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The Castle of Leicester and St Mary De Castro

Leicester Castle

leics castle

Leicester Castle as it appeared in 1483

 

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The Castle gardens

Since 2015 going to Leicester is the equivalent of going to visit the tomb of the last Plantagenet King who died in battle: Richard III. Everything there speaks of him from the Visitor Centre named after him, to The Last Plantagenet Pub not to mention attractions and shops that display his portrait or sell items with the name of the king. Of course, the Medieval Cathedral where the warrior king was buried in 2015 is the most visited place in Leicester but if you go there, don’t forget to pay a visit to the remains of Leicester’s Castle and its church St Mary De Castro. It is difficult today to imagine how the Castle could be at the time of Richard III but it is still there indeed even in a different shape. 

IMG_2840The Castle was probably built immediately after the Norman Conquest so around 1070. The Governor  at that time was Hugh de Grantmensil one of the companions of William the Conqueror. The Castle was the favourite residence of John of Gaunt, first Duke of Lancaster and the fourth son of Edward III. From the north end of the hall, it was possible to access the lord’s private apartments whilst from the south end there was access to a kitchen above an undercoft called John of Gaunt’s cellar where beverage and food were stored. Some people erroneously think it was a dungeon. 

The castle today looks totally different. What remains are the Castle’s Mound (Motte) located between Castle View and Castle Gardens. The Motte was originally 30-40 feet Prince Rupehigh topped with a timber tower. Unfortunately no buildings survived  and the motte was lowered in Victorian times to form a bowling green.

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The Castle House

The Great Hall is the oldest surviving aisled and bay divided timber hall in Britain. Even though the exterior is Victorian, the building still retains some of its original 12th century timber posts. The criminal court in the castle’s Great Hall was the scene of Leicester’s “Green Bicycle Murder” trial 1919 so exactly 100 years ago.

Other things are still visible of the ancient castle. The wall, the remains of the castle especially the Turret Gateway also known as Prince Rupert’s Gateway, the Castle Gardens (once used for public executions) the Castle House and the stunning church of St Mary De Castro.

St Mary De Castro

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St Mary De Castro

Close where the Castle stood, there is an ancient church called St Mary De Castro. It is a very special place especially for Ricardians. In this church Geoffrey Chaucer married her second wife, Philippa de Roet and 44 people were knighted in just one day among them Henry VI and Richard Plantagenet Duke of York, Richard III’s father. He was just 15 years old. However, the most famous event to be remembered today is that it is said that Richard III worshipped there before leaving for Bosworth and prepared himself for his last battle.

St Mary De Castro means St Mary of the Castle. It was built in 1107 after Henry I gave the

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The Chapel in St Mary De Castro ground to Robert de Beaumont 1st Earl of Leicester. It was the chapel of the castle and a place of worship within the bailey of the castle. It is assumed but there is no proof of evidence, that Ethelfleda, daughter of King Alfred the Great, had founded a church on the very spot where today is St Mary. It also seems that there was a college of priests called the College of St Mary De Castro founded before the Norman Conquest.

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The tower of St Mary was built not beside the church but inside of it so visitors can see 3 sides of it while still in church. The medieval spire, rebuilt in 1783 was declared dangerous in 2013. Following the unsuccessful attempt to raise money to save it, it was demolished in 2014. The church’s structure is quite odd because in ancient times there were two churches. One was the mentioned chapel of the castle, the other a church for common people. This explains why there are two sedilias and two piscinas both from medieval times.

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Henry VI and Richard III

Curiosities

It is said that King Richard III’s mistreated body was brought to this church to be washed before being displayed for the world to see he was actually dead. Considering the evident haste he was buried in and the lack of respect showed by the Tudors, it is unlikely this ever happened.

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The Nave of the Church

Philippa de Roet, Chaucer’s wife, was the lady-in-waiting of Philippa of Hainault one of Richard III’s ancestors.

In this church Edward of Lancaster and John of Lancaster are buried. Both died in infancy.

 

 

Richard III, the Merovingians, Rothley, the Templars and The De Castro Code….!

The painted tapestry below is from Rothley Chapel in Leicestershire.

Templar painting at Rosley Chapel

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.

Richard for De Castro Code

 

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.

Rennes le Chateau

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.

Leicester Abbey

Death of Simon de Montfort at Evesham 1265

The death of Simon de Montfort at the battle of Evesham

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?

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Cropped from painting  in Rothley Chapel

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….

Last Supper window, st mary de castro church

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.

A much overlooked landmark

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 basisclocktower.

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.

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