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Edward IV, Dame Eleanor and the Phantom Web of Impediments

Introduction

The precontract (i.e. prior marriage) between Edward IV and Eleanor Butler, née Talbot, has long been a subject of debate, but what has not previously been claimed is that Edward and Eleanor were so closely related as to have been unable to make a valid marriage without a special dispensation from the Pope.  Recently, however, a writer using the pen name of Latrodecta has claimed (https://ricardianloons.wordpress.com/2018/09/08/the-trial-that-should-have-happened-in-1483/#comment-454)  that they shared a relationship within the prohibited degrees, viz. “3rd degree consanguinity, 3rd degree affinity”.

Latrodecta has identified this impediment as arising from Edward’s mother Cecily Neville being the first cousin of Maude Neville of Furnivall, the first wife of Eleanor’s father, John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, and the mother of Eleanor’s older half-siblings. The claim is apparently that – despite the relationship involving no blood tie between Edward and Eleanor – it counts as an impediment of both consanguinity and affinity because half-siblings are included in the prohibited degrees of kinship. The author further claims that “Corroboration can be found in the dispensation granted for the marriage of his son [i.e. Edward IV’s younger son] and her niece [i.e. Anne Mowbray] – the relationship between her sister [i.e. Elizabeth Talbot Duchess of Norfolk] and Edward would have been the same” (that is to say, the same as between Edward and Eleanor herself).

I shall return to these claims, but first it will be necessary to explain these two types of impediment, what they are and how they were calculated at the period under consideration.

Consanguinity and Affinity

Consanguinity and affinity are the chief types of relationship that, under canon law, can produce a diriment (nullifying) impediment to a marriage. Of these, consanguinity is the easiest to understand as it is a simple blood tie: where there is no common ancestor, there can be no impediment of consanguinity. Impediments of affinity arose in those days from sexual intercourse (now only from marriage).[1] The two sexual partners were deemed to have become, as it were, ‘one flesh’. Latrodecta should therefore not have been the least bit surprised to have ‘seen a case where the bridegroom had to obtain a dispensation because he’d already slept with his future mother-in-law’.

It is a common, indeed almost ubiquitous, misconception amongst ordinary historians that the relationship thus formed barred the couple’s respective blood relatives from marrying each other, but this is not so.[2] Prior to 1215, the impediment of affinity had, it is true, been slightly complicated by the rule that a person’s second partner contracted affinity not only with the consanguines of the spouse but also with his or her closest affines (i.e. their new step-kin); at no time, however, had any couple shared a relationship of affinity without one of them having had a prior sexual relationship to cause it; two virgins could never be each other’s affines. Hence, when St. Augustine asked of Pope Gregory: ‘Is it permissible for two brothers to marry two sisters, provided there be no blood ties between the families?’ the great pontiff had replied: ‘This is quite permissible.’[3] The rules had been further simplified by the Fourth Council of Lateran (1215 AD), which had abolished the impediment between certain blood relatives of a person’s two spouses.[4] The unifying principle of the remaining impediments is encapsulated in the maxim affinitas non parit affinitatem (‘affinity does not beget affinity’).[5]

By the 15th century, therefore, there were no longer any step relationships that created impediments other than those (such as stepfather and stepdaughter) that just happened to involve direct affinity. In fact, it was almost de rigueur at this period for a widow and widower to cement their own union with at least one marriage between the offspring of their former marriages.

In the late Middle Ages, both consanguinity and affinity created an impediment to marriage up to the level of third cousins (another rule brought in by the Fourth Lateran Council).[6] The method of calculation in use at the time – the so-called Germanic method – is extremely simple to use.

Edward and Eleanor: Consanguinity

To check for an impediment of consanguinity, one simply draws up two direct-ancestry trees, one for each party to the proposed marriage, with the prospective bride/ groom at one end, their parents (1st-degree consanguines) in the next row, after them their grandparents (2nd-degree consanguines), then their great-grandparents (3rd-degree consanguines), and lastly their great-great-great-grandparents (4th degree consanguines).[7] Then one stands back, looks for any names common to both trees and counts the generations from each partner up to the closest match in any given line. Most often, the common stock, as it is called, (stirps in Latin) will be a couple, but it can also be a single individual, as would occur if an ancestor had married twice and the bride was descended from one of those marriages and the groom from the other. This is what is meant, and all that is meant, by half-siblings counting in the same way as full siblings: the only relevant half-siblings are those who link the couple via their shared ancestor.

I have carried out this very exercise for Edward and Eleanor, highlighting any common ancestors in red. As can be seen, there are none.

Note that Maud Furnivall, identified in the above article as the route to the alleged 3rd-degree impediment, appears on neither Edward’s nor Eleanor’s table; this is because she was only a collateral relation of Edward and no blood relation of Eleanor at all.

Let us now turn to the assertion that the dispensation for Anne Mowbray and Richard of Shrewsbury corroborates this alleged 3rd-degree consanguinity. There are, I fear to say, two problems with this, one of them terminal. First (to be picky) the Anne Mowbray dispensation is for consanguinity in the 3rd and 4th degrees (i.e. one of them was 3 degrees removed from the common stock, and the other, 4 degrees),[8] whereas an even 3rd-degree consanguinity between Edward and the Talbot sisters would have resulted in an even 4th-degree consanguinity between little Richard and Anne. But rather more seriously, Latrodecta has overlooked the salient fact that all children have two parents. As the following consanguinity chart for Richard Duke of York and Anne Mowbray clearly shows, they were indeed related in the 3rd and 4th degrees but Anne’s relationship to Edward’s family lay on her father’s side and in no way involved her Talbot ancestry.

Edward and Eleanor: Affinity

Now let us turn to affinity. By sexual union, the consanguines of the one partner become the affines of the other. So, for instance, if Harry’s previous partner was Sally’s second cousin, then Harry and Sally would be related by affinity in the 3rd degrees. The check for affinity therefore works on the same principle as for consanguinity,[9] except that the bride/groom needs to compare her/his consanguinity tree with that of the prospective spouse’s previous partner(s). This exercise I have carried out for Edward and Eleanor by drawing up this chart showing Sir Thomas Butler’s ancestry. Unfortunately Thomas’s chart is not complete in all areas, and not 100% verified in others, because much of his ancestry is relatively humble and not recorded, but it is highly unlikely that any of these obscure Cheshire ancestors would feature on the table of Edward of March. In short, there was no affinity between them either.

Conclusion

There was no relationship preventing Edward Plantagenet and Eleanor Butler from marrying each other.  Readers do not need to take my word for this: there are plenty of sources available online that set out the different prohibitions and methods of calculating degrees of relationship in use by the Catholic Church at different periods. To be sure one has the correct understanding, all that is needed is to perform a few test calculations on couples whose ancestry and marriage dispensations are both known. Or some may wish to begin, as Edward IV’s councillors must have done in 1464, by checking for (non-existent) common ancestors on the trees of Edward IV, Elizabeth Woodville and Sir John Grey.  


[1] The impediment of affinity arising from extramarital relationships was also to be gradually abolished.  The first step was taken in the 16th century by the Council of Trent, which limited its effect to the 2nd degree (first cousins), but it was not until 1917 that this impediment was wholly confined to the consanguines of previous spouses. 

[2] The most notable recent intrusion of this error into late-fifteenth-century English history is Michael Hicks’ claim that Clarence’s marriage to Isabel Neville prohibited Richard’s marriage to Isabel’s sister.

[3] Mary O’Regan, ‘Marriage Dispensations According to St Augustine’, Ricardian Bulletin, Autumn 2008, pp. 34-35.

[4] https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/lateran4.asp, canon 50.

[5] Thomas de Charmes, Theologica Universa ad Usum Sacræ Theologiæ Canditatorum, vol. 7 (1765), p. 357.

[6] https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/lateran4.asp, canon 50.

[7] A particularly clear explanation is given in the 1917 Catholic Encyclopaedia under ‘Consanguinity (in Canon Law)’: ‘Mode of Calculation’ (https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04264a.htm).

[8] ‘Dispensation . . .  notwithstanding that they are related in the third and fourth degrees of kindred’ (Calendar of Papal Register Relating to Great Britain and Ireland, ed. J. A. Twemlow, vol. 13 [London, 1955], p. 236).

[9] Again, The Catholic Encyclopaedia gives a useful summary under ‘Affinity (in Canon Law)’ (https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01178a.htm).

AUSTIN FRIARS: LAST RESTING PLACE OF PERKIN WARBECK

UPDATED POST ON sparkypus.com A Medieval Potpourri https://sparkypus.com/2020/05/14/austin-friars-last-resting-place-of-perkin-warbeck-2/

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Austin Friars today.  This section of road covers part of  the perimeter of the Friary.    With thanks to Eric, Londonist. 

Austin Friars in London, was founded about 1260 by Humphrey de Bohun 2nd Earl of Hereford and Constable of England d.1275.   It was rebuilt in 1354 by Humphrey de Bohun d.1361, Humphrey’s great great grandson (keep up folks!)  6th Earl of Hereford, and Lord High Constable.   The friary covered a large area, about 5 acres and had a resident population at one time of about 60 friars.  It stood on the site of two earlier churches, St Olave Broad Street and St Peter le Poer, the latter was incorporated in the new church and formed the south aisle of the choir.  It must have been affluent being able to afford a new steeple in 1362 to replace the one badly damaged in a storm.

However it was not without its rather scary and unpleasant incidents.  In 1381 during the Peasants Revolt 13 Lombards were dragged from out of the church where they had been sheltering and lynched.  in 1386 a congregation of Lollards inflamed by a sermon,  given in the nearby church of St Christopher le Stocks, on the practices and privileges of Augustinian friars descended on Austin Friary.  The Friary was only saved in the nick of time by the intercession of the local sheriff from being totally destroyed by the mob.

The church stood in the centre of the friary precinct.  Adjoining the precinct was land that was used for rented ‘tenements’.  Some of these tenements must have been fairly grand as the tenants included notables such as Erasmus (who complained about the quality of the wine and left without paying his bill),  Eustace Chapuys and none other than Thomas Cromwell.  Oh the irony…Thomas living cheek by jowel with one of the religious orders  he so despised.  Anyway – as Cromwell rose to fame and fortune he acquired more land from the friary and built one of the largest private mansions in London.   Sometimes his methods to gain more land were not entirely ethical.  We know this because one of the people he rode roughshod over was none other than the father of John Stow who wrote ‘A Survey of London 1598’.  We can still feel the rising of Stow’s hackles over the centuries  as in writing his description of the Friary he added “on the south side and at the west end of this church many fair houses are built namely in  Throgmorton Street, one very large and spacious built,  in the place of old and small tenements by Thomas Cromwell.    This house being finished and having some  reasonable plot of ground left for a garden, he caused the pales of the gardens adjoining to the north part there off on a sudden to be taken down;  twenty-two feet to be measured fourth right into the north of every man’s ground,  a line there to be drawn, a trench to be cast,   a foundation laid and a high brick wall to be built. My father had a garden there and a house standing close to his south  pale; this house they loosed from the ground and bare upon rollers into my fathers garden twenty-two feet,  ere  my father herd thereof.  No warning was given him, nor other answer when he spake to the surveyors of that  work but that their master Sir Thomas commanded them to do so, no man durst go to argue the matter but each man lost his land and my father paid his whole rent which was  six shillings and sixpence for the year for that half which was left.   Thus much of my own knowledge have I thought good to note, that the sudden rising of some men causes them in some matters to forget themselves’.  Really Sir Thomas!   Stow born in 1525 and dying in 1605 at the grand age of 80 lived long enough to see the downfall of Cromwell.  He was described as ‘ a merry old man’ and I wonder what his reaction was to the death of the man who had treated his dad so disgracefully

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Austin Friars from the Copper Plate map c1550.  1.  The Church.  2.  Cloister.  3.  Cromwell’s Mansion.  4.  Gatehouse.  With thanks to online Wikipedia article

Stow made a list of the illustrious people buried in the church.  Among them were: 

Humphrey de Bohun, rebuilder of the church in 1354 and buried there in 1361 in the quire.

Edward son of Edward the Black Prince and his wife, Joan the Fair Maid of Kent.  Brother to Richard II.

Edward Stafford Duke of Buckingham executed 1521 – also in the quire

John de Vere 12 Earl of Oxford and thus son Aubrey; both executed in 1462 also in the quire

Sir William Tyrell, slain at Barnet; in the nave.  Many of the notables slain at Barnet were buried here (1).

William Tyrell of Gipping executed 1462

William Collingbourne,  author of  the infamous doggerel, executed 1484; buried in the ‘west wing’?

Sir Roger Clifford executed 1484

Sir Thomas Cook, he who was persecuted by the Woodville.  Died 1478.

Disappointingly Stow did not mention Perkin Warbeck.  Perhaps he did not have a monument,  Its difficult to see who would have  come forward and paid for one to be made under the circumstances.   W E Hampton suggests the burial site may have been in what Stow calls the ‘West Wing’ which was probably a transept.  We can only speculate that if,  after the many changes, upheaval, fires, bombs  and rebuilding that the church has undergone, any of the remains of Warbeck and the other burials have somehow survived and remain hidden in vaults, yet to be discovered at some distant future time.  Of course there always remains the miserable thought that he may have been buried outside the church in an unmarked grave.  An archaeological dig was made in 1910 in the area of the cemetery but the expected human remains were never found.  Had they been exhumed and disposed off long before?

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Perkin Warbeck.  

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John Stow author of A Survey of London Written in the year 1598.  A great debt is owed to Stow in his labours of making the Survey which tells us so much about a long lost London.  

In 1540 the bitch known as Karma finally caught up with Cromwell and he was executed, his great mansion seized by the crown – naturally – and sold off along with the friary precincts.  Most of the precincts was demolished but Cromwell’s  mansion became Drapers Hall.  Drapers Hall was destroyed in the destruction that was the Great Fire of London.  Rebuilt in 1667 it was once again badly damaged by fire in 1772.  It was  again rebuilt and later in the 19th century both the frontage and interior much altered twice.

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Thomas Cromwell.  Getty Images

In 1550 the nave of the church was given by Edward Vl to the local Dutch Protestant community to serve as their church,  the remaining part used for ‘stowage of corn, coal and other such things’.  The Marquis of Winchester, who had inherited it from his father ‘sold the monumnets of noblemen there buried in great number, the paving stones and whatsoever, which cost many thousands, for one hundred pounds, and thereof made fair stabling for horses.  He caused the lead to be taken from the roofs and laid tile in place whereof, which exchange proved not so profitable as he looked for, but rather to his disadvantage’ ( 2)

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A statue of St Augustine in Austin Friars.  A poignant reminder of the long gone Austin Friars.  T.Metcalfe 1989.  Photo thanks to Patrick Comerford.

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View of Throgmorton Street today with Drapers Hall built on the site of Thomas Cromwell’s great London mansion.

The Dutch church survived the Great  Fire of London 1666 but was badly damaged by a fire in 1862 which seems to have destroyed the nave but left the exterior standing.  The church was then rebuilt, once again, in 1863 but totally destroyed in an air raid in 1940.  It was finally rebuilt yet again in 1950-56.

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Undated photo of The Dutch Church Austin Friars..14th century.  Taken from Broad Street.  British History online. 

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The ruins of the Dutch Church Austin Friars after being bombed  1947.  A service is being held to mark the first anniversary to the German invasion of Holland.

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The  Dutch Church newly built in the 1950s.

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Plan of Austin Friars overlaid on modern street plan.

( 1) The Austin Friars article by W E Hampton, The Ricardian.

(2) A Survey of London Written in the year 1598 John Stow p163

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Britain’s Most Historic Towns (2)

This excellent Channel Four programme, presented by Professor Alice Roberts, with Dr. Ben Robinson in the helicopter, has returned for a new series. The early venues were Dover (World War Two, visiting the underground base, concentrating on the retreat from Dunkirk and subsequent Channel defence, meeting some survivors, wearing ATS uniform and riding in a tank), her home city Bristol (Georgian, with slavery, gin, chocolate and great architecture featured) and Cardiff (where coal and the Marquess of Bute brought much prosperity in the Edwardian era, before it could supplant Machyllenth as Wales’ capital).

The series then moved on to Oxford to illustrate the Civil War sieges, where Alice Roberts’ Worsleyesque love of dressing up saw her in New Model Army uniform, playing real tennis and viewing Charles I’s ersatz capital. Episode five illustrated Plantagenet Canterbury, featuring St. Augustine, Becket, Chaucer, the Black Death and Peasants’ Revolt. We were also shown a copy of the Magna Carta. The last show was about Stewart Stirling, where she visited the Castle and walls, brewed beer, played with a replica antique football and visited a well, illustrating how individual Stewart monarchs were vulnerable, even to internal opposition, but the line was secure.

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