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Bishop Stillington’s Lost Chapel

The beautiful Cathedral of Wells  is a medieval visual delight. It was, of course, the See of Bishop Robert Stillington who sought out Richard Duke of Gloucester and announced that King Edward IV had been secretly married to Eleanor Talbot, daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury, prior to wedding  Elizabeth Woodville in a second secret ceremony, thus making his second marriage bigamous and invalid. He knew the matter was true, he said, because he was the one who had officiated at the marriage of Edward and Eleanor..

Stillington was Archdeacon of Taunton when Edward might have met and married Eleanor Talbot, probably around 1461. He was, of course, not then a Bishop but the Canon Stillington. He also served in Edward’s government as Keeper of the Privy seal. He was elected to his Bishopric in 1465–at King Edward’s insistence, as the the Pope initially proposed a different candidate. He was also intermittently Lord Chancellor, though he appears to have been dismissed in 1473. A few years later, Stillington was briefly imprisoned for unspecified offences which seem to have been connected with George of Clarence’s treason charges.

After Richard III’s death at Bosworth, Henry VII immediately ordered Stillington imprisoned . Upon his release, rather than retiring somewhere far from court or bowing to the new Tudor regime, he immediately involved himself in the Lambert Simnel uprising. Once Stoke Field was fought and Tudor victorious , Stillington fled to Oxford, where for a while the University protected him. However, eventually he was captured and thrown in prison in Windsor Castle–this time for the rest of his days. He died in 1491 and was taken to Somerset for burial at Wells Cathedral.

During his lifetime, Stillington did not spend much time in Wells but he did complete building work within the cathedral and raised his own mortuary chapel there in the 1470’s, complete with huge gilded bosses bosses of suns and roses. This chapel, dedicated to the Virgin, was built on one side of the cloisters near the holy springs that give Wells its name and on  the foundations of an earlier Saxon church. During the Reformation, in the reign of Edward VI, Sir John Gates destroyed the chapel and tomb and, according to old accounts,ripped the Bishop’s remains out of his lead coffin.

Rather interestingly, Stillington’s Chapel is the ONLY part of Wells Cathedral that was severely damaged during the Reformation, the Bishop’s tomb not only being desecrated but the building itself razed to the ground – and some would have it that there’s no such thing as Tudor propaganda? Of course, the roof was later pillaged by Monmouth’s rebels to make ammunition for use at Sedgemoor.

The foundations of Stillington’s chapel have been excavated, and if you visit Wells Cathedral today, you can see scant stonework sticking out of the ground in Camery Gardens. Nearby, in the cloisters, several massive chunks of his tomb canopy are on display, decorated with symbols of the House of York.

 

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The Church of St. Alkelda at Middleham

History of St Mary and St Alkelda Church

If you go to Middleham, your priority will be to visit the castle of King Richard III but you can’t leave this fabulous town of the Dales without having a look at the church of St Mary and St Alkelda. This church is a must for visitors, especially Ricardians, and considering it is not a massive church, it has a lot to offer to those who love historical buildings.

The first church on the actual spot where the present church is built dates back to the 12th century but just a couple of stones are still there. The actual date of the foundation of the church seems to be the year 1280.

The dedication of the church is to the Virgin Mary and St Alkelda. Myth and folklore surround this saint and many even doubt her existence, even though in 1818, when the nave was dug, a stone coffin was found. When it was opened, the mortal remains of a woman were found and in the exact spot where tradition indicates St Alkelda was buried in the south east corner of the present church.  The meaning of her name derives from the Old English – Norse healikeld in Modern English “holy well”. It seems that there was a well close to the church and the water was very effective for eye problems.

The new church was built around 1350 while the tower was added in 1450 approximately. St Alkelda was martyred around 800 AD so it is possible that a Christian society was already active in Middleham. However, we need to go to 1280 to have a church there with a nave, aisles and a chancel. The following year, Mary of Middleham was born. She is thought to have been the heiress to the castle and the patron of the church. The first mention of the church is found in a taxation document by Pope Nicholas IV in 1291. The value of the church was fixed at £8. In 1310 the church was endowed with lands to increase the value of the building.

The Feast Day of St Alkelda was granted in 1388 by Richard II on 5th November and lasted 3 days. In 1470 Edward IV granted a license to found a chantry in the south aisle. Previously, in 1460 St Alkelda and the castle of Middleham was the house of Richard Neville, better known as Warwick the Kingmaker. After the death of Richard, Duke of York, Cecily Neville of Raby, his wife, moved with her children to Middleham. Warwick made Edward Plantagenet King Edward IV but when this latter failed the Kingmaker’s expectations by “marrying” Elizabeth Woodville and not a French princess, Neville plotted against him, planning to put on the throne George Duke of Clarence, the King’s brother, or to restore Henry VI. The outcome was the battle of Barnet, where Warwick lost his life. Middleham castle and lands including the church were granted to the youngest of Cecily Neville’s sons Richard Duke of Gloucester, who later became King Richard III. He married Anne Neville, one of Warwick’s daughters and inherited the Lordship of Middleham.

In 1477, possibly at Gloucester’s request, Edward IV, his brother, granted a license for transforming St Alkelda into a College with a Dean, six Chaplains, four Clerks, a Sacristan and six Choristers. In the Statute drawn up by Richard Gloucester, the Dean was appointed to lead perpetual masses for the Royal Yorkist family. A copy of the original statute is currently displayed on the left aisle under the white boar and the stained glass window depicting Richard and his family. When Richard became King Richard III, the church became known as the King’s College, Middleham. Sadly, in 1547, the Chantry was closed by Act of Parliament under Henry VIII’s Reformation of the Church. It seems that the Collegiate title was one in name only because it was never listed as an exempted Collegiate church in the Act for the Dissolution of Chantries in 1547 during the reign of Edward VI.

In 1538 Thomas Cromwell decided to allow couples to marry in St Alkelda without a license or banns. This practice stopped in the 18th century. Because of this, St Alkelda was a sort of Gretna Green in Yorkshire.

In 1839, Dean Wood tried to revive the Chapter appointing six Canons and reinstated the Cathedral form of service. In 1845 the status of Royal Peculiar ended. The Dean became a Rector and St Alkelda an ordinary parish church under the Bishop of Ripon.

St Alkelda has many valuable objects and decorations. Apart from the 14th century relief of the Crucifixion and the 15th century glass depicting St Alkelda’s martyrdom, the visitors can also appreciate the Saxon gravestones in the north aisle, the 14th century stone font and chancel arch. In addition to this, there is the Lady Chapel aisle with Richard III’s White Boar standard, a copy of his royal seal, a copy of the statute of the church signed by Richard Gloucester and the beautiful window depicting the King and his family.

There are many other artefacts and decorations in St Alkelda to see such as the medieval grave covers, the carved gargoyles, the copy of the Middleham jewel and much more. St Alkelda is a church belonging to the Anglican Diocese of Leeds.

St Alkelda Pilgrimage Way

There is a new plan going on as regards St Alkelda; a walking route around 35 miles long that follows an ancient prehistoric and Roman route for most of the way. It goes through the Yorkshire Dales National Park and it would take walkers 2-3 days to complete it depending on how experienced they were.

The route from Middleham goes via Coverdale, passing by little hamlets, Coverham Abbey, churches with monastic associations, evidence of ancient settlements, tumuli and an impressive earthwork. It then takes in Kettlewell (tourist centre), passes down Wharfedale to Kilnsey, up  and into the  limestone hill country, Mastiles Lane, an ancient trackway, Roman camp, the remains of 5 medieval wayfaring crosses. Il passes down Celtic and medieval field systems into Malham tourist centre and where the archaeological dig of St Helen’s chapel, holy well and graveyard, medieval and Anglo-Saxon, takes place in May. From there it goes past Malham Cove, peregrine falcon reserve, a spectacular limestone scenery, down to Stockdale Lane and descends to Ribblesdale past evidence of a Roman camp waterfalls,  limestone caves where prehistoric and Romano-British remains have been found,  Settle, market town and across the river to Giggleswick and its church.

On the route, we see how the different rocks – limestone and millstone grit mostly, produce different scenery, grass colours and flora. In St Alkelda’s day, there would have been marsh and bog around the rivers, woodland and even thick forest in places, the habitat of deer, wolves, bears, and wild boar. These animals are mentioned in some Celtic nature poetry, also Prayers for Protection! It was the monks and their sheep during the Middle Ages who changed the landscape to what it looks like today. The plan has just started but visitors and good walkers will soon enjoy the awesome St Alkelda Pilgrimage Way.

IS THIS THE FACE OF KATHERINE de VALOIS?

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Catherine de Valois wooden funeral effigy on the left and the stone head thought to represent her on the right.

Westminster Abbey is the home to a collection of unique and wonderful medieval wooden funeral effigies.  These are to go on show once again in June 2018 with the opening the Abbey’s new Jubilee Galleries.  Some of them are definite death masks such as those of Edward III and Henry VII although there is very little doubt that they are all portraits of those they represent (1).  The one I am focussing on here is that of Katherine de Valois, wife to Henry V.  There are few if any surviving portraits of Katherine so her effigy is especially interesting as to how she actually looked.  To give a brief résumé Katherine’s remains were removed from their original burial site in the old Lady Chapel when it was demolished to make way for Henry Tudor’s grandiose new Chapel.  They were then left above ground, next to her husband’s monument for the next two hundred years.  Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary on visiting the abbey he was able to take Katherine in his arms and kiss her on the lips.  Poor Katherine.  Eventually in 1778 Katherine was placed in a vault.  Finally in the 19th century, Dean Stanley had her reburied beneath the alter in her husband’s chantry.  Thank goodness for that!

Now fresh interest has recently been ignited by the discovery of a stone head in Meath, Ireland, which is believed to represent Katherine. Here is an interesting article covering the story.

Take a look at the wooden effigy and the stone head,  compare and judge for yourselves.

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Katherine’s effigy in Westminster Abbey

  1.  Recollections of a Westminster Antiquary Lawrence Tanner p138

 

Was a chapel for the House of York planned at Westminster Abbey in 1483…?

A short while ago, I came upon a reference to the foundation stone of Henry VII’s chapel in Westminster Abbey (visible in this illustration of the abbey as it may have been in the Tudor period) have been laid first in April 1483. It was from here, as follows:-

“. . .Elizabeth [of York] was given a lavish funeral. She lay in state at the Tower, and was interred later at Henry VII Lady Chapel (the foundation stone of which was laid in April, 1483). She and Henry lay there together, their graves topped with an elaborate bronze effigy. . .”

I asked the Henry “Tudor” Society blog if they could clarify this date, which I thought would probably mean that Edward IV had some input or other. There was no response. I decided the whole thing must be an error, because the date  for laying of the foundation stone is always given as 1503.

Nevertheless, the point niggled away. What if it were true? What if that foundation stone had indeed been laid in April 1483? This, of course, led me to consider what was going on in that month of that year. Answer? The death of Edward IV. Not yet the accession of Richard III, because Edward’s eldest son was to be Edward V. Was Edward IV’s sudden death merely a curious coincidence? Regarding the date, not anything untoward.

I thought no more of it. Then, while pursuing the part of the reference below that refers to Richard III having removed Henry VI’s remains from Chertsey by violence, I noticed the accompanying details about the so-called saintly king’s intended resting place in Westminster Abbey.

It reads as follows, from The Archaeology of the Medieval English Monarchy by John Steane, page 183:

“. . .While Edward [IV] was king the remains of Henry VI were left in obscurity at Chertsey, whither they had been removed after his [Henry’s] mysterious death in the Tower. The government had given out that Henry died from ‘pure displeasure and melancholy’, but popular belief was that he had been murdered, possibly by the Duke of Gloucester. . . (Pause for savage expletives!!!) . . . Prominent political figures who died by violence were likely to earn a popular reputation for sanctity. In Henry VI’s case, bouts of insanity and a reputation for other-worldliness in his own lifetime may have encouraged the formation of a saintly cult. Richard III took steps to supervise this phenomenon more closely when he authorized the removal of the body of Henry VI from Chertsey to Windsor. Although not canonized he [Henry VI] was popularly regarded as a saint and pilgrims flocked to Windsor, contributing to a decline in the numbers wending their way to the shrine of St Thomas at Canterbury.

Tomb of Henry VI at St George’s Chapel, Windsor

“. . .A rather unseemly wrangle followed. [My note: When, exactly? In Richard’s reign, or after Bosworth?] The abbeys of Chertsey and Westminster both put forward claims to the body. Chertsey’s claim was on the grounds that Richard III had taken it by violence to Windsor [Huh? I hope this is just a generally accepted term for moving remains around, not yet another accusation to lay at Richard’s door.] Westminster based its case on the fact that workmen and vergers at the abbey had clear recollections that Henry had marked out a place for himself in the abbey choir during his lifetime. The canons of Windsor joined in, strenuously arguing in favour of the saintly royal corpse remaining there. The upshot was that the new chapel prepared at Westminster was used for its founder, Henry VII, while Windsor kept Henry VI under the south aisle of St George’s chapel. His arms are carved in the fan vaulting over the bay in which he had been reburied after his arrival from Chertsey. . .”

The above details are also to be found in Historical Memorials of Westminster Abbey by Dean Stanley, who says that Henry VII intended a new Westminster chapel for Henry VI, whom he thought would soon be canonised. But Henry VI wasn’t canonised, and Stanley believes Henry VII wasn’t prepared to lavish money on a non-saint. So he appropriated the planned chapel for himself alone. (This is on page 138 of my February 1911 edition.) All of which suggests that the present Henry VII chapel certainly wasn’t originally intended just for Tudor himself, but for him to rest beside St Henry VI. And presumably soak up the reflected glory.

So, a chapel at Westminster, already commenced for Henry VI, was eventually used for solely for Henry VII. .Oh, and by the way, this would presumably mean that Henry VII would be removing Henry VI’s remains by violence, since Windsor was hardly likely to surrender their royal golden goose without protest. And there is a strong suggestion that the remains were actually brought to Westminster, and when the canonisation failed to materialize, were returned to Windsor. Very respectfully, of course. And maybe followed by a Tudor scowl.

However, Henry VI had apparently already chosen his place in Westminster, but in the abbey choir, not Henry VII’s new chapel, which was erected on the site of the old Lady Chapel, behind the altar. This made me wonder if Henry VI’s known personal choice of Westminster had led to an earlier plan to accommodate the saintly king’s wish. OK, it’s a possible flight of fancy on my part, but it could perhaps offer an explanation for the intriguingly rogue mention of April 1483

I don’t think there is any doubt that in 1503 Henry VII commenced his own chapel, the one that is still there now. But just how much of a previous “new” Henry VI chapel might have remained very close by? An earlier foundation stone, perhaps laid around the time of Edward IV’s death in April 1483? It would have been superseded by the 1503 foundation stone, of course, but there is still the thought (mine, I own up) that another chapel could have been planned from the time of Edward IV/Richard III.

Then again, maybe in April 1483, this originally planned new chapel was not intended for Henry VI at all. Might Edward IV, knowing he was on his deathbed, have decided he wanted to be laid to rest in Westminster? I know he left in his will that it was to be Windsor, but might he have changed his mind at the eleventh hour? He surely wouldn’t normally have built anything for holy but pesky Henry VI, whom he’d despatched to obscurity in Chertsey. Out of sight, out of mind. Edward had no reason to think fondly of Henry VI, unless, of course, his own imminent death made him want to take precautions for an assured entry into heaven. In which case, of course, why not bring the holy chap to Windsor? But just maybe, with the Grim Reaper approaching the castle,  a grand joint venture with Henry VI at Westminster would seem just the necessary safeguard? Being nice to the royal “saint” would earn brownie points in heaven and on earth, which I’m sure is what Henry VII was to think in turn. Edward would also have been content that his son and brother, Richard of Gloucester, would carry out these last-minute plans. Edward had no scruples about intending his illegitimate son to ascend the throne at Richard’s expense. In fact, I don’t think Edward had many scruples at all. If any. But that’s beside the point.

However, if Edward had decided belatedly on his own burial in Westminster, it did not come to fruition. He was interred in Windsor. That is not to say that his successor, Richard III, did not intend to honour his late brother’s possible last wish (if such a wish had existed). Who knows what Richard had in mind? He left no record, so people like me have to read the facts and try to interpret them, and as I am not a historian, the result is rambling articles like this!

Moving human remains around to different places was quite common back then. In 1476, on Edward’s instructions, his father and brother had been removed from Pontefract to Fotheringhay, escorted on the journey by Richard, so it was certainly established practice in their immediate family. Richard had Henry VI brought from Chertsey to Windsor, even though Henry had wanted to rest in neither, but in Westminster. But this may have been expediency on Richard’s part, to accommodate the growing cult around Henry’s tomb. Maybe even to reflect a heavenly glow over Edward IV? Like so many things with Richard, we cannot know anything for certain.

So. . .what was this possible other chapel at Westminster? Surely not anything to do with the old Lady Chapel, which was definitely pulled down to accommodate Henry VII’s grand plan. No, for there seems to be a suggestion that this enigmatic earlier project was something new in April 1483. Might it have been a magnificent tomb for the House of York? Might Richard have eventually planned to bring Edward IV from Windsor and George of Clarence from Tewkesbury? Maybe his father and older brother Edmund from Fotheringhay? Perhaps even Henry VI from Windsor? Whatever his motives and final intentions, the chapel if it existed (for this is all “reading between the lines” on my part) was somewhere Richard would have seen, with great sadness, as a final resting place for his queen, his son. All too soon, of course, it would have been his own too.

But it was never built. Maybe never even planned. Who knows? I just have this feeling that Henry VII was almost pipped at the post by a Yorkist chapel. If only everyone today flocked to see the York Chapel, with all the grand tombs of the family of Richard III. If only. . .

 

 

 

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