“….Seven years after the remains of Richard III were discovered under a Leicester carpark, another legendary but lost English monarch has turned up in Hampshire.
“….Emma of Normandy, twice crowned Queen of England and the mother of Edward the Confessor, was interred in Winchester’s Old Minster in 1052 and was later transferred to the newly built Winchester Cathedral.
“Queen Emma, a powerful figure in late Saxon England, lay peacefully in a mortuary chest high above the cathedral choir for 600 years until the English Civil War….”
Now there is a fascinating exhibition at Winchester Cathedral .
“…. The opening of Kings and Scribes: The Birth of a Nation marks the culmination of an ambitious seven-year project to unlock the Cathedral’s stories and treasures by inspiring active engagement in the interpretation and exploration of our heritage….”
When it comes to Winchester, that heritage is vast!
According to the Oxford Dictionary, the following two definitions refer to the use of the word epiphany:-
The manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi (Matthew 2:1–12). Definition (1)
A moment of sudden and great revelation/realisation. Definition (2)
Epiphany has been a recognised feast of the Western Church since the 5th century, but these days we generally associate the Magi/ Three Wise Men with our modern Christmas Eve/Day. They appear on our Christmas cards. Yet there are—and always were—Twelve Days of Christmas, with Twelfth Night marked as Epiphany Eve or sometimes Epiphany itself, depending upon which precise moment you begin to calculate the commencement of the season. For an explanation, this is a good place to start.
If ever there was a King of England who revered Epiphany (1), and all that went with it, that king was Richard II, who reigned 1377-1399. He was still a small boy, but when the Yule logs were brought in for the first Christmas of his reign, they must have been kindled with hope and excitement that he would bring healthy, wealth, happiness and prosperity to his new realm. If this was indeed the hope, there would eventually be some very unhappy people, because he was plagued by rebellions and resentful lords. And his habit of turning to a coterie of close friends, twinned with his own questionable decision-making, did not really create the best circumstances. But, initially, there was hope, and those first Yule logs of 1377 will have burned brightly. The flames would have danced and roared.
That fanciful thought aside, it is my opinion that in June 1381, when as a boy of only fourteen Richard faced a thousands-strong army of peasants at Smithfield, he underwent an epiphany (2). He rode out at the head of his retinue to face a ragtaggle peasant army led, among others, by Wat Tyler. We all know the famous scene. Tyler was cut down in front of everyone by Sir William Walworth, Mayor of London, and out of nowhere the moment became electrifyingly dangerous. Pitched battle was on the very lip of breaking out, but then Richard rode his horse forward calmly and promised to do all he could to grant the peasants’ their demands (which we today think were more than justified). It worked and the peasant army broke up to return to their homes.
Richard later went back on his word (something he was prone to do throughout his reign) but at that precise moment he’d displayed astonishing courage, and split-second decision-making. No one else in his entourage had done anything but freeze. Many things about the adult Richard II were to be criticized, but never again would his courage be questioned. Did he have an epiphany, as described in (2) above?
Certainly he was always to honour Epiphany above all other Church festivals. To begin with, he was born on that day in 1367. Another King of England who was buried on that day in 1066 was to become Richard’s favourite and most cherished saint. That king was St Edward the Confessor, whose feast day is 6th January/Epiphany, and whose great tomb in Westminster Abbey can still be seen. It’s now a shadow of its former glory because all the jewels and other decorations that once adorned it have been gradually stolen over the centuries by all forms of souvenir-seeker. But it must once have been a glorious sight, as was St Thomas à Becket’s tomb in Canterbury, which has been similarly denuded.
The Confessor had been England’s national saint until 1350, when he was supplanted by St George, and on Epiphany every year, Richard II went to worship there, usually leaving a costly gift. Such occasions must have been very impressive and colourful. Richard also had a separate little chapel built nearby, where he would worship. It is still called the Chapel of Our Lady of the Pew, and contains a niche in the wall where it is said the wonderful Wilton Diptych was placed for Richard’s prayers.
According to https://www.britainexpress.com/History/medieval/christmas.htm , another link between Richard II and Epiphany occurred on Twelfth Night, 1392. The citizens of London, who were not on good terms with him at the time, attempted to bury the hatchet by bestowing upon the king and queen “a one-humped camel and a pelican, novelties for the royal menagerie at the Tower of London”. Another source adds that there was a boy on the dromedary.
Richard and his much loved queen Anne of Bohemia would eventually be laid to rest together close to the Confessor. In the latter part of his reign, Richard had even had his own coat-of-arms impaled with the supposed arms of the Confessor, so there is no doubt at all that Richard II truly esteemed Epiphany and the Confessor, with whom he felt a close connection.
To the less religiously minded people of today, Epiphany is Twelfth Night, a time to party and take the Christmas decorations down – if they haven’t been removed already! The more devout will still associate it with the Magi and the Confessor.
Of course, the calendar has changed from Julian to Gregorian, and dates have moved with it. Old Twelfth Night was celebrated on 17th January. Many wassail traditions, such as the wassail cup and wassailing the cider apple trees, are associated with Twelfth Night. The Yule Log, so bright with flames in the image above, needs to burn from Christmas Eve until Twelfth Night. Charcoal from it was kept to kindle the following year’s log, and also to protect the house from thunder and lightning. There were also many delicious foods that were associated with that night, including a special cake.
In many places across the land older customs have been resumed in recent years. I don’t know when in the past they began to wassail the cider apple trees, in the hope of ensuring a supply of cider for the next harvest. Does it go back to the medieval period? Yes, according to this article
“….There are two distinct variations of wassailing. One involves groups of merrymakers going from one house to another, wassail bowl in hand, singing traditional songs and generally spreading fun and good wishes. The other form of wassailing is generally practiced in the countryside, particularly in fruit growing regions, where it is the trees that are blessed….”
“….The practice of house-wassailing continued in England throughout the Middle Ages, adapting as a way by which the feudal lord of the manor could demonstrate charitable seasonal goodwill to those who served him, by gifting money and food in exchange for the wassailers blessing and songs….”
Singing from house-to-house eventually became the carol-singing of today, but at the end of the season, not the beginning. As happens now with the Three Wise Men, who appear of Christmas cards, but are actually associated with Epiphany.
Now, to go back to the very beginning of this article, and the epiphany (2) that I feel certain happened to the young Richard II in June 1381. Until that day in Smithfield he had been confined and controlled by his uncles and government, but when Tyler was cut down in front of everyone and things turned very nasty indeed, Richard stepped into the breach by calmly taking charge.
From where did that sudden steely resolve come? He hadn’t displayed any such thing before, but….did he think of Epiphany? His day? When the Magi took gifts to the Christ Child? Did he suddenly see himself as a Christ Child too? Born to reign over all? Did he begin to understand that it was his God-given right by blood to cast aside the oppressive rule of his uncles and their government? Might such a heartstopping moment of insight been the reason for the Wilton Diptych, which shows him as a boy (when he was adult by then) anointed and royal, reaching out to accept something from the Christ Child. The reins of his kingdom, perhaps? Was this his epiphany (2)? Albeit in June.
Afterwards, in quiet moments, did he sit alone and pensive, considering who he was and how he should face the future?
It was to be another eight years before he was finally able to strike free of those who sought to keep him under their control, but I believe his first realisation of his true destiny was born that day in Smithfield.
Epiphany had one more vital role to play in Richard’s life, and that was in 1400, just after his cousin, Henry of Lancaster, had usurped the throne and consigned Richard to captivity in Pontefract. Epiphany was the date chosen by Richard’s desperate supporters to fight against the new regime and restore him to his throne.
Known as the Epiphany Rising, this revolt was doomed to defeat because of treachery within its ranks. And the eventual result was Richard’s probable murder at Pontefract, to prevent any more attempts to restore him. At least he didn’t die on Epiphany as well, but he was laid to rest on the 6th…of March, 1400.
His Twelfth Night was at an end. The bright Yule log had finally run its course, flickered and faded.
KING RICHARD III AND HIS CONSORT QUEEN ANNE NEVILLE WEARING EDWARD THE CONFESSOR AND QUEEN EDITH’S CROWNS. THE ROUS ROLL.
THE SAME CROWNS WORN EARLIER BY EDWARD IV AND ELIZABETH WYDVILLE. Photograph by Geoffrey Wheeler.
The first Coronation Crowns, known as the crowns of Edward the Confessor (also known as St Edward the Confessor) and his wife Queen Edith were probably made about the IIth century for the king’s coronation in his new completed rebuilt Church of St Peter, now known as Westminster Abbey on Thorney Island. Edward was one of the last Anglo Saxon kings. We know that Queen Edith’s crown was valued at £16 and was made of ‘Siluer gilt Enriched with Garnetts foule pearle Saphires and some odd stones’. Edward the Confessors crown was described as a ‘crowne of gould wyer worke sett with slight stones and two little bells’. They were worn by every king and queen after that, excluding Edward V and Jane, who of course were never crowned, until their destruction by the Parliamentarians. Its hard to find an absolutely accurate depiction of them as various kings may have added bits and pieces over the centuries. Having said that we have a very good idea from the lovely drawings in Rous roll, the Beauchamp Pageant, and the Royal Window at Canterbury Cathedral.
King Richard wearing the Crown of St Edward the Confessor, Rous Roll.
Edward IV’S portrait in the Royal Window at Canterbury Cathedral wearing the Coronation Crown of St Edward.
Elizabeth Wydeville in her coronation robes and Queen Edith’s crown. the Worshipful Company of Skinners
Queen Anne from the Rous Roll wearing Queen Edith’s crown..
Queen Anne Neville wearing Queen Edith’s crown from the Beauchamp Pageant..
King Richard III wearing the crown of Edward the Confessor..The Beauchamp Pageant.
King Edward the Confessor’s crown..drawn by Julian Rowe. The Road to Bosworth Field. P W Hammond and Anne E Sutton
Queen Edith’s crown..artist Julian Rowe
These wonderful crowns survived until the end of the English Civil War when the victorious Parliamentarians ordered all sacred symbols and relics of monarchy, now rendered redundant, to be ‘totallie Broken and defaced’ and the metal to be used to make coins.
New crowns were made for Charles II‘s coronation in 1661 by Robert Vyner including a new Coronation Crown. This crown sometimes gets confused with the Imperial State Crown. It should be remembered that the Coronation Crown is only used for coronation and thus does not get many outings. The State crown is the one our present queen wears for the State Opening of Parliament. Having been made comparatively recently in 1937 it has a most exquisite survivor from the Middle Ages…the Black Prince’s Ruby! Its not actually a. ruby but a large irregular cabochon red spinel. The stone has an astonishing history which is hard to verify and I will go into here only briefly but suffice to say it did indeed belong to Edward the Black Prince. It then passed to Henry V who was said to have worn it on his helmet at Agincourt. It was later said that it was worn by King Richard III in the crown that was lost at Bosworth and legend says was found under a hawthorn bush by William Stanley.
The red cabochon known as the Black Princes Ruby..a medieval survivor and now worn in the modern State Crown.
And so, besides the two royal crowns, much, much more was lost. Described by Sir Roy Strong as a ‘treasure trove of medieval goldsmith work’ there were ‘Several ancient sceptres and staffs, two with doves on top and one with a fleur-de-lis of silver gilt and an ampulla which contained the holy oil for anointing listed as ‘A doue (actually an eagle) of gould set with stones and pearle’ There were ancient medieval royal robes worn by the king before the crowning….and an ‘old Combe of Horne’ probably of Anglo Saxon origin and used to comb the kings hair after the anointing listed as ‘worth nothing’ . A total of nine items were sold to a Mr Humphrey for £5 in November 1649 (1).
I’ll leave the last word on this tragic part of British history to Sir Edward Walker, Garter of Arms who wrote his report in 1660.
‘And because through the Rapine of the late vnhappy times, all the Royall Ornaments and Regalia heretofore preserved from age to age in the Treasury of the the Church of Westminster, were taken away, sold and destroyed the Committee mert divers times, not only to direct the remaking such Royal Ornaments and Regalia, but even to setle the form and fashion of each particular’ (2)
(Saint) Margaret of Wessex, great-granddaughter of Ethelred Unraed, granddaughter of Edmund Ironside and great-niece of (St.) Edward the Confessor, died just three days after her husband, Malcolm III was killed at Alnwick in 1093. She, as eventual heiress to the House of Wessex, was the ancestor of every subsequent Scottish monarch except Donald Bain, Malcolm’s brother.
As this Dundee Courier article explains, most of her remains were transferred to the Estorial Monastery in Spain. Her head, sent to the (Douai) Scots College, but was lost during the Revolution, as so many remains and statues were damaged at the same time. Fortunately, one shoulder bone has been returned to Dunfermline, the town of her original shrine, such that it or a 3D replica can be analysed.
Somerset’s Chew Valley is an interesting place. Around the shores of the artificially made Chew Valley Lake, lie dozens of medieval villages and the signs of habitation, burial and ritual left by prehistoric man, including the mysterious stone and timber circle, Stanton Drew. Appledore, where a subsequent battle took place, lies in the next county.
Chew Valley also held an intriguing secret, kept hidden till two metal detectorists had a chance discovery in August 2019. Deep in the soil of the valley lay a hidden hoard of silver coins buried just after the Battle of Hastings, probably by a wealthy local.
It was also a medieval tax scam.
The coins bear the heads of both King Harold and William the Conqueror (a small number also sport the image of Edward the Confessor.) Some coins even have one king as heads and the other as tails. This seems to indicate the person striking the coins was deliberately using an old tool to avoid paying taxes on a new one with an updated image.
The Chew Valley coin hoard is the largest Norman find in England since 1833 and may be worth millions.
And it also shows that when it comes to taxation, some things never change no matter what century you’re in.
I have just watched a truly aggravating documentary from this 2014 series. In particular the episode called “Secrets of Westminster”.
It starts with the tomb of Edward the Confessor…for which they show the correct tomb, yes, but then include a lot of lingering close-ups of the tomb effigy of Richard II. The implication is, it seems, to inform the viewer that what they were seeing was the Confessor.
Then there was a section about Henry III…erm, showing Edward III. Again, no mention of Edward, to keep the viewer properly informed. Just the same hint that the tomb was Henry III’s.
The last straw for me was when they showed the wonderful roof of Westminster Hall, of which they spoke in glowing terms as being 11th-century. There was no mention at all of the hammerbeams, angels and so on actually being the 14th-century work of Richard II, who remodelled and improved the entire hall.
So I cannot recommend this awful programme, even though it was interesting in many other respects. The trouble was, I could not help wondering how many other bloopers there might be? Could anything be trusted, and taken at face value? Did Guy Fawkes really try to blow-up Parliament? Was Charles I really executed? Or were both stories muddled up. Maybe Charles was the one who tried to blow-up Parliament? And Guy Fawkes marched into the Commons and started the English Civil War? Who knows?
So don’t bother to watch it, unless you want to sit chucking missiles at the screen. You take your chances with the other episodes in the series. I won’t be viewing them.
Here is Mercedes Rochelle’s excellent post about Tostig Godwinson, brother of Harold II. He was Earl of Northumbria for ten years before the rebellion
in that region in late 1065. He then tried to overthrow Harold from the south in May and from the north in September, with Norwegian support, ending in his defeat and death at Stamford Bridge. With Harold, he had taken part in a partial conquest of Wales in 1063. The Kirkdale Sundial, which also reads “IN TOSTI DAGVM EORL+” (“in Earl Tostig’s day”), is pictured left.
The parallels with George, Duke of Clarence (above right), who acted against Edward IV in the 1469-70 readeption and apparently sought to do so in 1477 are interesting.
As a writer of medieval fiction, and therefore stuck with a preponderance of Johns, Edwards, Richards, Edmunds and so on, I’m only relieved not to have been asked to write a history of St Stephen’s Chapel. SO many Johns? Of the human variety, I hasten to add!
This article: Where did all the Johns come from? – An Oddity in the History of St Stephen’s Chapel is both interesting and amusing.
This EADT article explains how, with help from the writers Michael Linton and Charlie Haylock, together with the Mayor and themselves, have ensured that a metal replica of the tapestry will be on show in Woodbridge for two months: