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Thetford

Here are the remains of Thetford’s magnificent Cluniac Priory, built in 1107 and the burial place of the Mowbrays and Howards up to 1540, when they were moved to St. Michael’s, Framlingham. Only about five minutes’ walk from the station, it is best visited on a dry day because Cromwell’s commissioners were ruthless and so, now, is the Priory. John Howard, first Duke of Norfolk, was re-interred here some time after his death at Bosworth; probably by his son, the victor of Flodden. His original burial site is indicated by a plaque, to one side, whilst another shows that his son once laid by the altar.

More of the town’s history, including the Iceni, Edmund the Martyr, Thomas Paine and local factories, is commemorated on the walls of the Red Lion (the Howard symbol) by the market place, together with Ayrton Senna who lived briefly in Attleborough whilst driving for Lotus. The Dad’s Army Museum is just around the back and there is a statue of Captain Mainwaring by the town bridge.

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On the trail of the golden dragon of Wessex….

Royal coat of arms of Elizabeth I in the church of St Thomas and St Edmund at Salisbury

Royal coat-of-arms of Elizabeth I in the church of St Thomas and St Edmund in Salisbury

The Golden Dragon of Burford in Oxfordshire isn’t a takeaway! It’s the pagan banner of the Anglo-Saxon King of Mercia, Aethelbert, who was defeated at the Battle of Burford in AD 752 by Cuthbert, King of the West Saxons. Aethelbert’s golden–dragon banner was taken, and for centuries the outcome of this battle was celebrated in the town by a procession and much festivity. In the 1979 parade, 25 local schoolchildren provided the legs of a 50’ dragon!

Burford - Golden Dragon Procession in 1979

My first port of call for the (completely unassociated!) information I was actually looking for, happened to take me to this site , where I found:-

“Malmesbury and other chroniclers record a battle between the West Saxons and Mercians at Burford in AD 752. In the end Æthelhum, the Mercian standard-bearer who carried the flag with a golden dragon on it, was killed by the lance of his Saxon rival. The Anglo-Saxon Chronical records “A.D 752. This year Cuthred [Cuthbert], king of the West Saxons, in the 12th year of his reign, fought at Burford, against Aethelbaldof the Mercians , and put him to flight.”

Aethelhum/Erle Adellum the standard-bearer turned up elsewhere.

We read also y’ Cuthred, King of y”^ West Saxons, encountring King Ethelbald,

had y” standard of y” golden Dragon borne before him by Earle Adellum. \_Ro. Hoveden,

  1. 234, No. 20, jf 740.]

The historian William Camden (1551–1623) wrote

“… in Saxon Beorgford [i.e. Burford], where Cuthred, king of the West Saxons, then tributary to the Mercians, not being able to endure any longer the cruelty and base exactions of King Æthelbald, met him in the open field with an army and beat him, taking his standard, which was a portraiture of a golden dragon.”

The origin of the golden dragon standard is attributed to Uther Pendragon, the father of King Arthur, of whom Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote:-

“[Uther Pendragon] “… ordered two dragons to be fashioned in gold, in the likeness of the one which he had seen in the ray which shone from that star. As soon as the Dragons had been completed this with the most marvellous craftsmanship – he made a present of one of them to the congregation of the cathedral church of the see of Winchester. The second one he kept for himself, so that he could carry it around to his wars.”

In the late 16th or early 17th century the people of Burford still celebrated the anniversary of the battle. Camden wrote: “There has been a custom in the town of making a great dragon yearly, and carrying it up and down the streets in great jollity on St John’s Eve.” The field traditionally claimed to be that of the battle is still called Battle Edge.

Next I was led to this site

“. . . The Battle of Burford took place in 752AD and the King of Mercia, Aethelbald was defeated by King Cuthred, the King of the West Saxons. King Cuthrd won the battle and took the standard, a golden dragon. The field where the Battle took place was called Battle-Edge located beside Sheep St and Tanners Lane. There are houses there now but one of the houses is called Battle House. In 1852 some men were making a road from Burford to Barrington and discovered a large stone weighing nearly three tons which was found to contain the remains of a human body with remnants of a leather cuirass studded with metal nails. The coffin is still preserved in the Burford church. Apparently, in years gone past, there was a street parade through Burford, with the dragon as its focus. . .” 

By now quite interested in the golden dragon and the mystery burial at Burford, I found:-

According to Reverend Francis Knollis’ description of the discovery, “On 21 November 1814 a large freestone sarcophagus discovered near Battle Edge 3 feet (0.91 m) below ground, weighing 16 long hundredweight (1,800 lb; 810 kg) with the feet pointing almost due south. The interior is 6 feet (1.8 m) long and 2 feet 2 inches (0.66 m) wide. It was found to contain the remains of a human body, with portions of a leather cuirass studded with metal nails. The skeleton was found in near perfect state due to the exclusion of air from the sarcophagus.” The coffin is now preserved in Burford churchyard, near the west gate. 

“Whose fame is in that dark green tomb? Four stones with their heads of moss stand there. They mark the narrow house of death. Some chief of fame is here! Raise the songs of old! Awake their memory in the tomb.” – Ossian 

The coffin is no longer inside the church, but outside. If, indeed, it ever was inside:-

This saysA stone coffin was found in 1814 a mile from Burford, on a new road being constructed from Upton to Little Barrington. The coffin contained a human skeleton and pieces of metal studded leather – possibly hobnail shoes or sandals. The coffin and its contents were dated as Roman. The remains were removed to the British Museum and the coffin was recorded as being placed in Burford Church in an aisle called ‘Sylvesters’. 

However, a recent visit to the church, and information gathered from the Verger, revealed that in fact the coffin was never inside the church. It sits by the churchyard wall to the north-west side with other large stones. The verger explained that the second large stone coffin was probably medieval, the stone (half) sitting on top of it was reported to be part of the top of the Roman coffin, and the large stone leaning against the wall was the top of the medieval coffin. One of the other stones, seen in the photographs, could be the other half of the Roman top.

So, was the 1814 Roman, and therefore nothing to do with the battle of AD792? Or was the medieval coffin more relevant? It depends, of course, upon what one means by “medieval”. It would be interesting anyway to learn to whom such a striking burial (the one in 1814) belonged. A stone sarcophagus weighing almost three tons, buried three feet underground? With four marker stones topped with moss? And there was a perfect skeleton inside? If it had anything to do with the battle, it could not be the unfortunate Aethelbert, who was “put to flight”, not killed. Maybe it was Erle Adellum, the bearer of the golden dragon standard? Or was he another Sir John Cheyne, and lost the standard, but lived to tell the tale. Or not tell it, probably, since Cheyne was a giant and was unhorsed by the much smaller Richard III with a broken lance. (Oh, I love that story!) Whoever he was, his skeleton seems to have disappeared now, or is stored somewhere in a box. Hmm, sound familiar?

In Britain, the golden dragon is definitely associated with Uther Pendragon, and thus, presumably, with King Arthur himself. Being able to claim such famous ancestors was a great thing for royalty and nobles in the medieval period, and so heraldic golden dragons have turned up a number of times. Harold Godwinson carried the golden dragon, and there is a school of thought that believes (because he carried it, and was the final Saxon king) the golden dragon was the last truly authentic flag of England.

Harold with the golden dragon...or is it white...or white and gold

Harold carrying a dragon shield – is it a golden dragon? A white dragon? Or a white-and- gold dragon? Whatever, it’s a dragon with gold on it!

At least one of the Plantagenets used it too. “By 1300, a banner of St Edmund was displayed in Westminster Abbey alongside banners of St George and St Edward and a special standard bearing a golden dragon commissioned by Henry III.”

Henry III

It was also used by Owain Glyndŵr, and purloined in a red form by the Tudors. But sometimes Elizabeth I was known to have substituted the red dragon supporter for a golden one (see top picture above). And the golden dragon still crops up in present-day county coats-of-arms, e.g. Dorset. Mostly, of course, those counties that are in what was once the Kingdom of the West Saxons.

So, how important should the golden dragon still be to the heraldry of this country? But, I suppose, it would only go the same way as the red dragon of Wales. . .and be omitted from the Union Jack.

Golden Dragon

Will they dig down for St Edmund, do you think….?

abbey gardens, bury st edmunds

Searching for historic remains seems to be the thing now. More than ever since Richard III. I hope that the work of the folk who went to the Abbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds on International Dowsers Day will lead to another great discovery.

 

St Edmund, the king under a tennis court…?

King Edmund

A wall painting at St Mary the Virgin church in Lakenheath which depicts King Edmund

“November 20 is St Edmund’s Day, the feast day of the ‘last king of East Anglia’ and – some would say – England’s proper patron saint. But where do his bones lie? Trevor Heaton explores the twists and turns of a centuries-old mystery…” Is he under a tennis court? Read on for another take on Edmund the Martyr, who was almost certainly not a Wuffing.

 

Anyone for tennis?

There is an i220px-Edmundbeingmartyred05ssue with Edmund the Martyr, King of East Anglia, who was shot and beheaded by Vikings, today in 869. He isn’t England’s patron saint, although he is far more English than St. George, who is thought to have originated in modern-day Turkey or Syria. However, unlike St. Edward the Confessor, whose brother-in-law Harold II and great-niece Margaret of Wessex are ancestors of centuries of English and British monarchs, St. Edmund does not seem to be connected to our Royal family at all, even though he reigned during the late Heptarchy and counted Raedwald and the other Wuffings among his predecessors. In short, he is a genealogical island.

Now it seems that St. Edmund, as were Richard III, Henry I and other kings, is on the verge of being rediscovered in plain sight, under a tennis court in his case.

Now the search is on for Harold Godwinson….!

King Harold Ii Harold Godwinson

Another exciting search for a very important king in the annals of our land, this time at Bishop’s Stortford in Hertfordshire.

Harold Godwinson reigned for even less time than Richard III, i.e. nine months and eight days, and his sovereignty too ended in a vital battle that let “the enemy and its foreign army” in. In his case, of course, it was Hastings and  the Normans. Poor old England in 1066. Poor old England in 1485.

The following link tells more about this new quest for a king, and it opens with this: “A pair of amateur historians believe they may have uncovered the real grave of England’s last Anglo-Saxon king who was killed in the Battle of Hastings.” Now read on!

A Visit to Bury St Edmunds (Part Two)

Pic of Cathedral

St Edmundsbury Cathedral, previously St James’ Church

After we left Moyse’s Hall Museum, we wanted to visit St Mary’s Church, as we knew there was a wedding going on at the Cathedral. However, when we arrived, the church was closed a s a service was going on for the WI. By this time the bells of the Cathedral were ringing indicating the wedding was over and so we trooped back there for a while.

Pic of stained glass window

Stained glass window – St Edmundsbury Cathedral

The stained glass windows were impressive as well as the font which is gigantic, and we found a tapestry depicting King Henry VI visiting the shrine of St Edmund in 1433.

Pic of tapestry

Tapestry showing Henry VI at St Edmund’s shrine

I was pleased to see that the floral decorations included white roses. The cathedral was previously St James Church and became a Cathedral in 1914.

Pic of St Mary's Church

St Mary’s Church

We then tried out luck again at St Mary’s and this time managed to get in and see the tomb of Mary Tudor (she of the lock of hair). It is right at the far left part of the church, but is clearly marked.

Pic of Mary Tudor's tomb

Tomb of Mary Tudor

Pic of sign

Sign for Mary’s tomb

In addition there was the tomb of one William Carewe who fought at the Battle of Stoke and was subsequently knighted by Henry VII.

Pic of William Carewe's tomb

Tomb of William Carewe

All in all a thoroughly good time was had and we learned a lot.

A Visit to Bury St Edmunds (Part One)

The Mid-Anglia branch of the Richard III Society descended on Bury St Edmunds on Saturday the 12th September. We were lucky enough to have another brilliantly sunny day with no sign of rain and met up in Starbuck’s just across from our first and main objective, the Moyse’s Hall Museum.

This museum is housed in an ancient building dating from the time of the Town’s namesake, Edmund, who was king of England in the ninth century. Our knowledgeable guide, Alex, enthralled us with his tales of years gone by, beginning with Edmund himself. The ‘Bury’ in the town’s name has nothing to do with burying Edmund, but rather is another form of ‘burgh’, meaning ‘town’. The town began as a shrine to St Edmund, who in 869/70 was captured and killed by the Danish Vikings who were in the habit of invading England at that time. They tied him to a tree and shot him with arrows before beheading him. When his men arrived they found his body, but no sign of his head. As they were about to give up the search, they heard a voice calling: “Hic! Hic!” the Latin for “Here! Here!” and, following it, they found a wolf keeping guard on Edmund’s lost head. He was made a saint and his resting place became a shrine. Thus, also, began the wolf legend and it is still referred to today since, for the weekend, they had laid a ‘Wolf Trail’ around the town for visitors to follow. There is a skull of a wolf or dog found in the area, which is one of many found there and this adds to the legend.

Picture of model wolf

On the wolf trail

St Edmund’s shrine grew into an abbey, and the town grew up around it since the abbey provided employment, spiritual aid, etc. The abbey owned a lot of land thereabouts and the town was very important. This was probably partly because St Edmund was then England’s patron saint. In fact it was so important that, on a mediaeval European map of the known world the only two places shown in England were London and Bury St Edmunds.

Some of the architecture in the building itself even dates back that far and there are other sections of the building which have architecture from differing periods, providing a great tour through the ages.

One of the highlights of the tour was the ‘Crime’ section featuring a gibbet, a metal human-shaped cage in which criminals were displayed as a deterrent to others. However, apparently, the punishment wasn’t that you were placed in there until you died of thirst because it was after you were executed (usually by hanging), that your body would be displayed there. The extra punishment was the knowledge that your body would be dissected afterwards by surgeons or your bones scattered. This meant that you would be unable to go to heaven. Moyse’s Hall Museum is unique in that it possesses a photo of the skeleton (still in the gibbet) of a man executed for murdering his sister – the said photo is displayed beside the very same gibbet!

Further on there is an exhibit of various objects associated with witchcraft, such as mummified cats (probably locked up alive within a wall to so its spirit would guard the house), shoes (used the same way), ‘voodoo’ type dolls and various other witchy paraphernalia.

Next came the notorious Red Barn murder. William Corder was accused of murdering his lover, Maria Marten, having been found out because her stepmother had a dream which showed where Maria was buried – in the Red Barn. The defendant said she had committed suicide, but the jury didn’t believe him and he was hanged. He was so hated that he was taken to his execution by an inside route to avoid the baying crowds. But the story didn’t end there; several death masks were made afterwards, one on display in the museum, as well as a death mask used for the study of his skull by phrenologists. His skin was tanned and used to bind a book (an account of the murder), which is one of the exhibits.   Our guide Alex, did not believe that all was as it seemed and felt Corder had been harshly judged.

There was an exhibit on trade, and following on from that was the most interesting for a Ricardian, a lock of hair belonging to Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York and sister to Henry VIII.

\picture of lock of Mary Tudor's hair

Lock of hair of Mary Tudor

Pic of close up of hair

Close up of lock of hair

She was the niece of the ‘princes’ and therefore Richard’s great niece. There were also some 15th century wood carvings and a beautiful old fifteenth century deed chest.

Picture of chest

Deed chest from the 1480s

Pic of wood carving

15th Century wood carving

Pic of wood carving

15th Century wood carving

Up the stairs, which was devoted to one of the largest collections of Mary Beale paintings, would be found a room dedicated to the Suffolk Regiment through the years, with life-size, realistic mannequins of soldiers in different style uniforms, depending on the time and whether it was preferable to stand out from the crowd or blend in. They wore red when they wanted to stand out and be recognised by their own fellow soldiers, but when the sniper became common that was understandably changed and camouflage became the norm..

There was an exhibit of clothing and more paintings, and finally a room full of clocks and watches. Some of these were very intricate and exquisitely beautiful, and many were very rare examples. Alex told us that there had been a theft of some of them from the place where they were previously kept and that they would have no doubt been stolen to order by a collector as all the dealers would have recognised them for what they were.

It is a huge place and has many interesting exhibits from the time of Edmund himself right up until the present day; over 1000 years of history. We were there for one and half hours and the time flew by as our guide, Alex, was so interesting.

All in all a thoroughly good time was had and we learned a lot.

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