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Richard’s in the driving seat….!

the-last-plantagenet-1

I can’t agree that Leicester is shamelessly “milking” Richard III for all he’s worth. On the contrary, it seems to me that it’s Richard in the driving seat, and Leicester is having to rush around to keep up with him! Not that Leicester is complaining. Why should they? Richard was an excellent king who knew what he was doing, so of course they bow to his commands! I would too.

The above comments were inspired by this article.

Wetherspoons now have two hostelries named after Richard, the other being The Lord High Constable of England, in my home city of Gloucester. Come on Wetherspoons, York, why not a Duke of Gloucester? Or a Good King Richard?

The menu at Wetherspoons, Gloucester Docks.

To see a list of all Wetherspoons, go here.

 

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There was room at the Blue Boar for Richard III….

Blue Boar, Highcross Street, Leicester - c.1826

Here is an article from the Leicester Mercury:

“Apart from a recent council explanatory information panel tucked on its side wall above a litter bin, few passers-by would know that the modern brick box building housing a hotel and casino was the site of Leicester’s most famous inn, that once was the penultimate stop of a king of England. For this is the spot on which the famous Blue Boar Inn was sighted.

“It’s a name known to everyone with an interest in historic Leicester. It owes its fame to a watershed in England’s history and, of course, to a monarch whose name has recently made Leicester known worldwide.

“Today’s bland building, out of scale and style with the rest of Highcross Street, is the site of the old Blue Boar Inn, from where King Richard III and his nobles led his army into the Battle of Bosworth, which ended the Wars of the Roses – it also ended the king’s life and the Plantagenet dynasty.

“On August 20, 1485, Richard came to stay at the Blue Boar – probably then known as the White Boar – because, it seems, Leicester Castle was by then in a state of decline and was considered unfit and unprepared for the monarch. So, Richard went to what was then the town’s best inn. It was situated in Highcross Street, then Leicester’s main thoroughfare.

“Although the inn has been immortalised by great Leicester artist John Flower (see above) it is thought that what is seen in his drawing was just one wing of what would have been, in Richard III’s time, a much larger building. The king is thought to have occupied the large room on the first floor of the portion of the inn we see in Flower’s drawing.

“After this historic event, the story is that the bed, which it is said the king brought with him, was from then on known as the King’s Bed and that many years later, a hidden treasure of coins was found in the bedstead. In 1605, the inn’s landlady, Mrs Clarke, was murdered “through connivance of her female servants, in order to obtain possession of the gold”.

“Since the discovery of Richard III’s remains, Leicester has become a place of pilgrimage with visitors from all over the world coming to the Cathedral and the visitors’ centre. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if the Blue Boar had been preserved, so that, too, could have been included on the pilgrims’ schedule?

“However, before we begin to blame 20th century planners for the inn’s destruction, we have to go back much further – to the early Victorian period, in fact, as it was 1836 when the Blue Boar was felled, having “passed into the hands of a speculative builder who waved aside all protests and tore the place down”. Sounds familiar, 200 years on. This act was described by Professor Jack Simmons as “a hateful act of vandalism”.

“In its place a terrace of houses was built. In the 1960s, these houses were demolished and a similar sort of box building built, housing the Exquisite Knitwear company.

“This area is once again becoming a focal point of Leicester’s commercial life.

“Today’s replacement for the Blue Boar Inn is a Travelodge – which is rather appropriate, when you think about it.”

The Blue Boar site today

 

 

 

Ancient Ratae, City on the Soar

In the second century BC, in a Britain still filled with wild boar, beaver, lynx, bears and wolves, a group of people settled  near to the River Soar. The descendants of Bronze Age peoples and Neolithic farmers, they built a series of huts on the east bank of the river, their settlement extending across some twenty acres. They called themselves the Corieltauvi; the closest translation of their name would be the ‘army of the land of many rivers.’ The exact  name of their settlement is unknown but it contains a Celtic root word similar to ‘rath’, meaning (approximately)  ‘ramparts’, which can be found in many Irish place names today. This humble Iron Age settlement is the origin of modern day Leicester.

Roman  interest in this area of Britain began when they realised it was a place of strategic value; and so it became an intersection of the Fosse Way and Gartree Street. There might have been some opposition from the local Corieltauvi, but the tribesmen proved no match for the might of Rome; a fort or base was soon established on the banks of the Soar for the Legion XIV.  Quite simple in plan and  housing approx 500 men,  the fort was surrounded by a ditch and rampart; it retained the name of the ancient British settlement but in a new, Larinised form–Ratae.

The new fort brought  much  trade to the area and a small civilian settlement quickly sprang up. A few years later a second fort was constructed nearby—it is thought this defensive structure may have been built in response to Boudicca’s revolt. However, the brave British Queen’s chariots never rolled up to Ratae’s earthen ramparts.

About 30 years later, most of the Legions were recalled from Britain and the forts on the Soar handed over to civilians,  although they were remained part of the Roman Empire. Ratae became an important  tribal administrative capital.

Emperor Hadrian’s visit to the town in 122 AD seems to have  sparked a new rebuilding phase. Outmoded wooden structures were dismantled and local granite and millstone grit from Derbyshire brought to build a forum, basilica and colonnades. A few decades later, a public bath house was constructed—today its remains are known as the Jewry Wall, Britain’s largest free-standing piece of  Roman architecture. Water for the baths came to the site from Knighton Brook via an aqueduct. Some of the earthworks surrounding the water channel still survive and are known as Raw Dykes (the word ‘Raw’ has the same origin as Rath/Ratae.)

At this time in Ratae’s history, the local population grew quite wealthy. Townhouses appeared with opulent mosaics, painted walls, heating and bathing facilities. A stone wall was built around the perimeter of the settlement, for added security for the residents of the town.

Temples to the varying gods  were built too, one being found near St Nicholas’ Church, which today retains much brickwork pilfered from the ancient Roman building. This temple was dedicated to Mithras, the bull-slaying god who was born on December 25 and whose cult was seen as a rival to Christianity.  He was a Persian ‘import’ and his all-male accolytes often held their rites in a secret underground chamber known as a Mithraeum. Other evidence has been found of British bull-gods, spear carrying sons of Zeus, and sea-gods.  Of great interest is the curse tablet discovered, in which a native British God, Maglus (‘Prince/princely’) is invoked for help in bringing about the destruction of a thief : “To the god Maglus, I give the wrongdoer who stole the cloak of Servandus. Silvester, Roimandus … that he destroy him before the ninth day, the person who stole the cloak of Servandus …”

By the 5th century, however, Ratae was in serious decline as the legions pulled out from Britain and Angles and  Saxons began to migrate from their homelands to settle in what is now England . Soon, the town was in ruins, abandoned and decaying . The famous Anglo Saxon poem THE RUIN speaks of the abandoned Roman townsThis masonry is wondrous; Fate broke it.
Courtyard pavements lie smashed; the work of giants is decaying.
Roofs are fallen, ruinous towers,
the frosty gate is ravaged,
chipped roofs torn, fallen,
undermined by old age. The grasp of the earth possesses
the mighty builders, perished and fallen…

The Roman Era of Ratae was over with Rome’s withdrawal from Brittania; the early Middle Ages had begun. After the Romans departed the  native Britons called the place, in their own tongue,  Caer Lerion or Caerlyr; the Saxons called it Ligora-ceastre, which by Domesday became Ledecestre, and then Leicester. Geoffrey of Monmouth claimed the town’s founder was King Leir (Leir-caister), and the prefix of this name may take its origins from a Celtic water deity known as Llyr.

Today, the remains of Roman buildings and artefacts  still frequently are excavated in Leicester. Some recent finds near High Cross have been of considerable importance.

The prevalence of these remains in the city is shown by the fact that when Richard III’s remains were recovered from the ruins of Greyfriars, it was initially thought he had an arrowhead embedded in his spine. As it turned out, the ‘arrowhead’ was a stray Roman nail that happened to have ended up under his body when the monks dug a hasty grave to hold him.

It is also interesting to realise that the last Plantagenet King now rests in a brick lined vault above the remains of one of Leicester’s Roman temples,  its scant  foundations discovered when restoration was made on  St Martin’s church in the late 1800’s.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leicestershire-39738436

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2318880/Is-left-park-Leicester-Roman-cemetery-archaeological-dig-ANOTHER-car-park-city.htmlhttp://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2318880/Is-left-park-Leicester-Roman-cemetery-archaeological-dig-ANOTHER-car-park-city.html

https://phys.org/news/2016-07-rare-discovery-late-roman-leicester.html

Roman Leicester artists impression

curse

A view of Richard and Leicester – all the way from Lahore….

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It is always interesting to find out how Richard’s discovery and reinterment, and the effect upon Leicester, is viewed from afar. In this case, Lahore. Mind you, I’m not sure Leicester will appreciate being situated “in the North of London”!

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.

 

 

Swords associated (one way or another) with Richard III….

Richard at Bosworth

The sword was a vital weapon in the medieval period (as can be seen in the hand-to-hand combat in the illustration of Bosworth above) and there would not have been a knight, lord, magnate or king who did not possess a minimum of one. Most would have had a number. We will never know how many swords Richard III possessed, but as far as I am concerned, there are five swords I associate with him…and one of these may have been made for his son. These swords are not all real weapons, some are from art. Only the first actual sword in the following list could have belonged to Richard himself, and of this, only part may remain of the original, as he presented it to the City of Gloucester in 1483.

Mourning Sword, Gloucester

Mourning Sword of Gloucester

This was on display at the recent Richard III Exhibition in Gloucester. Tradition says that it is Richard III’s own personal sword, given to the Mayor of Gloucester during Richard’s 1483 visit. The silver decoration is in the Elizabethan style, and says ‘Francisco me fecit’. A bladesmith of that name was working in Toledo in the 1570s, which means that these elements of the sword post-date Richard’s period. But if you look closely at the handle you will see there is an iron core beneath the silverwork. This may be what remains of the sword given by Richard. I am not sure why it is called the Mourning Sword, which we also described here.

Ceremonial Sword of State for the Prince of Wales

“Though the blade of the above sword was made in Germany, its pommel and hilt are English. Its ornamentation indicates it was meant for the Prince of Wales: its engraved hilt shows the Royal arms of England being held aloft by two angels above the arms of Wales and Cornwall; the opposite has the arms of the Earldoms of March and Chester. This double edged sword was thus not meant for battle, but would have been carried before the Prince during ceremonial processions, such as when he was invested with his title.” Two Princes also held the title of Earl of Chester in the late 15th century. Edward IV’s oldest son, also named Edward…and Richard III’s son Edward… The above photograph is from the British Museum and you can see some very detailed photographs of this ceremonial sword here.

 

Richard-III-Broken-Sword-235456-Society-of-Antiquaries-of-London

Broken Sword Portrait

Not my favourite Richard portrait by any means, and certainly not my favourite sword because, being broken, it bestows an entirely false impression of the man himself – “…A broken sword can be interpreted as symbolic of failure; in a regal portrait, as symbolic of prematurely ended reign by violence, battle, deposition and usurpation…” The only reason Richard “failed” was because he was betrayed, not because of any shortcomings on his part. Just think, a few more yards and he’d have extinguished Henry Tudor! If only he had! As for usurpation, well we all know who did that, and it wasn’t Richard!

Damage to Richard's sword - statue in Leicester

Sword held by Richard’s Statue in Leicester

From the Leicester Mercury. A council spokesman said: “We became aware of the damage to the Richard III statue early last week and are liaising with specialist companies to investigate the best way of repairing it. “The joint at the hilt of the sword has been bent. We do not yet know the extent or cause of the damage. A detailed survey will be carried out later this week, but it is likely that the damage will cost several thousand pounds to put right. “In the meantime, the statue will be fenced off as a safety precaution.” There will always be morons around who think such criminal damage is funny.

From Rous

My fifth and final sword is from Rous. As you see, the illustration depicts Richard in full armour, holding a sword that seems to be half his height in length. He may have been a slightly built man, but he was master of the sword (and every other weapon a knight needed to use). This little picture rather brings the fighting Richard to life for me.

Well, that’s five swords. Would anyone add more?

 

 

 

A “Legendary Ten Seconds” review

It is unlikely you will ever read another book quite like this one. Ian Churchward describes it as ‘The story of how I wrote and recorded lots of Ricardian songs’ – the term ‘Ricardian’ denoting support for King Richard III. Ian sets the scene with amusing anecdotes about his early (pre-Ricardian) music adventures with different bands, one of them having a record played on the John Peel Show in 1987.

People come to King Richard III by many different roads. For Ian, it was when his wife called him away from his music to come and watch a TV documentary. He was happily strumming guitar in the basement and was not sure he wanted to – but as he is interested in history, he decided to watch for a few minutes. He ended up watching the whole programme which was, in his words, ‘the most amazing documentary I have ever seen’. It was about the finding of King Richard’s skeleton in a Leicester carpark and it gave Ian the idea of writing a song about Richard – it was called ‘The House of York’, lamenting the treachery and Tudor lies that caused the demise of the Plantagenet dynasty. Ian and band member, Lord Zarquon, collaborated on the arrangement: acoustic guitar, mellotron flute intro, church organ sounds and drums. The words of this song (and many others that followed) are reproduced in the book.

Ian explains how King Richard has been maligned and puts the record straight about his right to take the throne, when his nephews were declared illegitimate and thus unable to accede. The book takes us through the various Ricardian-themed albums that followed the first song, the lyrics interspersed with short explanatory historical narratives.

We learn how The Legendary Ten Seconds got their name – which is so unusual that people have no trouble finding their music on the internet! The songs are best described as mediaeval English folk rock: the mood varies from catchy and singalong (The Year of Three Kings), haunting (The Boar Lay Slain) to stirring and exhilarating (White Surrey).

I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in music and in King Richard III. Buy it and sing along at a Legendary Ten Seconds gig.

Radio Interview Regarding the Leicester Cathedral Controversy

Having heard that Leicester Cathedral were staging a performance of Shakespeare’s Richard III inside the Cathedral itself, feet from where Richard is buried, I felt I had to do something to protest. It is not that I object to Leicester putting plays on in the Cathedral, although some do. Nor do I hate Shakespeare’s Richard III per se – it is true that he would not be anywhere near as famous without Shakespeare, although perhaps many would feel it preferable if he were less well known and less vilified. And Shakespeare was, of course, a genius, a fact which serves Richard ill because the plays, including the Bard’s Richard III, will never stop being performed. We must try to ensure that any future production of it will incorporate a disclaimer stating that it is fiction and giving a summary of the true Richard.

But it is quite a different matter to stage the play beside Richard’s tomb. So, I started a petition and was lucky enough to be interviewed about it on my local radio station, BBC Essex. Here is the transcript of the interview (there is a link at the bottom to BBC iPlayer, but it will be there only until the end of May 2017):

Dave Monk: Now you may be familiar with the incredible story about Richard III. Now the king was killed following his defeat at the Battle of Bosworth, fought in 1485. His remains were found recently, unearthed beneath a Leicester car park. Well, they now reside in Leicester Cathedral, but a bit of a row has broken out because a production company wants to stage a performance of Shakespeare’s Richard III right there. And funnily enough (he said, name-dropping) I was with the Duke of Gloucester this afternoon, who’s all part of that, of course, because he was Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Critics say it is disrespectful and insensitive as the play portrays Richard in a bad light. Oh, yes it does. Well, Essex author, Joanne Larner, from Rayleigh, is behind the petition calling for the performance to be stopped. And I’d like to know why that is. Joanne, great to have you on. Why have you set this up?

Joanne: Well, it’s just, I thought it was such, a…I was so disappointed. I’ve visited the Cathedral several times and I even was there for the reinterment and I thought they did it really well and they promised to treat Richard’s remains with dignity and honour and I’m so disappointed and saddened and completely disgusted now that they’re doing this because it is almost as if they are dancing on his grave, in a way and I don’t think they are keeping their side of the bargain of treating his remains with dignity and honour.

Dave: Because, let’s face it, Rich – sorry, Shakespeare’s Richard III, Richard was the bad guy. He was a scheming, nasty hunchback, a nasty king, and that’s how he was portrayed and we have no idea whether that’s the truth or not, have we?

Joanne: Oh yes we do!

Dave: Oh go on, then.

Joanne: Well. we think that that portrayal was partly Tudor propaganda – Shakespeare was writing in Tudor times and Tudor had to defame Richard’s character to justify his own taking of the throne. And also, I think as well that Shakespeare may have been doing a satire on a politician of his day, Robert Cecil, who was a hunchback and who was very unpopular. And so, it might not even necessarily be solely about Richard. But, in any case it’s fiction, it isn’t history and the real Richard actually did a lot of good things. I could give you some examples if you’d like to know some of the good things he did.

Dave: Yeah, I’d really like to know, yes.

Joanne: Well, he tried to stamp out corruption of the juries. He was only king for two years, as you know, and he only had one Parliament, but he did all this. He brought in a primitive form of legal aid for the poor, he encouraged reading and learning, he exempted books from taxes – that’s not the action of a tyrant, they usually discourage learning and reading. He had his laws made in English for the first time, so that more people could understand them, he was known before his brother died to be just, loyal and courageous. He was the last English king to die in battle, defending his country and his crown.

Dave: Well, let’s face it we’ve got to always remember, that it’s the victors who write the history books.

Joanne: Exactly, yes.

Dave: You’ve always got to keep that in mind, haven’t you? Why your fascination?

Joanne: Well, I only got interested, actually, after they found him and I saw the documentary and it absolutely fascinated me. And especially the lady, Philippa Langley, who was so passionate about him and I thought, well, how can someone be so passionate about someone who’s been dead five hundred years? And it made me research him and find out about him and I was so inspired that I’ve actually written three novels about him now.

Dave: Pretty good going, isn’t it, really?

Joanne: Mmm, and I’m just as passionate as she is. So – there’s a lot of us   and we all feel really strongly about him.

Dave: So, if it is, I mean you say it’s fiction, if Shakespeare’s Richard III is just fiction, why the big deal? Why the big problem?

Joanne: Well, simply because it portrays him in such a bad light. He’s portrayed as an evil hunchbacked tyrant who murdered his way to the throne and to perform that play literally feet from his grave, I think is just terrible.

Dave: How’s the petition going so far? Have you got much support?

Joanne: Well, it’s only been on for a few days, we’ve already over seven hundred, but obviously the more, the merrier, so anybody else who’d like to sign, I’d really welcome it. You know, it you feel as outraged as I do. I mean, I know Leicester Cathedral do have to make money and they’ve put on other plays there which some people don’t like but I understand that, you know, that they can’t, they don’t charge an entrance fee to the Cathedral, and they’ve put on Richard III before, so they say, but that was before Richard was there. And it’s this juxtaposition of that play and that place that’s the problem.

Dave: Oh alright, Joanne, thank you very much. Joanne Larner, Essex author, from Rayleigh and she is behind that petition to get that performance of Richard III stopped.

 

Since the interview, we have reached well over a thousand signatures – please add yours by clicking the picture of his tomb below.

Photo of Richard III's tomb

Clcik here for link to hear interview – starts near the end of the programme, about 2:45-46

Coming up in July …

literally where it all began nearly five years ago, children can just turn up at the Visitor Centre and learn how archaeology happens.

The elusive last Norman

Although Richard was found in Leicester five years ago, exactly where he was buried, and Henry I is close to being identified in Reading, Kingfinding is not always successful. As this blog shows, the 1965 excavation of the Faversham Abbey site to find King Stephen was unsuccessful.

It seems that his bones really were moved during the Reformation. Sometimes, there is truth in such a legend.

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