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The Medieval Free Company (by the Legendary Ten Seconds)

THE MEDIEVAL FREE COMPANY AT BUCKLAND ABBEY AUGUST 2015

On a Bank Holiday Monday, 31st August 2015, I visited Buckland Abbey near Plymouth where a Wars of the Roses re-enactment group who call themselves The Medieval Free Company had set up their encampment. Buckland Abbey is a National Trust property which was founded by Cistercian monks in the 13th century and was at one time the home of Sir Francis Drake. The former Abbey was the perfect setting for the medieval encampment with the tents of the Medieval Free Company set up next to a fabulous Great Barn.

The Medieval Free Company specialise in the recreation of a group of mercenaries during the Wars of the Roses and include a basket maker, scribe and cooks alongside archers and men at arms. They are led by a landless “hedge” knight. Members of the public are allowed to have free access to walk around the medieval camp site and ask questions. I chatted to the scribe who told me that one could correct an error whilst writing on a sheet of parchment by using a knife to scrape off the mistake.

I watched two fabulous displays of archery and we were informed that the archers were using longbows with a draw weight of about 40 lbs whereas the English longbow used in the 14th and 15th centuries would have had a much heavier draw weight. One could only imagine how strong the archers must have been to be able to use the longbows with a heavy draw weight. The archers were timed to see how many arrows they could fire in one minute and one of the archers managed fourteen. Just imagine how many sheaths of arrows would have been used in a medieval battle and the devastation that would have been caused by the medieval equivalent of a machine gun.

Towards the end of the afternoon the group of reenactors put on a medieval fashion show describing their clothes and the materials that had been used to make them. We were informed that the white undergarments could be cleaned by soaking them in urine and then rinsing in water.

Information about the Medieval Free Company can be found on their website:- http://www.medievalfreeco.org.uk/

THE MEDIEVAL FREE COMPANY

Intro

Dm, C, Dm

Dm, A

 

Verse

Dm, C, Dm

Dm, C, Am

Dm, C, Dm

Dm, C, Am, Dm

 

Chorus

Gm,        F,     C,           Dm

 

The medieval free company

 

C, Dm, C, Dm

Gm,        F,     C,           Dm

 

The medieval free company

C, Dm, A

 

Middle bit

Gm, C, Dm, Gm, Am, Dm, Gm, C, Dm, F, A, F, A

 

FOR HIRE WE ARE IN THIS LAND

AND OUR HEDGE KNIGHT HE DOES COMMAND

OF ARCHERY A FINE DISPLAY

YES WE WILL SHOW THROUGHOUT THE DAY

 

OUR CAMP SITE YOU MAY LOOK AROUND

SUCH WONDROUS ITEMS TO BE FOUND

HAND CRAFTED WITH ALL SKILL AND CARE

OUR MASTER SCRIBE WRITES OVER THERE

 

DIVERS ARCHERS, MEN AT ARMS

FOR ADVENTURE LEFT THEIR FARMS

SEE THAT LORD HE LOOKS SO HANDSOME

WILL HIS FAMILY PAY THE RANSOM

 

MERCENARIES ONE AND ALL

WARS OF THE ROSES WE RECALL

OUR LANDLESS KNIGHT HE LEADS US WELL

AS DAYLIGHT FADES WE BID FAREWELL

A contemporary of the House of York

James III of Scotland’s reign overlaps the whole of Yorkist rule in England, succeeding on 3rd August 1460, more than seven months before Edward IV’s first coronation, to 11th June 1488. almost three years after Richard III’s death at Bosworth and including Henry VI’s re-adeption. His uninterrupted reign spanned the decisive battles of Mortimer’s Cross and Stoke Field and was to end at the hands of his own countrymen, led by his eldest son, but it could have terminated six years earlier and the future Richard III would have been at or near the scene. He became King of Scotland in his minority, as did his successor, reigned in an era when the later “British Isles” consisted of only two nations (following Alexander III’s victory at Largs in 1263) and was killed a mere four miles from a Scottish triumph at Bannockburn.

James III’s reign began as his father was blown apart at Roxburgh by an exploding cannon and he was crowned at Kelso a week later. By most accounts, although Norman MacDougall disagrees, he was almost nine at the time. His mother was Regent for three years, during which Roxburgh Castle was dismantled and Berwick reconquered, before she too died prematurely, to be succeeded by the Kennedy brothers and then Lord Boyd. James’ 1469 marriage to Margarethe of Denmark was arranged by the Boyds, bringing the Orkneys and Shetland Islands to the Scottish realm and ending payment to Norway. James attained his majority and the Boyd influence continued, although some of their number were executed.

James established good relations with England and contracted his eldest son, James Duke of Rothesay, to Edward IV’s second daughter Cecilia. At the same time, he moved against the (MacDonald) Lord of the Isles and fell out with both his brothers – the Duke of Albany and the Earl of Mar. Mar died in suspicious circumstances and Albany left for France.

Edward IV then launched an invasion under the Duke of Gloucester, accompanied by Lord Howard and Albany. Berwick fell and has been part of England ever since. James sought to resist but was arrested at Lauder Bridge, near Thirlstane Castle, by some Scottish rebels, who hanged some of James’ favourites there and imprisoned him at Edinburgh Castle. The English army had made their point and left for home, taking Albany back into exile, eventually to France, where he died in a duel in August 1485. His son was later regent for James V and fought at Pavia.

James III had re-established his authority by that year, as Richard III and Norfolk died in battle that very month. James executed another Albany supporter, but the end was in sight as Margarethe died in 1486. By spring 1488, his sons were fifteen, twelve and eight. Another revolt evolved and this time the Duke of Rothesay was involved. A battle took place to the west of Stirling and James was either killed during the conflict or in flight. Rothesay succeeded him but this Stewart minority was to be mercifully short.

The Central Line Consort?

Kathryn Warner has been Edward II’s main chronicler for a few years now, writing about the King himself, his times, his great-grandson Richard II, several other relatives the roots of the “Wars of the Roses”. This book is about Edward’s daughter-in-law, although he tried a little to prevent his eldest son’s marriage during his own reign and apparent lifespan.

However, Edward III did marry Philippa of Hainault and the marriage lasted for over forty years, during which time they had twelve children. Edward and their sons, particularly their eldest Edward the “Black Prince“, played a full part in victories at Crecy and Neville’s Cross. In a parallel with Richard III and his siblings, a thirteenth child, one “Thomas of Windsor”, has been added by modern writers serving as posthumous surrogate mothers, although not the same writer who gave Richard an elder sister, “Joan”, and added an “Edward” to Mary de Bohun’s sextet of children by the future Henry IV.

This is one of the relative few biographies I have purchased of a royal woman and feels very much like another one in particular. The first chapter, just like Ashdown-Hill’s best tome, explores the subject’s family in great detail but, unlike Eleanor and Paul Johnson’s Elizabeth I, Philippa of Hainault becomes pregnant regularly and has children, their ages are regularly mentioned and she, with Edward, formulates marriage plans for them, not all of which come to fruition.

This is a fascinating book, delineating a veritable matriach. As for our subtitle, peruse the above map. Hainault is on the eastern loop of the Central line, near Newbury Park. Elephant and Castle, on the Northern Line and near the Thames, is reputedly named after Edward II’s mother, although probably in error.

History Book Part Two

A press release for the follow-up to this:

History Book Part Two, February 2020.

  • Song of a metal detectorist – About Ashley Mantle’s favourite hobby.
  • A rare romance – Roger Mortimer escapes from the Tower of London and flees to France.
  • Cade’s rebellion – The rebellion of 1450.
  • De Cobham – Song for the De Cobham household Wars of the Roses reenactment group.
  • Ricardian dream – Richard III win’s the battle of Bosworth.
  • Charles Howard’s English fleet – The English fleet after the defeat of the Spanish Armada.
  • The Mayflower sets sail – The Pilgrim Fathers leave Plymouth in the Mayflower.
  • Gallants Bower – Song about the Civil War fort on the hill above Dartmouth Castle.
  • The Blenheim song – The Franco-Bavarian army is defeated in battle in August 1704.
  • James Templer’s legacy – Song about the Stover canal which was opened in 1792.
  • Sitting in a trench – Song about the First World War.
  • Wait until the harvests in – The Munich treaty peace talks are in vain.

… and here they are on You Tube …

Ian Churchward vocals, guitars, keyboards, mandola and mandolin

Lord Zarquon keyboards, bass guitar, drums and percussion

Phil Swann guitars, bouzouki and mandolin

Bridgit England vocals

Guy Bolt vocals

Jules Jones vocals

Elaine Churchward vocals

Tom Churchward harmonica

Fleur Elliott vocals

 

Recorded 2016 to 2020 in Kingsteignton, Marldon, and Torquay in South Devon.

 

Mixed and produced by Lord Zarquon.

 

Artwork by Graham Moores

 

All songs composed by Ian Churchward except:-

Cade’s Rebellion composed by Ashley Mantle and Ian Churchward

and

Gallants Bower composed by Elaine Churchward and Ian Churchward

 

Richard the Third Records catalogue number R301

 

 

 

Yorkist Stories

On Sunday 31st May there is an online launch event for a new collection of short stories about characters from the Wars of the Roses. They are by a selection of authors some well known to Ricardians and some not so well known and all the stories are snippets of the lives of different Yorkist characters, including Richard himself.

The book is available on Kindle here. There will be prizes and chats with some of the authors, including me! I submitted an extract from my novel Distant Echoes. So come along and chat from 16.00 – 20.00 and maybe win a prize!

Here is the link: Yorkist Stories launch

A collection of short stories about fascinating men and women who found themselves by birth, marriage, or fate on the Yorkist side of the Wars of the Roses.
Richard, Duke of Gloucester muses about his brother, Edward IV. William Stanley contemplates marrying. Francis Lovell celebrates Easter, and others appear in a variety of situations in this collection. Even a ghost or two turn up.

All proceeds of this will go to Médecins Sans Frontieres.

Shadow King: the Life and Death of Henry VI


Shadow King: The Life and Death of Henry VI by Lauren Johnson

Head of Zeus Publications, 2020, paperback, 700 pages, £12.00
ISBN 978-1784-979645

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Henry VI has gone down in history as one of England’s worst kings. Not for being cruel or despotic; on the contrary, his nature was kindly and pliant, peace-loving and deeply devout – qualities that made him likeable as a person but hopeless as a monarch, a faint wavering shadow of his shrewd, martial father. His life would have been very different, and he may have become a better ruler, had he grown to manhood under the guidance of Henry V, this perfect model of the medieval warrior-statesman. Instead, by the latter’s untimely death in 1422 with his French kingdom far from pacified, the infant Henry only received the dire legacy of an unwinnable war, and perpetual bitter conflict between members of his family over the implementation of the late king’s will and their respective powers on the minority council.

Such is the context for the opening chapters of Lauren Johnson’s sympathetic new study, which sets out to ‘explore Henry VI as an evolving individual struggling in an extraordinary situation. In short, to consider him as a man.’ Recently released in paperback, Shadow King is a handsome volume, illustrated with 24 colour plates, family trees of the Houses of Lancaster, Beaufort and York, and three helpful maps, (France 1415 – 53; Wars of the Roses battles 1455 – 71; and 15th century noble landholding in England and Wales).

The well-referenced text falls into logical sections: Henry’s minority 1422 – 37; adult rule to 1453, including his marriage to Margaret of Anjou; political and mental breakdown, culminating in his deposition by Edward IV at Towton in 1461; his fugitive years, short-lived re-adeption, and eventual fate in the Tower of London. A brief ‘Afterlife’ and epilogue conclude the sad, strange stories of this unfortunate king and his queen, followed by two appendices, ‘Where did Henry VI die?’ and ‘Key Characters’, 68 pages of notes, and an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources.

Stylistically, some passages read like an historical novel: ‘The inky waters of the River Thames rippled and slid beneath the wherrymen’s oars. In places the peaks of the waves glistened, light falling from the windows of Winchester Palace as bursts of laughter and music echoed out.’ (Page 45). Such imaginative touches bring the text to life for many readers, although my own preference is for Johnson’s straight prose, which I found admirably clear and refreshing. Why gild the lily?

As for content, I particularly enjoyed the first two sections. Johnson makes excellent use of some seldom-used sources to paint a convincing, detailed picture of Henry’s early life. Her exposition of the complex political situations in England and France, (riven by its own civil war between the Armagnacs and Burgundians), and the equally complex personal war between Henry’s kinsmen, is lucid and easy to follow; and she offers some perceptive analyses of the likely effects on an impressionable child of having to perform the rituals of royalty surrounded by such constant conflict and tension. Theoretically wielding absolute power but practically powerless to control his feuding councillors, it’s no wonder that Henry grew up hating discord, and wishing only to please and appease the people closest to him, emotionally or literally.

However, as the story moved into more familiar territory, I felt some disappointment. Plainly no fan of Richard, Duke of York, Johnson gives short shrift to his justifiable reasons for expecting a primary place on Henry’s council/in his confidence, and justifiable chagrin at being passed over for lesser men. York’s assumption of pre-eminence was based on his royal pedigree: descended from the second and fifth sons of Edward III via his mother and father respectively, he was one of England’s wealthiest magnates with a claim to the throne arguably stronger than Henry’s. This was not lost upon the king’s beloved Beaufort kin, a legitimated line sprung from John, Duke of Lancaster’s affair with Kathryn Swynford, who, (along with sundry other jealous rivals), persistently undermined York in Henry’s malleable affections. Had Henry managed to keep his powerful cousin on-side, the Wars of the Roses might never have happened; instead, he progressively alienated York, and wounded his pride, by showing an unfair and obvious partiality for the base-born Beauforts . It seems a shame that Johnson doesn’t extend her even-handed approach to Duke Richard, or treat him as another ‘evolving individual struggling in an extraordinary situation’ who, no less than Henry VI, deserves to be viewed ‘as a man’ trying to do his best for his country, his family and himself.

I was also disappointed by the brief, conventional accounts of the battles of Wakefield and Towton, the great Lancastrian victory followed shortly by the catastrophic defeat which cost Henry his crown, changing his life – and the course of English history – forever. In a work of this magnitude, it’s inevitable that some areas will be less well researched than others; nonetheless, for such a crucial episode, it was frustrating to see some old Wakefield myths perpetuated and enlarged. Like other commentators unfamiliar with the place, Johnson describes Sandal Castle as ‘majestic’ when, as castles go, it’s quite small (Sandal would fit inside the truly majestic Pontefract Castle several times over) and utilitarian. Interestingly, the ‘meagre’ household expenditure of £4 6s 7d for the Christmas – New Year period is cited to show that the castle was poorly provisioned, whereas to me it says precisely the opposite: it was already so well provisioned that little further spending was required. (I say ‘little,’ but the sum in question represents around 18 months – three years’ pay for a labourer, or six months’ pay for a liveried archer – it’s all relative!). This debatable interpretation is then used to present a version of the battle of Wakefield which simply doesn’t make sense: York, Salisbury, Rutland and their men, driven by hunger to hunt in the deer-park ‘north of the River Calder,’ ambushed by the Lancastrian army and slaughtered. Said deer park wasn’t just north of the river – it was the Outwood, some three miles north of Sandal and two miles north of Wakefield city, with its chantry chapel of St Mary perched on the Calder bridge; an unnecessarily long way to go when Sandal Castle had its own deer-park to the south, literally on its threshold, and miles of nearby river for fishing and wild-fowl hunting. (For my personal take on the battle, see this article ) I also found her treatment of Towton somewhat superficial, and lacking reference to more recent studies such as those by George Goodwin and Tim Sutherland.

Suffice to say, if I wasn’t such a pro-Yorkist anorak about this period in Wars of the Roses history, these criticisms wouldn’t have occurred, and I would have read the whole book with the same relish as I devoured the earlier sections! So, on the whole, I’m happy to recommend Shadow King as a worthwhile read, an enthralling tragedy which left me moved and thoughtful, and which will make a valuable addition to my bookshelves.

THE WHITE LYON & THE MOURNING SWORD

Within walking distance of Hereford Cathedral, stands an imposing hotel called the Green Dragon. That was not always its name, however; in the 15th c it was The White Lyon and was used as the headquarters of Edward of March, soon to be Edward IV, around the time of the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross. It had a long-term history of receiving important visitors even before the Wars of the Roses, being a popular hostelry for pilgrims to the shrines of St Thomas Cantilupe and the Saxon St Ethelbert in the cathedral.

On February 2, after Edward won the day at Mortimer’s Cross, he retired to Hereford with several of the enemy commanders as prisoner–including the elderly Owen Tudor, “grandfather” of Henry Tudor. Tudor, as an important prisoner, was held in the White Lyon while his fate was decided. He believed he was going to be shown mercy, perhaps because of his age–but Edward had no inclination to show clemency and Owen Tudor was promptly beheaded in the Market Place. A plaque  on the ground commemorates his execution. It was said that after he was beheaded, a madwoman  took his head, set it up on the market cross and lit candles around it as she combed the blood-matted hair…

There is also another Wars of the Roses connection in Hereford that few seem to know about. In the Town Hall is a fine collection of plate, Town Charters dating back into the Middle Ages sealed by Richard Lionheart and Henry III, and ceremonial swords and maces. One of these is the ‘Mourning Sword‘ (You’ll note that Gloucester also has a ‘Mourning Sword’ presented by Richard III). This was given to the city by Henry VIII and was supposed to have been the battle-dented, broken sword of his “great-grandfather” Owen Tudor.

I was fortunate enough to find out about this item on a trip to Hereford where I inadvertently booked into the Green Dragon without having an idea that ‘Ed was here’ some 600 years before me! I had no idea about the sword either until reading a local magazine. So off I trotted to the Town Hall, not sure if the item  was available for public viewing or not. The first gentlemen I spoke to at the desk, didn’t seem certain–he rang upstairs and asked, “Do we have a Mourning Sword?’ A few minutes later I was being ushered up the stairs to meet the Mayor’s assistant, who very kindly offered to show me the treasures of Hereford’s past.

The sword is in a case with two maces and a Cap of Maintenance. It is not used in any of the regular ceremonial functions of Hereford and will only be taken out for public use upon the death of the monarch. The assistant explained its history to me, then, to my great surprise, opened the cabinet,  removed the sword and handed it to me. “You can take off the sheath,” he kindly offered.  Unlike the other 17th C sword in a nearby case, which was light, poorly balanced and purely  for show, unsheathed the Mourning Sword was clearly a finely-balanced medieval blade, showing the odd mark from use. It had been broken near the hilt and the hilt replaced by another showing the arms of Hereford.

It was a great honour to handle this ancient weapon, and although Owen was on the ‘opposite’ side to where my sympathies lie, I must admit I felt a shiver pass down my spine as I held it, and as I walked back to the White Lyon/Green Dragon in the heavy, eerie fog, I could only think of that cold February Day when the Parhelion shone in the sky and the blood of the man who ‘once laid his head in Queen Catherine’s lap’ spread out on the cobblestones of Hereford.

THE WHITE LYON, HEREFORD

green

THE MOURNING SWORD, TOWN HALL, HEREFORD

mourning

The Treasures of Hereford Article

BLOOD OF ROSES NOVELLA, COVERING MORTIMER’S CROSS & OWEN TUDOR’S EXECUTION

The White Rose Of Mortimer?

RICARDIAN LOONS

Most historians now accept that, while the white rose of York was a heraldic badge used by the house of York during the Wars of the Roses, the origins of the red rose of Lancaster can only be traced back to Henry VII.1 After his accession to the throne in 1485 and marriage to Elizabeth of York he effectively invented it when he created the bi-coloured red and white Tudor rose, which symbolised the union of the houses of Lancaster and York. But what about the origins of the white rose of York?

The Welsh Marches – Yorkist Heartland

It is hard to over estimate the influence their Mortimer ancestry had on the Yorkists and their claim to the English throne. The Mortimers were descended from Lionel, duke of Clarence, the second surviving son of king Edward III, whereas the Lancastrian kings of England were descended from his third…

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There once was a “skirmish” at Worksop….

A little-covered event took place at Worksop on 16th December 1460. It is covered in great detail in this excellent article. The whole of the Our Nottinghamshire site is worth exploring.

However, it the Battle of Worksop that is dealt with here, and it seems there is very little known about exactly where the battle took place. The above illustration is an imagined reconstruction of Worksop Castle, because there is not much known about that either. Worksop, Place of Mystery!

I take the following quote from the article mentioned at the beginning of this post:-

“The Duke of York, with the Earl of Salisbury and many thousand armed men, were going from London to York, in December 1460, when a portion of his men, the van, as is supposed, or perhaps the scouts… were cut off by the people of the Duke of Somerset, Edmund Beaufort at Worksop”

Now read on.

There is more about the battle here.

 

It was Julius Caesar who did it, so why blame the Wars of the Roses….?

During the Wars of the Roses, was there ever a deliberate policy of depopulation? By that, I cannot think of an example. Destruction, yes. Killing off the other side’s armed forces, yes. But the annihilation of towns and villages? Or of castles and strongholds, which were surely regarded as great prizes. So how could there be a complete scorching of the earth?

I raise this question because of something I have just read in John Dunkin’s The History and Antiquities of Dartford. The introduction to this work describes Caesar’s first arrival in and advance through the county of Kent. He landed on 26th August, 55 BC, perhaps at Pegwell Bay on the Isle of Thanet, see this article, and left again thirty or so days later.


By James William Edmund Doyle

According to Dunkin, the Romans encountered armed resistance when they reached Detling, where they camped for the night in preparation to cross the Medway at Aylesford. There was a rather nasty battle with the Cenimagni, the local Britons, involving stakes rammed into the riverbed to pierce the oncoming Romans. However, Caesar was triumphant and the Cenimagni leader, Caswallon, was forced to submit.

Caesar continued north, the Dartford area being his next port of call. Close to Hextable, he came upon a large circular mound, called ‘Ruehill Wood’, where the Cenimagni had their stronghold. It was a wonderful vantage point, and more substantial than the Romans expected, with sturdy stone buildings, and he set about destroying it. Completely.

Julius Caesar

From this map website

Then he was wrong-footed, because, rather sneakily, Caswallon began to attack the Roman camp on the coast, obliging Caesar to turn around and hurry back. He certainly hurried, that’s for sure, and boarded his ships to sail away. He would return, of course, but this was the rather ragged end of his first invasion.

Why have I described these events? Because, again according to Dunkin, Hasted in his History of Kent hints that the site of the Ruehill Wood fortress could ‘perhaps [be] the remains of depopulation occasioned by the Wars between the houses of York and Lancaster’. Why the Wars of the Roses? Why not the Civil War? And why should the site have been anything other than ancient? Hasted also states that the manor of Ruehill or, now, Rowhill, ‘was, in the reign of King Edward [not explained which Edward] in the possession of the family of Gyse’, and proceeds to give the manor’s descent through several lords to as late as 1778. So Ruehill/Rowhill certainly wasn’t annihilated into extinction during the Wars of the Roses. Besides, if it had been, we’d surely know of it, even if just as a legend.

This manor house is now the Rowhill Grange luxury hotel and spa, and still commands a great vantage point. However, I cannot think it retains much of the original manor.

Rowhill Grange hotel, 2007
The vantage point of Rowhill Wood from Google Street – the hotel is amid the trees

So why would this site have ever been thought of as anything other than Caswallon’s levelled fortress? And why would Hasted light upon the remains being the work of devastating depredations during the Wars of the Roses?

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