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Clarissa Dickson Wright and the Art of Medieval Food

 

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The late Clarissa Dickson Wright is known to the English-speaking countries of the world as one of The Two Fat Ladies – the middle-aged motorcycling cooks who zipped around the English, Welsh and Irish countryside, one at the wheel of a Triumph Thunderbird, the other stuffed into the sidecar wearing what appeared to be a Biggles pilot helmet.  Jennifer Paterson, the elder, learned to cook in Benghazi and London as a saucy au pair for the upper classes.  After she tired of minding the kiddies, she appeared as a regular on the British Candid Camera and as the cook for the Spectator Magazine’s weekly lunches.   She was fired from the Spectator when she chucked all the kitchen crockery out of an upper floor window because the accountants left dirty tea cups in the sink.  Her culinary talents must have been formidable because she was retained long after she had tickled Enoch Powell’s bald spot during one lunch while girlishly cooing “koochie koo!” at the thunderstruck MP.  Hospitalized in 1999 and told she had a month or so to live, she was asked if she wanted to speak with a social worker.  “No,” she boomed, “I’m watching a Fred Astaire film.”

Clarissa Dickson Wright, although as insouciant as her other half, was a different kettle of medieval fish.  Born to an Australian heiress and the Queen’s surgeon, Arthur Dickson Wright, she grew up in London amid the upper classes of Scotland, Ireland, England and Oz.  Both her parents were connoisseurs of fine food and drink and during a time of strict food rationing her father was importing pigeon from the Middle East and caviar from Iran.  In this lavish environment, Clarissa learned to appreciate beautifully prepared food and drink but choose the law as her profession.  At 21, she became the youngest person called to the bar, working as a barrister at the Inns of Court.  Those who have read her hilarious and chagrined autobiographies “Spilling the Beans” and “Riffling Through My Drawers,” know that upon her beloved mother’s death, she collapsed into a sybaritic existence that decimated the family fortune and landed her penniless and drunk in a London jail with only Saki’s short stories as company.  Once sober, she rebuilt her life around food and its preparation, employed as a cook in private homes and as manageress of the well-known shop in Portobello Road called “Books for Cooks.”  In 1996, she and Jennifer came under the eagle eye of a sharp-witted BBC producer who decided to pair the women in a television program centered around their many talents.  These included Paterson’s basso profundo singing style, cocktail-shaking and motorcycling skills.  Dickson Wright brought her sharp wit and extensive knowledge of the history of English food.  “Two Fat Ladies” became an instant hit that was sadly cut short after its fourth season when Jennifer was struck down by cancer.

Dickson Wright, happily, went on to a solo television career bringing her knowledge of not only food but of country life to the British Isles.  Unfortunately, the programs were not available to Americans until fans of Clarissa uploaded them onto You Tube.  Two wonderful shows – 2008’s “Clarissa Dickson Wright and the King’s Cookbook” and 2014’s “Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner” – are there for the viewing.  Both explore the long history of cooking in England and push back against notions of bland food prepared by a garlic-phobic nation.  She makes a grand case that English food during the 14th Century achieved an artistic level that could rival France.

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Dash Barber as the young King Richard II in “Clarissa and the King’s Cookbook”

“The King’s Cookbook” takes us into the world of Richard II (1367-1400) and his lavish lifestyle at table.  Deep within the British Library, we are shown the original Forme of Cury (translation:  Method of Cooking), Richard’s compilation of 196 recipes complete with food stains and marginalia.  We are shown directions for making blancmange (originally made with capon), salad (with nary a piece of lettuce in sight) and blubbery roasted porpoise.  We learn that he employed over 300 kitchen staff.  These included saucers, milkers, boners, choppers, spit boy, roasters and scribes who sat in a vestibule writing down “receipts.”  All of them (with the exception of the scribes) were half naked because of the intense heat.  They struggled mightily under the aegis of the Master Chef who sat upon a throne in the kitchen overseeing the work.  They were expected to maintain rigid sanitary conditions.  In an extension of these rules – which would benefit most Waffle Houses in the USA – he demanded his guests be provided with spoons and napkins and prohibited them from eating with fingers or belching, farting and fighting.    In an interesting aside, Clarissa notes that while medieval cooking compilations do not include vegetable recipes, they were always included in meals and feasts.  Herbs and vegetables were foraged in the wild and/or grown in private kitchen gardens.  They were simply picked daily without much thought to recording how they were used.  In the program “Lunch,” we see a lamb pottage (“in a pot”) being cooked over an open fire by docents and volunteers in medieval dress.  As they peer into the bubbling pot, Clarissa laments today’s lack of available mutton which was once so popular and has lost favor among modern people because of its gaminess.*  We are also disabused of that most pernicious notion of the medieval era that expensive and rare imported spices were used to cover up the smell and taste of rotten meat.  Nothing could be further from the truth as several historians interviewed note with vehemence.  Medieval cooks, like our modern chefs, knew how to use ingredients economically and intelligently.  As they point out, only chilies would have disguised the taste of bad meat and they had not yet been imported from the Americas.

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Clarissa Dickson Wright at the British Library with the original Forme of Cury


The louche King Richard continued his wanton ways, taxing and spending his country into anarchy all to please his exquisite palate and discriminating taste.  “I will not dismiss one scallion from my kitchen on the grounds that Parliament asked me to, ” he famously sneered, much like a medieval Richard Olney faced with a shipment of bad wine.  Of course, as is usually the case with tyrants and run-away budgets, the citizenry was soon fed up and hankering for a change.  In 1399, he was brought to heel by the usual aggressive and ambitious upstarts that tended to gather around the edges of powerful Yorkists.  In this case, it was Henry Bolingbroke, who after a false promise of freedom confined Richard to Pontefract Castle with neither a napkin nor spoon in sight.  He then proceeded to starve the king to death in an ironic execution that mirrored the death several decades later of alcoholic George, Duke of Clarence, who was supposedly drowned in a butt of Malmsey.  Mordant Lancastrian wit!

So ended the life of the first foodie king who, at least, never burned a cake unlike a certain predecessor.  Instead, he left us with one of the earliest English-language cookbooks in western history which is offered free-of-charge on Kindle.

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“I give this heavy weight off my head, and this unwieldly sceptre from my hand”

Two recipes are mentioned in “The King’s Cookbook” from The Forme of Cury.  One is Goose Madame or Goose in Sauce Madame.  The other is the simple and delicious:

Pears in Red Wine

2 Pears, 2 cups of good red wine, 1/2-1 cup of sugar depending on taste, orange zest, 1 cinnamon stick, star anise (optional).

Cut the bottoms off of peeled pears so that they stand up.  Place in a deep saucepan and pour in the red wine.  Add all other ingredients and simmer until pears are a deep jewel-like red and easily pierced with a knife.  Cool and serve on a white plate with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or sweetened ricotta.

pears

The website Coquinaria, devoted to medieval cuisine, has a recipe for Goose Madame in which it is advised that it be served at Christmastime.  We are now in the midst of high summer but perhaps it can be tucked away for later in the year or read for pure amazement at the list of ingredients that would delight Yotam Ottolenghi:

Stuff Goose Sauce Madame

1 large goose

For the stuffing: 2-4 tart apples, 2 pears, 2 Tbs. chopped parsley and 1 tsp. of sage and savory, 2 garlic cloves, chopped, 20-30 grapes, skinned.

For the sauce:  1 Tbsp of goose fat, 1 small onion, chopped, 1/2 liter (2 cups) of dark stock, 1/4 cup red wine, 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar, white breadcrumbs, galingale (or ginger), cinnamon mace, cloves, cubebs (a type of peppercorn), salt to taste, giblets.

Salt to taste

the neck and giblets of the goose

Stuffing prep:  Boil the unpeeled apples for an hour in water.  Drain and cool.  Peel pears, decore them.  Cut them in small pieces.  Mix in the chopped herbs, garlic and peeled grapes.

Put the stock in a boiling pan, add the giblets.  Bring to a boil, let simmer a couple of hours.  Strain through a fine sieve.

Sauce:  Heat some of the goose fat and fry the onion in it.  Add the strained stock and red wine and the bread crumbs.  Let this simmer a short while until thickened.  Now add the stuffing from the goose, spices and wine vinegar.  Bring to the boil once more.

Set the temperature at 180C or 350F.  Stuff the goose, secure the filling and place goose on a rack.  Baste regularly and after about two to three hours, take it out and let it rest for 10-15 minutes for the juices to redistribute.  This can be served whole or sliced with stuffing and sauce.

 

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Goose with Sauce Madame


*One of New York City’s oldest chop houses, Keen’s Steakhouse, no longer serves mutton although it is still advertised.  What you smell the minute you enter this wood-paneled old restaurant are giant lamb chops sizzling on the platter.

Both “Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner” and “Clarissa and The King’s Cookbook” are available in sections on You Tube.

Recommended reading.  Both are available on Amazon:

A History of English Food by Clarissa Dickson Wright

Clarissa’s England:  A Gamely Gallop through the English Counties

 

 

 

 

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Two Richards, one fate….

Two Richards

This post harks back to a previous one of 5th November 2014. Both concern the similarities between the lives and deaths of Richard II and Richard III, but I have now come upon a passage in a book that is actually about Richard II, but much of which could be applied to Richard III. The book is The Medieval Python, by and about Monty Python’s Terry Jones, Chapter 4, Terry Jones’s Richard II by Nigel Saul.

“For Terry Jones, Richard II is a much maligned ruler. Obstructed by a gaggle of obscurantist barons, deposed by a slippery usurper, and with his reputation besmirched by Lancastrian propaganda, Richard, in Terry’s view, is deserving of better in the eyes of posterity. Far from the self-centred, vengeful monarch portrayed in textbooks, Richard, for Terry, was actually a wise and beneficent ruler who sought the good of his people. In his final years, when he ruled without baronial constraint, he conducted what Terry calls ‘a bold experiment in ideal kingship’. Its aim was to shield the king’s humbler subjects from the policy of aggressive war with France that suited only the warmongering baronage. After 1399, however, when Henry IV seized the crown from his cousin, history was rewritten to blacken the former king’s name. Our assessment of Richard’s kingship, Terry argues, should be based not on the hostile Lancastrian accounts, but on sources that date from the king’s own lifetime. In particular, we should try to judge Richard’s achievement in the light of contemporary expectations of kingship for the common good. Viewed in this light, Richard can be seen for what he was—an exponent of the ideas in the ‘mirrors of princes’ literature, a monarch who triumphed over faction, ruling in the common interest. . .”

Saul goes on to argue against Jones’ judgement, but that is beside the point. I think you will have to agree that these two Richards (forget the so-called Lionheart) were subjected to very similar, very cruel fates.

As I said in my previous post (indicated above) the similarities are astonishing, even to both being married to Annes who died before them and left them childless, and both being removed from life by Henrys who proceeded to ruin their reputations with endless lies. Oh, and they both have the misfortune to attract Shakespeare, who is always on the wrong side! Well, I think he is.

 

Black Vaughan of Hergest Court in Herefordshire….

 

Hergest Court, showing water in which the ghost of Black Vaughan is supposedly trapped - photograph from Google

Hergest Court, showing the pool in which the ghost of Black Vaughan is supposedly trapped beneath a stone – photograph from Google.

Thomas Vaughan ap Rosser was born in 1400, and nicknamed ‘Black’ Vaughan because of his black hair; or perhaps because of his black nature. No one knows which. His main residence was Hergest Court, near Kington in Herefordshire, and his wife was Ellen Gethin of Llanbister, Radnorshire. She was, from all accounts, a formidable woman, maybe even prepared to dress as a man in order to take part in an archery contest. Her purpose was not to aim at the target, but at the heart of the cousin who had killed her young brother. True? Who knows?

Thomas Vaughan had interests in the Stafford lordships of Huntington, Brecon and Hay, and in 1461 Edward IV appointed him receiver of Brecon, Hay, and Huntington during the minority of Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham. Thomas supported Edward in the Wars of the Roses, but while marching toward Banbury in 1469, to aid the Yorkist cause at the Battle of Edgecote, he was captured by the Lancastrians.

Battle of Edgecote - from YouTube link below

You can see an interesting animation of the Battle of Edgecote here  – from which the above illustration is taken.

The Lancastrians took Thomas to Pontefract and beheaded him. His body was returned to Kington, to the church of St Mary, on the hill above the village. In due course Ellen joined him there, and their alabaster effigies still adorn their tomb.

Thomas 'Black' Vaughan and his wife, Ellen Gethin - The Terrible

Thomas ‘Black’ Vaughan and his wife, Ellen Gethin, known as ‘The Terrible’.

There is some doubt about which Thomas Vaughan is actually meant in this story. Maybe Black Vaughan died actually during the Battle of Edgecote, and wasn’t captured or executed in Pontefract. Indeed, some sources claim that the Thomas Vaughan of this story was the traitor, Sir Thomas, who in early 1483 turned upon the Lord Protector, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, in the attempt by the Woodvilles to deny Richard his rights by seizing the person of the boy king, Edward V, and having him crowned. Thus they, not Richard, would be in charge of the realm. This Sir Thomas was indeed executed at Pontefract. And rightly so.

Death was not the end of Black Vaughan, for he began to make his presence felt again, overturning farm wagons in broad daylight, and frightening women as they rode to market. He could even take on the form of a huge fly in order to torment horses. Once, as a bull, he entered the church during a service.

St Mary's Church, Kington, Herefordshire

St Mary’s Church, Kington, Herefordshire

In the 19th century, Kilvert was told the following story by a local man. “Twelve or thirteen ancient parsons assembled in the court of Hergest, and drew a circle, inside which they all stood with books and lighted candles, praying. The ghost was very resolute, and came among the parsons roaring like a bull. ‘Why so fierce, Mr Vaughan?’ asked one of the parsons mildly. ‘Fierce I was a man, fiercer still as a devil’, roared Vaughan, and all the candles were blown out except one, held by a very small, weak parson (also, says legend, named Vaughan). He hid the candle in his boots and so kept it alight, all the time praying hard until at length the violent spirit was quelled, and ‘brought down so small and humble that they shut him up in a snuff box’. The ghost made one humble petition—’Do not bury me beneath water’. But the parson immediately had him enclosed in a stone box, and buried him under the bed of the brooks and Hergest thenceforth was at peace.”

The Hound of the Baskervilles

The Hound of the Baskervilles

After that, so it is said, Hergest Court was haunted by a black dog that appeared every time a member of the Vaughan family was to die. (Don’t these entities always do that?) Conan Doyle visited the court, and used the black dog as a model for The Hound of the Baskervilles.

 

Sad Days at Sandal Castle

Late September saw some dramatic developments at Wakefield’s important Wars of the Roses and English Civil War site, Sandal Castle. It’s been making the news for all the wrong reasons: increasing levels of abuse and misuse from littering to anti-social behaviour, joyriding, and damage to the monument culminating in a load of horrible graffiti in purple paint being sprayed on the stones of the Great Hall.

Why has this happened? Ultimately, it’s down to national government starving local authorities of the funds to support quality-of-life amenities including heritage. Having done a good job of looking after and developing the site, over several years Wakefield Council was forced to cut back staffing and opening times for its Visitor Centre until it finally closed altogether. This was very sad, not to mention sorely inconvenient for visitors deprived of its facilities (information, loos, refreshments, educational space and gift shop); it also threatened the castle’s wellbeing by removing the staff who discouraged inappropriate use by their very presence.

Nonetheless, the Council continued to maintain the grounds and people continued to come and enjoy Sandal Castle until the rot set in – literally – in March 2016, when the timber walkways and steps giving access to the inner bailey and keep were pronounced structurally unsound and closed for safety reasons. Denying access for grounds maintenance crews means that the motte is now overgrown with weeds and bushes; this unkempt appearance encourages a ‘don’t care’ mentality and contributes to the littering problem – and the lack of safe access makes it impossible for the Friends group to get in and clean up. Worse, many people don’t give a hoot that the walkways are closed, and risk life and limb by scrambling up and down the steep earthworks. Some are teenagers, who congregate in the inner bailey to drink or whatever, secure in the knowledge that adults, including the police, would have a hard job reaching them before they could scarper.

Wakefield Council’s response is too little, too late. The recent graffiti incident led to local press coverage, (87 people including costumed re-enactors turned out for a Wakefield Express photo-call last week), a substantial feature on BBC Radio Leeds on Friday 30th September, masses of public interest and support, and (hurrah!) the subsequent arrest of one of the culprits. Now the Council has issued a statement promising CCTV coverage and more security presence at the site, and they’re also seeking a new tenant for the Visitor Centre so that it can re-open in some form (perhaps as a café). This is all welcome news – albeit no solution to the core problem. Until the walkways are reinstated, people determined to access the monument will continue to climb the earthworks, doing considerable damage in the process and risking serious injury to themselves.

I wish the Council had acted more vigorously to protect Sandal Castle – especially in view of the millions being spent on conservation and new visitor facilities just a few miles away at Pontefract Castle. I can’t understand why the officers responsible for heritage haven’t capitalised on the upsurge of interest in medieval history thanks to Richard III, and put Sandal firmly on the Wars of the Roses tourism map. I can’t understand why a major appeal to raise £175,000 to replace the walkways and steps wasn’t launched back in the spring – if it had been, this monument of national historical significance might not have suffered such harm. But as it is, such works cannot be undertaken over the winter months – so this unhappy situation will persist well into 2017, and the final repair bills will be even higher than they are at the moment.

Meanwhile some of the unauthorised access and attendant damage to the site is being caused by folk out hunting ruddy Pokémon – so if you’d like to join the campaign to get Pokémon removed from Sandal Castle, please visit the Friends of Sandal Castle Facebook page for information and instructions!

A STRANGE TALE–THE STORY OF LORD STRANGE

Most Ricardians and non-Ricardians alike have heard the story of Lord Strange, son of Thomas Stanley. Strange was held as a surety by Richard for the behaviour of his father, and when his life was threatened, Thomas was supposed to have flippantly said, “I have other sons.” It is also claimed Richard ordered Strange’s death while on the field at Bosworth…but this never happened, of course, and Strange lived to see another day.
As usual, with anything pertaining to Richard III, there is a whole parcel of myth, legend, and downright sloppy research blurring the details of actual events. More than one non-fiction book has implied that Strange was a boy, even a child, and myth-making has continued on into the present, with one recent, rabid article writer seemingly confusing Strange’s story with that of the infant son of the traitor Rhys Ap Thomas (who was NEVER in Richard’s possession; he had asked for the child as a surety, but when Ap Thomas begged for leniency because his son was so young, Richard relented, and the boy stayed safely at home.)
So what do we know about the real Lord Strange? George Stanley was the eldest son of Thomas Stanley, and was born from his first marriage to Eleanor, sister of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, so he was related maternally to both Anne Neville and Richard III. His date of birth was around 1460 (also some sources state 1450, which may be the more accurate of the two dates, given his mother’s age) , so he was definitely a grown man at the time of Bosworth—25 at least and very possibly older than Richard himself! (So much for the ‘innocent little hostage child!)
He became a knight of the Bath under Edward IV, and held several posts during Richard’s tenure, including being Constable of Pontefract castle, the most powerful and imposing fortress in the north of England.
He was married to Joan le Strange, who was of Woodville lineage, and it was from her he received his title of Lord Strange, held in the right of his wife. Together they had a total of seven children, two of which were born in 1485 or earlier.
After his survival at Bosworth, he went on to serve his step-brother Henry Tudor, and fought for him at Stoke Field. He was invested in the Order of the Garter and became a privy counsellor.
He predeceased his father Thomas, dying in December 1503 (a few sources say 1497) after at banquet at Derby House. Rumours say that he was poisoned but nothing seems to survive about who would have committed such a heinous crime. His burial place is in St James Garlickhythe in London (which is likely also the last resting place of Richard III’s illegitimate daughter, Katherine.)

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The Tragedy of King Richard 111 (not by William Shakespeare)

Part 6 – “The peace of England, and our safety enforced us to this…”

“So mighty and many are my defects

That I would rather hide me from my greatness

Being a bark to brook no mighty sea

Than in my greatness covet to be had

And is the vapour of my glory smothered”

(William Shakespeare)

 

“ I am unfit for state or majesty”

Richard duke of Gloucester had to put his thinking cap on. His hopes for a peaceful transition from the reign of Edward IV to that of Edward V were dashed. The bishop of Bath and Wells’ revelation that Edward IV was still wed to Eleanor Butler when he married queen Elizabeth had cast a deep almost impenetrable shadow over the royal succession. If true, it meant that he, and not any of his brothers’ children, was the legitimate Yorkist heir.[1] All the while he believed that Edward’s children were legitimate, the duke saw it as his duty to work towards Edward V’s enthronement regardless of his personal feelings. However, the truth was that England was not ready for a boy king, especially a Woodville one. The knowledge that young Edward and all his siblings were illegitimate presented the best opportunity to secure the peace and stability of the realm by putting a proven soldier and administrator on the throne instead of a callow youth. Once the duke was sure that the pre-contract was true his course was obvious. He must take the crown in the national interest and his own. The problem was that that course cut right across the creed he lived by: ‘Loyaulte Me Lie’. Duke Richard was a soldier, a practical man, a ‘doer not a wooer’. The requests for help from York and from his northern adherents were Gloucester’s military solution to a security problem. However, Gloucester the politician was in denial. Catesby’s news that Hastings had joined the conspiracy to murder him and Buckingham and that he (Hastings) had known of the pre-contract for some time raised another practical crisis he could get his teeth into. He had faced danger and death many times in his relatively short life. Ironically, it put him in his comfort zone to deal with this problem like a good soldier rather than a savvy politician[2].

My contention is that since emotionally he was unable to solve the paradox between what he — in his heart of hearts — knew he must do and what he wanted to do about the pre contract he took it out on Hastings. This dilemma clouded his judgment and led him to make two huge mistakes. His first and most serious mistake was to underestimate the role of Margaret Beaufort with Morton in this and in other conspiracies. His second mistake was his failure to bring Hastings before a properly constituted law court for his treason. The outcome was that it allowed his opponents to circulate adverse rumours about him and to defame his posterity. Worst of all, it united disaffected Yorkists and ambitious Lancastrians against him. All this, however, lay in the future. For the moment, he had retained the trust of the council and the city fathers, who believed he was acting in Edward V’s best interest.   They were pleased that he had curbed Woodville power and removed the king from under their baleful influence.

“Look to see a troubled World”

We know from contemporary private sources that whilst there may have been an air of crisis over the weekend with armed gangs on the streets, Londoners in general (and I include the merchant middle class guilds and aldermen in this) and the councilors in particular did not see the threat as coming from the duke of Gloucester. Professor Hicks sums-up the situation nicely: “ Hastings’ death did not stir fears amongst the political leadership that Richard aimed for the throne, but, if anything served to reinforce fears of the queen and the Wydevilles (Woodvilles) and to strengthen trust in Richard.” Hicks also cites the enigmatic note of George Cely as evidence that Richard was not seen as the threat to the peace and stability of the realm: “There is great rumour in the realm. The Scots have done great [damage] in England. The Chancellor [Rotherham] is deprived and not content. The bishop of Ely is dead. If the king, God save his life, were to die; the duke of Gloucester were in any peril.   If my lord Prince, whom God protect, were troubled. If my lord of Northumberland were dead or greatly troubled. If my lord Howard were slain.” This is not only a good indication of the fear and rumour prevalent, but it also shows that Cely (a Lancastrian wool merchant) feared for the safety of Richard.[3] Notwithstanding Charles Ross’ assertion that the evidence of a Hastings/Woodville conspiracy rests entirely on Richard’s say so,[4] Michael Hicks and Annette Carson both provide evidence that people believed him at the time[5]. It is impossible to escape the conclusion that the accounts of Mancini, Crowland and the vernacular London Chronicles included ex post facto embellishments of these events, which were added for partisan reasons to blacken Gloucester’s reputation. They seriously exaggerated the backlash against him.

 

“You break not sanctuary be seizing him”

It is early Monday morning the 16 June 1483: grey and cheerless. An unseasonal chill wind is blowing from the east as the king’s councilors gathered at the Tower. They were understandably wary and nervous. The sudden execution of the Lord Chamberlain last Friday has caused consternation in the city. Notwithstanding the Lord Protector’s calming proclamation, treason is in the air; ordinary people had their swords and daggers to hand; armed men roamed the city streets. Everybody was edgy and suspicious. The tension was tangible. Once the council had assembled and the royal dukes were ready, the whole party moved to Westminster in boats, accompanied by ‘eight boatloads’ of soldiers. Thomas Bourchier the Archbishop of Canterbury together with Lord Howard and other councilors preceded to the Abbots house at Westminster escorted by the soldiers. The dukes of Gloucester and Buckingham with the remainder of the council adjourned to the Star Chamber at Westminster Palace to await events.

After an emotional exchange with the Archbishop, the queen allowed her youngest son to leave sanctuary. She is said to have done so graciously, ‘as far as words went’. Nevertheless, she and the remainder of her family remained in sanctuary. Following a brief reception at Westminster Palace, the young duke of York was escorted to be with his brother in the royal apartments at the Tower. The council then turned to the other main business of the day: the king’s coronation. The councilors were satisfied that the Lord Protectors actions on Friday were justified. The Woodville faction was still regarded as the biggest danger to the stability of the realm. Two important decisions were made. First, the coronation was postponed from the 22 June until the 9 November 1483. Second, the Parliament fixed for the 25 June was cancelled. The business of the day was done[6].

It is obvious that Gloucester had prepared for the removal of York from sanctuary. The eight ‘boatloads’ of troops did not magically appear. They were organised and tasked for their role beforehand. Similarly, the decision to pierce the sanctuary boil had to have been taken over the weekend. Things like that cannot be done extempore. It suggests some basic rethinking by Gloucester. The presence of the young prince was desirable at his brother’s coronation; it was unthinkable that king Edward should be crowned without him there. Indeed, that was the reason given to the queen by the Archbishop when requesting York’s release. The subsequent postponement of the coronation and the cancellation of Parliament were the inevitable consequences of the events of the previous week. In theory it gave more time for reconciliation between the Lord protector and council, and the queen. However, the reality was that reconciliation was almost impossible now. Though in practical terms, the cancellations gave Gloucester more time to resolve the pressing problem of the pre-contract.

If Gloucester decided to seize the crown the possession of both Princes was a pre-requisite. This may explain the ambiguous use of troops. It’s true that the soldiers could have been there simply to protect the royal family and the councilors from the armed gangs in London. It might have been just happenstance, but there is little doubt that the presence of troops was meant to put pressure on the queen to release her son. Mancini reports that Gloucester intended to use force if necessary, and the credulous Professor Charles Ross believes that Gloucester would have risked the ‘moral obloquy’ of forcing sanctuary’ if need be[7]. I’m not so sure he risked obloquy by forcing sanctuary. It would not have been his preference, but he had tried all reasonable means to persuade the queen to re-join the court and she was obdurate. He was a deeply religious man, almost puritan in his piety and it would have grieved him. However, he had the backing of the council, and I doubt if the Archbishop of Canterbury would have acted as his spokesman if he thought Gloucester was a threat to Edward V; neither could Gloucester compel him to do so.

I have been thinking about what has happened over this weekend 532 years ago. What does it mean for Richard duke of Gloucester? Did he do the right thing? And what should he do next? I suspect that those were also his thoughts half a millennium ago. From his perspective, the weekend was a success. The plan was good and its implementation almost flawless.   He crushed a dangerous conspiracy with ease; three of the conspirators are in custody and Hastings is dead. Reinforcements from the north are being organised and he now has custody of both of Edward’s sons. Nevertheless, I have the feeling this was the weekend when Richard won a battle but lost the war. Fatally, his ‘victory’ was nor decisive. His most dangerous and inveterate enemies escaped, and those he did capture were allowed to continue their treasonous plotting unhindered. Even that peerless Ricardian Sir George Buck criticizes Richard for not executing John Morton and keeping Margaret Beaufort incommunicado under lock and key.

Anthony Woodville Lord Rivers, Sir Richard Grey and Sir Thomas Vaughan were executed on the 25 June 1483. Sir Richard Ratcliffe supervised their execution under the auspices of the earl of Northumberland and Ralph Neville. Both Mancini and Crowland say that they were executed without trial or justice. However, the presence of Northumberland suggests that there may have been some form of judicial process. Mancini says that Richard gave the order for this execution on his own authority and in defiance of the council’s earlier decision not to charge Rivers et al with treason. However, Gloucester had no reason to flaunt the council, nor was he likely to do so as he was dependent on their support.  He ordered their execution in his capacity as the Lord Protector and Defensor of the realm, with specific responsibility for defending England against external enemies and internal traitors. I have little doubt myself that Rivers, Grey and Vaughan fall into the category of traitors.

Be that as it may, more important to me in this essay, is what this tells us about Gloucester decision to claim the throne by right of strict inheritance. For the executions to take place on the 25 June, they had to have been ordered by the 16 or 17 June 1483 at the latest. Hicks infers that Sir Richard Ratcliffe carried the death warrants north on the 11 June 1483 with Gloucester’s urgent plea for help: but he is mistaken[8]. Crowland writes explicitly that Sir Richard Ratcliffe with the northern lords and their troops were moving south when they interrupted their journey at Pontefract to execute these prisoners[9]. Indeed, they bought Rivers and Grey with them from where they were incarcerated to the place of execution. This indicates to me that they knew the duke’s need for troops was no longer so urgent since he had already foiled the Woodville conspiracy. It is also clear that at the same time they received instructions to execute the Woodville traitors. The inference that I draw from this is that duke Richard sent another message north; one, which, by its secret nature, we may never know about. This contained not only the details of the arrest and execution of Hastings but also the warrants for the execution of Rivers Grey and Vaughan and it must have been sent after the 13 June and before the 17 June 1483. That is when I believe Gloucester decided to assume the crown in place of his nephew. He could not have contemplated executing Rivers and Grey unless he intended to become king of England.

[1] I have not forgotten Edward of Warwick, Clarence’s infant son. It is simply that he was never a serious contender for the throne. First he was the son of an attainted traitor and second, he had no support amongst the English nobility for the reversal of the attainder or for his succession.

[2] As the youngest son of a duke, Richard was not expected to succeed to the throne. Consequently, his upbringing, training and experience had done very little to prepare him for this situation.   Throughout his adult life he had served his brother faithfully and well in a subordinate capacity. His training and aptitude for soldiering, and his military experience, combined with his successful tenure as ‘Lord of the North’, demonstrated that duke Richard was a capable governor and certainly not a soft touch. However, his voluntary absence from Edward’s decadent court meant that he was unused to the intensity and causticity of Beaufort and Woodville intriguing when he had to deal with it. A shrewder politician might have seen the danger of the Beaufort/Tudor/Morton axis earlier, and dealt with it.

[3] Michael Hicks – Richard III (Tempus 2000 revised edition) at pages 114-116. Hicks’ analysis of the contemporary opinion of Richard during May and June 1483 supports the view that his action in curbing the Woodvilles was popular and the execution of Hastings was justified. In fact, Hicks makes a point of rejecting Mancini’s account as hindsight, along with other chronicle accounts. He observes, “The events that follow are a better guide.”

[4] Charles Ross- Richard III (Yale 1999) at page 81

[5] See Hicks, ibid. See also Annette Carson – Richard III: the maligned king (The History Press 2013 revised edition) at pages 102-104. Carson is a particularly useful reference since the author has helpfully collated the relevant sources for this episode in one place. It obviates the need for me to go into any more detail.

[6] I have followed the following sources in reconstructing this event. AJ Armstrong (ed) – Dominic Mancini: the Usurpation of King Richard III [Oxford, 1969]) at pages 89 and 124, note 74. See also Nicholas Pronay and John Cox (editors) – The Crowland Chronicle continuations 1459-1486 (Richard III and Yorkist History Trust 1986) at page 159; and also Richard J Sylvester – The complete Works of St Thomas More, Volume 2: the History of King Richard III (Yale 1963) at pages 45-49 and note 46/7-47/1 page 216.

[7] Ross, page 87.

[8] Hicks, at pages 132-133; Hicks makes the point that Northumberland and Neville were hardly likely to comply with Gloucester’s instructions unless they were assured of immunity from any recriminations. His inference that they knew of Gloucester’s intended usurpation before they set out from the north is inescapable. However, and not for the first time, professor Hicks has failed to explore other possibilities. Instead, he confines himself to an inference that fits his pre-conceived conclusion that Gloucester was deceiving the council and manipulating public opinion. It is a conclusion based on the premise that usurpation was always his intention. A premise, which is not supported by the evidence of what actually happened between April and June 1483.

[9] Crowland at page 161

Richard II and his ‘Double’.

The “official” version of Richard II’s death is straightforward. After his deposition he was imprisoned in Pontefract Castle, and, following a rebellion of his followers in early January 1400, starved to death. The date of death is usually given as 14th February 1400. His body was subsequently taken by stages to London, being publicly exhibited (as is the tradition for deposed, dead kings in England) culminating in a final display in St Paul’s Cathedral prior to a relatively obscure burial at King’s Langley, Hertfordshire. However, rumours persisted that he was still alive, and the promise of his return was often, if not invariably, attached to the various conspiracies of Henry IV’s reign.

Although Richard’s body was displayed, only part of his face was actually visible, and he was presented on a high catafalque. This may have led to some suspicion that the corpse had been substituted as it would have been impossible for anyone to study the King’s features with any degree of thoroughness.

Richard II had a known “double”, his clerk, Richard Maudelyn, the son of no less a person than Hawise Maudelyn, sometime waiting-woman to Katherine Swynford, mistress and later third wife of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. The family resemblance suggests that Maudelyn’s father may well have been John of Gaunt himself, or perhaps one of the other royal uncles, and it is reasonable to assume that Maudelyn was at the least a cousin to Richard II, and maybe rather closer in blood to Henry IV.

Maudelyn was used by the January 1400 conspirators to impersonate Richard II in the hope of drawing out support. This suggests that the resemblance was at least strong enough to deceive country gentlemen and the like, if not people who knew Richard really well. Maudelyn was captured and executed by the usual method of hanging, drawing and quartering. It seems improbable that his body could have been used as a substitute for Richard’s, unless this was decided upon almost immediately and the remains embalmed. One might expect the bones of Maudelyn would show signs of his violent execution. As far as I am aware, no such signs were discovered when (what is presumed to be) Richard II’s body was examined in the 19th century.

The “Scottish Richard II” was found wandering about on the island of Islay, of all places. He was “recognised” by a woman who claimed that she had seen him while visiting Ireland the previous year, and following this was conveyed to the Scottish Court, where he lived out his life as a pensioner of the Scottish Crown.

Islay is a small and relatively remote island off the west coast of Scotland, nowdays best known for the production of the incomparable Laphroaig whisky. Assuming that Richard II escaped from Pontefract, is it likely that he would make his way to such an obscure place? Surprisingly, the answer is – yes, he might.

Richard saw himself primarily as emperor of the British Isles, and his complex diplomacy in the 1390s had as one of its principal objectives the detachment of Scotland from the Franco-Scottish alliance and its subordination to England. This proved impossible because of the attitude of the French, and the Scots were eventually included in the 28 year truce concluded in the autumn of 1396. However, as part of his diplomacy Richard had secured an alliance with the semi-independent Lord of the Isles, valuable in strategic terms for both his Scottish and Irish pretensions. (Since the Lord of the Isles came close to destroying the Scottish Crown’s forces at Harlaw, 1411, it seems likely that the Lord of the Isles plus England would have been able to complete the job!)

Therefore Richard had some reason to expect help in the Western Isles. That the supposed imposter should turn up there is surely significant.

The Grey Friars in England were persistent in spreading the rumour that Richard II was alive, and several were executed for their trouble. Several nobles are known to have received letters from “Richard II”, bearing one of his authentic seals, which had somehow been carried away to Scotland. And in 1403 the Percys – in effective alliance with Scotland – promised the men of Cheshire that Richard II would appear at their rendezvous at Sandiway, Cheshire. Needless to say he did not, and the Percys were defeated, but the rumours of his survival went on.

Bolingbroke claimed that the “Scottish Richard II” was one Thomas Warde of Trumpington, Cambridgeshire, and continued to execute those foolish enough to spread the word that Richard was alive. (It is not explained how Thomas Warde came to be on Islay.) As late as 1415 the Southampton Conspirators were still talking of bringing “Richard II” back from Scotland while in December 1417 Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham, refused to recognise the authority of his judges “so long as his liege lord King Richard was alive in Scotland.”

Thomas Warde was a real person. His few acres of land in Trumpington were forfeited in 1408. However the evidence to prove he was the same individual as the Scottish Richard II no longer exists, if it ever existed in the first place.

It appears that the man responsible for many, if not all, of the rumours of Richard II’s survival was William Serle who had been a minor member of Richard’s household. When captured he admitted he had stolen Richard’s seal and forged a number of letters. Of course it entirely possible that this confession was extracted by torture so it is not necessarily conclusive. Bolingbroke, who was rarely generous to traitors unless they shared his blood, had Serle half-hanged several times in different locations before his eventual execution.

When the “Scottish Richard” died at Stirling in 1419 he was buried with full honours close to the High Altar of the Blackfriars. Whether he was the “real Richard” we shall probably never know, but it remains a fascinating possibility.

(Reblogged from English Historical Fiction Authors).

Woes of the Woodville Wives….

This is posted on behalf of someone else, and is not the work of viscountessw

‘I can feel his presence, I’m sure of it’, said the leader of the group of hormonally challenged women in the ruins of Pontefract Castle. It was the inaugural meeting of the Woodville Wives, a pilgrimage they had vowed to undertake ever since the tyrant’s bones had been unearthed.

They remained indignant, incandescent even, that the deformed maniac was now the centre of such public fascination and their beloved, saintly, poet, worthy of such incredible adulation was a reduced to mere footnote….how dare ‘they’ rewrite History? Their literary and chivalric hero had perished in this very castle. It made more sense to romanticize him than the other object of their slavish infatuation, the aesthetically challenged ‘Lancastrian’ who had claimed the throne by his superb military tactics and prowess. It was high time the world was made aware of the loss of such a national treasure as Earl Rivers.

Oh, how they swooned at the mere mention of his name! In a group consisting of a disproportionately high number of alpha-females, the competition to be top dog was unsurprisingly fierce. However, a leader had emerged; her specialist knowledge of the Woodvilles, honed by many years of deep research and a proficiency in Wikipedia had ensured her pre-eminence. The others deferred to her authority, albeit reluctantly. Resplendent in their tee-shirts, loose fitting skirts, necklaces and brooches (featuring the special one’s quartered arms), they paid homage. They recited poetry and tried to feel the spirit and history of their hero. From far and wide they had travelled, from Europe, Australia, the Americas.

Oh! How Anthony would have approved! In fact, they were probably sure that he had actually been aware of the existence of this wonderful new world – he was cruelly murdered before he could alter the course of human knowledge and understanding! Cut down in his prime. And so they gathered, here in Yorkshire on 25 June, to commemorate his anniversary. The day before the murderous, misshapen tyrant claimed the throne of England. Damn that Plantagenet!

Rain cascaded down the ruins of the castle, despite it being humid. Well, it was Wimbledon season. However, it made the Wives feel depressed, uncomfortable and inexplicably hungry. The leader’s wing-commander suggested that they retire to a nearby pub for a spot of lunch before taking the steps down to the eleventh century cellars.

The group ate heartily; partaking of what they imagined was traditional Yorkshire fayre and real ales, all the time discussing the attributes of their heartthrob. Inevitably, the talk turned, as it always did, to that bloody Richard! The leader discussed her latest entrepreneurial plans, a tome devoted to the object of their pilgrimage and the extension of her range of novelty items to include Rivers as well as Tudor. It never ceased to amaze her how there was such a market for the tacky merchandise but her enslaved minions were insatiable!  A toilet roll cover (typically English, she thought) was going to be the latest product.

The fact that the rain had been torrential, was, she felt, an omen. He was smiling on her endeavours, was Anthony. Alas, their intellectual musings were rudely interrupted when other patrons decided to play music on the jukebox. How could one possibly think, plot and scheme when such noise was screeching?!

To the strains of The Bangles’ ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’, they struggled to make themselves heard. Many voices, different accents, all female, competed to be heard. The group were then joined by their local Yorkshire historical expert and guide – a man, the only one to be allowed in their privileged inner sanctum.

He lingeringly embraced each of the women in turn, having been their ‘friend’ and ally in cyberspace for some time. He swiftly sank a pint of Yorkshire Pride and said that he would show them around the cellars of Pontefract and other hidden gems. A clap of thunder broke above, just as a bad Eighties post-disco track started in the background – ‘Give it Up’.

‘Never! ’bellowed the Antipodean delegate!

‘Nevill?’ said the man with the Lancashire accent. ‘No, we will never give up! Despite all ‘they’ throw at us, Richard was a tyrant, Anthony was a genius, and the world needs to know this! They gave HIM a glorious reinterment and all those fools went out to pay tribute! I’m not having it and I’m never wrong!’

The Lancastrian Yorkshire guide massaged her monumental ego, passed her a pack of pork scratchings and a pint and told her that she was infallible and would always, yes always, have the last word.

The squadron leader, aka Wife Number one swallowed her resentment and grudgingly allowed this slight to her to go unchallenged. There would be time enough to remedy this situation later….

The group eventually departed the ‘Dog and Duck’ Public House following a break in the rain and trudged wearily back to the castle. The wives followed their guide to the cellars, in stately, solemn and sodden procession. Assembled in a circle, they kissed Rivers’ emblems, clutched hands and, at the behest of their leader, attempted to invoke his spirit. Their eyes raised, glistening in expectation, as they felt a swirl of wind, so tangible, they reached to touch it.

The leader raised her nasal voice ‘Lord Anthony, we are here! Come to remember, here to care’. Minutes passed….nothing…as they meditated on the image and words of their hero…. ‘Anthony!’ wailed the chief wife once more….then, they froze as a male voice boomed ‘Richard!’

One of the group, a foot soldier from the Americas attempted to break free and run away. ‘I didn’t sign up for this; I’m going, back to my Mama and Papa, back to Chicago’.

An English lieutenant, pulled her back into the circle, and whispered the words to ‘Hotel California’ – ‘you can check out…but you can never leave’.

‘Richard!’ the voice bellowed once more…

‘Anthony, is that you?’ said the Woodville commander.

‘No, I’m not Richard, he’s over there. I’m Thomas, Lord Darcy and I demand to know what you are doing in my home?’

The chief wife was petrified, her hands shaking, but she was not going to show weakness in front of her minions. ‘We seek Lord Rivers…is he here?’

The cellar was now icily cold and the wives could not see where the voice was coming from, some were in tears and fervently wishing they had not been enticed to partake in this fool’s errand.

‘Lord Rivers!’ – the voice returned, its tone incredulous, ‘Rivers, that craven coward, couldn’t joust his way owt of a silke purse! Eh, Richard?’

At the mention of HIS name, the women (and their guide) trembled.

‘Is the usurping tyrant with you?’ said Woodville number one.

‘of whome doth thou speake?’ said Lord Darcy.

‘The Plantagenet who killed his own blood and destroyed York’ replied Woodville one, with a bravado she did not feel.

This time Darcy shouted, his broad Yorkshire tones filling the empty cellar, ‘Thou meanest Richard III? His Grace ys not here at present but Richard Two ys. I have witnessyd some artycles at Pomfret but I have never before seene such brutish creatures! Richard Two doesn’t lyke ye either! Be gone! hydeouse Lancaster crones and seeke ye your poet somewhere else…do not darkyn these doors agayn. And taketh that excuse for a male with thou, a complete buffoon!’

Epilogue:

Darcy and Richard II retired together and laughed long and hard at the folly of women; Lancastrian women with strange accents. They ignored the brooding, mumbling presence of Rivers but mentioned his hysterical visitors, to which he replied ‘I thank thee for sparing me that, at leaste’ and went back to reciting his poetry. Darcy and Richard decided to move on and tell Richard, third of that name since the conquest, of the source of their mirth. No doubt Richard would be highly amused!

It was a shame that these modern mortals did not know what an acerbic wit Richard III possessed. Another legacy of the damage inflicted by those damn “Tudors” and their acolytes!

The Pontefract group have been suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder since the incident and are currently undergoing medical supervision.

This is a work of fiction. All resemblances to people living or dead are entirely coincidental.

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