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Henry VII’s “dubious” ancestress…?

Henry VII and John of Gaunt's Tomb

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

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BLOOD OF ROSES (A Novella of Edward IV’s Victory at Towton)

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

BLOOD OF ROSES

 

Oops, the NY Times claimed Richard wasn’t found in Leicester, but in London….!

ny times - genetics review

Even the New York Times gets it wrong! Apparently an earlier version of a book review had Richard being found in London, not Leicester. Someone advised them, and the error was corrected.

Anyway, to read the whole review of A BRIEF HISTORY OF EVERYONE WHO EVER LIVED: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes by Adam Rutherford, go here.

I Would Rather See the Hunting of a Duck…

Certain ‘books’ (ahem) often go on about Richard III’s supposed unpopularity and describe his brother Edward IV in glowing terms, putting him forth as a universally loved and admired monarch. (Even worse are those writers who make the brave, ruthless, warrior-King Edward into  some kind of hapless old duffer, totally cowed and pushed about by his little brother, and seemingly hardly aware of his supposedly ‘evil machinations.’)

However, I came across this reference to someone from 1461 who was DEFINITELY not best pleased at the crowning of the handsome young Edward. A certain London notary got in hot water with the authorities for saying in public,  ‘twutte and tourde for hym! I [would rather see] the hunting of a duck as him’ [KB 145/7/1]’

It  is an extraodinary statement, not only because he was insulting a new King who had just won a very bloody battle indeed, but for  his liberal  usage of the profanities ‘twutte’ and ‘tourde’. Other than the spellings, how very modern his outrage (and bad language) seems!

 

 

 

The Abbey of the Minoresses of St Clare without Aldgate and the Ladies of the Minories

anne-darcy2Anne Montgomery nee Darcy.  One of the much respected Ladies of the Minories from the window of Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford, Suffolk.

Shakespeare said ‘all the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players’.  Following on from that if we may be allowed to say that the Wars of the Roses were a stage then surely some of the saddest players on it were the ladies of the Minories – the widows, mothers, sisters and daughters of some of the main players of that tragic and violent period who survived their menfolk but in what must have  been difficult and sometimes straightened circumstances.  I have here leaned heavily on W E Hampton’s excellent article, the Ladies of the Minories (1)

The Abbey of the Minoresses of St Clare without Aldgate was founded by Edmund Crouchback Duke of Lancaster and his wife, Blanche of Navarre,  in 1293 for the nuns that Blanche had brought to England with her.  Surviving until 1539  the abbey, which was very large,  was surrendered by the last abbess,  Dame Elizabeth Savage,  to Henry Vlll.  The abbey had already suffered what must have been a catastrophic loss in 1515 when 27 nuns and other lay people i.e. servants died of the plague (2)

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Edmund Crouchback, illustrations of his tomb in Westminster Abbey by Stothard from Monumental Effigies of Great Britain 1832

According to Edward Tomlinson who wrote A History of the Minories there is an old manuscript in British Museum ‘which appers to have escaped the notice of any historian’ which states that Edmund’s ‘hart ys buryed at the North end of the high Awter in the mynorysse And his body ys buryed at Westminster in the Abbey’.  This manuscript which is probably a transcript from a register kept in the Abbey contains ‘the names of all p sones beyng of Nobull Blode whiche be buryed wthin the Monastorye of the mynnorysse’.  The names of these illustrious burials are too numerous to name here but a few..

Dame Elizabeth Countess of Clare

Dame Isabel daughter of Tomas of Woodstock Duke of Gloucester

Margaret Countess of Shrewsbury daughter of Humphgrey Duke of Buckingham

Agnes Countess of Pembroke

Eleanor Scrope wife to Lord Scrope and Daughter of Raufe/Ralph Neville

Edmunde De La Pole and Margaret his wife

Elizabeth de la Pole, Edmund’s daughter (3).

Among those burials I am focusing here on those from the turbulent period of the Wars of Roses and the fall of the House of York..

I shall start with one of the leading ladies of this little band,  Elizabeth Mowbray nee Talbot, Dowager Duchess of Norfolk.  Elizabeth was the daughter of John Talbot lst Earl of Shrewsbury and sister to another lady of great importance from the period, Eleanor Butler.  Mother to the tragic Anne Mowbray child bride to Richard of Shrewsbury, Edward IV’s youngest son.  Elizabeth lived in the Great House within the Close for which she paid a rent of 10 pounds.  Elizabeth it will be remembered, on the sudden unexpected death of her husband was forced soon after to take a diminished dower in order to augment the revenue of her young son-in-law. Frustratingly Elizabeth’s thoughts on this  were, as far as is known, never recorded.  The   marriage of her daughter Anne to the youngest son of Edward IV and Elizabeth Wydeville,  whose own marriage had ruined her sister, Eleanor,   ensured that the vast Mowbray estates would pass to Richard if it should come to pass that her daughter died, which as it transpired is exactly what happened.   Anne died shortly before her 9th birthday at Greenwich one of her mother-in-law’s favorite homes.  Anne was buried in Westminster Abbey but her body was removed from there in 1502 when the chapel she was buried in was demolished to make way for Henry Tudor’s grandiose new chapel.  Anne was returned to her mother at the Minories and buried there –  ‘Dame Anne Duches of yorke doughter to lord moumbray Duke of Norfolke ys buried yn the sayed Quere’ (4)

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Elizabeth Mowbray, nee Talbot, Duchess of Norfolk as depicted in the window of Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford, Suffolk.

Although the glory days must have been over for Elizabeth with the demise of her husband – her retirement to the Minories  would have been a serious case of downsizing –  a look at her will tells us that she had not lost absolutely everything  as did  her daughter’s mother in law, Elizabeth Wydville, whose pitiful will tells us that she was left more or less destitute.  Ah well Karma is a bitch as they say.

Jane Talbot, sister-in-law to the above, having married Sir Humphrey Talbot.  Humphrey was the son of John Talbot by  his second wife Margaret who was a daughter of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick.  Jane’s interesting will which left numerous bequests especially to her servants also requested that ‘I Dame Jane Talbott, wedowe late the Wif of sir Humfrey Talbott knyght…  my body to be buried within the inner choer of the churche of the Mynores withoute Algate of London nygh the place and sepulture where the body of Maistres Anne Mongomery late the wif of John Mongomery Squyer restity and ys buried within the same quere’.

Anne Montgomery widow of John Montgomery who was executed in 1462, brother of Sir Thomas Montgomery, Sir James Tyrell was her nephew.  Anne was clearly a person much revered.  As well as Jane Talbot, Elizabeth Mowbray also requested to be buried close to her in her will made 6 November 1506 – ‘And my body to be buried in the Nonnes qwere of the Minorsesses without Alegate of London nyghe vnto the place Wher Anne Montgomery lyeth buried’.

Mary Tyrell.  According to Hampton ‘Almost certainly one of the sisters of Sir James Tyrell – probably the youngest – and therefore a niece of Anne Montgomery  (5 )

Elizabeth Brackenbury.  Daughter to the loyal Sir Robert Brackenbury, Richard III’s Constable of the Tower,  who died with his king at Bosworth.  Hampton mentions that Elizabeth”s poverty was clear in her will of 1504 and  that she found shelter under the wings of the Talbots and requested in her will that her debts to Elizabeth were to be paid –  ‘I Elizabeth Brakkynbury..beyng of goode and hole mind’ – all such money ‘as my lady’s grace of Norff’ to whom I am most specially bounde’ had paid, or was charged with, for Elizabeth ‘of her charitie’ was to be repaid (6).  Hampton also adds that there was some connection between Sir Robert and Sir Thomas Montgomery which could partly explain his daugher’s connection to these ladies, although it is not certainl if Brackenbury’s daughter was an inmate at the time of Anne Montgomery’s tenancy at the Minories.

Hampton wrote  ‘All of these ladies, with the possible exception of Jane Talbot had suffered great loss, but it would perhaps be unwise to to think too much of them as sheltering in the Minories, where life may not have been too severe.  They may as Dr Tudor-Craig suggests have gathered around the Duchess yet Anne Montgomery’s influence may have been greater spiritually’.

While some ladies had  been most grieviously  injured by Edward IV and his Wydeville wife – i.e. the shabby way Elizabeth Mowbray was forced to augment the revenue of her small son-in-law, the betrayal of her sister, Eleanor, the executions  of  William Tyrell and John Montgomery, further injury was inflicted by Henry Vll with the unjust attainder of Sir Robert Brackenbury and the execution and attainder of Sir James Tyrell.

FullSizeRender.jpgWynegaerde’s Panorama of London (1543)  in which the Minories can be seen just above  and to the left of the White Tower/Tower of London.  .  Note the close  proximity of the scaffold on Tower Hill, shown to  to the left of the Minories.  

Doubtless they were great comforters of each other and it is very easy to imagine them being of a great solace to Elizabeth Mowbray when her daughter’s remains were returned  to her.

The beginning of the end for the once grand Minories came when the last abbess, Dame Elizabeth Salvage surrendered the abbey to Henry Tudor Jnr in 1539.  Stowe describes how in place of  ‘this house of nuns is now built divers fair and large storehouses for armour and habiliments of war, with divers workhouses serving to the same purpose’ although there is  ‘a small parish church for inhabitants of the close, called St Trinities’ (7)  Some of the abbey walls survived until a fire in 1797.  Around 1566 the parishioners came into possession of what had once been the Minories church but  was now the parish church and set about ‘renovating’ it.  This involved the removal and destruction of ancient monuments and the adding of a steeple.  Finally around 1705 , having surived the Great Fire of 1666,  begun the final destruction of the fabric of  the ancient church and the rebuilding of a new one although the medieval northern wall was retained.

 

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Diagram of the 18th century Holy Trinity church showing the north 13th Century  retained.  This wall managed to survive the fire and bombs until clearance of the site in 1956-58.  

 

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The remains of the abbey after the fire in 1796

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Another print showing the abbey remains after the 1796 fire.

It would have been about this time that the building of new burial vaults was begun and in the process of which,   the ‘greater part of the ground beneath the parish church must have been evacuated which would have not been achieved without the unfortunate removal of the remains of those, who in the past centuries, would have been buried there’ (8). Alas!

The 18th century  church was finally destroyed after being bombed during the war.   But that is not the end of the story of our intrepid band of Minory ladies or indeed the Minories itself, for in 1964 the remains of Elizabeth’s daughter, Anne Mowbray were  discovered by an excavator driver in a vaulted burial chamber of the Minories which had somehow been, fortunately,  overlooked.   Anne was once again reinterred in Westminster Abbey as close to her original burial place as possible…but, that dear reader is another story.

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18th century Holy Trinity Church prior to its destruction by a bomb.    It was in the excavation of this area after the war that Anne Mowbray’s remains were discovered in a vault.

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Holy Trinity Church looking slightly less stark in this painting,1881, artist unknown.

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The area now covering where once stood the Abbey of St Clare (The Minories).  Such is progress.  

 

1. The Ladies of the Minories, W E Hampton, Richard lll Crown and People p195-201

2.  A Survey of London Written in the year 1599. John Stowe pp 122.1233.

3. A History of the Minories pp68.69 Edward Murrey Tomlinson M.A

4. Ibid p 69.

5. The Ladies of the Minories W E Hampton, Richard lll Crown and People p.19

6. Ibid p.198

7. A Survey of London Written in the year 1599.  John Stowe p.128.

8. A History of the Minories p 299 Edward Murrey Tomlinson

What was the London Stone’s original purpose? And who erected it…?

London Stone from street

These days, the London Stone (also called the Brutus Stone) is set into the wall of the Bank of China on the south side of Cannon Street, EC4. Well, part of it is. Just the tip. The entire Stone stood originally in Candlewick Street (Cannon Street) on the south side near the gutter, facing the door of St Swithin’s church on the north side of the street.*

London Stone map

Made from Clipsham limestone, the displayed portion is roughly shaped and round-topped, with two grooves worn in the top. Its origin and purpose are no longer known, but it was always of some importance to Londoners, who, as far back as 1198, referred to it as the Lonenstane. What we see today is only a fraction of the original Stone, the rest of which still lies beneath Cannon Street. There must surely be something of great interest awaiting discovery. Starting with how tall the Stone was in the beginning.

One suggestion put forward is that the Stone was of Druidic origin. The most popular theory is that it is Roman. Oh, dear, isn’t everything linked to the Romans these days? It’s as if no one in Britain had a clue about anything before they were invaded and taught how to breathe and set aside the woad. A present-day rising against those pesky Romans might not go amiss! Where is Boudicca/Boadicea when we need her?

boadicea

However, I digress. One of the Roman theories is that perhaps it was a central milestone, one from which all mileage measurements in the province of Britannia were taken. A sort of Greenwich Meridian for the length of journeys. Maybe it was, we may never know. Unless they dig up the rest of it, which is still deep underground.

Excavations at Cannon Street Station have revealed the remains of the governor’s palace, which may have some bearing on the Stone. Or not. The same goes for it being the top of a Roman wayside funerary monument. Without examining the rest of the Stone, we aren’t going to know.

Stones have always been of importance in our history. For instance, there is the Stone of Scone, or Stone of Destiny, which many believe to be the stone that Jacob raised to bear witness to his covenant with God. Whatever that particular stone’s original history, it was for centuries fixed into the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey. Our kings were crowned upon it. As had been Scottish kings before them. It has, of course, now been returned north of the border.

Another stone, less factual perhaps, is the one from which Arthur drew Excalibur, but this story is best approached with caution. Why? Because we have no idea if it is fact or fiction. As is the case with so much where Arthur is concerned. But swords and stones have an ancient connection. In his 1450 rebellion against the corrupt government of Henry VI, Jack Cade struck the London Stone with his sword, and declared that he was now the Lord of the City.

Jack Cade strikes the London Stone

London was not founded by the Romans, they merely expanded on what was there already. A favourite myth these days is that London was actually commenced by Brutus and the Trojans, who left their own land to find somewhere to found a New Troy. They did, the name was confused into Trinovantum, and then the Romans happened along. It is wondered if the London Stone was the foundation stone of New Troy.

Brutus of Troy

An exciting fact is that excavations at St Swithin’s Church revealed Roman levels some 4’-6’ below the surface. But also revealed massive stone walls some 15’ below the surface, therefore considerably predating the Romans. So, who is to say that the London Stone wasn’t from this earlier period? Just how far back might it go? Just how sacred might it have been? And to whom? Whatever, it should not be left, forgotten, in its underground tomb. Liberate it, and it may have important things to tell us.

To learn more on the London Stone, I recommend reading Appendix I of The Holy Kingdom by Adrian Gilbert, Alan Wilson and Baram Blackett. It is from this that I have taken much of the above article. 

*This is how I understood its perambulations, but there are slightly differing accounts and new developments. All I can say is that as far as I now know, the top of it was in the wall of the Bank of China, but is now temporarily in the Museum of London. I think. It is a very mobile object!

The King’s Barge House on the Thames in Southwark….

City of London Barge House, Lambeth

 

I could not find an illustration of the actual original royal barge house (except that drawn in the map below) but above is an illustration of a grand barge house used by the City of London in Lambeth. The King’s Barge House may have been very similar.

The King’s Barge House was halfway between the Tower and Westminster, where the barges were moored. It was on Upper Ground, alongside Barge House Stairs, on the site of the present jetty near the OXO Tower. Here the Royal Barge Master saw to maintenance and preparation for state occasions. The barge house may have been there in the time of Henry VI and earlier, until the middle of the 17th century, when it fell into disuse and eventually crumbled away. A survey in June 1652 described it as ‘a building of timber, covered with tile, 65 feet in length, and 26 feet in breadth; but much out of repair, and valued at £8 per annum’. It was situated at the western edge of Paris Garden, near the remains of Old Barge House Stairs.

The quayside at Old Barge House Stairs - next to the OXO Tower

Quayside at Old Barge House Stairs – next to the OXO Tower

Barge House Stairs - 1

Remains of Barge House Stairs

It appears that Paris Garden was almost entirely encircled by the Pudding Mill Stream, but by the start of the 17th century there was confusion about the exact boundary between it and Prince’s Meadows near the river. The problem might have arisen because the Barge House was near or over the sluice from Pudding Mill Stream into the river.

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A post medieval copper alloy trade token or halfpenny from the Upper Ground near the King’s Old Barge House, Southwark dating AD1656-1674.

 

400 buildings were lost in the Great Fire of London….

Nonsuch House, London Bridge

(following this post about mediaeval London and this one that refers to the fire)

Nonsuch House was a “wildly eccentric, gaudily painted, meticulously carved Renaissance palace…the jewel in the crown of London Bridge. Made entirely from wood it was prefabricated in Holland and erected in 1577-79, replacing the medieval drawbridge gate. At four storeys it was the biggest building on the bridge, straddling the whole street and lurching over the Thames, affording its illustrious occupants spectacular views of the metropolis. Its tulip-bulb cupolas were admired from miles around and there was truly nonsuch like this architectural mongrel anywhere else in London.

“The fire only consumed a modern block of houses at the northern end of London Bridge, separated from the rest by a gap, and so Nonsuch House, built on the 7th and 8th arches from the Southwark end, happily survived – only to be dismantled with the rest of the houses a hundred years later.”

Thus the article below describes the amazing confection that was Nonsuch House.  It did well not to be destroyed between 2-5 September 1666, when the Great Fire of London robbed posterity of some four hundred wonderful buildings. It lasted another century, but many fine, historic buildings came to grief, and the article describes and illustrates a number of them.

This is also well worth a read!

BERMONDSEY ABBEY AND ELIZABETH WYDEVILLE

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Elizabeth Wydeville, by an unknown artist, Royal Collection.

If anyone today wandering around Bermondsey, South London, should find themselves in redeveloped Bermondsey Square they may be surprised to find that they are standing on the spot where once stood the quadrangle of the Abbey of Bermondsey, the entrance  to the square being the site of the Abbey gatehouse.

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Nothing much hardly remains today above ground (after the archaeologists had completed their study of the Abbey remains in 2006 they were once again covered over)  other than some remains of the south western tower which can be seen below the glass floor of a restaurant and nearby houses on Grange Walk, 5, 6 and 7 which incorporate in their structure remains of one wall of the Abbey’s stone eastern gatehouse, particularly No.7,  where the chamfered south jamb with two wrought iron gate hooks still project.

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5, 6 and 7 Grange Walk, Bermondsey incorporating the remains of the Abbey gatehouse seen in 18th century engraving below.  Note the roof line still recognisable today and windows still in original positions. 

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18th century print of the Abbey Gatehouse.

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Drawing by C R B Barrett 1906 where the two Gatehouse hinges can clearly be seen with the remains of a third one still visible.

It is intriguing to remember that in this Abbey,  Edward lV’s queen lived out the last five years of her life, in the Clare guest suite, dying there on 8 June 1492,  She was the second queen to both retire and die there, the first being Katherine of Valois, Henry V’s widow.  Elizabeth commenced her retirement there in 1487 and debate still rages as to whether she retired there willingly or unwillingly with some good reason to be believe that her withdrawal there was forced upon her by her son-in-law, Henry Vll.  Certainly her removal there and the arrest of her son Thomas Grey followed hot on the heels of the news of the outbreak of the Lambert Simnel  rebellion and a council meeting at Sheen so that it might be reasonable to deduce that  Elizabeth and Thomas were implicated in that plot.  MacGibbon, Elizabeth’s biographer wrote ‘Henry is reported to have deprived Elizabeth of all her lands and estates, conferring them on her daughter, his queen, on the l May 1487, and finally to have induced her to spend the rest of her days in seclusion in Bermondsey Abbey in very reduced circumstances ‘(1).  Vergil, the Tudor historian was later to say that this was because Elizabeth had reached an understanding with King Richard three years earlier  upon which she removed herself and her daughters from sanctuary.  This is absurd and it may be that Vergil knew full well that Elizabeth’s retirement was not voluntary but did not know the precise circumstances or  chose not to repeat them it being unwise to record that Elizabeth and Grey may have got themselves involved in the Simnel rebellion because they both believed that Edward of Westminster and/or Richard of Shrewsbury were alive and well. Certainly it does seem a strange decision on Elizabeth’s part if she herself decided on the move to Bermondsey as she had only in the previous year taken out a 40 year lease on the Abbots House, known as Cheyneygates, at Westminster Abbey, conveniently  close to the Palace of Westminster ( 2 ).  Ah, man makes plans and the Gods laugh as they say.  MacGibbon also opines, rather contradictorily, as he seems rather besotted with Elizabeth, that ‘It is possible, if not probable, that Henry disliked his mother-in-law and in this he was no means singular, for there never was a woman who contrived to make more personal enemies’ but he adds as an afterthought, ‘but he ever deprived her of either property or dignity, remains to be proved’.  Furthermore, ‘far from being exiled from her daugher’s court, she was in that same year chosen as Prince Arthur’s godmother and attended at the font’ ( 3).  Finally, he plucks his ripest plumb from the tree, that on the 28 November 1487 Henry and James lll of Scotland agreed that the latter should marry Elizabeth as well as two of her daughters marry James’ sons.  However it must be remembered that at the time of James death, June 1488 none of these marriages had actually taken place and so it cannot be taken as a given that either King, particulary Henry fully intended these marriages to take place.  Indeed David Baldwin points out that ‘the proposed marriages had been mooted before the Simnel rebellion,  at least as early as the Three Years Truce signed on the 3 July 1486’ ( 4 ).

It has been said that it is unlikely that Elizabeth would involve herself in the Simnel plot, which would have culminated not only in the eviction of Henry, her son-in-law.  from the throne but also her daughter not to mention have robbed  her small grandson Arthur of his future   inheritance.  But on the other hand if she believed that the true intention of the plot was not to put Simnel/ young Warwick on the throne but one of her surviving sons, then it is highly likely that this is the very course she would have taken.  This may also explain any coolness that Elizabeth of York may have felt towards her mother and, if this were the case,   Elizabeth’s retirement,  brought about by  her diminished  financial circumstances,  leaving her with little choice, may have proved very  convenient for the royal couple, .  Certainly from Henry’s point of view Bermondsey must have seemed the perfect solution.  The accommodation itself, the Clare Suite, may have been deemed suitable by some  for an ex-queen although to Elizabeth, who had lived a life of luxury in many sumptuous properties  it must have seemed a massive case of downsizing, as we call it today, with a close watch on her movements and an occasional outing to keep any murmuring/speculation down.

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Interior of Great Gatehouse as it was in the 17th century.

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18th century print of one of the Abbey rooms before demolition

In summary

A)  1485.  Elizabeth is treated with deference by Henry, her title of Queen Dowager being restored to her in Henry’s first parliament which met a week after his coronation on 7 November 1485.  Acted as godmother to her grandson Arthur.

B) 1486.  Titulus Regius declaring the invalidity of Elizabeth’s marriage to King Edward was repealed in Henry’s first parliament  and on the 5 March 1486 she received annuities and a life interest in a raft of properties in southern England in full satisfaction of her dower (5)

C) 1486 July 10th.  Elizabeth takes  out a 40 year old lease on the Abbots House, Cheyneygates, at Westminster Abbey.

D) 1487.  February.  Shortly after news of the Lambert Simnel plot reached England Elizabeth retired to Bermondsey Abbey and her son Thomas Grey is arrested and put into the Tower of London.  Elizabeth’s biographer David Baldwin wrote Henry ‘deprived Elizabeth of all her properties, and confined her to Bermondsey on the unlikely grounds that she had imperilled his cause by surrendering her daughters, including his bride, to King Richard three years earlier’.

E)  1487 November 28th.  An agreement between Henry and James lll of Scotland for the latter to marry Elizabeth.  However, James died in June 1488 without this proposed marriage taking place.

F)  1489 November.  Elizabeth is present when Francois, Monsieur de Luxemboug, head of a visiting French embassy, met Elizabeth of York and her mother-in-law, Margaret Beaufort.  Although this might appear prima facie to indicate that all was well within the royal family, as it was surely intended to do,  the possibility exists that Francois, her kinsman,  had insisted on meeting Elizabeth and to avoid suspicion and gossip the meeting was duly arranged with the presence of Margaret stiffling any chance of a private conversation taking place which might have occurred had he met her in private at Bermondsey.

G)  1492 April 10th.  Elizabeth makes her will in Bermondsey Abbey.  There is no dispute, with her will still in existence, that her  condition was, for a dowager queen, extremely impoverished.  I do not have to go into the entire content of the will which is well know other than to repeat the words ‘I’tm where I have no worldly goods to do the queens grace, my dearest daughter, a pleasure with, neither to reward any of my children, according to my heart and mind, as is to me possible….’

H)   1492 June 8.  Elizabeth dies at Bermondsey Abbey.

It could be said that Elizabeth was the human rock that the House of York foundered, and finally, crashed upon, taking with it her two young sons, although this in no way pardons Edward with whom the buck must stop.  Perhaps he was giddy with his triumphs but certainly raging testosterone overcome common sense.  Edward seems to have kept his brains in his pants and the ensuing problems and tragedy that this later caused is well documented elsewhere and I need not go into it here.  Perhaps it would be hard hearted not to feel some glimmer of compassion when reading the pitiful will made at Bermondsey.  Elizabeth asked for a humble funeral and that is exactly what she got – even the herald reporting it was shocked – and so she was laid to rest in a wooden coffin without the usual inner lead one so that when the vault  in which she and Edward were interred was opened in 1789 all that remained of Elizabeth was a pile of bones and the remains of the coffin which had rotted away.  When the vault was resealed once again there appears to have been nothing left of Elizabeth, her bones having been stolen by Georgian souvenir collectors.  So Elizabeth remains a footnote in history, taking any secrets she may have had to the grave with her, including perhaps the whereabouts/fates of her two young sons.  She died knowing that her daughter was queen and that her blood would run through the future Tudor monarchs and perhaps she gained some comfort from that..but I wonder, did she ever muse on what might have been and what had been lost.  I leave you dear reader to make your own mind up about that.

 

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Remains of the Abbey revealed in 2006 prior to the Square being redeveloped

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Abbey staircase..

1. David MacGibbon, Elizabeth Woodville, a Life p.134

2. J Armitage Robinson The Abbots House at Westminster pp22-23

3. David MacGibbon, Elizabeth Woodville, a Life p 135

4.  David Baldwin Elizabeth Woodville Mother of the Princes in the Tower p115

5. Ibid  p109

Knitting with a 14th-century goodwife….

textiles-and-clothing

Textiles and Clothing 1150-1450 by Elisabeth Crowfoot, Frances Pritchard and Kay Staniland, published by Boydell Press, in association with the Museum of London. ISBN 978-1-84385-239-3 (First published in 1992 and reprinted numerous times since then, lastly in paperback in 2016, which is the version I have.)

Before I proceed, I will say that among the sites that provided contributions to this work is Baynard’s Castle (excavated in 1972), which was, of course, a very important residence of the House of York. The book’s coverage ends at 1450, but I am sure the site will still be of interest to those of the murrey-and-blue persuasion.

baynards-castle

The sites covered are mostly along the northern bank of the Thames, in the old city, and were excavated over a period of about twenty years. Archaeologists have discovered all sorts of clothing and textiles that speak of their owners’ status. The list of finds includes “knitting, tapestries, silk hair-nets and elaborately patterned oriental, Islamic and Italian fabrics….beautifully made buttons, buttonholes and edgings which display superb craftsmanship and a high level of needlework skills.”

I purchased the book because it was referred to when I was reading something else, and I am very glad to possess it. The intricate detail and beautiful illustrations are breathtaking. There are some astonishing reconstructions of complicated designs, built up from small fragments. They reveal some exquisitely delicate, decorative silks, brocades and other fine fabrics. At Baynard’s Castle, the most exotic piece retrieved was a Chinese twill damask woven from silk. Oh, to know to whom that belonged!

The samples of knitting are almost moving. There it is, good old stocking stitch, exactly as we knit it now. Looking at the fragments, the medieval period melds with the present, as if there were no intervening centuries. I felt I could sit amicably side by side with a 14th-century goodwife, our needles tapping away…producing the same result. Perhaps she would knit one of a pair of gloves, and I the other. I know, the weaving and other handcrafts are still the same as well, but it was the knitting that touched me.

If I have a criticism, it is that I would have liked more colour photographs. Determining the details of various forms of warp and weft is not always easy when shown in grayscale. At least, maybe they are to someone with weaving experience, but not to someone who seldom ventured beyond knitting.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Textiles-Clothing-c-1150-1450-Medieval-Excavations/dp/1843832399/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1485971343&sr=1-1&keywords=textiles+1150

(Please note that the book to which the above link takes you is illustrated with an earlier cover than the one which will arrive, which has the cover pictured at the top of this page.)

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