murreyandblue

A great WordPress.com site

Archive for the tag “Tewkesbury Abbey”

Was a chapel for the House of York planned at Westminster Abbey in 1483…?

A short while ago, I came upon a reference to the foundation stone of Henry VII’s chapel in Westminster Abbey (visible in this illustration of the abbey as it may have been in the Tudor period) have been laid first in April 1483. It was from here, as follows:-

“. . .Elizabeth [of York] was given a lavish funeral. She lay in state at the Tower, and was interred later at Henry VII Lady Chapel (the foundation stone of which was laid in April, 1483). She and Henry lay there together, their graves topped with an elaborate bronze effigy. . .”

I asked the Henry “Tudor” Society blog if they could clarify this date, which I thought would probably mean that Edward IV had some input or other. There was no response. I decided the whole thing must be an error, because the date  for laying of the foundation stone is always given as 1503.

Nevertheless, the point niggled away. What if it were true? What if that foundation stone had indeed been laid in April 1483? This, of course, led me to consider what was going on in that month of that year. Answer? The death of Edward IV. Not yet the accession of Richard III, because Edward’s eldest son was to be Edward V. Was Edward IV’s sudden death merely a curious coincidence? Regarding the date, not anything untoward.

I thought no more of it. Then, while pursuing the part of the reference below that refers to Richard III having removed Henry VI’s remains from Chertsey by violence, I noticed the accompanying details about the so-called saintly king’s intended resting place in Westminster Abbey.

It reads as follows, from The Archaeology of the Medieval English Monarchy by John Steane, page 183:

“. . .While Edward [IV] was king the remains of Henry VI were left in obscurity at Chertsey, whither they had been removed after his [Henry’s] mysterious death in the Tower. The government had given out that Henry died from ‘pure displeasure and melancholy’, but popular belief was that he had been murdered, possibly by the Duke of Gloucester. . . (Pause for savage expletives!!!) . . . Prominent political figures who died by violence were likely to earn a popular reputation for sanctity. In Henry VI’s case, bouts of insanity and a reputation for other-worldliness in his own lifetime may have encouraged the formation of a saintly cult. Richard III took steps to supervise this phenomenon more closely when he authorized the removal of the body of Henry VI from Chertsey to Windsor. Although not canonized he [Henry VI] was popularly regarded as a saint and pilgrims flocked to Windsor, contributing to a decline in the numbers wending their way to the shrine of St Thomas at Canterbury.

Tomb of Henry VI at St George’s Chapel, Windsor

“. . .A rather unseemly wrangle followed. [My note: When, exactly? In Richard’s reign, or after Bosworth?] The abbeys of Chertsey and Westminster both put forward claims to the body. Chertsey’s claim was on the grounds that Richard III had taken it by violence to Windsor [Huh? I hope this is just a generally accepted term for moving remains around, not yet another accusation to lay at Richard’s door.] Westminster based its case on the fact that workmen and vergers at the abbey had clear recollections that Henry had marked out a place for himself in the abbey choir during his lifetime. The canons of Windsor joined in, strenuously arguing in favour of the saintly royal corpse remaining there. The upshot was that the new chapel prepared at Westminster was used for its founder, Henry VII, while Windsor kept Henry VI under the south aisle of St George’s chapel. His arms are carved in the fan vaulting over the bay in which he had been reburied after his arrival from Chertsey. . .”

The above details are also to be found in Historical Memorials of Westminster Abbey by Dean Stanley, who says that Henry VII intended a new Westminster chapel for Henry VI, whom he thought would soon be canonised. But Henry VI wasn’t canonised, and Stanley believes Henry VII wasn’t prepared to lavish money on a non-saint. So he appropriated the planned chapel for himself alone. (This is on page 138 of my February 1911 edition.) All of which suggests that the present Henry VII chapel certainly wasn’t originally intended just for Tudor himself, but for him to rest beside St Henry VI. And presumably soak up the reflected glory.

So, a chapel at Westminster, already commenced for Henry VI, was eventually used for solely for Henry VII. .Oh, and by the way, this would presumably mean that Henry VII would be removing Henry VI’s remains by violence, since Windsor was hardly likely to surrender their royal golden goose without protest. And there is a strong suggestion that the remains were actually brought to Westminster, and when the canonisation failed to materialize, were returned to Windsor. Very respectfully, of course. And maybe followed by a Tudor scowl.

However, Henry VI had apparently already chosen his place in Westminster, but in the abbey choir, not Henry VII’s new chapel, which was erected on the site of the old Lady Chapel, behind the altar. This made me wonder if Henry VI’s known personal choice of Westminster had led to an earlier plan to accommodate the saintly king’s wish. OK, it’s a possible flight of fancy on my part, but it could perhaps offer an explanation for the intriguingly rogue mention of April 1483

I don’t think there is any doubt that in 1503 Henry VII commenced his own chapel, the one that is still there now. But just how much of a previous “new” Henry VI chapel might have remained very close by? An earlier foundation stone, perhaps laid around the time of Edward IV’s death in April 1483? It would have been superseded by the 1503 foundation stone, of course, but there is still the thought (mine, I own up) that another chapel could have been planned from the time of Edward IV/Richard III.

Then again, maybe in April 1483, this originally planned new chapel was not intended for Henry VI at all. Might Edward IV, knowing he was on his deathbed, have decided he wanted to be laid to rest in Westminster? I know he left in his will that it was to be Windsor, but might he have changed his mind at the eleventh hour? He surely wouldn’t normally have built anything for holy but pesky Henry VI, whom he’d despatched to obscurity in Chertsey. Out of sight, out of mind. Edward had no reason to think fondly of Henry VI, unless, of course, his own imminent death made him want to take precautions for an assured entry into heaven. In which case, of course, why not bring the holy chap to Windsor? But just maybe, with the Grim Reaper approaching the castle,  a grand joint venture with Henry VI at Westminster would seem just the necessary safeguard? Being nice to the royal “saint” would earn brownie points in heaven and on earth, which I’m sure is what Henry VII was to think in turn. Edward would also have been content that his son and brother, Richard of Gloucester, would carry out these last-minute plans. Edward had no scruples about intending his illegitimate son to ascend the throne at Richard’s expense. In fact, I don’t think Edward had many scruples at all. If any. But that’s beside the point.

However, if Edward had decided belatedly on his own burial in Westminster, it did not come to fruition. He was interred in Windsor. That is not to say that his successor, Richard III, did not intend to honour his late brother’s possible last wish (if such a wish had existed). Who knows what Richard had in mind? He left no record, so people like me have to read the facts and try to interpret them, and as I am not a historian, the result is rambling articles like this!

Moving human remains around to different places was quite common back then. In 1476, on Edward’s instructions, his father and brother had been removed from Pontefract to Fotheringhay, escorted on the journey by Richard, so it was certainly established practice in their immediate family. Richard had Henry VI brought from Chertsey to Windsor, even though Henry had wanted to rest in neither, but in Westminster. But this may have been expediency on Richard’s part, to accommodate the growing cult around Henry’s tomb. Maybe even to reflect a heavenly glow over Edward IV? Like so many things with Richard, we cannot know anything for certain.

So. . .what was this possible other chapel at Westminster? Surely not anything to do with the old Lady Chapel, which was definitely pulled down to accommodate Henry VII’s grand plan. No, for there seems to be a suggestion that this enigmatic earlier project was something new in April 1483. Might it have been a magnificent tomb for the House of York? Might Richard have eventually planned to bring Edward IV from Windsor and George of Clarence from Tewkesbury? Maybe his father and older brother Edmund from Fotheringhay? Perhaps even Henry VI from Windsor? Whatever his motives and final intentions, the chapel if it existed (for this is all “reading between the lines” on my part) was somewhere Richard would have seen, with great sadness, as a final resting place for his queen, his son. All too soon, of course, it would have been his own too.

But it was never built. Maybe never even planned. Who knows? I just have this feeling that Henry VII was almost pipped at the post by a Yorkist chapel. If only everyone today flocked to see the York Chapel, with all the grand tombs of the family of Richard III. If only. . .

 

 

 

Advertisements

Deans Close School (Cheltenham) to hold ‘Richard III’ Edinburgh Fringe preview at Tewkesbury Abbey….

Tewkesbury Abb ey

The above photograph is from http://www.tewkesburyabbey.org.uk/

The following article can be read at http://www.gloucestershireecho.co.uk/Deans-Close-School-hold-Richard-III-Edinburgh/story-27602320-detail/story.html#2. However, the intrusive and downright obstructive presence of numerous annoying adverts makes reading it there a slow and very disagreeable experience. So I’ve copied the main gist of it. 

“Deans Close School (Cheltenham) to hold ‘Richard III’ Edinburgh Fringe preview at Tewkesbury Abbey, by fuchsiash. posted: August 13, 2015 

“Read more: http://www.gloucestershireecho.co.uk/Deans-Close-School-hold-Richard-III-Edinburgh/story-27602320-detail/story.html#ixzz3iluJzQTz 

“For the eleventh year running, Dean Close School is taking its award-winning theatre company up to the Fringe Festival where they will perform Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’. But before they head north of the border, Close Up Theatre will be staging an exciting and poignant preview in the grounds of Tewkesbury Abbey. 

“Set in the grounds of Abbey House at the back of the abbey, this production falls in the year that Richard’s remains were interred in Leicester Cathedral, and is just two days away from the 530th anniversary of his death at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.

“Read more: http://www.gloucestershireecho.co.uk/Deans-Close-School-hold-Richard-III-Edinburgh/story-27602320-detail/story.html#ixzz3ilu88JJu 

“Richard himself fought at the Battle of Tewkesbury, and his brother George, Duke of Clarence, is buried in the abbey. 

“Director Rebecca Vines, who founded Close Up in 2004, said: “This is an extraordinary production, featuring some exceptionally talented young performers. 

“The themes of ‘Richard III’ are universal and transcend the centuries. Power, authority, corruption, lust… these are present in every TV smash hit of the last few years. 

“Kevin Spacey famously played Richard III before recording House of Cards, and there are strong elements of this modern political power-play in our production.” 

“Now in its 12th year at the Fringe, Close Up Theatre is one of just a tiny handful of companies to receive the elite ‘Sell Out’ from Fringe authorities not just once, but eleven years in a row. 

“Close Up Theatre is the semi-professional performance wing of Dean Close School, and previous companies have included pupils who have gone on to be trained professional actors like Patrick Fleming who is currently appearing in the National Theatre hit ‘War Horse’ in the West End, and Will Merrick who left Dean Close just a few years ago and has starred in ‘Skins’, ‘About Time’ and ‘Dr Who’. 

“The Richard III preview is on Wednesday, August 19 at Tewkesbury Abbey.

Grounds will open from 5.45pm for picnics, with the show starting at 6.45pm. 

“Tickets cost £10 (£8 concessions) and are available from the Abbey Shop, by emailing closeuptheatre@outlook.com, or on the gate at the show.

“Read more: http://www.gloucestershireecho.co.uk/Deans-Close-School-hold-Richard-III-Edinburgh/story-27602320-detail/story.html#ixzz3ilttI6Wq

The Tewkesbury Medieval Festival 2015

 

King Edward's camp above Bloody Meadow.

King Edward’s camp above Bloody Meadow.

I’ve been wanting to attend this festival for at least 20 years and finally everything came together this year and I was able to take my family with me for an orgy of medieval shopping, weaponry, costumes and merchandising followed by the re-enactment of the Battle of Tewkesbury on part of the original site of the battlefield and later ‘storming of the Abbey’ in the evening. People attend for many reasons – many to soak up the atmosphere and watch the weird and wonderful sights as the weekend unfolds, some for the history and some for the crac. Re-enactors travel across Europe – I saw stall holders from Prague, Lithuania, Germany and France this year and many take it seriously, making their own costumes with great attention to detail and demonstrating artisan skills such as wood carving, metal working, armoury and medieval crafts as well as the obligatory plastic sword and shield sellers for the many children who come to exercise their imaginations.

The hard-core re-enactors camp in two areas – King Edward’s Yorkist camp on the slope above the battlefield area or in Queen Margaret’s Lancastrian encampment close to the line of ditches where men were cut down in the rout across Bloody Meadow. Their tents and pavilions are fascinating to walk around with glimpses of wooden camp beds and carved chests, goblets and cooking fires as well as heraldic banners and pennants fluttering in the breeze and the sound of medieval bagpipes and the hurdy-gurdy man adding to the atmosphere.

Re-enactor's camp

Re-enactor’s camp

It requires a complex accommodation though to visit the festival, especially with children and maintain contact with the real history which is being commemorated over this weekend. The scale for one thing. The festival guide explains that the real battle was fought over a larger area than the arena and showground and parts have been subsequently built on or turned into the nearby golf course yet Gupshill Manor, where Queen Marguerite spent the night prior to the battle, seems incredibly close to the action. You wonder what her personal bodyguard consisted of and whether much sleep was had by this woman who had fought so hard for so long and was about to lose everything. The manor house is now a pub and looks comfortable enough for a queen who had survived many changes of fortune, fled and re-grouped, lead armies and gone into exile. It was built in 1408 and we can imagine the kind of facilities it might have offered to Marguerite. You imagine her fatigue, racing up country from Weymouth, spooked by the news of Warwick’s defeat at Barnet and fearful for her son’s safety as he sought to prove himself on the field. Bath, Bristol – to get much needed but cumbersome ordinance, then Gloucester, which had kept the gates shut against her. Did she still feel like the outsider, the unpopular French princess, mistrusted by the English people who had landed in England as a strategic piece in the wider power-play of European politics. Where did her loyalties lie and how had they changed over time? A French agent at the English court, loyal to her French family who became the living symbol of the end of English glory in France through the terms of her marriage, a queen consort faced with a frighteningly unworldly husband who needed to lead from behind the throne, to live multiple lives in one in order to survive and protect her son’s interests and surrounded by ambitious men with their own agenda for gaining power. Had the English people ever factored highly in her consciousness? They had fought and died in their thousands for her cause and against her cause and tomorrow she would watch anxiously again from the side lines as her destiny was decided by men hacking each other to death and her son was either crowned with glory as the new hope for the House of Lancaster or destroyed during the attempt. What if Edward, Prince of Wales was captured alive and imprisoned, what if he was betrayed by another turncoat, as Clarence and Warwick had turned out to be? If her army was defeated could she run and live to fight another day or would she wait on news of her son’s fate for without him what was there to fight for? Everyone knew that Henry VI would never be more than a tormented pawn for the next strong man to step up to mark. Marguerite must have been completely aware that if her son died that his blood would sign her husband’s death warrant. Edward IV had held off from the cardinal sin of regicide for a decade for a number of reasons – he didn’t want to kill an anointed and ‘saintly’ king, he knew that popular sympathy would make a martyr of Henry once he was safely dead. Henry was a weak point rather than a figurehead for Lancastrian hopes, his son increasingly posed a more significant threat to the Yorkist regime, even if he remained in exile. However, in the all-or-nothing push to re-assert her claims, Marguerite was risking her husband’s life as well as her son’s. Edward IV was fresh from victory at Barnet and he wanted it finished and was prepared to make unpalatable decisions to secure ultimate victory. He had allowed Warwick to undermine his kingship, to manipulate his younger brother into open treason, had been imprisoned and sanctioned, suffered exile and humiliation and now he had a baby son to fight for too.

Troops advance.

Troops advance.

Tewkesbury would be no Towton – estimated numbers are a fraction of the bloodbath which ushered Edward IV to power in 1461. The Lancastrians had a slight numerical advantage – approximately 5-6000 against 4-5000 hastily mustered Yorkist troops. Both armies were tired after the chase up-country and the weather was hot for May. Marguerite’s hopes lay in a victory on the field that would buy her time to rendezvous with loyal forces in the Welsh marches, a dream of hearing the news that her hated rival had been killed on the field and, perhaps most importantly, a moment for her son and heir to shine and prove God’s favour for the House of Lancaster in such terms that public opinion would shift. If Edward, Prince of Wales could only emerge as a plausible military commander, the strong male heir so longed for since Henry Vth died prematurely and left a power vacuum at the heart of the monarchy.

Of course Marguerite’s hopes were dashed into a thousand pieces. By the end of the battle her son was dead, the Lancastrians routed or penned in the Abbey church and her great chance to re-gain power, status and what she saw as her God-given position as Queen of England lay in ruins. It is hard not to feel sympathy for Marguerite at this devastating point of her life or to fail to consider just how much choice she had in the path that her life had taken whatever you make of the contemporary sources about her decisions and character.

Lancastrian prisoners are taken from Tewkesbury Abbey for trial and summary execution in the marketplace.

Lancastrian prisoners are taken from Tewkesbury Abbey for trial and summary execution in the marketplace.

So, we return to a parched meadow, just outside a small English market town. The re-enactors look like a Graham Turner painting brought to life, the smoke drifts across the field of battle and the canons make the children jump and hold their ears. After the battle people drift off, mostly unconscious that bones may still lie buried beneath their feet.

Queen Marguerite's long journey to Tewkesbury.

Queen Marguerite’s long journey to Tewkesbury.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: