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Oh where, Oh where, has Chaucer’s “Foul Oak” gone….?

 

 

The Baginton Oak, Warwickshire

According to Project Gutenberg, on 6th September 1390 Geoffrey Chaucer was mugged at a place called the Foul Oak, but not the Baginton Oak. Rather was it on what we now call the Old Kent Road but was originally the Roman Watling Street, leading out of London, on the way to Canterbury and Dover.

“….[Chaucer was] Clerk of the King’s Works at the Palace of Westminster, the Tower of London and various royal manors. In 1390 he was employed to repair St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, and to erect scaffolds at Smithfield for Richard II. and his Queen, Anne of Bohemia, for them to view a great tournament….

“….He was also appointed one of the Commission for the repair of the roadways on the banks of the river between Greenwich and Woolwich. About this time a great misfortune overtook the poet. In the pursuit of his duties,{84} with the King’s money in his purse to pay the workmen, he was robbed by highwaymen twice on the same day. The first time at Westminster of £10, and the second at Hatcham, near the ‘foul oak,’ of £9, 3s. 8d. This was a serious loss, and he was forgiven the amount by writ dated 6th January 1391….”

Well, it’s not actually known if he was robbed more than once; but he certainly was set upon near Hatcham, at a place called the Foul Oak. He was en route from Westminster to Eltham, with funds to pay for something or other – I’m not sure exactly what. He was beaten up, the money, his horses and goods taken. And if the king hadn’t absolved him by accepting his story, he’d have had to pay it all back himself!

Hatcham was a small manor on the Old Kent Road, and has now disappeared, except for a few street names,. As for the mysterious Foul Oak, well, it’s a will-o’-the-wisp! Presumably it was simply a tree, not a disreputable tavern. Whatever, it was frequented by gangs of robbers, an ‘accolade’ that in later years went to nearby Blackheath. The countryside around Hatcham, then little more than a hamlet, was wooded and not exactly highly populated. Ample opportunity for criminals to go about their business.

Medieval Robber Knights attacking a Merchant Caravan during the 12th Century, from.
‘The Illustrated History of the World’ Published by Ward; Lock & Co; 1890

Medieval Robber Knights attacking a Merchant Caravan during the 12th Century. From ‘The Illustrated History of the World’ Published by Ward; Lock & Co; 1890

I’ve looked and looked for an exact site of this famous incident, which was also notorious because in 1384 “…Nicholas Brembre, while in office as mayor of London for one day, snatched 22 people all of whom had been arrested and incarcerated in London’s Newgate prison for various offenses, some accused, some felons, and some chaplains. He took them, their arms bound, in the silence of night by force to a place called Foul Oak in Kent, and without the voice of a judge they were mercilessly allotted a capital sentence, and their blood ran in rivulets from their veins, except for one who escaped alive by means of some barely plausible excuse….” Hard to imagine Sadiq Khan resorting to such violent activities!

from British Library MS Royal 20 C VII f. 203v

Brembre was violent and corrupt, and according to Medievalists.net https://www.medievalists.net/2016/05/the-mayor-of-london-the-first-the-cursed-and-the-worst-mayor-in-londons-history/ “….seemed to have run London like medieval Tony Soprano, and in the end, made more enemies than friends, ultimately leading to his demise….”

The rebuilt Christ Church Greyfriars, by Wren, opposite St Paul’s Cathedral

 

The route Chaucer took was clearly very well trodden, not only by those on their way to Canterbury and Dover, but also to those en route for Eltham Palace. Kings, magnates and their retinues rode that way. It would have been a route well known to Richard III, and all monarchs until Eltham felt out of favour, so why has the Foul Oak disappeared from the records, except in connection with the two incidents described above? We’ve all seen maps with gallows tree clearly marked at crossroads, so why not a place were so many executions had occurred and where robber gangs were known to lurk?

So, if anyone reading this knows more about the Foul Oak and its association with the Father of English Literature, please do comment, because I’ve love to know.

 

Joan of Arc or Boudicca? Boudicca every time for me, I fear….

Joan of Arc at the Coronation of Charles VII, by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, 1854

Joan of Arc means a great deal to France, but I’m afraid I have never really cottoned on to her. Perhaps because I’m a little uncomfortable when it comes to people who “hear voices”. Not that I’m saying she deserved her horrible death. Far from it. No one deserves that. But when it comes to great female warriors, I prefer Boudicca/Boadicea. Clearly I will never become St Sandra!

Anyway, today (17th July) in 1429, at Joan’s urgent behest, the Dauphin was crowned Charles VII of France at Reims. Joan was in attendance (see illustration above). It was in the middle of the Hundred Years War, and the English were at the gates, so to speak. The King of England, Henry VI, was a child of about eight, but even if he’d been twenty-eight he wouldn’t have been much good. He was useless. Period. Later, during his long periods of “madness”, he was simply even more useless.  So his uncle, John, Duke of Bedford, was regent. Bedford was a good leader and things were going well…until a peasant girl threw a spanner in his works.

Jeanne d’Arc, known as The Maid of Orléans, came from nowhere, having visions and believing herself to be under the guidance of God’s angels and saints. Dressed in armour as a man, she took command of the French army and caused Bedford a bit of bother. Which the duke did not appreciate, of course.

To cut a long story short, she was eventually captured, tried and sentenced to burn at the stake as a witch. This dire event took place on 30th May 1430

The English get all the blame for this atrocity, but it wasn’t entirely their doing. To begin with, she’d fallen into the hands of Jean II, Count of Luxembourg, who sold her to the English for 10,000 gold livres. see here.

To read more about Joan’s fate, go to the Guardian

And I still prefer Boudicca/Boadicea, I’m afraid.

Britain’s Lost Battlefields (with Rob Bell)

Channel Five’s reputation for history programmes has risen greatly over the past few years. At the heart of this, first in a Great Fire of London series with Suzannah Lipscomb and the ubiquitous Dan Jones, has been the “engineering historian” Rob Bell, who has toured bridges, ships, buildings and lost railways in his own amiable, enthusiastic but authoritative style.

Now, only four days after completing series two of Britain’s Lost Railways, Bell is back, touring some of our great battlefields. The series, initially shown on 5Select, starts at Bannockburn, progresses to Hastings, Watling Street, Bosworth and Naseby, as well as Kett’s Rebellion. Perhaps the six episodes could have been shown chronologically by the battle years?

The third, fourth and fifth shows, however, do form a neat triangle in the East Midlands, if you accept the suggested location of the Battle of (the very long) Watling Street. Featuring historians such as Matthew Lewis, Julian Humphreys and Mike Ingram, the hangun (or arquebus) is described with respect to Bosworth, as is the evolution of the musket to the forms used at Naseby, together with commanders such as Fairfax and the Bohemian brothers: Rupert and Maurice.

Where was Henry (Percy)?

After reading Michael Jones‘ book “Bosworth 1485 The Psychology of a Battle”, I have leaned towards his site of the Battle of Bosworth. Since the book was published more evidence has come to light that shows that the battle probably did not take place around Ambion Hill. I have also read John D Austin’s book “MEREVALE and Atherstone”. John lives in the Atherstone area and his book provides lots of local evidence to suggest that the battle may well have been fought in the area.

Michael Jones cites The Crowland Chronicle, one of the earliest sources of the battle, which refers to Richard having camped near to Merevale Abbey ready to meet Tudor’s challenge and names their clash the next day as the Battle of Merevale.

In the Spring 2004 Ricardian Bulletin I came across an article by Lynda M Telford entitled “War Horses at Bosworth”. Lynda Telford states that thirty years of experience with horses leads her to believe whether Dadlington or Atherstone is the battle site, it cannot have been Ambion Hill. This is due to the cramped area thought to be the battlefield which is quite unsuitable for large numbers of horses.

We have recently fought the second Battle of Bosworth with Ricardians pitted against Hinckley Borough Council which ended with them giving planning consent to Horiba Mira so that they could build an electric car testing site on the battlefield site. Unfortunately, the second battle was lost as was the first, however, it appears to confirm that the battle was fought in the area suggested by Michael Jones.

So, if this is the case it begs the question: where was the Earl of Northumberland during the battle? When it was thought that the battle was fought at Ambion Hill, it was said that Northumberland was posted to rear of Richard as the reserve and that he didn’t become involved in the battle. This was taken to mean that Northumberland deserted Richard too, as did the Stanleys.

I am going to suggest that, given the new site of the battle with Richard to north of Atherstone and Tudor to the south of it, Northumberland was to the south of “Tudor”. What if he was guarding the road to London to ensure that “Tudor” didn’t take off down Watling Street? On page 22 of his book ”Merevale and Atherstone”, John D Austin comments “ Tudor marched Northwards through Wales from Milford Haven hopefully to gather Welsh supporters and then he intended to march south from Shrewsbury, more or less down Watling Street to London. Henry had never fought in a battle before and particularly with his puny forces and lack of experience the last thing he wanted to do was to search out and attack Richard” It makes sense, why would Tudor turn east off Watling St to confront Richard when he could have hopefully carried on marching south to London?

Richard would have realised that the battle would have to be in a place of his choosing and he would have remembered that when he and Edward returned from Burgundy in 1471 and they challenged Warwick at Coventry, they moved off and found that the road to London was unguarded and so they set off immediately and entered London unchallenged. He may well have instructed Northumberland to guard the road and ensure that no one got through. What if his instructions to Northumberland were not to leave the road unguarded in any circumstances?

I have read that it was considered strange that “Tudor” went to Leicester after the battle and not straight to London. I wonder if that was because having turned east to do battle he knew that Northumberland was still guarding the road and Tudor, not being battle hardened at all, couldn’t face an encounter with troops who would have been relatively fresh in comparison with his troops.

How did the Black Prince’s funeral procession cross the River Darent….?

Dartford - medieval map

Does anyone out there know the answer to a puzzle that has cropped up in my research? Watling Street, the Roman road, was the main route between London and Canterbury, Dover, etc. This made it very important. Watling Street passed through Dartford, crossing over the tidal River Darent. But wait, there wasn’t a bridge there until the reign of Henry VI. There was a ferry. Does this mean that before then, every traveller on the road, royalty and all, had to use the ferry? The river was tidal, so did they have to wait for suitable water for the ferry to cross? I can’t see that wading across at low water would be advisable in all that mud…and certainly not for the royal hearse drawn by twelve horses that passed through Dartford in 1376! It all seems very unsatisfactory for one of the main roads in the land. And very undignified for the great Edward of Woodstock, known to us as the Black Prince, who was being mourned throughout the realm.

Yes, I know there were  other rivers to cross elsewhere in England, and other ferries instead of bridges, but I am concerned with this road, river and ferry.

In September 1376, the prince’s great funeral procession went through Dartford on its way to Canterbury. Depending on the size of the ferry, such a vast cavalcade would have taken ages to cross. Granted, Dartford was probably the first overnight halt out of London for this ponderous cavalcade, but even so, the bridgeless Darent must have caused a bottleneck second to none.

Researching (meaning my way of researching, which is pretty amateur) Edward of Woodstock’s funeral has produced only what he instructed in his will. Plus I know how long it took, i.e. arriving in Canterbury on the fourth day after setting out. But then, full stop. Oh, there is more available about the actual arrival at journey’s end, but that is not the part of the proceedings with which I am concerned. The actual mechanics of the first three days of the journey, if covered by anyone, have eluded me.

And when the funeral cortege halted, would the prince’s coffin be placed overnight in Holy Trinity church, which is right next to the Darent crossing? Or would it stop on the northern outskirts of the town, where there was a royal palace/house, with appropriate land/space for all the people and horses? Or was it a mix of both – the prince in the church, everyone and everything else in the royal house? To say nothing of filling up the rest of the town as well. Dartford must have bulged at the seams. All the royal family, all the higher nobility, lots of lower nobility, the denizens of Parliament, priests, and all sorts of other Toms, Dicks and Harrys.

Oh, questions, questions! I want to be accurate in a description of all this, and would love someone to “conjure” an earlier bridge into existence. A vain hope, I fear.

So, if anyone knows anything at all, please let me know.

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