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Medieval monks often lacked all trace of holiness….

It is a fact that the medieval Church was ruthless in its acts and ambitions. We all know of particular popes, cardinals and archbishops who would stop at nothing to achieve their own personal and political ends, but it came as a surprise to me to discover just how brutal the Church could be on a purely local level.

Bury St Edmunds Abbey Church

Here are two anecdotes about the ‘holiness’ of medieval monks. Firstly, the Benedictines:-

“….On Sunday, 18th October, 1327, the monks of the abbey of Bury St Edmunds ended their prayers, filed out through the abbey’s crenelated gate and proceeded to the parish church, which was full of men, women and children. The monks then threw off their habits—revealing that some of them wore armour under their robes—and burst into the church. They seized a number of citizens by force and dragged them back to the abbey as prisoners….

“….Sometime later the townsfolk assembled at the abbey to demand the prisoners’ release. The monks replied with a hail of missiles, killing a large number of people. Later in the day the town bells summoned a larger party of armed men including aldermen, burgesses, a parson and 28 chaplains, who all took a solemn oath to live or die together. They then set fire to the gates and stormed the abbey….”

Why the monks wanted prisoners is not explained

Byland Abbey, North Yorkshire

Next, the Cistercians:-

“….Walter [Map] was an itinerant justice, and he always exempted Cistercians from his oath to do justice to all men since, he said, ‘It was absurd to do justice to those who are just to none’. This was not a joke; Map’s reports of Cistercian atrocities are extraordinary. For example, he says that the monks of Byland once wanted land belonging to a knight who would not give it up to them. One night they entered his house, ‘muffled up and armed with swords and spears’, and murdered him and his family. A relative, hearing of the death, arrived three days later to find that all the buildings and enclosures had disappeared and in their place was a well-ploughed field.*”

* From Edward Coleman, ‘Nasty Habits – Satire and the Medieval Monk’, History Today, volume 43, issue 6, June 1993, pp 36-42.

These shocking incidents are hardly compatible with a devout life of worship, contemplation and doing good, and certainly cast the entire Church in a shabby light. If there is a problem at the top, there is usually a problem at the bottom as well.

I think we can largely forget the fat, jovial monk of popular belief!

 

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The reign(s) of Edward IV….

 

If you want the bare bones of Edward’s reign(s), supposedly born today but on an impossible date, here they are, although there is no reference to his valid marriage in 1461. To me, Edward IV, for all the good he did as king, was rather a prat. Sorry, but there’s no other word for it. He was led by the contents of his codpiece, and didn’t pay enough attention to those he offended.

 

Further news from Reading Abbey

As you can see from this article, the GPR results are now in and digging starts this autumn. Can Henry I, his wife Adeliza, his great-grandson William de Poitiers and his descendant Constance of York (Richard’s great-aunt) now be conclusively located? We may soon know.

This post could tell you a lot more about Constance of York, who died six hundred years ago today.henry1-north-west-carpark-philippalangleybbc2-2

Like father, like son …

(by Matthew Lewis, originally published in History Today):

http://www.historyextra.com/article/feature/father-son-richard-plantagenet-and-richard-iii?utm_source=Facebook+referral&utm_medium=Facebook.com&utm_campaign=Bitly

 

 

A GREENWOOD WEDDING ?

May 1 has just gone past–a date known in ancient Britain as the Feast of Beltaine, the ‘Fires of Bel (the Shining One)’. Of  all the old important pre-Christian dates, this is the one that the Church was never able to Christianise in any obvious way, retainings its traditions of merriment, dancing and bawdiness right down to the present. Even Halloween (All Hallows) had a vague Christian veneer placed over its supernatural and ancestral elements, and Midsummer’s Eve was associated with St John as well as with the summer Solstice several days earlier and the burning hilltop  bonfires.

It was of course on May 1 that Edward IV was supposed to have married Elizabeth Woodville, in a secret ceremony attended by her mother, a priest and child. The date is interesting, as May marriages were at one time considered to be unlucky. An old rhyme goes ‘Marry in the month of May and you will surely rue the day.’ The reason for this was that the time of the year was considered to be a frivolous one, connected with faithlessness and a lack of constancy.

May 1 in particular was the time for ‘greenwood weddings’–temporary ‘marriages’ that were of dubious legality. Often these, if they lasted longer than a few  nights, went on no longer than the traditional ‘year and a day’ of old-time fairy stories. The couple would then part, if they wished, and go on their seperate ways, no harm done.

Unless you were a king of England, of course, who may well have already pre-contracted a marriage in a similar style and who was expected to marry a foreign princess…

The fact that several sources quote May 1 as the date of Edward’s wedding is interesting. It may quite literally be the case…or it could well be that the writers (or those from whom they had gleaned the information from) were aware of the traditional significance of May 1 in regards to impermanent, irregular marriages.

Indeed, far be it from the idea some traditionalists seem to take, that Edward’s marriage was perfectly acceptable to all before Richard ‘invented’ the idea of a pre-contract, it seems that that many already had doubts of its legality. Mancini, for instance says that Elizabeth Woodville,  years before the events of 1483,  was  reproached with calumnies ‘namely that according to established usage she was not the legitimate wife of the king.’ He seemed to believe  this was because she had been married before and hence was not a virgin, but there was no such impediment to marriage within the English royal house–Eleanor of Aquitaine,for instance, had been married and had several children before espousing Henry II. So it had to be something else. Later Mancini mentions Edward being legally contracted to another woman. He mistakes this for Bona of Savoy, who Warwick sought as a bride for Edward, and he does not seem to doubt the veracity of  this ‘proxy marriage’, although he has the wrong woman.

Certainly, it seems that many people in late medieval England believed *something* was irregular about Edward and Elizabeth’s marriage, and giving it the traditional May 1st day may well be affirming that fact.

A recent article from History Today on Edward’s marriage and those of his infamous grandson Henry VIII:

http://www.historytoday.com/eric-ives/marrying-love-experience-edward-iv-and-henry-viiiedliz

 

 

Required reading in Alexandria?

Thanks to Dr. Suzannah Lipscomb and History Today:
http://www.historytoday.com/suzannah-lipscomb/code-conduct-historians

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