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THE LOST FONT OF MARLBOROUGH CASTLE

Marlborough is a quaint little town in Wiltshire. It has a rather famous College (once attended by Kate Middleton) but no buildings dating much before Tudor times other than two heavily restored churches. However, it used to have a castle, and a rather important one too.

The first castle was built by William the Conqueror in timber, and he raised it on Marlborough’s most famous landmark–a huge mound (sometimes called Merlin’s Mound) that stands in the middle of the college grounds. This mound is not the usual motte and bailey but in fact a neolithic mound that is a smaller ‘sister’ to nearby Silbury Hill, the largest artificial mound in Europe. Later the wooden castle was replaced by stone; it held out for King Stephen during the Anarchy. King John made many changes and repairs, having been presented  the castle while his brother, Richard Lionheart, was king. His second wife the infamous Isabella of Angouleme spent some time there and some of his children may have been born within its walls. It was  a strange arrangement–Isabella was under the care of Hugh de Neville, whose wife had been one of John’s many mistresses. After John died in the early 1200’s, political prisoner Eleanor of Brittany, whose claim to the throne equalled or surpassed that of Henry III, was kept there for a while before being shunted off to another stronghold. After Henry died, however, it became a Dower House, used by the Dowager Queen, Eleanor of Provence, and then was held by a series of Queen after her.

By 1370,  Marlborough was unused, and in ruins by 1403. Edward VI passed it to his relatives, the Seymours, who built a grand house that is now part of the College. All traces of the castle vanished, save for the mighty mound with had already stood for thousands of years before the Conqueror built his castle.

However there is a rumour that one item from the castle  survived–a huge ornate stone font which had come from the freestanding chapel of St Nicholas. Local legend says  several of King John’s children were  baptised in this font.

And sure enough about a mile away, a massive stone font sits, seeming slightly out of place, in  the tiny, remote church of St George at Preshute (an old name meaning Priest’s Hut.). It is an enormous block of polished black stone imported from Tournai, and would hardly be likely to have originally belonged to such a small, out of the way church. A few similar fonts of Tournai stone  do exist in England, but they are in much grander buildings that St George’s–including Worcester Cathedral.

P1320856

Marlborough castle Font

 

 

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Edward & Richard in Oxford

Oxford is well-known for its stunning medieval college buildings. It would take days, if not weeks, to carefully visit them all.

Several, however, have items of particular interest to those who study the House of York and Wars of the Roses time period.

The old Divinity School is an interesting stop. It was built between 1427-1483 and was an area for oral examinations and theology discussions. Apparently the exams could take days in the Middle Ages, with people wandering in and out! The groined hall is very beautiful, with very fine fan-vaulting which probably dates from the 1480’s. There are over 400 bosses which are intriguing to view, containing shields, beasts, initials, flowers and inscriptions. . Right in the centre  of the chamber you can quickly pick out Edward IV’s arms and the Sunne in Splendour. Apparently Edward never came here, but the builders of the day thought it best to honour him anyway.

(While there, is is well worth seeing Duke Humphrey’s Library upstairs. Humphrey, 1st Duke of Gloucester, was an early book afficionado who had manuscripts translated from Greek to Latin. Upon his in 1447 death, he donated all his manuscripts, almost 300 of them,  to the University. The library which took his name was set up as another storey to the already-existing Divinity school. Several of  Humphrey’s books still survive…though, alas,  most of the original books were pilfered by the King’s Commisioners in 1550…)

Magdalen College is another Oxford site of great interested. Begun by William Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester, in 1458, but the main building phase did not begin until 1467, when the encircling wall was raised. In 1474 chapel, cloisters, hall and library were built. The charitect was primarily William Orchard, who also designed the famous ceiling of the Divinity School.

Edward IV visited the college in 1481 and was welcomed by Waynflete, who, having been a loyal Lancastrian, asked for and received a royal pardon. Many Yorkist symbols can be found throughout the buildings, including a statue of a rather stern-looking Edward on the college’s front gate.

Inside, under the roof of the pulpit,  there appears to be the Rose en Soleil…but having been painted red (or repainted) , it has become a Tudor Rose, possibly when the famous tall tower was added in the 1490’s. There also appears to be the possible royal coat of arms in the Cloisters, and a number of rose carvings.

There is also another statue of a king (restored, maybe replaced) above the inside gateway into the cloisters–it is not certain who it is. Some have said Henry VI but this seems unlikely given the dates of construction. Some have said it’s another depiction of Edward. It may well  be, but it looks a quite different from the statue  in the gateway, smaller, less stern, with curlier hair. I have always though–why not Richard? And why not? He was here while on his first progress in 1483, and stayed to hear several lectures. There was certainly time to commomorate his stay, and it would not be surprising if any possible added statuary fell out of common knowledge after Bosworth (just as the Silver Boar given to an Cambridge College ended up for many years mislabelled as being  a gift of Richard II!)

The Greatest Knight and Richard III

I have previously posted about my family history connections with Richard III here and I have since found out more interesting links.

One such is William Marshall. Called by some the greatest ever knight, he is one of my direct ancestors and also the direct ancestor of Richard III.

William had an eventful life. He was born in 1146 or 1147 and, as a young boy, he was used as a hostage by King Stephen when William’s father, who was supporting Matilda against Stephen, was besieged by the king in Newbury Castle. William’s father, John, when told that William would be hanged if he didn’t surrender, was reported to have said: “I still have the hammer and the anvil with which to forge still more and better sons!” The King made as if he was going to fire the young William at the castle from a pierrière (a type of trebuchet), but could not bring himself to harm the boy and he survived.

Photo of a Pierrière

Pierrière

Later, he was sent to Normandy to learn the business of becoming a knight, to be brought up in the household of William de Tancarville, a great magnate and cousin of young William’s mother. He was knighted on campaign in Normandy in 1166 and the next year was taken to his first tournament where he found his true calling. In 1168 he was injured in a skirmish and captured, but one of his captors aided him by smuggling  clean bandages (for the wound in his thigh) to him inside a loaf of bread, which may have saved his life. He was ransomed by Eleanor of Aquitaine, remaining a member of her household for the next two years.

A supporter of Young King Henry, son of Henry II, he travelled with him to Europe where they participated in knightly tournaments. From 1176 to 1182 both Marshall and the Young King gained prestige from winning tournaments. These were dangerous, often deadly, staged battles in which money and prizes could be won by capturing and ransoming opponents, their horses and armour. Marshall became a legendary champion in the lists: while on his deathbed, he claimed he had beaten five hundred knights during his tournament career.

Picture of mediaeval jousting

When the Young King died on 11th June 1183, he asked Marshall to fulfill the vow he (the Young King) had made the year before, to go on a crusade to the Holy Land, which William did, returning two years later and vowing to join the Knights Templar on his deathbed.

He rejoined the court of Henry II and aided him when Henry’s son, Richard, rebelled against him. Marshall unhorsed Richard in a skirmish and killed his horse to demonstrate that he could have killed the man. He was said to have been the only one ever to have unhorsed Richard, later to become Richard I, the Lionheart. Richard nevertheless welcomed Marshall to his court, after he became king, knowing his legendary loyalty and military prowess would be useful to him.

Richard fulfilled his father’s promise to Marshall of the hand in marriage and estates of Isabel de Clare and the marriage happened in August 1189, when William was 43 and Isabel just 17. He acquired great wealth and land from the marriage, including the castle of Pembroke, becoming one of the richest men in England. He also became the Earl of Pembroke eventually and the couple had five sons and five daughters.

Marshall was part of the council of regency for Richard while the king was on crusade and later supported King John although there were many fallings out over the years. However, he remained loyal to him despite their differences and was one of the few English earls to remian loyal to John during the first Barons’ War. King John trusted him to ensure the succession of his son, Henry III, and it was Marshall who was responsible for the kings’ funeral and burial at Worcester Cathedral. He was named as protector of the young king Henry III, who was aged nine, and acted as regent for him. He was now about seventy but he still fought for the young king at the head of his army and defeated Prince Louis and the rebel barons at the Battle of Lincoln.

When he realised his health was failing and he was dying in 1219, he called a meeting and appointed the Papal Legate, Pandulf Verraccio, as regent. In fulfillment of his vow, he was invested into the order of the Knights Templar on his deathbed and is buried in the Temple Church in London, where his tomb can still be seen.

Photo of the tomb of William MarshallTomb of William Marshall

During his life he served under five kings and lived a rich and full life. He founded Cartmel Priory and there is a memorial to him there:

Memorial in Cartmel Priory

Through his daughter, Isabel, William is ancestor to both the Bruce and Stewart kings of Scotland. Through his granddaughter Maud de Braose, daughter of his daughter, Eve, William is ancestor to the last Plantagenet kings, Edward IV through Richard III, and all English monarchs from Henry VIII right up to the present day queen. Actually, William is also the ancestor of Richard et al through another, older, daughter, Maud. See the family trees below. I have marked all the descendants of William Marshall with a green dot – you can see that Richard FitzAlan, the father of Lady Alice FitzAlan, was descended from Marshall on both sides.

Family tree of Richard

Family tree of Richard 2

Richard family tree 3

I wonder whether Richard inherited some of his heroic qualities from his illustrious ancestor – what do you think? And do you notice some other things they had in common?

 

 

Picture credits:

Pierrière by Jean-noël Lafargue (Jean-no) (Self-photographed) [FAL], via Wikimedia Commons

Jousting [Copyrighted free use], via Wikimedia Commons

Tomb of William Marshall by Richard Gough (Sepulchral Monuments in Great Britain. Vol 1.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sign at Pembroke Castle by Andrewrabbott (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire’s next door neighbour, has a lot to offer too….

Nottingham Castle

Leicester’s next door neighbour has something to offer too, including a connection with Richard. This is a good article...except for that stupid vertical band that descends through two of the excellent illustrations. If there’s a way of sending it packing, I didn’t find it.

 

Robert S.P. Fripp’s “Power of a Woman”

Eleanor of Aquitaine was the daughter of a provincial Duke in France. Twice she married Kings and had many children, although she outlived most of them and several grandchildren, living into her ninth decade, suffering annulment and internal exile. Two of her sons became King of England and, through John “Sansterre”, she is the ancestress of every subsequent monarch.
In this book, Robert Fripp does for Eleanor what Graves did for Claudius, as she dictates her “memoirs” to a younger secretary. Most of us know much less about Eleanor than we would like and this is our opportunity to make amends.

 

When is a King not a King?

When he is a hereditary head of state under a different title, of course. There are such people around the world today but Britain had them for a few years.

The first was Oliver Cromwell, the great-great-great-nephew of Thomas Cromwell. As he was finalising the execution of Charles I in 1649, he announced that “the office of King is hereby abolished”. Four years later, he accepted the title of Lord Protector and Defender of the Realm, previously only held for three under age Kings by their closest adult male relatives, of whom Richard of Gloucester was one. When Oliver Cromwell died in 1658, he was succeeded by his son Richard, whom he had evidently nominated in advance.

This article reminds us that the three kings named Richard all died of violence or intentional neglect at an early age. Richard Cromwell, although he was only a de facto monarch for about nine months before resigning (abdicating?) but lived on until 1712 when he was eighty-five, spending all but twenty years of his retirement in his own former realm, but his royal connections may not end there. His mother was Elizabeth Bourchier and is likely to be connected to the original noble family by that name, into which Richard’s aunt had married .

THE DOCTOR AT BOSWORTH?

Recently the fannish world was shocked by the announcement that Peter Capaldi would be leaving the role of Doctor Who. Several of us sagely nodded and said that, along with a new Doctor, why not produce an episode which features Richard III, since he has been the ‘king in the news’ these past few years and has a story more interesting than most?  Doctor Who has had over 100 episodes dealing with historical themes and has featured Richard Lionheart, King John and Elizabeth I, amongst others; maybe it is time for Richard to join them (portrayed positively, of course) :

http://www.bbcamerica.com/anglophenia/2012/02/20-historical-figures-who-have-appeared-in-doctor-who

Of course, many have asserted that for the year 2017, maybe it is time to have a female Doctor in the role of the intrepid time traveller from Gallifrey.  A fair few of us may have considering auditioning ourselves (laughter) if they did indeed produce an episode featuring Richard,  but as Viscountess W wisely said,  while the  Doctors have been ‘quirky’, more likely a female Doctor would be chosen for being ‘perky’ (ie under 30 and scantily clad!)

That said, Peter Capaldi has suggested Frances de la Tour as a possible replacement, so maybe the good old ‘quirky’ tradition would be carried on even if the Beeb does decide to cast a  female Doctor Who.

http://epicstream.com/news/Doctor-Who-Star-Peter-Capaldi-Wants-Harry-Potter-Actress-As-His-Replacement

So here’s a pic of prospective Doctor Frances overlooking Bosworth Field….(hint, hint Doctor Who writers!)delatour

Richard wasn’t the only king to die horribly….

death-of-riii

Richard III’s body is brought back to Leicester. Artwork by Victor Ambrus

We all know the grim, but glorious way poor Richard met his death, his body maltreated at the callous behest of Henry Tudor – who was destined to die in his own bed. He isn’t listed in the link below, but his was not an easy death.  

A lot of other monarchs died wretchedly too, as you’ll read – be warned though, Richard is reckoned guilty of all the usual ‘crimes’.  

http://metro.co.uk/2015/03/26/richard-iii-and-13-other-kings-and-queens-who-died-a-grizzly-death-5118520/

 

MEDIEVAL RING FOUND IN SHERWOOD FOREST

Recently, a metal detecting newbie had an amazing find just 20 minutes after beginning to metal detect in Sherwood Forest. He discovered a golden ring, though to be from the 14th century, which may be worth up to £70,000.

The ring, with a heavy golden band and a deep blue rectangular stone, appears to be a man’s, and has an engraved image of  a naked Christ-child and of a ‘female saint’ (the newspaper’s words–I would imagine it is the Virgin Mary.)

The find was not far from the ruins of the Palace of Clipstone, also known as King John’s Hunting Lodge, and is may have fallen from the finger of some dignitary on business at the palace. Many kings and nobles visited Clipstone, including Richard Lionheart in 1194, after his return from captivity and subsequent siege of Nottingham castle, which had been held against him by supporters of John. The King held a great council here, which included many notables including the King of Scotland. If there is any truth to the legend that Robin Hood met Richard, it would probably have been around Clipstone, as the king went hunting on his second day at the palace.

Edward I also convened Parliament in Clipstone, and it was while here that his Queen, Eleanor of Castile, began to show signs of the illness that would kill her a few days later while the royal party was on the road to Lincoln.

By the late 15th century, the palace began to become ruinous, as the king preferred to lodge elsewhere, and by 1525 it was in a very poor, abandoned state.

Sherwood, of course, also had many roads through it  so the ring could have merely been dropped by a passerby. There were also two monasteries right in the heart of the forest, Rufford and  Newstead, and several more on the periphery, as well as several small castles like the little-known Tickhill, all of which would have had visitors arriving from various directions.

Treasure hunter finds medieval ring in Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest

 

ring

THE LOST PRIORY OF AMESBURY

The palatial 17thc mansion called Amesbury Abbey (now a private nursing home) stands in beautiful landscaped gardens near the curve of the Avon and on the edge of the Stonehenge World Heritage Landscape.

The original monastic building from which it takes its name, the Fontrevraudine Priory of Amesbury, is long gone, a victim of Henry VIII’s Reformation—not one stone remains visible above  ground (although rumours abound that a piece of external wall along the perimeter of the property might be medieval.)   However, painted tiles dating between the 12th and 15th C often turn up when the gardeners do the rose-beds, along with fragments of glass and other relevant debris. This has recently led experts to pinpoint the probable position of the vanished priory church, standing slightly north of the present house.

The priory was originally built as a daughter house of Fontrevaud, after the town’s first abbey, founded in Saxon times by Queen Elfrida, was dissolved in 1177. The old Benedictine nuns were sent upon their way (most of them having supposedly lived scandalous lives!) and 21-24 nuns from Fontevraud in France were moved in, along with some English sisters from Worcestershire.

The early Plantagenets, who had a great affinity with Fontevraud, the final resting place of Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Richard I, greatly favoured the Amesbury daughter-house. Eleanor of Aquitaine’s foster daughter, Amiria, decided to take the veil there, and when Eleanor herself died in 1203, the prioress paid a rent from the Exchequer to the Abbess of Fontevrault to have a chaplain pray for Eleanor’s soul.

It was not all about religion. King John had rather secular dealings with the priory in 1215 when the barons were in revolt. He hid part of the royal treasury in the vaults for safekeeping.

In the reign of John’s son, Henry III, the priory seemed to come to renewed prominence. The king visited personally on several occasions and granted  the priory nuts, firewood, wine, and a communion cup.Henry’s son, Edward I kept a close connection  to the priory  and sent his daughter, Mary of Woodstock, to join the order as a young girl. Mary seemed to enjoy travelling and playing cards more than she enjoyed being a nun, however; she ran up huge gambling debts to the tune of £200 while attending her father’s court. The 7th Earl of Surrey, John de Warenne, also claimed to have had an affair with her. Her burial place is not known but it is very likely in Amesbury.

Mary’s cousin, Eleanor of Brittany also became a nun at Amesbury, but eventually she  migrated overseas to the Abbey of Fontrevrault itself, where she rose in the ranks to  become the abbess. There were a few conflicts with her cousin over the years, possibly because she disapproved of Mary’s less than nunly behaviour. Eleanor the Abbess of Fontevrault is not to be confused with an earlier Eleanor of Brittany, who willed her body to Amesbury after dying in a convent in Bristol. That Eleanor was the sister of Arthur of Brittany, most likely murdered by King John, and she was a prisoner for most of her adult life due to her closeness to the crown. Her remains might be in the older abbey (now the  parish church of St Mary and St Melor) rather than in the lost priory, as it was because of St Melor, whose life story mirrored that of her unfortunate brother, that she wished to be interred at Amesbury.

The most famous resident of Amesbury Priory was Henry III’s widow, Queen Eleanor of Provence, who was Mary and Eleanor’s grandmother. She may never have become a fully professed nun and had her own private quarters built for her use. Eleanor was a strong woman, beautiful but not popular with her English subjects, and had at one time been appointed regent of England in her husband’s absence.

Originally, Eleanor had intended to be buried next to Henry III in Westminster Abbey, when the time came. However, a problem arose. The space had been usurped by the body of Eleanor of Castile, wife to her son Edward I, who had predeceased her; so, when Eleanor died in 1291, the nuns were not quite certain what to do with the body. They waited several months for the king to arrive and decide where she would be buried. When he finally reached Amesbury, he allowed his mother to be interred before the high altar in the priory church,  with all due ceremony and many lords attending.

The last great lady of royal blood to reside in Amesbury priory was Isabel of Lancaster, daughter of Henry 3rd Earl of Lancaster. She arrived there in 1327 and ended up as prioress. She was the granddaughter of Edmund Crouchback, hence great granddaughter of Henry III and Eleanor of Provence, showing that family connections were still strong.

The priory does not feature overmuch in records after the late 1300’s, although some of the floor tiles are 15th c. It is possible it fell on hard times during this period. After the death of her husband, Margaret, Lady Hungerford, resided at the priory between 1459 and 1463. While she was there her lodgings burnt down, destroying £1000 of her personal possessions. The nuns asked that she restore the damaged buildings; the cost to her was £20. In 1463 she Margaret left the convent when her son, Robert, 3rd Baron Hungerford, was executed at Newcastle after the Battle of Hexham. The Hungerford lands were seized by Edward IV,  and divided between Richard of Gloucester and Lord Wenlock.

The priory was, naturally, dissolved in the Reformation. In 1540, it was given to Edward Seymour. A year later, the spire of the church was pulled down and the buildings roofs were torn off to take the lead.

Wind and weather soon took their toll and then later building and landscaping obliterated all that was left of this once-great religious house…which was not only a holy place, but the final resting place of a Queen.

Sources: A History of Wiltshire, Vol 3

 

TO BE CONTINUED

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