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Joan Plantagenet Queen of Sicily

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Joan Plantagenet Queen of Sicily

Being a Sicilian living in the UK, I am fond of both countries’ history. I have often wondered if there was a link between these two islands and I soon found one: Joan Plantagenet Queen of Sicily.

The story of this woman is so interesting and compelling especially because Joan was a very strong and determined person, a well-known characteristic predominant in the Plantagenet ancestry.

During her short life, Joan went through a series of events worthy of an adventure movie. She lived for just 33 years but so intensely and enough to be still one of the most important characters in the turbulent history of Sicily.

Daughter of Henry II and Eleonor of Aquitaine, Joan was also the sister of Richard I better known as the Lionheart. She was born in October 1165 (the day is unfortunately unknown) at Château d’Angers in Anjou. She was the seventh child of her family and she spent her youth both in Winchester and Poitiers. She received an excellent education as she was a princess so she was expected to marry a royal person. Apart from studying French, Latin and English, she also learned music, sewing, singing and horseriding, one of her favourite pastime.

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La Cuba, the royal palace of the Plantagenets in Palermo

She was so beautiful and intelligent that William II of Sicily married her when she was only 12. On 27th August 1176, Joan left England to sail for Sicily where she married and was crowned Queen of Sicily in Palermo Cathedral on 13th February 1177. Her voyage was dreadful but Joan soon forgot it as she enjoyed both her marriage and the warm climate of Sicily.

Very soon, her life started to meet the first obstacles. She was unable to produce an heir for the throne of Sicily so she was in danger of being refused by her husband but William was a very good man and rejected the idea of annulling their union as he truly loved her. Unfortunately, William died in November 1189 and Sicily fell in the hands of the bastard cousin of William, Tancred who seized the dowry of Joan including many lands. In 1190, Richard the Lionheart, the favourite brother of Joan, arrived in Italy on his way to the Holy Land. He warned Tancred to give back the dowry and when he refused, Richard took Messina and put the city on fire. Tancred was obliged to return the dowry.

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Palermo Cathedral

Sadly, the adventures of Joan were not over. Richard put her and his future wife Berengaria on a ship to send them back to England but it seems that travelling by sea was not the best way for Joan. A terrible storm stranded the ship to Cyprus while Richard’s ship landed in Crete. At that time Cyprus was in the hands of the despot Commenus who immediately tried to take advantage of his unexpected luck. He tried to capture the two women but once again the valiant Richard saved his sister imprisoning Commenus.

The link between Richard and Joan was a very strong one. She loved him and he was always ready to save her from perils. Notwithstanding this though, Richard tried to arrange a wedding between Joan and Saladin’s brother to put an end to the Holy War but he had to come to terms with the Church. The high ranks of it warned Richard he would have been excommunicated so the wedding never took place. Eventually, Joan married Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse. This union was blessed with the birth of children.

Joan had all the qualities and the spirit of the Plantagenets. After she recovered from the birth of her last child, she decided to make right all the wrong done to her husband and she put Les Cassés under siege. Unluckily, traitors started a fire and she had to abandon the camp. She was pregnant again and she decided to ask his brother for help but she soon discovered he had aready died.

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Fontevrault Abbey

She asked and obtained to have a tomb granted in Fontevrault Abbey. This was not a place suitable for women especially if pregnant but Joan could have it. Tired for the effort of the siege and devastated by the death of her beloved brother, Joan died in childbirth on 4th September 1199. The child was born thank to a Cesarean section after Joan’s death. He was named Richard and died soon after being baptized.

Joan was buried in Fontevrault Abbey close to her brother Richard as she had always desired.

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A visit to Winchester

One of our members visited Winchester in September, with his family. Here is a selection of photos, relating to Alfred, the C12 Civil War, the Cathedral and the site of Jane Austen’s death:

 

Not a Hicksosaurus in sight …

   

BBC History Magazine’s history weekends this autumn….

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Well, all this should be very interesting indeed…except for Hicks on Richard III, of course. Now, if it were to be Richard III on Hicks….yes, that would be worth the effort!

“If your interest in royal history is piqued by the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, make a date in your diary to come to BBC History Magazine’s two history weekends this autumn. Tickets have just gone on sale for the weekends in Winchester (5-7 October) and York (19-21 October), and they are already selling fast.

“Each weekend will see more than 30 leading historians delivering talks on all manner of historical topics, and there is much to appeal to enthusiasts of Britain’s royal heritage.

“For medieval and earlier kings and queens, we’ve got: Levi Roach on Aethelred the Unready; Max Adams on King Alfred; Pragya Vohra on King Cnut; Ellie Woodacre on medieval queenship; Michael Hicks on Richard III; Catherine Nall on Henry IV; Nicholas Vincent on King John; and Nick Barratt on Henry and his restless sons.”

Britain’s most historic towns

This excellent Channel Four series reached part four on 28th April as Dr. Alice Roberts came to Norwich, showing streets, civic buildings and even a pub that I have previously visited, describing it as Britain’s most “Tudor” town. She began by describing Henry VII as “violently seizing” the English throne (or at least watching whilst his uncle Jasper and the Earl of Oxford violently seized it for him).

As the “Tudor” century progressed, she changed into a red woollen dress and explained how the sumptuary laws would have prevented her from wearing other colours and fabrics. Henry VIII’s attempts to obtain an annulment were mentioned, as was Kett’s Rebellion on Mousehold Heath under Edward VI. The Marian Persecution was described in detail and some of her victims in Norwich were named, most of them being burned at the “Lollards’ Pit”, where a pub by that name now standsLollardsPit.jpg. As we mentioned earlier, Robert Kett’s nephew Francis suffered the same fate decades later.

Dr. Roberts then spoke about the “Strangers”, religious refugees from the Low Countries who boosted the weaving industry, bringing canaries with them. Her next subject was Morris dancing as the jester Will Kemp argued with Shakespeare and danced his way up from London to the Norwich Guildhall over nine days. She was then ducked three times in the Wensum as an example of the punishment of a scold from Elizabeth I’s time.

Other shows in this series have covered Chester, York and Winchester whilst Cheltenham and Belfast will be covered in future episodes, each covering a town that epitomises a particular era in our history.

“Laboratory examination of possible royal bones moving ahead!”

If only that were the headline coming out of Westminster Abbey with regard to the infamous urn believed to contain the remains of Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York (aka “the Princes in the Tower”).  But, it’s not.  It’s from Winchester Cathedral, where – since 2015 – they have embarked on a project where skeletal remains are being analyzed with modern laboratory techniques.  The bones, some belonging to past English kings and a queen-consort, had been stored in Renaissance-era mortuary chests and placed near the high altar.  There could be as many as 12 individuals contained in them.

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Westminster urn which tradition says contains the bones of the “Princes in the Tower”

 

We’ve all heard the arguments against testing the bones in Westminster:  It sets a precedent for widespread tomb-raiding.  The urn has multiple skeletons, making them indistinguishable. The amount of information gleaned would be minimal.  Royal bones deserve to be left alone.  None of these arguments dissuaded the Dean and Chapter of Winchester from pursuing historical truth and conservation.  The project, which will culminate in an exhibit (called “Kings and Scribes: The Birth of a Nation”) about the Cathedral’s Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman origins, involves opening the chests, taking an inventory of what’s inside, and having the contents analyzed.  So far, radiocarbon testing performed at the University of Oxford has confirmed that the bones come from the late Anglo-Saxon and early Norman periods.  More research on the bones will be carried out by the University of Bristol to determine their gender, age at death, and physical characteristics such as stature.

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Mortuary chests at Winchester Cathedral thought to contain commingled royal bones.  Here, they have been moved to the Lady Chapel, in anticipation of analysis. (c) Winchester Cathedral

The chests are thought to contain the mortal remains of some of the early royal families of Wessex and of England, and three bishops, amongst other artefacts and mortal remains.  They include kings Cynegils (d.643), Cynewulf (d.786), Ecbert (d.839), Æthelwulf (d.858), Eadred (d.955), Edmund Ironside (d.1016), Cnut (d.1035) and William Rufus (d.1100). Also thought to be buried in the chests are Cnut’s wife Queen Emma (d.1052), Bishop Wini (d.670), Bishop Alfwyn (d.1047) and Archbishop Stigand (d.1072).  These individuals died and were buried in the Old Minster, but were re-interred when the present Winchester Cathedral was built over the Anglo-Saxon one.  Historical records indicate that their bones were placed in the mortuary chests around the high altar in the twelfth-century.  However, in 1642, at the beginning of the English Civil War, Parliamentarian troops entered the cathedral and toppled the chests in an act of sacrilege. The church officials, who had no way of knowing which bones belonged to who, simply placed them back in six Renaissance-era chests.  They have been opened several times since then, but with the advent of modern forensic laboratory tests, the Cathedral staff believed the interests of historical inquiry made a strong case for the project to proceed.

Let’s hope this may bode well for a change in the Abbey’s and monarch’s current position against disturbing the bones in the Urn, although it’s not likely.

For more information, see the Winchester Cathedral website http://www.winchester-cathedral.org.uk/2015/02/03/the-mortuary-chests/

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Chest believed to contain the mortal remains of King Cnut, located in a high status place atop the Presbytery screen. The chest is from the Renaissance era (note the Tudor double-roses). (c) Winchester Cathedral

Thomas Langton: Richard III’s Character Witness

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Amongst the glories of Winchester Cathedral, there is a chantry chapel of outstanding beauty and magnificence. The man who is buried there, and for whom the roof bosses provide a rebus clue, is Thomas Langton, who died of plague in 1501 only days after being elected by Henry VII as Archbishop of Canterbury. Earlier, he had served as the Bishop of Winchester (1493-1501), Salisbury (1484-93) and St. David’s (1483-84), and acted as a servant to three — or four, depending on how you count — English kings. As the information plaque at Winchester Cathedral succinctly announces, Langton had been a chaplain to Edward IV and Richard III, and Ambassador to France and Rome.

Although his death came as a surprise in his 70th year, he did have the opportunity to make an extensive will, showing he died a very wealthy man. It runs to over 100 items, and contains…

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So Richard SEIZED the throne, did he….?

Skidmore and Pinnochio

“I’ve spent four years writing a biography of Richard III, which will be out in April 2017, so I’m looking to give the audience a taster of some of the research that I’ve conducted into Richard’s life, focusing in particular on why he decided to seize the throne in June 1483.”

Seize the throne? SEIZE the throne…..????????  What happened to the facts of the matter? Clearly the forthcoming book will be a little short on such things! Bah Mr Skidmore! Stick to the day job.

http://www.historyextra.com/article/feature/york-and-winchester-history-weekends-5-minutes-chris-skidmore

Time to go digging for kings again…

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A section of the Bayeaux Tapestry showing the death of Harold II Hulton Archive/Getty Images

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/archaeology/five-missing-kings-and-queens-and-where-we-might-find-them-a6798966.html

I think we should all get out our trowels and knee-pads to go digging around again!

More mtDNA investigations

This time, the subject is Edward II and the investigator is Kathryn Warner, his most recent biographer:
http://edwardthesecond.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/elizabeth-de-clare-isabella-de-verdon.html

Like Richard III, Edward II was reportedly buried in a prominent position – the high altar of Gloucester Cathedral. Although Kathryn Warner doesn’t believe that he died in Berkeley Castle in September 1327, she is seeking his female line relatives to prove it either way because mitochondrial DNA is so reliable and has found a few of his nieces who may be of use, one line already stretching to the eighteenth century so far. Also like Richard, Edward has been plagued by demonstrably absurd denialist myths.

The Auramala Project, as this is now known, has involved some in the interesting city of Pavia – in this case a tomb at the .http://www.eremosantalbertodibutrio.it/index.php?lang=en that is the alternative location for Edward’s remains. I wonder how close it is to the Basilica of San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro where Richard’s nephew, Lord Richard de la Pole, was buried in 1524-5 and is still supposed to be?

There is, of course, a second possible method. Richard’s own Y-chromosome is now recorded, as have several descendants of an early Duke of Beaufort. Although his Y-chromosome differs from theirs (and one of theirs from the others), all are thought to descend from Edward II and thus should be identical to him in this respect.

Just to return to the rules:
1) Find some records of the burial.
2) Find a bearer of identical mtDNA – and a Y-chromosome sharer if convenient.
3) Describe the deceased in terms of age, height, build, era, diet and other factors.
4) If an individual turns up in the right place who is a DNA match and a physical match, you have probably found your target.
5) Eliminate all other DNA matches if possible, as in Appendix 1 of Ashdown-Hill’s “The Mythology of Richard III”, although someone like Hicks will still claim that the remains could belong to “anyone”.

If the DNA process can be carried out for Richard III (b.1452) then Edward II (b.1284) should be possible and easier than Stephen (b.c.1096 and apparently in Faversham), Henry I (b.c.1068, being sought in Reading) or Alfred (b.c.849, a fragment found in Winchester). We will follow this Project with interest.

More missing monarchs

On Saturday, we reported that the “Kingfinder General” (Philippa Langley) is now on the trail of Henry I, originally buried in Reading Abbey, and hoping to test the remains in Westminster Abbey that purport to be Edward V and his brother but are reckoned not to be by modern scientists.

Feversham Abbey in Kent, which is reasonably close at hand, was the burial place of Stephen in 1154, together with his wife and eldest son, on a site he founded seven years earlier. Here again, there are rumours of the bones being removed. In Winchester, right under Michael Hicks’ nose, is a pelvis that may belong either to Alfred the Great or Edward the Elder.

Henry I, Stephen and the Wessex pelvis will be almost impossible to find a mtDNA or Y-chromosome match, as was relatively easy for Richard III. Nevertheless, the rest of the evidence may add up in one or more of these cases.

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