Despenser, not even an earl until 1397, had a larger landed income.) Even if he had been a political genius, Edmund could never have matched his brother, John of Gaunt, in terms of impact. To be blunt, Gaunt had thousands of swords at his back, and Edmund had not. Indeed, in a world where Lancaster livery was all but ubiquitous, York’s retainers were few and far between.

It has been suggested that Edmund preferred hunting and hawking to politics. I am not sure this would necessarily be a bad thing if true, but the reality is that he was a frequent attender of Councils and witness of Charters, certainly in the second half of Richard II’s reign. His influence may have been quiet, but not necessarily absent altogether.

Nor was he lacking in spirit. At the time of the Merciless Parliament he quarreled with his other brother, Gloucester, then all-powerful, over the fate of Sir Simon Burley. Not only was this done in the Lords’ Chamber, before all, but Edmund actually challenged his brother to mortal combat. That it came to nothing, and that Burley eventually was executed, does not negate Edmund’s courage in bringing matters to such a head.

In his later years, Edmund was high in the favour of Richard II, heaped with honours, and possibly (per Ian Mortimer) selected as Richard’s legal successor. When Richard left for Ireland in 1399, York – not for the first time – was left behind as Keeper of England, and he loyally mustered what men he could to resist the invasion of Henry Bolingbroke. It’s almost certain that he did so with a heavy heart, for like many other nobles, he believed Bolingbroke had been wronged.

Eventually pinned down at Berkeley Castle by Bolingbroke’s much larger force, York had little choice but to negotiate and effectively surrender. From then on – possibly because it was the only realistic path – he was a constant supporter of Bolingbroke up to and beyond his usurpation. Indeed, it has been argued that he was instrumental in establishing Henry as king.

Be that as it may, it appears that he then retired from court and front-line politics. He was not in the best of health and may well have wanted to live out his days in peace. He died on 1st August 1402, and was buried at King’s Langley, his birthplace. (His tomb survives, although moved from its original location.)

He fathered three children, all of whom had fascinating careers in their own way. They were all born to Isabelle of Castile, daughter of King Pedro “the Cruel” or “the Just”, his title depending on which version of history you prefer. After her death in 1392 he married Joanne Holland, the very young daughter of the Earl of Kent. Joanne was Richard II’s niece of the half-blood; by her marriage she became his aunt as well. Joanne outlived Edmund by many years, took three more husbands, but had no children by any of them.

In passing, I might mention that Edmund was the only one of his brothers never to marry an heiress, something which contributed to his relative poverty. His marriage to Isabelle was largely a matter of tying up loose ends for Gaunt, who had of course married her elder sister and claimed Castile on her behalf. There is no evidence that Edmund received any compensation in return.

 

More about Cheneygates, this time concerning Richard II and Henry IV….

Jerusalem Chamber, Westminster Abbey

In our previous post, written with Eileen Bates, we described the buildings at Cheneygates, and dealt with its history regarding Edward IV’s queen, Elizabeth Woodville, who sought sanctuary there in 1483 when she and her family/co-conspirators plotted unsuccessfully against Richard of Gloucester. He, of course, quite rightly became Richard III, and dealt more leniently with her than his usurping successor was to do. One thing should be said here. Contrary to the widely held believe, Elizabeth lived in luxury at Cheneygates, not in the next best thing to a vile prison.

This link  also focuses on Elizabeth, but in addition deals with an earlier moment in history. Cheneygates figured in the reigns of Richard II and Henry IV, and the latter died in the Jerusalem Chamber (pictured above). There was, apparently, a strange prophecy that Henry would “die in Jerusalem”.  How true it turned out to be! It is also rather appropriate that Henry, who had almost certainly murdered Richard II, died looking up at a ceiling where Richard’s initial featured prominently. I hope it haunted him.

 

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