Well, I have to say that the above carving is very startling. It is believed to be of Eleanor of Aquitaine, and has just been discovered at Bradwell Abbey, Milton Keynes. There is nothing in this article to say why they are so certain it’s Eleanor, but they seem in no doubt.
The first thing that occurred to me, however, was that the eyes reminded me very forcibly of the carving of Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, the “Kingmaker”, as a mourner on the tomb of his father-in-law, Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick.
There is also a likeness of the Beauchamp tomb of the Kingmaker’s sister, Cecily Neville, Duchess of Warwick, and she too has these striking eyes. I’m told by a friend that in his biography of the Kingmaker, Professor Pollard decided there had been a real attempt to create a true likeness, so I imagine that these eyes must indeed be a trait in the Neville family.
There is an odd little story about Edward III, in which he apparently gave credence to the story of his family being descended from Melusine, the Devil’s daughter. The king claimed that the House of Plantagenet was descended from Melusine, and that slanting eyes appeared to be evidence of this. There is one member of that house who definitely had slanting eyes, Richard II.
So, where did those eyes originate? Or was it all mere coincidence that the likes of Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Kingmaker and Richard II appear to have shared such a memorable feature?
When looking for information about a residence associated with the ill-fated Sir Simon Burley (executed by the Lords Appellant in 1388) I had cause to investigate the properties around London’s Leadenhall Market. It seems Leadenhall stems from a mansion on the site, owned at the beginning of the 14th century by Sir Hugh Neville, which had a lead roof, and was thus called Leaden Hall/Leadenhall.
Anyway, Sir Simon and his brother possessed a residential property in the grounds of Leadenhall mansion. But that is by the by, because the search lead me to the fascinating 19th-century tale of a gander called Old Tom. If you want to read about this valorous bird, who survived to the age of 37 in a market where poultry was sold (!) go to this article.
He passed away of natural causes on 19th March 1835, and his obituary was published in The Times:-
In memory of Old Tom the Gander. Obit 19th March, 1835, aetat, 37 years, 9 months, and 6 days.
‘This famous gander, while in stubble, Fed freely, without care or trouble: Grew fat with corn and sitting still, And scarce could cross the barn-door sill: And seldom waddled forth to cool His belly in the neighbouring pool. Transplanted to another scene, He stalk’d in state o’er Calais-green, With full five hundred geese behind, To his superior care consign’d, Whom readily he would engage To lead in march ten miles a-stage. Thus a decoy he lived and died, The chief of geese, the poulterer’s pride.’
When we buy a non-fiction book (in our case usually something to do with Richard III and the medieval period) we anticipate its arrival with some relish. This is how I felt when, after reading many praises for Peter Ackroyd’s History of England, I decided to buy Volume I online.
It arrived this morning, and I leafed eagerly through the pages, to get a feel of it before reading it properly…but when I came to Illustration 49 (of 51) it was an image of Richard III from the Rous Roll – just him, taken from the image above. Then I read the caption: “Richard III standing on a white boar; the white boar was his personal badge or ‘livery badge’. It may derive from the Latin name of York, Eboracum, since he was known as Richard of York.”
Um…oh no he wasn’t, Mr Ackroyd. His father was Richard of York, and so was his nephew, Richard of Shrewsbury, who was created Duke of York and became one of the boys in the Tower. Richard was always Richard of Gloucester, and then Richard III.
As you can imagine, my heart sank and my hackles began to rise as I sensed that I’d purchased a real turkey. I have indeed, because Peter Ackroyd goes on to relate in full the version of events according to the Sainted More, strawberries, withered arm and all. The murder of the boys in the Tower is taken for granted, but the possibility of Henry VII being responsible is “essentially a fancy”. Oh, right. Why, may I ask? Because his tricky, grasping, dishonest hands were suddenly lily-white? No, according to Ackroyd: “There can be little doubt that the two boys were murdered on the express or implicit order of Richard III.” Clearly this author has inside information that has been hidden from everyone else.
And there’s more: “There had been usurpers before, wading through gore, but Richard III was the first usurper who had not taken the precaution of winning a military victory; he claimed the crown through the clandestine killing of two boys rather than through might on the battlefield.” Really? Methinks Mr Ackroyd is too accustomed to composing eyecatching blurbs!
And Richard “set up a ‘council in the north’ to consolidate his power in that region. Excuse me? Richard was consolidating his own power? Um, where was Edward IV while all this was going on? Or was Richard now ‘king of the north’, and a law unto himself?
And Richard contemplated marrying Elizabeth of York…at least, he would have done if he’d been able to get away with it. No mention at all of the important Portuguese negotiation for both his own marriage and that of his niece. Indeed no, the only reason Richard didn’t rush her to the marriage bed was because he would not have been “able to marry the girl whose brothers he had destroyed”.
Polydore Vergil “states that Richard III was now ’vexed, wrested and tormented in mind with fear almost perpetually’.” In fact, Ackroyd is prepared to judge Richard solely on the traditional stories, which were (sorry to repeat it again) the work of the victor at Bosworth, in whose interest it was to blacken Richard’s name and memory as much as he possibly could. Henry VII was surely the best spreader of fake news in history!
Oh, and Richard was “buried without ceremony in a stone coffin. The coffin was later used as a horse trough and the bones scattered”. Really? No wonder Ackroyd thinks Henry VII was the best thing for England, they share a liking for telling stories!
The copyright for this abominable work of fiction is 2011. Oh, dear, a year later and Richard himself was able to refute claims of hideous deformity and being chucked in the Soar (Ackroyd missed that one, by the way.)
There are many other points in this book with which anyone of common sense will disagree. Those who have really studied Richard III, will know that he has indeed been cruelly maligned by history. He did not do all those things of which he was accused…and if he had Hastings executed without delay, you can bet your bottom dollar it was for a damned good reason. Richard didn’t execute people left, right and centre…there are quite a few he should have topped, but he was lenient! Which makes him a black-hearted, villainous monster, of course.
Anyway, I regret being swayed into buying this book. It is nothing but traditionalist garbage! I hardly dare turn its pages to my other favourite king, Richard II. No doubt Henry Bolingbroke gets the laurels and is patted on the head for having that other Richard murdered. Ah, but that’s different. It was OK to kill Richard II. So, in 1399 there was a Richard usurped by a Lancastrian Henry, and then another such thieving Lancastrian Henry happened along in 1485. Neither of the Richards (both married to Annes, by the way) usurped anything, but they both get the blame for everything.
Well, it has to be from Richard II, because I believe he was the first monarch to actually sign anything. But I’m not stating that as if it’s carved in stone! And the signatures I’m concerned with here are from Richard II to Henry VII, because their reigns cover the period in which I am most interested.
I have always been fascinated by the handwriting of our monarchs. Not so much the recent ones, or indeed those after the first Tudor, but certainly the Plantagenets (including York and Lancaster). The above image is, as the caption states, the work of Matt Baker. His page is fascinating, with charts for all sorts of things. Well worth a visit.
Anyway, to the signatures. Can we, as amateurs, read anything into the way these monarchs wrote their names?
The first one is, as I’ve already stated, Richard II. Well, it’s not a very confident signature. More the hand of someone who is trying hard to be something he is not. In my opinion. He spent his reign in turmoil, and wanted peace when his aristocracy wanted war. Never the twain…
Henry IV comes next. Hard to say what his moniker tells us. It looks shifty to me, as if the only thing he’s going to really give away is the R at the end. But then, he usurped Richard’s throne, and maybe it always weighed upon him. Certainly I don’t think he was a happy man.
Then Henry V. Heavens, that’s a bold, businesslike signature, with a firm line underneath. Definitely not a man to mess with.
Henry VI is very neat, and those two loops are identical. Absolutely. Very measured, when I would have thought measured was one of the last things he was. He was too fragile for that. I think so, anyway.
Edward IV’s looks as if he wrote it when under the influence. It’s hard to make out his name amid all those illegible letters. He was a man who did not relish the mundane chores of being king, and to me his signature looks impatient.
Edward V should be next, Not Richard III. Edward’s boyish signature is…um, very long. Certainly not that of someone who was ready to be king. Which he wasn’t, of course. Ready, I mean. And then he didn’t become king anyway, as we know.
Richard III’s signature is precise and thoughtful, as is his writing in general. He was clearly educated, intelligent, and not one to rubber stamp anything. He’d go through the small print. And he was also innovative, prepared to cut through red tape and make the law fairer to the common man. So nothing like Shakespeare’s awful caricature.
Henry VII’s resembles the tracks of a large, very guarded spider. Finding the actual man in among all those loops would never be easy…which is probably the way Henry wanted it. His character was as hooded as his eyes. He was in there somewhere, but he didn’t let many people inside. Another usurper who always had to glance over his shoulder.
The above are my opinion, and no doubt many of you disagree. I’d like to hear your comments!
Most historians now accept that, while the white rose of York was a heraldic badge used by the house of York during the Wars of the Roses, the origins of the red rose of Lancaster can only be traced back to Henry VII.1 After his accession to the throne in 1485 and marriage to Elizabeth of York he effectively invented it when he created the bi-coloured red and white Tudor rose, which symbolised the union of the houses of Lancaster and York. But what about the origins of the white rose of York?
The Welsh Marches – Yorkist Heartland
It is hard to over estimate the influence their Mortimer ancestry had on the Yorkists and their claim to the English throne. The Mortimers were descended from Lionel, duke of Clarence, the second surviving son of king Edward III, whereas the Lancastrian kings of England were descended from his third…
According to the Oxford Dictionary, the following two definitions refer to the use of the word epiphany:-
The manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi (Matthew 2:1–12). Definition (1)
A moment of sudden and great revelation/realisation. Definition (2)
Epiphany has been a recognised feast of the Western Church since the 5th century, but these days we generally associate the Magi/ Three Wise Men with our modern Christmas Eve/Day. They appear on our Christmas cards. Yet there are—and always were—Twelve Days of Christmas, with Twelfth Night marked as Epiphany Eve or sometimes Epiphany itself, depending upon which precise moment you begin to calculate the commencement of the season. For an explanation, this is a good place to start.
If ever there was a King of England who revered Epiphany (1), and all that went with it, that king was Richard II, who reigned 1377-1399. He was still a small boy, but when the Yule logs were brought in for the first Christmas of his reign, they must have been kindled with hope and excitement that he would bring healthy, wealth, happiness and prosperity to his new realm. If this was indeed the hope, there would eventually be some very unhappy people, because he was plagued by rebellions and resentful lords. And his habit of turning to a coterie of close friends, twinned with his own questionable decision-making, did not really create the best circumstances. But, initially, there was hope, and those first Yule logs of 1377 will have burned brightly. The flames would have danced and roared.
That fanciful thought aside, it is my opinion that in June 1381, when as a boy of only fourteen Richard faced a thousands-strong army of peasants at Smithfield, he underwent an epiphany (2). He rode out at the head of his retinue to face a ragtaggle peasant army led, among others, by Wat Tyler. We all know the famous scene. Tyler was cut down in front of everyone by Sir William Walworth, Mayor of London, and out of nowhere the moment became electrifyingly dangerous. Pitched battle was on the very lip of breaking out, but then Richard rode his horse forward calmly and promised to do all he could to grant the peasants’ their demands (which we today think were more than justified). It worked and the peasant army broke up to return to their homes.
Richard later went back on his word (something he was prone to do throughout his reign) but at that precise moment he’d displayed astonishing courage, and split-second decision-making. No one else in his entourage had done anything but freeze. Many things about the adult Richard II were to be criticized, but never again would his courage be questioned. Did he have an epiphany, as described in (2) above?
Certainly he was always to honour Epiphany above all other Church festivals. To begin with, he was born on that day in 1367. Another King of England who was buried on that day in 1066 was to become Richard’s favourite and most cherished saint. That king was St Edward the Confessor, whose feast day is 6th January/Epiphany, and whose great tomb in Westminster Abbey can still be seen. It’s now a shadow of its former glory because all the jewels and other decorations that once adorned it have been gradually stolen over the centuries by all forms of souvenir-seeker. But it must once have been a glorious sight, as was St Thomas à Becket’s tomb in Canterbury, which has been similarly denuded.
The Confessor had been England’s national saint until 1350, when he was supplanted by St George, and on Epiphany every year, Richard II went to worship there, usually leaving a costly gift. Such occasions must have been very impressive and colourful. Richard also had a separate little chapel built nearby, where he would worship. It is still called the Chapel of Our Lady of the Pew, and contains a niche in the wall where it is said the wonderful Wilton Diptych was placed for Richard’s prayers.
According to https://www.britainexpress.com/History/medieval/christmas.htm , another link between Richard II and Epiphany occurred on Twelfth Night, 1392. The citizens of London, who were not on good terms with him at the time, attempted to bury the hatchet by bestowing upon the king and queen “a one-humped camel and a pelican, novelties for the royal menagerie at the Tower of London”. Another source adds that there was a boy on the dromedary.
Richard and his much loved queen Anne of Bohemia would eventually be laid to rest together close to the Confessor. In the latter part of his reign, Richard had even had his own coat-of-arms impaled with the supposed arms of the Confessor, so there is no doubt at all that Richard II truly esteemed Epiphany and the Confessor, with whom he felt a close connection.
To the less religiously minded people of today, Epiphany is Twelfth Night, a time to party and take the Christmas decorations down – if they haven’t been removed already! The more devout will still associate it with the Magi and the Confessor.
Of course, the calendar has changed from Julian to Gregorian, and dates have moved with it. Old Twelfth Night was celebrated on 17th January. Many wassail traditions, such as the wassail cup and wassailing the cider apple trees, are associated with Twelfth Night. The Yule Log, so bright with flames in the image above, needs to burn from Christmas Eve until Twelfth Night. Charcoal from it was kept to kindle the following year’s log, and also to protect the house from thunder and lightning. There were also many delicious foods that were associated with that night, including a special cake.
In many places across the land older customs have been resumed in recent years. I don’t know when in the past they began to wassail the cider apple trees, in the hope of ensuring a supply of cider for the next harvest. Does it go back to the medieval period? Yes, according to this article
“….There are two distinct variations of wassailing. One involves groups of merrymakers going from one house to another, wassail bowl in hand, singing traditional songs and generally spreading fun and good wishes. The other form of wassailing is generally practiced in the countryside, particularly in fruit growing regions, where it is the trees that are blessed….”
“….The practice of house-wassailing continued in England throughout the Middle Ages, adapting as a way by which the feudal lord of the manor could demonstrate charitable seasonal goodwill to those who served him, by gifting money and food in exchange for the wassailers blessing and songs….”
Singing from house-to-house eventually became the carol-singing of today, but at the end of the season, not the beginning. As happens now with the Three Wise Men, who appear of Christmas cards, but are actually associated with Epiphany.
Now, to go back to the very beginning of this article, and the epiphany (2) that I feel certain happened to the young Richard II in June 1381. Until that day in Smithfield he had been confined and controlled by his uncles and government, but when Tyler was cut down in front of everyone and things turned very nasty indeed, Richard stepped into the breach by calmly taking charge.
From where did that sudden steely resolve come? He hadn’t displayed any such thing before, but….did he think of Epiphany? His day? When the Magi took gifts to the Christ Child? Did he suddenly see himself as a Christ Child too? Born to reign over all? Did he begin to understand that it was his God-given right by blood to cast aside the oppressive rule of his uncles and their government? Might such a heartstopping moment of insight been the reason for the Wilton Diptych, which shows him as a boy (when he was adult by then) anointed and royal, reaching out to accept something from the Christ Child. The reins of his kingdom, perhaps? Was this his epiphany (2)? Albeit in June.
Afterwards, in quiet moments, did he sit alone and pensive, considering who he was and how he should face the future?
It was to be another eight years before he was finally able to strike free of those who sought to keep him under their control, but I believe his first realisation of his true destiny was born that day in Smithfield.
Epiphany had one more vital role to play in Richard’s life, and that was in 1400, just after his cousin, Henry of Lancaster, had usurped the throne and consigned Richard to captivity in Pontefract. Epiphany was the date chosen by Richard’s desperate supporters to fight against the new regime and restore him to his throne.
Known as the Epiphany Rising, this revolt was doomed to defeat because of treachery within its ranks. And the eventual result was Richard’s probable murder at Pontefract, to prevent any more attempts to restore him. At least he didn’t die on Epiphany as well, but he was laid to rest on the 6th…of March, 1400.
His Twelfth Night was at an end. The bright Yule log had finally run its course, flickered and faded.
When reading the Yorkshire post I came upon the following sentence: “It’s thought that the white rose was adopted as a symbol in the 14th century, when it was introduced by Edmund of Langley, the first Duke of York and founder of the House of York, a dynasty related to the Plantagenet kings.”
Related to the Plantagenet kings? Well, yes, they were all related, but the implication seems to be that they weren’t Plantagenets themselves. As far as I’m concerned, the House of York was Plantagenet, as was the House of Lancaster. They were two parts of the House of Plantagenet, fighting each other.
But there is a school of thought that considers the true House of Plantagenet to have ended with the death of Richard II, who was, of course, the last king of the senior line of descent. He was the only surviving son of the Black Prince, who was himself the senior son and heir of Edward III, who was in turn the senior son of Edward II, etc. etc. It begins to sound like the Bible, with all the “begats”.
The Black Prince pre-deceased his father, and his brothers startled jostling for control of Richard, who was only a boy at that time. When Richard was married to Anne of Bohemia it was expected that he would produce an heir, thus continuing the senior line. But he and Anne were childless, Cue more jostling from the increasingly ambitious uncles. Especially John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, who out-ambitioned the lot of them. Because he married the elder daughter of the King of Castile, Gaunt thought he had a right to the throne of that land, and demanded that he be addressed as “My Lord of Castile”. Gaunt also wanted the English succession to go to him and his line, should Richard die without issue, and he is believed to have persuaded/cajoled/forced the senile, failing old Edward III into agreeing to an entail that would ensure this. It is also believed that in due course Richard II disposed of this entail.
Then Anne of Bohemia died, and instead of taking another wife of a suitable age to have children, Richard married a little girl, Isabella of France. Not a wise move, because it would be years before she’d be considered old enough to consummate the marriage. Richard put peace with France above his own succession.
Richard’s rule was not popular among the nobility, and when Lancaster died, his son Henry Bolingbroke became duke. Well, Richard and Henry had never got on, in fact they loathed the sight of each other (or so it seems to me, even though they were thrown together as boys) and Richard banished Henry into exile (a long story). Richard then confiscated the entire Lancaster inheritance, which was yet another very unwise move, because Henry came back with an army. He caught Richard (whose next exceedingly unwise move had been to go off to Ireland with all his friends – he specialised in being unwise) on the hop, and disposed of him. Henry then usurped the throne as Henry IV. Thus the House of Lancaster took the crown.
Henry IV’s coronation sealed the moment the Plantagenets split, but they all remained Plantagenets. There were plenty of people in England who didn’t believe Henry, descended from Edward III’s third son, had any right to the throne, because there were descendants (the Mortimer Earls of March) from Edward III’s second son, Lionel of Clarence. Lionel had passed away some time before, leaving a daughter. The Mortimers would eventually be blood descendants of Edward III’s fourth son, Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York. Therefore the 5th Earl of March, who was a mere child, was deemed to have a stronger claim than Henry IV, who had usurped Richard II’s throne and probably seen to that unhappy king’s murder, and was only descended from Edward III’s third son, John of Gaunt. But slick Henry could easily see off an opponent who was less than ten years old!
And so the rebellious rumbles began and did not go away. They were still around when the House of Tudor eventually held the throne.
But did this dichotomy in the Plantagenet family make Henry IV any less of a Plantagenet than Richard II had been? I think not. They were both grandsons of Edward III as well as being first cousins, I cannot see that Henry suddenly ceased to be a Plantagenet and became solely a Lancastrian. The bloodline remained the same, the difference being that Henry was from Edward III’s third son, whereas Richard had been from the first and senior line.
Then, in due course, Henry IV died and his son Henry V came and went, until his son, Henry VI, a mere baby, ascended the throne. Henry VI reigned a long time, but was a disastrous king, far too weak and impressionable to rule England. He drifted in an out of mental illness, eventually requiring a Protector to be appointed to safeguard the realm. Along came the 3rd Duke of York, who was directly descended from the fourth son of Edward III, but also from the second son, Lionel, Duke of Clarence, through Lionel’s only child, a daughter. It was from her marriage to a Mortimer that in many eyes made the then Earl of March the rightful king when Henry IV usurped the throne. A subsequent marital union between York and March thus gave the 3rd Duke of York a very strong case indeed.
York felt (rightly in my opinion) that he had a better claim to the throne than Henry VI, but his ambitions were thwarted by the convenient (after years of barren marriage to Margaret of Anjou) arrival of Henry VI’s son. It was widely believed that Henry (who had been mentally ill at the time of the child’s conception) was in reality made a cuckold by his wife’s affair with Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset. Somerset was also descended from John of Gaunt, albeit through an originally illegitimate line, the Beauforts. Perhaps he and Queen Margaret decided he was close enough in blood for it to be OK? Who knows. Perhaps it was just passion.
York therefore encountered effective opposition from Margaret, Somerset and others at the Lancastrian court, even though he was better qualified for the crown. Thus he rebelled, and the so-called Wars of the Roses began. You either supported York, or Lancaster, or kept your head down and hoped to survive unnoticed.
The above paragraphs illustrate the very basics of what prompted the Wars of the Roses: the white rose for York and the red rose for Lancaster. We had three Lancastrian kings, then two (three if you count Edward V) Yorkist kings in Edward IV and Richard III.
Then came Bosworth, in which Richard III was cruelly betrayed by the Stanleys, who turned traitor mid-battle to support Richard’s opponent, Henry Tudor (Henry VII), whose actual blood claim to the crown of England was dodgy to say the least. Little more than right of conquest. His descent came through the Beauforts, who were the result of John of Gaunt’s extra-marital affair with Katherine Swynford and thus baseborn. Well, Gaunt managed to persuade Richard II to legitimize them, but when their half-brother Henry IV swiped the throne from Richard, he made sure to exclude the Beauforts from any claim to the throne. The line of succession would descend through his offspring, not his half-blood siblings.
This made Henry VII a mere Beaufort through his mother Margaret Beaufort, whose father was John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset, the eldest of Gaunt’s Beaufort brood. But, it is thought Henry VII was probably also a Beaufort on his father’s side. There had been an affair between Henry V’s widow, Catherine of Valois (who died today in 1437), and the self-same Edmund Beaufort (third son of John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset) who was thought to have fathered Henry VI’s son and heir! Edmund was a busy boy between the sheets. I know that posterity has Owen Tudor as Catherine’s only love after the death of Henry V, but Edmund Beaufort is far more likely, as Harriss and Ashdown-Hill , inter alia, both said. It was also thought so at the time, and hasty moves were made in Parliament to regulate remarriages for queens of England. And Catherine’s first son, supposedly by Owen Tudor, was named Edmund. A coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not.
Let’s face it, Henry VII’s probable total descent through the Beauforts wasn’t much to brag about when it came to parking his behind on the throne with any real authority. He was not a Plantagenet, and that particular parking lot was not built on solid, unchallengeable ground. So he married Elizabeth of York, eldest daughter of Edward IV, who was a Plantagenet, and thus managed to make himself more secure on the throne by “uniting” the two warring Plantagenet houses. Not entirely secure, for there were pretenders throughout his reign, but he survived, dropped the pretence of being a Beaufort/Lancastrian, and instead set up the House of Tudor, which gave us a truly charming sequence of monarchs, I think you’ll agree. The only one worth her salt was Elizabeth.
So there you have my version of the bare bones of English Plantagenet history from Richard II to Richard III. To my mind, all the kings (between and including those two) were Plantagenets. They didn’t cease to be Plantagenet and suddenly morph into York or Lancaster. They all claimed direct descent through the many sons of Edward III, and thus to all the Plantagenet and Angevin Kings of England who’d gone before.
Long before Gourmet Magazine went out of business in 2009, collapsed under too many overwrought articles on bovine emissions, it had been an intellectual colossus in the culinary world. From the 1940s through the ’60s, it featured lush travel articles on world cuisine venturing into far-flung places such as Persia, Bhutan (“a taste of Shangri-La!”) and the Texas prairie. Only Gourmet Magazine could print recipes from ordinary folks in the Midwest (“Nicoise Salad Abramowitz”) to the finger food of the Whirling Dervishes. Its writing staff featured charmingly rococo names like Malabar Hornblower, Waverly Root, Doone Beal and Irene Corbally Kuhn all of whom had long literary and culinary careers. Waverly Root wrote the classic Food ofItaly and Hornblower did major historical work digging into the eating habits of the Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts. Gourmet took food and travel so seriously that articles were often published in two or three chapters over the course of several months no doubt incurring skyrocketing expenses that only post-war prosperity could support. In its last years, it played more to the penurious and attention-deficit youth market: store bought pizza dough recipes and textless photographs of Brooklyn mixologists. Where oh where had the monthly columns “Specialites de la Maison New York” and “Paris Journal” – undoubtedly written by tubby gourmands with napkins askew – gone?
Mario Micossi’s etching for “A Medieval Feast”
Luckily, that’s where Ebay comes in. For a pittance, one can buy ten old Gourmets and wile away a nostalgic hour or two remembering New York City or London restaurants one dined at in 1979. Still, I was surprised to see Gourmet time travel. While flipping through a 1976 edition, I came across an article called “A Medieval Feast” by the self-styled Pressure Cooker Queen Lorna J. Sass. Written in the present tense, it captures something of the heated expectations of the barons seated in King Richard II’s Great Hall and the hysterical mood of the chief steward, pantler and butler. Imagine two hundred cooks in the kitchen with slaughtered animals piled to the roof! Here is a list of some of provisions she cites:
While the kitchen is in tumult, minstrels play and jugglers and acrobats wander among the noble and refined diners. “Like the Prioress in the Canterbury Tales, they are careful to leave no traces of grease on either their lips or their mazers (drinking bowls).” How those merry Yorkists could rock it!
Here are two slightly adapted recipes from “A Medieval Feast” that reinforces how our western ancestors applied the modern notion that savory and sweet can be combined in a delicious and sophisticated manner. Everything old is new again.
Make two pie dough crusts and drape one round over the rolling pin and fit it into a pie pan. Prick it with a fork and chill for 30 minutes. Do a blind bake at 400 degrees F (200 C) for 10 minutes.
In a bowl combine 1 beaten egg, 1/4 cup each of minced pitted dates and raisins, 2 tablespoons of chicken broth, minced parsley and 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, salt, sage, 1/2 teasoon of ground ginger and crushed saffron threads. Add 3/4 pound of boneless pork loin cut into cubes and combined well. Transfer to pie shell.
Place the second pie round over the rolling pin and unroll over the pie. Trim and crimp and paint with either milk or beaten egg. Prick the crust to allow steam to escape. Bake the pie at 350 F (175C) in the lower third of the preheated oven for approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes or until crust is golden.
Spiced Pear Puree
In a heavy saucepan combine 6 ripe but firm pears, peeled, cored and diced along with a cup of sherry. Add several cinnamon sticks (to taste), 3 tablespoons of brown sugar and 1/8 teaspoon of allspice, mace and pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce until pears are soft. Discard cinnamon sticks and puree the pears. Return to fire and cook until slightly thickened. Stir in homemade breadcrumbs or graham cracker/digestive biscuits crumbs and serve with sweetened whipped cream with a little nutmeg grated on top.
And while you enjoy these dishes, give a nod to the Plantagenets and their Yorkist cohorts who brought such joy and abundance to the Christmas season and a doleful sigh to the Tudors who brought them low.
John Ball was a Lollard priest who believed people were all equal and should not be crushed by the will of “evil lords”. He was also a leader of the Peasants’ Revolt, and in St Albans on 15th July 1381 was drawn, hanged and quartered. In all, fifteen men suffered the same grisly fate that day and another eighty were imprisoned. It is a reminder of how brutal things could be in the medieval period.
However, it is also stated at this site that Ball’s horrible demise was witnessed by King Richard II. This statement, while true, should be explained a little more. In 1381, Richard II was a boy of fourteen, well and truly in the hands of his paternal uncles and the government. He was forced to observe the gory executions by the new Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, the cruel Robert Tresilian.
So do not for a moment imagine a mature Richard II gloating over the bloody deaths of those who had presumed to stand against him.
Recently, for the purposes of writing fiction, I had cause to check who was admitted to the Garter in 1387. (This is the sort of weird stuff I do all the time and helps explain why for me to write a book takes aeons.)
Anyway, the simple answer is Edward of York (later 2nd Duke of York) and Dame Katherine Swynford. Two very familiar names. And appointed for very obvious political purposes. To give favour to the father of one (Edmund of Langley) and the “close personal friend” of the other (John of Gaunt.) Note Katherine S was not languishing on her Lincolnshire muck-heap at this point, she was joining the most exclusive club going in the England of 1387.
But there was also someone called “Lady Gomeneys”. Who the **** was she? I had literally no idea, but being me I had to find out. And with a fair bit of scrabbling around, I did. At least to a point.
Anne, Lady Gomeneys was the widow of someone called William de Graux, who had been accused of treasonable doings with the French, but had later been pardoned. So it looks very much as if Richard II felt that this woman had been hard-done by and wanted to make amends, not least by giving her the Garter! So this obscure widow got to sit with a carefully-chosen bunch of Plantagenets, high-born ladies, and widows and wives of distinguished English soldiers. She certainly had no discernable political heft, and this is at a point where Richard needed everyone he could bribe. It is notable, for example, that Henry Bolingbroke’s wife did not get her Garter until the following year, when everything was very different politically.
On 13 November 1389 Anne Gomeneys was granted an annuity of 100 Marks, apparently as a further recognition of her innocence.
The surprising thing is that in 1409 Henry IV (who was not generous with these honours) granted Anne Gomeneys Garter robes again.
I would love to know more, but I suspect it would take a lot more searching than I can do from this desk.