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Edward & Richard in Oxford

Oxford is well-known for its stunning medieval college buildings. It would take days, if not weeks, to carefully visit them all.

Several, however, have items of particular interest to those who study the House of York and Wars of the Roses time period.

The old Divinity School is an interesting stop. It was built between 1427-1483 and was an area for oral examinations and theology discussions. Apparently the exams could take days in the Middle Ages, with people wandering in and out! The groined hall is very beautiful, with very fine fan-vaulting which probably dates from the 1480’s. There are over 400 bosses which are intriguing to view, containing shields, beasts, initials, flowers and inscriptions. . Right in the centre  of the chamber you can quickly pick out Edward IV’s arms and the Sunne in Splendour. Apparently Edward never came here, but the builders of the day thought it best to honour him anyway.

(While there, is is well worth seeing Duke Humphrey’s Library upstairs. Humphrey, 1st Duke of Gloucester, was an early book afficionado who had manuscripts translated from Greek to Latin. Upon his in 1447 death, he donated all his manuscripts, almost 300 of them,  to the University. The library which took his name was set up as another storey to the already-existing Divinity school. Several of  Humphrey’s books still survive…though, alas,  most of the original books were pilfered by the King’s Commisioners in 1550…)

Magdalen College is another Oxford site of great interested. Begun by William Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester, in 1458, but the main building phase did not begin until 1467, when the encircling wall was raised. In 1474 chapel, cloisters, hall and library were built. The charitect was primarily William Orchard, who also designed the famous ceiling of the Divinity School.

Edward IV visited the college in 1481 and was welcomed by Waynflete, who, having been a loyal Lancastrian, asked for and received a royal pardon. Many Yorkist symbols can be found throughout the buildings, including a statue of a rather stern-looking Edward on the college’s front gate.

Inside, under the roof of the pulpit,  there appears to be the Rose en Soleil…but having been painted red (or repainted) , it has become a Tudor Rose, possibly when the famous tall tower was added in the 1490’s. There also appears to be the possible royal coat of arms in the Cloisters, and a number of rose carvings.

There is also another statue of a king (restored, maybe replaced) above the inside gateway into the cloisters–it is not certain who it is. Some have said Henry VI but this seems unlikely given the dates of construction. Some have said it’s another depiction of Edward. It may well  be, but it looks a quite different from the statue  in the gateway, smaller, less stern, with curlier hair. I have always though–why not Richard? And why not? He was here while on his first progress in 1483, and stayed to hear several lectures. There was certainly time to commomorate his stay, and it would not be surprising if any possible added statuary fell out of common knowledge after Bosworth (just as the Silver Boar given to an Cambridge College ended up for many years mislabelled as being  a gift of Richard II!)

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BLOOD OF ROSES (A Novella of Edward IV’s Victory at Towton)

Richard, Duke of York and his second son Edmund were killed at the battle of Wakefield at the bitter end of  1460. Within weeks, the Duke’s eldest son Edward was on the road with a mighty army, seeking revenge–and a crown.

The novella BLOOD OF  ROSES by J.P. Reedman covers the period  from the Duke’s death to Edward’s Coronation on June 28 1461. Edward’s early battles are curiously sidelined  in most fiction, despite their importance, while his amorous pursuits often seem to take the fore! This ‘slice of life’ fiction book tries to redress that balance slightly.

In February 1461 Edward fought the first of his battles for the throne at Mortimer’s Cross, where the parhelion, the Three Suns, appeared  in the sky. Edward sensed the fear and doubt growing in his men at the sight of this phenomena, and, aged only 18, showed great cleverness in convincing them it was a GOOD omen–the sign of the Holy Trinity. The battle went decively for the Yorkists, with Jasper Tudor’s father Owen being executed in Hereford’s town square. Legend says a deranged lady took his head and sat on the market cross crooning to it as she brushed its hair…

With Edward were the Croft family of Croft Castle, which is on the Welsh borders. This is the family made famous by the letter sent from Ludlow to the Duke of York by his young sons, Edward and Edmund, asking for bonnets and other items. At first reading, one section of the letter seems to  be against bullying behaviour by the Croft sons, who were also at Ludlow, but is in fact, on second reading,  against the ‘odious and demeaning’ treatment of them, a fact recently noted by Dr John Ashdown-Hill. Richard Croft went on to serve Edward IV (so clearly no  friction there!), then Richard III and Henry Tudor.

Mortimer’s Cross was a great victory but there was then a distinct setback when the Earl of Warwick was defeated by the Lancastrians at St Albans, and King Henry, until then a Yorkist prisoner, taken  to rejoin his wife, Margaret of Anjou. Nonetheless, Edward entered London and was proclaimed king, although he sworehe would not wear the crown until he had defeated his enemies utterly. Gathering his army, he began a hard march north.

At Ferrybridge, the Lancastrians attacked the Yorkists over the damaged bridge crossing the Aire, in a night-raid led by Lord Clifford, the presumed murderer of Edmund of Rutland, who had appeared suddenly with his ‘chosen’ men, the Flower of Craven. At first the Yorkists were thrown into disarray, with Lord Fitzwalter being hewn down the moment he stepped from his tent to see what the commotion outside was about. Luckily, William Neville, Lord Fauconberg, the most experienced commander of the Yorkist host, took the lead and crossed near Castleford to attack the Lancastrian flank. Fauconberg was a small-framed man, often described as ‘little Fauconberg’ who had a long military career, having served in France, including at the famous Siege of Orleans. He was an uncle of Edward, being the third son of Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland and his wife Joan Beaufort (Edward’s maternal grandparents.) Fauconberg  made short work of Clifford’s Flower of Craven, and Clifford himself was killed, mostly like by an arrow when removing his gorget.

Then the Yorkist army pushed on to Towton, fought on Palm Sunday and in a fierce snowstorm. Some have questioned the possibility of a  snowstorm that late in the year, but looking at our recent March weather, it is not impossible at all that there was indeed heavy snow! The bad weather was advantageous to the Yorkists, with the worst of the weather being at their backs and driving into the faces of their enemies. The Lancastrian archers were at a distinct disadvantage with the strong wind blowing their arrows astray.

The battle was hard fought, nevertheless, as the Lancastrian forces far outnumbered those of the Yorkists. However, when the Duke of Norfolk’s contingent arrived, led by John Howard, the battle finally turned in Edward’s favour. A rout ensued and the battlefield became a killing field. The waters of nearby Cock Beck ran red with blood and filled with bodies. The area was afterwards called Bloody Meadow.

It was the bloodiest battle ever fought on English’s soil, with figures as high as 28,000 stated for the casualties. Even given the exaggeration of the chroniclers of the day, it was undoubtedly a huge amount of slain. In recent years some of the remains of the fallen have been recovered, mostly around Towton Hall, where archaeologists recently found the remains of Richard III’s chapel to the fallen soldiers subsumed into the inner fabric of the hall. The skeletons recovered showed the terrifying brutality of medieval warfare–shattered skulls, slashing injuries, facial mutilation, slicing marks that may have been the removal of ears…

Chivalry died a death upon this field of blood. But England had a new king–Edward of York, the Sunne in Splendour.

BLOOD OF ROSES IS AVAILABLE IN KINDLE AND PRINT FROM AMAZON

BLOOD OF ROSES

 

Livery colours, badges, and the Battle of Barnet…

battle

Once again, I have been rambling around the internet, seeking information about livery colours. In the process I came upon the following site, which has an abundance of interesting information about many aspects of the medieval period.

http://history.stackexchange.com/questions/13103/whose-colors-coat-of-arms-did-men-of-arms-wear-in-a-feudal-army-14th-century

The link deals with one area of interest, but the main site covers a lot more. One passage on this page particularly caught my attention, because it mentions livery colours and badges, and describes why the Lancastrians lost the Battle of Barnet. Yes, we all know Barnet was to do with confusing Edward IV’s Sun in Splendour with the Earl of Oxford’s Star, but I found this extract particularly clear and interesting.

Here is the passage, which I have broken up into smaller paragraphs, to make it easier to read:-

“Referring to the Black Book of Edward IV – it’s drawn from his own household accounts, so the limits to the retainers allowed are the limits Edward himself set. Remember that Edward had only managed to get, hold, then regain the throne by force-of-arms but he was very well aware that the nobles had their own retainers and that it was possible to lose the throne again. Warwick had a huge number of retainers, well into the hundreds. The limitations on the numbers of retainers were an attempt to control the issue of lords having private armies as large as they could afford and attacking each other if they disagreed with something.

“As for colours – lords had their own livery. For example, the House of York, in the person of the Duke of York (father to Edward IV and Richard III) used murray (a sort of deep burgundy-red) and blue. There might also be a sigil and a coat-of-arms. Richard III’s personal emblem was the White Boar, but his brother Edward’s was the “Sunne in Splendor” – a sort of star-burst. The lord himself would use his colours and his sigil. His employed retainers – the men employed directly by himself to be his armsmen – would probably wear his colours – so for example, a heavy padded jacket made up of four sections of cloth in two of the lord’s colours, with the diagonal-opposites being in matching colours. They would also likely wear his sigil (eg White Boar) sewn onto their breast. During battle, they would start grouped together under a banner displaying the colours and/or the sigil.

“However, over time, the lower lords didn’t always have a standing army – it was expensive. So they would either hire professional arms-men when they needed them or they would gather (volunteers or strong-armed) peasants in from the villages they controlled. These peasants would have an arming/padded jack (heavyly padded jacket) if they were lucky. They would be very unlikely to have the lord’s colours. So in a small skirmish between two small lords, you have your two sigil banners and other than that, very little way of telling who fought for whom. In larger battles, you might have a mix of peasants in their own gear/mercs who might have put the sigil on for ease and would have decent gear/liveried retainers. Where your higher lord needs back-up (perhaps to bring his own strength up to a level required by HIS higher lord), he will send to the lower lords to provide their men. So you have groups of peasants under their manorial lord’s banner standing in larger groups headed by the liveried retainers of the upper lord under HIS banner with the upper lord’s own peasants in the mix.

“Most Middle Ages battles were bloody messes, in part because of the difficulty in determining friend and foe. Not helped by confusion over banners: at the Battle of Barnet (wars of the Roses) in poor weather, the Earl of Oxford’s men (Lancastrian) attacked the men of Lord Hastings (York) and chased them off the field. In the time it took Oxford to get his men back under control, the battle-line veered around. As he returned, he unknowingly came up behind his own side, right behind the position held by John Montagu. Montagu’s men mistook Oxford’s banner of a “streaming star” for Edward IV’s “Sunne in Splendor” and attacked Oxford. As Montagu had been on Edward’s side at one point, Oxford’s men assumed Montagu had turned sides again. They called “treason” and panic spread through the Lancastrian side. Edward attacked, Montagu was killed and the Lancastrians were utterly defeated, including the death of Montagu’s older brother the famous Earl of Warwick.

“This defeat, with the deaths of the two brothers, led almost directly to the following defeat of the Lancastrian Prince Edward and the death of Henry VI, leaving the future Henry VII as the only Lancastrian with any chance of the throne. So the fact that English troops fought without any ready identifiers, and the fact that knowing your enemy very often relied on whether or not you recognised their badge, had a very large bearing on the rulership of England. Had Edward IV lost at Barnet, Henry VI would probably have been put back on the throne and Henry VII would perhaps never have ruled, as Henry VI had a son and heir.”

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