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A Naughty Anchorite

Isolde de Heton, a widow, retired to a hermitage attached to Whalley Abbey with the intention of living as an anchorite. Henry VI appointed her to the position during 1437-38. Isolde, besides having a roof over her head, was to receive a weekly food allowance that included twenty-four loaves of bread and eight gallons of beer. She was also to have a weekly cash allowance and two servants to look after her, with access to the abbey kitchens.

This is not quite the austere lifestyle one might imagine an anchorite enduring. Indeed, many modern widows would be glad of such generous support!

Nevertheless, Isolde evidently received a “better offer” perhaps a chance to live with a man (or woman) of her choice. The Abbot of Whalley, John Eccles, petitioned Henry VI during 1440-41 to close the hermitage due to Isolde having broken her vows. She had been absent for “two yere and more” and was showing no intention of returning and making amendment. Moreover, her women servants had been “misgovernyd” and “gotten with chyld” within the hallowed space.

Presumably these servants had some assistance in making babies, but the abbot did not bother to identify the male culprits. Perhaps they were too close to home.

Henry VI obliged by dissolving the hermitage and replacing it with a chantry for the benefit of the soul of Henry, Duke of Lancaster. Chantry priests were, of course, most unlikely to become pregnant.

Sadly we do not know what became of Isolde and her servants. Certainly, they lost their secure provision.

Source: The Lancashire Witch Conspiracy by John A. Clayton, pp. 203-204

 

 

 

Did Anne of Bohemia die of leprosy…?

Anne of Bohemia's funeral procession

Anne of Bohemia’s funeral procession

Well, we are accustomed to incorrect reports about historic events, such as Richard III’s remains being tossed into the River Soar, and Henry “Tudor” being both “the Lancastrian heir” and “Earl of Richmond”. And that Richard III “poisoned” his queen, Anne Neville.

Tradition abounds with these things, but today I came upon one I hadn’t heard before: that another Queen Anne—of Bohemia—wife of another Richard—Richard II—died of leprosy. Eh? If anything it was the plague, surely? And very sudden. If Anne had leprosy I’m sure it would have been evident for some time, and certainly wouldn’t have caused sudden death. Would it?

Another suggestion is that Anne died of an ectopic pregnancy. Until recently it was generally thought that this particular royal marriage was chaste, but now a letter from Anne to her brother Wenceslaus reveals that she had just miscarried. How many miscarriages might she have had? See here. So yes, an ectopic pregnancy might indeed have been the cause of her death. Or indeed, so might anything to do with pregnancy.

But leprosy…? Somehow I think not.

Cecily Neville

As we mentioned here, Ashdown-Hill’s biography of Richard’s mother was published in April. Whilst his latest, to which we shall return later, was released today, we shall concentrate on Cecily here.

This is the book that summarises Cecily’s life by delineating her full and half-siblings, demonstrating that portraits (right) previously assumed to be of her and Richard, Duke of York, are of other people. Ashdown-Hill then lists her pregnancies and shows where each of her children were probably born – there is no mention of a Joan but there is further evidence about the birth date of the future Edward IV and Cecily’s ordeals during the first peak of the Roses battles. He deduces how much she knew and how she probably felt about Edward’s bigamy and the Wydevilles, together with the part she played, as a Dowager Duchess, in Richard III’s coronation, but also her years living under Henry VII and a “between the lines” interpretation of her will.

In all, the eighty years of Cecily’s life, survived only by two of her daughters are described in great detail in a book that demonstrates further painstaking research by an author who clearly knows even more about the fifteenth century than he did two years ago.

Now on to this one (right) …

 

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