“London is usually seen as a one-river city, just big old Father Thames. The city breathes with the rise and fall of its tide, and for centuries the Thames has posed patiently for tourist drawings, etchings and photos. But what of London’s other rivers, the capital’s unseen waterways? Twenty-one tributaries flow to the Thames within the spread of Greater London, and that is just counting the main branches. Once tributaries, and tributaries of tributaries, are included the total moves beyond numbers into the realms of conjecture….”
Well, we’ve all heard of the Fleet and a few others, but I didn’t know all of them. Read the article for some very interesting information about the rivers and streams that our medieval forebears knew well, but which are lost to or hidden from us today.
Here is an interesting article from Londonist with interesting and early maps of London, all updated. Some samples are shown above as a taster, including South London. To read more, go to here and here.
Here is a question that has bugged me for some time now. If, during medieval centuries, a journey could be made around the English coast, rather than across country, was the sea option likely to be chosen?
I will take a particular example. It’s from the 14th century, but could be from the 13th or the 15th. A high-ranking aristocrat, who was accustomed to sailing (he was at one time Admiral of the Fleet in the Western Seas – I think that is the correct title) wished to go from London to Dartmouth on the south coast of Devon. It was a journey he would have made fairly frequently, because his country seat in Devon was his favourite residence, some of his children were born there and he clearly like to escape to its peaceful acres.
Now, medieval journeys fascinate me, and I wonder what governed the choice of route. For instance, when Richard II made his two visits to Ireland, he travelled across country and then along through Glamorgan and Pembroke to Haverford, from where he set sail for Ireland. The voyage took two days. But many of his men/ships/horses/equipment and so on were sent by ship from Bristol.
Why didn’t Richard leave from Bristol as well? It would certainly have been easier than all the way through South Wales. Was it simply to show himself to the people of Wales and the southern Marches? He went from castle to abbey to castle and so on. Quite a long way to be in the saddle. Yes, all medieval aristocrats and royalty showed themselves around the country, but they liked their comfort too, and surely a few extra days’ voyage from Bristol would be preferable to a couple of weeks on indifferent roads?
Which brings me back to my particular nobleman in Devon. When he joined the king in Ireland in 1394, he sailed from Bristol on 7th March. He certainly didn’t go up to Gloucester, across the Severn and then all the way through South Wales to Haverford. No indeed. But why not from Dartmouth, which was only a few miles from his residence? His wife had just given birth to a son there, and it seems fairly certain (not confirmed) that her husband had been there with her just prior to leaving on the Irish campaign?
Back to London. Let me provide a particular scenario. There has been a lot of rain and the roads are appalling, but the weather is otherwise calm. Would he choose to labour to Devon by road? Or take a vessel and sail along the south coast?
It seems to me that surely he would prefer to go by sea, but apart from international travel, or travelling along navigable rivers, I have yet to come across a definite reference to sailing around the coast from one part of the mainland to another. Sometimes there is simply a statement that one town was left and another reached. If the towns are in the middle of the country, then it’s obvious the journey was by road. But if close to the coast…? What then? Traders did it, of course, but did other travellers do the same?
Postscript: Since I first composed this article, I have come upon the interesting thoughts of prominent historian, Ian Mortimer, on the very subject of whether travel would have been by water or road. In Appendix Five of The Fears of Henry IV, he ponders the speed of Henry’s movements around the country, and whether or not roads would have been the natural route. As places like Nottingham and Pontefract are mentioned, it makes me wonder about some of Richard III’s journeys. I have always imagined that he travelled by road, but might he have actually gone by river?
Here is an extract from Mortimer:
“The distances. . .all presume Henry travelled by road, and it needs to be stressed that some of the journeys were probably by water. In fact, Douglas Biggs has suggested that Henry moved mostly by water in 1407.* With regard to his journey from York (5 September 1407) to Beverley (11 September): he sailed down the River Ouse, pausing at Faxfleet, and up the River Hull to Beverley. Similarly Henry could have travelled by water from Nottingham to Pontefract (via the rivers Trent and Calder), and from Bishopthorpe to Cawood (via the Ouse). However, he did not always move by water. His journey from Nottingham to Pontefract via Newstead and Worksop. . .must have been by road, and his presence at Kilham indicates that, although he probably sailed from Beverley to Bridlington, he returned to Bishopthorpe by road.”
*Syllabus: T.D. Hardy (ed.), Syllabus. . .of Rymer’s Foedera (3 vols, 1869-85). Vol ii, p.544. Also Douglas Biggs. ‘An Ill and Infirm King: Henry IV, Health and the Gloucester Parliament of 1407’ – paper delivered at Nottingham 2006).
What did Richard do? Did he always ride on horseback or take to his barge or cog? Over to you, ladies and gentlemen.
l’Erber is shown in the centre of this map extract, below the original place of the London Stone in Candlewick Street
We’ve all heard of l’Erber (various spellings), but perhaps its history and location are not as easily recalled. The following article is from The History Geeks. I tried to give a direct link, but Facebook tells me the article is no longer available. I had found it through a Google search, and have copied it below, word for word.
“L’Erber: Warwick’s lost London house.
“L’Erber or the Herber was the London home of the Nevill family. Probably its most famous owner was Richard Nevill, 16th earl of Warwick, known to history as Warwick the Kingmaker. There are numerous portrayals of him in historical fiction, sailing up the Thames on his barge, his banners of the Bear and the Ragged Staff fluttering behind him. He’d get off at the jetty and the inhabitants of L’Erber would be excited to welcome their lord.
“Except, this is wrong. L’ Erber was nowhere near the River Thames, indeed it was some distance from the river, laying to the north and is often mixed up with Coldharbour which was a completely different house on the banks of the Thames. Unfortunately for us, L’Erber no longer exists. But we can uncover its exact location, what it might have looked like and what the immediate area around was like.
“The house itself was located on Elbow Lane a little to the south of the church of Saint Mary Bothaw on the Dowgate Ward. Dowgate Street ran north from Thames Street to Candlewicke Street with Elbow Lane running west from Dowgate Street to Bush Lane. Le Erber was located on the north side of Elbow Lane next to the turning for Bush Lane, Elbow lane itself made a sudden south turn to Thames Street. (The bend to the south giving it the ‘elbow’ appearance.) The church of Saint Mary Bothaw was also known as Saint Mary by the Erber and like so many others, was destroyed in the Great Fire of London and never rebuilt. Amongst others Robert Chichele Lord Mayor of London and brother to the Archbishop of Canterbury Henry Chichele, was buried there.
“L’Erber was therefore located slightly south of the modern day Cannon Street, more likely around the area now known as Scott’s Yard just south of Cannon Street Station. Three of the nearest streets located very close to the house still survive in modern day London. These are Thames Street, Candlewicke Streete- now known as Cannon Street, and Dowgate Streete, now known as Dow Gate Hill. The basic layout within modern day London is pretty much the same although Elbow Lane has been built over. However you would still be able to find the above mentioned streets and Bush Lane. Looking at the 16th century Agas map and modern day London on map, Cannon Street Station now stands where St Mary Bothaw Church was located and L’Erber is beneath a modern construction called the Atrium Building.
“Within walking distance and just north of the house was the London Stone, the scene of much excitement during the rebellion of Jack Cade in 1450. It appears however that L’Erbers famous resident was not in London at the time. In 1450 the London stone did not resemble the chunk of stone that hides behind a fancy grille set into a wall on Cannon Street. The stone itself was much larger and stood opposite St Swithins Church. When Jack Cade entered London he is believed to have struck the stone with his sword and claimed to be Lord of the City.
“The house itself was near surrounded by churches. As well as the aforementioned St Mary Bothaw, there was the church of Saint Swithin on Candlewicke Street, All Hallows the Great was located on Thames Street which lay off Dowgate Lane, All Hallows the Less a little further along and Saint John the Baptist on Walbrook Street, although the east end of this church extended onto Dowgate. The ringing of church bells must have been a constant and very loud feature for the inhabitants of L’Erber. Following Dowgate Lane to the south you would come to Thames Street and from there, walking west, Baynard’s Castle was on the bank of the river Thames, its walls rising up from the water of the river. A little further on to the west was Bridewell Palace and slightly north from Baynard’s Castle was the old Saint Paul’s Cathedral.
“The Inholders Hall was also on Elbow Lane, but it should be remembered that it was not known as such until 1473 when a successful petition was made to use the name. Prior to that they were called hostelers or hospitalers and served pilgrims, travellers and traders. One might imagine that on Elbow Lane at night time it was quite rowdy. Despite this, the area was home to several “faire houses” and so many stables that Bush Lane was once known as Carters lane. Just west to the house was the River Walbrook, a tributary river of the Thames. Some of this rover had already been culverted into sewers as early as 1440 so how much of the river remained above ground during Warwick’s time is not known. It is now completely underground, one of London’s lost rivers.
“Le Erber itself is described as “a great stone house”, and “very fair.” From the existing map of circa. 1561 it can be seen as being twice the size of neighbouring houses with a tower and crenelated. The very name suggests that it had its own garden, probably an extensive herb garden for the kitchen and medicinal purposes and this garden was almost certainly walled, a small green space amongst the bustling streets. We know from the description that it was built entirely of stone and was not half timbered like many houses at the time and indeed, many of the neighbouring houses were built entirely of timber. From descriptions we also know that it had a very large great hall. The earliest mention of the house I have been able to find is during the reign of Edward III c.1368 when he gave it as a present to Geoffrey Scrope and afterwards appears to have passed to or bought by a John de Hatfield, a citizen and ‘pepperer’ of London. His widow passed the house onto William, Lord Latimer at some point after 1373.
“Eventually the house became the property of John Nevill, Lord Raby (although this cannot be verified, it may well have come into the hands of his son Ralph Nevill, earl of Westmorland in 1399) and then on through the Nevill family to Warwick, probably being rebuilt and refashioned many times over the years. After Warwick’s death it passed through his eldest daughter Isabel to her husband George, duke of Clarence and probably after his execution remained in crown hands. In the early 17th century the house was described as a “great old house” having been rebuilt circa 1564 by Thomas Pullyson, a mayor of London. After this Sir Francis Drake lived there during the closing years of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign. It was either demolished in the 17th century or like its neighbouring churches, completely destroyed in the Great Fire of London.”
This is a fanciful idea. However, there are three major clubs that play in Richard’s colours.
Aston Villa This historic club is by far the largest in the Midlands. They have many, many honours, albeit most of them were collected in the 19th Century. Having said that, they are one of the few English teams to have won the European Cup, a feat achieved in 1982. They are currently languishing in the Championship, the second tier of English football. It is likely that such a large and important club will soon regain a Premier League place.
West Ham United. This club has long been noted for playing open attractive football. Its finest hour was perhaps 1966, when it provided three players (Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst) to the England side that won the World Cup. West Ham won the European Cup Winners Cup in 1965 and they have also won 3 FA Cups over the years, although never a top level Championship. Many people’s favourite London club, they recently moved into a new stadium at Stratford, forsaking their long-established and much-loved Boleyn Ground.
Burnley Currently the nearest Premier League club to Middleham. Burnley are a “small town” club who have never been able to attract the crowds of their big city rivals and have always had to operate on a budget, often making good use of youth products. At the time of writing they are rather closer to the foot of the table than their friends and supporters would wish. The won the top-flight championship for the one and only time in 1960. They have also won the FA Cup once. Given their limited resources, mere survival in the top tier is a brilliant achievement.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Holy wells and healing springs go back into history, and are still with us now. Maybe our belief in them has been tempered by the cynicism of the modern age, but many people still believe in them—and still resort to them.
Here is an interesting site that not only tells us all about the subject, but takes us to numerous wells and springs. There is also an interesting section about London’s Roman baths. Enjoy.
And here is another WordPress site—part of it anyway—which deals with the famous St Winifride’s Well, which is pictured above.
The above is the only illustration I can find that might be part of the original palace at Sheen. Or, it could be part of Richmond Palace.
Tracing details of the original royal palace at Sheen, on the banks of the Thames, is not an easy task, because its Tudor replacement, Richmond Palace, rather steals the limelight. Henry VII decided to rebuild and rename Sheen after his father’s title, Richmond. So illustrations of Sheen almost always turn out to be this replacement building, which was built upon the remains of Sheen. On 9th April, 1395, the first palace was ordered to be razed to the ground by a grief-stricken Richard II, because his adored wife, Queen Anne, had died there suddenly the previous summer, of the plague it is thought .
This original royal palace is described in The Court of Richard II by Gervase Mathew:-
“Sheen (with its annexe of royal lodgings called La Neyt) was larger than Eltham and perhaps, in the 1390s, more important. It had been part of the royal manor of Kingston in Surrey. Edward III had spent £2,000 on converting it into a palace, and had died there on 21st June, 1377. Free-standing, timber-framed buildings were arranged around two large courts; the postern of the Down Court opened on to the Thames and the royal barges moored there. Close to it there was an island called La Neyt, where Richard had a Royal Lodging built between 1384 and 1388; he thus secured a privacy that had been unknown to any previous king. The Lodging was fragile and luxurious: 2,000 painted tiles were commissioned for ‘the chamber assigned to the King’s bath’. This suggests that the walls as well as the floors of the room were tiled; it probably centred in the ‘cuva ad Balneam’, a bath with large bronze taps for hot and cold water.
“Across the river the palace continued to grow and all Richard’s additions to it were marked by two novelties: personal latrines, which were most probably conceived as a part of elegance; and fireplaces in small rooms, which perhaps like hot baths had become an essential part of comfort.
“He built three more Great Houses for his courtiers: the first consisted of nine chambers, each with its latrine; the other two were of four chambers with four latrines and four fireplaces. Later he added a set of chambers with eight fireplaces.”
So, until Anne’s death, Sheen was clearly very important indeed to Richard. So much so that he had a very private house/pavilion built on a close-by island in the Thames. Was the island itself called La Neyt? Which island was it? How close by? Those of us who know anything about Richard II, will know about La Neyt. It was where Richard and Anne could be alone together, very privately, and so must have been a very treasured royal bolthole.
Map showing the proximity of Trumpeter’s House to Corporation Island
There are three islands in the Thames at Richmond. Well, an island and two islets. The latter are known as the Flowerpots, and are far too small to have supported a royal pavilion, even a modest one. The island is now called Corporation Island. Not a very romantic name, but it is big enough to have housed a royal lodging. Was it the site of Richard’s La Neyt?
I have not been able to find out anything more definite, or indeed if there have ever been excavations on this island. Surely archaeologists would discover remains—foundations at least—if there had been a 14th-century building there?
According to Alison Weir, Henry VII was a little twitchy about his descent from John of Gaunt’s notorious mistress (and eventual wife) Katherine de Roët/Swynford. Between them, Gaunt and Katherine produced an illegitimate line of children, the Beauforts, which wasn’t/was/wasn’t legitimate/in line of succession, according to different monarchs. Henry VII was a Beaufort, so you can imagine which side of the argument he was on! Katherine might also have still been married to her first husband, Sir Hugh Swynford, when she conceived the first Beaufort, which was something else to make Henry VII shift uncomfortably. I am only surprised that Henry did not attempt to claim Katherine was descended from King Arthur. Henry was very keen indeed to prove that he and his line were rightful Kings of England because they had Arthur’s blood in their veins.
Anyway, I quote (from Weir’s biography of Katherine):-
“. . .The epitaph on John of Gaunt’s tomb in Old St Paul’s Cathedral, which was lost in the Great Fire of 1666, described Katherine as eximia pulchritudine feminam – ‘extraordinarily beautiful and feminine’. This epitaph was not contemporary but was placed on the restored sepulchre in the reign of Henry VII, who was desirous of restoring the good reputation of this rather dubious ancestress. It is unusual to find words of this kind in an epitaph – the emphasis is usually on virtue and good works – but since Henry VII could hardly laud Katherine’s virtue, it is possible that he ordered reference to be made to her beauty because it was one of the things people did remember her for, and it may even have been referred to in the original tomb inscription, which had been destroyed in living memory. . .”
So, Henry Tudor was up to more of his usual meddling tricks? Making sure posterity was recorded as he wanted it recorded? What a surprise. BUT, in one thing Katherine herself signally failed. Her extraordinary beauty did not descend to Henry or his Beaufort mother!
Sources for the above illustration: The lost tomb of John of Gaunt and his wife Blanche, old St.Paul’s Cathedral, London. From The History of St Paul’s Cathedral in London by William Dugdale, 1658. Originally from Wenceslaus Hollar Digital Collection at University of Toronto. Likeness of Henry VII from civ6customization.gamepedia.com
Richard, Duke of York and his second son Edmund were killed at the battle of Wakefield at the bitter end of 1460. Within weeks, the Duke’s eldest son Edward was on the road with a mighty army, seeking revenge–and a crown.
The novella BLOOD OF ROSES by J.P. Reedman covers the period from the Duke’s death to Edward’s Coronation on June 28 1461. Edward’s early battles are curiously sidelined in most fiction, despite their importance, while his amorous pursuits often seem to take the fore! This ‘slice of life’ fiction book tries to redress that balance slightly.
In February 1461 Edward fought the first of his battles for the throne at Mortimer’s Cross, where the parhelion, the Three Suns, appeared in the sky. Edward sensed the fear and doubt growing in his men at the sight of this phenomena, and, aged only 18, showed great cleverness in convincing them it was a GOOD omen–the sign of the Holy Trinity. The battle went decively for the Yorkists, with Jasper Tudor’s father Owen being executed in Hereford’s town square. Legend says a deranged lady took his head and sat on the market cross crooning to it as she brushed its hair…
With Edward were the Croft family of Croft Castle, which is on the Welsh borders. This is the family made famous by the letter sent from Ludlow to the Duke of York by his young sons, Edward and Edmund, asking for bonnets and other items. At first reading, one section of the letter seems to be against bullying behaviour by the Croft sons, who were also at Ludlow, but is in fact, on second reading, against the ‘odious and demeaning’ treatment of them, a fact recently noted by Dr John Ashdown-Hill. Richard Croft went on to serve Edward IV (so clearly no friction there!), then Richard III and Henry Tudor.
Mortimer’s Cross was a great victory but there was then a distinct setback when the Earl of Warwick was defeated by the Lancastrians at St Albans, and King Henry, until then a Yorkist prisoner, taken to rejoin his wife, Margaret of Anjou. Nonetheless, Edward entered London and was proclaimed king, although he sworehe would not wear the crown until he had defeated his enemies utterly. Gathering his army, he began a hard march north.
At Ferrybridge, the Lancastrians attacked the Yorkists over the damaged bridge crossing the Aire, in a night-raid led by Lord Clifford, the presumed murderer of Edmund of Rutland, who had appeared suddenly with his ‘chosen’ men, the Flower of Craven. At first the Yorkists were thrown into disarray, with Lord Fitzwalter being hewn down the moment he stepped from his tent to see what the commotion outside was about. Luckily, William Neville, Lord Fauconberg, the most experienced commander of the Yorkist host, took the lead and crossed near Castleford to attack the Lancastrian flank. Fauconberg was a small-framed man, often described as ‘little Fauconberg’ who had a long military career, having served in France, including at the famous Siege of Orleans. He was an uncle of Edward, being the third son of Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland and his wife Joan Beaufort (Edward’s maternal grandparents.) Fauconberg made short work of Clifford’s Flower of Craven, and Clifford himself was killed, mostly like by an arrow when removing his gorget.
Then the Yorkist army pushed on to Towton, fought on Palm Sunday and in a fierce snowstorm. Some have questioned the possibility of a snowstorm that late in the year, but looking at our recent March weather, it is not impossible at all that there was indeed heavy snow! The bad weather was advantageous to the Yorkists, with the worst of the weather being at their backs and driving into the faces of their enemies. The Lancastrian archers were at a distinct disadvantage with the strong wind blowing their arrows astray.
The battle was hard fought, nevertheless, as the Lancastrian forces far outnumbered those of the Yorkists. However, when the Duke of Norfolk’s contingent arrived, led by John Howard, the battle finally turned in Edward’s favour. A rout ensued and the battlefield became a killing field. The waters of nearby Cock Beck ran red with blood and filled with bodies. The area was afterwards called Bloody Meadow.
It was the bloodiest battle ever fought on English’s soil, with figures as high as 28,000 stated for the casualties. Even given the exaggeration of the chroniclers of the day, it was undoubtedly a huge amount of slain. In recent years some of the remains of the fallen have been recovered, mostly around Towton Hall, where archaeologists recently found the remains of Richard III’s chapel to the fallen soldiers subsumed into the inner fabric of the hall. The skeletons recovered showed the terrifying brutality of medieval warfare–shattered skulls, slashing injuries, facial mutilation, slicing marks that may have been the removal of ears…
Chivalry died a death upon this field of blood. But England had a new king–Edward of York, the Sunne in Splendour.
BLOOD OF ROSES IS AVAILABLE IN KINDLE AND PRINT FROM AMAZON