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A list of unsolved historical mysteries…yes, including the boys in the Tower….

Would YOU trust youthful rivals for the throne to THIS man?

Here is another list of unsolved mysteries from the past. Yes, Richard and his nephews crop up again. Did he? Didn’t he? Well, it’s suggested that Henry VII was the more likely culprit. Hooray! I mean, look at the fellow. I wouldn’t believe a word he said! And he certainly had more reason than Richard III to dispose of those inconvenient boys.

Other, more recent, cases include Jack the Ripper, Amelia Earhart and “Dr.” Hawley Crippen

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Myths about the murderous mandrake….

 

Mandrake – from Wikimedia

“….in the Mediterranean there grows a…murderous plant called the mandrake. Its roots can look bizarrely like a human body, and legend holds that it can even come in male and female form. It’s said to spring from the dripping fat and blood…of a hanged man. Dare pull it from the earth and it lets out a monstrous scream, bestowing agony and death to all those within earshot….”

Ew. But it is true that these beliefs—and many others, including that a dog had to be sacrificed in order to drag the plant from the ground!—were held of this plant, Mandragora officinarum. I have taken the above quote from this post

In ancient times, the mandrake root was used by the Greeks to produce an anaesthetic for surgery. This use was continued into the Middle Ages. The Greeks also used it as an aphrodisiac, calling it the ‘love-apple of the ancients’. It was, of course, associated with the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite. The Bible relates that to the ancient Hebrews, it was used to induce conception.

courtesy of Michael Ramstead, Fine Art Print

At her trial of 1431, Joan of Arc was accused of carrying mandrake with her as a means of controlling the minds of others. And by the 16th century, in England, mandrake was still so much in demand for its various properties, that bryony roots were being crafted to appear like mandrake, and then sold as such.

To read more of this ‘dangerous’ plant, go here

And yet it looks so innocent!

Mandragora officinarum

Talbot Country

There is a pub in Bridgnorth, near where I live. Well, let’s be honest, there’s about a hundred. If you have ever been to Bridgnorth, aside from the Severn Valley Railway, the funicular railway from Low Town to High Town and the remains of the slighted castle, which lean at a greater angle than the Tower of Pisa, the sheer number of pubs will strike you. The one I was referring to is The Bell and Talbot on Salop Street in High Town. The hanging sign shows a dog lying beneath a bell while the one on the wall looks a bit more like a coat of arms, with two hounds rearing up either side of a bell.

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The Bell and Talbot, Bridgnorth

The symbol of the Talbot Hound is easy to miss but is significant in Shropshire. Talbot dogs were small white hunting hounds, extinct now, but understood to be an ancestor of the beagle and the bloodhound. The origin of the breed, its emergence in England and the reason for the name are all lost in the mists of time, but they have an enduring connection to the most prominent Shropshire family of the last five centuries.

Henry VI is believed to have referred to John Talbot in 1449 as ‘Talbott, oure good dogge’: I’m sure he meant it as a compliment, but I wouldn’t appreciate such a label! Did the name of the hound emerge from this quip? Or was it a reference to the already-established Talbot breed, coincidentally sharing a name with Henry’s premier general in France? John Talbot became Earl of Shrewsbury and his family inextricably linked with the title and surrounding county for generations. The 1445 Shrewsbury Book, commissioned by Talbot, has an image of the earl presenting his book to Margaret of Anjou, Henry’s queen, with a little white Talbot hound standing behind him.

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The Shrewsbury Book, presented by John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury

In 1569, George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury was one of the few English noblemen wealthy and trusted enough to house Mary, Queen of Scots during her period under house arrest at Elizabeth I’s instruction. Shrewsbury was a prominent Protestant and Elizabeth made him a Privy Counsellor as part of the arrangement because of ‘his approved loyalty and faithfulness, and the ancient state of blood from which he is descended’. Mary was initially held at Tutbury Castle and although Elizabeth would not meet the costs of her prisoner’s keeping, Mary’s French incomes covered her hosts expenses for a while. She was moved two months later to Wingfield Manor, a more suitable, well-kept lodging than the dilapidated Tutbury with its inadequate drains. Although he would discharge his duty diligently, Shrewsbury was censured any time he left Mary’s company for his own business and despite his wealth, he and his wife, Bess of Hardwick found themselves financially embarrassed by the cost and Elizabeth’s refusal to help meet them. Mary was eventually removed from Shrewsbury’s care before her eventual entrapment and execution at Fotheringhay Castle.

Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots

Alton Towers lies just north of Shropshire, across the border into Staffordshire, and even as a theme park, it retains a link to the Talbot family who made it their ancestral home. The buildings that lie ruined today were built by Charles Talbot, 15th Earl of Shrewsbury in the early nineteenth century. The ride Hex is contained within the ruins and tells the story of that earl’s battle with the supernatural to lift a curse placed in him and his family.

For anyone interested in the fifteenth century, John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, remembered as Old Talbot, is a towering figure sadly eclipsed by later events. He was one of the few Englishmen Joan of Arc is reputed to have known by name. His fearless, often reckless leadership made him the most successful English general in France over many years. He was probably in his mid-sixties when he was eventually killed at the Battle of Castillon in 1453. His loss was such a blow that Castillon is considered the last battle of the Hundred Years War and there is a memorial in France to him, set up where he fell in recognition of a foe worthy of respect.

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The Talbot Monument at the site of the Battle of Castillon

For those with an interest more precisely focussed on Richard III and the events of 1483, the Talbot family have a vitally important role to play. Unfortunately, there is little solid fact on which to hang any opinion of the controversy of Edward IV’s marital status. Where hard, written evidence is lacking – and we should expect it to be lacking, given the systematic destruction of Titulus Regius after Bosworth – I tend to fall back on the actions of people affected by events. In their reaction, or even inaction, we can often glean an idea of what must have been going on and what people thought of it.

The Talbot family come into sharp focus because the basis of Richard’s charge that Edward IV’s children were illegitimate is a claim that Edward was a bigamist. It was alleged that prior to his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, he had already contracted a marriage to Eleanor Talbot, daughter of the 1st Earl of Shrewsbury. We have no solid evidence that this is the case, but as I said, we probably shouldn’t expect to. Look at what people in London in June 1483 did, though. They accepted the evidence we are told they were shown. We cannot examine it and for the most part, historians dismiss it as fantasy. Yet those who could read it accepted it so completely that they deposed a king and offered the crown to his uncle. Why would they do that? Fear of Richard? Hardly. He had no army in London or anywhere nearby. He was mustering a few hundred men at Pontefract, but they had not left by then and London was well versed in resisting thousands, never mind a few hundred. Fear of a minority? Maybe, but Richard had shown himself willing to act as regent for his nephew, and he was the senior royal male of the House of York, an experienced governor and successful general (within his limited opportunities). Could it be that, just maybe, the allegations looked true?

Edward IV’s reputation, deserved or otherwise, surely made it seem plausible. None would doubt that he was capable of contracting a secret marriage to a relatively unsuitable older lady. That was, after all, how he ended up married to Elizabeth Woodville. By 1483, George Talbot was 4th Earl of Shrewsbury, the first earl’s great-grandson. He was probably too young to fight at Bosworth, but definitely supported Henry VII during the Lambert Simnel Affair. The Talbot family were Lancastrian in their sympathies; after all, their patriarch had built his reputation and title on defending that House. They are often considered hostile to Richard III, probably because of his accusation against one of their number, but I’m not sure that was the case. By the time of the Lambert Simnel Affair, supporting Henry VII was the natural position for the 4th Earl. Besides, if, as I strongly suspect, the Affair was an uprising in favour of Edward V rather than Edward, Earl of Warwick, then the Talbot family perhaps opposed it because they were perfectly well aware of Edward V’s illegitimacy.

Back in 1483, the Talbot family made no move against Richard or his accusation about Eleanor Talbot and Edward IV. When Simon Stallworth wrote his newsletter to Sir William Stonor as late as 21 June 1483, the day before Dr Shaa’s sermon at St Paul’s Cross, he knew nothing of the impending bombshell. He did, however, note that Lord Lisle ‘is come to my Lorde Protectour and awates apone hym’. This is more significant that it is often deemed to be.

Lord Lisle was Edward Grey. He was not only the younger brother of Sir John Grey of Groby, the first husband of Elizabeth Woodville and therefore uncle to her two oldest sons, but he was also married to Elizabeth Talbot, a niece of Eleanor Talbot. If Richard was looking for evidence to substantiate or refute the charge he had been made aware of, Lord Lisle was a sensible person to consult. He might know whether there was any family tradition that Eleanor had married Edward and whether any evidence remained in Talbot hands.

Lord Lisle was from a Lancastrian family and Richard was about to offend the family of his wife, yet Lord Lisle remained with Richard and offered no opposition. Indeed, Lord Lisle attended Richard’s coronation, as did the Duchess of Norfolk, Elizabeth. Elizabeth had married John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk and was the mother of Anne Mowbray, the ill-fated bride of Edward IV’s younger son. She had been born Elizabeth Talbot, though, the youngest daughter of John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury and a sister of Eleanor Talbot. She was not so outraged by Richard’s accusations that she boycotted his coronation. Was this because Richard was, in actual fact, righting a wrong that the Talbot family perceived had been inflicted on one of their number by a deceitful young king?

There are many other elements to the precontract story. The timing is always cited as too convenient, but I would counter that George, Duke of Clarence seems to have been on the verge of revealing it in 1477 and it cost him his life. Who else would have been brave enough to trumpet the allegation during Edward IV’s lifetime? It would have been tantamount to signing your own death warrant. This piece of the puzzle is interesting though. We cannot be certain of the truth of the allegation of bigamy. We can, however, be entirely certain that the charge was made, that evidence was gathered (or fabricated), that what evidence existed was unanimously accepted by those able to examine it, that this evidence has subsequently been lost or destroyed and that there was no backlash from the Talbot family in 1483 (accepting that in 1485 Sir Gilbert Talbot, younger son of the 2nd Earl, joined Henry Tudor’s army).

It amazes me that such certainty in the fraud of the bigamy allegation is espoused today. There is no hard evidence for it, but there is also none against it. Expanding our consideration to more circumstantial elements, it is probable that the story nearly emerged in 1477, costing George his life, and it is certain that those who were exposed to the evidence in support of it entirely accepted it. It may have been a well-constructed lie, but it is at least as likely, if not more so, that it was true.

Joan of Arc trained in Scotland….?

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“…an illiterate shepherdess girl who claimed that voices from God were instructing her to take charge of her nation’s army and lead it to victory…Legend states that Joan came to Scotland to be trained in the art of warfare in a remote stretch of Argyll…”

The above is taken from this lengthy and informative article about Joan of Arc. The Scots, of course, were always ready to help anyone who was opposed to the English, so I am quite prepared to believe they welcomed Joan in this way. She apparently “hand selected Scottish bodyguards from the Stuart, Kennedy and Hay Clans, [and] in 1429 [Joan] asked Hamish Power, (French name: Heuves Polnoir), a Scotsman living in Tours, France, to design her standard. and pennon.” More, “The Scots wore the Fleur-de-Lys on their left breast to show their allegiance to France.”

So I think we can take Scottish collaboration with the French as a done deal.

The article also deals a great deal with the Templars, superstition, the Church, roosters (national symbol of France) that still roam free, signs in the sky and so on. There is too much to comment on here, so better you read it all for yourselves. And draw your own conclusions.

Joan of Arc's battle standard

Joan of Arc and Les Soldats

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A doodle of Joan of Arc drawn by Clement de Fauquemberque of the Parliament of Paris.  The only contemporary drawing we have of her.

 

 

Today marks the 587th anniversary of the death of Joan of Arc, burned at the stake at Rouen, France.  As the flames engulfed her, she clutched a cross made of sticks to her bosom, fashioned by an ordinary English solder.  “Jesus!”  was her last word.  She was 19 years old.  In 1920, almost 500 years after her death, she was finally canonized by the Roman Catholic Church.

Everyone in the West knows Joan’s story from the novels of Mark Twain to Thomas Keneally, from filmmakers Carl Dreyer and Robert Bresson to Otto Preminger, from playwrights George Bernard Shaw to Jean Anouillh.  In recent years, she has been taken up by multiple video games based on the Hundred Years War.  One of her greatest biographers is undoubtedly the French medievalist Regine Pernoud who has written 3 highly readable, deeply researched books on the subject, relying on the Latin transcripts of her trial and rehabilitation trial of 1455-56 to bring Joan into 21th Century relief.

While everyone knows the story of the peasant girl called by Sts. Catherine, Margaret and Michael the Archangel to rid France of the English and their Burgundian enablers, and crown the dauphin Charles Valois king, not many people know her companions-in-arms.  The most famous captains of the French army during the latter part of the 100 Years War were Jean Dunois, The Bastard of Orleans, Etienne de Vignolles nicknamed “La Hire” (The Anger) and Gilles De Rais, the Marshal of France.  Along with several others, these are the men who rode into battle with her, camped with her and lifted the siege of the city of Orleans that led to Charles’ coronation.  These two events would lead to the end of one of the most brutal European civil wars.

JEAN DUNOIS

Jean Dunois called The Bastard was born in Paris in 1402.  He was the illegitimate son of Louis d’Orleans, Duke of Orleans and a long time supporter and campaigner for the House of Valois (the Armagnac Party) in the 100 Years War.  Prior to meeting Joan, he fought as a Captain with Etienne de Vignolles in various engagements at Le Mans, Baugé, Cravant, Verneuil and the Siege of Montargis.  Like most Armagnac commanders, he was captured by the Burgundians and held for 2 years (his own father being held for 25 years after Agincourt) before the actions at the Siege of Orleans.

Undoubtedly, his fame has been secured through his association with Joan, his public devotion to her and his steadfastness in warfare.  Using the sometimes limited man power and short bursts of violence that characterized this war, he engaged with some success the legendary English commanders of fact and fiction:  Sir William Glasdale (Classidas), Sir John Falstaff (Fastolf), Thomas, Lord Scales, William de la Pole, the Duke of Suffolk (Suffort) and Sir John Talbot.

 

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Jean Dunois the Bastard of Orleans

From the above portrait alone, it is easy to see why the Bastard has been presented in film and stagecraft as the silky, handsome negotiator between Joan and the dubious and profane officers of the French forces.  During the Christmas seasons, with his typical elan and ingrained sense of chivalry, he had his minstrels play for the English and on one occasion delivered fish to Talbot for his evening meal.  Some historians have argued that it was this lassitude on the part of the French aristocracy that prolonged the war against the despised “goddams”; nevertheless, Dunois was a brave and wily adversary against the English.

In March of 1429, the French army was encamped at Orleans along the south bank of the Loire River far from the English situated on the north by the gatehouse Les Tourelles.  The French commanders were expecting to meet a spiritual adviser* and instead were greeted by an impatient warrior who immediately tore up their battle plans, accusing them of  traitorous deception.  She demanded to know why the army was on the “wrong side” of the river and did not cross over and engage the enemy.  Gently remonstrating, Dunois suggested they wait for better weather and a more friendly wind direction.  Joan was having none of it:  “In God’s name, the counsel of the Lord your God is wise and safer than yours.  You thought to deceive me and it is yourself above all whom you deceive, for I bring you better succor than has reached you from any soldier or any city; it is succor from the King of Heaven.  (He) has taken pity on the town of Orleans, and will not suffer that the enemies have the bodies of the lord of Orleans and his town.”  At that moment, in one of many weird circumstances that would baffle Joan’s friends and enrage her enemies, the wind switched direction, allowing the French captains to raise sail and cross over into the city. Dunois later described his feelings:   “It seems to me, that Joan in battle and in warfare, was rather of God than of men.”  He became her fervent friend and defender.

In the days to come, Joan, protected by Dunois, attempted to speak to the English and warn them to retreat.  A message sent by arrow towards the fortified gatehouse predicted that William Glasdale, the commander of the remaining bridge over the Loire, would die a watery death if he did not decamp.  Instead, Glasdale rained down angry curses on her head, calling her “cowgirl,” “witch,” and “bitch.”    The Bastard relates:  The moment she was there the English trembled with terror; and the (French) King’s men regained their courage and began to climb, delivering their assault against the bulwark and not meeting with the least resistance.  Then that bulwark was taken, and the English who were in it had fled.  But they were all killed, among the rest Classidas and the other principal English captains of this bastille, who intended to retire into the bridge tower but fell in the river and were drowned.  This Classidas had been the man who had spoken most foully and in the basest and most infamous language against the Maid.

Glasdale’s body was not recovered.

It was recorded that Joan cried tears of rage and sorrow over the senseless loss of English lives that day.  She attempted to nurse the dying and had the last rites administered to many of the soldiers.  This sudden and unexpected loss led the English to completely abandon the Loire Valley although Joan and Dunois followed in hot pursuit.  They fought several more skirmishes before they escorted Charles VII to his coronation on July 17, 1429.

After her capture at Compiegne, Dunois led an unsuccessful bid to free her. Despite this failure, he continued to fight against the English for the remaining years of the war.  It is unclear if he was at her rehabilitation trial or wrote a lengthy document testifying to her saintliness and patriotism.  His testimony is well worth reading and is one of the few direct accounts we have the Siege of Orleans and Joan’s participation in it.

He married twice, was  honored in his own lifetime, and died in 1468 at the age of 66.

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Beautiful medieval image of the Siege of Orleans.  Les Tourelles (the gatehouse) is clearly shown.

 

ETIENNE DE VIGNOLLES (LA HIRE)

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Three fascinating presentations of La Hire from the medieval period to today – although he seems to be morphing into Falstaff!  (This last is from a video game where La Hire is a popular character.  There is no contemporary image of him.

Etienne de Vignolles was also known as “La Hire”.  There is controversy whether his nickname means  “The Anger” or “The Prickly One” or “The Hedgehog” but one thing is clear:  it was a byword for fear and terror not only to the English “goddams” but to the people of France as well.  La Hire brought Total War to the countryside long before William Tecumsah Sherman made the concept infamous.

In the wake of the Black Death, the 100 Years War was one of devastating consequence to the rural medieval society.   Unlike the War of the Roses in England, plundering, murder, rapine, torched homes, farms and cattle were considered justifiable acts to these French guerrilla forces.   Up until he met and was influenced by Joan of Arc, La Hire was very much a man of his time and place.  It is no wonder that he became a prime villain in violent 21st Century video games:  “War and Warriors:  Joan of Arc,” “Age of Empires 2:  The Age of Kings” and “Blade Storm:  the Hundred Years War.”  In the latter, he appears as an amusing Hulk-like ogre when, in fact, he may have been a much smaller man.   What history does relate is that he cursed so badly during military councils that a shocked Joan immediately set out to put a stop to it.  She forced him to the sacrament of Confession and encouraged him to replace foul language with prayer.  She banned excessive brutality and cracked down on camp followers who were purposefully ignored by military leaders.  She went so far as to smack her sword against a whore’s buttocks and chase her from the field.  La Hire supported her in these reforms.  He cursed out of earshot and long after The Maid’s death, he prayed before a battle, kneeling upon the ground and intoning a witty supplication:  May God do for La Hire what God would have La Hire do for Him if God were La Hire and La Hire were God.

Etienne de Vignolles was born in southern France in 1390 and was not of high birth.  He was apparently a lifelong soldier, who may have began his career at Agincourt.  He rose through the ranks to become commander of the French forces and was instrumental in lifting the Siege of Orleans.  As part of that campaign and prior to Joan’s arrival, La Hire was in charge of provisioning the army.  This led to the failed Battle of the Herrings in which he warred against Sir John Fastolf.

We do not know exactly why or when he converted  from reprobate and skeptic to true believer in the Maid.  All we do know, is that he eventually came to believe that she was a surprisingly good strategist and tactician in warfare and was open to all her advice.  (Joan, as always, maintained that any plans she put forward came directly from Michael the Archangel.)  After her capture, he attempted two separate rescue attempts at Rouen.  During the second, he too, was captured by Burgundians and imprisoned.  In typical fashion, he was back in action by 1432, several years after Joan’s death.  He died, perhaps killed by that most notorious illness of the soldier great or poor – dysentery – in southern France at the age of 53.  His image is said to be the Jack of Hearts figure on the French deck of cards.  In examining his signature, he appears to have been almost as illiterate as Joan:

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GILLES DE RAIS LAVAL


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An early 19th century depiction of Gilles de Rais.  There are no contemporary portraits.  Perhaps they were all destroyed.

 

Gilles de Rais Laval, Baron and Marshall of France, is probably the most famous (or infamous) of Joan’s companions.  He inspired the French fairy tale “Bluebeard” – the story of a man who dyed his beard blue and murdered his wives.  We do know that in reality Gilles de Rais did not murder his rich wife (he simply kidnapped her) instead concentrating on torturing and murdering over 100 children at his castles in Champtoché  and Machecoul over a period of 10 years.  For these crimes – as well as the crime of heresy – he was executed at Nantes in 1440.

This aristocratic and immensely wealthy Breton was born in either 1404 or 1405, the son of two rich clansmen, Guy de Laval and Marie de Craon.  Orphaned at about 10 years of age, he was nevertheless cocooned in excessive luxury and indolence by his maternal grandfather and swaddled in affection by his doting nurse.  His excellent private education was in military matters and Catholic morals.  The latter didn’t leave much of an impression but his training was such that in that era of indifferent cruelty he became a highly effective soldier.  He was considered a brilliant and handsome young man by most who knew him.  He spoke and wrote fluent Latin and was a patron of the arts.

By 1427, well into his military career, he had personally raised 5 companies of knights beautifully clad and richly paid to fight for the Armagnac Party.  He employed salaried spies to scour the countryside for information to be used against the English and Burgundian enemies.  His vast choir of young boys must have raised amused suspicion among the more cynical soldiers but it was reported to be the finest in all the kingdom.

According to British author, Jean Benedetti, who took much of his information from “The Chronicles of the Siege of Orleans” by the eminent 19th century French historian Jules Quicherat, Gilles was with Dunois and Vignolles at Orleans while waiting for the arrival of Joan in the spring of 1429.  At a hastily gathered council, it was decided that Gilles would travel to the town of Blois to meet with representatives of the King and raise further provisions for the army.  He, therefore, missed her magnificent entrance into the town on her white charger with her raised banner of fleurs de lis on one side and the Archangel Michael on the other.  When one of the many banners decorating the town accidentally caught fire and risked a chance of spreading, she gallantly rode forth and snuffed it out with her gauntlet.  The crowd went wild in jubilation.

Once he returned, Gilles twice rescued Joan from various sticky situations during the Siege and helped her to safety when she was struck with an arrow above her breast.  He offered a bit of necromancy in an attempt to heal her which she hastily declined.  From there, he accompanied her in all her campaigns as well as attending the Coronation.  He was with her again at the failed Siege of Paris when she was struck in the thigh by a bolt from a crossbow.  She was dragged screaming from the fight.  Exhausted by the war, and secretly plotting to buy peace at any cost, Charles VII declared the battle lost and entreated Joan to withdraw.  She would not return to battle until the following year when she rode to relieve to city of Compiegne.  Wearing a long tunic over her suit of white armor, a Burgundian soldier grabbed it and pulled her from her horse.  She was then sold to the English and imprisoned to await trial and execution on charges of heresy and witchcraft.

For all his help in securing the crown for Charles, Gilles de Rais was showered with many honors, including being created the Marshall of France.  Having secured his throne, Charles now retreated into safety and security leaving Joan abandoned to her many enemies and Gilles de Rais to his dark fate.  He retired from the army and returned to his many properties, beginning his descent into madness and vast criminality .

He indulged in wild extravagance – the building of homes and chapels (one ironically named The Chapel of the Holy Innocents), lavish theatrical events, experiments in alchemy and black magic, acquisition of fine clothing as well as furniture and paintings – all of which began to erode his vast fortune.  His family, the Montmorency-Lavals, were forced to appeal to the King and the Pope to put a stop to his expenditures; a royal edict was issued in which no one was allowed to enter into a contract with him.  Then the children of the towns of Champtoché and Machecoul and various other areas began disappearing.  Mothers, who had allowed their children to work in the kitchens on the estates of Gilles De Rais had suspicions but feared retribution from this most powerful prince.   Hungry, homeless children who wandered the landscape were particularly vulnerable to Gilles’ henchmen.  Kidnapped, they were taken into hidden rooms in the castles where they were subjected to beastly sexual torture before being killed by stabbing and beheading and their bodies thrown into fire.

In the late 1430s, the Bishop of Nantes Jean de Malestroit began to investigate the accusations against Gilles brought by both the nobility and commoners.  In July of 1440, the Bishop issued a summons against him and he was arrested at the castle at Machecoul and imprisoned at Nantes.  He was tried by both an ecclesiastical and secular court on charges of property theft, murder and heresy.  During the testimony, the flustered and horrified scribes switched from impersonal Latin to vernacular French to better describe his awful crimes.  Gilles, meanwhile, alternated between pitiable submission to the courts and loud arrogance and denunciation of the proceedings.  It was only when shown the instruments of torture that would be used to extract a confession, he realized the jig was up.  He swiftly admitted guilt and gave a long, grisly recitation of his crimes.  He endured excommunication and reconciliation with the Church and was condemned to die by hanging and fire.  He met his fate with notable calm.

From there, he would pass from mortal man to the Bluebeard of French children’s nightmares.

 

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*Joan was said to fulfill a prophecy that “France would be ruined through a woman and afterwards restored by a virgin.”  The woman in question has often been said to be the profligate and conniving mother of Charles VII, Isabeau of Bavaria.  Charles VII doubted his royal parentage because of his mother’s promiscuous behavior and her open questioning of his legitimacy.  It is said that the famous secret Joan revealed to him at Chinon was that she knew he prayed to God to reveal who his father was.  Joan assured him that he was the true son of the mad King Charles VI.  The dauphin cried at the revelation and allowed Joan to escort the army to Orleans.

Bibliography:

The Retrial of Joan of Arc, the Evidence for Her Vindication by Regine Pernoud

Joan of Arc by Herself and Her Witnesses by Regine Pernoud

Joan of Arc Her Story by Regine Pernoud and Marie-Veronique Clin

The Real Bluebeard The Life of Gilles de Rais by Jean Benedetti – an excellent and painful study of the Marshall of France.

The Maid and The Queen by Nancy Goldstone

Suggested reading:

All of the above.

Blood Red, Sister Rose by Thomas Keneally.  The great Australian novelist’s story of Joan’s military career.

Falstaff by Robert Nye.  The poet’s brilliant and libidinous novel of John Falstaff and his poignant and brief encounter with La Pucelle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ten great films set in the Middle Ages….

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Well, I confess I only know a few of these, and am disappointed that one of my personal favourites, Kingdom of Heaven, doesn’t make this list.

 

Witchcraft (1): Witchcraft and Royalty: The Cases against Eleanor Cobham and Joanne of Navarre

Giaconda's Blog

Fake news – smearing the opposition

With the current interest in the media about the spread of ‘fake news’ and misinformation, it seems appropriate to reconsider the cases of two royal ladies who were both accused and found guilty of witchcraft during the early C15th. Were these simply cases of politically motivated ‘fake news’ stories? It is clear that in both cases that their enemies stood to gain by their fall and that witchcraft was an easy accusation to bring against any woman in an age of superstition and bigotry.

la-pucelle La Pucelle – Joan of Arc was brought down by accusations of heresy and witchcraft

They were also not the only women in the public eye to be brought down using similar methods – we have the very public example of Joan of Arc who was contemporary with Eleanor of Cobham and accused of heresy and witchcraft and burnt at the…

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Imagine a May Day tournament, but how do you know who is a knight, and who a cross-dressing lady….?

(A Merry May Yesterday to you all! But before I begin, let me confess that I have gathered information for this article from the work of others, and the relevant webpages/sites are listed in the text and at the end.)

joanofarc-01

woman in armour

Yes, one of the above illustrations is of Joan of Arc, perhaps the most famous cross-dresser in history. The other is from http://io9.gizmodo.com/what-kind-of-armor-did-medieval-women-really-wear-1502779338. The point of including these pictures is that they show woman in armour. That is, a woman in traditionally male fighting attire. Bear this in mind as you read on.

As the title of this article suggests, I wish you to imagine the following. A May Day tournament is in progress somewhere in 14th century England. It is a glorious day, with the fresh green leaves of late spring, and all the flowers of the season in full bloom. Children dance around a maypole, a fair is doing roaring business, as are hawkers, ale tents, pie-sellers and all the other traders who feature at such events.

Medieval tournament

Colour is a feast for the eye, and everyone, including the populace, is in their best clothes. Banners stream, music plays, polished armour shines, hooves thud, weapons clash, and the crowds cheer. Heralds announce their lords, blacksmiths’ hammers clang, and trumpets blare.

Clad in their costly armour and riding their richly caparisoned coursers, the knights enter the field. Each one is preceded by his squire, riding the courser and carrying his master’s crested helm and lance. Next comes the lord himself, in gleaming jousting armour, on foot, led on a golden chain by a lady on a palfrey. She wears her knight’s colours, as does the squire, and the courser is similarly garbed. Behind the lord come his minstrels. Finally, the lord mounts his great horse, making it prance and toss its head to show off his horsemanship. All is ready for the jousting to commence.

There are few spectacles more popular than this, and everyone from the surrounding towns and villages have flocked to watch the flower of nobility meet in ferocious combat.

tilting

Then, all of a sudden, the proceedings are interrupted, as reported in a complaint by Knighton in Chronicon: “…troops of ladies attended, sometimes as many as 40 or 50, dressed up in all sorts of extraordinary masculine attire. They were young, beautiful, and wealthy. They acted so bold that they were often called rude. They dressed in “diverse and wonderful male apparel, in parti-colored tunics, with short caps and bands wound round the head, and girdles bound with gold and silver, and daggers in pouches (scabbards?) across their body…they paraded about the lists on carefully chosen chargers or equine beasts of some other well-groomed kind, ruining both their bodies and their fortunes by their wanton and scurrilous behaviour…But they neither fear the anger of God nor blush at the comments of God-fearing citizens…” Good heavens above! I knew nothing of all this.

knightly cavalcade

(Please pretend these are beautiful ladies – I fear our medieval Amazons did not leave a picture for posterity!)

Female jousting

Tournaments were the sole preserve of the men; women were there to adorn the proceedings and gaze longingly at their chosen knights. Right? Well, wrong—if the above quote from Knighton is correct.

The two pictures above show us how women were usually seen at jousts. On the left is how we always imagine them, watching and sighing over their heroes. One such hero is the dazzling fellow on the right, who is—wait for it—Ulrich von Liechtenstein! Yes, for fans of the film “A Knight’s Tale”, starring the late Heath Ledger, such an Ulrich really did exist! But in the 13th century, not the 14th, as depicted in the film. The point of including Ulrich here is that on his helm he wears a large, warlike Venus. I have seen other illustrations where Venus is baring all. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulrich_von_Liechtenstein

Above right is a drawing of women in men’s clothing, but above left it is men dressed as women. It seems that the latter situation often occurred at tournaments, and that for jousting men wore their armour beneath female clothes. They took part in hastiludes with the best of their opponents, eventually hurling aside their gowns to display their true masculine metal…er, mettle. So, looking at the illustration below, who is to say that it really is a woman carrying the distaff? Might “she”, at any moment, metamorphose into a burly knight who’ll be no pushover?

woman jousting with distaff

A “female” knight triumphantly revealing himself to be a man was apparently quite acceptable. But, the other way around…? I don’t think it ever happened, but what if, after achieving some notable points against an opponent, a “knight” changed into a woman? I doubt the poor defeated fellow, shamed for having been bested by a female, would ever recover. A soft lot, men, eh?

In the thesis indicated at the end of this article, the following passage is quoted. It concerns events in a French medieval tale entitled “Berengier au Long Cul”:

“Though the husband is a man and is knighted, he is not from noble blood and therefore the wife, though being a woman, can more easily succeed as a knight than he can. She has true chivalry running in her veins, and this is the reason that she is attested to be able to convince her husband that she is a valiant, successful knight. As he is not, he does not accept the knightly code and refuses to joust valiantly, instead submitting himself to the humiliation that his wife forces onto him.”

So, in order to carry off the pretence with any hope of success, the woman in question had, at the very least, to be of knightly blood. Anything less and she would fail abysmally. These tournament cavalcades of ladies dressed as men were therefore all blue-blooded.

To sum it up, I turn to Gael Stirler at http://stores.renstore.com/feminism-fashion-and-cross-dressing-in-the-14th-and-15th-centuries#.WNJgG7msmTN where it is stated that there was indeed a short-lived female tournament maiden movement (no further mention after the 14th century):-

“A century before Joan of Arc put on armor, cross-dressing women were not as rare as you may think. The clothing styles for men and women were similar except for length and headgear. Women occasionally wore short tunics when riding or traveling abroad on foot, as much for comfort as safety. Popular romances and saint’s biographies contained stories of young women who wore masculine disguises to move about society with the freedom of men. They wore men’s clothing as a sign of their celibacy, and willingness to defend it. Some even fell in love with women in these stories.

“Even earlier, Galvano della Flamma described “Amazons of Milan with golden girdles and hard masculine hearts” who wore masculine clothing in public. So it seems that there was a loosely organized, secular, feminist movement, perhaps fashion based, in the 14th century. Since little was written about it in its time, this movement probably had no strong leaders or role models, no philosophy like the Beguine movement, and seemed to only attract women when they were young.

“What we can surmise from these descriptions is that this wasn’t a few naughty girls who showed up at one or two tournaments but that it had to have been a movement made up of many well-born ladies who travelled all over to attend tournaments. They were not combatants, but were, somehow, allowed to parade with the knights on the list field. Imagine 40 or 50 beautiful ladies wearing elegant short tunics covered with embroidery, edged in fur, with glittering belts of gold and silver, their heads topped with marvelous liripipe chapeaus, all of them riding large, beautifully groomed horses. It would be a sight worth traveling to see.”

Indeed it would!

Hmm…and then there was the rise of the May Day Robin Hood plays. I suppose, Robin and his merry friends were chaps…weren’t they?

female Robin Hood

References:-

For medieval female cross-dressing, there is information at the following additional sites.

http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/halsall/source/1395rykener.asp

http://www.fscclub.com/history/joust-e.shtml

For a thesis on the subject of female cross-dressing in general, go to

https://dspace.library.uu.nl/bitstream/handle/1874/279495/Transvestite%20Knights%20-%20Thesis.pdf?sequence=1

And for information about May Day itself, look at https://medievalisterrant.wordpress.com/2013/04/30/may-day-in-the-middle-ages/,

Further references:

Lewis, Katherine J. et al, editor, Young Medieval Women, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1999.

References about Tournament Maidens:

Brook, Iris, English Costume from the Early Middle Ages Through the Sixteenth Century Dover Publications, Mineola, 2000 reprint of 1936 original.

Newton, Stella Mary, Fashion in the Age of the Black Prince:A study of the years 1340 to 1365, Boydell Press/Rowman & Littlefield, Suffolk, 1980.

A new take on “Full Metal Jacket”….!

Before anything else, let me identify the above illustrations. Top left is, um, supposedly a 15th century back armour. Whoever wore it, male or female, was rather peculiar anatomically. 2nd top left is a Boccaccio Amazon Queen. 3rd top left is an illustration from the British Library, and top right is Queen Isabella with her lover, Roger Mortimer. Bottom left is Joan of Arc, and bottom right is Sophie Okonedo as Margaret of Anjou from “The Hollow Crown” series.

Right, now to explain what links them all…in case you haven’t noticed all the armour! There is a very interesting article at http://www.womenyoushouldknow.net/surprising-truth-behind-armor-dress-whipped-facebook-page-frenzy/, featuring a very novel armour dress. The full thing, plentiful skirt to the ankles, the lot.

armor-dress-3-e1418153394522-630x420

Totally illogical, of course…at least, it would be if it were the real thing. As the article explains “…The dress is not an original object from the Renaissance, made of metal … it is made of plastic and represents the style of that time…” And as a conception, it’s daft – just imagine mounting your horse to go into battle! Looking at illustrations of warrior ladies from the past, it’s clear they only protected their upper half, with a sort of peplum below the waist. Below that, just the usual skirts, albeit probably in some thick, heavy material. But Joan of Arc seems wrong in the above illustration of her. Didn’t she always dress as a man/boy?

As for the back armour at top left. Can’t be for the back, surely? I mean, who has bosoms at the back? No man I can think of, nor any women, come to that. Unless, of course, you know better…?

Our Knight’s Oath Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Historical Accuracy

"Do you want royalties with that, Sir Ridley?"

“Do you want royalties with that, Sir Ridley?”

I attended a renaissance faire in the U.S. recently and must relay something that happened.

The faire’s king knighted all ladies and lads (including adults) who wished to be knighted. But first, they had to sit through a vigorous lecture by one of the king’s minions.

First, said minion asked the audience to name some famous knights. Joan of Arc came first, and William Marshal was mentioned. Alas, Lancelot came in last, but that’s as it should be, considering he betrayed a king, seduced a queen, and helped destroy Camelot. We gave a shout out for Richard III and Francis Lovell. Strangely enough, there was no mention of any Tydder, regardless this faire was set in the English renaissance.

Next, the minion asked to be told what knights did. The kiddies all knew their knight-stuff: fighting came after rescuing damsels, serving God, and serving the king.

The minion then explained what the wannabe-knights were to do when the king told them to “Take a knee” during the coming ritual. Sir Minion then shared the actual words the king would use to knight the lads and lasses:

“Be without fear in the face of your enemies.
Be brave and upright that God may love thee.
Speak the truth even if it leads to your death.
Safeguard the helpless and do no wrong.
That is your oath.”

There it is, gentle lords and ladies: the definitive renaissance knight’s oath. It can now be stated with confidence that 16th-century English knights took the same oath as the one administered by Ballymena-born Liam Neeson, and again by Canterbury-born Orlando Bloom, in the Ridley Scott film, “Kingdom of Heaven,” which depicted the 12th-century siege of Jerusalem.

Then again, maybe not.

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