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Royal redundancies….

Throughout history, members of royal families have not always died peacefully in bed. Some have abdicated, like Edward VIII, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and, this very month, the Japanese Emperor Akihito. Some were despatched bloodily, like Mary, Queen of Scots, Charles I and, of course, Richard III. Those who died peacefully in their beds with their throne still intact, could count themselves fortunate.

So it is interesting to find an article that lists some of these royal redundancies. To read it, please go to this article

Britain’s Most Historic Towns (2)

This excellent Channel Four programme, presented by Professor Alice Roberts, with Dr. Ben Robinson in the helicopter, has returned for a new series. The early venues were Dover (World War Two, visiting the underground base, concentrating on the retreat from Dunkirk and subsequent Channel defence, meeting some survivors, wearing ATS uniform and riding in a tank), her home city Bristol (Georgian, with slavery, gin, chocolate and great architecture featured) and Cardiff (where coal and the Marquess of Bute brought much prosperity in the Edwardian era, before it could supplant Machyllenth as Wales’ capital).

The series then moved on to Oxford to illustrate the Civil War sieges, where Alice Roberts’ Worsleyesque love of dressing up saw her in New Model Army uniform, playing real tennis and viewing Charles I’s ersatz capital. Episode five illustrated Plantagenet Canterbury, featuring St. Augustine, Becket, Chaucer, the Black Death and Peasants’ Revolt. We were also shown a copy of the Magna Carta. The last show was about Stewart Stirling, where she visited the Castle and walls, brewed beer, played with a replica antique football and visited a well, illustrating how individual Stewart monarchs were vulnerable, even to internal opposition, but the line was secure.

A Peterborough mystery

Peterborough is a well-planned city. The walk from station to Cathedral passes through two short subways, with an optional detour to start of the Nene Valley Railway heritage line, to a semi-pedestrianised street with the Cathedral ahead,  with a range of shops, restaurants and even a parish church on the approach. The Queensgate Centre includes a footbridge over the main road from the centre back to the station. The Cathedral is adjacent to a cafe and bank in other ancient structures.

The building itself was converted from of the remains of Peterborough Abbey and the last Abbot, John Chambers, became the first Bishop, a fate very unlike that of his counterparts. Katherine of Aragon (left) is buried there, as was Mary Stuart (below) until her son removed her remains to Westminster Abbey. It is, however, the second Bishop that concerns us here.

As the plaque in that Cathedral relates, his name was David Pole and he held the see from 1556-9. At first light, it is easy to conclude that this was a misprint for Reginald, who was Cardinal and Archbishop of Canterbury from 1555-8, whilst there had been many high-level pluralists in ecclesiastical history, such as Thomas Wolsey. Furthermore, David is a highly unusual name in sixteenth century England. However, the ODNB reveals that David had a separate existence from Reginald and the clinching argument is that he was demonstrably Vicar-General of Coventry and Lichfield whilst Reginald was in exile in Italy and his mother and nephew were in the tower. Reginald died on 17 November 1558 and Matthew Parker was not appointed to succeed him until the following year. David Pole played a part in this process before being deprived and is thought to have died in 1568.

So where would David Pole, who the ODNB suggest was possibly related to Reginald, fit in to the great family? He was definitely not a son or grandson of Sir Richard and Margaret, Countess of Salisbury as their issue can all be accounted for, but that he was a Fellow of All Souls, Oxford, by 1520 show that he was approximately of Reginald’s age, the latter having been born in 1500. Before that, Sir Richard’s father was Geoffrey Pole I of Cheshire or North Wales, possibly descended from the Princes of Powys, who is not thought to have had other sons. At best, therefore, he was Reginald’s second cousin, but evidence of any such relationship is missing.

Films about the monarchy in Britain….

Not that I think William Wallace counts as part of the British monarchy. I don’t believe Old Longshanks would have had any of that! Anyway, to read an article about films concerning various kings and queens, go here.

But where’s King Arthur?????

Talbot Country

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.

bell-talbot-bridgnorth-600x409

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.

shrewsbury_book_f.2_(talbot-dog)

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.

Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots

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.

talbotmonumentcastillon

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.

The Rise of the Clans

Neil Oliver‘s

latest history series has been shown through December on Monday evenings (BBC1 Scotland) and twenty-four hours later on BBC4.

The first part, of three, showed how the power vacuum caused by the sudden deaths of Alexander III and his granddaughter was resolved through the clan system and John Balliol’s abdication so that alliances were formed behind the remaining claimants Robert Bruce and John “Red” Comyn, culminating in a brawl in the Dumfries Greyfriars, during which Comyn was fatally stabbed. Robert I’s reign, including his strategic triumph as he unexpectedly arranged a pitched battle at Bannockburn is also explored.

The second part explores how, after the reign of David II, Robert I’s son, Clan Stewart evolved from a branch of the (Norman) Fitzalans, who are now Dukes of Norfolk through their Howard marriage, to supply every Scottish monarch from 1371 and every English monarch from 1603, now through the Bohemian marriage of James VI and I’s daughter. The reigns of the first three Stewarts were narrated, the weaknesses of Robert II and Robert III, the absence and the authoritarian – Lancastrian? – royal style of James I together with the conflict between Robert III‘s sons were used to show how James’ assassination and the ensuing executions, organised by his widow Joan “Beaufort”, resolved this before the end of 1437. Gradually, from James I’s time, the Stewarts succeeded in gaining power from the MacDonalds, who held the Lordship of the Isles.

Finally, we focus on Mary, simultaneously the last Stewart and the first Stuart, through her marriage to Henry, Lord Darnley (of the Lennox Stuarts), and his mysterious death at Kirk o’Fields, up to her dethronement and exile. The clan chieftains played a significant part in her initial downfall, as they plotted to reverse Knox’s organic Reformation that had taken place during her absence. At this time, her half-brother the Earl of Moray allied himself to the Earl of Morton, the leading Douglas. Then, after marrying the (Hepburn) Earl of Bothwell, Mary fled south – and her life ended at Fotheringhay where Richard III’s had begun.

As usual, this evocative series features realistic dramatisations in which Oliver appears almost as a witness in some scenes. The detail exceeds that of his A History of Scotland and, as usual, nobody featured in the episodes is beyond reproach.

Normal for Normans? Exploring the large round mounds of England….

Silbury Hill

“….Most of England’s monumental mounds are assumed to be Norman castle mottes built in the period immediately after the Conquest – but could some of them have much earlier origins? Jim Leary, Elaine Jamieson, and Phil Stastney report on a project that set out to investigate some of these mighty constructions….”

There is information about Fotheringhay included in the article from which the above paragraph is taken. To read more, go here.

 

A new interpretation of 1580s events

We all know that Mary Stuart was beheaded at Fotheringhay on 8 February 1587 and that the Spanish Armada sailed to facilitate a Catholic invasion of England in the following year, leaving Lisbon on 28 May and fighting naval battles in late July, at Plymouth and Portland. The traditional view is that Mary Stuart’s execution and Elizabeth I’s support for the revolt in the Spanish Netherlands provoked Phillip II’s wrath.

It is quite possible that this was not the case and that Phillip had

sought to overthrow his quondam sister-in-law much earlier. Mary, as the daughter of Marie de Guise and widow of Francis II was the French-backed Catholic candidate for the English throne and Franco-Spanish rivalry ensured that Phillip, great nephew of Catherine of Aragon and a Lancastrian descendant proper+, would not act in concert with any of her plots; however her death cleared the way for him, especially as the French Wars of Religion were still to resolve themselves.

We can compare this with the England of 1685-8, as William of Orange allowed the Duke of Monmouth to attempt an invasion first and only asserted his stronger semi-marital claim against James VII/II afterwards. In 1483-5, by contrast, the Duke of Buckingham was legitimately descended from Edward III when he rebelled against Richard III, only for Henry “Tudor”, of dubious lineage, to benefit.

h/t Jeanne Griffin

+ See The Wars of The Roses, Ashdown-Hill, part 4.

A breathtaking masterpiece of Tudor megalomania. . . .

 

Tudor megalomania

I have been prompted to write this article after happening upon Visions on the horizon of desire: a painting of Henry VII & his family in the presence of St. George, by Margaret Milne Wood, 2001. See here.

The subject of the work is the enigmatic painted panel of Henry VII and his family (see below) that is to be found in Mary, Queen of Scots’ bedchamber at Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh. But, in passing, it also comments on Henry’s glorious chapel at Westminster Abbey, which is described in the words of my title above. “…the entire Lady Chapel at Westminster Abbey is a breathtaking masterpiece of Tudor megalomania…”

Well, I have heard the chapel described many ways, but never quite like that.

Henry VII and family, Holyrood Palace

Anyway, that is by the by, because I am more concerned here with the votive altarpiece in Mary, Queen of Scots’ bedchamber. It depicts Henry VII, Elizabeth of York and all their children (dead and living), and was probably commissioned between February 1503 and January 1509, for a private chapel in Henry’s newly constructed palace of Richmond. Or alternatively, one of Richmond’s adjoining monastic foundations.

Other paintings, tapestries and so on are discussed as well, but the main focus all along is the Holyrood altarpiece. Toward the end, mention is also made of the Whitehall mural, destroyed by fire but preserved in copies, such as this below. The mural had an inscription, which began: “If you find pleasure in seeing fair pictures of heroes, Look at these!” Um, heroes? ‘Fraid not – well, not to this loyal supporter of the white rose.

The author does Richard III no favours, he’s the lustful, incestuous dragon in the altarpiece, but then she isn’t exactly complimentary about Henry VII either. You will need to persevere with the author’s long examination of Tudor art. Her descriptions of the altarpiece are lurid to the point of being purple prose, and seem to have leapt out of the pages of a 19th-century Gothic novel. A lot of it went over my lowly head, because I never seem to look at art and see what others see. And be warned, you’ll need a dictionary! And stamina.

Whitehall mural - copy by Remegius van Leemput, after Hans Holbein the Younger

Whitehall mural – copy by Remegius van Leemput, after Hans Holbein the Younger

 

 

An exhibition with a sample of Richard’s handwriting….

letter from 7yr-old victoria

One of Richard’s letters is included in this upcoming museum exhibition. Unfortunately for those on this British side of the Atlantic, the museum in question is in New York! The Magic of Handwriting: The Pedro Corrêa do Lago Collection will run from June 1 to September 16, 2018 at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City.

 

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