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Epiphany – medieval and now….

The Adoration of the Magi
Tapestry executed by William Morris, after Sir Edward Burne-Jones

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the following two definitions refer to the use of the word epiphany:-

  • The manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi (Matthew 2:1–12). Definition (1)
  • A moment of sudden and great revelation/realisation. Definition (2)

Epiphany has been a recognised feast of the Western Church since the 5th century, but these days we generally associate the Magi/ Three Wise Men with our modern Christmas Eve/Day. They appear on our Christmas cards. Yet there are—and always were—Twelve Days of Christmas, with Twelfth Night marked as Epiphany Eve or sometimes Epiphany itself, depending upon which precise moment you begin to calculate the commencement of the season. For an explanation, this is a good place to start.

Souvenir of Shakespeare’s “King Richard II.” Produced by Mr Tree at His Majesty’s Theatre September 10th, 1903. By Charles Buchel (Karl August Büchel) National Portrait Gallery.

If ever there was a King of England who revered Epiphany (1), and all that went with it, that king was Richard II, who reigned 1377-1399. He was still a small boy, but when the Yule logs were brought in for the first Christmas of his reign, they must have been kindled with hope and excitement that he would bring healthy, wealth, happiness and prosperity to his new realm. If this was indeed the hope, there would eventually be some very unhappy people, because he was plagued by rebellions and resentful lords. And his habit of turning to a coterie of close friends, twinned with his own questionable decision-making, did not really create the best circumstances. But, initially, there was hope, and those first Yule logs of 1377 will have burned brightly. The flames would have danced and roared.

That fanciful thought aside, it is my opinion that in June 1381, when as a boy of only fourteen Richard faced a thousands-strong army of peasants at Smithfield, he underwent an epiphany (2). He rode out at the head of his retinue to face a ragtaggle peasant army led, among others, by Wat Tyler. We all know the famous scene. Tyler was cut down in front of everyone by Sir William Walworth, Mayor of London, and out of nowhere the moment became electrifyingly dangerous. Pitched battle was on the very lip of breaking out, but then Richard rode his horse forward calmly and promised to do all he could to grant the peasants’ their demands (which we today think were more than justified).  It worked and the peasant army broke up to return to their homes.

Richard later went back on his word (something he was prone to do throughout his reign) but at that precise moment he’d displayed astonishing courage, and split-second decision-making. No one else in his entourage had done anything but freeze. Many things about the adult Richard II were to be criticized, but never again would his courage be questioned. Did he have an epiphany, as described in (2) above?

From Richard’s portrait in Westminster Abbey – believed to be the first true likeness of a King of England.

Certainly he was always to honour Epiphany above all other Church festivals. To begin with, he was born on that day in 1367. Another King of England who was buried on that day in 1066 was to become Richard’s favourite and most cherished saint. That king was St Edward the Confessor, whose feast day is 6th January/Epiphany, and whose great tomb in Westminster Abbey can still be seen. It’s now a shadow of its former glory because all the jewels and other decorations that once adorned it have been gradually stolen over the centuries by all forms of souvenir-seeker. But it must once have been a glorious sight, as was St Thomas à Becket’s tomb in Canterbury, which has been similarly denuded.

The Confessor’s Shrine, Westminster Abbey – source of illustration unknown.

The Confessor had been England’s national saint until 1350, when he was supplanted by St George, and on Epiphany every year, Richard II went to worship there, usually leaving a costly gift. Such occasions must have been very impressive and colourful. Richard also had a separate little chapel built nearby, where he would worship. It is still called the Chapel of Our Lady of the Pew, and contains a niche in the wall where it is said the wonderful Wilton Diptych was placed for Richard’s prayers.

The Wilton Diptych

The diptych shows Richard as a child king, with St John the Baptist, St Edward the Confessor and St Edmund standing behind him as he kneels before the Virgin and Child. At the entrance of the chapel are two carved headstops of angels, one holding Richard’s royal arms, the other those of the Confesser. (Pingback https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/2017/07/15/the-little-chapel-in-westminster-abbey-beloved-of-richard-ii/)

The one on the left, with the royal arms, has always looked very like Richard himself to me. Source of photographs not known.

According to  https://www.britainexpress.com/History/medieval/christmas.htm , another link between Richard II and Epiphany occurred on Twelfth Night, 1392. The citizens of London, who were not on good terms with him at the time, attempted to bury the hatchet by bestowing upon the king and queen “a one-humped camel and a pelican, novelties for the royal menagerie at the Tower of London”. Another source adds that there was a boy on the dromedary.

Richard and his much loved queen Anne of Bohemia would eventually be laid to rest together close to the Confessor. In the latter part of his reign, Richard had even had his own coat-of-arms impaled with the supposed arms of the Confessor, so there is no doubt at all that Richard II truly esteemed Epiphany and the Confessor, with whom he felt a close connection.

To the less religiously minded people of today, Epiphany is Twelfth Night, a time to party and take the Christmas decorations down – if they haven’t been removed already! The more devout will still associate it with the Magi and the Confessor.

Of course, the calendar has changed from Julian to Gregorian, and dates have moved with it. Old Twelfth Night was celebrated on 17th January. Many wassail traditions, such as the wassail cup and wassailing the cider apple trees, are associated with Twelfth Night. The Yule Log, so bright with flames in the image above, needs to burn from Christmas Eve until Twelfth Night. Charcoal from it was kept to kindle the following year’s log, and also to protect the house from thunder and lightning. There were also many delicious foods that were associated with that night, including a special cake.

Mary Berry’s Twelfth Night Cake from https://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/twelfth_night_cake_53367

In many places across the land older customs have been resumed in recent years. I don’t know when in the past they began to wassail the cider apple trees, in the hope of ensuring a supply of cider for the next harvest. Does it go back to the medieval period? Yes, according to this article

“….There are two distinct variations of wassailing. One involves groups of merrymakers going from one house to another, wassail bowl in hand, singing traditional songs and generally spreading fun and good wishes. The other form of wassailing is generally practiced in the countryside, particularly in fruit growing regions, where it is the trees that are blessed….”

“….The practice of house-wassailing continued in England throughout the Middle Ages, adapting as a way by which the feudal lord of the manor could demonstrate charitable seasonal goodwill to those who served him, by gifting money and food in exchange for the wassailers blessing and songs….”

Wassailing the Cider Apple Trees, from https://chawtonhouse.org/whats-on/evening-orchard-wassail-2/

Singing from house-to-house eventually became the carol-singing of today, but at the end of the season, not the beginning. As happens now with the Three Wise Men, who appear of Christmas cards, but are actually associated with Epiphany.

Now, to go back to the very beginning of this article, and the epiphany (2) that I feel certain happened to the young Richard II in June 1381. Until that day in Smithfield he had been confined and controlled by his uncles and government, but when Tyler was cut down in front of everyone and things turned very nasty indeed, Richard stepped into the breach by calmly taking charge.

From where did that sudden steely resolve come? He hadn’t displayed any such thing before, but….did he think of Epiphany? His day? When the Magi took gifts to the Christ Child? Did he suddenly see himself as a Christ Child too? Born to reign over all? Did he begin to understand that it was his God-given right by blood to cast aside the oppressive rule of his uncles and their government? Might such a heartstopping moment of insight been the reason for the Wilton Diptych, which shows him as a boy (when he was adult by then) anointed and royal, reaching out to accept something from the Christ Child. The reins of his kingdom, perhaps? Was this his epiphany (2)? Albeit in June.

Afterwards, in quiet moments, did he sit alone and pensive, considering who he was and how he should face the future?

It was to be another eight years before he was finally able to strike free of those who sought to keep him under their control, but I believe his first realisation of his true destiny was born that day in Smithfield.

from an unknown painting from the Jerusalem Chamber, Westminster: illustrator unknown: the engraver is S.Sly

Epiphany had one more vital role to play in Richard’s life, and that was in 1400, just after his cousin, Henry of Lancaster, had usurped the throne and consigned Richard to captivity in Pontefract. Epiphany was the date chosen by Richard’s desperate supporters to fight against the new regime and restore him to his throne.

Richard II’s Funeral Procession, from https://picryl.com/media/funeral-of-richard-ii-from-bl-royal-18-e-ii-f-416v-33b74d British Library.

Known as the Epiphany Rising, this revolt was doomed to defeat because of treachery within its ranks. And the eventual result was Richard’s probable murder at Pontefract, to prevent any more attempts to restore him. At least he didn’t die on Epiphany as well, but he was laid to rest on the 6th…of March, 1400.

His Twelfth Night was at an end. The bright Yule log had finally run its course, flickered and faded.

Retracing the 1476 funeral procession of Richard, Duke of York….

Battle of Wakefield and Richard, Duke of YorkRichard, Duke of York, was killed at the Battle of Wakefield in 1460 but later, in 1476, exhumed by his son, Edward IV. The body was taken with great ceremony from Pontefract to Fotheringhay, resting each night at Doncaster, Blyth, Tuxford le Clay, Newark, Grantham, Stamford and finally being reburied at Fotheringhay. Among the mourners on the journey was the duke’s youngest son, Richard, Duke of Gloucester. A huge funeral feast for 15,000 people followed.

Richard_of_York

Richard, 3rd Duke of York

In 2010 Wakefield Historical Society retraced that journey on the anniversary dates of 21st-29th July to commemorate the 550th anniversary of Richard’s (York’s) death. Each day included visits to places of interest and a chance to walk some stretches of the original route. Each evening included a performance of a medieval Vespers of the Dead, in the church where the body rested, as well as a talk by an invited lecturer.

Although this event took place in 2010, it’s well worth going to here . Use the list on the top left to follow exactly what happened, the route and so on.RII funeral procession, drawn in 1468The above illustration is of Richard II’s funeral procession, which followed much of the same route. The picture was executed in 1468, and so is probably an accurate depiction of how the Duke of York’s procession might have appeared.

 

A short film about the final plight of Richard II….

Well, here is an article that manages to blend my two favourite kings, Richards II and III, although overwhelmingly Richard II. It concerns actor
Mark Burghagen (BBC, Opera North, York Mystery Plays), who has produced a short film based around Richard’s plight after being usurped by his first cousin, Henry IV. Richard is pictured in his prison cell in Pontefract Castle, pondering his fall from power, and coming to terms with his own humanity.

“…Although Richard is frequently maligned in history books as a tyrant with inflated ideas of his own majesty, Burhagen takes a more sympathetic approach, believing that Richard was simply ‘the wrong man at the wrong time, pushed into the role of king too young (he came to the throne aged just 10 in 1377) and pressured by a gang of powerful, ambitious uncles’….”

I confess to sympathising with Richard II. Like Richard III, I think he was a man ahead of his times. Certainly he was out of place in 14th-century England, when the nobility always thought in terms of financial gain through war and fighting. He preferred peace, making a monumental clash inevitable.

Does Richard II lie in an obscure grave in Stirling….?

“There was nothing at Westminster Abbey yesterday to alert visitors to the renewed speculation that one of its most revered sites may not be what it seems. To the unwary, King Richard II still lies in the south aisle of the Lady Chapel just where he has for nearly six centuries. A sign points out the tomb, wedged snugly between those of Edward III and of Anne Neville, Richard III’s queen. It is topped by a gilded effigy of the monarch, whose remains were moved to the Abbey from Hertfordshire in 1413. But all that glisters is not gold, and there are fresh claims that the remains of one of England’s most tragic kings may not rest at Westminster at all. In fact they may be 400 miles away, under a pedestrianised shopping centre near Stirling railway station.

“Legend and Shakespeare say that the last of the Plantagenets was murdered by Sir Piers of Exton in Pontefract Castle in early 1400, only weeks after he was forced to resign in favour of Henry of Lancaster, who then crowned himself Henry IV. But that story has always been disputed. Almost immediately after the king’s death,there were rumours that the body which was so openly brought south was not thatof Richard but a lookalike, perhaps his chaplain Richard Maudelyn. From as early as 1402 there were claims that the real Richard had escaped to Scotland, where he supposedly died in 1419 (six years after being reburied at Westminster). Now the archaeologist Ron Page is leading an effort to get to the truth of what would be one of English history’s greatest cover-ups.

“If Mr Page is right, then Shakespeare’s Richard, who offered “my large kingdom for a little grave, a little, little grave, an obscure grave,” may indeed have had his wish these many years. But then whose remains have been at Westminster for so long? And how can we be sure which of them is Richard? “Not all the water of the rough rude sea can wash the balm from an anointed king,” says Shakespeare’s Richard. If only it was that simple.”

The above is taken from a 2002 article in The Guardian,

It is a very intriguing thought that here we have another medieval King of England who may not be where he is supposed to be. I’m thinking of Edward II, and the dispute over whether he really did die when he was said to have, and whether he was laid to rest in Gloucester Abbey on the date he is supposed to have been. And I also think, of course, of Richard III, who really was where he was said to have been, and not lost in the River Soar as a legend claims.

If it was a cover-up, it was a Lancastrian one! What a surprise. Well, there is one thing to be said of poor Richard II, a railway station is a refreshing change from car parks. Since Richard III, there has been a positive rash of burials found or suspected under car parks. But then, his predecessor, Richard II, always did like innovation and being different.

PS: As the above article was written in 2002, and I haven’t heard anything more of a great discovery in Stirling, I can only imagine that Richard II does, after all, lie at rest with his beloved Queen Anne in Westminster Abbey. Unless, of course, someone else knows something the rest of us do not….?

PPS: Um, when did they locate Anne Neville’s tomb so precisely? I thought the whereabouts of her last resting place were only vaguely known…? The actual location has been lost.

Tomb of Richard II and Anne of Bohemia in Westminster Abbey

7 things to know about the struggle between York and Lancaster….

york and lancaster roses

This link provides some interesting reading about the origins of the Wars of the Roses, as most people describe the civil wars between the Houses of York and Lancaster. A lot of the points are from very early on in the proceedings, which makes them all the more interesting to me.

 

Clarissa Dickson Wright and the Art of Medieval Food

 

clarissa 3

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.

clarissa 4

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.

clarissa 5

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.

richard 11

“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.

 

goose

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:  all are available on Amazon:

A History of English Food by Clarissa Dickson Wright

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

Feast Days: Recipes from “The Spectator” by Jennifer Paterson.  Miss Paterson follows the Catholic liturgical calendar with recipes and amusing comments on the more eccentric saints of the Church.

 

 

 

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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