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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.

WADDINGTON HALL – REFUGE FOR HENRY VI

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 THE GATEWAY HAS A CARVING OF A HAND CARRYING A LANCE AND BATTLE AXE WITH THE INSCRIPTION “I WILL RAISE UP HIS RUINS, I WILL BUILD IT AS IN THE DAYS OF OLD”

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Waddington Hall, another one time refuge for Henry VI after the battle of Hexham, 1464,  is up for sale.  Parts of this beautiful house dates from the eleventh and thirteen centuries with a room named after its royal guest,  ‘King Henry’s Chamber’.  Whether this is the very room where Henry stayed for 12 months before being rumbled is anyone’s guess but stay  at the Hall he did, until one day, just about to sit down to dinner he was taken by surprise by an armed  raid on the house who arrived with the intention  of taking him prisoner.   He managed to escape,  yet again, but did not remain at large for long before his capture and removal to London where he was met at Islington by Warwick the Kingmaker who escorted him to The Tower. The rest is history.

The Hall is for sale to anyone who can afford the 4 million pounds price tag.  Please form an orderly queue here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ralph Boteler, Lord Sudeley, father-in-law to Lady Eleanor Talbot.

image.pngThe arms of Ralph Boteler, Lord of Sudeley ..

 Take a trip to the lovely Cotswold town of Winchcombe and there you will find Sudeley Castle.  Some of those that lived in the castle are well known such as Queen Catherine Parr and the unfortunate Lady Jane Grey.  Their stories are well documented elsewhere and I won’t touch upon them here as I want to focus on an earlier owner Ralph Boteler, Lord of Sudeley who was born around 1393 and was to become father-in-law to Lady Eleanor Boteler, or Butler as she is more commonly called, nee Talbot.  Eleanor was married to Ralph’s son Thomas.

Ralph, from aristocratic stock, led an illustrious life.  He had rebuilt Sudeley after fighting in the France where its most likely he would have met John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, Eleanor’s father.  Among the titles he held were Baron Sudeley, Captain of Calais, Lord high Treasurer of England and Chamberlain of the King’s Household.  He was also a generous benefactor to St Peter’s Church, in Winchcombe, enabling it to be rebuilt in 10 years after the earlier church  fell into disrepair.

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John Talbot, lst Earl of Shrewsbury – father to Eleanor Butler nee Talbot.  Both `John and Ralph fought in France.

As Eleanor was only a child of about 13 when she married Thomas, who was a fair bit older than her at about 28, their marriage would not have been consummated immediately  and therefore she would have lived with her in-laws at Sudeley for the first few years of her marriage.  It would seem an affection grew between her and her father in law, for later, after the death of Thomas, it would appear that she either persuaded her second, and secret husband,  the young Edward IV to act generously towards her former father in law, or he did so to make his new bride happy for, within 6 months of the secret marriage, which took place around February 1461, Edward issued a grant –  ‘exemption for life of Ralph Botiller, knight, Lord of Sudeley, on account of his debility and age from personal attendance in council or Parliament and from being made collector assessor or taxer….commissioner, justice of the peace, constable, bailiff, or other minister of the king, or trier, arrayer or leader of men at arms, archers, or hobelers. And he shall not be compelled to leave his dwelling for war’.  Three months later Edward further granted ‘Ralph four bucks in summer and six in winter within the king’s park of Woodstock’ ( 1 ) Sadly all this good will evaporated on the death of Eleanor in 1468.  Historian John Ashdown-Hill has described this volte-face as a ‘hostility’ resulting in Ralph having to surrender his properties, including Sudeley, which went in the main, to the voracious relatives of his new and bigamous ‘wife’, Elizabeth Wydeville.  For following a pardon granted to Ralph on the 17 December 1468 when two properties Griff and Burton Dassett, taken earlier by Edward,  were returned to him, Ralph was ‘induced to issue the following grant:

‘Know all men present and to come that I, Ralph Boteler, Knight, Lord Sudely, have given, granted and by this my present charter have confirmed to Richard, Earl Rivers, William, Earl of Pembroke, Anthony Wydevile, Knight, Lord Scales, William Hastings, Knight, Lord Hastings, Thomas Bonyfaunt, Dean of the Chapel Royal, Thomas Vaughn, one of the Esquires of the King’s body and to Richard Fowler, the castle domain and manor of Sudeley, with all its belongings in the county of Gloucester, and all lands, rent etc., in Sudeley, Toddington, Stanley, Greet, Gretton, Catesthorp and Newnton and also the advowson of the church or chapel of Sudeley, to hold the same to them and their assignees’ ( 2)

Sadly , Edward, not content with taking Ralph’s properties he may have, according to John Ashdown-Hill also sent him to prison, where he died in 1473 (3).  People (and history)  will have to judge for themselves the true reason Edward took such a heavy hand with Ralph after Eleanor’s death and whether it was, as some say, because of his loyalty to the Lancastrian cause (having supported the redemption of Henry VI)  or did it perhaps have something more to do with Ralph being privy (or a reminder)  to the illegality of the Wydeville marriage?

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Sudeley Castle, Winchcombe, Gloucestershire.  Rebuilt by Ralph Boteler ..

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St Peter’s Church, Winchcombe.  Ralph Boteler gave generously enabling the church to be rebuilt after the original one fell into a ruinous state.

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St Mary’s Church at Sudeley Castle..

( 1 ) Elizabeth Widville, Lady Grey p38 CPR 1461-1467, pp.72,191.  John Ashdown-Hill.

( 2)  Eleanor: The Secret Queen p150.   Close Roll 8 Edward IV,  no.3. dorso, 23 February 1469.              John Ashdown-Hill.

(3)  Elizabeth Widville Lady Grey p51.  John Ashdown-Hill.

Things learned about most of our 15th-century kings….

The new year of 2020 commenced with this article dropping into my inbox. It’s an interesting list, each entry backed by an explanation, but I’ve limited my comments to the monarchs of the 15th century.

The thought of Henry VI requiring a sex coach is rather boggling, I have to say, but then he was a little, um, shy, shall we say? I have to feel sorry for him, although he was one of the worst kings England ever had to endure. He was the personification of incompetence, which is putting it mildly. And as for him accepting fatherhood of Margaret of Anjou’s child…. Words definitely fail me.

Did Elizabeth Woodville die of the plague? Well, we will never know, but it’s possible. As is the possibility that she was helped on her way by her son-in-law, who’d just had enough of her. Like the murderous Tudor line he sired, Henry VII was inclined to get rid of those he didn’t like. Unlike the king whose throne he usurped. Richard III should have done away with far more, including Henry’s pesky mother! But he didn’t, and paid the price of his honourable conduct.

Richard is actually dealt with quite well in this article. He isn’t routinely blackened, as has been the tiresome tradition, which failed to ever look properly at his record.

Henry VII’s bed bought for a couple of thousand pounds? Oh, well…whoever asked that low price must be kicking themselves. I wonder what Elizabeth of York felt as she lay there gazing up at the canopy, being bonked by her uncle’s killer? Did she participate in the proceedings? Or simply think of England?

Apart from the above examples, the rest of the article leaves the 15th century and deals with later kings and queens, so I will let you read them all and form your own opinions. As for my above comments…well, I just couldn’t resist…!

 

 

 

Music and Metal Detecting

Here is an interview by our own Ian Churchward (The Legendary Ten Seconds) about their new song: A song for a metal detectorist, covering  history and metal detecting …

{link to 27 March}

A Naughty Anchorite

Isolde de Heton, a widow, retired to a hermitage attached to Whalley Abbey with the intention of living as an anchorite. Henry VI appointed her to the position during 1437-38. Isolde, besides having a roof over her head, was to receive a weekly food allowance that included twenty-four loaves of bread and eight gallons of beer. She was also to have a weekly cash allowance and two servants to look after her, with access to the abbey kitchens.

This is not quite the austere lifestyle one might imagine an anchorite enduring. Indeed, many modern widows would be glad of such generous support!

Nevertheless, Isolde evidently received a “better offer” perhaps a chance to live with a man (or woman) of her choice. The Abbot of Whalley, John Eccles, petitioned Henry VI during 1440-41 to close the hermitage due to Isolde having broken her vows. She had been absent for “two yere and more” and was showing no intention of returning and making amendment. Moreover, her women servants had been “misgovernyd” and “gotten with chyld” within the hallowed space.

Presumably these servants had some assistance in making babies, but the abbot did not bother to identify the male culprits. Perhaps they were too close to home.

Henry VI obliged by dissolving the hermitage and replacing it with a chantry for the benefit of the soul of Henry, Duke of Lancaster. Chantry priests were, of course, most unlikely to become pregnant.

Sadly we do not know what became of Isolde and her servants. Certainly, they lost their secure provision.

Source: The Lancashire Witch Conspiracy by John A. Clayton, pp. 203-204

 

 

 

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!

Was the younger Despenser buried in two places at the same time….?

Execution of Hugh Despenser the Younger – Hereford, 24 November 1326

We Ricardians know all about the problems, if not to say mysteries, that can arise from the final resting places of famous figures from the past. It doesn’t help that in the medieval period especially a person’s remains could be moved from place to place. Edward IV had his father and brother moved from Pontefract south to Fotheringhay, and Richard III had Henry VI moved from Chertsey Abbey to St George’s Chapel, Windsor. And, of course, for centuries there was the puzzle as to whether the remains of Richard III himself were thrown contemptuously into Leicester’s River Soar, or actually buried at Greyfriars. The latter eventually and very famously proved to be the case.

Now I have happened on another “where was he buried?” mystery, this time from the end of the reign of Edward II. While researching a few details about the later-in-the-14th-century marital goings-on of the 10th/3rd Earl of Arundel, Richard Fitzalan, known as “Copped Hat”, I found myself reading about his first wife, Isabel le Despenser, whom he married on this day, 9 February, in 1321. She was the daughter of Hugh Despenser, 1st Lord Despenser, known to history as Despenser the Younger, to distinguish him from his father, who was, yes, Despenser the Elder. Both were favourites of Edward II, and came to the fore after the abduction, trial and execution of another of the king’s favourites, Piers Gaveston. All three came to nasty ends, as (probably) did Edward II himself, and there is there is a famous illustration of the hanging, drawing and quartering of the younger Despenser in Hereford, see above.

Because of her father’s attainder and shameful execution, Isabel became an inconvenience to Copped Hat. Besides which his lustful and ambitious eye had fallen upon Eleanor of Lancaster, who’d be a much more advantageous Countess of Arundel. As Copped Hat was one of the richest and most influential magnates in the England of Edward II’s son, Edward III, he didn’t have any trouble at all in gaining the Pope’s permission to annul his first marriage, thus clearing the way for Eleanor to slip into the earl’s marital bed.

Where is all this leading? Well, to the fact that the younger Despenser’s widow was apparently granted her husband’s remains (well some of them – ‘the head, a thigh bone and a few vertebrae’) and she had them buried in a lavish tomb at Tewkesbury Abbey.

But in 2004 there were reports that Despenser’s remains had been found during archaeological excavations at Hulton Abbey in Staffordshire. These “new” remains lacked the very bones that had been returned to the younger Despenser’s widow and buried at Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire.

So, if the Hulton Abbey remains are indeed those of the younger Despenser, why wasn’t all of him returned to his widow? Why send her some of him, and then bury the rest at Hulton Abbey? He died in Hereford, and was then buried in Staffordshire and Gloucestershire?

To read more about this medieval mystery, go to  the Reading University website and here 

Matthew Lewis on YouTube: 1) More

I’ve decided to have a little go at some YouTube stuff. My first foray is a breakdown of my Top 10 problems with Sir Thomas More’s story of Richard III. It’s so full of problems that I’m left dismayed that academic historians I speak to still insist on relying on More’s evidence even today. There is a lingering insistence that More was a contemporary source, or at least had the chance to speak to witnesses so that he’s as good as primary material.

In truth, More was 7 during the events of 1485 and wrote 30 years later. He can’t possibly have remembered the complex political events of 1483 with clarity, or have been witness to any of the moments he describes in excruciating detail. Anyone he spoke to in Henry VIII’s England had reason to distance themselves from Richard III and his reign. Richard was already the monster from which the Tudors had rescued England. Who would have been brave enough to offer a different narrative?

I also think More, like Shakespeare, was never writing history in the way that we would recognise it – as a literal, factual retelling of events. He wrote allegory, a humanist exercise in moral tales veiled behind a convenient trope. More wrote about murderous tyranny and the dangers it posed, both to the kingdom and the king who indulged in it. In the years just after Henry VIII’s accession, when he had executed Empson and Dudley for following his father’s instructions, who might More have been really writing about? He could hardly name the king and risk his wrath. Richard offered a convenient front for what More had to say. Like Shakespeare, it has been wrongly accepted as the truth.

What else is wrong with More’s Richard III? Plenty. My top 10 problems are outlined here.

If things had been different, might Richard and George have been buried at Fotheringhay….?

Richard, 3rd Duke of York

It occurs to me to wonder if Richard intended to be lain to rest at Fotheringhay with his father, the 3rd Duke of York, and brother, Edmund of Rutland. Wouldn’t he think he belonged with them – no matter how fond he was of his beloved Yorkshire?

Of course, things changed radically when he became king, because kings were (in general) buried at Westminster. Richard’s brother, Edward IV, was to start a new fashion for burials at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, which he himself had completed. I know there are other exceptions to Westminster, e.g. John at Worcester and Edward II at Gloucester, but perhaps Edward, once he became king, wanted to start a new trend—which he did, because there are now ten monarchs in St George’s Chapel.

The tomb of Edward IV, King of England and Elizabeth Woodville at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor, England (circa 15th century) from the Works of William Shakespeare. Vintage etching circa mid 19th century.

But do we know what George of Clarence really wanted? If he’d been a good boy and survived his considerable transgressions against Edward, would he still have picked Tewkesbury? That was where his wife Isabel was buried, but would he have wanted her to remain there when he himself died?

Entrance to vault of George of Clarence, Tewkesbury Abbey

Might he have wanted her to be moved to Fotheringhay, where they could lie together again? Moving remains around to suit later interments was quite common, as shown by the Duke of York and Edmund of Rutland being brought south to Fotheringhay. And Richard himself moved Henry VI from Chertsey to St George’s, Windsor. Maybe this latter act was an indication of what Richard Intended for himself? Who knows? He didn’t leave instructions, and so it is still a mystery to this day. All we do know is that he wouldn’t have chosen Leicester, because he had no connection with that city. He lies there today because at the time of his death it was the closest suitable place to the battlefield.

 

Tomb of Richard III at Leicester Cathedral of Saint Martin.

And from thinking all this, my musings wandered to whether or not Richard would think George wished to remain in Tewkesbury. On the instructions of Edward IV, Richard, as Duke of Gloucester, had originally escorted the remains of his father and second eldest brother south from Pontefract to Fotheringhay, and that experience must have been a hugely emotional and important time for him. Fotheringhay was surely the place he too expected to eventually be lain to rest? After all, he didn’t know that for the last two years of his life he would be king.

York Minster

York is always put forward as his inevitable choice, but we don’t know for certain. Once he was crowned, no doubt he felt he had to conform. He’d buried Anne at Westminster, and maybe, had he lived, there would have been a tomb there for them both, and for their son, who’d have been brought from wherever he was laid to rest. We still do not know where little Edward of Middleham was buried, all record has been lost.

Or maybe Richard too would have chosen Windsor, after all, that was where he’d moved Henry VI. Perhaps he intended his wife and son to go there too? The guesswork is infinite. Oh, for his fifteenth-century iPhone, and a casual note left on Medieval Messenger on the eve of Bosworth. Not that Henry Tudor would have honoured such a wish anyway.

Tomb of Henry VI, St George’s, Windsor.

If Edward had lived on, and Richard had never become king, what would have happened to the remains of both Richard and George? Let’s imagine they died before Edward, leaving him the only surviving brother. Even if they had specified their choice of burial place, I have a feeling that he’d have laid them to rest at Fotheringhay, with their father and other brother. And surely he’d have had Anne and Isobel and their children moved to lie with them? Or is that just too simple and neat a solution?

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