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Were the Wars of The Roses an Inevitability?

In my spare time I have been reading Henry IV by Chris Given-Wilson. It’s a massive book, full of information, probably the most complete work on Henry since Wylie’s four-volume effort in the 19th Century. Frankly, I’m finding it hard going. Not because it’s a bad book (it isn’t) or because Given-Wilson is a bad writer or a poor historian (the very opposite is true) but because, quite frankly, I find Henry a deeply unsympathetic character, and the more I learn about him the less I like him.

One of the interesting snippets I have picked up from this book is that in the 1390s Henry spent over £400 in legal fees chasing up various land claims that he thought he was entitled to pursue. OK, £400 does not sound much in 2020, maybe a Solicitor’s hourly rate; but in the 1390s 1000 marks (about £667) was the basic annual income qualification for an earldom. An ordinary person would consider themselves well paid on 6d a day (2.5p modern money) or 3 shillings (15p) a (six day) week. A woman working in agriculture was often only paid a third of that. And no one was paid for the numerous religious holidays – for the ordinary person, they were time off without pay. So a good annual income was maybe £4 or £5 at best. Many would have received far less. So £400 was a heck of a lot of money.

Now, you may say, and it’s true, that pursuing legal claims for land (often dubious) was pretty much a national sport for the nobility and gentry of the late middle ages. Look at the Pastons, for example. They were always chasing up some claim or other, or someone was chasing them.

But the Pastons, in the 15th Century, were barely established as gentlefolk. They had recent ancestors who had been actual bondmen. So it’s not surprising their grip on their property was tenuous, and that they had to scrap for every penny. Similarly, it’s not hard to understand some impoverished baron trying to expand his holdings a bit – the value of land was not what it had been before the Black Death and tenants – and even labourers – had that little more edge than they had had previously.

Henry of Bolingbroke, by contrast, was heir to what was undeniably the greatest inheritance ever brought together under one roof. What’s more, he had married a very wealthy heiress. OK, he had had to share the de Bohun inheritance with Uncle Gloucester (how sad!) and his mother-in-law was still alive and inconsiderately drawing her dower, but the lordship of Brecon alone was worth £1,500 a year!

So, to be blunt, Henry was a greedy so-and-so. He was suing his Uncle Gloucester and the Earl of Warwick, and various other people, because he was not satisfied with his enormous slice of the pie.

Here’s the rub – his father, John of Gaunt, was no better, despite being incomparably the richest private individual in England. (By several streets.) Through the 1390s he persuaded Richard II to confer further sweeteners on him. For example, the duchy of Lancaster was given its special status on an hereditary basis, instead of for life. Then there was the little matter of the grant of the Duchy of Aquitaine. (This latter was in part entangled in the very complex peace negotiations with France, but did Gaunt really need another great duchy?)

Richard II was rapidly running out of things to give – England’s resources were strictly limited – but there really is no indication that the Lancaster family would ever have been satisfied.

Some people will say – “Ah, but Richard II was a lousy king.” Well, for a start, he was rather more effective than is often realised. A lot of the negative stuff is pure Lancastrian propaganda, much of it invented after Richard’s deposition. (How familiar!) The reality is though that even a sovereign with the talents of Elizabeth I and Henry II rolled together would have struggled to succeed with a cuckoo in the nest as large as the Lancasters were. Remember the problems Warwick gave Edward IV? Compared to John of Gaunt – and even more to Bolingbroke post-inheritance – Warwick was a mere country squire.

Richard II had to do something about the Henry Problem. If his chosen solution failed, it was because it was, in fact, too generous, too mild, too humane. When their positions were abruptly reversed, Henry made no such mistake. Objectively, one of them was sure to be the death of the other, it was just a matter of time.

That being the case (and the same would have been true had matters gone the other way) there was set up in English politics a turbulence that was always going to cause problems sooner or later. To a point, the impact was seen straightaway. Henry IV’s reign was extremely troubled because many of his subjects simply did not see his kingship as valid. He was not, after all, Richard II’s right heir, and he had obtained his position by illegitimate force. It took him until at least 1405 (maybe 1408) to resolve matters and secure his crown. It was done by painful attrition, and with a bit of luck along the way. But it only really postponed the issue for a generation.

Henry V did his best (at the very start of his reign) to conciliate his father’s remaining enemies – such as were still alive plus their heirs – and to a very large extent this succeeded. He was further helped by his remarkable successes in France, the more or less complete inability of his obvious dynastic rival, the Earl of March, and by the fact that the third Duke of York was still a little boy.

However, it only took the failure of Henry VI’s kingship to bring the dynastic issue back on the table, and then set the whole structure of Lancastrian kingship tumbling down. Could it have been avoided? Probably not, except in a magical world where Henry VI is much more effective as a ruler and finds the cheat button that releases unlimited resources to enable the French war to be won. In the real world, there was not a chance.

 

 

 

Oh where, Oh where, has Chaucer’s “Foul Oak” gone….?

 

 

The Baginton Oak, Warwickshire

According to Project Gutenberg, on 6th September 1390 Geoffrey Chaucer was mugged at a place called the Foul Oak, but not the Baginton Oak. Rather was it on what we now call the Old Kent Road but was originally the Roman Watling Street, leading out of London, on the way to Canterbury and Dover.

“….[Chaucer was] Clerk of the King’s Works at the Palace of Westminster, the Tower of London and various royal manors. In 1390 he was employed to repair St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, and to erect scaffolds at Smithfield for Richard II. and his Queen, Anne of Bohemia, for them to view a great tournament….

“….He was also appointed one of the Commission for the repair of the roadways on the banks of the river between Greenwich and Woolwich. About this time a great misfortune overtook the poet. In the pursuit of his duties,{84} with the King’s money in his purse to pay the workmen, he was robbed by highwaymen twice on the same day. The first time at Westminster of £10, and the second at Hatcham, near the ‘foul oak,’ of £9, 3s. 8d. This was a serious loss, and he was forgiven the amount by writ dated 6th January 1391….”

Well, it’s not actually known if he was robbed more than once; but he certainly was set upon near Hatcham, at a place called the Foul Oak. He was en route from Westminster to Eltham, with funds to pay for something or other – I’m not sure exactly what. He was beaten up, the money, his horses and goods taken. And if the king hadn’t absolved him by accepting his story, he’d have had to pay it all back himself!

Hatcham was a small manor on the Old Kent Road, and has now disappeared, except for a few street names,. As for the mysterious Foul Oak, well, it’s a will-o’-the-wisp! Presumably it was simply a tree, not a disreputable tavern. Whatever, it was frequented by gangs of robbers, an ‘accolade’ that in later years went to nearby Blackheath. The countryside around Hatcham, then little more than a hamlet, was wooded and not exactly highly populated. Ample opportunity for criminals to go about their business.

Medieval Robber Knights attacking a Merchant Caravan during the 12th Century, from.
‘The Illustrated History of the World’ Published by Ward; Lock & Co; 1890

Medieval Robber Knights attacking a Merchant Caravan during the 12th Century. From ‘The Illustrated History of the World’ Published by Ward; Lock & Co; 1890

I’ve looked and looked for an exact site of this famous incident, which was also notorious because in 1384 “…Nicholas Brembre, while in office as mayor of London for one day, snatched 22 people all of whom had been arrested and incarcerated in London’s Newgate prison for various offenses, some accused, some felons, and some chaplains. He took them, their arms bound, in the silence of night by force to a place called Foul Oak in Kent, and without the voice of a judge they were mercilessly allotted a capital sentence, and their blood ran in rivulets from their veins, except for one who escaped alive by means of some barely plausible excuse….” Hard to imagine Sadiq Khan resorting to such violent activities!

from British Library MS Royal 20 C VII f. 203v

Brembre was violent and corrupt, and according to Medievalists.net https://www.medievalists.net/2016/05/the-mayor-of-london-the-first-the-cursed-and-the-worst-mayor-in-londons-history/ “….seemed to have run London like medieval Tony Soprano, and in the end, made more enemies than friends, ultimately leading to his demise….”

The rebuilt Christ Church Greyfriars, by Wren, opposite St Paul’s Cathedral

 

The route Chaucer took was clearly very well trodden, not only by those on their way to Canterbury and Dover, but also to those en route for Eltham Palace. Kings, magnates and their retinues rode that way. It would have been a route well known to Richard III, and all monarchs until Eltham felt out of favour, so why has the Foul Oak disappeared from the records, except in connection with the two incidents described above? We’ve all seen maps with gallows tree clearly marked at crossroads, so why not a place were so many executions had occurred and where robber gangs were known to lurk?

So, if anyone reading this knows more about the Foul Oak and its association with the Father of English Literature, please do comment, because I’ve love to know.

 

Who was old Hick Heavyhead then….?

 

We all know that our royals have had nicknames – Longshanks, Rufus, Crouchback, Good Queen Bess, Prinny and, of course, Tricky Dicky. But HICK HEAVYHEAD????? 😲

And who was it? Richard II. Apparently because he was opposed to war when his barons wanted to swarm over to France and kick seven shades out of the place. Oh, well, I guess Hick Heavyhead meant something truly awful and insulting back in the 14th century….

PS: I found the above reference in an excellent book called Names for Boys & Girls by Charles Johnson and Linwood Sleigh. It was published in 1962, and gives a lot of information about the history of names, and when they came into use etc. It’s a bit dated for today’s babies, but as a writer, I wouldn’t be without it, and have already had to buy a replacement because the first one fell apart! Recommended.

Herne was Richard III’s huntsman….?

from the Royal Collection Trust, Samuel Ireland (1744-1800)
The original oak was blown down in the 19th century and replaced by one donated by
Queen Victoria

Herne and his oak tree seem to have been associated with Windsor Castle Great Park for a very long time. The Sun “….Meanwhile, in the grounds of Windsor Great Park, it has been said you can sometimes spot the ghost of Herne, who was a huntsman for Richard III….”

Really? Methinks the newspaper is mistaken, because Herne goes back a lot farther than Richard III.

Herne the Hunter by Andrew Howat, 1976

Mind you, if you go to ancient pages , it’s only about a century earlier. “….Is there a true story behind the legend of Herne the Hunter? There are several versions of an old tale revealing the faith of Herne, who was a huntsman employed by King Richard II….”

Others will assert that Herne goes no further back than Shakespeare, but then again, maybe he’s the antlered god of the Celts, Cernunnos.

Cernunnos on Gundestrup Cauldron

Whatever the truth, I don’t think Herne was one of Richard III’s huntsman. Although he may have made an appearance to that ill-omened king, of course.

Lancastrians unfairly condemn another King Richard (Part II)….

 

From Part Two described below

This article Lancs Live article is Part Two of a three-part series concerning the history of the House of Lancaster, which we reviewed earlier.

Almost at the beginning (well, three short paragraphs in) I found “…. Edward II whose piety could not make up for his lack of leadership….” Piety? Edward II? Well, he has a posh tomb in Gloucester Cathedral, but otherwise I don’t recall him being particularly pious. In fact, it was one area in which he was conventional!

The article also describes Edward II as Henry’s great-grandfather. No! Edward III was Henry’s grandfather. Guess who was his great-grandfather? Why yes, pious old Edward II!

So this didn’t encourage me to hope that Part Two was going to be an improvement on Part One. How right I was to have reservations.

The first offering in the trilogy had been a complete dissection of “stubborn and narcissistic” Richard II, without anaesthetic. He was everything bad under the sun, and clearly deserved everything he got. However, the angelic Lancastrian usurper, Henry IV, was one big shining halo with wings. No matter that Henry stole the throne and murdered Richard for becoming a terrible tyrant. No, Richard wasn’t a tyrant, nor did Henry invade England in order to regain his father’s inheritance, which nasty Richard had taken from him. That’s simply not true, Richard didn’t do any such thing. And if you disagree with me, I refer you to the excellent Terry Jones, who wrote about it quite brilliantly in his book Who Murdered Chaucer? The proof is there that Henry invaded with the specific purpose of going for the throne – the dutiful, honourable maltreated cousin routine was a load of codswallop.

Small wonder then that “From time to time Henry IV also showed his ruthless side”. Well, shucks, that’s astonishing. And he so chivalric and wonderful. 

Well, the article goes on, and poor Henry dies, worn out by all the rebellions, uprisings and other little trials that a poor hard-done-by usurper is going to have to face. Just ask the execrable Henry VII. Henry IV wasn’t a well man when he died, but he breathed his last in his bed, unlike the unfortunate king he murdered in order to scramble to the throne. Another fact he shares with Henry VII.

Then we had Henry V, of course, who did much to restore faith and respect for the throne. I won’t have a go at him. (But I’m sure I could if I really, really tried…)

The next instalment of this trilogy deals with Henry VI – who was indeed a pious king. To the point of idiocy, from all accounts. The worst king we’ve ever had. Whether I’ll read it is doubtful. If Richard II was put through such a mill, I just hate to think what they’ll do with Richard III. Two Richards, both maligned by history because of the machinations and skulduggery of members of the scheming House of Lancaster.

Would we have liked Chaucer to narrate audio books of his works….?

 

frontispiece to Troilus and Creseyde

There is an increasing appetite these days for audio versions of books. Whether just sitting at home, driving your car, or even out in the garden, listening to a famous actor reading to you, or even the author, is a great pleasure that sometimes beats reading the book for yourself.

Which makes me reconsider the medieval period, especially 14th-century England, when Richard II’s court enjoyed being read to by the likes of Geoffrey Chaucer. We all know the famous illustration above. The usual remarks about the scene are that (a) most of the court probably couldn’t read, or (b) it was just a passing fashion, a chance to be seen where it mattered. Besides, back then no one read silently, they did so aloud. Except in some parts of the Church, I think.

But was it really the done thing to sit around listening to someone reading out loud? Chaucer was probably a brilliant narrator, especially of his own work, and must have been very entertaining indeed. Just like listening to an audio book today, except that you actually saw him in the flesh as well, complete with his nods, winks, knowing smiles and crafty glances. What’s not to like about sitting around giving him your full attention?

I know I’d be among those sitting on the grass looking at and listening to the master!

Geoffrey Chaucer

 

What really happened in 1385, when the Earl of Stafford’s son and heir was killed on a Yorkshire road…?

from Shutterstock

On Sunday, 16th July 1385 (maybe 18th) there was an incident at Bustardthorpe, which is south of York on the road to Bishopthorpe, where King Richard II was staying at the (arch)bishop’s palace. A large portion of his army and nobles were encamped close by because the English were en route for Scotland, intending to sort out (or try to!) those pesky folk beyond Hadrian’s Wall. The English encampments were spread across the fields south of York.

From Roman du Roy Meliadus de Leonnoys, c. 1360, British Library

 

Bishopthorpe Palace on the Ouse, where Richard II was staying

Richard II’s half-brother, Sir John Holand (aged thirty-three or so, his actual date of birth isn’t known for certain) was camped with his portion of the English forces at a place called Catton, six miles east of York across the Ouse (and across the Derwent) from Bishopthorpe. On 18th July he was responsible for the brutal death of 18-year-old Ralph Stafford, son and heir of the Earl of Stafford (whose actual birthdate isn’t known either). Many call it murder, but it’s always sounded more like manslaughter to me, something done in the heat of a violent quarrel. This notorious incident almost brought the king’s expedition against the Scots to an end before it began.

Old OS Map showing Catton, top right, where John Holand had camped. At mid-left is Bustardthorpe, where Ralph Stafford was killed, and at bottom left is Bishopthorpe, where the king and most of the army was encamped.

According to my research, two of Holand’s men (supposedly his favourite squires) were murdered by two of the Earl of Stafford’s men (or variations of this theme) and maybe a foreign knight was involved as well. Some say the initial murders took place at Beverley Minster, where the earl’s men promptly took sanctuary. What did or didn’t happen at Beverley is really beside the point, because Holand’s knee-jerk reaction—he had a very short fuse—culminated in the sword-thrust that put an end to the earl’s son and heir.

Beverley Minster from Crump’s Timberyard

When Holand learned of his esquires’ murders, he fell into a red rage, and set off to seek vengeance. He took around ten of his men, probably all armed, and he himself was certainly armed, for he had the fateful sword with him. If the murder had been at Beverley, that wasn’t the direction he took. Instead of going south-east, he went west for the area of York, Bustardthorpe and Bishopthorpe on the west/opposite bank of the River Ouse.

Bishopthorpe Palace bottom left, showing flat land on both sides of the Ouse

Maybe he knew that the Earl of Stafford’s camp was close to the king? And maybe, to be fair to him, his initial purpose was to seek redress from his half-brother, King Richard II. He wanted the earl to pay dearly for his men’s misdemeanors. If this was his intention, the audience didn’t cool his fury, which was still raging afterward, when he encountered Ralph at Bustardthorpe.

Whether he went first to the king and was on his way back toward York, or was still on his way to the king from York, halfway along the road, at Bustardthorpe, he apparently didn’t at first recognise Ralph, yet he must have known the young man well. Ralph had been in Richard II’s household since childhood, and had always been around at court. Holand was older, of course, so he’d certainly have witnessed Ralph growing up alongside the king. Maybe the encounter at Bustardthorpe took place in the dark? Maybe there was a mist from the Ouse? Whatever, there was a violent set-to-which must have included an argument of some sort. Maybe Ralph even sneered that Holand’s men had deserved what they got? Whatever, it ended with Holand drawing his sword and running Stafford through.

I doubt very much if either man was in armour or even helmet, so the main illustration above gives a false impression. It’s much more likely that both were dressed a little like this photograph below, of James Purefoy as Mowbray, from the Richard II episode of The Hollow Crown, and therefore the same period as the incident in 1385.

It’s always possible, of course, that the two men didn’t like each other anyway, which would add an extra edge to the confrontation. One wrong word from Ralph would ignite Holand’s already smouldering blue touchpaper, and that would be that. Afterward, when his alarmed men told him who he’d just killed, Holand is reported to have said he’d rather have killed the earl’s firstborn son than any number of the earl’s men, because it was fitting recompense for the loss of his favourite squires. Then, like the Earl of Stafford’s men before him, he too fled for Beverley Minster’s sanctuary, thirty or so miles away to the south-east.

The Killingwoldgraves Cross beside the York road (A1174) Wikimedia Commons

Ralph was buried temporarily at Blackfriars in York, and Richard II attended the funeral. Then Ralph’s remains were removed to King’s Langley Dominican Priory. His father went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem shortly afterward, but died at Rhodes before reaching his destination.

The only thing we can be sure of in this whole sorry affair is that Sir John Holand did indeed kill Ralph, and did indeed haul his guilty hide to Beverley. His actual words in the heat of the moment of killing Ralph can never be known. I have to concede though, that given what I’ve gleaned about Holand’s temperament, it wouldn’t surprise me if the sentiments reported were accurate.

Right then, now you have the bare bones of the matter. The impression is always given that Holand heard what had happened in Beverley, leapt on to his horse, dashed to seek revenge, bumped into Stafford, killed him and that was that. All virtually in the blink of an eye. But his actual route from Catton to Bustardthorpe had to be more involved.

Catton, from Old OS Map

Catton is on the east bank of the Derwent. The nearest bridge—wooden with stone piers—is a mile or so upstream at Stamford Bridge. This was once the tidal reach of the Derwent, and was originally a ford, where Roman roads converged. I understand that the name Stamford originates from “stone-paved ford”.

The 1727 bridge at Stamford Bridge, from Britain Express

But now I’ve discovered that according to the Petworth House Archives “…Catton village stands along a single street roughly parallel with the Derwent. From its northern end a lane runs towards the river and the church. On the other side of the manor-house site Wath Lane formerly led to the river bank where there was once a ford…”

Google aerial view showing Wath Lane leading to the Derwent

So Catton had a ford too! This means that if Holand’s camp was on the Catton village side of the river, he could simply have ridden across the ford and then on toward the Ouse. Or maybe his encampment was already in the meadows to the west. Whatever, we can discount the Derwent as being a hurdle. All he had to do was cross it on horseback, ride like the wind the six miles or so over the flat land to the Ouse. Now, to cross the Ouse by a bridge, he’d have to go to the old stone bridge in York, then south on to the road to Bustardthorpe and Bishopthorpe.

The six-arched masonry bridge of c.1155, as it was in 1564. From https://ffhyork.weebly.com/uploads/8/2/0/5/8205739

Well, it’s perfectly possible that this was the route Holand chose, but it involved two sides of a triangle, whereas the crow flew along only one side. Rivers can be forded (he’d already forded the Derwent) and maybe the Ouse could be too, when the conditions were right, of course. Even the mighty Severn Estuary was once forded by a man who walked chest-high in the water. Completely nuts! But it goes to show that if a large, rather wild estuary, with the second highest tidal reach in the world, can be forded at the right time by a single man, on foot, then surely the Ouse could be too? The weather of 1385 was perhaps helpful in this respect. According to my research, January and February were unusually wet, February to July was unusually warm, and June to July was unusually dry.

The Harvesters, 1565 – Pieter Bruegel the Elder 

One source states quite specifically that the summer of that year was “one of excessive heat from May to 5th September (the Nativity of the Virgin)”. I imagine the heavens must have really opened on 5th September for a note to be made of it!

Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Fall of Princes
taken from https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2014/01/i-cant-stand-the-rain.html

If the summer was indeed warm and dry, it would mean that the Ouse was probably lower than usual too, and perhaps it was known among the locals that the Ouse could be ridden across quite easily in various places in such conditions. I rather think this would appeal to Holand, who was impatient to seek redress. He was hot-tempered and justifiably so in this case. His men had been killed, and he wasn’t about to take it lying down! He was nothing if not loyal to his men and would want to make a beeline to complain to the Earl of Stafford, not a tiresome meander around the countryside.

But I don’t even really know if I have the right Catton, only the nearest one that I can find. Yorkshire isn’t a county I’m well acquainted with (a weekend stay at Leyburn in 1959 is my limit!) I even managed to confuse myself today by muddling this Catton with another one on the banks of the River Swale, further north. A friend has now told me there are Cattons all over the county – well, not all that liberally, of course, but certainly more than just the two I’ve mentioned. Someone else has suggested that Catton might actually be a medieval contraction of Catterton, which is some five miles or so west of Bishopthorpe. Maybe it is.

What would really make my day would be for some long-forgotten Catton to be in the close vicinity of Bishopthorpe and on the same western bank of the Ouse. After all, Bustardthorpe has now virtually disappeared. On Google Maps it’s only detectable by some allotments that bear its name. To see a realy interesting zoomable view of the allotments, go to https://www.flickr.com/photos/davidhopley/26438359595. There used to be a cross at Bustardthorpe, paid for by Holand, saying that it was the place of Stafford’s violent death, but the cross too has gone. (BTW, does anyone know what happened to it? It was once important regarding marking the boundary of Micklegate) The cross is recorded as follows: “…In the early eighteenth century this cross, quaintly described as the ‘Staffherd’ Cross, still helped to mark the boundary of Micklegate Ward. Though the cross has disappeared, it is possible to locate its original site reasonably accurately. From Skaife, ‘Extracts from the House Books of the Corporation of York’, p.  448; Royal Commission, South-West of the Ouse, p. 118…” The Stafford Cross is mentioned in the text.

Bustardthorpe Entry in English Place Name Society vols for the West Riding (Vol 33 p229) 
Showing Bustard Lane marked in red – from https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/yorks/city-of-york/pp311-321

In the aftermath of Ralph’s death, Richard II promised the outraged Earl of Stafford that he’d punish Holand as if he were a common felon, but then time went on a little, Holand returned to court, did penance, paid for a memorial cross at the place of Ralph’s death, endowed a chantry for Ralph’s soul and so on. But he went on to become Earl of Huntingdon, marry John of Gaunt’s daughter, be raised to Duke of Exeter. Then he was reduced to Huntingdon again by his brother-in-law Henry IV, against whom he then took part in the Epiphany Rising of 1399, intending to restore Richard II to the throne. Holand fled when the rebellion failed, was captured on the storm-swept coast of Essex, hauled off to Pleshey Castle and summarily executed, watched by the late Earl of Arundel’s sister and son. Holand had witnessed the late Earl of Arundel’s execution, and had also been present at Pleshey when the king’s uncle, Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, had been arrested (to be done away with shortly afterwards in Calais). So for John Holand it was time to pay the ultimate price.

Pleshey Castle reconstruction

He was a passionate man who led a fiery life, and history condemns him as a violent murderer of little worth, but he was of considerable consequence, and possessed of a fatal charm. One of the top jousters of the day, he could be guaranteed to not only win but provide a theatrical display second to none, and the ladies certainly liked him. He was never boring, and he’s a major character in my wip (which threatens to go on forever, and I’m more than content to let it do so!) I certainly don’t see him in quite the same light as all the historians. Ah, but then I see Richard III in his true light as well.

We all have our favourites, and John Holand, sinner or not, is one of mine.

Joust of Betanzos in 1387 between Reginald de Roye and John Holland, which took place in Spain before John of Gaunt; illustration from Jean Froissart’s Chroniques
From Wiki Commons

Late 1400’s portrayal of a joust between John Holland and Regnault de Roye in 1386-7 Jean Wavrin, Chronique d’ Angleterre; BM, MS Royal 14 Ed. IV, f. 293v.

PS: I wish to thank the many members of the British Medieval History group for their help regarding the Yorkshire locations in this article.

The Central Line Consort?

Kathryn Warner has been Edward II’s main chronicler for a few years now, writing about the King himself, his times, his great-grandson Richard II, several other relatives the roots of the “Wars of the Roses”. This book is about Edward’s daughter-in-law, although he tried a little to prevent his eldest son’s marriage during his own reign and apparent lifespan.

However, Edward III did marry Philippa of Hainault and the marriage lasted for over forty years, during which time they had twelve children. Edward and their sons, particularly their eldest Edward the “Black Prince“, played a full part in victories at Crecy and Neville’s Cross. In a parallel with Richard III and his siblings, a thirteenth child, one “Thomas of Windsor”, has been added by modern writers serving as posthumous surrogate mothers, although not the same writer who gave Richard an elder sister, “Joan”, and added an “Edward” to Mary de Bohun’s sextet of children by the future Henry IV.

This is one of the relative few biographies I have purchased of a royal woman and feels very much like another one in particular. The first chapter, just like Ashdown-Hill’s best tome, explores the subject’s family in great detail but, unlike Eleanor and Paul Johnson’s Elizabeth I, Philippa of Hainault becomes pregnant regularly and has children, their ages are regularly mentioned and she, with Edward, formulates marriage plans for them, not all of which come to fruition.

This is a fascinating book, delineating a veritable matriach. As for our subtitle, peruse the above map. Hainault is on the eastern loop of the Central line, near Newbury Park. Elephant and Castle, on the Northern Line and near the Thames, is reputedly named after Edward II’s mother, although probably in error.

Lancastrians unfairly condemn another King Richard….

 

taken from the article referred to below

The article that prompts this post is the first of three concerning the history of the House of Lancaster. There are some sweeping statements that are eminently challengeable, but then it’s Lancastrian about Lancastrians, so bias is bound to be present.

The first Lancastrian monarch usurped the throne of his first cousin, Richard II, whom he then had murdered, and he had to justify this dreadful act for the rest of his life. There was, of course, a later Henry (VII) who represented the House of Lancaster and killed the incumbent king, Richard III by treachery in battle. So Lancastrian Henrys seemed to specialise in taking thrones by ridding themselves of the Richards who were already the anointed kings. Biased? Moi? Well, it goes with the territory if you happen to support the other side.

The article claims that Richard II and his cousin, Henry (to be IV) formed a “strong bond” as boys. Well, they were first cousins, but I don’t think they were ever that close. Henry was forever being held up as a shining example of manly strengths and virtues etc, whereas Richard was “…pampered…the coming saviour…compared himself to Christ…had a mean streak…[and] ever inflating ego”. Furthermore “…whilst Richard swanned about court with his young councillors pandering too him, Henry Bolingbroke was fighting in tournaments, learning the art of war, building his prestige”.

Right, well that’s Richard neatly encapsulated as a self-centred weirdo par excellence!

Apparently “Within four years of his reign thousands of angry peasants, led by the rebel leader Wat Tyler, stormed London.” This was Richard’s fault? No, he was a boy of fourteen, it was the magnates and royal advisers who were in charge. Especially Henry’s father, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, who was loathed across the land. But mustn’t mentioned that.

Anyway, this is a flavour of the article, which goes on to rip Richard apart while raising Henry on an ever higher pedestal. Like Richard III, Richard II is almost always bad-mouthed by historians, but I don’t think he was the dangerous, tyrannical prat he’s made out to be. On the contrary, there was far more to him than meets the casual eye, and his motives have been misunderstood. He tried hard to change the status quo in England, but in the end he failed. And he deserves better than this pro-Lancastrian article.

One thing. A typo, I trust. “Henry was popular, a military leader and willing to listen to the ascent of parliament, he was everything Richard wasn’t.” One wonders exactly how high Parliament ascended….

 

 

Medieval food that looks awful but apparently tastes divine…!

 

Well, we know that the people of the medieval period loved their colours. The brighter the better, it seems. But, it also seems that this liking didn’t extend to their food. I found this wonderful article on the British Medieval History Facebook group, and just had to share it here.

However, it has to be said that the dishes mentioned (and illustrated, see above and below) were rather…ugh! when actually on the plate. Not the fault of the cook. Oh, no. It was just impossible to make these things look even vaguely appetising. Not even for a monarch as picky as King Richard II, from whose book of recipes—Forme of Cury—they have been taken. I mean, the gruel in the illustration looks like, well, a pile of sick. The mounchelet below looks even worse. All both lack are the proverbial bits of carrot, which we always seem to find in such deposits.

But, in this instance appearances are very deceptive, and the dish itself is apparently delicious. Hard to imagine when the article also contains a comment that some things are probably better eaten by candlelight! Looking at it, I have to agree, but reading the recipe and so on, I’m more than prepared to believe it tasted delicious. Mind you, vegetarians and vegans won’t agree!

Anyway, do read the article, and if you attempt to produce the same dishes…bon appetit!

Mounchelet, served with, bottom right, ultra-colourful carrot purée. The creamy mash is hidden, but was delicious, too. Picture by Christopher Monk © 2020.

 

 

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