murreyandblue

A great WordPress.com site

Archive for the tag “Peasants’ Revolt”

Ten medieval scandals….!


Pope Stephen VI had the body of his predecessor, Pope Formosus, exhumed and put on trial.
 

“….What are the scandals that made headlines in the Middle Ages? Kings and Popes would be involved in some of the craziest stories of sex and corruption that would make today’s news seem quite tame. From a cross-dressing prostitute to the trial of a dead Pope, here are ten almost-unbelievable medieval scandals….”

Well, you’ll find these “gems” at this site I imagine they’re all true, although some of them beggar belief. Especially the rather gruesome episode illustrated above.

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.

The great house Richard III granted to John Howard….

Tower Royal - AGAS Map

Location of Tower Royal on the AGAS Map, circa 1570 – indicated by blue arrow

There was once a royal house, sometimes referred to as a palace, in the street named The Riole in London’s Vintry Ward, and Richard III granted it to his good friend and ally, John Howard, 1st Duke of Norfolk. The great house was called the Tower Royal, and, like so much of medieval London, it was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666.

The name Tower Royal was new to me, so I began to investigate. As a matter of interest, there is still an area in the city of London called Tower Royal (EC4N), to which, I am informed, the nearest station is Cannon Street.

Tower Royal area of modern London

This map source has the following to say (and good luck if you’re not dizzy after trying to picture it all!):-

“On the South ſide of this ſtreete from Budge Row, lieth a lane turning downe by the weſt gate of the Tower Royall, and to the ſouth ende of the ſtone Wall beyond the ſaid gate, is of this ward, and is accounted a part of the Royall ſtreete, agaynſt this weſt gate of the Tower Royall, is one other lane, that runneth weſt to Cordwainer ſtreete, and this is called Turnebaſe lane: on the ſouthſide whereof is a peece of Wringwren lane, to the Northweſt corner of Saint Thomas Church the Apoſtle.”

Got it? Well, it is clear enough as far as the second comma. Tower Royal is indeed south, just down Royall Street from Budge Row, on the left, behind a high stone wall. You can see the location clearly on the top illustration on this page, shown by the suitably royal-blue arrow.

As far as the nearby churches, in the medieval period, are concerned, see the illustration below. Number 84 in the illustration below is St Michael Paternoster Royal, and number 63 is St Martin Vintry, which is at the southern end of The Riole. This street appears under a variety of names, including Whyttyngton Colleage, as in the illustration at the beginning of this article, which is taken from The A to Z of Elizabethan London, published by the London Topographical Society.

location of Tower Royal

According to The London Encyclopaedia, edited by Weinreb and Hibbert, The Tower Royal:-

“…[was] first heard of in the 13th century, [and] was named after the wine merchants from Le Riole, near Bordeaux, who lived in the area. In 1320 it came into the possession of Edward III, who granted it in 1331 to Queen Philippa, who enlarged it and established her wardrobe here. On her death, the King gave it to the Dean and Canons of Westminster. But in 1371 Joan, Princess of Wales, mother of the future Richard II, was living there. In 1381 her son rode here to tell her of the suppression of the Peasants’ Revolt. By 1598 it was, according to Stow, neglected and used for stabling the King’s horses. It was burned down in the Great Fire…”

So, no mention of Richard III or John Howard. But then, there’s a long span between 1381 and 1598!

And then I found the following in John Strype’s Survey of London :-

“At the upper end of this Street [The Riole], is the Tower Royal, whereof that street taketh name. This Tower and great place was so called, of pertaining to the Kings of this Realm: but by whom the same was builded, or of what Antiquity continued, I have not read more, than in the Reign of King Edward I. second, fourth, and seventh years, it was the tenement of Simon Beawmes. Also, that in the 36th of Edward III. the same was called the Royal, in the Parish of Michael de Pater noster: and that in the three and fortieth of his Reign, he gave it by the name of his Inne, called the Royal, in his City of London, in value twenty pounds by year, unto his Colledge of S. Stephen at Westminster. Notwithstanding, in the Reign of Richard II. it was called, The Queens Wardrobe, as appeareth by this that followeth.

“King Richard, having in Smithfield overcome and dispersed the Rebels, he, his Lords and all his Company, entred the City of London, with great joy, and went to the Lady Princess his Mother, who was then lodged in the Tower-Royal, called the Queens Wardrope, where she had remained three days and two nights, right sore abashed. But when she saw the King her Son, she was greatly rejoyced and said, Ah Son, what great sorrow have I suffered for you this day! The King answered and said; Certainly, Madam, I know it well, but now rejoyce, and thank God, for I have this day recovered mine heritage, and the Realm of England, which I had near-hand lost.

“This Tower seemeth to have been (at that time) of good defence, for when the Rebels had beset the Tower of London, and got possession thereof, taking from thence whom they listed: as in my Annals I have shewed; the Princess being forced to flye came to this Tower Royal, where she was lodged, and remained safe as ye have heard. And it may be also supposed, that the King himself was at that time lodged there. I read, that in the year 1386. Lyon King of Armony, being chased out of his Realm by the Tartarians, received innumerable gifts of the King and of his Nobles, the King then lying in the Royal. Where he also granted to the said King of Armony, a Charter of a thousand pounds by year during his Life. This for proof may suffice, that Kings of England have been lodged in this Tower, though the same (of later time) hath been neglected, and turned into stabling for the Kings horses, and now let out to divers Men, and divided into Tenemens.

“This great House, belonging antiently to the Kings of England, was inhabited by the first Duke of Norfolk, of the Family of the Howards; granted unto him by King Richard the Third. For so I find in an old Ledger Book of that Kings. Where it is said, “That the King granted unto John Duke of Norfolk, Messuagium cum Pertinenciis, voc. LE TOWER infra Paroch. Sancti Thomæ Lond.” where we may observe, how this Messuage is said to stand in S. Thomas Apostle tho’ Stow placeth it in S. Michaels.”

John Howard, 1st Duke of Norfolk

John Howard, 1st Duke of Norfolk

The Gatehouse Gazeteer has more to say:- http://www.gatehouse-gazetteer.info/English%20sites/4620.html

Royal Tower, dating from before Edward I (possibly from Henry I), used, at times as the Queens Wardrobe, as guest lodgings and sometime let out as a lodging. Was near to St Michael Paternoster.

“Tower Royall was of old time the kings house, king Stephen was there lodged, but sithence called the Queenes Wardrobe: the Princesse, mother to king Richard the 2. in the 4. of his raigne was lodged there, being forced to flie from the tower of London, when the Rebels possessed it: But on the 15. of June (saith Frosard) Wat Tylar being slaine, the king went to this Ladie Princesse his mother, then lodged in the Tower Royall, called the Queenes Wardrobe, where she had tarried 2. daies and 2. nights: which Tower (saith the Record of Edward the 3. the 36. yeare) was in the Parish of S. Michael de Pater noster, &c. In the yere 1386, king Richard with Queene Anne his wife, kept their Christmasse at Eltham, whither came to him Lion king of Ermony, vnder pretence to reforme peace, betwixt the kinges of England and France, but what his comming profited he only vnderstood: for besides innumerable giftes that he receyued of the King, and of the Nobles, the king lying then in this (Tower) Royall at the Queenes Wardrobe in London, graunted to him a Charter of a thousand poundes by yeare during his life. He was, as hee affirmed, chased out of his kingdome by the Tartarians. (Stow p. 44-)

“At the vpper end of this streete, is the Tower Royall, whereof that streete taketh name: this Tower and great place was so called, of pertayning to the kinges of this Realme, but by whome the same was first builded, or of what antiquity continued, I haue not read, more then that in the raigne of Edward the first, the second, fourth and seuenth yeares, it was the tenement of Symon Beawmes, also that in the 36 of Edward the 3. the same was called the Royall, in the parrish of S. Michael de pater noster, & that in the 43. of his raigne, hee gaue it by the name of his Inne, called the Royall in the cittie of London, in value xx.l. by yeare, vnto his Colledge of S. Stephen at Westminster: notwithstanding in the raigne of Richard the second it was called the Queenes Wardrope, as appeareth by this that followeth, king Richarde hauing in Smithfield ouercome and dispersed his Rebels, hee, his Lordes and all his Company, entered the Citty of London, with great ioy, and went to the Lady Princes his mother, who was then lodged in the Tower Royall, called the Queenes Wardrope, where shee had remayned three dayes and two nightes, right sore abashed, but when shee saw the king her sonne, she was greatelie reioyced and saide. Ah sonne, what great sorrow haue I suffered for you this day. The king aunswered and saide, certainely Madam I know it well, but now reioyce, and thanke God, for I haue this day recouered mine heritage, and the Realme of England, which I had neare hand lost.

“Frosarde.; King Richard lodged in the Tower Royall.

“This Tower seemeth to haue beene at that time of good defence, for when the Rebels had beset the Tower of London, and got possession thereof, taking from thence whome they listed, as in mine Annales I haue shewed, the princesse being forced to flye came to this Tower Royall, where shee was lodged and remayned safe as yee haue heard, and it may bee also supposed that the king himselfe was at that time lodged there. I read that in the yeare 1386. Lyon king of Armonie, being chased out of his Realme by the Tartarians, receyued innumerable giftes of the King and of his Nobles, the king then lying in the Royall, where hee also granted to the saide king of Armonie, a Charter of a thousand poundes by yeare during his life. This for proofe may suffice, that kinges of England haue beene lodged in this Tower, though the same of later time haue been neglected and turned into stabling for the kinges horses, and now letten out to diuers men, and diuided into Tenements. (Stow p. 238-)

“This great House, belonging antiently to the Kings of England, was inhabited by the first Duke of Norfolk, of the Family of the Howards; granted unto him by King Richard the Third. For so I find in an old Ledger Book of that Kings. Where it is said, “That the King granted unto John Duke of Norfolk, Messuagium cum Pertinenciis, voc. LE TOWER infra Paroch. Sancti Thomæ Lond.” where we may observe, how this Messuage is said to stand in S. Thomas Apostle tho’ Stow placeth it in S. Michaels. (Stype Bk3 p. 6)”

That, I am afraid, is about all I have been able to find about this long-lost once-royal residence. There are no illustrations, except for the old maps. Unless someone out there knows otherwise…?

The origins of Marshalsea courts and prisons….

La cité de Dieu

While trawling around looking for information about Marshalsea courts in the time of Richard II, I came upon this WordPress blog (by Mercedes Rochelle) that covers the subject.  I quote the article in full:-

“Today when we hear about the Marshalsea we think of the infamous 19th century Southwark prison with all its associated tortures. But come back with me to the 14th century and you’ll see that the word has a totally different meaning—at first, anyway. Originally, the marshalsea (not capitalized—also known as the avenary) was the largest department of the household, in charge of taking care of the horses: feeding, grooming, and stabling. At the same time, the Marshal was a great officer of the royal and noble household, who functioned as the enforcer—the policeman, if you will—and the jailer. Where the Marshalsea (capitalized) came into play was in relation to the court of the verge (or the court of the steward and Marshal of the household). The steward presided over the court of the verge and the Marshal enforced its will.

“The Marshalsea court can be traced back to the second half of Edward I’s reign; it was the legal arm of the household. In practice it tried cases involving servants of the crown, whether sinning or sinned against: theft, debts, contracts, acts against the royal dignity, and trespassing—anything short of murder. This involved activity that took place within the verge, which was a twelve mile radius from the king’s presence. If anyone refused to cooperate with the king’s servants—such as Purveyors—they could be tried at the Marshalsea court. Interfering with Purveyors was one of the bigger offenses. Their job was to gather supplies for the itinerant court, such as food, wood for heating, oats and hay for the horses, etc. and these purchases were almost always a bone of contention. They rarely paid in cash; instead, they often gave the long-suffering supplier a note to be cashed at the exchequer—when the funds were available, that is. The supplier could wait months to get paid, if he got paid at all. But if that long-suffering merchant refused to contribute, the penalty could be severe. At the same time, the steward investigated complaints of extortionate behavior by the king’s servitors, though one can only wonder how often they decided in favor of the offended party.

“Cases tried in the Marshalsea court were exempted from the common law courts; it became a separate tribunal, free from the technicalities and costs of traditional courts. Because of the itinerant nature of the king’s household, cases had to be tried quickly. Pleas of trespass and debt concerning outsiders often reverted back to the common law courts if the king moved on, taking the verge with him. Within the verge local officials were forbidden to trespass on the duties of the king’s officers; at the same time, they were found guilty of “contempt of the king” if they permitted the escape of suspected felons. There were plenty of conflicts between the local municipalities who wanted to try their own cases and who temporarily fell within the verge, and the government which didn’t always mind the boundaries.

“Needless to say, the Londoners were often within the influence of the Marshalsea since the king was frequently in or near the city. Criminals were known to have crossed the Thames to Southwark to avoid punishment, since they could not be brought before the city authorities when the Marshalsea was present. The government tried to extend the Marshalsea’s jurisdiction into the city of London, but this was violently resisted and eventually dropped. Nonetheless, many formal protests were raised in successive Parliaments well into Henry IV’s reign. In 1373 Edward III ordered a building 40 feet long and 30 feet wide to be constructed “in the high street” for his own convenience, to hold pleas, keep prisoners, and hold other king’s courts.  It was one of the first of London’s symbols of oppression to suffer the wrath of the Peasant’s Revolt, though it was rebuilt the following year. The king’s sergeant-at-arms and keeper of the Marshalsea, Richard Imworth, was brutally murdered by the rebels two days after they destroyed the prison.

“As time went on, reportedly by 1430, the Marshalsea became known as a debtor’s prison, and was notorious by the 18th century, when it was rebuilt about 130 yards south of its original site. You can learn all about it from Charles Dickens whose father was imprisoned there in 1824.”

Thank you Mercedes!

Channel 5’s “Inside the Tower of London”

This four-part series is narrated by Jason Watkins and heavily features Tracy Borman, Joint Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces.

The first part dealt with the Peasants’ Revolt, which resulted in Simon of Sudbury‘s beheading and Borman travelled to St. Gregory’s in his home town to view the preserved head. She spoke about the animals kept in the various mini-towers and the Royal Mint that coined “Long Cross Pennies”, introduced by Henry III. We saw the Beefeaters, including a retirement party for one, before scholars at Eton and King’s College commemorated their founder, Henry VI, at the “Ceremony of the Lilies and Roses”. Then came the mystery of the “Princes”, as Borman used Domenico Mancini’s correct forename whilst taking him at face value a little too much, although she did note that More was five in 1483 and wrote three decades later to please Henry VIII. The seventeenth century discovery of remains of some sort was mentioned and a new exhibition on the “Princes” was launched, even as counter-evidence has emerged and been clarified.

Part two focussed on Henry VIII’s first and second “marriages”, together with the dramatic end of the second. Part three moved on to the twentieth century with the shooting of Josef Jakobs and other German spies, together with the 1913 visit of the suffragette Leonora Cohen. Rudolf Hess was also held there, as were the Kray twins later. The concluding part dealt with the role of the Constable, the ravens and the interrogation of Guy Fawkes and other prisoners, together with the tale of the more privileged, such as Raleigh, and the audacity of Colonel Blood’s attempt to steal the Crown Jewels, so soon after many of them had been recreated.

John Ball and Colchester

Here are some of the panels just inside the door of the Colchester Playhouse, now a theatre-themed public house. They illustrate John Ball, after whom a minor town centre road is also named, becoming a priest, a prisoner at Maidstone and then participating in the 1381

Peasants’ Revolt (from 30 May), fighting at Blackheath (on 12 June) and then being executed at St. Alban’s on 15 July that year.

The little chapel in Westminster Abbey, beloved of Richard II….

CHAPEL OF OUR LADY OF THE PEW. Doorway from N. ambulatory

Chapel of Our Lady of the Pew, Westminster Abbey, opposite Tomb of Edward the Confessor

Tucked away off the north ambulatory of Westminster Abbey, so small it doesn’t seem possible it’s anything more than an entrance to the adjacent Chapel of St John the Baptist (which is also known as the Chapel of St Erasmus) is the Chapel of Our Lady of the Pew. The original entrance to the St John the Baptist chapel was closed in 1524 to accommodate the tomb of Bishop Ruthall, and a way was knocked through from the tiny Chapel of Our Lady of the Pew instead.

It is situated opposite the Shrine of St Edward the Confessor, and is only 5’ square, so strictly standing room only. But there was once an important royal worshipper who went there alone. King Richard II knelt in prayer there, in front of the beautiful Wilton Diptych, which was kept on a ledge in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary. [Not the statue that is there now—the first image of the Virgin Mary was presented by Mary, Countess of Pembroke, who died 1377. The hooks and outline of this image still remain.]

OL_of_Pew

It is said that as a boy, Richard prayed here before riding out to face the Peasants’ Revolt at Mile End. As a man, he knelt to pray for the soul of his dearly missed wife, Queen Anne of Bohemia. And he would have been there countless times afterward.

The chapel has been described thus: “The vaulting has red stars on a white ground with a roof boss depicting the Assumption of the Virgin, who is dressed in red. The ribs have barber pole bands and rosettes and the walls are diapered over with pine-shaped designs, on each of which is a fleur de lys. This was a popular design in the late 14th century. The antlers and head of a white hart, a badge of Richard II, can still be made out.”

The name Our Lady of the Pew might have been taken from the French Notre-Dame-du-Puy, or, alternatively, from the original meaning of “pew”, a small enclosure. At the beginning of the reign of Richard II the chapel was even smaller than now! Little more than 4’ 9”.

There was at one time no access from the Chapel of Our Lady of the Pew into the Baptist’s chapel, but the two were probably joined by an aperture through the party wall to afford Richard II a view of the services held in the Baptist’s chapel. It must have been almost claustrophobic for him, but also how very private. He used it for his own personal devotions, and although it has been altered since his day, it somehow retains a sense of him.

Chapel St John Baptist, Westminster Abbey, showing narrow doorway knocked through from the Chapel of Our Lady of the Pew

Chapel of St John the Baptist, Westminster Abbey, showing in the centre the narrow doorway knocked through from the Chapel of Our Lady of the Pew

Looking into the Chapel of Our Lady of the Pew  from the Baptist’s chapel, showing how very small it is. To the left, beyond the niche in the wall, is the way out into the ambulatory.

You will find a great deal more about this little chapel in Fourteenth Century England, Volume 3 by Chris Given-Wilson.

One thing puzzles me, however. If you stand outside the chapel, with your back to the shrine of the Confessor, you will see two “angels” on either side of the arched entrance. They are label- or head-stops, depicting what appear to be two young men with shields.

The one on the left seems very like Richard II, and his shield is definitely royal, with leopards and fleur-de-lis. His eyes seem like those of Richard as depicted in his tomb effigy. The one on the right has much curlier hair, but similar eyes, and holds the arms that have been credited to the Confessor.

Great St Mary’s Church, Cambridge and its Royal Patrons

Giaconda's Blog

dscf3117

In the very heart of historic Cambridge, stands a tall and elegant late Perpendicular Gothic church, sandwiched between the colleges and market square.

The church of St Mary the Virgin has stood on the site since 1205; the first recorded rector being Thomas de Chiveley who was appointed in the reign of King John.

The church was burnt to the ground in 1290. The local Jewish population were blamed for this unfortunate event and were punished by shutting down their synagogue. After the rebuilding of the church it was re-named Great St Mary’s, to differentiate it from Little St Mary’s in 1351.

King Edward III was a benefactor of the church at this time, along with his re-founding of King’s Hall in Cambridge which was later assimilated into Trinity College during the reign of King Henry VIII.

dscf3096 Arms of King Edward III and his sons over the gateway to Trinity College…

View original post 2,273 more words

The Priory of the Knights Hospitaller of St John at Clerkenwell.

I

The Great South Gate, now known as St John’s Gate, from an engraving by Wenceslaus Holler

On this day, 30 March 1485,  which fell on a Wednesday (1),  King Richard lll stood in the great hall of the Priory and denied in a ‘loud and distinct voice’ he had ever intended to marry Elizabeth of York (2).  The rest is history and it is the Priory which is my subject here today.

View_of_the_south_front_of_the_St_John's_Gate_Clerkenwell_by_Thomas_Hosmer_Shepherd.jpg

Steel engraving of St John’s Gate by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd 1829-83.  Note the inscription as described by Stow appertaining to the rebuilding completed by Prior Docwrey 1504.

The original Priory  founded about 1100, by Jorden Briset (3)  on a site which covered 10 acres of land, had  a chequered  history,  being burnt down by a mob in the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt , who caused it to burn for seven days allowing noone  to quench the flames,  being  rebuilt,  and  not being finished until 1504.    However it must have been sufficiently grand enough in 1485  for Richard to hold  his  council there.   The Priory’s troubles were not yet over,  later being  suppressed by order of Henry Vlll.   Still,  according to Stow   the priory church and house were ‘preserved from spoil of being pulled down’ and were ’employed as a storehouse for the kings toils and tents for hunting and wars etc.,’ (4) .  Don’t hold your breath though,  for moving on,  in the third year of Henry’s son,  Edward’s reign, ‘the church for the most part, to wit, the body and the side aisles, with the great bell tower, a most curious piece of workmanship, graven, gilt and enamelled, to the great beautifying of the city, and passing all other I have seen, was undermined and blown up with gun powder.  The stone thereof was employed in the building of the Lord Protector’s house at the Strand (me: the first Somerset House and also the porch of Allhallows Church, Gracechurch Street, which sadly was lost in the Great Fire of London)  That part of the choir which remaineth, with some side chapels, was by Cardinal Pole, in the reign of Queen Mary, closed up at the West End and otherwise repaired.  Sir Thomas Tresham, knight, was then made lord prior with restitution of some lands” (5).    Unfortunately this revival of fortunes did not last as the priory was again suppressed in the first years of Elizabeth l’s reign.

joseph-pennell-american-1860-1926-st-johns-gate-clerkenwell.jpeg

An engraving by Joseph Pennell 1860-1926 in which some the vaulting of the gateway can be seen.

As late as 1878  some of the remains of Prior Docwra’s church had survived in the south and east walls and the capitals and rib mouldings underpinning  the pews (6)  The church was gutted by bombing in 1941 and what we see today is more or less after that date being rebuilt in the 1950s.    The outline of the original round church,  consecrated in 1185,  is marked out in St John’s Square in front of today’s church(7)

Hollar-Church-1053x658.jpgThe priory church of St John from an engraving by Wenseslaus Holler

 

circular-outline-of-old-church.jpg

Outline of the old church which stands in front of today’s church

Today all that  remains of this once magnificent  range of buildings are the Grand South Gate now known as St John’s Gate,  largely reconstructed in the 19th century  and the crypt which has survived beneath the nearby parish church of St John.

IMG_3523.JPG

St John’s Gateway as it is today.

So sadly we may not be able today to  stand in the Great Hall as Richard did when his voice, strong and steady, rung out to deny the insidious rumours – for we now know they were indeed just rumours as plans were afoot for him to marry a Portuguese princess and Elizabeth a Duke – but we can most certainly walk through the Great Gateway which Richard rode through that day.

(1) The Itinerary of King Richard lll Rhoda Edwards p34 Mercers Court Minutes pp 173-4

(2) Croyland p.499

(3 ) Stow A survey of London p363

(4)  Stow A Survey of London p 364

(5)  Stow A Survey of London P364

(6)  Prior Thomas Docwra or  Thomas Docwrey as spelt by Stow, was the Prior who            completed the rebuilding in 1504.

(7) St John Clerkenwell Wikipeda

 

Bloody tales of the Tower….

bloody-tales-of-the-tower

I have only just found the series Bloody Tales of the Tower, previously on National Geographic and now on Channel 5 (http://www.channel5.com/show/bloody-tales-of-the-tower and http://www.natgeotv.com/za/bloody-tales-of-the-tower), and have to say that I enjoyed it very much. The presenters, Suzannah Lipscomb and Joe Crowley, are at ease in their roles and with each other, and do not adopt a patronising, superior attitude, as some do. Suzannah is a Tudor historian, and very sensible with it.

There is a good format of setting the scene and then dividing the tasks in two, then going their separate ways until coming together again toward the end, to weave their discoveries together. Suzannah leads us effortlessly through the story itself and the sources, while Joe discovers how things worked, who did them, what they looked like and so on. It may sound as if it’s aimed at teenagers tops, but it isn’t. I’m no teenager, and it was fine by me.

The most innovative series/presenter at the moment has to be Lucy Worsley, who dresses in costume and blends effortlessly into the docudramas she talks about. She is marvellous. Although a Tudor historian, she didn’t gild the Tudors. There were no controversial remarks for the sake of it. She said it how it was. It was all very natural and flowing. Good informative entertainment. As for all the other presenters of television history documentaries, mostly posing males who think more of their own vanity than their subject matter, they would do well to learn a few lessons from Worsley, Lipscomb and Crowley.

Bloody Tales of the Tower told its stories in compelling docudramas, sometimes set in the very spots where it all happened. Sometimes rather grisly! There are three episodes, Royals on the Block, Death to Traitors and Deadly Love, and each contains three separate stories from various centuries.

In episode one, Royals on the Block, the royals in question are James, Duke of Monmouth, Simon of Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor, and Lady Jane Grey, who was, of course, Queen Jane. I’m not sure how the archbishop is included, unless it is the implication that Richard II’s life should have been forfeit, not Sudbury’s!

James, Duke of Monmouth, was something of a 17th-century superstar and the people’s favourite, but he rebelled against his uncle, James II, because he believed the throne should have been his, even though he was illegitimate. Such was his fame and popularity, that for the huge crowds gathered for his beheading on Tower Green (the programme drew a likeness between his execution and the Wembley Cup Final for crowd-pulling power). There followed a butchering by one Jack Ketch, who was a hangman but not a competent wielder of an axe. Monmouth’s head was finally severed with a knife! Ketch later blamed Monmouth for not presenting his head properly.

Simon of Sudbury was Richard II’s Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor, and when the Peasants’ Revolt began in 1381, he was the object of the mob’s hatred because of all the taxes and unfair laws over which he had presided. He, the king and the court took refuge in the Tower, which was impregnable. Nevertheless the mob got inside and Sudbury (whose head is still preserved) was torn to pieces. How did they get in? Well, Richard II gave the order to let them through all the gates. Richard consigned the old man to his death. A lamb to the slaughter.

The last story in Royals on the Block was that of Lady Jane Grey, another lamb to the slaughter. She was only sixteen, but her cousin, Bloody Mary, sent her to the block. Mary went on to earn the soubriquet Bloody Mary, so I imagined there were soon many in the realm who wished they hadn’t risen to support her against Jane. Oh, well, it’s always easy to be wise after the event. It was pointed out that Lady Jane should be referred to as Queen Jane, because although she did not have a coronation, she was, nevertheless, the queen. Just as was Edward V (cue picture of the urn) and, more recently, Edward VIII. They are always referred to as kings, so why not Jane as queen?

The second part of the trilogy is called Death to Traitors, and covered the tales of Father John Gerard, who survived secretly in Elizabeth I’s Protestant England. He escaped from the Tower and lived to his 70s on the Continent. He wrote his story, which is how we know so much about his escape. (One oddity I noticed during this story was the careful use of white gloves to examine an old copy of Gerard’s story, yet earlier I noticed there were no gloves at all for poking around in a beautifully illustrated copy of Walsingham! Isn’t there a rule on this sort of thing?)

Next we went to Guy Fawkes, whose story was related with overtones of modern terrorism. The blowing up of King James and Parliament was an intended spectacular which would see Catholics triumph over Protestants. We all know it failed—some nasty Protestant informer!—and Guy was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Not a pleasant way to go, but he confounded everyone by managing to fling himself from a ladder and break his neck, so he was dead before they even hanged him, let alone the drawing and quartering. The senior member of the conspiracy were eventually cornered in a country house (they included one Catesby, a descendant of Richard III’s Catesby) and went out in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid style by rushing out into a hail of musket fire.

The third story in Death to Traitors was that of Josef Jacobs, a German spy in World War II. Yes, the last person to be executed in the Tower was in 1941. He was parachuted into England, injured and captured.  As he was a military officer, the sentence was death by shooting at the Tower. There he was duly despatched. There was part of this story that seemed to throw all sympathy on Jacobs, a family man who left a wife and children behind. His final letter to them was produced, and his Canadian granddaughter was there with the presenter at his graveside. Yes, the story had a very human side, but should it not have been said that if a British man had been captured in similar circumstances in Germany, he would have suffered the same fate? A spy in wartime is a spy in wartime.

Deadly Love, the final episode of this first series is entitled Deadly Love, and covers the deaths in the Tower of three famous women, Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Arbella Stuart. The first two ladies are very well known, of course, and the only thing I would pick out particularly where Anne was concerned was the portrayal of her supposed lover, Mark Smeaton. It seems that he paid the price of arousing jealousy and resentment among his “betters”. He was lowborn, talented and handsome, and had risen very high very quickly. Anne’s fall from grace was a useful way to get rid of him too.

Catherine Howard was young, and yes she was probably a puppet, but she was also very silly. How could anyone think of trying to deceive a bloodthirsty old monster like Henry VIII? Had she never heard of Anne Boleyn? I am afraid she doesn’t earn my sympathy – I feel more for Lady Jane Grey than I do for Catherine.

The story of Arbella Stuart was the most interesting for me, and what a very sad tale it was, especially as although her marriage to William Seymour, 2nd Duke of Somerset, was dynastic at first, I think it soon became a matter of love. But any children would have presented a great threat to the security of James I, the first Stuart king, so Arbella and William were arrested. She was held under house arrest in Barnet, while he was imprisoned in the Tower. By means of an intricate but successful plot involving exchanging clothes with his barber, William managed to escape. Arbella, dressed as a man also escaped and they arranged to meet at Blackwall. They never did. She took to the sea alone, afraid he was not coming, and he arrived too late, two hours later. He escaped to Calais, but she was captured. No Barnet for her this time, it was the Tower, under much stricter conditions than had applied to William.

She gradually succumbed to ill health (maybe porphyria)—or perhaps lost the will to live—and died a few years later. Her death rendered William harmless to James, so he was permitted to return to England. He eventually married again and lived another fifty years. A tragic love story.

An excellent series, and I hope there is another. Bloody Tales of the Tower is well worth watching.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: