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The merry widows of medieval England….?

The above illustrations show two royal widows. On the left Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, mother of both Edward IV and Richard III. On the right an imagined meeting between Edward IV and the widow he was to marry, Elizabeth Woodville.

In this modern age, when we are striving to live longer and longer, it’s hard to imagine what it could be like in the medieval period if someone, especially a widow, lived on into their eighties. Oh, yes, some did. We are always told that medieval widows had much more freedom than other women, but that is questionable. Merry widows? Not necessarily.

The following is based on Medieval Women by Henrietta Leyser.

In the twelfth century, Maud be Bohun was widowed at the age of ten. She married again, but through her long life (she was an octogenarian) she retained the dowry she had inherited as a child. This was to the considerable dismay and disadvantage of her first husband’s family, who had to wait for her eventual demise. The same can be said of Margaret of Brotherton of Framlingham, who survived two husbands, four children and died in the same year as her grandson (17-year-old John Hastings, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, who was killed in a jousting accident at court of Richard II at the end of December, 1389).

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The seal of Margaret of Brotherton

 

stone-head-framlingham

This late medieval carving of a woman’s head is one of five at Framlingham Castle that may be likenesses of the Mowbrays, Margaret Brotherton’s descendants

More about Margaret of Brotherton, see http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/histories/women-in-history/womens/margaret-brotherton/

During the long lives of such widows, their families and in-laws could suffer great hardship because the widows held large parts of the inheritance. The two ladies above were from aristocratic backgrounds, but those in lesser circumstances could cause penury! Mind you, even rich widows could find themselves forced into remarriage. They had to do all they could to stay one step ahead of forceful, unwelcome suitors. (see https://wordpress.com/post/murreyandblue.wordpress.com/27858) Or, of course, they could deliberately seek another marriage because of the protection afforded by a man. It depended on the woman, and was all a case of swings and roundabouts.

But under the Anglo-Norman and Angevin kings, widows had no choice in the matter, because they were in the gift of the king. Yes, really. Would-be suitors paid handsomely into the royal coffers for this gift of marriage to a particular widow of their choice! It must have been like selecting from a menu. Eventually, the coronation charter of Henry I contained promises regarding widows’ rights of dower and that they would not be forced into marriage. Then Magna Carta further supported the rights of these women, who were not to pay for their dower or be compelled to remarry. Empty promises, it seems, because the practice continued to fill the treasury. Of course, it could work the other way too, and a widow could (if she had sufficient funds) pay the king not to give her away. In either case, the king profited.

Then came the growing practice of holding lands in jointure, which gave widows greater financial security. Unfortunately for them, this also made them more desirable as wives. According to the Merriam-Webster Unabridged dictionary, jointure is:

A – (1) : the joint tenancy of an estate; (2) : the estate so held

B – (1) : an estate settled on a wife to be taken by her in lieu of dower; (2) : a settlement upon the wife of a freehold estate (as in lands or tenements) for her lifetime at least to take effect upon the decease of the husband and to act as a bar to dower.

Yet another aspect of a widow’s trials came when they were urged in their late husband’s wills to “take the order of widowhood”. That is, not go into a convent, but to take a public vow of chastity. Failure to embark on such a course could result in the terms of the will severely reducing the widow’s income. The reason was not always male spite from beyond the grave, but could safeguard her and any children from a new husband who might not have their best interests at heart. Or whom she definitely did not want! Not so good if she wanted a physically loving relationship.

In the case of a third Margaret—Lady Margaret Beaufort—she was too powerful to be pushed around, and when it came to her final marriage, she took the public vow of chastity. A physical relationship cannot have appealed! She chose to marry Thomas Stanley, who presumably didn’t care if she was in his bed or not. A definite marriage of convenience and an alliance of great fortunes and power that was to cost Richard III his life when Margaret’s Tudor son usurped his throne. As you will see, Margaret and her boy were not high on the list of beautiful people. Sour pusses, both. Thomas Stanley, if this is a reasonable likeness, was better looking.

Margaret Beaufort, Henry VII and Thomas Stanley, who became 1st Earl of Derby

A medieval widow could therefore be caught in a vicious circle, and unable to rule her own life as she saw fit. That is something we just accept these days. Well, we do in the West, it is still very different in many other parts of the world.

So, as I said at the beginning, the freedom of medieval widows is debatable. Truly merry widows were probably rather thin on the ground.

Two more medieval widows, in the regulation black and white

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The nun and the abbey chaplain lived happily ever after….or did they?

Romsey Abbey - 16th century abbess

16th-century abbess of Romsey Abbey

 

The following is an extract from https://www.britainexpress.com/attraction-articles.htm?article=20 and concerns the fate of the nuns of Romsey Abbey after the reformation:-

“. . .What happened to the nuns after the abbey was dissolved? We don’t know, with one notable exception. One of the nuns was Jane Wadham, a cousin of Jane Seymour, Henry’s third queen. Wadham married John Foster, the last abbey chaplain and former steward. Henry VIII objected, but Jane countered, claiming that she had been forced to become a nun at a young age, against her will, and thus her vows were void. The daughter of John Foster and Jane Wadham married Sir William Fleming of Broadlands, a former abbey property and later home of the Mountbattens. . .”

Now, call me old-fashioned, but I’m sure I spy a thwarted love that had been in existence before Henry VIII happened along and changed everything! I hope so, and that they were very happily married. Celibacy is all very well if one is content with such a situation, but when contentment is replaced by human love and desire (as distinct from religious love) the resultant unhappiness must be a dreadful thing.

PS. Alas, there was not a happy ending for Jane Wadham and John Foster:-

Romsey Abbey - Jane Wadham

The above is an extract from https://archive.org/details/recordsofromseya00live, where you will find more about Jane Wadham and John Foster in pp 255-257.

 

THE CARMELITE FRIARY OF NORWICH KNOWN AS WHITEFRIARS – BURIAL PLACE OF ELEANOR TALBOT

oil painting Cowgate c1860 white friars stood on the east David Hodgsonside .jpg

COWGATE NORWICH, DAVID HODGSON c.1860.  WHITEFRIARS STOOD ON THE EASTERN SIDE BETWEEN THE CHURCH OF ST JAMES POCKTHORPE (SEEN ABOVE) AND THE RIVER A SHORT DISTANCE AWAY..NORWICH MUSEUM

On this day, 30 June, died Eleanor Butler nee Talbot.  Eleanor came from an illustrious family.  Her father was the great John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, her mother, Margaret Beauchamp’s father was Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick.  Richard Neville Earl of Warwick known as ‘The Kingmaker’ was her uncle by marriage.   Eleanor’s sister, Elizabeth, was to become the Duchess of Norfolk and was the mother of Anne Mowbray, child bride to Richard of Shrewsbury.  Eleanor was a childless widow, her husband, Sir Thomas Butler, heir to Ralph Butler, Lord Sudeley, having died around 1459 and possibly of injuries sustained at the battle of Blore Heath (1)

It would seem that the young widow caught the eye of the even younger warrior king Edward IV, who fresh from his leading the Yorkists to victory  at Towton and the overthrow of Henry VI,  found himself swiftly propelled onto the throne of England.  No doubt he was giddy with success because quite soon after, having met the young Eleanor, he married her in secret, an amazingly stupid action, and one which would come back to haunt him, and his bigamous “wife” Elizabeth Wydeville with all the subsequent and tragic  repercussions for his family.  The relationship was doomed to be one of short duration,  the reasons for this being lost in time.  Much has been written on this subject and I would like to focus here on the Carmelite Friary known as Whitefriars, Norwich, where Eleanor was later to be buried.

Whitefriars had been founded in 1256 by Philip de Cowgate, son of Warin, a Norwich merchant who settled lands there upon William de Calthorpe ‘upon condition that the brethren of Mount Carmel should enter and dwell there without any molestation for ever and serve God therein’.  Sadly much later Henry Vlll was to have other ideas.  However returning to  Philip de Cowgate- his wife having died and growing old ‘took upon him the the Carmelite habit and entered the house of his own foundation’ dying there in 1283.  The building of Whitefriars was not completed until 1382 and so begun its long journey through history.  The notable persons being buried there are too numerous to mention as are the many benefactors but the various highs and lows make interesting reading.  Notable incidents include:

1272, 29 June ‘On the feast of St Peter and Paul in the early morning when the monks rise to say the first psalms, there was an earthquake’.

Further problems for the friary occurred later on that year –

1272, 11 August   ‘….the citizens of the city attacked the monastery and burnt a large part of the building’

1450  John Kenninghale built a ‘spacious new library’

1452 A group of people begun to cause disturbances in the neighbourhood.  ‘Item xl of the same felechep came rydyng to Norwiche jakked and salettyd with bowys and arwys, byllys, gleves , un Maundy Thursday, and that day aftyr none when service was doo, they, in like wise arrayid, wold have brake up the Whyte Freris dores, where seying that they came to here evensong, howbeit, they made  her avant in town they shuld have sum men owt of town’.  However …’the Mayer and alderman with gret multitude of peple assembled and thereupon the seyd felischep departid’.

1468, end of July – Lady Eleanor Butler, nee Talbot,  daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury and sister to of the Duchess of Norfolk, born c.1436 died 30 June 1468 was buried in the friary.

1479 – ‘The great pestelence in Norwich’

1480 – ‘The great earthquake upon St Thomas nyght in the month of July’

1485 – King Richard III confirmed all the houses, lands and privileges of the Carmelites

1488/9 – ‘In the langable rental of the fourth of Henry the seventh, these friars are charged two-pence half-penny for divers tenements which they had purchased’.

1538, 2l Sept – The duke of Norfolk wrote to Thomas Cromwell ‘intended yesterday to have ridden to Norwich to take surrender of the Grey Friars, but was ill and so sent his son of Surrey and others of his council who have taken the surrender and left the Dukes servants in charge.  Thinks the other two friars should be enjoined to make no more waste.  The Black Friars have sold their greatest bell’.

1538 Sept ‘The house of friars (Whitefriars) have no substance of lead save only some of them have small gutters’

1538 7 Oct  Letter from the Duke of Norfolk to Thomas Cromwell – ‘The White and Black Friars of Norwich presented a bill, enclosed, for Norfolk to take the surrender of their houses, saying the alms of the country was so little they could no longer live.   Promised ‘by this day sevennight’ to let them know the kings pleasure: begs to know what to do and what to give them.  They are very poor wretches and he gave the worst of the Grey Friars 20s for a raiment, it was a pity these should have less'(2)

The Friary was finally dissolved in 1542 and its lease granted to Richard Andrews and Leonard Chamberlain.  Shortly after which the land was then divided into many different ownerships.  The rest is history….

But back to the present – in 1904 foundations were discovered and in 1920 six pieces of window tracery were found and built into a wall at Factory Yard, these were to be cleared away when Jarrolds, the printers,  extended their works.  Thank to the intrepid George Plunkett who took photographs of old Norwich between 1930-  2006 we can see this tracery before it disappeared forever.Whitefriars Cowgate Factory Yard tracery [1651] 1937-05-29.jpg

Whitefriars Cowgate Factory Yard tracery.  Photographed in 1937 by George Plunkett.

Mr Plunkett also took photos of the now famous Gothic arch as it was in 1961 after it had recently been opened out.  Sadly he reported that ‘a dilapidated flint wall adjoining the bridge was taken down as not worth preserving – a modern tablet identified it as having once belonged to the anchorage attached to the friary’ (3).Whitefriars Cowgate flint wall [3187] 1939-07-30.jpg

The flint wall before demolition – photograph by George Plunkett c1939Whitefriars Cowgate friary doorway W side [4615] 1961-07-07.jpg

Whitefriars Cowgate friary doorway west side uncovered in 1961 it stood adjacent to the anchorage.  Photograph by George Plunkett

Whitefriars Cowgate friary doorway E side [6512] 1988-08-17.jpg

Whitefriars Cowgate friary doorway East side 1988.  Photograph by George Plunkett.

Up to date views of the friary doorway.  With many thanks to Dave Barlow for permission to use his beautiful photos….

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All that remains above ground on the site of the the once magnificent Whitefriars – photos courtesy of Dave Barlow

However….

THE ARMINGHALL ARCH

An important Whitefriars relic, no longer  in its original position, survived and went on  to become  known as the Arminghall Arch.  This 14c arch has experienced a number of moves since it was taken down in the Dissolution.  It was first of all erected at Arminghall Old Hall. There it remained until the Hall was also demolished.  It was acquired by Russell Colman who transferred it to his grounds at Crown Point.  From there it has now finally been installed at Norwich Magistrates Court, just across the bridge from its original position.

arminghall@2x.jpg

‘ARMINGHALL OLD ARCH’ 14th century arch removed from Whitefriars at the time of Dissolution. Now in Norwich Magistrates Court. 

Such is progress……

l) The Secret Queen, Eleanor Talbot p74 John Ashdown Hill

2) The Medieval Carmelite Priory at Norwich, A Chronology Richard Copsey, O.Carm, accessible here.

 

3) George Plunkett’s website, particularly this map.

The truth about Prince Arthur, Prince Henry, and Katherine of Aragon….?

 

Henry VIII's prayer rollAs so often happens, acquiring a book for a specific reason leads to something else that is quite thought-provoking. In this case, the book is The Medieval Python: The Purposive and Provocative Work of Terry Jones, in which the subject of one of the eighteen contributions is Catherine of Aragon and her two marriages.

Do not make the mistake of thinking this volume is light or Pythonesque, because Terry Jones is not only brilliant when it comes to humour, but also very dedicated, knowledgeable and educated on medieval matters. The sections within the pages are not all by Terry himself, but by illustrious names that include Chris Given-Wilson, and Nigel Saul.

Now, before I get to the nitty-gritty, let me say that the item that prompted the essay A Prayer Roll Fit for a Tudor Prince, by John J. Thompson, is a fairly recent acquisition of the British Library (MS Additional 88929), and for a brief explanation about it, I suggest a quick glance at http://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2011/02/henry-viii-prayer-roll.html, which describes the roll as follows:

21 February 2011 – by Andrea Clarke

Henry VIII Prayer Roll

“The British Library has recently acquired a unique medieval prayer roll that once belonged to Henry VIII, and contains one of only three surviving examples of his handwriting from before his accession in 1509. Produced in England in the late 15th century, it is one of the finest English prayer rolls, and consists of four parchment strips sewn end to end that measure some four metres long when fully unrolled. The roll contains thirteen illuminations — images of Christ, focusing on the Passion, its Instruments and the Sacred Blood, as well as depictions of various saints and their martyrdoms. Accompanying these are prayers in Latin and rubrics (religious instructions) in English. The rubrics promise that the recital of certain of the prayers will offer safety from physical danger, sickness or disease; others will shorten, by specified amounts, the agony of Purgatory, while the placing of the roll on the belly of a woman in labour will ensure a safe childbirth.

“The prayer roll was once owned and used by Prince Henry, evidenced by the inclusion of his royal badges at the head of the roll. These include two Tudor roses, the Prince of Wales crowned ostrich feather, as well as Katherine of Aragon’s personal symbol of the arrow-sheaf of Aragon. At some point prior to 1509 Henry presented the roll to William Thomas, a Gentleman of his Privy Chamber, and added an inscription at the top of the second membrane, under the central image of Christ’s Passion: ‘Wylliam thomas I pray yow pray for me your lovyng master Prynce Henry’.

“The Henry VIII Prayer Roll is now London, British Library, MS Additional 88929. It is currently on display in our Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library, and will also be displayed in our Royal exhibition which opens in November 2011.”

The roll displays Tudor badges and emblems, but also the sheaf of arrows (maybe arrows passing through a tower) of Katherine of Aragon, who in November 1501 married Arthur, Prince of Wales. Arthur died six months later, at Ludlow Castle, of the “sweating sickness”, and was buried in Worcester Cathedral. His tomb displays the same Tudor symbols as the roll.

Heraldry, Tudor, Prince Arthur, Worcester Cathedral, Chantry

Arthur’s younger brother, Henry (to be Henry VIII) soon became Prince of Wales. His father, Henry VII, waited until he was sure the widowed Katherine was not pregnant and then proposed that she married the new Prince of Wales. Katherine swore her marriage to Arthur had not been consummated. This was essential, because the Church forbade a man to marry his brother’s widow. It was, and still is, in the Bible, and is one of the Ten Commandments.

Arthur and Catherine

 

The roll does not name a Prince of Wales, but it was surely made for Arthur, and emerges as a very important relic of this fraught time in history. It cannot be dated to much before 1490, when Arthur became Prince of Wales, and if it includes Katherine’s emblem, then it was probably around the time of their engagement or marriage. Its later ownership by the young Henry VIII is confirmed by his writing on it, and it is suggested that what he wrote reveals him to have been as devout a Catholic as everyone else. At least, he was at that point. Then the roll came into the hands of a devoted Tudor servant, William Thomas, before disappearing from history for 500 years, reappearing in the 19th century. If it were not for it coming to light again, its existence would never have been known at all. Its real purpose is still not known.

It is usually imagined that Prince Arthur and Katherine of Aragon were content enough together (I certainly had that impression), but now a truly remarkable fact has been uncovered in the register of briefs in the Vatican archives. It is dated 20th October 1505 and notes Pope Julius II’s response to Arthur, Prince of Wales, who by that date had been dead for over three years. So Arthur had to have sent a letter to the pope, whose answer had been mislaid or at least misfiled. The prince’s request also contained mention of his wife, so had to have been written within that six-month period before the prince died.

The pope’s response has not survived, and we do not know if it was ever sent (I strongly suspect it did, and it arrived in England) but it apparently granted papal authority to Prince Arthur to restrain his wife (Katherine of Aragon) from continuing to engage in “excessive religious observances injurious to her health since these would imperil the maritalis consuetudo (marital custom) of Roman law and endanger her ability to bear children”.

So, when it was too late, the Pope authorised Arthur to insist his pious wife conduct less strenuous religious exercises, these to be determined on the advice of her confessor. From which, it would seem all was not well in the young people’s marriage. Arthur (and Henry VII, no doubt!) was alarmed by discovering just how intensely devout his new wife was. I do not know what Katherine was doing to cause such concern, but whatever it was, she was clearly going far further than the conventional Tudors liked. Well, conventional at that time, because Henry VIII’s Great Matter lay in the future. The begetting of heirs was the whole point of royal marriage, so anything that might get in the way of this was to be stopped immediately, if not sooner!

After Arthur’s untimely death, a treaty for marriage was drawn up for the widowed Katherine to marry his younger brother, the future King Henry VIII. It was signed on 23rd June 1504, and the two were formally betrothed on 25th June. Henry was 12, Katherine 17. Two years later, on 27th June, 1505, Henry appeared before Richard Fox, Bishop of Winchester, and the Lord Privy Seal. The young prince had reached his maturity, and wished it to be formally recorded that he disowned his part of the marriage contract.

young henry viii

Now, why? What brought this about? Had the Pope’s response to Arthur finally arrived, and Prince Henry seen it? Whenever the letter from Rome turned up, I think that Henry read it in the first half of 1505.

The fact that the register of briefs at the Vatican is dated October 1505, does not mean the pope’s letter was written then. It merely records the letter. So was Henry now warned of exactly how extreme and pious his new bride would be? Arthur had learned too late, after marriage. Henry, Prince of Wales, may have also been devout, but clearly not to the same degree as Katherine. However, on the death in 1509 of his father, Henry VII, the marriage took place anyway. Something else had clearly happened since his appearance before Bishop Fox. Might it have been that the Pope’s instructions had taken effect, and Katherine had moderated her religious devotions? I have no idea what else it might have been, only that once old Henry VII was dead and buried, his son married Katherine after all.

henryvii

It is always said that for a number of years Henry and Katherine were happy together, until the absence of a male heir—and the increasing likelihood of Katherine’s age preventing such an heir—prompted Henry to start looking around. Had this lack of an heir caused such anxiety to Katherine that she resumed her former devotions? Certainly she would turn to God for divine help.

Did it then become a vicious circle, with Henry being more and more alienated by such extreme religion, and Katherine seeking more and more comfort from her devotions? Was this another cause of his suggestion that she and Arthur had after all consummated their marriage, making his own marriage to her invalid? If such a charge could be made to stick, so to speak, it would certainly rid him of an increasingly inconvenient wife. By then he wanted to marry the enchanting vixen Anne Boleyn, of course, but infuriatingly, the Pope wouldn’t agree to it! If the Pope had granted Henry his wish, would we still be a predominantly Catholic country? Certainly we would have been for a lot longer than actually happened.

The fact that Arthur had approached the Pope on the matter of Katherine’s religious activities being detrimental to the bearing of children, was something that I believe Henry pounced upon.  Leviticus 20:21 was very clear: “And if a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is an unclean thing: he hath uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.”  

So, was it in Henry’s mind that by continuing such extreme devotions, Katherine was knowingly preventing further living births? Did he believe that this was why his marriage had resulted in one living child, a girl, all other pregnancies having ended in miscarriages or stillbirths? It would also have been easy enough for Henry to convince himself that Katherine’s marriage to Arthur had been consummated. All this, and fascinatingly desirable Anne Boleyn was there, tantalising Henry with her inaccessible charms.  But even without Anne, would Henry have wanted to end his marriage anyway, because he so desperately wanted a male heir and knew that Katherine’s age, apart from anything else, was against such a likelihood?

So, was Anne only one aspect of Henry’s wish to be free of Katherine? Were there in fact two Great Matters wrapped up as one? The first due to religion having led to childlessness; the other due to lust, that was to prompt a change of religion?

The above has been prompted by the essay by John J. Thompson, and is my conclusion from the facts as presented. I recommend that the essay be read in its entirety, because its details about the prayer roll are fascinating. Although, one thing does need pointing out. Henry VII was never the Duke of Richmond!

 

 

A familiar name

So there was I, just casually scanning the Mail on Sunday’s “You” magazine (22

Sarah Ponsonby

October,p.23, interview with Nicky Haslam), when a familiar name popped up, a close friend of Haslam’s multiple-great-aunt.

Unlike her near namesake:
1) She was a Butler by birth, not by (her first) marriage.
2) She didn’t go on to marry a King in secret.
3) She was Irish – a Butler descended from the Earls of Ormond and/ or Wiltshire, not the Sudeley family.
4) She had a middle name.
5) She lived about three times as long.

As their sobriquet suggests, they lived and died in North Wales. Note that this Lady Eleanor was almost sent to a convent by her mother whilst the mediaeval lady lived near a Carmelite Priory and was buried there.

The Ladies of Llangollen – Sarah Ponsonby and Lady Eleanor Butler

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