The painted tapestry below is from Rothley Chapel in Leicestershire.
Strangely, since the article that prompts me now (see link below) was written in 2012, no one appears to have noticed the great likeness of the depicted English king to Richard III. At least, if they have, I don’t know of it. It’s Richard, even to his clothes. Clearly, he has been based on the famous portrait in the National Portrait Gallery.
But clearly too, the Templars were no longer a huge force in Richard’s time. Nor is the royal banner appropriate to the 15th century, when the English kings also laid claim to the crown of France. (To read more about Rothley Temple, which is now part of the Rothley Court Hotel, there is an informative article at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rothley_Temple and another at http://knightstemplarvault.com/rothley-chapel/. There is more again, with many illustrations, at http://www.rothleyparishcouncil.org.uk/rothley-temple-and-the-chapel-of.html.)
So let’s consider the De Castro Code article for a moment. It’s a very interesting and clever allusion to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, and to conspiracy theories in general. I love a good conspiracy theory, from the so-called fraud of the moon landings to whether Hitler lived on in South America after World War II. I’m not saying I believe them, just that they fascinate me. So do not even mention Rennes le Château or pirates’ buried treasure at Oak Island. Or Atlantis being in Antarctica or a real flying saucer being captured at Roswell and kept at Area 51. All juicy stuff, and eminently readable.
In the case of the illustration at the beginning of what I now write, it appears to depict Richard III with Templar knights, the conspiracy is referred at (very neatly and appropriately) as The De Castro Code. (St Mary de Castro is a church in Leicester) Dan Brown’s world-selling novel concerned a theory that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, and founded the Merovingian dynasty of French kings. With the Norman Conquest of 1066, families with Merovingian blood came over to England. They were the de Beaumonts and the de Montforts. Leicester first Norman earl, Robert de Beaumont, married a lady of undoubted Merovingin descent, so that their son, Robert le Bossu (who built Leicester Abbey), became the first truly Merovingian earl.
This Merovingian line only died out when Simon de Montfort was killed in 1265. So for 200 years, Leicester was a Merovingian stronghold in England, with rulers who claimed divine descent. Well, I doubt they promoted such a claim at the time, for it would have brought the wrath of Holy Church down upon them, and the awful fate that would entail. An English king was hardly likely to defend nobles who boasted such a claim. Anyway, the upshot of all this is that the Merovingians were also in England. Specifically Leicester. What might this imply – if they were indeed of divine descent?
So, what is the artist saying? Was he an early Ricardian, pointing out on the q.t. that Richard was as betrayed and defamed as the Templars had been? After all, the Stanleys betrayed him on the battlefield, and the Tudors defamed him at every whipstitch.
Or… Might there be a hint that Richard had Merovingian blood in his veins? That would mean Edward IV and George of Clarence had as well, of course, but the artist seems concerned only with Richard.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have not covered everything from the article, such as all the other similarities with The Da Vinci Code’s conclusions (St Mary de Castro even has a window depicting the Last Supper, and a possible Mary Magdalene), nor have I wondered about the Templar connection with the similarly named Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland, but I leave you to cogitate this most puzzling of new Ricardian mysteries….
The following link takes you to the original article. http://www.thiswasleicestershire.co.uk/2012/11/the-de-castro-code.html
Postscript: I have been reminded (by Christine Smart – thank you, Christine!) that in the spring of 1484, the Silesian ambassador had a conversation with Richard, in which the latter expressed a desire to go on a Crusade. http://staffblogs.le.ac.uk/crusading/2014/03/20/a-crusading-richard-iii/ This may well be the inspiration for the painting. But it cannot be said for certain. An element of mystery still remains.
Another Postscript: While examining a Google image of the Rothley Temple painted tapestry—more information about which is infuriatingly elusive—I wondered if it was possible the unknown artist had signed it somewhere. All the usual places proved negative, but then I spotted something which looks like a signature to me, but can’t be made out because the resolution of the illustration is too poor. I have indicated its whereabouts in the illustration below. Opinions please? A larger version of the picture is at the beginning of this post.
Sometimes, in this very old country of ours, even a simple afternoon’s walk out along the river can come up with some rewarding historical data relating to the Middle Ages and the Wars of the Roses period. Recently I went for a walk near the Wiltshire Avon, from Figheldean to Netheravon, taking in two little-known rural medieval churches, which proved to be of some interest.
At the Church of St Michaels and All Angels, where the worn effigies of two unknown 13thc knights lie in the porch, having been brought there from a now-lost nearby church or chapel, the advowsen was held in 1485-1487 by Francis Stourton. Stourton was the son of John Stourton who attended Richard III’s Parliament when attainders were passed on the Duke of Buckingham’s rebels. Unfortunately for Baron Stourton, his brother–in-law, Sir William Berkeley, had actually joined the Duke’s Rebellion. Richard said he would pardon Berkeley as long as John Stourton came up with a bond of 1000 marks. He agreed to pay the bond–but unfortunately, ungrateful William Berkeley promptly shot off to Brittany to join Henry Tudor, leaving Baron Stourton with a hefty bill. In-laws, eh?
One of the local manors, Alton Magna, also happened to belong at one time to the Earl of Warwick, Richard Neville. It is not certain how he aquired it, as it had descended with the Honour of Leicester from Simon de Montfort, to Henry Duke of Lancaster, Henry’s daughter Maud, then her sister Blanche, the wife of John of Gaunt. When Blanche’s son became Henry IV in 1399 the honour of Leicester passed to the Crown.
Going along a pleasant leafy back road from Figheldean church, the traveller eventually comes to the village of Netheravon. Its church of All Saints has some similarities architectural qualities to that in Figheldean, including a very tall, stark tower. There was probably a Saxon church originally on site, and there is visible Norman work that survives, including a carving of beasts on the capital of an exterior pillar.
The church was a prebendal church and one of the prebendaries in the 15th c happened to be Thomas Rotherham,who was first Bishop of Rochester, then Bishop of Lincoln and finally Archbishop of York. He was Keeper of the Privy Seal for King Edward IV and was appointed Lord Chancellor. When Edward died, Rotherham unlawfully handed the Great Seal to Elizabeth Woodville, and hence lost his position as Chancellor. He was present at the council meeting where Lord Hastings was arrested and then executed, and was himself arrested as part of the conspiracy. He went to the Tower, but not for very long; he was soon released and continued to be a player on the scene.
As at Figheldean, the manor of Netheravon was held by the Duchy of Lancaster, first half of it, then eventually the whole. At one point one of the halves was held by the notorious Hugh Depenser the Elder and his family during the reign of Edward II. Upon their downfall, Queen Isabella was granted the estate for life. However, when her son, Edward III, captured her and Roger Mortimer at Nottingham in 1330, Edward gave the estate to Edward de Bohun. Later, through Mary, wife of Henry IV, it became part of the Duchy of Lancaster. Other local Despenser lands went to the Earl of Salisbury, which may be how Richard Neville came to own a manor in Figheldean.
Several local estates were also held by Sir William Beauchamp, husband to Elizabeth, suo jure Baronness St Amand; upon his death she held them jointly with her next husband, Sir Roger Tocotes. Sir Roger was a local landowner and sheriff who served George of Clarence for a while, but ended up as one of Buckingham’s rebels.
There is one other interesting feature of Netheravon. As you pass down the lane near the church, you will see the name ‘Beaufort’ clearly affixed to a gate. The large, rather sombre mansion in the next field was owned by the Dukes of Beaufort -although not in medieval times, but rather from the middle of the 18th century, when the surname (Beaufort) and title (Somerset) were reversed. Their stately pile, built by one Henry Somerset, stands close to a Roman villa and is likely on the site of the medieval manor house of the Cormayles family.
Those of you who attended part of Richard III’s reburial week, or visited St. Martin’s Cathedral and the Visitors’ Centre subsequently, may have wandered off into the east of the city centre along Cank Street, Silver Street by the old arcades, or even the High Street, past. At the end of High Street, into which the others flow, you may have turned back at the Clock Tower, where Gallowtree Gate, Humberstone Gate, Church Gate and Haymarket also meet, not necessarily having the time or inclination to explore another part of the city, with another shopping centre and a bus station. Humberstone Gate leads south to Granby Street and the railway station, passing the Town Hall Square with the four lions. You may even have checked your watch against the Clock Tower without examining its structure more closely.
The stone Haymarket Memorial Clock Tower itself, a Grade II listed building, dates only from 1868 but was the site of an Assembly Rooms for a century before that. Over a thousand pounds was raised over the course of a year to build it from one of a hundred and five designs. Although it is a comparatively new building, with three out of five approaches now pedestrianised, it has stone statues of four men significant to Leicester’s history, all with an education connection, although one is much better known on a national basis.
The first of these is Simon de Montfort (1208-65), the 6th Earl of Leicester from a Norman family, who took up arms against his brother-in-law, Henry III, and proclaimed two parliaments before he was defeated and killed at Evesham. The second is William Wyggestone (Wigston, c.1497-1586), a wool merchant who made a large bequest to found a grammar school. The third was his contemporary Sir Thomas White (1492-1567), a cloth merchant who founded St. John’s College, Oxford and helped to try Lady Jane Grey. The fourth was Alderman Gabriel Newton (1683-1762), the benefactor of a charity school at St. Mary de Castro Church.
So, if you find yourself at the Clock Tower with five minutes to spare, you would do well to take a closer look.
Pare saffron plot,
forget it not.
His dwelling made trim,
look shortly for him.
When harvest is gone,
then saffron comes on.
A little of ground,
Brings Saffron a Pound
The history of saffron, that exotic spice of the Levant, spans three millennia, landing in England some time in the mid-14th century – although certainly there are hints of its somewhat limited existence before that found in the household accounts of nobility. In 1240, physician Gilbert of England mentions it as an aid in mental illness. (Today there is ongoing research into saffron as a source of helping in depression which the early 17th century herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper, may have dourly acknowledged in his admonition that saffron caused “some to have fallen into an immoderate convulsive laughter which ended in death”.) There is a legend that sometime during the reign of Edward the Third, a pilgrim returning to Essex from the Middle East brought a Crocus bulb (the source of saffron) hidden in his staff thus starting the saffron industry. In truth, it probably was returning Crusaders from Asia Minor who introduced saffron to the upper classes who, in turn, encouraged its cultivation in England, primarily Essex and Norfolk. And just in time to benefit the population devastated by the Black Death in 1348 and during its re-ocurrence thirty-three years later. Its medicinal qualities (such as it was thought) included halting hemorrhages, vomiting and headache while guarding against colic, cough and scabies. In other words, a myriad of claims that is often made about most herbs and spices – today as well as in the medieval period. In actuality, it was often used as a dye in the wool trade and as a bright paint for illustrations of religious texts and murals. According to Essex saffron farmer, David Smale, England was the largest producer of saffron during the medieval period.
Saffron is the stigma of the Crocus – not the springtime harbinger of better times and weather but, instead, of the autumn flower. Called Crocus sativus Linnaeus, it is a descendent of the wildflower Crocus cartwrightianus. Thought to have originated in Persia, its brilliant red-orange stigmas were not only used in paint and medicine but also food coloration and for its pungent flavor and hay-like aroma. And no one was more color or flavor conscious than the noble classes and royalty of medieval England! The amount of stigma (or the less prized white styles) that must be collected to make even a small amount of saffron has made it the costliest spice in the world. The most recent estimate is that it takes over 200,000 crocus flowers to obtain 450 grams of saffron. Today, several farmers in Essex (particularly the market town aptly named Saffron Walden) and Norfolk are reintroducing this fascinating spice into their landscape but because of cost and labor, one gram (0.035 ounces) sells for 75 pounds. Just a brief scroll through Amazon.com to see the prices of the finest saffron of Iran and Spain is enough to make one clutch the wallet a little tighter.
In challenging the belief that saffron was introduced to England in the 14th century, we have the 13th century accounts book of Eleanor, Countess of Leicester (Eleanor Plantagenet), the wife of Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester. Her immense household (centered at Dover Castle) purchased modest amounts of the spice – only one pound at a time as compared to six of cinnamon. She paid between 10s. and 14s. a pound for saffron while spices such as pepper and ginger were purchased for much less. A little bit of saffron goes a long way and one can’t help but wonder whether her husband, de Montfort, had not developed a taste for the strong-tasting strands of gold while enjoying his rice pilafs during his two crusades to Syria and the Holy Land. If the de Montfort family saffron was not purchased in England, it is likely that it would have been imported from Spain and Venice – two top importers during this period.
Sadly, the interest in saffron began to wane in the 18th century in Great Britain when sweet flavors such as vanilla began to supplant the somewhat bitter saffron. Nonetheless, it still has its place in English cookery and I include a link to the famous Cornish Saffron Cake (or bun) for those cooks who tire of throwing a few precious strands of sunburst into the rice while cooking up their Chicken Tikka Masala and might prefer something a little bit more cozy. As always, the BBC includes the Imperial measurements for us benighted types.
And here is a medieval recipe for mulled wine borrowed from “Fabulous Feasts: Medieval Cookery and Ceremony” by Madeleine Pelner Cosman. Perfect for a simple holiday meal for 300 guests:
“Bastarde” refers to a popular medieval wine.
2 Quarts of clarified honey
1 Pound of Pine Nuts
1 Pound of Currents
1 Pound of Sandalwood
1 Pound of Powdered Cinnamon
2 Gallons of Wine or Ale
Plus: 3 pounds of Almond
1 Gallon of Vinegar
Saffron, Powdered Ginger and Salt to taste.
Mix these in a gigantic medieval pot. Heat for ten minutes and then strew powdered ginger on the surface.
Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen, Elizabeth David
Culpeper’s Color Herbal, edited by David Potterton
Yesterday, Friday 23 January *, is the 531st anniversary of the first sitting of Richard III’s Parliament. It lasted for four weeks and transacted various business, including a codification of the petitition that asked him to become King as “Titulus Regius”. Interestingly, it is only three days from the anniversary of the first (or second) English Parliament, formed by Simon de Montfort,the rebel Earl of Leicester, at Westminster. de Montfort was killed at the battle of Evesham soon afterwards.
* We are fortunate that early 2015 follows early 1484 exactly although the latter was a leap year.