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Edward & Richard in Oxford

Oxford is well-known for its stunning medieval college buildings. It would take days, if not weeks, to carefully visit them all.

Several, however, have items of particular interest to those who study the House of York and Wars of the Roses time period.

The old Divinity School is an interesting stop. It was built between 1427-1483 and was an area for oral examinations and theology discussions. Apparently the exams could take days in the Middle Ages, with people wandering in and out! The groined hall is very beautiful, with very fine fan-vaulting which probably dates from the 1480’s. There are over 400 bosses which are intriguing to view, containing shields, beasts, initials, flowers and inscriptions. . Right in the centre  of the chamber you can quickly pick out Edward IV’s arms and the Sunne in Splendour. Apparently Edward never came here, but the builders of the day thought it best to honour him anyway.

(While there, is is well worth seeing Duke Humphrey’s Library upstairs. Humphrey, 1st Duke of Gloucester, was an early book afficionado who had manuscripts translated from Greek to Latin. Upon his in 1447 death, he donated all his manuscripts, almost 300 of them,  to the University. The library which took his name was set up as another storey to the already-existing Divinity school. Several of  Humphrey’s books still survive…though, alas,  most of the original books were pilfered by the King’s Commisioners in 1550…)

Magdalen College is another Oxford site of great interested. Begun by William Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester, in 1458, but the main building phase did not begin until 1467, when the encircling wall was raised. In 1474 chapel, cloisters, hall and library were built. The charitect was primarily William Orchard, who also designed the famous ceiling of the Divinity School.

Edward IV visited the college in 1481 and was welcomed by Waynflete, who, having been a loyal Lancastrian, asked for and received a royal pardon. Many Yorkist symbols can be found throughout the buildings, including a statue of a rather stern-looking Edward on the college’s front gate.

Inside, under the roof of the pulpit,  there appears to be the Rose en Soleil…but having been painted red (or repainted) , it has become a Tudor Rose, possibly when the famous tall tower was added in the 1490’s. There also appears to be the possible royal coat of arms in the Cloisters, and a number of rose carvings.

There is also another statue of a king (restored, maybe replaced) above the inside gateway into the cloisters–it is not certain who it is. Some have said Henry VI but this seems unlikely given the dates of construction. Some have said it’s another depiction of Edward. It may well  be, but it looks a quite different from the statue  in the gateway, smaller, less stern, with curlier hair. I have always though–why not Richard? And why not? He was here while on his first progress in 1483, and stayed to hear several lectures. There was certainly time to commomorate his stay, and it would not be surprising if any possible added statuary fell out of common knowledge after Bosworth (just as the Silver Boar given to an Cambridge College ended up for many years mislabelled as being  a gift of Richard II!)

A Boss from Buckingham & Crowland Connections

Henry Stafford fascinates me in a dark sort of way. I walk past the spot where he was executed almost once a week. I have always felt he is marginalised by historians because no one quite knows what to make of his behaviour, so he gets  pushed to the side as just  an unsuccessful rebel who lost his head. Over the years we have had silly theories, such as the one that he was enraged because didn’t get his hands on the Bohun inheritance quick enough (having to ggo through parliament, it wasn’t coming any quicker!) and the other one that he was horrified by news of the the death of the princes (he was a contender for being’right in there’ if they were killed, and if he actually KNEW, why was it all a case of  rumour and whispers; why was he not declaring his knowledge openly across the land?) I am even doubtful about his supposed ‘support’ for Henry Tudor, as what could Henry have given him that he did not already have? I see it more as an alliance of sort, and Henry Stafford may have been as eager for the crown as Tudor.

Be that as it may, there is not all that  much known about Buckingham, and we don’t even have  a proper portrait of him–the one that exists is clearly based on that of Buckingham’s own son, Edward Stafford. In it, he certainly looks roguish, like a medieval Bill Sykes.

During my recent research, however, I have come across seveal items of interest of this rather sidelined figure. A few years back a high status decorated boss was found at his manor of Bletchingley, dating from the 1470’s. It may not have been Buckingham’s personal adornment,  but it was very likely the possession of one of his retinue.

http://www.culture24.org.uk/history-and-heritage/archaeology/art48529

The other item I discovered is perhaps more interesting. The Abbot of Crowland (Croyland) Abbey established a hostel for student monks in Cambridge. Later on between 1472-83, the hostel came under the  patronage of the Duke and his family and got a change of name-to Buckingham College. As the Crowland Chronicle is noted as being very pro-Woodville, this could be one reason why this is so;  since Catherine Woodville, Queen Elizabeth’s sister, was the wife of Henry Stafford.

The college itself (renamed Magdalene in the 16th c) seems quite interesing archaeologically, with a collection of coins known as the ‘Magdalene hoard’ turning up on the edge ofthe property.

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