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When Robert Curthose Sat On The Throne

It is perhaps not a well-known fact that during World War II, many priceless historical treasures were crated up and shipped out of London for safe storage. At least, I wasn’t particularly aware of something that now makes perfect sense. I found out about this whilst visiting Gloucester Cathedral and touring the amazing crypt beneath the main body of the building. It’s a place well worth going to and the crypt is fascinating to look around, particularly with the knowledgeable and helpful guides.

 

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Gloucester Cathedral Crypt

 

The fact that grabbed my attention was that during the war, St Edward’s Chair, or the Coronation Chair, the traditional coronation throne from Westminster Abbey that dates from the reign of Edward I. It was commissioned in 1300-1 to house the Stone of Scone Edward took from Scotland in 1296. The chair has been used in every monarch’s coronation ceremony from 1308 onwards, amounting to 38 coronations with an additional 14 queen consorts being crowned in ceremonies using the chair too. It is usually kept in the Chapel of St Edward the Confessor; hence it is sometimes referred to as St Edward’s Chair.

 

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The Coronation Chair at Gloucester Cathedral

 

During the war, Gloucester Cathedral also packed up some of its own important moveable items and stored them in crates in the crypt along with the Coronation Chair. One of the monuments that made its way to the crypt was the tomb effigy of Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy, the oldest son of William the Conqueror who was destined never to become King of England. William left his duchy to Robert and the kingdom to Robert’s younger brother William Rufus. When William II died in a hunting ‘accident’, their youngest brother Henry snatched the royal treasury and then the crown before Curthose knew what was happening.

 

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Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy

 

The two siblings ended up in a bitter rivalry that was concluded on the battlefield. Henry invaded Normandy and at the Battle of Tinchebray on 28 September 1106, Henry captured his older brother. Robert spent the rest of his life as Henry’s prisoner, firstly in Devizes Castle and then at Cardiff Castle where he died in 1134. Robert was buried at Gloucester Cathedral, though the location of his grave is not known. The wooden effigy does not mark the spot in which he was buried.

 

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The wooden effigy of Robert Curthose

 

Anyway, according to cathedral legend, Robert’s effigy was crated up and stored in the crypt on top of the crate containing the Coronation Chair, which would make the that the closest Robert Curthose ever got to the throne of England, just over 800 years after his death. I’m not sure how true the story is, but I like to think Robert might have sat on the throne for a while.

 

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Gloucester Cathedral Crypt

 

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Another eleventh century struggle

This article reveals the little-known sequel to the battle of Hastings. It took place in North Devon, between Appledore and Northam near Bideford, on 26 June 1069 and was led by Brian of Br_88394404_battlefieldbbcittany and Alan the Black for the Normans against Godwine and Edmund, sons of Harold II, for the Anglo-Saxon “resistance”. The result was very similar.
It seems that Harold’s teenage sons had taken refuge in Leinster after their defeat at Hastings and sailed back with a Dublin fleet supplied by Diarmait, king of that province. During 1069, when the “Harrying of the North” was in progress”, Edgar the Atheling was in exile at the Scottish court where his sister, Margaret of Wessex, married the widowed Malcolm III that year or the next. For the location, you should seek “Bloody Corner“.

Gytha (sister to Godwine and Edmund) is among Richard III’s ancestors, as are Malcolm, Margaret and Domnall mac Murchada (Diarmait’s successor).

Edgar the Aetheling: Failure or Survivor?

Giaconda's Blog

edgar-the-aetheling-1

You could argue that Edgar was set up to fail from the start. As the last male heir of the ancient royal House of Cerdic of Wessex; Edgar had the bloodline but little else to support his claim to the English throne when his great uncle, Edward the Confessor, died in January 1066.

edgar-2 Edgar’s father, Edward the Exile who raised his children in Hungary for some time

His father, Edward the Exile, had mysteriously died shortly after being recalled to court by Edward the Confessor, to be his heir thus leaving Edgar’s claim unprotected by a strong male relative at the tender age of 6. His mother, Agatha, may have been related to the German Emperor but was far from assistance and before long would be surrounded by powerful men who were all set to devour each other in a violent contest of military strength in order to lay hands…

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How to organise an invasion fleet

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/1066-and-the-norman-conquest/how-to-organise-a-norman-invasion-fleet/

{particularly when you are coming from France with a few thousand mercenaries and no lineal claim to the English throne}

The Battle of Stamford Bridge?

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No, NOT this Stamford Bridge, but two hundred miles further north, somewhere by the River Derwent in the East Riding. So please try to avoid any more football references, except for the violent Norwegian game plan, the travel plans of the teams (sorry, armies) and the fixture congestion being contributory factors to the Anglo-Saxon defeat some three weeks later.

So here is a well-sourced, serious, specialist post

Kingfinding fever spreads to Scotland

This Glasgow Herald article illustrates how historian Sheila Pitcairn wishes to search Dunfermline Abbey and identify Malcolm III and his family. Robert I (le Brus) can easily be found there already.

Margaret_and_Malcolm_Canmore_(Wm_Hole)

The widowed Malcolm III married (St.) Margaret of Wessex, great-niece of Edward the Confessor and granddaughter of Edmund Ironside, in about 1070, allowing Anglo-Saxon royal blood to pass into the Scottish monarchy and then the English Plantagenets via their daughter Edith who married Henry I. St. Margaret is also among the lost members of the House of Dunkeld thought to be buried at the Abbey, together with their offspring: Edward (killed with Malcolm fighting the Normans at Alnwick), Edmund (a co-ruler) and Ethelred (Abbot of Dunkeld), Edgar, Alexander I and David I (three of the kings who reigned after Malcolm) and their grandson Malcolm IV (David I’s son).

Exhumers would also expect to find Donald III (Malcolm III’s brother) and Alexander I’s wife Sybilla although some parts of Malcolm and St. Margaret may have been in Edinburgh Castle, the Scots College at Douai in France or the Escorial in Madrid. They may have been lost due to later events.

More of Richard’s ancestors

Although they are regarded as loose ends, the last Anglo-Saxon and last Norman kings of England are both Richard’s ancestors, via Edward III’s marriage.

This document demonstrates Phillippa of Hainault’s descent from Harold II, via Kiev and Hungary, and Stephen, via the Low Countries. There seems to be little news from Faversham Abbey, where Stephen was originally buried.

{Additional research by Ky White}

The Success of the Usurper by Barbara Gaskell Denvil

For some years I have set my novels in the last years of Plantagenet reign, or the first years of the Tudor dynasty.

 UsurperWilliam
William the Conqueror

Many authors of historical fiction prefer to set their books in the Georgian or Regency periods, but tor me the Plantagenet dynasty was one of the most interesting and longest lasting that has ever ruled in England. Both Plantagenet and Tudor dynasties included amazing figures of mystery, fear and tyranny. Indeed, both dynasties were founded on blatant usurpation. William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy, invaded England and won the throne in 1066. Thus the Plantagenet dynasty was born in murder and brutality.

William’s claims were never valid. Whether or not his story of promises were true, at that time the English throne was never given by right to the man arbitrarily named by the previous king. The English had a different system and chose the man of noble blood whom they considered best suited. Therefore the Plantagenet dynasty had no initial right to rule England, but of course William claimed that by right of conquest. And so William I was followed by many kings of murderous ambition, great renown, courage, responsibility, honest endeavour, and violent determination.

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Henry Tudor

The same occurred with the Tudors. Henry VII had no right whatsoever to the English throne. He had barely a single drop of English royal blood. It has sometimes been claimed that he was the true claimant of the Lancaster line (begun earlier by Henry IV, including Henry V, and Henry VI before the Yorkists once again claimed the crown) but even that is inaccurate. Henry VII was descended from a bastard line and barred from the royal inheritance, but even if that major difficulty was ignored, his claim was still only about the 15th in the Lancastrian line of descent.

Just like William the Bastard, Henry Tudor invaded England with a largely foreign army, and won the English throne by right of conquest. A usurper indeed, but he founded a dynasty of renown including some of the most interesting and fearful of sovereigns. For lovers of English history, it is often the Tudor period that fascinates the most. In those years of the Tudor family monarchy came the first two queens who ever ruled in their own right. A distinct lack of offspring brought the dynasty to an abrupt close, but not until they had sealed their names in history – written in blood.

Amongst the Plantagenets, many kings have gained a terrible and fearsome reputation. However, some of those reputations seem rather suspect when carefully examined. Indeed, there were different expectations in those times and a king had to be a great warrior, do great deeds and win the awe and admiration of his people. Brutality was common, executions were rife and poverty was the common order. It is hard to judge past actions and characters by modern standards.

Most of my historical novels are set during the reigns of Edward IV and Richard III. This was a controversial time, and has become even more controversial since experts argue over the rights and wrongs of York against Lancaster, the Wars of the Roses, and in particular regarding the guilt or innocence of the last Plantagenet king, Richard III. After many years of studious and careful research, I consider Richard III an interesting figure who had too little time to prove himself. I believe that he was no usurper, and was probably innocent of most other accusations hurled against him. But that is the fascination of history for we cannot be positive. Contemporary evidence is scarce, and propaganda was rife.

But my new book, Fair Weather, is set during the reign of King John in the early 13th century. This was another king plastered with a terrible reputation, and many claim this to be unjust. But he is not a main character in my novel – which has a time-slip plot with an element of the paranormal. I adored writing this book for it combines the freedom and wild exciting escapism of time-travel – the dark threat of murder and alchemy – and the significant atmosphere of the early Plantagenet time period. I love wandering those dark narrow cobbled lanes in my dreams – exploring the markets – the taverns – and the villages. I follow the ordinary folk and I share their lives. So different to my own. London Bridge had only recently been built – one of the greatest stone bridges of the world at that time. And it plays a large part in my story. That’s where I shall go first when my new time-machine is delivered by Amazon right to my front door. In the meantime my novel Fair Weather is almost a time-machine in itself.

Old England and its Saxon traditions was obliterated by the brutality of the Norman invasion and the usurpation of William the Bastard. But then that same Plantagenet dynasty was finally brought to an end by the next act of usurpation, when invasion brought the Tudor dynasty to power. So whether you love or hate these old royal houses, it cannot be denied that they fashioned England until the early 1600s, and were families of charisma, colour – and threat.

 

THE RED KING–WILLIAM RUFUS

Amidst the spreading Oaks of the New Forest stands a solitary stone, once ten foot high with a ball on top, now truncated and protected from vandals.  Known as the Rufus Stone, it is the memorial to a slain king, William II, one of England’s most mysterious and little known Norman Kings.

On the stone, which only dates from the reign of Charles II and is not sited where the event it commemorates actually happened, is an inscription:

Here stood the oak tree, on which an arrow shot by Sir Walter Tyrrell at a stag, glanced and struck King William the Second, surnamed Rufus, on the breast, of which he instantly died, on the second day of August, anno 1100.
King William the Second, surnamed Rufus, being slain, as before related, was laid in a cart, belonging to one Purkis and drawn from hence, to Winchester, and buried in the Cathedral Church, of that city.

  William Rufus, son of William the Conqueror, is one of those historical figures who has attracted lots of mythology but about whom little is actually known. Due to his nickname, frequently he is described in modern writings as  red-headed, but in the medieval Malmesbury Chronicle, he is said to be ‘yellow haired’ with a very red face that grew more florid when enraged.

It is claimed William was cruel and unpopular, but there is little written evidence of what his cruelty exactly consisted of. He did implement high taxation, treating his English subjects with disdain, but his main folly seemed to be in defying and even ridiculing the Church. (The Anglo Saxon Chronicle  said he was ‘abhorrent to God’.) The Church loathed him, and the clerics of the day spoke peevishly of his possible sodomy (he never married, nor had any known illegitimate children), his dissolute court and the fact he wore his hair nearly as long as a woman’s as well as enormously extended pointy shoes!

Despite his unpopularity, Rufus was a capable soldier, making forays into Scotland and putting down a serious revolt in Northumberland.

It is  his unusual death however, for which he which is best remembered , and here the folklore has grown and flourished most. On August 2, the day after the ancient harvest festival of Lughnasad, Christianised  as Lammas, William was out hunting in the forest with his brother Henry, a lord called William Tirel/Tyrell/Tyrrell and others of his entourage. Apparently, the night before he had been gripped by evil dreams in which he had been kicked by an angry cross, and this put him in an evil mood. As the party spotted a stag amidst the trees, he turned to Tirel, the best archer in the party and shouted, “Shoot, in the name of God, shoot!”

Tirel shot and the arrow struck not the  deer but the king, entering his lung. He tried to draw it out but collapsed, falling on the shaft and driving the arrow in deeper.

No one helped the dying king. Tirel immediately spurred his horse onwards and fled for France. The King’s brother Henry, not bothering with any niceties for the newly deceased King’s body, rushed for the nearby city of Winchester where he seized the treasury, then promptly rode to London where he claimed the crown before his other brother, Robert Curthose, who was away on the First Crusade, could hear of William’s demise.

It was, reportedly, two humble peasants who recovered William’s corpse, dumping it unceremoniously into a cart and carrying it to Winchester, with blood dripping through the cart-slats all the way along the road. In the great cathedral, Rufus was hastily buried in a plain chest tomb ( and some bones believed to be his still remain there, although the skull is missing.)

The Church of the day believed God had stricken down William for his wickedness, but later historians began to speak of murder and a potential plot to remove him from the throne. Henry was definitely present at the death and certainly had the most to gain; his actions when the King was stricken down were also not exactly those of a loving brother. Tirel was said to be an excellent archer and most unlikely to have missed his target in such a disastrous manner.

In the earlier 20th century the story was given another twist—anthropologist Margaret Murray wrote about  Rufus being a pagan who was sacrificed in an ancient Lammas harvest rite because he was ‘infertile’ and hence would bring famine and plague to England. (The chroniclers  did in fact say that in Rufus’ reign,  “thunders terrifying the earth, lightnings and thunderbolts most frequent, deluging showers without number, winds of the most astonishing violence, and whirlwinds that shook the towers of churches and levelled them with the ground.

As ‘proof’ Murray  pointed to the auspicious date of death at Lammas  and to  the fact another young royal relative had died in an identical manner earlier  that year…on May 2, the day after old Beltaine. She thought of this earlier death as a ‘proxy’ for the king himself, but when England did not flourish after  the substitute was sacrificed, Rufus himself had to die. The peasants who allowed Rufus’ blood to flow onto the earth on the journey to Winchester were also seen as continuing some sort of  ancientritual practice.

Pretty wild, unlikely stuff, intriguing though it is.

So Henry became Henry I and Tirel in France remained free and unpunished.  Who killed Rufus, and whether it was an accident or murder (ritual or  otherwise) remains another unsolved medieval mystery (although I would personally  put my money on Henry.) As for Tirel’s involvement, his name was in fact not immediately associated with the death; the Anglo Saxon Chronicle  just says the King was  ‘shot by one of his own men.’ Tirel’s name only appears in later writing, although he does seem to have fled England (and his daughter Adeliza was married to one of the men Henry took with him when he seized the treasury.)

It is a slightly strange and interesting coincidence that this surname for a possible ‘King killer’ is so similar to that of James Tyrell/Tyrrell who has been accused of overseeing the deaths of Edward V and his brother Richard of York in the Tower 383 years later, another figure obscured by time and by later mythologising.

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Tales of a Ricardian Traveler — Part Three: Ripon Cathedral and Richmond Castle

A blog about Ripon and Richmond Castle – the latter being one of Richard III’s possessions, including part of the Honour of Richmond.

RICARDIAN LOONS

Lady on Horseback Lady on Horseback, mid-15th c., British Museum

I admit I have a special fondness for the “third smallest city in England” – Ripon.  It’s located in North Yorkshire and is a bustling cathedral town, famous for its racetrack and the “Ripon Hornblower”. It’s also well-situated for making day trips to a plethora of Ricardian sites, including Middleham Castle, Barnard Castle, Sheriff Hutton, Jervaulx Abbey, Fountains Abbey, Coverham Abbey, and Skipton Castle.  It was the place where the Archbishop of York had one of his personal palaces, although all that remains of that nowadays is a stone archway on Kirkgate Street.  It has a wonderful little butcher shop that sells delicious pork pies, and a clutch of terrific pubs — One-Eyed Rat being my favorite.  Not bad for a 1,300-year old town that seems to have escaped the economic booms and ravages of…

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