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The Staple

In early medieval times, ‘the staple’ meant England’s staple export: wool. But it was inconvenient and inefficient for the king’s men to collect the customs duties that were payable on the exported wool from every one of the hundreds of little English ports all around the country. London, Bristol, Ipswich and Sandwich were major ports but little ships could sail from any small harbour or river estuary. Therefore, since wherever the ships had sailed from, they were all taking their cargo of wool to Flanders (modern day Belgium and north-east France), it was easier to collect the customs when they arrived at their destination. In 1313, Edward II ordained that all merchants had to land their ‘staple’ at a port he would designate. During the Hundred Years War, England acquired Calais from the French and from the mid-fifteenth century until 1558 this port became the convenient Calais Staple, where customs duties were collected on all English wool exports.

From “A Year in the Life of Medieval England” by Toni Mount.

The image is Old bird’s-eye view plan of Calais by Braun & Hogenberg 1597

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Scoliosis treatments at the time of Richard III

After centuries of slanders about Richard III, always named as “the hunchbacked king”, it was finally proved that he just suffered from scoliosis.

He was not born with this condition but he probably started to suffer with it in his adolescence between 10 and 15. This is the so-called idiopathic scoliosis that can be, in some cases, very painful and in very rare cases can even be fatal.

This kind of scoliosis can’t be prevented, as the cause is unknown but the culprit could be the growth hormone or a genetic predisposition. This condition can be mild or severe. In the latter, it can affect the appearance of the person and obviously can create embarrassment, low self-esteem and sometimes depression in addition to physical distress, headache, a very thin shape, stomach problems and lung dysfunction.

Severe scoliosis is visible if the person wears tight clothes and, if it doesn’t stop developing, it can cause excruciating pain due to nerve pressure. However, people affected by scoliosis have a normal life and can practice sports, do exercise and every normal, daily activity.

Richard III is probably the most famous person affected by idiopathic scoliosis, along with Princess Eugenie of York, the runner Usain Bolt, the actress Liz Taylor, the singers Kurt Cobain and Liza Minnelli, the tennis star, James Blake, among others.

Today, it is easy to treat this condition thanks to braces and, in the worst cases, with surgery but, unfortunately, these treatments were not available at the time of Richard III and medieval remedies were almost useless, very painful and often they even worsened the situation.

For people affected by mild scoliosis, there were some massage techniques used in Turkish baths along with the application of ointments made with herbs and plants. In other cases, these massages were made in preparation for another treatment. One of the most common ‘remedies’ was traction. The equipment for this treatment was very expensive, so only rich people and the nobility could afford it. As Richard was a member of one of the wealthiest families in England and a noble as well, it is highly probable that he would have gone through traction. The instrument used for this purpose was similar to the ‘rack’ used to torture people. The patient was lying on his back and tied by armpits and calves by a rope to a wooden roller and literally pulled to stretch the spine. The treatment could last for hours and it is not difficult to imagine how horribly painful it was and, unfortunately, it was of no benefit.

Richard’s family would have had the best physicians of the time and these should have been aware of this treatment so it is likely that, unfortunately, he had to undergo traction. It is difficult to imagine that Richard’s family wouldn’t have tried to cure his spine, being such highly-ranked people.

However, scoliosis was not just a physical issue. A person affected by scoliosis was seen as the incarnation of evil and a sinner, while a straight spine represented morality, goodness and beauty. The Shakespearean character of Richard III was associated with wickedness and immorality because of his physical deformity, sharpened to the maximum to create an unscrupulous monster capable of any crime.

Richard managed to hide his condition for his whole life because he very well knew this could have been a reason for being painted as a bad person, twisted in his body and, therefore, also in his mind.

After his death at Bosworth, he was stripped naked and his secret revealed. Shakespeare exaggerated his condition in order to misrepresent Richard and to blame him for every possible crime. His scoliosis became a hunchback with the addition of a withered arm and a limp.

With the discovery of his skeleton under the car park in Leicester, it appeared very clear that Richard had just a scoliosis and the evil hunchbacked king created by Shakespeare was just Tudor propaganda, that made Richard the most maligned king in English history. This discovery helped to reveal Richard in a new light and called into question all the atrocities he has been accused of. There are many reasons to believe that the truth will eventually come to light.

Do you want to know a very strange coincidence? In Ipswich, where the sales office of the Richard III Society is located, there is a surgeon, expert in spinal surgery: his name is Robert Lovell (top)!

Raedwald again

Basil Brown’s work at Sutton Hoo, on secondment from Ipswich Museum, began in summer 1938 and reached “Mound One” today in 1939. In time, he explored the many mounds on that site, one of which probably includes the remains of Raedwald, King of East Anglia to about 624 and Bretwalda of England from 616. Raedwald, of the Wuffing dynasty, was a Christian convert and his collateral descendants fed into the House of Wessex and their successors from 1154.

Here are some pictures from The Cricketers, Ipswich, about Raedwald, his family and his times:

Is it time to exhume Cardinal Wolsey?

Thomas Wolsey was born in Ipswich, apparently in March 1473, to Joan Daundy and Robert Wolsey, who seems to have been a butcher and may possibly have been killed at Bosworth. Opposite his birthplace, in St. Nicholas’ Street, is this seated statue (below). His local achievements include Wolsey’s Gate and, after about 475 years, the University it was designed to be part of.

After a long career as Bishop of Bath and Wells, Lincoln, Winchester, Durham and finally Cardinal Archbishop of York, Wolsey was summoned to answer charges of treason, having failed to secure an annulment for Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. He died of a heart attack at Leicester Abbey on the penultimate day of November 1530, telling Abbot Richard Pescall: “Father abbott, I ame come hether to leave my bones among you”.

Just like Greyfriars a mile or so away, Leicester Abbey was dissolved about a decade later. Abbey Park stands on the site now and the generally designated site lies to the north, near the confluence of the Soar and the Grand Union Canal. There has been some Leicester University archaeology on the site and the Abbey plan has been marked out, including this grave marker (right).

So is it time to identify the remains of this Cardinal, just twenty years younger than Richard, to rebury them in a similar way in the same city? The church of St. Margaret is nearby.

So where exactly is “Orwell”?

Harwich Town station is the end of the line, a twenty-five minute ride from Manningtree and the north-eastern extremity of Essex. As you cross the main road from the station car park, turning left takes you past a series of old buildings with Harwich Society plaques amid a modern setting. Some of these commemorate people such as Pepys, Christopher Newport the Jamestown settler and Christopher Jones, of Mayflower fame but the first of these is the site of the inn known as The Three Cups (left). Eventually, you will reach the Ha’penny Pier, from which the busy Port of Felixstowe is visible. Indeed, a passenger ferry across the rivers operates on most summer days.

Harwich is situated on the south bank of the confluence of the rivers Stour and Orwell. Between them lies the Shotley peninsula, which also features the village of Holbrook. Warner (Edward II, The Unconventional King, p.216) reports that Queen Isabella, Roger Mortimer, Edmund Earl of Kent and his steward John Cromwell, with a thousand or more other men, landed at “Orwell in Suffolk” on 24 September 1326. However, I have never heard of an actual settlement by this name.

Contemporary chroniclers are irritatingly vague about this location and it would be difficult to satisfy the conditions precisely because Harwich is in the wrong county. This map (right) illustrates the situation – that only the north bank of the Orwell from Felixstowe to Ipswich, or the northern half of the Shotley Peninsula, fit these criteria.

The Harwich Society cannot now locate their source.

The Court of Requests and Thomas Seckford

In 1484, King Richard III created a minor equity court to deal with minor disputes in equity; these are disputes where the harshness of common law would be acknowledged by those appointed by the Crown. Equity courts were mostly seen as the Lord Chancellor’s remit, and the split of the Chancery Courts from the Curia Regis happened in the mid-fourteenth century. By the time of King Richard III, the Chancery Court had become backlogged from cases pleading the harshness of the common law, and the Court of Requests was no doubt and attempt to remove minor equity cases from the backlog and free up court time – Richard’s attempt at reducing bureaucracy and better administration.

So successful was the Court of Requests that it survived Richard’s reign, and was formalised by the Privy Council of Henry “Tudor”, the usurper. It was a popular court, because the cost of cases was relatively low and justice was swifter than the common law courts, which would ultimately prove its undoing.

Two Masters of Requests Ordinary were appointed by Henry VIII, and another two Masters of Requests Extraordinary were appointed by Elizabeth I. One of these was Thomas Seckford, of Woodbridge in Suffolk.

Thomas was an influential man, even before Elizabeth appointed him to the Court of Requests in 1558. He was MP for Ripon in November 1554, just months after his Grey cousins were executed, and was then elected MP for Orford (a fishing village on the Suffolk Coast which had two MPs despite only having a handful of residents) in 1555 and again in 1558. He was MP for Ipswich in 1559 and for Suffolk in 1571. Seckford Hall, (right) near Woodbridge, is known to have hosted Elizabeth’s court as she progressed, and was built in 1530 as the Seckford Family home; it is now a hotel, while a golf club sits within what was once its grounds. The A12 Martlesham bypass sweeps across the Finn Valley in front of the hall, giving wonderful views to motorists but somewhat destroying the character and appearance of the building and grounds. As an interesting side note, the hotel contains furniture from Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, including (allegedly) the chair Henry the Usurper died on.

Thomas Seckford commissioned Christophe Saxton to create the first surveyed atlas of the realm, which Elizabeth granted him a patent for its sole publication for ten years. This made him an even wealthier man and he added to his estates Clerkenwell, endowing the Seckford Almshouses with income from Clerkenwell. His wealth also led to the establishment of a free school, Woodbridge School, which is a minor public school. His wealth still helps young and old in Woodbridge today.

The Court of Requests fell foul of the common law courts at the end of the 16th century. Angry that business deserted them in favour of the more efficient Court of Requests, the common law courts overturned a number of decisions of the Requests Court, and banned them from imprisoning people; ultimately this was to prove their undoing, and the English Civil War, which led to the invalidation of the Privy Seal, was the final death of the Court, set up all those years before by King Richard for the better delivery of justice.

Thomas Seckford (left) died in January 1587, although we are not sure exactly when, whilst in his early seventies. His mother was Margaret Wingfield, relating him to both the de la Pole and Brandon families, and her mother was an Audley. In fact, Thomas could claim double descent from Edward I, through Joan of Acre, as well as many other great mediaeval magnates, including Edmund “Crouchback”. At his death, Thomas Seckford remained without issue, just like his fellow long-term royal servant Henry Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon. I need hardly add that Huntingdon was his cousin.

A most unpleasant surprise

Peter Cole was a tanner from Ipswich, although his year of birth is generally unknown. He found himself tried in Norwich for heresy and executed there, presumably in the Castle moat (below), which must have been something of a shock as it was 1587 and the heresy laws had been repealed again almost thirty years earlier. Cole was an Arian (1) and one of nine people burned during Elizabeth I’s reign, followed by another two under James I, as detailed here.
Just as we showed in this post, there was a distinct East Anglian emphasis to this smaller scale persecution, just as there had been in Mary I’s reign. Four of this nonet suffered in Norwich from 1579-89 and the others in London from 1575-93. Two, or possibly three, were from the Netherlands. The cases of Matthew Hamont and Francis Kett, both Norfolk residents, are better documented than that of Cole and the latter was Robert Kett’s nephew. During this decade, Edmund Freke and then Edmund Scambler were Bishop of Norwich.

(1) As you can see, the Unitarians see themselves as heirs to the Arian tradition, whose followers in the centuries after the Norwich Four included Newton and Priestley.

The Grundisburgh martyr

Today in 1558, Alice Driver and Alexander Gooch were burned on the Cornhill in Ipswich. Her trial record, particularly her testimony, shows that Alice Driver freely admitted not sharing certain Roman Catholic beliefs and this was sufficient to convict her. Both are commemorated on this monument in Christchurch Park (left) and Driver by a road in her home village.

These executions happened only thirteen days before both Mary I and Cardinal Pole died and the next monarch repealed de heretico comburendo, the law under which Driver and Gooch were put to death, such that it was last used in Canterbury on the 15th of that month. For comparison, the third Duke of Norfolk was scheduled for beheading in January 1547 but reprieved when Henry VIII died a few hours earlier.

Those Howards again

Mid Anglia Group, Richard III Society

GoldenLionWe all know by now that the Red Lion in Colchester was originally the White Lion because this was the emblem of the Howards but was renamed because the family was out of favour at James I’s accession.

History definitely wasn’t on my mind today but fish and chips in Ipswich town centre was. I chose the Golden Lion, a well-known Wetherspoon by the Cornhill, and read the above note on my menu. Again, it is a former White Lion in Howard country and is unrecorded before 1571, unlike the Colchester venue which is established as the home of Sir John Howard in the years before the Mowbray Dukes of Norfolk became extinct in 1482.

The latter date is significant because the fourth Howard Duke of Norfolk, Thomas, was executed in 1572 for treason that encompassed marrying Mary of Scotland. His attainder was not reversed until the Restoration, perhaps because…

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A well-connected Archdeacon?

As we said last year, late mediaeval prelates were often well-connected. Indeed, as this ODNB article shows, William Pykenham, Archdeacon of Suffolk, died some time in spring 1497, approximately sixty years after his father. His mother was Katherine Barrington, of the prominent Hatfield Broadoak family, which explains some of his appointments through her Bourchier and Stafford social connections, including that of Rector of Hadleigh in 1470. He served as an executor for his patron, Thomas Bourchier Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1486 and then for Cecily Duchess of York in 1495.

In his role as Archdeacon, Pykenham is associated with two great buildings, of which only these Gatehouses remain: one in Hadleigh and one in Ipswich. He also had dealings with two maternal cousins: Thomas and Thomasine Barrington, the latter being the wife of Sir John Hopton of Blythburgh.

Here too (top) is Barrington Hall, home of the family that included Sir Thomas, second husband of Winifred Pole: Barringtons. The descent of Katherine and Thomasine cannot yet be precisely traced.

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