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A huge stone port a mile off Cardiff…built by the ancient kings of Britain….?

This post has nothing to do with Richard III, but concerns a great structure which, if it ever existed, would surely have been visible to him from the shore of South Wales. The intervening centuries have worn it down, of course, but he might—just might—have seen it.

We are becoming accustomed to important ancient discoveries along the Welsh coast of the Severn estuary. For instance, there were those Stone Age footprints, set forever in the hardened clay along the shore at Goldcliff, and the wonderful medieval ship discovered in the Usk at Newport. These are but two.

One of the Stone Age footprints from the mud at Goldcliff,
and the medieval ship found in the Usk at Newport.

And now I have learned of a ‘huge’ stone port built by ancient British kings over a mile offshore at Cardiff. A what and how far out, did I hear you exclaim? Well, yes, that was my initial reaction, and it’s a fascinating thought, but could it possibly be true? You may relax, ladies and gentlemen, for I am not about to claim that it must have been the work of alien visitors; instead, I will resort to maps—Google, Bing, Earth, Ordnance Survey and others. One thing is certain, I am astonished that Giraldus Cambrensis forgot to mention it, and Nennius was most remiss not to list such a colossal undertaking among his Wonders of Britain!

The Severn Estuary is a dangerous place because it boasts the second highest tidal range in the world, the highest being the Bay of Fundy in Newfoundland. Things have changed since the Dark Ages, and now it is reckoned that the high water level of, say, the 5th century, would have been four metres lower than at present. I am not a geologist, historical or otherwise, so can only imagine that this might make a great difference to the appearance and integrity of the shoreline. My interest here is in the area off Cardiff, known today as the Cardiff Flats. As far as I can see, Cardiff never extended further south than the original shoreline, which surely means there was always mud on what is now Cardiff Flats? And that the highest spring tides still came up to the shoreline that Cardiff never dared to cross?

From the shore, the Flats reach out south for about a mile into the estuary, a vista of level, featureless, sometimes rippling mud that ends suddenly at the Orchard Ledges, which plunge down into much deeper water. At this physical point, in the time of the ancient British kings, it is suggested, there was built a great stone port. Its purpose was to defeat the tide, by always providing deep water for ships of all sizes. Especially, of course, military vessels.

London

Yes, the above image is how London is imagined to have looked at the time of the Cardiff port. But, of course, London has always been right on the confined bank of the Thames. The port off Cardiff is not only a mile or more out in the estuary, but was built of stone! It is an undertaking that even now would take meticulous and infallible engineering…and an awful lot of money and men! How long did it take? How great a workforce? Might the whole enterprise have been on a par with the Great Pyramid?

I learned of this harbour/port when reading The Holy Kingdom by Adrian Gilbert, Alan Wilson and Baram Blackett. This is a fascinating book dealing with the legends of King Arthur (among other things, including that there were actually two Arthurs), and I really enjoyed reading it. That is not to say I necessarily agree with all its theories and suppositions, but I definitely enjoyed it. The writing style is easy and inviting, and there aren’t any dull passages. According to the blurb – “As a result of research going back over forty years, the authors are able to reveal the locations of the graves of both Arthurs, the location of Camelot, the burial of the ‘true cross of Christ’ and uncover a secret historical current that links our own times with the mysteries of Arthur and the Holy Grail…” Yes, yes, I know that many of you will be groaning, but the book is still very interesting, if not to say fascinating.

Sometimes, whatever you’re reading, a passage will leap out and demand investigation. Then it stays in the memory, nagging away, until you do just that. The passage in question is the following, which I have taken directly from the book:

“….In the Cardiff area, which is typified by mud flats, the variation of the [Severn] tides means that the sea retreats for a very long way at low tide, leaving ships beached and therefore useless for military purposes.

“….Before land was reclaimed in order to build the Alexandra and Roath docks, the shoreline between the Taff and Ely estuaries was long and straight, corresponding to today’s high-water mark for spring tides. Beyond this high-water mark there is a low, flat shelf of mudflats extending for well over a mile to the Orchard ledges, where the shelf ends and the water deepens sharply. When the tide is out the mudflats are exposed. It was on the edge of these flats that we believe the ancient British kings built a great stone port in the sea, to overcome the problems created by the tides. Until recently there was a long, straight road running down through Splott in south-east Cardiff, called Portmanmor Road, a name deriving from either Porth-Maen-Mor, meaning ‘the Port of Stone in the Sea’, or Porth-Maen-Mawr—‘the Great Port of Stone’. It points directly at the centre of the harbour whose ruins, although not marked on modern Ordnance Survey maps, were included in those drawn up by local cartographers in the nineteenth centuries.

The above illustration has been inserted by me, and does not appear in the book. The resolution is not very good in the snip from the 1888-1913 Ordnance Survey map, but it shows that Portmanmor (various other spellings) Road acquired a kink at the southern end, and has these days been swallowed up by the docks and other developments. But the red dot-dash line follows the upper part of the road, and then reaches out into the estuary to the end of Cardiff Flats and the Orchard Ledges, where there is no visible sign of the stone port. It was from about this time that the port was omitted from all modern OS maps. And I don’t think that the above passage from The Holy Kingdom implies that Portmanmor Road extended right into the estuary, I have included the red line merely to show that the angle of the road would indeed reach out to the right point on Orchard Ledges.

“….The harbour is shaped like a gigantic horseshoe with its mouth facing outwards towards the deeper water of the Severn Estuary. The bulk of the harbour sits on the mudflats with its entrance stretching over the shelf. The distance across its opening is approximately 400 yards, and it is 500 yards deep (i.e. from mouth back toward land). Using this manmade harbour, ships could come and go as they pleased, regardless of the tides. It was certainly a remarkable structure and deserves to be explored archaeologically, for if there is anywhere in Britain where we could expect to find Dark Age wrecks, then this is it….”

I am unsure if what I have indicated with red arrows in the maps below is the harbour, shingle, or just the way the mud has settled as the tide ebbs. All I can say is that sometimes it looks as if made of stone, and sometimes not.

I think this shingly shape is the port. If not, it might be the dark curve directly below the L of Ledges. Hard to be sure.

Well, after all that, I’m left with a huge unanswered question. Is there an ancient port still lingering for our modern eyes? Or not?

Severn estuary mud is another Wonder of Britain overlooked by Nennius. The Romans’ amazing concrete/cement (of which we hear many praises) is as nothing compared with what Sabrina can produce.

©Lewis Clarke

That Severn clay stuff is a curse on anyone whose garden is made of it (me, for one!) because it seems that no matter how much rain falls, the flower beds will have set solid within a day. But this is not so in the Severn itself. The retreating tide may expose miles of that awful grey-brown desolation, but there is no time between tides for anything to set. The stuff remains sticky, gooey, treacherous, mean-hearted and seemingly fathomless. Its sole avowed purpose is to grab your wellies and suck you down. Oh, and there are quick-sands too, just to make matters really jolly.

From http://www.songofthepaddle.co.uk/forum/showthread.php/23860-Severn-Estuary-from-Beachley-to-Newnham-and-back-with-two-canoes-and-a-wrong-un

We still don’t even know how Stonehenge was created—Merlin’s name has been known to pass lips, and it surely would have taken his wizardry to conjure a 400 x 500 yard stone port, in the middle of the Severn Estuary, in that ferocious mud in the Dark Ages. Well, I’m not going to say it couldn’t have been done by mere mortals, but I confess I would really like to know how they did it.

And, of course, there’s always….

PS: Oh dear, it now seems that the Great Stone Port will soon be even more a thing of the past, because it looks to me as if the wall of the intended Cardiff Bay Tidal Lagoon will probably demolish what’s left of what might be a Dark Ages marvel.

THE STRANGE LEGEND OF USK CASTLE

In a tiny town in Wales, a ruined castle stands on rising ground amidst a haze of dark trees. An atmospheric round tower, cracked  by time; shattered walls, the remains of hall and chapel. Privately owned, a garden drops down the hillside before it, to an old house  which appears to contain much castle stonework. Modern statuary of gargoyles peep out from a tangle of flowers as birds fly from their nests in the towers toward the town beyond, with its grey church, once an ancient priory.

This is  Usk Castle, and it has an interesting history, and a legend that might contain a grain of truth. A Roman fort once stood nearby and the castle itself may be situated on the site of an Iron Age hill-fort. The first castle was likely  built in Norman times by  Richard de Clare and William the Conqueror’s banner-bearer,  Tristram Fitz Rolf . Later, around  1120,  the Marcher Lord,  Richard Fitz Gilbert de Clare strengthened the castle’s defences, perhaps building in stone for the first time. His tenure there was long so long; Iorwerth Ap Owain killed  him in an ambush in a dark, wooded pass called ‘the ill way of Coed Grano.’ The place today still contains a commemorative marker known as the ‘Stone of Revenge.’ Later still,  Usk was held by William Marshal and then returned to the de Clare family with Gilbert de Clare, earl of Hereford (son of Joan of Acre, daughter of Edward I), who was slain at Bannockburn in 1314.

The last events of high drama at the castle seem to have taken place in 1405,  when Welsh prince Owain Glyndwr attacked the town of Usk and the garrison gave battle, capturing Owain’s  son.

The rest of the 1400’s may have been quieter in Usk, but just as interesting. For a time, Usk Castle was held by Edmund Mortimer, earl of the Marches,  and from him it eventually passed to Richard, Duke of York, whose mother was Anne Mortimer, granddaughter of Philippa, the daughter of Lionel of Clarence, Edward III’S third son. The Duke of York was also patron to nearby Usk Priory, today the parish church. William Herbert (senior) was  the Duke’s steward in the area. When Edward IV came to the throne, Usk became a crown possession, and of course it was also subsequently held by Richard III.

Several references of the 1800’s (earliest 1828) to the York family at Usk are rather noteworthy. They state the Duke of York spent ‘considerable time’ at the castle, and that both Edward IV and Richard III were born there. Now, it is known for a fact that Edward was born in Rouen, France and Richard at Fotheringhay, in Northamptonshire, but could there be something in this old tale, which was repeated in more than one source? Is there some sliver of folk memory here, recalling that the Duke’s sons had been in residence in Usk at some time? Edward was not all that far far away at Ludlow with Edmund as a youth, but what about Richard?

It is interesting to look at the stable isotopes detected on Richard’s teeth. They showed that his earliest childhood was spent in a geographic  area of England that would correspond with Fotheringhay; then the isotopes appear to indicate he spent some time in a wetter environment more consistent with western Britain. We know he was with his family at Ludlow at the time of the Battle of Ludford Bridge and the subsequent sacking of the town. Could he have spent some time prior to that at Usk? Was Duchess Cecily in residence there for a while with her younger children?  I somehow doubt  the Duke would have  his wife and children ride all the way from Fotheringhay to Ludlow with hostilities about to break out in the area, so it only makes sense to assume they were already dwelling somewhere in the region.  Perhaps they were at Usk and the Duke ordered them to Ludlow, which had a larger, stronger, more  defensible castle. The distance between Usk and Ludlow is around 50 miles, a much shorter distance than  that between  Fotheringhay  and Ludlow. That latter route would also have taken in more of the Lancastrian dominated areas in the Midlands. Certainly, the possibility is there and many legends are not just pulled from thin air.

Vintage article on the castle:

USK CASTLE FROM VICTORIAN HISTORY BOOK

 

USK CASTLE:

 

 

Plantagenet Ireland and Poynings’ Law

It is fair to say that most medieval English kings had little interest in Ireland except as a source of revenue. (The same was probably true about England and Wales but it seems too cynical to say it, and at least they did live there.)

Prior to the Bruce invasion, Ireland yielded between £5000 and £20,000 a year to the Exchequer. Even the lower figure was a useful sum in medieval terms, bearing in mind that the “qualification” for an earldom at this point was about £666. So in a bad year, Ireland gave the king the equivalent of more than seven earldoms, after expenses.

By the 1350s the net revenue was down to between £1,000 and £2,000, while by the start of Richard II’s reign Ireland was running a deficit. Given the general state of the Exchequer this was a Very Bad Thing and Something Had To Be Done. (1)

Of course, simply pulling out of Ireland and making a saving was unthinkable. Instead various half-hearted measures were tried, and various people lined up to take the place in hand, ranging from Robert de Vere (created Duke of Ireland!) to Thomas, Duke of Gloucester, the King’s uncle. The matter was evidently seen as (relatively) a low priority, and in view of the state of England at this time, this is quite understandable.

Eventually, in 1394, Richard II himself, personally, set out for the Emerald Isle with a well-equipped army 7000-8000 men. By the standards of English military expeditions in Ireland it was extraordinarily successful and well-executed. Not that Richard II gets much credit for it. By January 1395 the various Irish chiefs had begun to submit to Richard and by early Spring the capitulation was complete.

Richard, writing to his Council in England, stated that rebellion arose from past failures of government and that unless mercy was shown his opponent would ally with the “wild Irish”. He therefore proposed to take them under his protection until their offences had been purged or excused. (2)

This conciliatory policy towards the Irish speaks strongly in Richard’s favour. He intended that from now on there should be “liege Irish” as well as “liege English” and he tried to settle some of the many grievances (mainly about land) between the two groups. Of course this was a major task, and probably could never have been completed to everyone’s satisfaction even if Richard had remained in Ireland for ten years. However, it was a settlement of sort.

Unfortunately Richard was forced to cut his visit short due to issues in England, leaving the young Earl of March behind as Lieutenant. March was of course also Earl of Ulster, and in that capacity had land issues of his own., particularly with the O’Neill family. By 1396 March was leading major raids into O’Neill territory, and the short period of peace was under extreme strain. By 1397 Leinster was also in a state very close to war.

In 1398, not long after extending March’s term of office, Richard II decided to replace him with the Duke of Surrey, Thomas Holland. Surrey, Richard’s nephew of the half-blood, was another young and inexperienced man, with the added disadvantage that he had no hereditary lands in Ireland at all. He required, therefore, heavy subsidy from the Exchequer. Before the change could be completed, March had been killed in the fighting, as was his son in 1425.

King Richard now decided on a second personal visit to Ireland. This was a strange decision, given that he had just annexed the lands of Bolingbroke and Mowbray, and that Bolingbroke was in France, poised to invade England. However, we have the benefit of hindsight. Richard had no reason to suspect that the French, his supposed allies, would allow any such thing – and but for a temporary shift in power at the French court, they would not have done.

Richard’s second visit to Ireland was less successful. In a parley between Thomas Despenser, Earl of Gloucester and Art Macmurrough – who styled himself King of Leinster – the latter made it clear he was unwilling to submit. Before much more could be done Richard was forced to leave Ireland to confront Bolingbroke, and Ireland was once again left more or less to its own devices.

It is remarkable that any remnant of English lordship survived Henry IV’s reign, given the state of Henry’s Exchequer and the low priority given to Ireland by a king who was fighting on several fronts, including internal battles against his opponents. But the fact is that somehow, it did. Indeed Irish-based ships co-operated with Henry in the re-conquest of Anglesey.

Henry V and Henry VI were also unable (or unwilling) to give great priority to Ireland. Ralph A. Griffiths states “The isolated administration entrenched in Dublin and its ‘pale’ was more often than not subject to the rough dictates of Anglo-Irish magnates like Desmond and Ormond, and for some time past it had been assailed by a Celtic resurgence among the native Irish themselves that was cultural and social as well as military in character.” (3)

The attitude of the Anglo-Irish peers was to remain key, because unless and until the English government was willing and able to finance significant military intervention in Ireland, their power made them the most effective players on the island. Of course, the rivalries between them meant that the Crown was often able to play one family off against another.

In 1437 the author of The Libelle of Englysche Polycye expressed concern about the state of royal government in Ireland, suggesting the country could become a base for French, Scottish and even Spanish enemies, with whom hostile elements in Ireland could form an alliance. This fear of encirclement explains much of English/British policy towards Ireland over the next several hundred years, although in the short term very little was done about it, not least because England simply did not have the resources. (Such resources as were available were being thoroughly over-stretched in France.)

By this time the Irish revenues were failing to maintain the cost of government there, and even its most senior officers struggled to obtain their salaries. In 1441 it was reported that the charges of the Justiciar of Ireland and his underlings exceeded revenue by £1,456. (4)

In December 1447, Richard, Duke of York took on the role of Lieutenant of Ireland, with a salary of 4000 marks for the first year and £2000 in each of the following years of a supposed ten year appointment. York, who was very much at odds with Suffolk and Somerset at home, was effectively ‘promoted’ to a backwater. Those responsible doubtless thought that it would keep him quiet (and busy) for a long time. He was, of course, Earl of Ulster, and therefore had very significant landed interest in the country.

Not until summer 1449 did York actually set out – from Beaumaris. Even then he did so only because the King pressed him to go. He was received ‘ with great honour, and the earls of Ireland went into his house, as did also the Irish adjacent to Meath, and gave him as many beeves for the use of his kitchen as it pleased him to demand.’ (5)

That Richard, Duke of York, was a successful Lieutenant of Ireland is in some ways surprising. He was an aristocrat to his finger tips, and not generally noted for his people skills. If he had strengths they lay in his relative honesty and relative efficiency as an administrator and soldier. York failed miserably to unite the English nobility behind him, and yet he seems to have been well-regarded in Ireland. (In contrast to John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, who was positively hated in the same role.)

York quickly summoned a great council at Dublin which ensured the protection of certain hard-pressed castles and towns and also sought to address some of the more extravagant abuses of the Irish government.

His problem was that the money he had been promised largely failed to appear. He received less than half of what he should have in the first two years, and that was in tallies. After December 1449 he received nothing at all. (6)

This helps explain why York eventually threw in his hand and returned to England.

However, after the debacle at Ludford Bridge, York was sufficiently confident of his welcome to return to Ireland (with his second son, Rutland) and was able to use it as a secure base to plot the overthrow of Henry VI’s government.

York encouraged or allowed the Irish Parliament to pass legislation which left the country almost, but not quite independent, Henry VI’s sovereignty being reduced to little more than a cipher. It was even declared that the introduction of English Privy Seal Letters into Ireland was a breach of the country’s liberties. In return the Parliament voted York men and money, and rejected Henry VI’s attempts to remove York from office. The duke was not quite King of Ireland, but he was something very close.

Thereafter Ireland became strongly Yorkist – even into early “Tudor” times. It may be that York’s almost accidental policy of granting autonomy was the answer to the Question. In May 1487, a young boy was crowned at Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral (right) as “Edward VI”. He may actually have been the ill-fated Earl of Warwick by that name but is traditionally named as “Lambert Simnel”, who was taken to work in Henry VII’s kitchen after the battle of Stoke Bridge ended his insurrection the following month. In his identification of the boy (7), Ashdown-Hill uses historical, numismatic and physical evidence cogently, as ever, eliminating the other possibilities.

As a result of “Lambert”‘s coronation, Henry VII’s regime decided to control Ireland more closely. The “Statute of Drogheda” (left) (“An Act that no Parliament be holden in this Land until the Acts be certified into England”) was passed in early or mid-1494 and is described as 10 Hen.7 c4 or 10 Hen.7 c9. It is also known by the name of the newly appointed Lord Deputy at the time: Sir Edward Poynings (1459-1521) and specified that no Irish Parliament could meet until its proposed legislation had been approved by the Lord Deputy, his Privy Council, the English monarch and his Parliament. Ireland was thus legislatively subjugated and its status changed again under the “Crown in Ireland Act” in 1542, becoming a kingdom (“An Act that the King of England, his Heirs and Successors, be Kings of Ireland”) under the same monarch as England, in place of a lordship. Curiously, this was in the same year that Wales was subsumed by the Kingdom of England (Laws in Wales Acts). As the sands of the “Tudor” era ran out, the Earl of Essex was sent to suppress another Ulster rebellion but ignored his orders and returned home to aim for the crown. James VI/I’s subsequent plantations filled the power vacuum left by the O’Neills.

Consequently, the “English Civil War” is also known as the “War of the Three Kingdoms”, each of which had a different religious settlement as Charles I’s reign began. Similarly, legend has it that George I expressed to plant St. James’ Park with turnips and asked an aide the price: “Only three crowns, Sire”. Poynings’ Law is still in force in Northern Ireland, whilst it was fully repealed in the Republic as late as 2007.

Notes

(1) All figures are from Richard II, Nigel Saul, page 273

(2) For more detail see Saul, p 281.

(3) The Reign of King Henry VI, Ralph A. Griffiths page 411.

(4) The Reign of King Henry VI, Ralph A. Griffiths page 412.

(5) Irish chronicle quoted in The Reign of King Henry VI, Ralph A. Griffiths page 421.

(6) The Reign of King Henry VI, Ralph A. Griffiths page 421.

(7) The Dublin King, John Ashdown-Hill particularly chapters 1-5.

Sir James Tyrrell – Sheriff of Glamorgan

As we said in an earlier article,“ Richard III appointed James Tyrrell Sherriff of Glamorgan and Constable of Cardiff in 1477. The importance of Glamorgan is little understood or recognised in Ricardian Studies, but this was certainly a key job and one of the most important at Richard’s disposal. The practical effect, given that Richard was mainly occupied in the North or at Court,, was that Tyrell was his deputy in one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Marcher Lordships. It was a position of considerable power and almost certainly considerable income.”

Looking for further information about Sir James, I came across “An Inventory of Ancient Monuments of Glamorgan” which said that the Lordship of Glamorgan was passed to Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, through his wife Anne Beauchamp. After Warwick’s death at the Battle of Barnet his daughters inherited it. However, due to a dispute between Richard Duke of Gloucester and George Duke of Clarence, as to how the inheritance should be split, King Edward IV stepped in and enforced partition of the lands and Richard became Lord of Glamorgan. In the Autumn of 1477 Richard appointed Tyrrell as Sheriff of Glamorgan and Constable of Cardiff Castle.

The Richard III Society of Canada reported in an article that during the Scottish Campaign in July 1482 Tyrrell was made a Knight Banneret and in November 1482, along with Sir William Parr and Sir James Harrington he was appointed to exercise as Vice Constable to Richard’s office as Constable of England.

Tyrrell was obviously well thought of by Richard. He trusted him to bring his mother in law from Beaulieu Abbey to Middleham. After Hastings’ execution and the arrest of suspected conspirators Richard temporarily placed Archbishop Rotherham in Sir James’ custody. It is also thought that James Tyrrell was responsible for taking the Princes or one of the Princes out of the country before Bosworth. I have always thought it was odd that he was out of the country when Richard needed him, but it is possible that he was performing a much more important task for Richard.

In researching another previous post , I discovered that Rhys ap Thomas had married Jane Stradling, nee Matthew, the widow of Thomas Stradling of St Donat’s Castle and that he was guardian to the young heir, Edward Stradling when Thomas died in 1480. I assumed that when ap Thomas had married Jane Stradling he had taken over the guardianship of Edward Stradling, however, Richard had given Edward Stradling’s guardianship to James Tyrrell in 1480 when his father died so it was probably after Bosworth that Rhys ap Thomas was given the control of the young heir of St Donat’s. Thomas was later accused of taking money from the Stradling’s estates for three years running. The young man was obviously better served by Tyrrell.

Sir James Tyrrell was obviously someone Richard could trust, so it could be said that was evidence that Richard trusted him to be responsible for taking the Princes out of the country. On the other hand, I am sure that those who believe the traditionalist version would say that it could also mean that Richard could have trusted him to do away with the Princes. Personally I have always thought that the former scenario was probably the true version. In her book “The Mystery of the Princes” Audrey Williamson” reported a tradition in the Tyrrell family that “the Princes were at Gipping with their mother by permission of the uncle”. This was told to her by a descendant of the Tyrrell family in around the 1950s. Apparently the family didn’t ever talk about it because they assumed that if the boys had been at Gipping that it must mean that Sir James was responsible for their deaths. However, they were supposedly at Gipping with their mother and by permission of their uncle, so I doubt that their mother would have been involved with their murder. Gipping in Suffolk is quite near to the east coast of England so would have been an ideal place to stopover on the way to the Continent.

In conclusion, it is my opinion that James Tyrrell was a very loyal, trustworthy member of Richard’s retinue. This is evidenced by the fact that he was trusted by Richard to carry out important tasks like bringing his mother-in-law from Beaulieu to Middleham, to carry out his duties as Lord of Glamorgan by making him Sheriff of Glamorgan and as Vice Constable to Richard’s role as Lord Constable. We might never know if the Princes even died in 1483/84 let alone were murdered or if they were taken out of the country. There isn’t any definite evidence to prove that, if they were taken abroad, Tyrrell was responsible for taking them. However, there is evidence that Richard made a large payment to Tyrrell while he was Captain of Guisnes. It was £3000, a huge amount in those days. There is an opinion that it would have been enough to see a prince live comfortably for quite some time while others say that it was probably towards the running of the garrison. As I said before we might never know what happened but it does seem odd to me that when Richard needed him most to fight the Battle of Bosworth, James Tyrrell was abroad as was Sir Edward Brampton, another person who could have helped to save the day at Bosworth.

Did Richard III prefer to travel his realm by land, river or around the coast. . .?

King Edward III's cog, Thomas

Here is a question that has bugged me for some time now. If, during medieval centuries, a journey could be made around the English coast, rather than across country, was the sea option likely to be chosen?

I will take a particular example. It’s from the 14th century, but could be from the 13th or the 15th. A high-ranking aristocrat, who was accustomed to sailing (he was at one time Admiral of the Fleet in the Western Seas – I think that is the correct title) wished to go from London to Dartmouth on the south coast of Devon. It was a journey he would have made fairly frequently, because his country seat in Devon was his favourite residence, some of his children were born there and he clearly like to escape to its peaceful acres.

cog and boat of fugitives

RII embarks for Ireland, 1394

Now, medieval journeys fascinate me, and I wonder what governed the choice of route. For instance, when Richard II made his two visits to Ireland, he travelled across country and then along through Glamorgan and Pembroke to Haverford, from where he set sail for Ireland. The voyage took two days. But many of his men/ships/horses/equipment and so on were sent by ship from Bristol.

Bristol Castle in 14th Century

Why didn’t Richard leave from Bristol as well? It would certainly have been easier than all the way through South Wales. Was it simply to show himself to the people of Wales and the southern Marches? He went from castle to abbey to castle and so on. Quite a long way to be in the saddle. Yes, all medieval aristocrats and royalty showed themselves around the country, but they liked their comfort too, and surely a few extra days’ voyage from Bristol would be preferable to a couple of weeks on indifferent roads?

medieval fleet - 3

Which brings me back to my particular nobleman in Devon. When he joined the king in Ireland in 1394, he sailed from Bristol on 7th March. He certainly didn’t go up to Gloucester, across the Severn and then all the way through South Wales to Haverford. No indeed. But why not from Dartmouth, which was only a few miles from his residence? His wife had just given birth to a son there, and it seems fairly certain (not confirmed) that her husband had been there with her just prior to leaving on the Irish campaign?

dartmouth_castle_engraving

Back to London. Let me provide a particular scenario. There has been a lot of rain and the roads are appalling, but the weather is otherwise calm. Would he choose to labour to Devon by road? Or take a vessel and sail along the south coast?

It seems to me that surely he would prefer to go by sea, but apart from international travel, or travelling along navigable rivers, I have yet to come across a definite reference to sailing around the coast from one part of the mainland to another. Sometimes there is simply a statement that one town was left and another reached. If the towns are in the middle of the country, then it’s obvious the journey was by road. But if close to the coast…? What then? Traders did it, of course, but did other travellers do the same?

Postscript:
Since I first composed this article, I have come upon the interesting thoughts of prominent historian, Ian Mortimer, on the very subject of whether travel would have been by water or road. In Appendix Five of The Fears of Henry IV, he ponders the speed of Henry’s movements around the country, and whether or not roads would have been the natural route. As places like Nottingham and Pontefract are mentioned, it makes me wonder about some of Richard III’s journeys. I have always imagined that he travelled by road, but might he have actually gone by river?

Here is an extract from Mortimer:

“The distances. . .all presume Henry travelled by road, and it needs to be stressed that some of the journeys were probably by water. In fact, Douglas Biggs has suggested that Henry moved mostly by water in 1407.* With regard to his journey from York (5 September 1407) to Beverley (11 September): he sailed down the River Ouse, pausing at Faxfleet, and up the River Hull to Beverley. Similarly Henry could have travelled by water from Nottingham to Pontefract (via the rivers Trent and Calder), and from Bishopthorpe to Cawood (via the Ouse). However, he did not always move by water. His journey from Nottingham to Pontefract via Newstead and Worksop. . .must have been by road, and his presence at Kilham indicates that, although he probably sailed from Beverley to Bridlington, he returned to Bishopthorpe by road.”

* Syllabus: T.D. Hardy (ed.), Syllabus. . .of Rymer’s Foedera (3 vols, 1869-85). Vol ii, p.544. Also Douglas Biggs. ‘An Ill and Infirm King: Henry IV, Health and the Gloucester Parliament of 1407’ – paper delivered at Nottingham 2006).

What did Richard do? Did he always ride on horseback or take to his barge or cog? Over to you, ladies and gentlemen.

LLWYN CELYN, A MEDIEVAL HOUSE RESTORED.

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One of the restored rooms in Llwyn Celyn which is at Cwmyoy, nr Abergavenny.

Llwyn Celyn, which means Hollybush in English, built in 1420,  has been in continuous occupation since 1480 to 2014 when brothers Trevor and Lyndon Powell left the property.  Its thought provoking to think that the original tenants of this property may well have sat at the dining room table discussing the tumultuous events known as the Wars of the Roses particularly those of 1483 – 1485 which covered the death of one king, Edward IV, to the death of another,  his brother,  King Richard III at Bosworth.  Oh! if only those walls could speak.

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Two of the three ogee-headed door heads.  The farmhouse retains its original timbers on the ground floor.

After falling into semi dereliction, Llwyn Celyn, which was built on the edge of the estates of the Augustine Priory of Llanthony,  was lovingly and painstakingly restored  by the Landmark Trust Charity.   The renovation   (aided  by a grant from the National Lottery) cost over £4m and took two years to complete.

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The farmhouse is situated at Cwmyoy, near Abergavenny, Monmouthshire.

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The above photos are thanks to the Landmark Trust who are now renting out the property for holiday lets.  There is more information to be found here.

A constitutionally important “Tudor” servant

Sir Richard Rich

We tend to have rather a negative view of Sir Richard Rich, or Baron Rich of Leez as he became in February 1547, nowadays. In this, we are somewhat influenced by Robert Bolt’s portrayal of him, as a “betrayer” of More, together with the history of Trevor-Roper. One Bolt line, memorably delivered by Paul Scofield as More, was “Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world, but Wales?”, as Rich (John Hurt) becomes Attorney-General for Wales a few (film) minutes before More is executed. More is also quoted as saying that Parliament could make Rich King if it so wished.

Leez Priory

Rich, a lawyer, protege of Wolsey, Colchester MP, Speaker and Solicitor-General, was certainly involved in many of the events of the mid-“Tudor” period such as the prosecution of More and Fisher, accounting for Catherine of Aragon’s assets at Kimbolton Castle, supporting Cromwell in the Dissolution, quite possibly a personal hand in Anne Askew’s (unprecedented and illegal) torture, executor of Henry VIII’s will, the attempted prosecution of Bonner and Gardiner and the Seymour brothers’ fatal division. He then resurfaced under Mary I as an enthusiastic persecutor of heretics in Essex, before dying, nine years into the next reign, at Felsted where he donated money to the church and famous school in the village.

His descendants were granted the Earldom of Warwick and were heavily involved, on both sides, in the Civil War – one great-grandson, the Earl of Holland, fought for the Crown at the 1648 Battle of St. Neots and was beheaded the following March with the Duke of Hamilton (captured at Preston) and Lord Hadham (taken at Colchester).

More musical connections?

This nursery rhyme, although not mediaeval, is early modern and is supposed to refer to a monarch just a few places after Richard III.

Here (left) we have the Martyrs’ Memorial near Balliol College, Oxford, that commemorates three of Mary I’s most prominent victims: Archbishop Cranmer and Bishops Latimer and Ridley. They were not the only episcopal victims but Hooper (Gloucester) and Ferrar (St. David’s) were executed elsewhere.

It is said that “Three Blind Mice” was about the trio, although there is no evidence that it was published until much later. It was mentioned in this Ian Hislop series on dissent.

See our previous post on nursery rhymes and the memorials to Patrick Hamilton and Rowland Tayler.

Tostig of Northumberland

Here is Mercedes Rochelle’s excellent post about Tostig Godwinson, brother of Harold II. He was Earl of Northumbria for ten years before the rebellion

in that region in late 1065. He then tried to overthrow Harold from the south in May and from the north in September, with Norwegian support, ending in his defeat and death at Stamford Bridge. With Harold, he had taken part in a partial conquest of Wales in 1063. The Kirkdale Sundial, which also reads “IN TOSTI DAGVM EORL+” (“in Earl Tostig’s day”), is pictured left.

The parallels with George, Duke of Clarence (above right), who acted against Edward IV in the 1469-70 readeption and apparently sought to do so in 1477 are interesting.

War, English Delusion, and the effect on the Economy (2)

Henry IV had the image of a warrior. It was just as well as no sooner was he established on the throne than he was fighting in Wales, Scotland, Ireland and France, as well as beating off his internal enemies. So it will not surprise you that the country was soon bankrupt, and that Henry was busy with his Parliaments, inevitably discontented by the necessary taxation to fund all this fun.

Of course, these wars were dull, low-level affairs. There were certainly no repeats of Crecy. The nearest to that was probably the defeat of the Scots at Homildon, 1402, a victory that was largely down to the tactics suggested by the renegade Scottish Earl of March, although naturally the Percy family were prominently involved.

As many of you know, I am not Henry Bolingbroke’s greatest fan. In many ways he was a sordid little creep, and the kindest thing I can say about him is that he liked books. However, you have to, however reluctantly, admire the sheer tenacity with which he held on against all the odds. Towards the end of his reign, as Henry himself fell more and more ill with his mysterious disease, the financial pressures eased and so did the military situation. It became possible to intervene in France again.

The King of France, Charles VI, had been more or less insane since Richard’s time, and was not improving. Factions within France, on the one hand the Burgundians, and on the other the Orleanists/Armagnacs, were tearing the country apart, indeed fighting a civil war over who should govern. After some consideration (and doubtless bidding) England decided to go in on the side of the Orleans faction.

This was quite a shrewd move, financially. The English effectively took part as mercenaries. They had barely landed before the contending parties decided to make peace. So the English returned home again, somewhat enriched and bearing with them certain hostages who were not to see France again for many a long year.

As soon as Henry V acceded in 1413, he decided to build on this. Some historians think he chose war because he was on shaky ground at home. However, Henry, for some bizarre reason, seems genuinely to have believed he was the rightful King of France in God’s eyes. (How he came to believe this when he was not even the rightful King of England is a great mystery, but that’s religious bigots for you.)

The French offered quite enormous concessions as an alternative, and a remotely sane King of England would have bitten their hand off. Not Henry. Parliament, temporarily gung-ho, proved willing to finance his expedition, and off Henry went.

This led to another one of the Great Victories – Agincourt. Henry attributed his success to God, and he may have been right to do so. He was extremely lucky, in that the French seemed to have forgot all the wisdom they had learned in the late 14th Century, and charged in as they had done in their earlier losing battles. Had they simply harassed Henry on a daily basis, and not engaged in battle at all, it is extremely likely that his small and sickly army would have been destroyed piecemeal.

Nevertheless, Agincourt massively boosted English morale, and massively dented that of the French. For the English, and certainly for Henry, it looked like God had shown the green light, and that the English claim to France (or at least major chunks of it) could now be realised. This was largely a delusion, because nothing of France had yet been conquered (unless you count Harfleur) and England’s resources (and willingness to spend them) were no greater. For France, the main problem, looked at objectively, was that it remained divided in itself. Much depended on whether one faction or the other could be persuaded to throw its lot in with the English. If it could, Henry (and English pretensions) had a real chance of success. Against a united France, there was virtually none, at least in the long term.

(This post is reblogged from The Yorkist Age.)

 

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