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Mer de Mort reviewed

Anything new from the Legendary Ten Seconds is always to be greeted with delight, and this new album does not disappoint. It tells the story of the House of Mortimer from its beginnings in France, to its ultimate destiny on the throne of England, through its descendants of the House of York, Edward IV and Richard III.

The narratives are read by actor John Challis, who played Boycie in Only Fools and Horses and who now lives at Wigmore Abbey. (Lucky man!)

Mortimer Overture. Impressive opening, with an almost marching rhythm – it’s possible to imagine one of the Mortimer earls riding past at the head of his dazzling retinue, and then disappearing along the road. I liked this very much. One of my favourite tracks.

Mortimer Castle. I liked the harmonies on this track. The background is perfect in the chorus, and I particularly liked the echo effect.

The Marcher Lords. And a powerful, influential and often tetchy lot they were too! A wise king handled them with caution! This is a strong song, and one can picture the generations of Mortimers standing firm.

When Christ and his Saints Slept. This one is about the period known as the Anarchy, which ended when Henry II ascended the throne. Once again, I particularly liked the background, which adds so much.

De Montfort. Tells a bloody story of the battle that ended with the death of Simon de Montfort. As a reminder of how brutal those days could often be, Roger Mortimer sent his wife de Montfort’s head as a trophy! Some good sounds in this one, making me think of heads being lopped!

The Round Table 1279. A song about an “Arthurian” tournament, creating a dazzling scene of knights in armour, fine horses, and beautiful women.

Two Thousand Marks. About the Roger Mortimer, and his dealings with Piers Gaveston, the influential favourite of King Edward II. This Roger eventually deposed the king and became the lover of Queen Isabella. We all know the outcome, and this song bowls along as it relates events.

The Privy Seal and the Royal Shield. Another song about Roger, and Mortimer participation at Bannockburn. I liked this one a lot. A great join-in chorus.

The King of Folly. Opens with a trumpet and set firmly in the year 1329 and great celebratory events at Wigmore Castle. A very enjoyable tune and rhythm.

The Tragedy of Roger Mortimer and the Mystery of Edward II. A haunting guitar solo opening for this song about Edward II’s fate at Berkeley Castle. Did he really die there? A quaint atmosphere pervades this song, which seeks the truth about Edward’s demise. . .and relates how his great foe, Roger Mortimer, eventually paid the price for his overreaching ambition. Maybe Edward lived on in obscurity.

Leintwardine. How Edward III, the man who ordered Roger Mortimer’s execution, went to Leintwardine to lay an offering of golden cloth at the feet of a statue of the Virgin Mary. I liked this one. It’s quietly understated, and a little eerie. Perhaps because a Mortimer Earl never did wear the crown, although it is from one of their daughters that the House of York descended.

Mer de Mort. A song that gives a voice to Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March. This is a delightful song, and one of my favourites on the album.

Mer de Mort, Part II. Once again Edmund expresses his feelings, and laments that his elder brother has no grave. This song echoes the first Mer de Mort, but is different. Very sad.

Henry VI. A song about the last Lancastrian king, who was to lose his throne to the Yorkist Edward IV, a descendant of the Mortimers. I like the rhythm of this song, which moves along pleasingly. It actually took a fair time to get rid of Henry VI! He was an incompetent king, but he went in the end, thank heaven. A good track.

Sunnes of York. Another easy treat, relating the tale of the how the House of Mortimer became the House of York. And tells of the final generation of Yorkist brothers, Edward IV, George of Clarence and Richard III. The House of York did not only claim the throne through the name of York, but, importantly, through the Mortimers, who descended from a more senior branch of the royal family. Familiar LTS territory. This song bowls along.

The Chapel of Sir John. A brisk rhythm for a rather spooky song, about what is seen in the windows, floor and screen of the medieval chapel of Sir John Evans in St  Matthew’s Church, Coldridge in Devon. The words recreate the atmosphere, and so does the music. An excellent conclusion.

This album marks a great advance in the LTS repertoire. A richer, fuller sound that sets it apart. Very much to my liking, and I hope, to yours.

Recommended!

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Castles for Sale

After a long period of being up for sale, it seems Sheriff Hutton Castle has at last found a buyer. With any luck, maybe there will be better access to the ruins than in the past.

SHERIFF HUTTON SALE

In the same week the announcement {link to 4th June) came that Sheriff Hutton was sold, another castle with Wars of the Roses connections came on the market–this time Wigmore Castle in Herefordshire. It became a castle of the Mortimers during the reign of William Rufus, when the King seized it from its owners and presented it to Ranulph de Mortimer.

It was besieged by Henry II when its owner at the time Hugh de Mortimer refused to give up Bridgnorth castle. Some outlying earthworks may remain from the seige.

It was also the home of Maude Mortimer (maiden name de Braose) who helped rescue the young Edward I from captivity. An ardent Royalist, after the battle of Evesham Maude placed the head of Simon de Montfort, still on the tip of a lance, in the Great Hall and held a sumptuous banquet to celebrate the Royalist victory.

One of the most famous residents was Roger Mortimer, the supposed lover of Queen Isabella, who had become the most important person in the land after the deposition of Edward II. It was Roger who also acquired Ludlow Castle for the Mortimer family through his marriage to the heiress Joan de Geneville. He held an impressive tournament there with the court, including the young Edward III, present. Of course, a few years later, Edward captured Mortimer and had him executed for his part in his father’s downfall.

The male Mortimer line  died out so the castle was passed on through Anne Mortimer, the mother of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York. It was from the walls of Wigmore that Edward IV marched out to his victory at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross, a few miles down the road.

Today the castle is in the care of English Heritage (and will presumable remain so after the sale as the details say the new owner does not have to worry about the upkeep)  It has only had minimal excavation and the decision was taken to let the site be ‘one with nature’ with bushes and trees growing  wild around the ruins. The entrance archway is quite astonishing because it has sunk so deeply into the surrounding earth, with a good deal of stonework being buried far below.

Oh, if those buried walls could rise again and those ancient stones speak about the things they have seen!

WIGMORE SALE

 

The butterfly that is Nottingham Castle….?

We all know of Nottingham Castle, perched high on its rocky hill overlooking the city. It was the lair of the wicked Sheriff, and has legendary connections with Robin Hood. It also has amazing caves through which Mortimer escaped, and that “It was from Nottingham Castle that news was announced to the people of England that second half of the reign of Edward IV had begun”. It was also where Richard III and Anne heard the tragic news of their son’s death, and where the widowed Richard stationed himself while awaiting Henry Tudor’s invasion.

The original castle’s actual appearance is not known, but it is believed to have looked like the illustration above, and perhaps more accurately like this:-

The castle as it was known to these great historical figures has disappeared, of course, and became instead:-

Then this incarnation was burned down in riots in 1831:-

The castle was rebuilt, but is now to be “renovated” again, although I do not know how much of its appearance will change. If anything. At the moment it is covered in scaffolding and hidden behind plastic sheets.

What will emerge from this cocoon? The suspense is awful, but we must wait until 2020 to see the eventual butterfly. I haven’t been able to find any satisfactory illustrations of the glamorous new wings that will unfold.

To read more, go to:
https://nottinghamhiddenhistoryteam.wordpress.com/2015/05/25/nottinghamshires-part-in-richard-iiis-story/ and
https://www.nottinghamcastle.org.uk/ and
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-nottinghamshire-24725569

Bestwood Park, where Richard used to hunt….

I can’t say that this article is all that informative, or, indeed, erudite, but it is about Bestwood Park, which as we all know was a favourite hunting park for many of our monarchs. Including Richard, of course, and he does get a mention.

If nothing else, the wintry illustrations show what it may have been like if Richard chose to hunt, or even just ride, there during the colder months.

I remember Bestwood from my teens, when I lived in nearby Hucknall. I cycled there at dusk one summer evening, and was greatly spooked by a creepy old building set among thick trees. Not for the faint-hearted!

Another Legendary Ten Seconds album

This is the list of tracks from “Mer de Mort”, a collection of songs about the Mortimer roots of the House of York and recorded for the Mortimer History Society‘s tenth anniversary. Here is an introduction.

Dyer or Dire?

Many of you will remember the episode of “Who do you think you are” in which Danny Dyer was revealed as a descendant of Edward III. In this new two part series, he “meets” a few prominent ancestors, some even more distant.

The first episode began with Rollo, ancestor of the Dukes of Normandy, which saw Dyer visit Sweden, although Danes and Norwegians also claim that Viking dynast, to learn sparring with a sword and shield. Then he went to the Tower to talk about William I and Dover Castle for Henry II, discussing his rebellious sons and his mixed relationship with Becket. At every stage, riding a horse, jousting or dyeing (Dyeing?), he was accompanied by a professional genealogist (Anthony Adolph, in a cafe opposite Buckingham Palace) or a historian, if not one of television’s “usual suspects”. At the end, Dyer visited France to learn of a slightly different ancestor – St. Louis IX, although Margaret of Wessex is another canonised forebear.

The second episode did feature some real historians: Elizabeth Norton, Chris Given-Wilson, Tobias Capwell and Tracy Borman. The opening scene had Isabella on the Leeds Castle drawbridge shouting at Edward II (Dyer): “Git aht ov moi carsel” (you may need Google Translate, but not from French). We were shown an image of Hugh le Despencer’s grisly execution, without pointing out that there were two of that name, followed by Edward’s confinement in Berkeley Castle, forced abdication and the legend of his even grislier end. Henry “Hotspur” Percy, who died in battle at Shrewsbury, followed as Dyer tried on late mediaeval armour. The next scenes concerned Sir John Seymour at Wolf Hall, inveigling his daughter into Henry VIII’s world, as Dyer dressed up and tried “Tudor” dancing. We then moved on to Helmingham Hall as Catherine Cromwell married Lord Tollemache, whose successor met Dyer, his cousin, again. The series concluded with a “sugar banquet” as the star’s family joined in, dressed as Elizabeth I’s contemporaries.

Both programmes were informative about mediaeval life, such as the “silver pennies” bearing Dyer’s image and the West Ham badge, although his stereotypical East London patois grates a little. It brought to mind Ray Winstone as Henry VIII (“I have been betrayed!”) or Nick Knowles‘ egregious Historyonics.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edward Bruce, Ill-Starred King of Ireland

On the Hill of Laughart,near Dundalk, Co. Louth, in Ireland,  lies a large, speckled stone slab  covering the remains  of a man called Edward Brus…thebrother of the rather more famous Robert the Brus, KING OF Scotland. (The actual ‘Braveheart’.)

Little known, Edward was, briefly, the High King of Ireland, but ended up dying in battle and having his remains quartered and sent across the country to various Irish towns. His head was shipped to King Edward II in England, destined for London Bridge. Later, what remained of Brus was gathered and hastily  buried in the churchyard on the Hill of Laughart in a simple grave.

Edward Brus was one of several younger brothers of Robert; his exact date of birth is unknown, as is his birth position in the family. There were three other brothers too, Niall , Thomas and Alexander,  but all of them were  captured  by English and executed, so Edward,  as the surviving younger brother, was temporarily heir presumptive to the Scottish throne.

However, when Robert’s wife, Elizabeth de Burgh, was freed from captivity and rejoined her husband, it was speculated that soon the Brus would have an heir. Edward Brus began to look for different ways to gain a crown for himself. He turned his gaze to Ireland, where he may have been fostered by the O’ Neill clan as a boy, and with Robert funding and assisting his campaign, mounted an invasion, with the ultimate goal being to drive out the Anglo-Irish lords…and claim sovereignty himself His first battle on Irish soil was against Sir Thomas de Mandeville; Edward was victorious in his effort and stormed on to take Carrickfergus. Once it was in his hands,  many  of the local chieftains gathered in council and agreed that the Brus should become High King of Ireland.

However, they were fickle in their loyalties and swiftly broke their oaths to Edward, with several of the chieftains who had bent knee at Carrickfergus trying to attack by stealth as he rode with his forces through the Moiry Pass. Again, he managed to defeat his foes and marched onwards, burning and  pillaging in his wake, until he reached Dundalk. There he besieged the town and brought it to its knees, slaughtering both the Anglo-Irish and the native Irish residents in the bitter aftermath.

Opposition forces were quickly mustered, with the leaders being the de Burghs (who were relatives of Robert the Brus via marriage) but Edward refused to give battle and eventually the de Burghs, and their ally Butler of Ormonde had to retreat from their positions through lack of supplies. Once they had retreated, Edward Brus pushed forward again, this time defeating the soldiers of Thomas de Burgh and capturing Thomas’ cousin, William Liath de Burgh. Edward II hurriedly called a parliament in Dublin to discuss the crisis, but no further move was taken by the king to  stop Brus at that time.

 By November of the same year, Brus was marching doggedly toward Kells.  Sir Roger Mortimer arrived to confront him, bearing  a  missive from the pope bidding  the Irish chieftains and the clergy to reject Edward Brus’ claim to kingship and to cede to the rule of Edward II.  The Battle of Kells was fought was fought in which Mortimer was defeated; after fleeing to Dublin, he returned to England seeking aid from the king. The triumphant Brus went on a spree of looting and sacking local towns, and even raided a Cistercian monastery.

In 1316, Brus was finally crowned Ard Ri--the High King of Ireland. This appointment brought no peace to either side, as that dread spectre, famine, struck Ireland the very next year. The weather turned, foul with frigid temperatures and incessant rain sweeping across the land and  destroying essential crops. Edward II could not get supplies to his men, people on both sides of the conflict died of starvation, and the situation with Brus continued to fester

The end came for Edward Brus when a knight called Sir John de Bermingham joined forces against him with Edmund Butler. Vengeance was foremost on Bermingham’s mind; Brus had hung his uncle from the walls of Ardee Castle. A vicious battle was fought at Faughart, and this time, Edward Brus’ luck ran out–he was defeated and killed, reputedly by an English soldier called John Maupas, and his body mutilated for display in Ireland and England.

Brus’s short, troubled reign was not looked on favourably by either the native Irish or the Anglo-Norman aristocracy of Ireland, although he is the ancestor of a current Duchess. He was described as the ‘destroyer of Ireland’ and it was written that during his tenure there came only ‘death and loss’ and that due to the famine that arrived with his ill-starred reign ‘people used to eat each other throughout Ireland.’

 

So where exactly is “Orwell”?

Harwich Town station is the end of the line, a twenty-five minute ride from Manningtree and the north-eastern extremity of Essex. As you cross the main road from the station car park, turning left takes you past a series of old buildings with Harwich Society plaques amid a modern setting. Some of these commemorate people such as Pepys, Christopher Newport the Jamestown settler and Christopher Jones, of Mayflower fame but the first of these is the site of the inn known as The Three Cups (left). Eventually, you will reach the Ha’penny Pier, from which the busy Port of Felixstowe is visible. Indeed, a passenger ferry across the rivers operates on most summer days.

Harwich is situated on the south bank of the confluence of the rivers Stour and Orwell. Between them lies the Shotley peninsula, which also features the village of Holbrook. Warner (Edward II, The Unconventional King, p.216) reports that Queen Isabella, Roger Mortimer, Edmund Earl of Kent and his steward John Cromwell, with a thousand or more other men, landed at “Orwell in Suffolk” on 24 September 1326. However, I have never heard of an actual settlement by this name.

Contemporary chroniclers are irritatingly vague about this location and it would be difficult to satisfy the conditions precisely because Harwich is in the wrong county. This map (right) illustrates the situation – that only the north bank of the Orwell from Felixstowe to Ipswich, or the northern half of the Shotley Peninsula, fit these criteria.

The Harwich Society cannot now locate their source.

Autumn dig at Chirk Castle promises to be exciting….

Chirk Castle

It seems that during the medieval period, no fewer than five holders of Chirk Castle were executed for treason. With that track record, I trust the National Trust intends to tread very carefully when it looks into the castle’s past and secrets this autumn.

Richard, Duke of Gloucester, also held Chirk for a while, so here we have yet another great castle with Ricardian connections.  It belongs to the Myddleton family now, and has done since the end of the sixteenth century, and they still live in one of the towers.

 

 

 

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