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Did Richard hear the old Welsh legend of the Twrch Trwyth…..?

 

 

Twrch Trwyth - 1

I have often wondered why Richard chose a boar as his cognizance. There are other heraldic beasts and symbols that might have appealed to him, but it was a white boar that he chose. Why? Well, from all accounts, he was only a child when he made the decision, so what might have drawn him to this particular creature?

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There is a very famous, very large boar in the old Welsh stories, called the Twrch Trwyth, which means “the boar, Trwyth”. He is really a prince, but so wicked that he and his children have been cursed. This terrible creature and his family led King Arthur and his knights a merry chase from Ireland, across Wales, and thence over the Severn to Cornwall. He was never caught. Might such a story have engaged the attention of the boy Richard? After all, he lived for a while at Ludlow Castle, right in the Welsh Marches, where he was as likely to hear Welsh stories as English and French.

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It does not take much for me to imagine Richard, together with other noble boys of his age, gathered around by firelight on a winter night, listening rapt as an old Welsh retainer tells them the adventures of the Trwch Trwyth. The picture below may be taken in bright daylight, but when the sun goes down and darkness sets in, the atmosphere would be perfect for some storytelling.

Ludlow in winter

The tale of the Twrch Trwyth comes from a much longer story, that of Culhwch and Olwen, in which Culhwch falls in love with Olwen, a giant’s daughter, and seeks her hand. The gist of the action is that the giant sets Culhwch a list of tasks which must be completed before Olwen is given up. The format is much the same as the Twelve Labours of Hercules. Anyway, one of these tasks is to find Trwyth and retrieve the comb, scissors and razor he carries between his ears. Cwlhwch must obtain the help of King Arthur and his best knights to hunt the great boar and its equally monstrous sons, which are all rampaging around Ireland.

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by Margaret Jones

 

And so the famous hunt begins, first in Ireland, and then across to Wales, where Trwyth and his sons cause more havoc. Trwyth himself evades capture, but one by one his sons are trapped and killed. Hunters are killed too, but Arthur continues the pursuit.

Arthur and the Twrch Trwyth by Margaret Isaac

Reaching the mouth of the River Wye, Trwyth seems cornered at last, and the hunters manage to retrieve the comb, scissors and razor, but Trwyth escapes into the estuary of the River Severn, and manages to swim across to the Gloucestershire shore. There he dashes on toward Cornwall. Arthur’s two best hounds chase after him, but Trwyth reaches Land’s End and leaps into the sea, followed by the hounds. All three disappear forever.

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What a wonderfully exciting yarn to listen to. What heroic images conjured in small boys’ minds. Did Richard hear it? Was he in awe of the Trwch Trwyth’s amazing stamina and bravery? Did he admire the way even King Arthur was unable to capture his prey? Did he think to himself that one day, he would have a boar as his mascot? A Twrch Trwyth of his own. A magical white (white animals were always special and sought after) boar to carry into battle in his name, as befitted the House of York?

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Well, Richard might never have heard the story, of course, but I still find it an attractive possibility. And I do like to envisage that scene at Ludlow, boys—and girls, of course—gathered around of an evening as a Welsh storyteller entertains them with tales of magic and myth.

Land's End

 

 

 

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Just WHY did Buckingham think he could cross the flooded Severn….?

Buckingham and Flooded Severn

On this date, St Luke’s Day, 18th October, in 1483, apparently egged on by that notorious Lancastrian plotter, John Morton, Bishop of Ely, Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham unfurled his banners in rebellion against his cousin, King Richard III. Morton was supposedly Buckingham’s prisoner, handed over to him by Richard for safe keeping. Safe keeping turned out to mean listening to Morton’s every seditious word and treating him as an honoured house guest. To make the king’s task all the more difficult, and to spread his resources thin, uprisings were already in progress elsewhere in England. Richard was therefore alert, and in swift action to secure his realm.

The whys and wherefores of Buckingham’s revolt are not of consequence for this article, because one thing about his action that 18th October has always bothered me. He was well acquainted with the Severn. He had to cross it every time he went to and from England from his stronghold in Brecon, so he would know the hazard it presented. This would be especially so at times of spring tides, and of the widespread floods that barred his way on this occasion. After ten days of endless rain and stormy weather, the river had burst its banks to a huge extent. Buckingham’s decision to cross anyway was not just unwise, but suicidal. Even allowing for a bridge, the approaches to which were miraculously not submerged, crossing over with an army of men would take time, and every minute counted when he was taking on a commander as clever and experienced as Richard. Maybe Buckingham felt that he had no choice. He had committed himself to join the rebellion, and maybe he saw some great prize in store if it succeeded. Maybe the prize was Richard’s crown.

Learning of Buckingham’s treachery, Richard called him “the most untrue creature living”, which is a measure of the hurt and incredulity he felt toward the second cousin upon whom he had showered rewards and position. Richard was no slouch when it came to military matters, and immediately ordered the destruction or blocking of all the bridges and river crossings that Buckingham might intend to use.  Richard wanted the duke trapped on the Severn’s western bank, where he was being harassed from behind by the Welsh Vaughan family. The longer his forces could be held back, the less secure his position became. Richard knew that soon the dissatisfied Welshmen forced into Buckingham’s service would begin to desert. Buckingham had never treated them well, and they resented him.

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Gloucester West Gate

Gloucester’s old West Gate

It is now generally agreed that Gloucester was Buckingham’s goal, because it provided the most direct route to London. But to cross there, over the long Westgate causeway that was raised over the channels of the Severn and the marshy island that lay between them, meant marching right through the city, for that was the only access and egress from the Welsh side. Did Buckingham have reason to think the gates would be flung open to him? The records suggest that choosing Gloucester was no last-minute decision, Buckingham had definitely intended all along to take that route, approaching through the Forest of Dean, so maybe he did have allies in the city. Or Morton did. It was to prove immaterial anyway, because the floods had turned the Severn into a sea. Buckingham and his army could not set foot on the causeway, let alone the city streets.

Tewkesbury on island in floods 2007

Tewkesbury Abbey on an “island” during the floods of 2007

The first crossing upstream of Gloucester was a ford just south of Tewkesbury at Lower Lode. Such a crossing would require very low river levels, which was most unlikely in October, around the equinox. In the middle of a hot, dry summer, perhaps. Otherwise, forget it. There was a ferry, of course…but imagine the time needed to convey a whole army, horses, weapons and all, even if the river were not in flood. With all that water, no ferryman would embark on such a hazardous exercise. The next bridge was at Upton on Severn, some way upstream, and had probably already been dealt with by Richard.

All factors concerning the arduous matter of crossing the Severn had been encountered in 1471 by Margaret of Anjou, prior to the Battle of Tewkesbury, and she did not have floods to deal with as well. She was trying to take her army into Wales. Buckingham was the other way around. See: https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/2017/05/03/at-the-gates-of-gloucester-in-1471/

The warning signs would have been there for Buckingham and Morton all the way from Brecon, beginning with the River Usk which flowed past the castle and town. If the Usk was in spate on its way to the Bristol Channel and estuary, so too would be the next river to cross, the Wye, and finally the Severn itself. In between  the various streams in the Forest of Dean would no longer be sparkling, trickling, babbling little brooks, but  mini-torrents crashing their way down the gradual slope toward the sea.

The Severn still floods in prolonged bad weather, and is worse during the equinoxes. It sometimes floods in the summer too, as in July 2007. It is also subject all year around to a notorious wave, called a bore, that twice a day races in from the estuary and is confined and raised by the narrower channel of the river itself. Back then it could flow inland as far as Worcester. Now it is stopped at Maisemore weir, outside Gloucester. Some bores are small, some large, and in October are usually the latter. They swell any floods still more, and when the Severn bursts its banks, it spreads for miles.

Gloucestershire floods

Buckingham, and his nemesis Morton, could not possibly have been in ignorance until the moment of actually seeing the floods. Didn’t they have any scouts? Any local guides? Couldn’t they use their eyes all the way from Brecon? At the very least they should have anticipated it something.. Once closer to the Severn, they probably couldn’t even locate the riverbank, which would be somewhere in the great expanse of fast-flowing, muddy water that was pierced here and there by trees and dwellings.

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The following descriptive report is also quoted here (and https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/tag/buckingham-rebellion/)  and serves to illustrate exactly how foolhardy Buckingham was to even consider the crossing. “In the second year of Richard III in the month of October 1483, as the Duke of Buckingham was advancing by long marches through the Forest of Dean to Gloucester, where he designed to pass with his army over the Severn, there was so great an inundation of water that men were drowned in their beds, houses were overturned, children were carried about the fields swimming in cradles, beasts were drowned on the hills. Which rage of water lasted for ten days and nights, and it is to this day in the counties thereabout called ‘The Great Water’ or ‘The Duke of Buckingham’s Water’ (Gloucester Journal November 1770).”

Our inability to understand, only guess, Buckingham’s motives in rising against Richard, lead us to view him as an arrogant numbskull. Did he actually hate Richard with a vengeance? Had Morton, that unholy man of God, convinced him of his own birthright and invincibility? Blessed him in the name of the Lord? Promised the aid of the saints? Vowed he could part the Severn Sea with a brandish of his crozier? We may never know. All we know is that the duke and his army reached the Severn and couldn’t cross. His Welshmen deserted him, Morton melted away too, and Buckingham had to flee north, eventually to be captured hiding near Shrewsbury.

Morton the Man of God - 2

Buckingham was taken prisoner to Salisbury, tried and beheaded, begging to the end for the chance to explain himself to Richard, who refused to receive him. Part of me wishes Richard had granted the request, because Buckingham’s explanation might have been interesting. Might? It would have been interesting. Illuminating, even.  On the other hand, Buckingham’s son and heir later told that his father had a dagger hidden on his person, which he intended to plunge into Richard at the first opportunity.

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Should anyone wish for a more light-hearted approach to the saga of Buckingham, Morton and the Severn floods, in 2014 I wrote a spoof called Row, row, row your boat.  I hope it amuses.

And if you’re ready for another laugh at Buckingham’s expense…

Buckingham's Big Mistake

Shepperdine, a hamlet on the shore of the Severn Estuary….

Shepperdine is a tiny settlement on the east shore of the Severn Estuary, SW of Berkeley, NW of Thornbury, and was once under the rule of the Berkeleys of Berkeley Castle, who hunted the now lost Horwood Forest that covered the area all the way to Bristol. This little part of England has not changed in centuries, but will soon be loomed over by a new nuclear power station, which will dominate everything and banish the past. So I am writing something about Shepperdine as I’ve known about it.

Shepperdine is generally referred to along with the manor of Hill, which is very close by. Hill was included in a grant of the Barony of Berkeley, bestowed upon Robert Fitzharding by Henry II after his accession in 1154. The manor stayed in the Berkeley family until coming into the possession of Robert Poyntz of nearby Iron Acton in 1418, whose family held it until 1609. I do not know much more of its history, except that the present manor house is a 19th-century building that replaced an earlier one.

joseph of arimathea's staff grows into hawthorn

It is said that Joseph of Arimathea didn’t only come to Glastonbury to strike his staff into the ground so that a holy thorn tree grew. No, indeed. Gloucestershire claims he visited Shepperdine too, and struck the ground with his staff again so that a second holy thorn grew, and, like Glastonbury, supposedly bloomed at Christmas. Unlikely? Well, no more so than Glastonbury’s claim, because Shepperdine is only a short voyage up the coast. I must come clean here, and admit that the story is probably the invention of a solitary priest in a nearby medieval chapel (now known as Chapel House) to boost income and alleviate his boredom.

Chapel House from distance

Part of the flat, marshy, dyke-crossed land between Hill and the estuary is known as the World’s End, and appropriately so. There, right beneath the sea wall, is Shepperdine, lonely, isolated, atmospheric and thought-provoking. It has also been known as Shepherdine and Shipperdine, and takes its name from the Danish vessels that beached here in Anglo-Saxon times, safe between the Severn and Horwood Forest.

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Berkeley Vale has always been an area of farms, fields, orchards, sleepy villages and little winding back roads. It is famous for cider, perry, Single and Double Gloucester cheese, and all the other produce that comes from the rich land that lies in the lee of the sea defence. Stand on the levee with your back to the vale, and there is the wild, dangerously tidal Severn estuary, beyond which rise the hills of Wales and the Forest of Dean. From the Severn comes the wonderful harvest of the sea, salmon, eels and elvers, and all manner of other sea life. The vale has always had everything it needs, and had no need to change, which is why it is as unspoilt now as it always has been. As a matter of interest, Horwood Forest was disafforested in 1228, and to be certain of what this meant, I looked it up. Disafforest means to “reduce from the privileges of a forest to the state of ordinary land :  exempt from the forest laws”.

A walk along the sea wall (on top of which passes the Severn Way footpath) is to breathe more freely and clear the cobwebs that we all accumulate in our heads. But I feel sorry for that priest  on his own in the chapel, because to have such bracing, stimulating air day-in, day-out would be a little overwhelming, especially on a bleak winter’s day, with the incoming tide roaring and the wind howling. Too much fresh air already! Or whatever he would have muttered in mediaeval Latin! To himself, because there was no one there to listen.

For centuries the only way of getting along this coast was by water, or on foot or horse. And sometimes there was no getting along there at all because of floods. Shepperdine would have been engulfed in the Great Flood of 1607 (which is now suggested to have been a tsunami).

1607

The area has been on alert or inundated many times since then, and was in danger again in 2016

flood warning 2016

The Windbound Inn (closed in 2004 and now about to be/already is demolished) was only 7 metres above sea level, and nestled behind the levee that did not always protect it. The higher Severn tides can pour over the access to the Severn Way along the top of the levee. I read somewhere that water once poured down the inn’s chimneys to flood the place to a depth of four feet! What you see in the picture below is a modern first-floor gable extension, the original inn building is lower. The picture also shows how the inn huddles in the lee of the sea wall. In high tides, the water laps within feet of the building. In the distance in the photograph below you can see the old Severn suspension bridge, and a glimmer of the new crossing beyond it.

windbound behind embankment

Here’s a fascinating anecdote of Shepperdine from 18th September 1954 or 55. Lord Noel Buxtun walked right across the estuary, guided by a local man’s knowledge. The lowest point of the river is between Aylburton and Shepperdine, and is an old Roman ford. A zig-zag course was worked out for Lord Noel to follow. At the deepest point the river came up to his chest, but he made it to the other side.

Lord Noel Buxton crosses Seven on foot

Rather him than me! Be stuck in the middle of a two-mile wide River Severn, right up to the chest? And stay sane enough to keep walking? To say nothing of trying to remember whether you were on the zig or the zag. Of course, you’d need to be lacking in sanity to make such a crossing in the first place. The Beachley-Aust ferry wasn’t far away to the south, and to the north you could drive around via Gloucester. Much more sensible. But then, I believe his lordship also crossed the Humber like this. And the Thames, which he miscalculated and had to swim part of the way. Say no more, really.

The following passage is taken from Severn Tide by Brian Waters, who also wrote Severn Stream, about the inland reaches of the river.

“The building [the mediaeval chapel] is now known as Chapel Cottages, and stands as a buttress of the sea wall where the land bends into the river, and where the main channel of the Severn curves toward the chapel. Navigational lights stand on the shore beside the building and they remind us that Thomas, Lord Berkeley, who founded the chapel in the fourteenth century, was a practical man. He gave ‘competent lands’ to maintain a priest to sing there, and under his heirs the house became a chantry until the Reformation. It stands exactly opposite the monastic chapel of Woolaston across the river. The chapel served the secular purpose of being a guide to shipping and a landmark to sailors.

“One of its priests wrote this Latin phrase about the parish of Hill: ‘Hieme mala, aestate molesta, nunquam bona’— ‘Evil in winter, grievous in summer, and never good’. But the holy thorn is not the only flower to bloom here in midwinter, in January I have seen the grass of the sea wall studded with daisies, and have even put my foot on five of them, for there is a saying in parts of Gloucestershire that if you can put your foot over five daises then spring is here…”

“…The chapel building has undergone many changes, but the four walls now standing [1947], bleak and angular against the Severn, would appear to be the form of the original house. After the Reformation the chapel became a farmhouse, and only comparatively recently was it converted into cottages.”

Chapel House

What the original chapel looked like I cannot say, except that it would have been simple. Being got-at over the centuries has not improved its appearance!

It was derelict again when I walked there with my husband and daughter when she was a child, but is now a house again. We liked to go to the Windbound Inn and then stroll north along the embankment toward the chapel. Now the Windbound is no more, and soon there will be a new nuclear power station to tower over this amazing coastline. This will be to replace nearby Oldbury, which has been decommissioned.

The Windbound toward the end

 

 

 

Edward V slept here….?

Upton Cressett Hall - Edward V

On the death of Edward IV, the young heir, Edward, Prince of Wales, set off from Ludlow in Shropshire for London, in the care of his maternal uncle, Sir Anthony Woodville. Tradition has it that they halted overnight at Upton Cressett Hall, prior to crossing the River Severn the following morning.

The britainexpress.com link below has information about the hall, but is horribly traditionalist about Richard. Read it if you have a carpet handy and feel like a good chew. If not, give it a miss!

http://www.uptoncressetthall.co.uk
http://www.britainexpress.com/…/s…/houses/upton-cressett.htm

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