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Medieval kings needed their queens emotionally and physically….

Royal 6.E.vi, f. 375 detail

We are always being told that medieval aristocratic marriages (and indeed most medieval marriages) were arranged and did not feature love. The object was to increase property and lands, enhance a family’s reputation and produce as many heirs as was humanly possible. I pity those women who had a child a year throughout their married life. No modern medicine should anything go wrong, just a sad demise and a husband immediately seeking a replacement.

medieval-childbed

Was it like that? Looking at records you’d certainly think so, yet there are some very famous examples of kings and magnates who fell apart when they lost their queens. I have chosen three  such men, Richard II, George of Clarence and Henry VII . Their marriages were dynastic, or at least arranged for profit, yet the brides seemed to have won these men’s hearts and dependence.

richard-ii-and-anne

Anne of Bohemia wasn’t much of a catch as far as Richard II was concerned, but he chose her over a much wealthier Visconti bride who would have brought a huge dowry and a lot of influence in Italy. Anne, on the other hand, had to be purchased from her brother! She was not a popular choice in England, but by choosing her, it’s almost as if Richard sensed she was the one for him. Yes, a fanciful notion on my part, but the pair were happy together, seemingly from the outset, and when she died he tore down the palace where she had breathed her last. It’s said he would not go anywhere he had been with her, although I think that is probably a myth. He could hardly refuse to go into Westminster Abbey, for instance.

Richard’s interests were in the arts, not warfare, and throughout his life, from being a boy king, he was surrounded my warlike barons and grasping uncles. He was, as the old song goes, “a lonely little petunia in an onion patch”. And those onions were big and generally hostile.

petunia-onion-patch

English history would have been very different if Anne had given him heirs. He certainly crumbled when she died suddenly, descending into a state that is always referred to as a tyranny. The petunia grew gigantic and poisonous, developed thorns and began to weed out the onions, spreading itself swiftly into their vacated places. But Richard went too far. His word was never to be trusted and he made some unbelievably bad decisions, so that he eventually lost his kingdom to his cousin, who became the first Lancastrian king, Henry IV. Had Anne’s gentle influence kept Richard in check? I would guess so. Without her, he went haywire.

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I would also guess that Isabel Neville had the same soothing effect on George of Clarence, whose notoriously unpredictable and rash temperament eventually led to his death in the Tower, branded a traitor by his brother, Edward IV. The legend of George being drowned in a butt of malmsey may be just a legend, or it might be founded in truth. Did George have a drink problem?

He was certainly a very unhappy man, the middle brother, angry and resentful…and maybe possessed of the knowledge that his elder brother’s marriage was bigamous. That would make George the next trueborn heir to the throne. But the truth never came out, and although he’d misbehaved considerably before Isabel’s death in childbed, he certainly imploded when she was no longer there.

He had married her to get at the enormous inheritance of her father, the Earl of Warwick (whom he also hoped would help him to the throne) but Isabel proved to be good for him. Maybe you will not agree with my assessment of George, but the fact remains that he was never the same again after losing her.

henry-vii-and-elizabeth-of-york

Finally there is Henry VII. He was obliged to marry Elizabeth of York. He’d made a vow before invading England that he would unite the warring houses of York and Lancaster through marriage, and once treachery had made him king, he resented the thought of having a Yorkist bride forced upon him. He delayed as long as he could, until he was told to get on with it. So they were married. What that wedding night was like we will never know, because he was a resentful groom, and she was probably an equally resentful bride. But a son and heir was born eight months later, so they didn’t lie back to back until the morning.

Like Richard II and George of Clarence before him, Henry came to rely on Elizabeth’s gentle influence, and their marriage was certainly successful. She wasn’t the first lady of his realm, his mother had that honour, but Elizabeth was the one who shared his bed…and perhaps his confidences. The one with whom he could relax and enjoy a little welcome privacy.

When she died, he went to pieces. He shut himself away for weeks on end, broken with grief. He was never an easy man, but she had won his heart and his trust, and now he had lost her. The Henry who emerged from hiding was not the same man. All the worst aspects of his character, seemingly held in check when Elizabeth was there for him, now came to the fore with a vengeance. He was cruel, rapacious, spiteful, grasping and hated, and the populace believed he had nothing more on his mind than planning how to screw more money out of them. The royal coffers bulged. The illustration below is probably not far from the truth. He and his notorious henchmen, Empson and Dudley, putting their heads together in some new royal skulduggery or other.

king-henry-vii-of-england-with-sir-richard-empson-and-edmund-dudley-from-the-national-and

Very few mourned Henry when he finally passed away, leaving England in the tender clutches of his son and heir, Henry VIII, from whom all women should have been immunised!

Now, I do not deny that there were love matches in the medieval period—of course there were—but I do not think they were the majority. Most marriages were a case of gradual respect, affection, and if they were lucky, of love itself. I believe Richard II, George of Clarence and Henry VII loved their wives, and once those ladies had gone, the inner demons took over.

 

Why did lovers come to celebrate St Valentine’s Day….?

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How did St Valentine become the patron saint of lovers? The answer to that is the stuff of legends. One story has it that he was a peaceful man, as well as a great peacemaker, and while tending the roses in his garden, he heard a couple quarrelling violently. He cut a rose and went to mediate between them. When he gave them the rose, their love for each other returned.

lupercalia2

Another story is that he was chosen to be the patron saint of lovers because his day is close to the pagan feast of Lupercalia, a Roman festival of fertility. One thing is certain, by the time of Richard III, the giving of loving kisses and gifts was in full swing.

chaucer-reading

Ford Madox Brown, 1845-1851

I think we should credit Geoffrey Chaucer with a large part in the promoting 14th February as ‘St Valentine’s Day’ as the ‘day of love’. There is a widespread tradition that on St Valentine’s Day all the birds chose their mates. “…for this was on St Valentine’s Day, when every fowl cometh there to choose his mate.”

parliament-of-birds_de-hamelton

The Parliament of Birds by Carl Wilhelm de Hamilton (1668-1754)

Chaucer wrote a poem to celebrate the occasion, and called it ‘The Parlement of Foules’, or ‘Parliament of Fowls’. It was meant to be read out on St Valentine’s Day, and is believed to date from the year fifteen-year-old Richard II married Anne of Bohemia, also fifteen. Maybe it was written for the royal couple.

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The illustration above is of Richard and Anne’s coronation – he seems a little old for fifteen!

dante-gabriel-rosetti-as-chaucer-reading-a-book

Dante Gabriel Rossetti as Geoffrey Chaucer reading.

Whatever the truth, Chaucer created a symbol of spring love, with birds singing and twittering joyfully. Quarrelling too, with the royal and aristocratic birds of prey lording it over lesser birds. A full translation can be read at http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/English/Fowls.htm

danish-love-poems

Danish love poems for Valentine’s Day

To know how medieval lovers celebrated St Valentine’s Day, look at http://uk.businessinsider.com/medieval-valentines-day-celebrations-2016-2?r=US&IR=T.

court-of-love

And to learn of ten great royal romances of the medieval period, try https://e-royalty.com/articles/the-ten-great-medieval-royal-romances/

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Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville

The oldest existing medieval Valentine love letter, from teenaged Margery Brews to John Paston, is revealed at http://www.historytoday.com/rachel-moss/medieval-valentine (and it is included in a very informative and interesting article about medieval Valentines by Professor Sarah Peverley at https://sarahpeverley.com/tag/medieval-valentine/

pastonletter-wl

And finally, if you fancy something light-hearted and a little silly, go to https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/?s=right+royal

a-right-romantic-royal-reunion

 

Bloody tales of the Tower….

bloody-tales-of-the-tower

I have only just found the series Bloody Tales of the Tower, previously on National Geographic and now on Channel 5 (http://www.channel5.com/show/bloody-tales-of-the-tower and http://www.natgeotv.com/za/bloody-tales-of-the-tower), and have to say that I enjoyed it very much. The presenters, Suzannah Lipscomb and Joe Crowley, are at ease in their roles and with each other, and do not adopt a patronising, superior attitude, as some do. Suzannah is a Tudor historian, and very sensible with it.

There is a good format of setting the scene and then dividing the tasks in two, then going their separate ways until coming together again toward the end, to weave their discoveries together. Suzannah leads us effortlessly through the story itself and the sources, while Joe discovers how things worked, who did them, what they looked like and so on. It may sound as if it’s aimed at teenagers tops, but it isn’t. I’m no teenager, and it was fine by me.

The most innovative series/presenter at the moment has to be Lucy Worsley, who dresses in costume and blends effortlessly into the docudramas she talks about. She is marvellous. Although a Tudor historian, she didn’t gild the Tudors. There were no controversial remarks for the sake of it. She said it how it was. It was all very natural and flowing. Good informative entertainment. As for all the other presenters of television history documentaries, mostly posing males who think more of their own vanity than their subject matter, they would do well to learn a few lessons from Worsley, Lipscomb and Crowley.

Bloody Tales of the Tower told its stories in compelling docudramas, sometimes set in the very spots where it all happened. Sometimes rather grisly! There are three episodes, Royals on the Block, Death to Traitors and Deadly Love, and each contains three separate stories from various centuries.

In episode one, Royals on the Block, the royals in question are James, Duke of Monmouth, Simon of Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor, and Lady Jane Grey, who was, of course, Queen Jane. I’m not sure how the archbishop is included, unless it is the implication that Richard II’s life should have been forfeit, not Sudbury’s!

James, Duke of Monmouth, was something of a 17th-century superstar and the people’s favourite, but he rebelled against his uncle, James II, because he believed the throne should have been his, even though he was illegitimate. Such was his fame and popularity, that for the huge crowds gathered for his beheading on Tower Green (the programme drew a likeness between his execution and the Wembley Cup Final for crowd-pulling power). There followed a butchering by one Jack Ketch, who was a hangman but not a competent wielder of an axe. Monmouth’s head was finally severed with a knife! Ketch later blamed Monmouth for not presenting his head properly.

Simon of Sudbury was Richard II’s Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor, and when the Peasants’ Revolt began in 1381, he was the object of the mob’s hatred because of all the taxes and unfair laws over which he had presided. He, the king and the court took refuge in the Tower, which was impregnable. Nevertheless the mob got inside and Sudbury (whose head is still preserved) was torn to pieces. How did they get in? Well, Richard II gave the order to let them through all the gates. Richard consigned the old man to his death. A lamb to the slaughter.

The last story in Royals on the Block was that of Lady Jane Grey, another lamb to the slaughter. She was only sixteen, but her cousin, Bloody Mary, sent her to the block. Mary went on to earn the soubriquet Bloody Mary, so I imagined there were soon many in the realm who wished they hadn’t risen to support her against Jane. Oh, well, it’s always easy to be wise after the event. It was pointed out that Lady Jane should be referred to as Queen Jane, because although she did not have a coronation, she was, nevertheless, the queen. Just as was Edward V (cue picture of the urn) and, more recently, Edward VIII. They are always referred to as kings, so why not Jane as queen?

The second part of the trilogy is called Death to Traitors, and covered the tales of Father John Gerard, who survived secretly in Elizabeth I’s Protestant England. He escaped from the Tower and lived to his 70s on the Continent. He wrote his story, which is how we know so much about his escape. (One oddity I noticed during this story was the careful use of white gloves to examine an old copy of Gerard’s story, yet earlier I noticed there were no gloves at all for poking around in a beautifully illustrated copy of Walsingham! Isn’t there a rule on this sort of thing?)

Next we went to Guy Fawkes, whose story was related with overtones of modern terrorism. The blowing up of King James and Parliament was an intended spectacular which would see Catholics triumph over Protestants. We all know it failed—some nasty Protestant informer!—and Guy was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Not a pleasant way to go, but he confounded everyone by managing to fling himself from a ladder and break his neck, so he was dead before they even hanged him, let alone the drawing and quartering. The senior member of the conspiracy were eventually cornered in a country house (they included one Catesby, a descendant of Richard III’s Catesby) and went out in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid style by rushing out into a hail of musket fire.

The third story in Death to Traitors was that of Josef Jacobs, a German spy in World War II. Yes, the last person to be executed in the Tower was in 1941. He was parachuted into England, injured and captured.  As he was a military officer, the sentence was death by shooting at the Tower. There he was duly despatched. There was part of this story that seemed to throw all sympathy on Jacobs, a family man who left a wife and children behind. His final letter to them was produced, and his Canadian granddaughter was there with the presenter at his graveside. Yes, the story had a very human side, but should it not have been said that if a British man had been captured in similar circumstances in Germany, he would have suffered the same fate? A spy in wartime is a spy in wartime.

Deadly Love, the final episode of this first series is entitled Deadly Love, and covers the deaths in the Tower of three famous women, Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Arbella Stuart. The first two ladies are very well known, of course, and the only thing I would pick out particularly where Anne was concerned was the portrayal of her supposed lover, Mark Smeaton. It seems that he paid the price of arousing jealousy and resentment among his “betters”. He was lowborn, talented and handsome, and had risen very high very quickly. Anne’s fall from grace was a useful way to get rid of him too.

Catherine Howard was young, and yes she was probably a puppet, but she was also very silly. How could anyone think of trying to deceive a bloodthirsty old monster like Henry VIII? Had she never heard of Anne Boleyn? I am afraid she doesn’t earn my sympathy – I feel more for Lady Jane Grey than I do for Catherine.

The story of Arbella Stuart was the most interesting for me, and what a very sad tale it was, especially as although her marriage to William Seymour, 2nd Duke of Somerset, was dynastic at first, I think it soon became a matter of love. But any children would have presented a great threat to the security of James I, the first Stuart king, so Arbella and William were arrested. She was held under house arrest in Barnet, while he was imprisoned in the Tower. By means of an intricate but successful plot involving exchanging clothes with his barber, William managed to escape. Arbella, dressed as a man also escaped and they arranged to meet at Blackwall. They never did. She took to the sea alone, afraid he was not coming, and he arrived too late, two hours later. He escaped to Calais, but she was captured. No Barnet for her this time, it was the Tower, under much stricter conditions than had applied to William.

She gradually succumbed to ill health (maybe porphyria)—or perhaps lost the will to live—and died a few years later. Her death rendered William harmless to James, so he was permitted to return to England. He eventually married again and lived another fifty years. A tragic love story.

An excellent series, and I hope there is another. Bloody Tales of the Tower is well worth watching.

What goes around, comes around….

sir-john-holand-tournament

In January 1400, after the failure of the Epiphany Rising that was intended to remove Henry IV from the throne and restore Richard II, John Holand, Earl of Huntingdon, the younger of Richard’s half-brothers, fled from London. The weather was foul, and time and again his vessel was driven ashore. Eventually he gave up, and took to the land again in Essex. To shorten the story, he was captured and summarily beheaded by his enemies at Pleshey.

As I’ve said, Holand was Richard II’s half-brother, but he was also Henry IV’s brother-in-law. He chose to stand by his blood kinsman, and it cost him his life. Holand was not an angel, but he was a renowned tournament knight, a great showman in the lists, and always put on a star-quality performance. Other knights on the famous tournament ‘circuit’ knew he was a force to be reckoned with. He always delivered the goods as far as his audience was concerned, and must have been quite something to watch, so how very sad the shabby fate he was to meet that New Year in Essex.

The thing is…what is the January weather like in Essex today? Well, Holand might have recognised it, what with high winds, floods, storm surge warnings and the like. It seems that all these centuries later, when it comes to weather, nothing much has changed in that neck of the woods. It was vulnerable then, and still is.

The miracle witnessed by Edward IV….

An anonymous Yorkist supporter wrote an account describing Edward IV’s march through England in the spring of 1471, when he came to reclaim his throne from the Lancastrian Henry VI.

On 7th April, Palm Sunday, Edward heard mass in the parish church at Daventry, and during the service a miracle occurred, witnessed by everyone present. At that time it was the rule to ‘shut, close and cover’ all images in churches, from Ash Wednesday to the morning of Easter Sunday, and this had indeed been done at Daventry. Imagine the shock when suddenly there was a loud crack from the covering around an image of St Anne, Mother of Mary, and the shutters opened a little, before closing again. No human hand had touched the covering, nor did it when the shutters were flung open again, and remained open, the image inside exposed to all eyes. All present fell to their knees.

King Edward, throughout his exile, had prayed for help to to God, Our Lady, St George…and especially to St Anne. As may be imagined, he took this event as a miracle, and a sign that his bid to retrieve his throne had support on high. He could not fail in his quest to rule England again. Not long afterwards he won the decisive Battle of Barnet.

Needless to say, the Lancastrian accounts of Edward’s return do not mention the miracle, but to the Yorkists the saint’s intervention pointed to Edward as the rightful successor to Richard II’s line. Specifically through Philippa of Clarence, who was desended from a senior Plantagenet line to that of the Lancastrians. Edward was therefore a member of the de jure lineage of kings, unlike that of the Lancastrian monarchs who were kings de facto but not de jure because of Henry IV’s intrusion and usurpation. St Anne had shown her favour to the Yorkist claim. Word of the miracle was soon spreading, aided no doubt by a little subtle assistance from Edward’s supporters.

If you wish to read more detail and explanation of the Yorkist resort to female sanctity and symbolism upon which to base their claim to the throne, see:-

“Spiritual Economies: Female Monasticism in Later Medieval England” by Nancy Bradley Warren.

Relevant excerpts are online at http://tinyurl.com/j2pffxr. The book itself can be purchased at Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/jsnj79u

Beads of gold with buckles….?

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Thomas Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, KG, from the Bruges Garter Book, 1430/1440, BL Stowe 594.

This started out as my first crie de coeur of 2017, and things did not bode well from the outset because I muddled my Thomas Beauchamps. Father and son, both Earls of Warwick, but it turns out to be the father I must refer to, not the son. As I now know thanks to the kind help of Susan Troxell.

Thomas Beauchamp, 11th Earl of Warwick is perhaps most famous to the layman because of his portrait as a Knight of the Garter. It is not a true likeness, of course, because this renowned sequence of drawings dates from the 15th century. His real appearance is a mystery, but we do know he was very close to King Edward III, and served loyally during the Hundred Years War.

My quest concerning him arose because I was puzzled by a passage on page 1 of Goodman’s The Loyal Conspiracy: The Lords Appellant under Richard II:-

“…In 1369 Earl Thomas bequeathed ‘an ouche [clasp/brooch], called the eagle, which the Prince [Black Prince] gave me…” and then “…a set of beads of gold with buckles which the Queen [Philippa] gave me…”

The eagle clasp/brooch I can picture, but not the set of beads of gold with buckles. I sought help from my friends on Facebook, and among the many who replied (thank you to them all) was Susan, who (with her husband) not only realized I was chasing the wrong earl (that’s me all over, I just can’t leave earls alone!) but was of the opinion that the buckles would be the gold filigree around each bead, fastening it to the next.

The crux of it is, of course, what the beads actually were. Rosaries are referred to as beads, and the wills of both Thomas Beauchamps mention “rosaries with buckles”, the son being more specific with “a pair of paternosters of coral, with buckles of gold”. Might this be the answer?

Erik Michaelson has very kindly sent me Lambeth Palace Archive links to the wills of both Beauchamps:-

http://archives.lambethpalacelibrary.org.uk/CalmView/Record.aspx?src=CalmView.Catalog&id=V%2FA%2F6Whittlesey%2F110

http://archives.lambethpalacelibrary.org.uk/CalmView/Record.aspx?src=CalmView.Catalog&id=V%2FA%2F9Arundel1%2F179a

Maybe someone can read them? I cannot, I fear, but if the translation is at the heart of the matter, it might be very interesting to find out what, exactly, their wills specified.

Over to you, ladies and gentlemen…

 

The Epiphany Plot of 1400

Following the deposition of Richard II, his leading supporters among the nobility were put on trial before Henry IV’s first parliament. Well, all apart from the Earl of Wiltshire who had – in plain terms – been murdered at Bristol on Henry’s orders before Henry became king. (As a Lancastrian, Henry was of course allowed to do this sort of thing without receiving any criticism from historians.)

Some brief pen-pictures of the men in question may be helpful, since they will be unfamiliar to many readers:-

Edward, Duke of Aumale, highest ranking of the accused, was the elder son of the Duke of York, and was thus first cousin to both Richard II and Henry IV. Despite his relative youth (26 in 1399) he had been high in Richard’s counsels since the early 1390s and had received an astonishing array of offices from the king, being, among other things, at one point both Lord High Constable and Lord High Admiral. A devious man of considerable ability, described by one chronicler as a ‘second Solomon’, his contribution tends to be underrated by historians. He was also a survivor. Despite involvement – or alleged involvement – in several plots against Henry IV, he was to survive long enough to be the leading English casualty of Agincourt. Nevertheless, in the Parliament of late 1399 he had a most torrid time. It is likely that Richard II intended Edward to be his heir.

John Holland, Duke of Exeter was King Richard’s half-brother – they shared the same mother, Joan of Kent. He was married to Henry IV’s sister, Elizabeth of Lancaster. Exeter was at this time in his late 40s. He had not always been a strong supporter of Richard, and had at one point been quite closely associated with his father-in-law. However, during the 1390s he had become increasingly important as a member of Richard’s inner circle.

Thomas Holland, Duke of Surrey was Exeter’s nephew, the eldest son of Thomas Holland, late Earl of Kent. Another relatively young man, he had recently replaced his deceased brother-in-law, Roger Mortimer, Earl of March (killed 1398) as Lieutenant of Ireland. He had also replaced Aumale as Lord High Admiral.

John Montagu (or Montacute) Earl of Salisbury, who was in his late 40s, had only succeeded to his uncle’s earldom in 1397, having been for many years merely Sir John Montagu. His uncle had alienated many of the family estates – there was bad blood between them – and Salisbury was by some way the least wealthy of the accused. Nor had he received any particular rewards in land from King Richard. Acting as Richard’s ambassador to France, he had been unfortunate enough to earn Henry Bolingbroke’s personal enmity because of the message he had brought to Charles VI on Richard’s behalf – which was essentially that Henry should be treated as persona non grata. Salisbury was known to be a Lollard – an early Protestant – and attracted some hostility for that reason. King Richard himself was generally hostile to the Lollards but nevertheless tolerated Salisbury and a few other followers of that movement at his court.

Thomas Despenser, Earl of Gloucester was married to Constance of York and was thus Aumale’s brother-in-law and the Duke of York’s son-in-law. 26 years old at this time, he had commanded King Richard’s rearguard in the 1399 campaign in Ireland and been one of the king’s strongest supporters during the upheaval of 1397. Even without the rewards given to him in 1397, he was a very wealthy man, in terms of landed income much more so than his father-in-law. The jewel in his crown was the very valuable Marcher Lordship of Glamorgan.

They had all served as ‘counter-appellants’ in 1397, when Richard II had taken his revenge on his uncle, Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester and the earls of Arundel and Warwick. All, except Salisbury, had received generous grants of forfeited lands. All except Despenser (Gloucester) and Salisbury had also participated in the partition of the Lancastrian estates earlier in 1399. As a group, they were very much Richard’s ‘Party’ and it cannot be denied that most of them had been very handsomely rewarded for their loyalty. Apart from Salisbury they were all closely linked to Richard by blood or marriage or both.

The outcome of the trial – to cut a long story short – was that the accused lost the lands granted to them in 1397 and those who had received upgraded titles (everyone except Salisbury) lost them and reverted to their pre-1397 status. For the purpose of this article, I shall continue to refer to them by their Ricardian titles, to avoid unnecessary confusion.

The group were placed into the temporary custody of the Abbot of Westminster, who was a Ricardian himself. It appears that they immediately began to conspire against Henry, although on the face of it the King meant to rehabilitate them fairly quickly. With the exception of Salisbury – against whom Henry maintained a rather obvious grudge – they were, for example, very quickly restored to the Council. Edward of Aumale even received confirmation of some valuable land grants, including the Lordship of the Isle of Wight. Of course, Edward was rather a special case, being the King’s cousin, and perhaps more importantly, York’s son. The Duke of York (who had been Richard’s Keeper of England during the King’s absence in Ireland) had given Henry quite strong support, almost from the minute he surrendered to him near Berkeley Castle a few months earlier.

In addition, Edward had not been aligned politically in quite the same way as the others. Richard divided his army in Ireland – allegedly on Edward’s advice – sending the smaller portion to North Wales under Salisbury while returning himself to South Wales with the remainder. When Richard broke up his army near Carmarthen he actually left Aumale behind, possibly fearing that his cousin was no longer reliable in view of the defection of the Duke of York at Berkeley. It seems likely that this defection was a principal cause – if not the main cause – of the King’s panic and his decision to join Salisbury in North Wales. (This decision led to the collapse of his cause and his eventual capture by Bolingbroke.) The other lords involved were all with the King to the bitter end.

A note on sources. The main sources for the Epiphany Rising are Walsingham and Traison et Mort. Both have their issues. Walsingham (though used as a principal source for the reign) is hopelessly biased against Richard II, and frequently reports rumours, however ridiculous, if they tend to Richard’s discredit. He can not infrequently be caught out in direct falsehoods. Traison, on the other hand, was written by a French member of Queen Isabelle’s household. He is heavily biased towards Richard, tends to blame Edward of York for the King’s downfall, and reports details of matters of which he cannot possibly have had direct knowledge, such as the manner of Richard’s death.

The key to the plot was an attempt to assassinate Henry IV (and perhaps his sons) at Windsor Castle. The great army that Henry had assembled to place himself on the throne had, for the most part, gone home. Therefore the King was vulnerable to an attack from a small force, which was all the conspirators could assemble. (Many of their retainers had found alternative patrons by this time, or were otherwise unreliable, and in any event, for obvious reasons, only the most loyal could be trusted in a scheme of this kind.)

At the same time, a number of risings were to be provoked across England, and King Richard was somehow to be released. (His exact location was almost certainly not known to the conspirators.) Richard was to be represented, in his absence, by his clerk and double, Richard Maudelyn, who was probably either a half-brother or cousin of the deposed monarch.

By one means or another, the plot was revealed to Henry at the last moment. Traison blames Aumale, who accidentally revealed the plot to his father, York. The pair of them then hurried to warn the King, Edward being immediately pardoned. Walsingham merely says that Henry was ‘forewarned’ but does not disclose the method. Another source, Continuatio Eulogii, says that one of the King’s squires picked up the intelligence from a prostitute who had previously slept with someone involved in the plot. A final possibility must be that Elizabeth of Lancaster got wind of her husband’s dealings and sent warning to her brother.

Most modern historians tend to dismiss Aumale’s ‘serious’ involvement in the plot. Even so, it is hard to see how he, with his connections, could have remained innocent of what was going on. On the other hand, it must be recognised that many in England (and even more in France!) were deeply suspicious of his motives throughout, and accusations or mutterings of treason against him continued regularly for some years. It is hard to discern how much of this was smoke and how much fire.

Be this as it may, the fact remains that Henry and his sons escaped from Windsor with only hours to spare, so whatever warning was received came at the last minute, in true dramatic style.

The King’s escape was, in effect, equivalent to the defeat of the conspiracy, as the rebels did not have the forces to match those which Henry was soon to raise from London and the surrounding counties. According to Traison they held the bridge at Maidenhead for some hours, which was probably as good a fight as they could make of it. They also sought to recruit from the various towns and villages they passed, and according to Walsingham also visited Queen Isabelle (Richard’s very young wife) at Sonning, seeking her support and that of her household.

Unfortunately, the news that Henry was not far behind them with a large and growing army could not be long concealed, and tended to put a damper on recruitment. The rebels’ retreat rapidly turned into flight, which came to an end at Cirencester, where, exhausted, their ‘army’ camped in the fields while the lords took up lodgings in various inns. What happened next is unclear, but it appears the inhabitants of the town realised that the lords were fugitives, and besieged them in their lodgings. A fire started, and Surrey and Salisbury surrendered, and were initially lodged in the abbey. However, when the townsfolk of Cirencester grasped the measure of the damage done to their town by the fire, they dragged the two lords out again, and summarily executed them without legal authority. Walsingham states that Salisbury, who was a Lollard, refused to make confession before his death.

The mystery of Exeter and Gloucester.

According to Traison these two lords were at Cirencester, escaped their burning inn by climbing out of the window, and fled in different directions. In the case of Exeter in particular this seems most unlikely. Walsingham states that he remained in London, which makes sense if his role was to raise the Ricardian element among the citizens. Such men were in a minority, but they certainly existed, and if Henry had not escaped they might well have put themselves forward. Exeter was eventually captured in Essex. He was also murdered by the local population without lawful authority, at Pleshey Castle, seat of the late Duke of Gloucester, the uncle Richard II had (possibly) had murdered in 1397. The location was, of course, highly significant.

Had Exeter been in Cirencester, he would surely have been wiser to flee towards Devon, where he had extensive land holdings, than eastward, directly into the teeth of Henry’s forces. I therefore conclude it is most unlikely he was at either Windsor or Cirencester. Though, as an experienced warrior and tough fighter he would have been something of an asset if he had been.

Thomas Despenser, Earl of Gloucester, is barely mentioned by Walsingham at all, except in the matter of his escape and capture. Again, there is at least a possibility he was not at Windsor or Cirencester and that he never left Cardiff. Indeed, it may be he was guilty of nothing more than misprision of treason at worst. Hearing that the King’s men were on their way to arrest him, he took ship from Cardiff, carrying a considerable amount of portable wealth. However the ship’s captain refused to take him anywhere but Bristol, where the citizens chose to prove their loyalty to Henry by murdering him.

If Despenser was indeed innocent of any active involvement in the plot, it might help explain his widow’s bitter hatred of Henry, which culminated in her plot, in 1405, to remove the Mortimer heirs from Windsor Castle and place them in the protection of Owain Glyndwr.

Many of the lesser supporters of the plot were assembled at Oxford for trial. Maudelyn, Sir Bernard Brocas and William Feriby were brought to London, to be hanged and beheaded at Tyburn. Sir Thomas Blount and twenty-five others from Cirencester were hanged, drawn and quartered at Oxford. Another thirty-seven received pardons, and at least one, Salisbury’s stepson, was actually acquitted. Roger Walden (the deposed Archbishop of Canterbury), the Bishop of Carlisle and the Abbot of Westminster were all imprisoned for a short time, and Henry Despenser, Bishop of Norwich, fell beneath an uncomfortable level of suspicion, but was not proceeded against.

A number of small risings broke out across England in support of the plot, but all subsided with little fuss. The one in Chester was perhaps the most serious and led to a brief siege of the castle. Ironically the man who put it down, the Bishop of St. Asaph, was soon to number among Henry’s enemies as a firm supporter of Owain Glyndwr.

As for the widows, Henry treated Elizabeth of Lancaster and Constance of York with considerable generosity – of course they were his sister and first cousin respectively. These two remained very rich ladies indeed, and did superbly well compared to the widows of ‘traitors’ in the Tudor period or even the Yorkist era. The other widows had less kindly provision, although the worst treated of all, the Countess of Wiltshire, had suffered from Henry murdering her husband before he even became king, and had no connection to the plot.

In the aftermath of the plot it appears that Henry (and almost certainly his Council) decided that King Richard’s life should be cut short to discourage any further rebellions in his favour. Richard died at Pontefract on 14th February 1400. Various explanations are given, but the most likely seems to be that he was starved to death. Despite this, and the public display of his body in St. Paul’s, rumours that he had escaped and was alive and well in Scotland continued to plague Henry – and indeed his son. That a ‘Richard’ was living at the court of Scotland is an undoubted fact – whether he was the real Richard is quite another matter.

Sources

The most useful source by far is Chronicles of the Revolution 1397-1400 by Chris Given Wilson.

Other sources:

The Usurper King – Marie Louise Bruce

Fears of Henry IV – Ian Mortimer

Richard II – Nigel Saul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Haunted by the Headless Earl….!

headless-horseman-speedy-by-jonake920

This marvellous illustration is called Headless Horseman Speedy by Jonake920

I love a ghost story on New Year’s Eve, and so here is one to send some shivers down your back. No, it is not a sample of my fiction-writing—well, not quite—but is actually said to have happened back at the end of the 14th century.

It began on Friday, 21 September 1397, the Feast of St Matthew the Apostle and Evangelist, when Richard Fitzalan, 4th/11th Earl of Arundel, was executed at the Tower. At least, that’s when the eerie part of the tale commenced, but of course there had been events beforehand. Briefly, King Richard II was son and heir of Edward, the Black Prince, who died before his father, King Edward III. So, at the age of ten, Richard succeeded his grandfather. From the outset he was belittled and ruled by his uncles, especially John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. This was all very well when Richard was a child, but as he grew up, the reins were pulled remorselessly, and he was constantly constrained by tutors, guardians…and uncles!

He began to form friendships with the young men of his class, and their extravagance—plus the dazzling titles and honours he heaped upon them—caused resentful, disapproving rumbles among the older nobles, eventually resulting in the outright opposition of five aristocrats in particular.

lords-appellant-arundel-on-left

Arundel is on the left.

They were called the Lords Appellant, and included Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel, with whom Richard had never got on. They were chalk and cheese, and it has to be conceded that Arundel was tactless and could be unfeeling, such as when he arrived late at the funeral of Richard’s queen, and then asked to leave early. Much as I like Arundel, and I do, I’m on Richard’s side for thumping him one and drawing blood! Arundel was one of the wealthiest lords in the land, a gallant, hot-tempered, popular man, but he simply did not like Richard II.

The Appellants were ruthless with Richard’s friends and supporters, and much blood was shed. The shackles around Richard were tightened, and—not unreasonably—he resented it. He bore malice, and bided his time. Eventually the day came when he could reassert himself and take a bloody revenge.

The royal net closed around them, and they were eliminated one by one—including Richard’s own uncle, the Duke of Gloucester. Plus, of course, the Earl of Arundel, who did not go meekly or fearfully. He was not a man to take anything lying down. A successful admiral, whose exploits had gone down very well with the populace, Arundel was the one aristocrat the commons lauded, so when he was misled by Richard into coming to court, where he was immediately arrested for treason, the people did not like it. To them it was a shabby trick by a shabby king. An increasingly unbalanced king at that, for by this late period of his reign, Richard was undoubtedly ill in some way, mentally, not physically. Well, that is my opinion, anyway, and he has my sympathy.

But so does Arundel, who was brought before the king in a special hall that had been purpose-built at Westminster Palace. There Arundel was confronted by a court that included lords who had now formed a new set of Appellants, to appeal against the original Appellants. The charge was treason.

Richard, his long-awaited moment of revenge upon him at last, was seated in splendour on a throne, with a considerable number of his infamous Cheshire archers massed around him. Arundel was clad in scarlet robes, with a belt around his waist, and the first order from John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, who led the prosecution, was to have both his robe and belt removed, to signify his disgrace.

Arundel protested that he was not a traitor, and that the king had previously granted him a full pardon for all that had gone before, but Richard now revoked it. It was a shocking and shameful  move, and what followed was a grotesque parody of the earlier court that had condemned Richard II’s friends.

richard-on-throne

But if the king thought he would intimidate Arundel, he was very much mistaken. Richard Fitzalan was the very personification of chivalrous courage, and he got the better of every verbal exchange with John of Gaunt and the king, much to their fury. I will not go into details. Suffice it that Arundel had been pardoned, and was therefore in the right. Richard, having wrongfully revoked that pardon, was in the wrong. Arundel was found guilty of treason and condemned to immediate execution.

richard-ii-and-his-archers

Richard II accompanied by his Cheshire archers

Treated cruelly by Richard’s Cheshire archers, the earl was trundled ignominiously through the streets of London toward the Tower, with crowds of people lining the way, cheering him and cursing his enemies. His hands had been bound, and he asked if they could be freed so that he could distribute the gold in his purse to the people. His bonds were loosened, but not freed. He maintained his dignified, courageous composure all the way, not showing any sign of weakness or fear. ‘…no more shrinking or changing colour than if he were going to a banquet…’

st-john-altarpiece-arundels-execution

“Sharpen well your axe,” he instructed the executioner, then knelt, ready for death. The executioner raised the axe, and….and this is when a strange and miraculous thing was said to have happened, because as the earl’s head was severed with one stroke, his body rose of its own accord and stood there. A great hush fell over the awe-struck gathering, the archers fell back, terrified, and a priest recited the Lord’s Prayer. Arundel’s blood-stained, headless body remained there, only falling when the last Amen was uttered.

“A miracle!” someone cried. Someone else shouted that Arundel was a true martyr, and the word was taken up. There was a great furore as the brutal archers scrambled to put the earl’s head and body in a rough coffin on a cart, and took it away to the Church of Augustinian Friars in Bread Street.

Arundel was laid to rest as hastily as possible, but if Richard thought that would be the end of it, he had another shock awaiting. The people began to flock to the tomb, and more miracles were said to have taken place. A cult came into being, and there were calls for the earl to be sanctified. Such were the crushes of pilgrims at the church that the friars could hardly keep control.

Then a new, even more astonishing story began to circulate…that Arundel’s head had re-attached itself to his body. This reached Richard, who was already unnerved by the public’s disapproval of what had been done to the earl. He was suffering terrifying nightmares, in which Arundel’s ghost came to berate him.

The tenth night after,  Richard woke again in a sweat, his heart pounding with dread, and could bear it no more. He had to know if the earl’s head was indeed attached again. He sent for his nephew, Thomas Holland, Duke of Surrey, and instructed him to go to the church and have the tomb opened. Holland obeyed, although with a sinking heart, because he too had heard of the miracles. He had no wish to anger the Almighty by tampering with the grave of a man who might soon be a saint.

 

exhuming-arundel

What Surrey found was that, yes, the earl’s head was re-attached to his body, but it had been sewn in place. Who would do such a thing? Who would dare? And how? For the tomb had not be tampered with. The wild claims were dashed, and Richard issued a proclamation that quashed the whole story. He hoped.

proclamation

The king was still afraid, and still beset by nightmares and visions. He ordered Arundel’s body to be removed from the tomb and buried elsewhere, anonymously, beneath paving. No one knew where Richard Fitzalan had been finally laid to rest. Gradually the adulation subsided, although no one forgot the gallant Earl of Arundel. Least of all Richard II, who remained haunted by him until the day he died. Which was sooner than his expected span, because two years later Richard’s throne was usurped by his Lancastrian cousin, son of the by then dead John of Gaunt. Richard himself died mysteriously at Pontefract Castle and his body was brought south to London.

richard2funeral3

The usurping cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, the new Duke of Lancaster, had been one of the original five Appellants but survived to tell the tale. While Gaunt still lived, Richard did not dare to do too much to Gaunt’s son and heir, but the moment the old duke died, Richard banished Henry and seized the immense Lancastrian estates. Henry came back to England with an army, and Richard was captured without much trouble. Henry then “obliged” Richard to hand over the crown before being imprisoned at Pontefract. Henry then became became King Henry IV, the first monarch of the House of Lancaster.

coronation-henry-iv

(viscountessw: No, I do not necessarily accept that anything supernatural really happened when Arundel was beheaded, but it was widely believed at the time. And if it did happen, what a heart-stopping sight it must have been. Small wonder that a cult grew around the miraculous and popular Richard Fitzalan, 4th/11th Earl of Arundel.)

 

 

 

 

Usurpers? ALL of them…?

Well, all of them except Richard II. The following are extracts from the Introduction to Anthony Steel’s 1941 biography of Richard II. I think it is a very succinct and interesting description of the right to the throne of all the kings of England from Richard II to Henry VII. However… (see my comments at the end of this article)

“…The reign of Richard II marks in many respects the culminating point in English medieval history. If Henry VII was, as has been claimed for him, the last of the medieval kings of England, Richard II was the last of the old order, the last king ruling by hereditary right, direct and undisputed, from the Conqueror…” 

“…After his [Richard II’s] violent deposition in 1399 nothing could ever be quite the same again: it was the end of an epoch. Medieval divine right lay dead, smothered in Pontefract castle, and the kings of the next hundred and ten years, medieval as they were in many respects and desperately as they tried to drag together the shredded rags of legitimacy, were essentially kings de facto, not de jure, successful usurpers recognized after the event, upon conditions, by their fellow-magnates or by parliament. Even Henry V, perhaps the strongest and the most medieval of the series, depended for five-sixths of his revenue on the goodwill of his subjects, and could never quite live down the dubiety of his father’s title and the precedent of unfortunate concessions exacted from his father’s weakness…” 

“…It is true that the effective precedent afforded by the events of 1399 was for at least a century or two no more than a precedent of usurpation and that the Lancastrian parliamentary title was in the main imposed on those reluctant sovereigns after the event. Even Henry IV (and how much more Edward IV and Henry VII) owed the throne not to the sovereign will of the English people, expressing itself through a representative assembly, but effectively to conquest, to some dim pretence of hereditary right and above all to the support of a few wealthy and powerful individuals and the vague fears of the propertied classes in general. All were saviours of society, in the limited medieval sense, against a threatened spoliation or, worse, disintegration. But with the gradual perfecting of the bureaucratic and remorseless Tudor machine of government [it all changed]…” 

Maybe Richard II was indeed the last of the old order, but in my opinion the king guilty of meddling with the true hereditary descent was Edward III, who shortly before his death apparently gave in to Lancastrian pressure and signed a document that declared the crown could not descend through the female line. This meant that the junior House of Lancaster took precedence over the senior House of Clarence/Mortimer. Why? Because although the latter descended through Edward’s second son, Lionel, Duke of Clarence, it was through the female line.  Lancaster was through the third son, but through the male line.

So, although Henry IV usurped Richard’s II’s throne, he did it with what would, apparently, have been his grandfather’s blessing. Well, perhaps not entirely, for I doubt the old king would have gone along with the ‘let’s kill Richard II’ aspect.

Herein lay the origin of the Wars of the Roses, the House of York tracing its descent through the line of Son Number Two, Lionel, Duke of Clarence, and Lancaster through the line of Son Number Three, John of Gaunt.

It is only within the last year or so that it has been decided that from now on the Crown can pass through the female line with equal right as the male. How many centuries?

But anyway, the above extracts are interesting and very clearly put. After Richard II, they were ALL usurpers. Correct?

Hmm. To my mind, the accession of Edward IV righted the great wrongs done by Edward III and then Henry IV. The kings of the House of York were indeed the true hereditary heirs to the throne of England. Opinions please…?

A beautiful cover for a beautiful king….?

richard II

This likeness of Richard II is from the cover of the Penguin Monarchs edition on this fascinating king, written by Laura Ashe. (Penguin Monarchs: Richard II – A Brittle Glory by Laura Ashe. http://tinyurl.com/zbur7aw)  The reviews and comments at Amazon are mixed – the commenters even have a little spat. I  will purchase it because I am always eager to add more of Richard II to my personal library. He and Richard III vie for supremacy on that battle-shelf, I assure you.

My personal preference is for larger, more detailed biographies, which this book does not purport to be. One commenter at Amazon complains that it is very small, but it is intended to be a concise description of Richard’s life and reign. 

Whatever the contents, the cover illustration is breathtakingly beautiful. They say Richard was indeed handsome to the point of beauty, as some of his portraiture hints. While I accept that this present picture is modern, it just goes to show how, with a little tweaking of the known facts, a talented artist can turn a suggestion of the possible Richard into something which may be very close indeed to the real man. Too romantic? No. If a man was described as handsome to the point of beauty, then he must have been quite something to see. I doubt if Richard II ever walked into a crowded room unnoticed! Even wearing an old cloak and no headgear.

Of the three Richards of England, I am drawn to the second and third, both of whom are monarchs I believe to have been maligned. Oh, ‘maligned’ is a word all too often applied to Richard III, but I think Richard II deserves it too. Yes, he was guilty of a great deal of which he is accused, but at the same time, he was beset by uncles and nobles from the moment he became a child-king. If he grew up as damaged goods, it’s hardly surprising. 

Anyway, the strength of the cover art for this book arrested my attention, and it will soon be on my shelf. As an author myself, I know the value of a good cover. It is a fact that a lousy one can demolish the chances of an excellent book. With this, Laura Ashe must surely have a winner. I do hope so. When I have read it, I will report my findings! 

The brilliant artwork is by ANNA+ELENA=BALBUSSO ART, http://www.balbusso.com/ and I have to say that I would LOVE to see Richard III given the Balbusso treatment!!!

PS: A week later. I have now received and read this book, and my first impression—literally—was that they’d skimped on the dust cover. It only encloses the bottom three-quarters of the white cloth book, leaving the top quarter without anything. White? Dirt? I can see future second-hand copies turning up with bikini lines. Commenters on Amazon have also complained about the book’s small size, both in inches and pages, and it is true. It is more like a school text book than one of the larger biographies to which I am partial, but at the same time it gets to the nitty-gritty of Richard’s character and the problems that resulted from it. 

In Chapter One, I read “The book is arranged by four locations, each both real and imagined: parliament, battlefield, city, shrine.” The court is not included because it is considered in the context of these stated four locations. Richard’s story is revealed mostly through contemporary chronicles and eye-witness accounts. 

He was undoubtedly convinced that he was monarch by divine right, and any insult was taken to heart…and remembered for a long time. He was a Plantagenet elephant, and thought ahead, being prepared to wait for his revenge. It was also his preference for peace over war, which didn’t go down well with his martially-minded aristocracy, with whom he clashed time and again. Fatally. His defiance took the form of extravagance of almost mythical proportions, favourites and caprice, and his word was worthless because he would never abide by it. In the end he was taken down, as modern parlance has it.  Unfortunately, it was the House of Lancaster that did it.

His conduct, and the consequent usurpation of Henry IV, sowed the seeds of the Wars of the Roses, and although I will always find Richard II engrossing, I also want to shake him. But if I had laid a hand on the royal person, I’d have been for the chop, quick as a wink. It is a fact, though, that someone should have shaken him, (perhaps a holy hand reaching down from the heavens, for he would have understood that!) Richard was not a fool or a bad king, he simply rebelled against everything that happened to him in childhood and continued throughout his adult life. And when Richard II kicked up a storm, he did it in Cinemascope and Technicolor. 

All in all, I think Laura Ashe has written a very informative, easy-to-read account of Richard II, the man and his reign. I am not at all sorry to have purchased it, and I recommend it to anyone who seeks to be introduced to this strangely enigmatic king. But I do wish the cover had enclosed the whole book! Are Allen Lane (subsidiary of Penguin) on an economy drive??? Messing with covers is an ominous sign, in my experience.

However, the cover art is every bit as gorgeous as I thought before buying, but why did they have to cut corners…er, tops? 

Note: The Penguin Monarchs edition about Richard III (by Rosemary Horrox) will be published next year. No date as yet.

 

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