New Year’s Eve now and New Year’s Eve in the mediaeval period actually refer to two different calendar days. Old New Year’s Eve was 24th March. For an easy-to-understand explanation, please go to here, but whichever the day, it was still New Year’s Eve. We now celebrate it with much fun, laughter and hope, but its history is rather different. And so this article of mine has appeared on the day as we know it now.
The name Sylvester is a reference to New Year’s Eve, because St Sylvester’s Day is celebrated then. This saint’s day is still widely celebrated, although not particularly here in the United Kingdom. The Germans, for instance, call New Year’s Eve Silvester. See this site
St Sylvester was first Pope Sylvester I, and was in office from 314 to 335. (see Brittanica Online) He died on 31st December 335, hence it is his feast day. He is the one who converted the Emperor Constantine to Christianity.
There was a second St Sylvester who was also a Pope, 999 to 1003, but apart from having taken the name Sylvester (he was originally Gerbert of Aurillac) I do not think he was connected with New Year’s Eve. He was the one who introduced Europe to the decimal system. Pope Sylvester III took office in 1045, and is believed by many to be an antipope (see explanation of antipopes here) Pope Sylvester IV was another who was considered to be an antipope.
New Year’s Eve was the birthday of Bonnie Prince Charlie. It was also the birthday of the French admiral who was defeated by Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar. Pierre-Charles-Baptiste-Silvestre de Villeneuve was born on 31st December 1763. Hence the name Silvestre being added.
When it comes to English medieval history, the closest I can come to New Year’s Eve is the Battle of Wakefield, which took place the day before in 1460. To learn more, go to Battlefields of Britain As the 3rd Duke of York and his second son, Edmund, Earl of Rutland, were killed at the battle, I imagine that New Year’s Eve was a time of utter sorrow for their remaining sons/siblings.
The Scots have their New Year’s Eve celebrations too. They call it Hogmanay. If you go to this article you can read all about it. The name is thought to have been used after the return of Mary, Queen of Scots, to Scotland from France in 1561. The origin of the name Hogmanay is not really known, but the above BBC Newsround link offers quite a number of possibilities.
Now, in the present day there is no ignoring the claims that most of our Christian feasts and festivals have a pagan origin. I don’t know whether to give this credence or not. Julius Caesar was said to have used 31st December/1st January to honour the two-faced Roman god Janus, god of changes and beginnings. Janus was said to look back into the past and forward into the future. That sounds logical enough to me.
So, while you’re all enjoying your parties tonight, seeing in the New Year and singing with gusto—and not a little alcoholic assistance!—perhaps you should raise your glasses to Julius Caesar, St Silvester I, Bonnie Prince Charlie, and poor old defeated Admiral Villeneuve (who, was returned to France by the British, and was quite amazingly supposed to have committed suicide by “six stab wounds in the left lung and one in the heart”. That, ladies and gentlemen, was quite feat, I think you’ll agree. I can’t imagine anyone believed it was self-inflicted!
I will end this now, but but not before reminding you of the very first Sylvester I ever knew – yes, Sylvester the Cat, who so wanted to eat that annoying Tweety-Pie. Personally I always hoped he’d succeed. Was there ever a more irritating, stupid-looking canary? Anyway, here’s a link to make you laugh as you see out 2019! I’ll bet a lot of you remember I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvNfPSXWZqw
During the Wars of the Roses, was there ever a deliberate policy of depopulation? By that, I cannot think of an example. Destruction, yes. Killing off the other side’s armed forces, yes. But the annihilation of towns and villages? Or of castles and strongholds, which were surely regarded as great prizes. So how could there be a complete scorching of the earth?
I raise this question because of something I have just read in John Dunkin’s The History and Antiquities of Dartford. The introduction to this work describes Caesar’s first arrival in and advance through the county of Kent. He landed on 26th August, 55 BC, perhaps at Pegwell Bay on the Isle of Thanet, see this article, and left again thirty or so days later.
According to Dunkin, the Romans encountered armed resistance when they reached Detling, where they camped for the night in preparation to cross the Medway at Aylesford. There was a rather nasty battle with the Cenimagni, the local Britons, involving stakes rammed into the riverbed to pierce the oncoming Romans. However, Caesar was triumphant and the Cenimagni leader, Caswallon, was forced to submit.
Caesar continued north, the Dartford area being his next port of call. Close to Hextable, he came upon a large circular mound, called ‘Ruehill Wood’, where the Cenimagni had their stronghold. It was a wonderful vantage point, and more substantial than the Romans expected, with sturdy stone buildings, and he set about destroying it. Completely.
Then he was wrong-footed, because, rather sneakily, Caswallon began to attack the Roman camp on the coast, obliging Caesar to turn around and hurry back. He certainly hurried, that’s for sure, and boarded his ships to sail away. He would return, of course, but this was the rather ragged end of his first invasion.
Why have I described these events? Because, again according to Dunkin, Hasted in his History of Kent hints that the site of the Ruehill Wood fortress could ‘perhaps [be] the remains of depopulation occasioned by the Wars between the houses of York and Lancaster’. Why the Wars of the Roses? Why not the Civil War? And why should the site have been anything other than ancient? Hasted also states that the manor of Ruehill or, now, Rowhill, ‘was, in the reign of King Edward [not explained which Edward] in the possession of the family of Gyse’, and proceeds to give the manor’s descent through several lords to as late as 1778. So Ruehill/Rowhill certainly wasn’t annihilated into extinction during the Wars of the Roses. Besides, if it had been, we’d surely know of it, even if just as a legend.
This manor house is now the Rowhill Grange luxury hotel and spa, and still commands a great vantage point. However, I cannot think it retains much of the original manor.
So why would this site have ever been thought of as anything other than Caswallon’s levelled fortress? And why would Hasted light upon the remains being the work of devastating depredations during the Wars of the Roses?
Recent archaeological excavations in Kent by the University of Leicester have pinpointed the probable landing point for Caesar’s invasion of Britain. No full study on this important historical event has taken place in the last 100 years and it was widely thought amongst academics that both of Caesar’s incursions into Britain had been regarded as ‘failures’ in the Roman world ‘ With new evidence, it appears this may not have been the case, and they were perhaps seen as great advances for Rome in that the armies passed beyond the ‘known world’. (Britons and the Irish were the ‘people behind the North Wind.)
What is also becoming clear is that the Romans and Britons may not all have been outright enemies. There is evidence that treaties were made with local British petty kings and chieftains in Caesar’s time, and these led to the quick capitulation of southern England in the later Claudian invasion. Recent archaeology has shown that a number of tribes were already trading with the Mediterranean world and were quite welcoming of the Roman armies.
The Romans’ own propaganda has perhaps delayed some of the study into the interaction between the Romans and native Britons. In their records they speak of people wearing nothing but animal hides and ‘knowing not the use of raiment’ and yet we know from archaeology that people have woven clothes in Britain since the later Neolithic. No mention is made of the trade we also know happened (lots of fine imported wine and pottery!), and the Druids had a hatchet job done on them (quite literally at Anglesey.)
It seems important to remember that records, even if kept with some accuracy, will reflect the bias of the writers, and may have been used as propoaganda tools–here to convince that the Druids needed to be eradicated and that the Britons needed to be ‘civilised’ (ie Romanised and under Roman control.)
To begin this post, I will confess to having an attachment to the date of birth that Richard III wrote in his personal prayer-book. In his own hand, he inscribed next to the entry for October 2 the words “hac die natus erat Ricardus Rex anglie IIIus apud ffoderingay Anno D’ni mcccc lijo” (“at this day had been born King Richard III of England, at Fotheringhay, in the year of our Lord 1452”). I was born on October 2, five centuries later. As a student of “Ricardian” history, it’s a point of pride for me to be born on the same calendar day as Richard — which makes me rather eccentric to say the least.
Richard III’s Book of Hours – with handwritten notation of his birthdate (L)
Nevertheless, it’s rare that we get to see anyone from the medieval period writing down their birthday, and so it…
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Many Ricardians, although convinced of Richard’s innocence in certain matters, have been perplexed by his apparent uncharacteristic actions concerning the precipitous execution of William, Lord Hastings at the Tower.
Annette Carson has investigated the contemporary evidence and come up with a very plausible theory – she admits it is just that, a theory, but it is very interesting nevertheless and just as probable as all the other theories out there.
Have a look at it here: Annette Carson’s Website