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Blacksmiths for Gods and Heroes: Tracing the Magical Blacksmith through Myth

Giaconda's Blog

thahgd2gku Hephaestus from an Attic red Kylix vase decoration.

Who Were the Legendary Smiths?:

The figure of the often deformed or maimed blacksmith who forges remarkable weaponry and armour for gods or heroes is a re-occurring archetype in myth across many cultures.

We have Hephaestus in Greek myth who becomes Vulcan in Latin literature and may have travelled with trade routes and language to other cultures or, indeed have been absorbed from other cultures into the Classical pantheon. Both are regularly depicted in art carrying the tools of their trade – the blacksmith’s hammer and tongs.

dia41_h600px.jpg Vulcan – God of fire and volcanoes as well as smith of the gods

Comparative parallels exist in the Ugarit craftsman and magician -god Kothar-wa-Khasis, who is identified from afar by his distinctive walk—possibly suggesting that he limped, and the Egyptian God, Ptah, described as a naked and deformed dwarf by Herodotus. He is…

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THE MOURNING SWORD ON DISPLAY AT SUDELEY CASTLE

Sudeley Castle certainly seems to be making the most of its Ricardian connections these days.The latest news is that they will temporarily have Gloucester’s ‘Mourning Sword’ on display up until October 20th.

This sword was given to the city by Richard while he was on his first progress in 1483. He also gave them his cap of maintenance, which unfortunately  no longer exists. The sword has been refashioned several times in its long history but appears to retain at least part of its original core.

The right to have a sword carried before the mayor is specially conferred upon the city of Gloucester by  Richard’s charter, dated 2nd September, 1483.

http://www.gloucestershire.gov.uk/archives/article/117081/Richards-Gift-to-Gloucester

Sudeley is also worth visiting because it is believed Richard stayed there prior to Tewkesbury, and later built the now-ruined great hall, which must have been a real eye-catcher when complete. Besides the sword, the Richard III collection contains  a spur  from Tewkesbury Field, and Sudeley’s own version of a reconstruction of Richard’s face.

As additional interest for medievalists, nearby Hailes Abbey is worth a visit while in the area;  I have no evidence Richard ever visited it, but it contained an important relic, the Holy Blood of Hailes, which I am sure  would have interested him. (The ruined abbey was the burial site of Richard of Cornwall, brother of  Henry III, his wife Sanchia of Provence and his murdered son, Henry of Almain.)

 

mourningsword

A sword made for Richard’s son….?

Prince of Wales sword

The following is taken from an item in one of the Mortimer History Society newsletters. It was by a member, Stefan Zachary, and concerns a sword of state in the British Museum.

Prince of Wales sword - 3Prince of Wales sword - 2

 

Mortimer Heraldry on a Sword of State 

This sword is dated c1460-70 and it is said to be a ceremonial sword of the Prince of Wales. On one side of the hilt is the English Royal coat of arms and also those of Wales, Cornwall and St George. On the other side are the arms of Mortimer quartered with de Burgh. This quartering was first used by Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March (d1398) as his mother was Philippa de Burgh, Countess of Ulster.

The title ‘Prince of Wales’ was first used by an English monarch by Edward I, who gave it to his son and heir, the future Edward II. So, given the age of the sword, it is possible that it was made for Edward, Lancastrian son and heir of Henry VI. Or, that the Yorkist Edward IV gave this sword of state to his son Edward (later Edward V) in 1470. In 1472 King Edward IV set up a council to advise and assist his young son in performing his duties and this council blossomed into the Council of Wales and the Marches, based in Ludlow, that survived until 1689.

The other possible recipient of this fine sword was yet another Edward, the son of Richard III, created Prince of Wales in 1483. Only he and Edward V, among these heirs, were of Mortimer descent.

Parallel lives – and deaths?

Many of the facts about Anne Boleyn are well known nowadays. As the second “wife” of Henry VIII, she was beheaded for treason by adultery in 1536. Their marriage was annulled shortly before her execution but it was quite possibly bigamous anyway and invalid by affinity in that Henry had previously slept with her sister. Anne’s last request was that a swordsman be brought from Calais for the purpose and he seems to have obtained a work permit. She left Henry a daughter.

Fifteen centuries earlier, Messallina (1) was the third wife of the emperor Claudius until she too was beheaded, in 48 AD to be precise, for treason by adultery, leaving him a son and a daughter. The facts are rather more confused by the further passage of time and the sources appear to be very partial but the accusations against Messallina are more convincing. Suetonius (2) records that “… it turned out that she was not only guilty of other disgraceful crimes but had gone so far as to commit bigamy with Gaius Silius and even sign a marriage contract before witnesses so Claudius had her executed …”. Graves (3) goes into rather more detail, describing a mock divorce, a “marriage” to Silius, an attempted escape and a surrender to a group of soldiers in the Gardens of Lucullus. He also implies that Claudius’ freedman Narcissus ordered the execution, with or without the emperor’s endorsement.

In the years between these deaths, and more certainly from 400 onwards, executions by decapitation were carried out more crudely, usually with an axe. Anne Boleyn’s special request was the only prominent use of a more humane implement in the British kingdoms, except the Halifax Gibbet (c.1280-1650) and Scottish Maiden (c.1550-1710).

(1) I use this spelling because her father’s name, from which hers was derived, was Marcus Valerius Messalla Barbatus.
(2) The Twelve Caesars, Penguin Classics edition, p.203, note 26.
(3) Claudius the God. A modern novelist wouldn’t normally have such an exalted status but Graves accessed many contemporaneus sources and indeed translated (2) above.

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