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Ten medieval scandals….!


Pope Stephen VI had the body of his predecessor, Pope Formosus, exhumed and put on trial.
 

“….What are the scandals that made headlines in the Middle Ages? Kings and Popes would be involved in some of the craziest stories of sex and corruption that would make today’s news seem quite tame. From a cross-dressing prostitute to the trial of a dead Pope, here are ten almost-unbelievable medieval scandals….”

Well, you’ll find these “gems” at this site I imagine they’re all true, although some of them beggar belief. Especially the rather gruesome episode illustrated above.

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Dyer or Dire?

Many of you will remember the episode of “Who do you think you are” in which Danny Dyer was revealed as a descendant of Edward III. In this new two part series, he “meets” a few prominent ancestors, some even more distant.

The first episode began with Rollo, ancestor of the Dukes of Normandy, which saw Dyer visit Sweden, although Danes and Norwegians also claim that Viking dynast, to learn sparring with a sword and shield. Then he went to the Tower to talk about William I and Dover Castle for Henry II, discussing his rebellious sons and his mixed relationship with Becket. At every stage, riding a horse, jousting or dyeing (Dyeing?), he was accompanied by a professional genealogist (Anthony Adolph, in a cafe opposite Buckingham Palace) or a historian, if not one of television’s “usual suspects”. At the end, Dyer visited France to learn of a slightly different ancestor – St. Louis IX, although Margaret of Wessex is another canonised forebear.

The second episode did feature some real historians: Elizabeth Norton, Chris Given-Wilson, Tobias Capwell and Tracy Borman. The opening scene had Isabella on the Leeds Castle drawbridge shouting at Edward II (Dyer): “Git aht ov moi carsel” (you may need Google Translate, but not from French). We were shown an image of Hugh le Despencer’s grisly execution, without pointing out that there were two of that name, followed by Edward’s confinement in Berkeley Castle, forced abdication and the legend of his even grislier end. Henry “Hotspur” Percy, who died in battle at Shrewsbury, followed as Dyer tried on late mediaeval armour. The next scenes concerned Sir John Seymour at Wolf Hall, inveigling his daughter into Henry VIII’s world, as Dyer dressed up and tried “Tudor” dancing. We then moved on to Helmingham Hall as Catherine Cromwell married Lord Tollemache, whose successor met Dyer, his cousin, again. The series concluded with a “sugar banquet” as the star’s family joined in, dressed as Elizabeth I’s contemporaries.

Both programmes were informative about mediaeval life, such as the “silver pennies” bearing Dyer’s image and the West Ham badge, although his stereotypical East London patois grates a little. It brought to mind Ray Winstone as Henry VIII (“I have been betrayed!”) or Nick Knowles‘ egregious Historyonics.

How strict was medieval royal court mourning at Christmas….?

Christmas garland - 1

Medieval Christmas

Medieval Christmas

I know I have (more than once!) written of a strange string of coincidences connecting Richards II and III and their queens, both named Anne. Now I have come upon another question that puzzles me. It is well known that Richard II loved his Anne deeply, and was distraught when she died suddenly in the summer of 1394. He and his court were plunged into mourning, he had Sheen palace razed to the ground because he could not bear to go where he and she had been so happy, etc. etc.

Richmond's Islands, 1720

Richard II and his queen had a lavish lodge, La Neyt, built on an island in the Thames at Sheen, so they could be alone together

One way Richard chose to distract himself was an expedition to Ireland, where trouble was brewing for English rule. No English monarch had been there since King John (when he was still a prince). Richard II took a huge army over, and believed himself successful in reasserting English power, as witness the illustration below, of him received homage/knighting Irish kings. At Christmas 1394, barely six months after Anne’s death, historians tells us that Richard had a whale of a time with entertainments, revels and all the usual celebrations of the period.

Henry-VIII-at-Court-at-Christmas - 2

Royal celebrations at Christmas – Henry VIII

Now, does this sound like a monarch and court in full mourning for a beloved consort? No. Was Richard II, who was a very emotional man, able to set his grief aside and order revels, both for the season and the “victory” over the troublesome Irish kings? [It wasn’t to be long after Richard’s return to England that those kings started stirring again – well, I would have too!] Or have these junketings been overstated or even falsely reported?

Dublin - Richard II knighting the Irish kings - 1394

Richard II receiving the Irish kings, 1394

Whatever, it was Christmas, and we have a King Richard, sunk in grief for his Queen Anne. I now find myself wondering what might have happened if Bosworth had gone the other way, and Richard III were still king at Christmas 1485. He was another king in deep mourning, having lost his Anne in March that same year (and his son the year before). He too would have had something to celebrate – defeating Tudor, and enjoying the Christmas season. Even if negotiations were in full swing for his remarriage, would he have thrown mourning for Anne to the winds and had a lavish old time of it? Perhaps he would think his court and the realm at large was in need of a happy time at last, and so he would set his own feelings aside? Maybe that’s what Richard II had thought before him?

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

The giving of New Year gifts at the court of the Duc du Berri.

I’m genuinely curious about this business of kings in mourning, because Richard II made it clear he adored Anne of Bohemia, and as far as we are concerned, Richard III and Anne Neville loved each other too. Their shared agony on the sudden death of their only child, Edward of Middleham, suggests a great closeness, if nothing else. Maybe both marriages were first entered into for political reasons. Anne of Bohemia brought nothing to her marriage, except her family and connections; Anne Neville brought half the Warwick inheritance, which was nothing to sniff at. I believe that both marriages became love matches, and that whether the kings liked it or not, they were obliged to marry again as soon as possible.

Betrothal of the French Princess to Richard II

The betrothal of Isabella of Valois to Richard II.

Just over a year following Christmas 1394, Richard II married the six-year-old Isabella of Valois, daughter of the King of France. One theory for this odd choice of bride—by a childless king who was beset by uncles and cousins hungry to succeed him—is that it was a way of staying faithful to Anne for longer. Such a very young second wife would not be expected to be available for consummation before she was, at the very least, twelve.

It was still 1485 when Richard III’s envoys commenced negotiations for him to marry Joanna of Portugal, who is known to posterity as the Blessed Joanna, Princess of Portugal. She was eight months older than Richard, and in the end did not marry anyone. These 1485 negotiations were not only for Richard’s marriage, but for that of his eldest niece, Elizabeth of York, who was to marry Joanna’s cousin, who would become Manuel I.  This sounds a workmanlike arrangement, made because, as I have said, a childless king had to marry again, quickly. At least Richard III’s chosen bride would be able to provide him with heirs, unlike little Isabella of France. And he was arranging a very good marriage for his illegitimate niece.

So, just what was the protocol for this sort of thing? Did mourning mean just that, mourning? Nothing less. Or could it be dipped into and out of, as the situation dictated?

Christmas garland - 3

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.

Biggest Lies of the Middle Ages

There are many, many  false ideas and funny beliefs about the Middle Ages and  some of the notable figures  who lived in those times. Alfred and the cakes, Edward II and the hot poker, Eleanor of Aquitaine flinging poisoned toads on Fair Rosamund… And of course, almost everything you can think of about Richard III.  In popular ‘myths’ of the middle ages, still clinging on with remarkable tenacity, everyone was  hobbit-sized, had bad teeth, burned witches and bathed once a year under duress.

Some of these  ideas have come from folklore or from popular fiction, like certain famous plays we know (COUGH); others have been handed down by the good old Victorians who wrote history THEIR way, just as they ‘improved’ on real medieval churches by rebuilding them in a NEW, ‘improved’ cod-medieval style, often obliterating real ancient artifacts and chucking out effigies and tomb slabs in the process.

Recently I was rather pleased to  find this interesting little ‘myth buster’ article–link below.

I was particularly happy to see not only a positive re-assessment of Richard but  a mention of his scoliosis which showed an understanding of the condition. It is really not that rare, that obvious, or that debilitating, unlike the way certain parties STILL  like to portray it.

http://historycollection.co/getting-medieval-6-biggest-lies-middle-ages/

 

yoda-quote-star-wars

Yet another target for the Cairo dwellers

de Noailles

Last autumn, we reblogged posts to illustrate that the denialists of the history world, quite apart from their antics with respect to Richard III, quoted an obviously non-existent part of a document about Edward II and cited a book on botany, with reference to John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, that he couldn’t have owned because it was clearly published after his death, mentioning Queen Victoria who acceded two years after Chatham’s death.

This next case concerns two of the Seymour brothers, of whom Thomas,

Sudeley

Somerset

Baron Sudeley, was Lord Admiral and Edward, Duke of Somerset, was Lord Protector to Edward VI – both being roles in which Richard had served before succeeding. Sudeley was beheaded for treason in 1549 during Somerset’s Protectorate before the Duke fell in early 1552. Hester Chapman, a 1950s biographer of Edward, quoted the French ambassador, Antoine de Noailles, that John Dudley, then Earl of Warwick but later Duke of Northumberland, had persuaded Somerset to execute his brother.

Edward VI

 

Northumberland

As Christine Hartweg explains, Skidmore, who wrote about the boy king more recently, made the same claim yet de Noailles did not arrive in England until May 1553, a matter of weeks before Edward’s death, as his papers, published in five parts, show and he did not write about previous events.

How and why the House of York laid claim to the throne….

Richard, 3rd Duke of York

Here is an article from English Historical Review, 1st June 1998, telling of how and why Richard, 3rd Duke of York, laid claim to the throne of England. The root cause was an entail to the will of Edward III, who was admittedly in his dotage at the time. The entail, which excluded a female line from ascending the throne, spoils that otherwise excellent king’s legacy as far as I’m concerned. But then, I’m a modern woman who doesn’t hold with the denying of rights simply because the ones being denied are the female of the species! Or the denial of anyone’s true and honest rights, come to that. True and honest being the operative words.

The mastermind behind this entail was Edward’s 3rd son, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, who sought to eliminate any claim from the descendants of his 2nd eldest brother, Lionel. Those descendants were, of course, through the female line, which line happened to be the one from whom Richard, 3rd Duke of York, was descended. Gaunt’s purpose was to see that his own line took precedence. It did in the end, but not in a way old Edward III could have foreseen, and not through the entail. Instead it took the form of Gaunt’s son and heir usurping and murdering his first cousin and rightful king, Richard II, heir of the great Black Prince. Gaunt’s son took the throne and became Henry IV, the first Lancastrian monarch.

John of Gaunt

So it seems that gallant Gaunt leaned on his dying father to achieve his own ambitious ends. But that’s the House of Lancaster for you! And it was Gaunt’s double-dealing chicanery that eventually led to Richard, 3rd Duke of York, claiming the throne that was his by right. And it all led to what we know as the Wars of the Roses.

However, there just might be some doubt about the entail’s existence. According to Penny Lawne’s biography of Joan of Kent: “…In preparation for his [Edward III’s] death he drew up his will, one of the witnesses being Sir Richard Stury, and in an entail specifically designated Richard (II) as his successor…” There is no mention of excluding any female line, but then, Lawne is very pro-Gaunt throughout, so I suppose the nitty-gritty of such an entail was better omitted. Unless, of course, all the entail ever really did was designate Richard of Bordeaux as the old king’s successor. In which case, where did the story of Gaunt’s pressure and interference come from? Ah, well, later in her book, Lawne lays the blame at the feet of Walsingham, who “held Gaunt in particular contempt, convinced he wanted the throne for himself, and repeated virulent gossip and rumours current about the duke…” Walsingham, it seems, even went so far as to portray Gaunt trying to persuade the Commons to discuss the succession, and was so intent upon removing opposition that he requested a law be passed to forbid a woman from inheriting the throne, “which would obviate the claim of Lionel’s daughter Philippa, who arguably held the most legitimate claim to the throne after the prince’s son”. So, this business of excluding females’ claims was due to Gaunt browbeating the Commons, not to Edward III’s entail?

Well, not being a fan of John of Gaunt, I am quite prepared to believe he put the screws on his dying father, in order to ensure the House of Lancaster becoming heir to Richard II’s throne, in the event of Richard childless demise. But I can also believe he’d go to work on Parliament. Gaunt was ruthless when it came to furthering his own family, and how better to achieve this than paving the path to the throne? Either way, he tried to see the succession go to the House of Lancaster.

Richard, 3rd Duke of York, quite rightly, did not think the House of Lancaster had any business wearing the crown. He was descended from Lionel, Duke of Clarence, and truly believed his (senior) line had precedence. I believe so too. Maybe it was through the female line, but it was perfectly legitimate, and until the demise of Edward III and that pesky entail (or Gaunt’s other forceful activities), there had not been a bar on women taking the throne. Yes, they had to stand back while their brothers took precedence, but if those brothers died, then they themselves had every right to be crowned. Lionel of Clarence only had one child, a daughter. His right passed to her, not to his conniving next brother, Gaunt.

Richard of York WAS the rightful king.

Now, of course, it has all been changed, and women can take precedence even if they have a younger brother(s). The line goes through age, not gender. And about time too!

Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire’s next door neighbour, has a lot to offer too….

Nottingham Castle

Leicester’s next door neighbour has something to offer too, including a connection with Richard. This is a good article...except for that stupid vertical band that descends through two of the excellent illustrations. If there’s a way of sending it packing, I didn’t find it.

 

Were Edward II and Isabella maligned too….?

The above illustrations are an indication of the generally accepted view of the reign of Edward II. He preferred men and ignored his wife. She resented this, took a lover and turned successfully upon her husband, becoming the “She Wolf” of legend.

So let us go back to the beginning. On 25th January 1308, Edward II and the beautiful Isabella of France were married. He was 23 and she was a mere 16. Their coronation was on 25th November that year. For Isabella, the blot on her landscape was a certain Piers Gaveston, who appears to have been Edward’s adored lover. Certainly the handsome Gascon was regarded with inordinate favour by the besotted king, who created him Earl of Cornwall and even presented his own niece in marriage. Gaveston lorded it at the coronation, bearing the crown and having the audacity to wear royal purple, instead of the cloth of gold that was decreed for his rank of earl. Then he and Edward sat together, laughing and doting, leaving Isabella on her own with her outraged French relatives. The latter were so angry they walked out. Edward, apparently, hardly noticed their departure.

Isabella_of_France_Consort_Edward_II_345w

Isabella, Queen Consort of Edward II

Needless to say, Gaveston was loathed by the baronage…and, fame has always had it, by Isabella as well. He, and his successors, the even more hated Despensers, were the bane of her existence. She was scorned, humiliated, abandoned, and generally treated appallingly by the foolish Edward. Eventually she was driven into the arms of Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March, who became her lover. Together they managed to unseat Edward and eventually bring out his death at Berkeley Castle. (Well, that too might be a myth, for there is a persistent theory that he escaped and lived abroad for the rest of his life.)

But it is with Edward’s relationship with Isabella that I am concerned here. Was she really that callously treated? It isn’t often that I’ve come across anyone defending Edward and, to a certain extent, Isabella as well. Maybe Edward has been wronged, and was a caring husband after all. And maybe she loved him in return. In the beginning. Eventually it all became too much for her, and she turned to Mortimer, but it certainly wasn’t instant.

To read an argument in favour of both parties, go to the following, which I found very interesting and thought-provoking. Has Edward been wrongly judged through the centuries? The original post was by Kathryn Warner, author of “Edward II: The Unconventional King”.

http://www.kyrackramer.com/2015/01/06/isabella-of-france-and-edward-ii-reality-is-far-more-interesting-than-myth/

A History Walk in Wiltshire

Sometimes, in this very old country of ours,  even a simple afternoon’s walk out along the river  can come up with some rewarding historical data relating to the Middle Ages and the Wars of the Roses period. Recently I went for a walk near the Wiltshire Avon, from Figheldean to Netheravon, taking in  two little-known rural medieval churches, which proved to be of some interest.

At the Church of St Michaels and All Angels, where the worn effigies of two unknown 13thc knights lie in the porch, having been brought there from a now-lost nearby church or chapel, the advowsen was held in 1485-1487 by Francis Stourton. Stourton was the son of John Stourton who attended Richard III’s Parliament when attainders were passed on the Duke of Buckingham’s rebels. Unfortunately for Baron Stourton, his brother–in-law, Sir William Berkeley, had actually joined the Duke’s Rebellion. Richard said he would pardon Berkeley as long as John Stourton came up with a bond of 1000 marks. He agreed to pay the bond–but unfortunately, ungrateful William Berkeley promptly shot off to Brittany to join Henry Tudor, leaving Baron Stourton with a hefty bill. In-laws, eh?

One of the local manors, Alton Magna, also happened to belong at one time to the Earl of Warwick, Richard Neville. It is not certain  how he aquired it, as it had descended with the Honour of Leicester from Simon de Montfort, to Henry Duke of Lancaster, Henry’s daughter Maud, then her sister Blanche, the wife of John of Gaunt. When Blanche’s son became Henry IV in 1399 the honour of Leicester passed to the Crown.

Going along a pleasant leafy back road from Figheldean church, the traveller eventually comes to the village of Netheravon. Its church of All Saints has some similarities architectural qualities to that in Figheldean, including a very tall, stark tower. There was probably a Saxon  church originally  on site, and there is  visible Norman work that survives, including a carving of beasts on the capital of an exterior pillar.

The church was a prebendal church and one of the prebendaries in the 15th c happened to be Thomas Rotherham,who was first Bishop of Rochester, then Bishop of Lincoln and finally Archbishop of York. He was Keeper of the Privy Seal for King Edward IV and was appointed Lord Chancellor. When Edward died, Rotherham unlawfully handed the Great Seal to Elizabeth Woodville, and hence lost his position as Chancellor. He was present at the council meeting where Lord Hastings was arrested and then executed, and was himself arrested as part of the conspiracy. He went to the Tower, but not for very long; he was soon released and continued to be a player on the scene.

  As at Figheldean, the manor of Netheravon was held by the Duchy of Lancaster, first half of it, then eventually the whole. At one point one of the halves was held by the notorious Hugh Depenser the Elder and his family during  the reign of Edward II.  Upon their downfall, Queen Isabella was granted the estate  for life.  However, when her son, Edward III, captured her and Roger Mortimer at Nottingham in 1330, Edward gave the estate to Edward de Bohun. Later, through Mary, wife of Henry IV, it became part of the Duchy of Lancaster. Other local Despenser lands went to the Earl of Salisbury, which may be how Richard Neville came to own a manor in Figheldean.

Several local estates were also held by Sir William Beauchamp, husband to Elizabeth, suo jure Baronness St Amand; upon his death she held them jointly with her next husband, Sir Roger Tocotes. Sir Roger was a local landowner and sheriff who served George of Clarence for a while, but ended up as one of Buckingham’s rebels.

There is one other interesting feature of Netheravon. As you pass down the lane near the church, you will see the name ‘Beaufort’ clearly affixed  to a gate. The large, rather sombre mansion in the next field was owned by the Dukes of Beaufort -although not in medieval times, but rather from the middle of the 18th century, when the surname (Beaufort) and title (Somerset)  were reversed. Their stately pile, built by one Henry Somerset,  stands close to a Roman villa and is likely on the site of the medieval manor house of the Cormayles family.

 

 

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