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Shadow King: the Life and Death of Henry VI


Shadow King: The Life and Death of Henry VI by Lauren Johnson

Head of Zeus Publications, 2020, paperback, 700 pages, £12.00
ISBN 978-1784-979645

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Henry VI has gone down in history as one of England’s worst kings. Not for being cruel or despotic; on the contrary, his nature was kindly and pliant, peace-loving and deeply devout – qualities that made him likeable as a person but hopeless as a monarch, a faint wavering shadow of his shrewd, martial father. His life would have been very different, and he may have become a better ruler, had he grown to manhood under the guidance of Henry V, this perfect model of the medieval warrior-statesman. Instead, by the latter’s untimely death in 1422 with his French kingdom far from pacified, the infant Henry only received the dire legacy of an unwinnable war, and perpetual bitter conflict between members of his family over the implementation of the late king’s will and their respective powers on the minority council.

Such is the context for the opening chapters of Lauren Johnson’s sympathetic new study, which sets out to ‘explore Henry VI as an evolving individual struggling in an extraordinary situation. In short, to consider him as a man.’ Recently released in paperback, Shadow King is a handsome volume, illustrated with 24 colour plates, family trees of the Houses of Lancaster, Beaufort and York, and three helpful maps, (France 1415 – 53; Wars of the Roses battles 1455 – 71; and 15th century noble landholding in England and Wales).

The well-referenced text falls into logical sections: Henry’s minority 1422 – 37; adult rule to 1453, including his marriage to Margaret of Anjou; political and mental breakdown, culminating in his deposition by Edward IV at Towton in 1461; his fugitive years, short-lived re-adeption, and eventual fate in the Tower of London. A brief ‘Afterlife’ and epilogue conclude the sad, strange stories of this unfortunate king and his queen, followed by two appendices, ‘Where did Henry VI die?’ and ‘Key Characters’, 68 pages of notes, and an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources.

Stylistically, some passages read like an historical novel: ‘The inky waters of the River Thames rippled and slid beneath the wherrymen’s oars. In places the peaks of the waves glistened, light falling from the windows of Winchester Palace as bursts of laughter and music echoed out.’ (Page 45). Such imaginative touches bring the text to life for many readers, although my own preference is for Johnson’s straight prose, which I found admirably clear and refreshing. Why gild the lily?

As for content, I particularly enjoyed the first two sections. Johnson makes excellent use of some seldom-used sources to paint a convincing, detailed picture of Henry’s early life. Her exposition of the complex political situations in England and France, (riven by its own civil war between the Armagnacs and Burgundians), and the equally complex personal war between Henry’s kinsmen, is lucid and easy to follow; and she offers some perceptive analyses of the likely effects on an impressionable child of having to perform the rituals of royalty surrounded by such constant conflict and tension. Theoretically wielding absolute power but practically powerless to control his feuding councillors, it’s no wonder that Henry grew up hating discord, and wishing only to please and appease the people closest to him, emotionally or literally.

However, as the story moved into more familiar territory, I felt some disappointment. Plainly no fan of Richard, Duke of York, Johnson gives short shrift to his justifiable reasons for expecting a primary place on Henry’s council/in his confidence, and justifiable chagrin at being passed over for lesser men. York’s assumption of pre-eminence was based on his royal pedigree: descended from the second and fifth sons of Edward III via his mother and father respectively, he was one of England’s wealthiest magnates with a claim to the throne arguably stronger than Henry’s. This was not lost upon the king’s beloved Beaufort kin, a legitimated line sprung from John, Duke of Lancaster’s affair with Kathryn Swynford, who, (along with sundry other jealous rivals), persistently undermined York in Henry’s malleable affections. Had Henry managed to keep his powerful cousin on-side, the Wars of the Roses might never have happened; instead, he progressively alienated York, and wounded his pride, by showing an unfair and obvious partiality for the base-born Beauforts . It seems a shame that Johnson doesn’t extend her even-handed approach to Duke Richard, or treat him as another ‘evolving individual struggling in an extraordinary situation’ who, no less than Henry VI, deserves to be viewed ‘as a man’ trying to do his best for his country, his family and himself.

I was also disappointed by the brief, conventional accounts of the battles of Wakefield and Towton, the great Lancastrian victory followed shortly by the catastrophic defeat which cost Henry his crown, changing his life – and the course of English history – forever. In a work of this magnitude, it’s inevitable that some areas will be less well researched than others; nonetheless, for such a crucial episode, it was frustrating to see some old Wakefield myths perpetuated and enlarged. Like other commentators unfamiliar with the place, Johnson describes Sandal Castle as ‘majestic’ when, as castles go, it’s quite small (Sandal would fit inside the truly majestic Pontefract Castle several times over) and utilitarian. Interestingly, the ‘meagre’ household expenditure of £4 6s 7d for the Christmas – New Year period is cited to show that the castle was poorly provisioned, whereas to me it says precisely the opposite: it was already so well provisioned that little further spending was required. (I say ‘little,’ but the sum in question represents around 18 months – three years’ pay for a labourer, or six months’ pay for a liveried archer – it’s all relative!). This debatable interpretation is then used to present a version of the battle of Wakefield which simply doesn’t make sense: York, Salisbury, Rutland and their men, driven by hunger to hunt in the deer-park ‘north of the River Calder,’ ambushed by the Lancastrian army and slaughtered. Said deer park wasn’t just north of the river – it was the Outwood, some three miles north of Sandal and two miles north of Wakefield city, with its chantry chapel of St Mary perched on the Calder bridge; an unnecessarily long way to go when Sandal Castle had its own deer-park to the south, literally on its threshold, and miles of nearby river for fishing and wild-fowl hunting. (For my personal take on the battle, see this article ) I also found her treatment of Towton somewhat superficial, and lacking reference to more recent studies such as those by George Goodwin and Tim Sutherland.

Suffice to say, if I wasn’t such a pro-Yorkist anorak about this period in Wars of the Roses history, these criticisms wouldn’t have occurred, and I would have read the whole book with the same relish as I devoured the earlier sections! So, on the whole, I’m happy to recommend Shadow King as a worthwhile read, an enthralling tragedy which left me moved and thoughtful, and which will make a valuable addition to my bookshelves.

Elizabeth Woodville and witchcraft in medieval England….

 

Elizabeth Woodville meets Edward IV in 1464
(Photo by Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Aha, so Elizabeth Woodvile was a witch, and so was her mother, Jacquette of Luxembourg. Well, everyone knew that already, because Philippa Gregory wrote about it in great detail. So it just has to be true!

Anyway, joking aside, this History extra article is interesting for the information it gives about what the English medieval world thought about magic and so on.

The signatures of England’s kings and queens since Richard II….

from https://twitter.com/usefulcharts – Matt Baker @usefulcharts

Well, it has to be from Richard II, because I believe he was the first monarch to actually sign anything. But I’m not stating that as if it’s carved in stone! And the signatures I’m concerned with here are from Richard II to Henry VII, because their reigns cover the period in which I am most interested.

I have always been fascinated by the handwriting of our monarchs. Not so much the recent ones, or indeed those after the first Tudor, but certainly the Plantagenets (including York and Lancaster). The above image is, as the caption states, the work of Matt Baker. His page is fascinating, with charts for all sorts of things. Well worth a visit.

Anyway, to the signatures. Can we, as amateurs, read anything into the way these monarchs wrote their names?

The first one is, as I’ve already stated, Richard II. Well, it’s not a very confident signature. More the hand of someone who is trying hard to be something he is not. In my opinion. He spent his reign in turmoil, and wanted peace when his aristocracy wanted war. Never the twain…

Henry IV comes next. Hard to say what his moniker tells us. It looks shifty to me, as if the only thing he’s going to really give away is the R at the end. But then, he usurped Richard’s throne, and maybe it always weighed upon him. Certainly I don’t think he was a happy man.

Then Henry V. Heavens, that’s a bold, businesslike signature, with a firm line underneath. Definitely not a man to mess with.

Henry VI is very neat, and those two loops are identical. Absolutely. Very measured, when I would have thought measured was one of the last things he was. He was too fragile for that. I think so, anyway.

Edward IV’s looks as if he wrote it when under the influence. It’s hard to make out his name amid all those illegible letters. He was a man who did not relish the mundane chores of being king, and to me his signature looks impatient.

Edward V should be next, Not Richard III. Edward’s boyish signature is…um, very long. Certainly not that of someone who was ready to be king. Which he wasn’t, of course. Ready, I mean. And then he didn’t become king anyway, as we know.

Richard III’s signature is precise and thoughtful, as is his writing in general. He was clearly educated, intelligent, and not one to rubber stamp anything. He’d go through the small print. And he was also innovative, prepared to cut through red tape and make the law fairer to the common man. So nothing like Shakespeare’s awful caricature.

Henry VII’s resembles the tracks of a large, very guarded spider. Finding the actual man in among all those loops would never be easy…which is probably the way Henry wanted it. His character was as hooded as his eyes. He was in there somewhere, but he didn’t let many people inside. Another usurper who always had to glance over his shoulder.

The above are my opinion, and no doubt many of you disagree. I’d like to hear your comments!

Richard III had three lymers with his hart-hounds….

The Hunt in the Forest (also known as The Hunt by Night or The Hunt)
by the Italian artist Paolo Uccello, circa 1470 

For the purposes of the historical novel upon which I am at present working, I have recently been looking into the complicated business of medieval hunting. By which I mean the sort of hunting indulged in by royalty and the aristocracy. The poor man sneaking off with some midwinter game has been left well alone – and I hope he enjoyed every nourishing mouthful of his illicit stew!

I know nothing about modern day hunting, wherever in the world it takes place, nor do I wish to, but things were very different during medieval times. Then, hunting was much admired, and deemed to make men good and noble. I think my 21st-century attitude would soon lead to me being pursued to a very sticky end in the heart of some royal forest or other! That unlikely scenario aside, those long-gone huntsmen knew all the vast numbers of intricate rules and very precise words that can be quite mystifying to us today. Especially given the happy-go-lucky medieval spelling!

The hounds are still today described variously as lymers/limers, raches (running hounds), greyhounds, alaunts (large haunts), spaniels, mastiffs (called curs), terriers (small curs). And these are only some.

Lymers (scent hounds) appear to have played a very significant role, and I always thought (from the frequency with which they are mentioned) that they were numerous. But, in The Hound and the Hawk, by John Cummins, it is recorded that “…Richard III’s Master of the Hart-hounds received a feeding allowance for forty dogs and three lymers…” The king himself only had only three lymers with his hart-hounds? These must have been very valuable hounds indeed.

Cummins goes on “…The lymer (French limier, German leit-hund, Spanish can de traella) had a special role in detecting the whereabouts of the hart on the morning of the hunt, when the huntsman in charge of the lymer went out with it on a leash in order to report back to the assembly. It was vital to locate the hart as precisely as possible without disturbing it; the essential qualities of a lymer, therefore, were strong scenting abilities and silence. It was often housed apart from the other hounds, sometimes in the huntsman’s own accommodation….”

Valuable and pampered. I wonder if Richard knew these three lymers? He must have done. And their names, I imagine.

Cummins again: “…Under Richard III, the Master of the Hart-hounds was allowed 3s 3d a day ‘for the mete of forty dogs and twelve greyhounds, and threepence for three lymers’…” So, in England at least (it may have been different on the continent) lymers were a separate and larger breed of hound.

Looking at illustrations, it often seems that medieval lymers were an early type of bloodhound, and that as the years passed into the Renaissance period, they were more definitely bloodhounds as we know them today.

If you wish to know all the minutiae of high-class medieval hunting, then Edward of Norwich, 2nd Duke of York, wrote an excellent book that he presented to Henry V, when Prince of Wales. The book is called The Master of Game, and can be read in its entirety here. And if you want to see all the different types of dogs and hounds, then go to this article, which is packed full of colourful illustrations.

THE MEDIEVAL CROWNS OF EDWARD THE CONFESSOR AND QUEEN EDITH

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KING RICHARD III AND HIS CONSORT QUEEN ANNE NEVILLE WEARING  EDWARD THE CONFESSOR AND QUEEN EDITH’S CROWNS.  THE ROUS ROLL.

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THE SAME CROWNS WORN EARLIER BY EDWARD IV AND ELIZABETH WYDVILLE. Photograph by Geoffrey Wheeler.  

The first Coronation Crowns, known as the crowns of  Edward the Confessor  (also known as St Edward the Confessor)  and his wife  Queen Edith were probably made about the IIth century for the king’s coronation in his new completed rebuilt Church of St Peter, now known as Westminster Abbey on Thorney Island.   Edward was one of the last Anglo Saxon kings.  We know that Queen Edith’s crown was valued at £16 and was made of  ‘Siluer gilt Enriched with Garnetts foule pearle Saphires and some odd stones’.   Edward the Confessors crown was described as a ‘crowne of gould wyer worke sett with slight stones and two little bells’.   They were worn by every king and queen after that, excluding Edward V and Jane, who of course were never crowned,  until their destruction by the Parliamentarians.   Its hard to find an absolutely accurate depiction of them as various kings may have added bits and pieces over the centuries.   Having said that we have a  very good idea from the lovely drawings in  Rous roll,  the Beauchamp Pageant, and the Royal Window at Canterbury Cathedral.

 

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King Richard wearing the Crown of St Edward the Confessor, Rous Roll.

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Edward IV’S portrait in the Royal Window at Canterbury Cathedral wearing the Coronation Crown of St Edward.

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Elizabeth Wydeville in her coronation robes and Queen Edith’s crown. the Worshipful Company of Skinners

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Queen Anne from the Rous Roll wearing Queen Edith’s crown..

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Queen Anne Neville wearing Queen Edith’s crown from the Beauchamp Pageant..

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King Richard III wearing the crown of Edward the Confessor..The Beauchamp Pageant.

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King Edward the Confessor’s crown..drawn by Julian Rowe.  The Road to Bosworth Field.  P W Hammond and Anne E Sutton

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Queen Edith’s crown..artist Julian Rowe

These wonderful crowns survived until the end of the English Civil War when the victorious Parliamentarians ordered all sacred symbols and relics of monarchy, now rendered redundant,  to be ‘totallie Broken and defaced’ and the metal to be used to make coins.

New crowns were made for Charles II‘s  coronation in 1661 by Robert Vyner including a new Coronation Crown.  This crown sometimes gets confused with the Imperial State Crown.  It should be remembered that the Coronation Crown is only used for coronation and thus does not get many outings.   The State crown is the one our present queen wears for the State Opening of Parliament.  Having been made comparatively recently in 1937 it has a most exquisite survivor from the Middle Ages…the Black Prince’s Ruby! Its not actually a. ruby but a large irregular cabochon red spinel.  The stone has an astonishing history which is hard to verify  and  I will go into here only briefly but suffice to say it did indeed belong to  Edward the Black Prince.  It then passed to Henry V who was said to have worn it on his helmet at Agincourt.  It was later said that it was worn by King Richard III in the crown that was lost at Bosworth and legend says was found under a hawthorn bush by William Stanley.

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The red cabochon known as the Black Princes Ruby..a medieval survivor and now worn in the modern State Crown.

And so, besides the two royal crowns, much, much more was lost.  Described by Sir Roy Strong  as a ‘treasure trove of medieval goldsmith work’ there were  ‘Several ancient sceptres and staffs, two with doves on top and one with a fleur-de-lis of silver gilt and an ampulla which contained the holy oil for anointing listed as ‘A doue (actually an eagle) of gould set with stones and pearle’    There were ancient medieval royal robes worn by the king before the crowning….and an ‘old Combe of Horne’ probably of Anglo Saxon origin and used to comb the kings hair after the anointing listed as ‘worth nothing’ .  A total of nine items were sold to a Mr Humphrey for £5 in November 1649 (1).

I’ll leave the last word on this tragic part of  British history to Sir Edward Walker, Garter of Arms who wrote his report in 1660.

‘And because through the Rapine of the late vnhappy times, all the Royall Ornaments and Regalia heretofore preserved from age to age in the Treasury of the the Church of Westminster, were taken away, sold and destroyed the Committee mert divers times, not only to direct the remaking such Royal Ornaments and Regalia, but even to setle the form and fashion of each particular’ (2)

1) Lost Treasures of Britain Roy Strong p124

2) Ibid p125

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The King” and Agincourt in (almost) black and white….

 

Not having Netflix myself, I went to my daughter’s house to watch The King. I enjoyed it very much, but have some gripes, not least a desire to keep scratching or wishing the characters would wash their hair…and the rest of themselves. I really don’t think the highest in the land went around looking quite so scruffy.

And the medieval period was a time of colour. They loved colour, the brighter the better…so why is the film relentlessly grey, dark and full of shadows? Even the trailer picture is like it (see above).

The actual battle scenes of Agincourt were conducted in mud, which maybe the clash really was (I’m not an expert on Agincourt), and the armoured soldiers from both sides pitched in like ants swarming over something they relished. What with grey armour and mud, it was absolutely impossible for them to know who was on which side. And what banners appeared were dull and virtually monochrome. Hardly anyone seemed to have identifying colours or badges. How the heck could they tell if they were killing the enemy or one of their own? It was just a huge, bloodthirsty scrum. And they all looked like this even before they collided in the mud!

Yes, yes, maybe medieval battlefields were like this, but I’m sure they had sensible ways of identifying each other – it wasn’t Towton in the middle of a snowstorm.

The illustration below is more or less from the period, and shows that contrary to wearing no identification, the armies on both sides wore easily discernible colours.

Agincourt 1415
Chroniques d’Enguerrand de Monstrelet (early 15th century)

Maybe the director’s desire to show the grim side of it all was allowed to overwhelm some obvious facts. Shame. But still, in spite of all that, an excellent film. I just wish that viewing it wasn’t like looking through really dark shades on a sunless day.

Timothée Chalamet was a revelation as Henry V. Perfectly cast, perfectly acted…and a perfectly achieved English accent. No one could have guessed that he is really American. I think we may look forward to a meteoric career…if there isn’t one, it will be a great shame. Here’s hoping he’s offered the right sort of role in future.

Robert Pattinson was wonderful as the Dauphin. There may not have been any carpet handy, but he chewed everything else. Brilliant. Welcome proof that the awful Twilight films weren’t the peak of his ability.

To see how the battle scenes were filmed, try You Tube.

Caxton was way ahead of his time….!

Well, there I was, snooping around for information about Henry V and the 1418/19 Siege of Rouen, when I went to this site and came upon the above. Absolutely brilliant! Caxton was clearly born in the wrong century – he’d fit into the 21st very well indeed.

Plantagenet Ireland and Poynings’ Law

It is fair to say that most medieval English kings had little interest in Ireland except as a source of revenue. (The same was probably true about England and Wales but it seems too cynical to say it, and at least they did live there.)

Prior to the Bruce invasion, Ireland yielded between £5000 and £20,000 a year to the Exchequer. Even the lower figure was a useful sum in medieval terms, bearing in mind that the “qualification” for an earldom at this point was about £666. So in a bad year, Ireland gave the king the equivalent of more than seven earldoms, after expenses.

By the 1350s the net revenue was down to between £1,000 and £2,000, while by the start of Richard II’s reign Ireland was running a deficit. Given the general state of the Exchequer this was a Very Bad Thing and Something Had To Be Done. (1)

Of course, simply pulling out of Ireland and making a saving was unthinkable. Instead various half-hearted measures were tried, and various people lined up to take the place in hand, ranging from Robert de Vere (created Duke of Ireland!) to Thomas, Duke of Gloucester, the King’s uncle. The matter was evidently seen as (relatively) a low priority, and in view of the state of England at this time, this is quite understandable.

Eventually, in 1394, Richard II himself, personally, set out for the Emerald Isle with a well-equipped army 7000-8000 men. By the standards of English military expeditions in Ireland it was extraordinarily successful and well-executed. Not that Richard II gets much credit for it. By January 1395 the various Irish chiefs had begun to submit to Richard and by early Spring the capitulation was complete.

Richard, writing to his Council in England, stated that rebellion arose from past failures of government and that unless mercy was shown his opponent would ally with the “wild Irish”. He therefore proposed to take them under his protection until their offences had been purged or excused. (2)

This conciliatory policy towards the Irish speaks strongly in Richard’s favour. He intended that from now on there should be “liege Irish” as well as “liege English” and he tried to settle some of the many grievances (mainly about land) between the two groups. Of course this was a major task, and probably could never have been completed to everyone’s satisfaction even if Richard had remained in Ireland for ten years. However, it was a settlement of sort.

Unfortunately Richard was forced to cut his visit short due to issues in England, leaving the young Earl of March behind as Lieutenant. March was of course also Earl of Ulster, and in that capacity had land issues of his own., particularly with the O’Neill family. By 1396 March was leading major raids into O’Neill territory, and the short period of peace was under extreme strain. By 1397 Leinster was also in a state very close to war.

In 1398, not long after extending March’s term of office, Richard II decided to replace him with the Duke of Surrey, Thomas Holland. Surrey, Richard’s nephew of the half-blood, was another young and inexperienced man, with the added disadvantage that he had no hereditary lands in Ireland at all. He required, therefore, heavy subsidy from the Exchequer. Before the change could be completed, March had been killed in the fighting, as was his son in 1425.

King Richard now decided on a second personal visit to Ireland. This was a strange decision, given that he had just annexed the lands of Bolingbroke and Mowbray, and that Bolingbroke was in France, poised to invade England. However, we have the benefit of hindsight. Richard had no reason to suspect that the French, his supposed allies, would allow any such thing – and but for a temporary shift in power at the French court, they would not have done.

Richard’s second visit to Ireland was less successful. In a parley between Thomas Despenser, Earl of Gloucester and Art Macmurrough – who styled himself King of Leinster – the latter made it clear he was unwilling to submit. Before much more could be done Richard was forced to leave Ireland to confront Bolingbroke, and Ireland was once again left more or less to its own devices.

It is remarkable that any remnant of English lordship survived Henry IV’s reign, given the state of Henry’s Exchequer and the low priority given to Ireland by a king who was fighting on several fronts, including internal battles against his opponents. But the fact is that somehow, it did. Indeed Irish-based ships co-operated with Henry in the re-conquest of Anglesey.

Henry V and Henry VI were also unable (or unwilling) to give great priority to Ireland. Ralph A. Griffiths states “The isolated administration entrenched in Dublin and its ‘pale’ was more often than not subject to the rough dictates of Anglo-Irish magnates like Desmond and Ormond, and for some time past it had been assailed by a Celtic resurgence among the native Irish themselves that was cultural and social as well as military in character.” (3)

The attitude of the Anglo-Irish peers was to remain key, because unless and until the English government was willing and able to finance significant military intervention in Ireland, their power made them the most effective players on the island. Of course, the rivalries between them meant that the Crown was often able to play one family off against another.

In 1437 the author of The Libelle of Englysche Polycye expressed concern about the state of royal government in Ireland, suggesting the country could become a base for French, Scottish and even Spanish enemies, with whom hostile elements in Ireland could form an alliance. This fear of encirclement explains much of English/British policy towards Ireland over the next several hundred years, although in the short term very little was done about it, not least because England simply did not have the resources. (Such resources as were available were being thoroughly over-stretched in France.)

By this time the Irish revenues were failing to maintain the cost of government there, and even its most senior officers struggled to obtain their salaries. In 1441 it was reported that the charges of the Justiciar of Ireland and his underlings exceeded revenue by £1,456. (4)

In December 1447, Richard, Duke of York took on the role of Lieutenant of Ireland, with a salary of 4000 marks for the first year and £2000 in each of the following years of a supposed ten year appointment. York, who was very much at odds with Suffolk and Somerset at home, was effectively ‘promoted’ to a backwater. Those responsible doubtless thought that it would keep him quiet (and busy) for a long time. He was, of course, Earl of Ulster, and therefore had very significant landed interest in the country.

Not until summer 1449 did York actually set out – from Beaumaris. Even then he did so only because the King pressed him to go. He was received ‘ with great honour, and the earls of Ireland went into his house, as did also the Irish adjacent to Meath, and gave him as many beeves for the use of his kitchen as it pleased him to demand.’ (5)

That Richard, Duke of York, was a successful Lieutenant of Ireland is in some ways surprising. He was an aristocrat to his finger tips, and not generally noted for his people skills. If he had strengths they lay in his relative honesty and relative efficiency as an administrator and soldier. York failed miserably to unite the English nobility behind him, and yet he seems to have been well-regarded in Ireland. (In contrast to John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, who was positively hated in the same role.)

York quickly summoned a great council at Dublin which ensured the protection of certain hard-pressed castles and towns and also sought to address some of the more extravagant abuses of the Irish government.

His problem was that the money he had been promised largely failed to appear. He received less than half of what he should have in the first two years, and that was in tallies. After December 1449 he received nothing at all. (6)

This helps explain why York eventually threw in his hand and returned to England.

However, after the debacle at Ludford Bridge, York was sufficiently confident of his welcome to return to Ireland (with his second son, Rutland) and was able to use it as a secure base to plot the overthrow of Henry VI’s government.

York encouraged or allowed the Irish Parliament to pass legislation which left the country almost, but not quite independent, Henry VI’s sovereignty being reduced to little more than a cipher. It was even declared that the introduction of English Privy Seal Letters into Ireland was a breach of the country’s liberties. In return the Parliament voted York men and money, and rejected Henry VI’s attempts to remove York from office. The duke was not quite King of Ireland, but he was something very close.

Thereafter Ireland became strongly Yorkist – even into early “Tudor” times. It may be that York’s almost accidental policy of granting autonomy was the answer to the Question. In May 1487, a young boy was crowned at Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral (right) as “Edward VI”. He may actually have been the ill-fated Earl of Warwick by that name but is traditionally named as “Lambert Simnel”, who was taken to work in Henry VII’s kitchen after the battle of Stoke Bridge ended his insurrection the following month. In his identification of the boy (7), Ashdown-Hill uses historical, numismatic and physical evidence cogently, as ever, eliminating the other possibilities.

As a result of “Lambert”‘s coronation, Henry VII’s regime decided to control Ireland more closely. The “Statute of Drogheda” (left) (“An Act that no Parliament be holden in this Land until the Acts be certified into England”) was passed in early or mid-1494 and is described as 10 Hen.7 c4 or 10 Hen.7 c9. It is also known by the name of the newly appointed Lord Deputy at the time: Sir Edward Poynings (1459-1521) and specified that no Irish Parliament could meet until its proposed legislation had been approved by the Lord Deputy, his Privy Council, the English monarch and his Parliament. Ireland was thus legislatively subjugated and its status changed again under the “Crown in Ireland Act” in 1542, becoming a kingdom (“An Act that the King of England, his Heirs and Successors, be Kings of Ireland”) under the same monarch as England, in place of a lordship. Curiously, this was in the same year that Wales was subsumed by the Kingdom of England (Laws in Wales Acts). As the sands of the “Tudor” era ran out, the Earl of Essex was sent to suppress another Ulster rebellion but ignored his orders and returned home to aim for the crown. James VI/I’s subsequent plantations filled the power vacuum left by the O’Neills.

Consequently, the “English Civil War” is also known as the “War of the Three Kingdoms”, each of which had a different religious settlement as Charles I’s reign began. Similarly, legend has it that George I expressed to plant St. James’ Park with turnips and asked an aide the price: “Only three crowns, Sire”. Poynings’ Law is still in force in Northern Ireland, whilst it was fully repealed in the Republic as late as 2007.

Notes

(1) All figures are from Richard II, Nigel Saul, page 273

(2) For more detail see Saul, p 281.

(3) The Reign of King Henry VI, Ralph A. Griffiths page 411.

(4) The Reign of King Henry VI, Ralph A. Griffiths page 412.

(5) Irish chronicle quoted in The Reign of King Henry VI, Ralph A. Griffiths page 421.

(6) The Reign of King Henry VI, Ralph A. Griffiths page 421.

(7) The Dublin King, John Ashdown-Hill particularly chapters 1-5.

Did Richard III wear the Black Prince’s Ruby at Bosworth….?

Imperial State Crown, with the Black Prince’s Ruby at the front
from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Prince%27s_Ruby

“….It is said that Henry V wore it [the Black Prince’s Ruby] in his jewel-encrusted helmet at the battle of Agincourt, and Richard III did also at the battle of Bosworth….”

I found the above sentence in a post on the British Medieval History Facebook group. How very intriguing. It’s something I had never heard before. Did Richard really wear the priceless but cursed gem at Bosworth? If so, was he (as one friend has suggested) emulating Henry V? Or even the Black Prince himself?

The ruby is actually “a magnificent 170-carat red spinel, the largest uncut spinel in the world. This particular precious stone, known as ‘the Great Imposter’, has a traceable history dating back seven centuries and is rumoured to be cursed, as its consecutive royal owners have been dogged by adversity, misfortune, tragedy or just downright bad luck.

I learn every day, because not only had I never heard the Richard-at-Bosworth story, but I didn’t know the stone was also called the Great Imposter!

One thing is certain; the ruby certainly doesn’t always mean good luck for its owner, as can be seen at here, which provides a potted history of the ruby’s progress through the centuries. Thankfully, our present queen seems to be bearing up remarkably well in spite of the supposed curse.

It didn’t bring good fortune to the Black Prince, who suffered a truly miserable demise, as did Richard II. The usurper Henry IV didn’t enjoy good health or a happy, trouble-free reign. Henry V was doing brilliantly, until his health was destroyed at an early age. Henry VI…well, he was just the wrong man in the wrong place, and not at all suited to be king. Edward IV was also doing brilliantly, until he took the eye off the ball and allowed himself to go to seed, so to speak. He died young.

Then there is poor Richard, for whom true happiness was always to be elusive. He tried hard to do the right thing, but it’s like being a present-day driver. You can do everything by the book…it’s just the other idiots on the road! Can the ruby be blamed for the deaths of Queen Anne Neville and Richard’s only legitimate son? And for the betrayal and defeat he suffered at Bosworth?

Graham Turner – my favourite image of Richard at Bosworth.
Is it possible that the jewel at the front of his helm is the famous ruby?
from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leicestershire-23106651

And if the fatal gem then proceeded to Henry VII, it didn’t bring him a contented life either. Success as a king, maybe, but he was beset by foes and pretenders to his stolen throne, and I think personal happiness eluded him, especially after the death of his queen, Elizabeth of York. He died in his bed, but it was a miserable death.

The interest of this blog ends with Henry VII – well, it does for me. But the Black Prince’s Ruby has certainly brought mixed blessings to his successors.

Anyway, back to whether or not Richard could have worn it at Bosworth. Does anyone know of this story? Is it fact, or fiction? I hope someone can provide the answer.

How well-stocked with alcohol was Henry V’s army in 1415….?

An illumination of a medieval siege – although, judging from the “Oriflamme“-looking flag on the left of the picture the attackers may be French. Besieging an English castle near Bordeaux perhaps?

“…. An army may look splendid but if it is not fed it will not fight and if it cannot drink it will not be happy. As such when Henry V of England rekindled the Hundred Years War 600 years ago in a bid to reclaim his, “just rights and inheritances” in France, wine (and beer) was very much at the heart of his plans of conquest….”

If you read this excellent article (  ) in its entirety, you will be left wondering if the Henry V’s English army waded through booze in 1415!

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