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Was Sir Gawain’s head still displayed in Dover Castle in 1485….?

Arthur-Pyle_Sir_Gawaine_the_Son_of_Lot,_King_of_Orkney

One of the greatest of Arthur’s knights was Sir Gawain, hero of (among other legends) the tale of the Green Knight. There is some very interesting information about Gawain here:

Gawain and Green Knight

I always knew that the Welsh tradition has Gawain (Welsh – Gwalchmai) buried as follows:-

“The grave of Gwalchmai in Peryddon, as a disgrace to men, In Llanbadarn – the grave of Cynon.”

“[John K Bollard, Englynion y Beddau (Stanzas of the Graves), Carreg Gwalch, 2015]

“The location of Perrydon has caused much debate as it is the name of several rivers; first and foremost Perrydon may have been an alternative name for that great Welsh river the Dee. Geoffrey of Monmouth mentions a ‘fluvium Perironis‘ which is rendered as Afon Perrydon in early Welsh translations. The early 12th century Book of Llandaf references a charter which locates Aber Periron in the area of Rockfield near Monmouth, Geoffrey’s home town, where the stream known as Nant Gwern joins the Monnow. This is probably the same Aber Peryddon recorded in the 10th century prophesy Armes Prydain, which was crossed on the journey into Wales.

“Peryddon may also have been an early name for the stream at Sandyhaven Pill in Rhos, Pembrokeshire which runs down from Castell Gwalchmai (Walwyn’s Castle) into the estuary at Milford Haven. William of Malmesbury confirms that his grave was discovered in Ros in the late 11th century: “At that time [1087], in a province of Wales called Ros [Rhos] was found the sepulchre of Walwin, the noble nephew of Arthur…..He deservedly shared, with his uncle, the praise of retarding, for many years, the calamity of his failing country. The sepulchre of Arthur is nowhere to be seen, whence ancient ballads fable that he is still to come. But the tomb of the other [i.e. Walwin], as I have suggested was found in the time of King William, on the sea coast, fourteen feet long….” – [John K Bollard, Englynion y Beddau (Stanzas of the Graves), Carreg Gwalch, 2015] “Walwin is the Latin rendering of Gwalchmai. Rhos in Pembrokeshire is probably a reference to St. Govan’s Chapel with whom Gawain is often confused. Saint Govan was a 6th century hermit who lived in a fissure on the side of a cliff near Bosherston, just along on the Pembrokeshire coast from Milford Haven. . .”

St Govans chapel

Confused? It’s not surprising when so many languages render the same name in vastly different spellings.

Anyway, regarding Gawain/Gwalchmai/Walwyn/Walwin, what I did not know is that he is also supposed to have been buried in a chapel in Dover Castle, where (according to Malory) his head and mantle were on display for some time:-

“And so at the hour of noon Sir Gawaine yielded up the spirit; and then the king let inter him in a chapel within Dover Castle; and there yet all men may see the skull of him, and the same wound is seen that Sir Launcelot gave him in battle.”  [Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur, Book  XXI, Chapter 2. Published by Caxton in 1485]

According to clasmerdin’s blog, “Malory also describes Gawain’s burial at Dover, the hero is interred in a chapel at the castle, and he claims that the skull still showed evidence of the head wound. The medieval castle at Dover has two chapels, no one is sure in which Gawain is supposed to be buried, although some favour the lower chapel. All we can say with any certainty is that from Caxton’s ‘Preface‘ we can only assume a skull was on display at Dover castle, and had been for over a century, and that in his day it was popularly believed to be that of Gawain.”

I only happened upon any of this because I was doing some research which led me to The Journey of Viscount Ramon de Perellós to Saint Patrick’s Purgatory. This journey to Ireland commenced in September 1397. See here

 

A century before Malory, according to Ramon de Perellós:-

“The Earl of March [23-year-old Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl, who was Lieutenant of Ireland and had received the viscount on his arrival in Ireland] had gone to England and leaving there we arrived at Dublin  where we embarked to cross to England. And in that city I was most honorably received by the noblemen and clergy. And out of there I crossed the sea and we arrived Wales before a harbor called Holyhead and thence by daily stages we arrived in England, where I found the king [Richard II] in a town called Chester where there is a most beautiful abbey of Benedictine monks where the king was staying; the queen [Isabella of Valois, Richard’s second queen] was also there and I was notably received. And from there by daily stages I crossed the island of England and passing through London I reached the port of Dover where I saw Sir Gawain’s head — for here he died — and also La Cote Mal Taillée for the knight who wore it was so called. And they kept this in the castle for their great chivalry. And there I embarked and crossed to Calais. . .”

 

So, where was Gawain actually buried? And what happened to the head and mantle at Dover Castle? How long had they been there? If not Gawain’s, whose were they?

And, of course, was there ever a Sir Gawain in the first place? That is something we might never know. Or prove.

Footnote: I have been unable to pinpoint exact when Ramon de Perellós was in Ireland/Chester/Dover. The given date of September 1397 seems specific, and yet according to my research, Richard II did not visit Chester at all in 1397, let alone in September. Richard was in Shrewsbury in January/February 1398, but even then I cannot find that he also went to Chester. Even if he had been there in the September of 1398, the date would not work because Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March had been killed in Ireland in the July. De Perellós would surely have recorded this, and yet he speaks of Mortimer as very much living. Richard was in Chester in 1387 and again in early 1399. If he went there in between those dates, I have not come across a reference.

De Perellós states that Roger Mortimer had returned to England when he, de Perellós, arrived in Ireland. According to Saul, Mortimer was in England for the first half of 1397. He returned to Ireland before the end of July 1397, and then visited England again in January 1398. So Mortimer might indeed have met Ramon de Perellós in September 1397, in Ireland. But that still leaves the impossibility of meeting Richard and Queen Isabella in Chester in that same year. They simply did not go to Chester at all. According to Saul, the furthest north Richard travelled in 1397 was Nottingham. In September he was in Westminster and Kingston-upon-Thames. Very definitely nowhere near Chester.

So, either de Perellós is wrong about the date, or about it having been Chester, which does indeed have the lovely Benedictine abbey—now Chester Cathedral—to which de Perellós refers and where Richard did indeed stay when visiting the town.

If my reasoning for all this is flawed, please tell me. It has no impact anyway upon the story of Gawain’s head being at Dover. I am just curious about where and when the meeting with Richard and his queen actually took place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“On the Trail of the Mortimers”

This song was written in conjunction with the Mortimer History Society for Philip Hume’s book about the noble family.

STATEMENT IN STONE

Most old castles will have graffiti both old and new pecked into their stonework somewhere. People like to leave A symbol for posterity (often unfortunately.) Very few ancient buildings, however, have the owner’s name graven into them for for eternity.

Not so at Caldicot in Wales. If you walk around to the back of the castle, you will clearly find the name ‘Thomas’ carved into one of the stones low in the arch of the postern gate. This Thomas happens to be Thomas of Woodstock (born 1355), 1st Duke of Gloucester, Earl of Buckingham and youngest son of Edward III.

Thomas was married to Eleanor de Bohun; Eleanor’s name is also on the door frame, although not as prominent as her husband’s. Her sister was Mary de Bohun, who married Henry Bolingbroke, the future Henry IV. The sister were co-heiresses of the huge Bohun inheritance.

Thomas was one of the Lords Appellant who rose against Richard II, who was Thomas’s nephew. Thomas had early on showed disrespectful behaviour to the young king, bursting into his presence unannounced and speaking to him in a manner deemed improper. He was involved in a rebellion in 1388, which weakened Richard’s reign, and participated in the ‘Merciless Parliament’ which curbed Richard’s powers to rule.

However, when Richard married his second wife and began to forge continental alliances, Thomas became wrathful and angry once more. He complained bitterly to one of his knights that the king should have been invading France, not making a marriage with a French princess. He scorned the king as being indolent and only interested in food and drink instead of war and glory.

Soon after, he approached Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, the grandson of Lionel of Clarence, and tried to involve him in a plot to depose and imprison the king and his new young wife. Roger, uneasy, made his excuses and vanished over to Ireland.

Word of Woodstock’s potential plot reached the king and Thomas was arrested in the presence of the king himself, who had ridden out with him, pleasantly enough it seemed, from Thomas’ castle  at Pleshey–then suddenly galloped on before him, leaving the guards to deal with Woodstock, who was hustled out of England on a ship and taken to Calais Castle. There, two months after his capture and just after giving his ‘confession,’ he died suddenly–rumours says he was strangled or suffocated by a mattress on or around September 8..

Thomas’s claim to Caldicot Castle was through Eleanor; it was part of the Bohun inheritance.He did not get to spend much time there but did order much building–the Woodstock Tower and the massive gatehouse with its vast apartments and unusual ornamentation.

The castle passed to his daughter Anne of Gloucester, who married, as her second husband, Edmund Stafford, later killed fighting at the Battle of Shrewsbury. They had a son, however, called Humphrey, who became the 1st Duke of Buckingham; a loyal Lancastrian, he died for their cause at Northampton. Humphrey’s grandson, of course, was the notorious Henry Stafford, suspect in the disappearance of the ‘Princes in the Tower’ and a rebel who lost his head in Salisbury on November 2 1483…

 

The owner of Wigmore Abbey

John Challis at Wigmore Abbey

For everyone who enjoyed Only Fools and Horses, and then The Green Green Grass, the gentleman in the above photograph will be familiar as “Boycie”. But what might not be so well known about the actor, John Challis, is that for the last twenty years he and his wife, Carol, have owned and lived in a beautiful and historic medieval house, Wigmore Abbey, in Shropshire. It is where The Green Green Grass was filmed, and was once greatly connected with the Mortimers of Wigmore Castle.

Unfortunately, the article to which this link takes you  does not go into any detail about the Mortimers, who are, of course, of importance to the claims of the House of York to the throne of England, but I am sure the book John Challis wrote and published in 2016 tells a great deal.

The book is called Wigmore Abbey, The Treasure of Mortimer, and is available from his website at the price of £30.

Wigmore Abbey - The Treasure of Mortimer

 

The article from which I have gleaned this present post contains some absolutely gorgeous photographs by Alex Ramsay, showing Wigmore Abbey and its grounds. The grounds are hazy with summer, with tall grasses that seem almost otherworldly, and the house itself is all anyone could dream of such a historic building. I envy Mr Challis and his wife, who have been painstakingly restoring and improving the property. It seems to me that their efforts have been rewarded ten times over.

Wigmore Abbey

 

 

 

 

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