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Seeking the Real Duke of Clarence

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about Richard III’s brother, George of Clarence. You know the one–typical ‘middle child’, ‘false fleeting Clarence’, the one drowned in Malmsey who was also a drunk and quite possibly insane, hanging, as he did,  old ladies on the vaguest of suspicions.

And I began considering–is George, like Richard, maligned, doomed forever to be hidden in an obscuring web of myth and invention?

Certainly he was disloyal, joining Warwick against his own brother, Edward IV. He created a fuss when Richard wanted to marry Anne Neville, his protests lasting several years. He did indeed accuse Ankaret Twynho, and others, of poisoning his wife and baby son–and hanged the old lady after a brief and decidedly unfair trial.

But mad? A drunk? And in regards to his wife and child…what if he were right?

Like Richard’s supposed hump, limp, withered arm and other defects, George’s ‘insanity’ and ‘drunkenness’ appear to have been exaggerated if not completely  invented,  mainly in fiction. (And yes, I admit I am guilty of adding to this stereotype myself.) There is no mention in primary sources of George drinking or being dissolute; that idea seems to have come solely from his supposed death in a vat of malmsey, and the questions it raised (ie. Did Edward have him drowned in booze because he liked a tipple and maybe even requested such an end as a macabre  final joke?) Fickleness aplenty went on, certainly, and his last acts with the Twynyho affair were erratic, but he wasn’t spouting gibberish, having hallucinations, or lying catatonic like poor old Henry VI. He defended himself  in regards to the charges laid against him by the King, and apparently one of Elizabeth Woodville’s main fears was that people would follow him and her children would never inherit the throne. The people of England were hardly likely to follow another mad king. This implies to me that George was not generally seen as a loony, treacherous lush, but someone who might have had some decent enough qualities, or at very least some kind of strong charisma.

So that brings us back to the whole mystery surrounding the death of George’s wife, Isabel Neville, and his infant son Richard of York. Many have claimed Isabel died of childbirth-related illness…but she actually succumbed two and a half months after the birth. Childbed fever, the biggest killer of women in her day, normally took its victims far sooner. TB has also been suggested, and it is certainly not impossible, for in some victims TB symptoms can appear with frightening suddenness and ‘gallop’ on to their bitter end, but there is no written evidence of her having such symptoms. In the interim between childbed and her death, she travelled from Tewkesbury to Warwick, which implies she was not grievously ill at that point.  The baby too was alive and outlived its mother by about 10 days. So both mother and  child lived more than two months after the birth and made a moderately long journey without incident before their deaths.

Ankaret Twynyho (nee Hawkeston) herself is also the subject of some myth-making. In fiction she is often portrayed as a simple ordinary local woman, perhaps the midwife who delivered Isabel’s baby. However, she was not a peasant woman, nor is their any evidence she was Isabel’s midwife. It is merely known the she ‘served’ in the Clarence household. She did leave George’s service rather quickly after Isabel’s demise however, going to her home in Keyford, Somerset in the days before George accused her of murder.

Of John Thursby, who was hanged alongside her, little is known, save that he was from Warwick and said to be her accomplice. The third person who was accused,  managed (somehow and rather oddly) to escape any consequences, and is, interestingly, the one who George claimed to be the ‘mastermind’ behind the supposed poisoning. Strangely he is seldom mentioned in regards to the incident–and my feeling is his possible involvement needs to be re-assessed.

This suspect was Sir Roger Tocotes  of Bromham, long time associate of George of Clarence. (Michael Hicks went so far as to suggest George might even have called him ‘friend.’) He had supported the House of York and fought at Towton, Barnet and Tewkesbury (where he may have been knighted). He even accompanied George on Edward IV’s ill-fated ‘invasion’ of France.

Why would George think this seemingly loyal supporter masterminded his wife and child’s death? What would be Tocote’s reason? What evidence existed at the time that made George believe him involved? Some writers say Tocotes ‘escaped’ George’s vengeance, others that he received an aquittal (from the king?) despite being the prime accused in  Isabel’s ‘murder.’

Later, long after George’s death,  Roger Tocotes would go on to be one of the Duke of Buckingham’s supporters  in the October rebellion of 1483. (Richard pardoned him.)  He then fought for Henry Tudor at Bosworth and did rather well for himself under the Tudor regime, becoming Sheriff of Wiltshire for a second time and also a Knight of the Body. He is buried in a very lavish chantry chapel in the parish church in Bromham, Wiltshire.

Could Roger Tocotes have indeed been a  turncoat who went from friend to traitor and tried to  bring Clarence and his family down? If so, who was behind it, what was the reason? After Isabel’s death, George was apparently afraid of being poisoned himself and blamed the King, his brother. He claimed Edward meant to ‘consume him in likewise as a candle is consumed by burning’. George’s seemingly wild claims have led  over the years to a probably false view of him as being paranoid and mentally unstable. There is always a chance that he may have been genuinely afraid, not crazy–and that he may have truly had something to fear.

Maybe Roger Tocotes, lying in his graffiti-covered tomb in Bromham church, took a dark and unhappy secret to the grave.

 

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Snow at Tewkesbury, and a pile of bodies for Richard III….

Um - the battle of tewkesbury

Believe it or not, the above is supposedly the Battle of Tewkesbury. At least, it is according to the BBC website. Tewkesbury was in May. Silly author. The picture is of Towton, which took place in the middle of a snowstorm. The article itself is referring to Henry VI, Part 3 – first transmitted in the UK: 16 January 1983

Nothing daunted, I read on, and came to The Tragedy of Richard III – First transmitted in the UK: 23 January 1983. Oh dear. I now have to say Silly Beeb! Here we have a pyramid of bodies, topped by a cackling Margaret of Anjou!

Um - pile of bodies in BBC Richard III

Delightful, yes? Is there such a pile in the Bard’s original? I quote from the article:-

. . .The production is unusual amongst filmed Richards insofar as no one is killed on camera except Richard himself. This was very much a conscious choice on the part of Howell; “you see nobody killed; just people going away, being taken away – so much like today; they’re just removed. There’s a knock on the door and people are almost willing to go. There’s no way out of it. . .

. . .Somewhat controversially, the episode ended with Margaret sitting atop a pyramid of corpses (played by all of the major actors who had appeared throughout the tetralogy) cradling Richard’s dead body and laughing manically, an image Edward Burns refers to as “a blasphemous pietà.” Howell herself referred to it as a “reverse pietà,” and defended it by arguing that the tetralogy is bigger than Richard III, so to end by simply showing Richard’s death and Richmond’s coronation is to diminish the roles that have gone before; the vast amount of death that has preceded the end of Richard III cannot be ignored. R. Chris Hassel Jr. remarks of this scene that “our last taste is not the restoration of order and good governance, but of chaos and arbitrary violence.” Hugh M. Richmond says the scene gives the production a “cynical conclusion,” as “it leaves our impressions of the new King Henry VII’s reign strongly coloured by Margaret’s malevolent glee at the destruction of her enemies that Henry has accomplished for her.”. . .

Good grief. Did you get all that? No, nor me. Nor do I want to. Serious stuff though, right? Er, no. It sounds like a load of silly and affected directorial posturing, and not worth bothering with. Someone should have kicked the Beeb’s pants for broadcasting it. Bah!

 

 

A Song for the Stanleys

On the battlefield of Towton

We were rearmost of the rear

We were tasked to guard the baggage

And to keep the exits clear

But when the foe was vanquished

And ran away in frantic fear

We charged right in (We charged right in)

We charged right in (We charged right in)

We showed them we’re the bold Stanleys

 

When King Edward crossed the Channel

To take the Frenchies by the throat

We were last men at the muster

And we nearly missed the boat

But when Louis offered friendship

With big pensions and fat bribes

We charged right in (We charged right in)

We charged right in (We charged right in)

We showed them we’re the bold Stanleys

 

At Bosworth we were wary,

And avoided either pack

We considered prompt withdrawal

As things were looking rather black

But when we saw a golden moment

To stab our sovereign in the back

We charged right in (We charged right in)

We charged right in (We charged right in)

We showed him we’re the bold Stanleys

Thomas Stanley, or, the man with the evil beard….

Thomas Stanley

For anyone interested in knowing what made slippery Lord Stanley tick, here is an excellent evaluation, save that Sir William was executed for refusing to oppose “Perkin”, not for supporting him. The man was a born opportunist and survivor. Full stop. Oh, and he had an evil beard!

 

THE CARMELITE FRIARY OF NORWICH KNOWN AS WHITEFRIARS – BURIAL PLACE OF ELEANOR TALBOT

oil painting Cowgate c1860 white friars stood on the east David Hodgsonside .jpg

COWGATE NORWICH, DAVID HODGSON c.1860.  WHITEFRIARS STOOD ON THE EASTERN SIDE BETWEEN THE CHURCH OF ST JAMES POCKTHORPE (SEEN ABOVE) AND THE RIVER A SHORT DISTANCE AWAY..NORWICH MUSEUM

On this day, 30 June, died Eleanor Butler nee Talbot.  Eleanor came from an illustrious family.  Her father was the great John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, her mother, Margaret Beauchamp’s father was Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick.  Richard Neville Earl of Warwick known as ‘The Kingmaker’ was her uncle by marriage.   Eleanor’s sister, Elizabeth, was to become the Duchess of Norfolk and was the mother of Anne Mowbray, child bride to Richard of Shrewsbury.  Eleanor was a childless widow, her husband, Sir Thomas Butler, heir to Ralph Butler, Lord Sudeley, having died around 1459 and possibly of injuries sustained at the battle of Blore Heath (1)

It would seem that the young widow caught the eye of the even younger warrior king Edward IV, who fresh from his leading the Yorkists to victory  at Towton and the overthrow of Henry VI,  found himself swiftly propelled onto the throne of England.  No doubt he was giddy with success because quite soon after, having met the young Eleanor, he married her in secret, an amazingly stupid action, and one which would come back to haunt him, and his bigamous “wife” Elizabeth Wydeville with all the subsequent and tragic  repercussions for his family.  The relationship was doomed to be one of short duration,  the reasons for this being lost in time.  Much has been written on this subject and I would like to focus here on the Carmelite Friary known as Whitefriars, Norwich, where Eleanor was later to be buried.

Whitefriars had been founded in 1256 by Philip de Cowgate, son of Warin, a Norwich merchant who settled lands there upon William de Calthorpe ‘upon condition that the brethren of Mount Carmel should enter and dwell there without any molestation for ever and serve God therein’.  Sadly much later Henry Vlll was to have other ideas.  However returning to  Philip de Cowgate- his wife having died and growing old ‘took upon him the the Carmelite habit and entered the house of his own foundation’ dying there in 1283.  The building of Whitefriars was not completed until 1382 and so begun its long journey through history.  The notable persons being buried there are too numerous to mention as are the many benefactors but the various highs and lows make interesting reading.  Notable incidents include:

1272, 29 June ‘On the feast of St Peter and Paul in the early morning when the monks rise to say the first psalms, there was an earthquake’.

Further problems for the friary occurred later on that year –

1272, 11 August   ‘….the citizens of the city attacked the monastery and burnt a large part of the building’

1450  John Kenninghale built a ‘spacious new library’

1452 A group of people begun to cause disturbances in the neighbourhood.  ‘Item xl of the same felechep came rydyng to Norwiche jakked and salettyd with bowys and arwys, byllys, gleves , un Maundy Thursday, and that day aftyr none when service was doo, they, in like wise arrayid, wold have brake up the Whyte Freris dores, where seying that they came to here evensong, howbeit, they made  her avant in town they shuld have sum men owt of town’.  However …’the Mayer and alderman with gret multitude of peple assembled and thereupon the seyd felischep departid’.

1468, end of July – Lady Eleanor Butler, nee Talbot,  daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury and sister to of the Duchess of Norfolk, born c.1436 died 30 June 1468 was buried in the friary.

1479 – ‘The great pestelence in Norwich’

1480 – ‘The great earthquake upon St Thomas nyght in the month of July’

1485 – King Richard III confirmed all the houses, lands and privileges of the Carmelites

1488/9 – ‘In the langable rental of the fourth of Henry the seventh, these friars are charged two-pence half-penny for divers tenements which they had purchased’.

1538, 2l Sept – The duke of Norfolk wrote to Thomas Cromwell ‘intended yesterday to have ridden to Norwich to take surrender of the Grey Friars, but was ill and so sent his son of Surrey and others of his council who have taken the surrender and left the Dukes servants in charge.  Thinks the other two friars should be enjoined to make no more waste.  The Black Friars have sold their greatest bell’.

1538 Sept ‘The house of friars (Whitefriars) have no substance of lead save only some of them have small gutters’

1538 7 Oct  Letter from the Duke of Norfolk to Thomas Cromwell – ‘The White and Black Friars of Norwich presented a bill, enclosed, for Norfolk to take the surrender of their houses, saying the alms of the country was so little they could no longer live.   Promised ‘by this day sevennight’ to let them know the kings pleasure: begs to know what to do and what to give them.  They are very poor wretches and he gave the worst of the Grey Friars 20s for a raiment, it was a pity these should have less'(2)

The Friary was finally dissolved in 1542 and its lease granted to Richard Andrews and Leonard Chamberlain.  Shortly after which the land was then divided into many different ownerships.  The rest is history….

But back to the present – in 1904 foundations were discovered and in 1920 six pieces of window tracery were found and built into a wall at Factory Yard, these were to be cleared away when Jarrolds, the printers,  extended their works.  Thank to the intrepid George Plunkett who took photographs of old Norwich between 1930-  2006 we can see this tracery before it disappeared forever.Whitefriars Cowgate Factory Yard tracery [1651] 1937-05-29.jpg

Whitefriars Cowgate Factory Yard tracery.  Photographed in 1937 by George Plunkett.

Mr Plunkett also took photos of the now famous Gothic arch as it was in 1961 after it had recently been opened out.  Sadly he reported that ‘a dilapidated flint wall adjoining the bridge was taken down as not worth preserving – a modern tablet identified it as having once belonged to the anchorage attached to the friary’ (3).Whitefriars Cowgate flint wall [3187] 1939-07-30.jpg

The flint wall before demolition – photograph by George Plunkett c1939Whitefriars Cowgate friary doorway W side [4615] 1961-07-07.jpg

Whitefriars Cowgate friary doorway west side uncovered in 1961 it stood adjacent to the anchorage.  Photograph by George Plunkett

Whitefriars Cowgate friary doorway E side [6512] 1988-08-17.jpg

Whitefriars Cowgate friary doorway East side 1988.  Photograph by George Plunkett.

Up to date views of the friary doorway.  With many thanks to Dave Barlow for permission to use his beautiful photos….

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All that remains above ground on the site of the the once magnificent Whitefriars – photos courtesy of Dave Barlow

However….

THE ARMINGHALL ARCH

An important Whitefriars relic, no longer  in its original position, survived and went on  to become  known as the Arminghall Arch.  This 14c arch has experienced a number of moves since it was taken down in the Dissolution.  It was first of all erected at Arminghall Old Hall. There it remained until the Hall was also demolished.  It was acquired by Russell Colman who transferred it to his grounds at Crown Point.  From there it has now finally been installed at Norwich Magistrates Court, just across the bridge from its original position.

arminghall@2x.jpg

‘ARMINGHALL OLD ARCH’ 14th century arch removed from Whitefriars at the time of Dissolution. Now in Norwich Magistrates Court. 

Such is progress……

l) The Secret Queen, Eleanor Talbot p74 John Ashdown Hill

2) The Medieval Carmelite Priory at Norwich, A Chronology Richard Copsey, O.Carm, accessible here.

 

3) George Plunkett’s website, particularly this map.

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

 

Men of Harlech

In March 1461, the Lancastrian forces of King Henry VI were decisively thrashed at Towton, the Yorkist army of King Edward IV winning the day after a bitter and close-fought battle. After that, England fell into the hands of the first Yorkist king. At least, that is what Edward would have liked. In truth, repeated incursions across the Scottish borders during which castles such as Alnwick and Dunstanburgh were quickly snatched continued for some years until the battles of Hedgeley Moor and Hexham in 1464 finally quashed Lancastrian assaults in the north.

Harlech Castle 171107 006

One place is often forgotten in the story of the Yorkist takeover of England and Wales. Harlech Castle became the last, stubborn enclave of Lancastrian influence in Edward IV’s kingdom and was not brought under his control until 1468. The siege of Harlech Castle is often cited as the longest siege in British history, but that doesn’t paint an entirely accurate picture. For most of the seven-year period from 1461-1468, the castle wasn’t under direct attack, though assaults did come sporadically. It is perhaps more accurate to consider the resistance of Harlech Castle as it being held against Edward IV for seven years.

Harlech became a crucial foothold for Lancastrians in the same way that Calais was important to the English in France. An enclave within territory otherwise belonging to the enemy was both precarious and vital. Part of Harlech’s success lay in geography that is very different to what can be seen today. Walking the open walls around the top of the castle offers a glorious view of the mountains to the north, the town to the east, the coast running away south and the flat plains to the west that lead to the sea. It is this western aspect that is substantially altered. In the fifteenth century, the sea came right up to the castle, as witnessed by the presence of the Water Gate just outside the castle’s western walls. From here, the castle could be restocked and relieved with little that the Yorkists could do about it. Jasper Tudor had been driven from the Welsh coast and was probably in Ireland at this point, providing him with the perfect vantage point from which to send supplies to Harlech and to get intelligence and rumours both in and out.

Harlech Castle 171107 034

The garrison at Harlech was commanded throughout the siege by Dafydd ab Ifan ab Einion, a veteran of the Hundred Years’ War who appears to have served in Rouen. He has been linked to the forces commanded by another famous Welsh soldier named Matthew Gough, who had been killed fighting Jack Cade’s forces in London in 1450. In 1460, following the Battle of Northampton, Queen Margaret fled to Harlech Castle before escaping to Scotland and probably placed Dafydd in command at this point. Harlech became a sanctuary for dissident Lancastrians. In 1463, the Sir Richard Tunstall appeared there for about a year. A member of Henry VI’s household from a Lancashire family, Tunstall had been knighted by Henry in 1452. After his sojourn at Harlech, he headed north to fight alongside Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset at the battles of Hedgeley Moor and Hexham. After the defeats there, he found Henry and saw that he was secreted safely in Lancashire. Tunstall then returned to Harlech, perhaps recognising the importance of keeping a foothold on the Welsh coast.

The final demise of Harlech was caused by a failed Lancastrian invasion. In June 1468, Jasper Tudor landed at Barmouth a few miles south of Harlech. Edward IV had made known his intention to invade France and Louis XI’s response was to fund a Lancastrian invasion on Edward’s western flank. Jasper managed to capture Denbigh Castle, from where he held court in Henry VI’s name and launched raids further into Wales. This was enough to convince Edward to act decisively. Well, sort of. Edward planned to lead an army into Wales himself to crush the insurgency, only to delegate the task at the last moment to William Herbert. William took half the men he had raised around the mountains to attack Harlech from the north. His younger brother Richard Herbert was to approach from the south with the other half of the army, giving each brother around 4,500 men each. Richard encountered Jasper Tudor’s force south of Harlech and caused them to disperse and flee. When the brothers arrived at Harlech, a true siege began and did not take long to conclude.

Harlech Castle 171107 091

With food running short and no sign of supplies from the seas, Dafydd ab Ifan ab Einion surrendered the castle on 14  August 1468. Sir Richard Tunstall was taken into custody amongst the fifty or so prisoners seised from the fortress. Although he was taken to the Tower, Edward IV pardoned him, only for Tunstall to join the readeption government was Henry VI’s chamberlain. Tunstall was attainted when Edward IV regained power and managed to obtain the reversal of this punishment within a couple of years. He went on to serve both Edward IV and Richard III, the latter inducting him into the Order of the Garter before Tunstall was reported in the Ballad of Bosworth Field as one of four English knights to immediately join Henry Tudor when he landed in Wales in 1485. For his final victory against this remnant of Lancastrian resistance, William Herbert was given Jasper Tudor’s forfeited earldom of Pembroke.

Today, Harlech Castle is a stunning monument to Edward I’s campaign to impose himself on Wales. The sea has retreated from its w”Men alls, but it looms over the vast, flat plains left behind and still dominates the coastline to the north and south. The famous song Men of Harlech is widely believed to refer to this prolonged resistance to Yorkist rule, becoming something more like a Welsh national call to arms than a description of a long-running siege as part of a fight between two English royal houses. The 1873 version by John Oxenford romantically describes:

Echoes loudly waking,

Hill and valley shaking;

‘Till the sound spreads wide around,

The Saxon’s courage breaking;

Your foes on every side assailing,

Forward press with heart unfailing,

‘Till invaders learn with quailing,

Cambria ne’er can yield!

A modern visitor can walk the long entrance ramp that has replaced the old, open, wooden staircase into the castle and stroll the grounds at will. The walls remain open, and a pretty challenging walk as the wind blows in from the seas. If you pause for a moment there, it is easy to imagine standing there in the cold and high wind, heavy armour serving to help root your feet, but threatening to help drag you down from the walls with one false step. There can have been little romantic in August 1468 as cannon thundered from the town into the walls and food began to run short. With no hope of relief, surrender to an implacable and unforgiving enemy can only have held terror for those Men of Harlech, that last bastion of Lancastrian loyalty in England or Wales.

Harlech Castle 171107 076

Might Richard have become Archbishop of Canterbury….?

 

Richard as Archbishop - WordPress

An oft-asked question arose again the other day. Had Richard been originally intended for the Church? He was the youngest son of the 3rd Duke of York, and the Church was the fate of most aristocratic youngest sons. It has been suggested to me that such early training would explain his beautifully precise handwriting. After all, his letters and signature make his peers look uneducated!

Yes, his piety is frequently remarked upon, but then they were all pious in those days. Outwardly, at least. Richard’s piety seems to be have deeper, because the purity of his private life is also remarked upon. He does not seem to have strayed from the marriage bed, which was surely very unusual. He was a young king, and good-looking. His scoliosis wouldn’t been seen because good tailoring would hide it, so none of the awful lies perpetrated by Shakespeare would have applied. He would have been a prime target for female advances. These advances do not seem to have been welcomed. At least, if they were, post-marriage he hid it well! Before marrying Anne, he fathered illegitimate children and acknowledged them all, so he was red-blooded.

Was he a reluctant temporal lord? Was his brilliance on the battlefield, enjoyment of sumptuous fashionable clothes and penchant for lavish festivities a smokescreen? Would he much rather have been Archbishop of Canterbury? That might have depended upon which point in his life it was decided he should not enter the Church after all. When might that have happened? What might have prompted it?

I do not know the finer points of such things, and for all I know the precise proof of it all is known to exist, but if so, I am ignorant of it. So, simply looking on the surface, I would guess a decision to change his destiny was maybe made after Wakefield. The deaths of his father and brother Edmund might have decided the eldest brother, Edward, Earl of March, who would become King Edward IV, that his youngest brother would be better employed as a soldier, “going forth and multiplying” for the benefit of the House of York.

Richard (then eight years old) and his slightly older brother George were children at that time, and exiled safely to their aunt in Burgundy. After the soon-to-be Edward IV’s subsequent victory at Towton, they were brought home. Is that when and why it was agreed that Richard and the Church should no longer be an item? Richard was thus created Duke of Gloucester, and George, for whom the Church was not a consideration, became Duke of Clarence.

So, is it possible that until being sent into exile in Burgundy, Richard had been trained and prepared for the Church? I can remember how, at that same age of eight, I absorbed education like blotting paper. I read books by the score, and everything that was drummed into me at school was taken on board, as modern parlance has it. In the 15th century, when strictness and volume of tuition would have far exceeded that of the 20th century, Richard (being studious by nature) would have been much higher quality blotting paper! For instance, if the Church was involved, he’d have been be well on the way to a thorough knowledge of Latin. It nearly happened to his nephew and did happen to his great-nephew.

I’m sure there are those who will read this and have more informed thoughts and explanations. If so, I hope they will share them.

 

I Would Rather See the Hunting of a Duck…

Certain ‘books’ (ahem) often go on about Richard III’s supposed unpopularity and describe his brother Edward IV in glowing terms, putting him forth as a universally loved and admired monarch. (Even worse are those writers who make the brave, ruthless, warrior-King Edward into  some kind of hapless old duffer, totally cowed and pushed about by his little brother, and seemingly hardly aware of his supposedly ‘evil machinations.’)

However, I came across this reference to someone from 1461 who was DEFINITELY not best pleased at the crowning of the handsome young Edward. A certain London notary got in hot water with the authorities for saying in public,  ‘twutte and tourde for hym! I [would rather see] the hunting of a duck as him’ [KB 145/7/1]’

It  is an extraodinary statement, not only because he was insulting a new King who had just won a very bloody battle indeed, but for  his liberal  usage of the profanities ‘twutte’ and ‘tourde’. Other than the spellings, how very modern his outrage (and bad language) seems!

 

 

 

The Madness of King Richard III

alan bennett

Playwright Alan Bennett

A while back, Sunday, December 3rd, 2017, to be exact,  I was looking through The New York Times Book Review section when I came across playwright Alan Bennett’s new book called “Keeping On Keeping On.”  It was a mildly interesting review of his diary (ODD SPOILER ALERT:  he once shared the same doctor as Sylvia Plath) until I got to this:  “He’s so upset at what the Richard III Society has done to an old church that he rips down their banner and ‘would have burned it, had I had a match.'”   Brow knitted, I wondered:  what have those wild-eyed, tweedy academic types been up to this time??

Well, a brief Google search provided a hint in yet another book review, this time from the London Review of Books.  In published excerpts from 2014, Bennett dismisses the significance of finding Richard the Third’s remains although admitting that the reconstructed head looks astonishingly like his famed portrait.  Comparing Ricardians to those who believe Edward DeVere was a genius while William Shakespeare nothing more than the dim-bulb son of a rural glove-maker, he goes on to say this:

“Just east of Leeds and not far from Towton and its bloody battlefield is Lead Church, a medieval cell of a chapel which possibly served as a refuge or a dressing station after the battle in 1461.  I have known the chapel since I was a boy when I used to go out there on my bike.  It stands in the middle of a field, the grass grazed by sheep right up to the south door and has latterly been in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.  It was untouched as late as 2000 when it figured in an article I wrote for The World of Interiors.  However, calling there a few years ago we found that the grass outside the south door had been replaced or supplemented by a patio not even in York stone but in some fake composition.  Inside, draped in front of the altar was a gaudy banner advertising the Richard III Society.  This I rolled up and had I had the means would have destroyed.  I wrote to the CCT, who generally do a decent job but was told the patio had been there for many years.  It hadn’t and I suspect the culprits were the Richard III Society, who see the church as a Yorkist site…”

loyalty binds

Gaudy?

According to Mr. Bennett, not only have Ricardians managed to rehabilitate the name of the last Yorkist king but apparently have gone into the concrete, paving and masonry business! Of course, he offers no proof that the Society had anything to do with building a bad-taste deck on the back of a medieval church but when it comes to the world of denialists, I suppose any insult will do.*  Luckily for them, while we Ricardian hard hats may be expert at mixing concrete along with our metaphors, we no longer prepare “Chicago overcoats” or cement shoes for those who have differing opinions…

construction

A Ricardian on lunch break?  I think not!

 

 

*The website of St. Mary Lead reports only that it received a grant from The Richard the Third Society for renovations.  It says nothing about the Society directing or instructing or approving the work.

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