In recent years, Dan Jones’ posing and fanciful Crimewatch-style re-enactments, together with Starkeyesque conclusions formed before he started, has marred quite a few series on mediaeval history. Now he seems to have changed tack completely with this series, covering canal building from the middle of the eighteenth century and – yes – I rather enjoyed it, even though Rob Bell may have been more appropriate.
My main criticism is not with the programme content or the presenter but that it was broadcast as two ninety minute episodes and not three separate hours. The content definitely subdivided this way, showing that canals superseded the unreliable roads and rivers of the Early Modern Era.
The first hour was about the Grand Union Canal, originally conceived to join Birmingham and London via Oxford, with the first stretch to Coventry already constructed – it eventually went further east and the Oxford Canal filled the gap. Then came the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, taking Yorkshire produce to the great west coast port via a few higher rainfall Lancashire mill towns – after negotiation because lengthening the route would slow down the journey. Finally, it moved on to the Avon-Kennet Canal that opened in 1810 to link London and Bristol, although railways and improved roads were about to make them commercially obsolete, particularly through a certain Mr. Brunel. As Jones made clear, canals remain popular for pleasure boats and the Avon-Kennet Canal avoided closure in the 1950s for this reason.
No sooner has this series finished than Jones has returned to the Channel Five “cluster” with a show about Roman roads. Trailers showing him dressed as a centurion are not promising.
On Sunday, 16th July 1385 (maybe 18th) there was an incident at Bustardthorpe, which is south of York on the road to Bishopthorpe, where King Richard II was staying at the (arch)bishop’s palace. A large portion of his army and nobles were encamped close by because the English were en route for Scotland, intending to sort out (or try to!) those pesky folk beyond Hadrian’s Wall. The English encampments were spread across the fields south of York.
Richard II’s half-brother, Sir John Holand (aged thirty-three or so, his actual date of birth isn’t known for certain) was camped with his portion of the English forces at a place called Catton, six miles east of York across the Ouse (and across the Derwent) from Bishopthorpe. On 18th July he was responsible for the brutal death of 18-year-old Ralph Stafford, son and heir of the Earl of Stafford (whose actual birthdate isn’t known either). Many call it murder, but it’s always sounded more like manslaughter to me, something done in the heat of a violent quarrel. This notorious incident almost brought the king’s expedition against the Scots to an end before it began.
According to my research, two of Holand’s men (supposedly his favourite squires) were murdered by two of the Earl of Stafford’s men (or variations of this theme) and maybe a foreign knight was involved as well. Some say the initial murders took place at Beverley Minster, where the earl’s men promptly took sanctuary. What did or didn’t happen at Beverley is really beside the point, because Holand’s knee-jerk reaction—he had a very short fuse—culminated in the sword-thrust that put an end to the earl’s son and heir.
When Holand learned of his esquires’ murders, he fell into a red rage, and set off to seek vengeance. He took around ten of his men, probably all armed, and he himself was certainly armed, for he had the fateful sword with him. If the murder had been at Beverley, that wasn’t the direction he took. Instead of going south-east, he went west for the area of York, Bustardthorpe and Bishopthorpe on the west/opposite bank of the River Ouse.
Maybe he knew that the Earl of Stafford’s camp was close to the king? And maybe, to be fair to him, his initial purpose was to seek redress from his half-brother, King Richard II. He wanted the earl to pay dearly for his men’s misdemeanors. If this was his intention, the audience didn’t cool his fury, which was still raging afterward, when he encountered Ralph at Bustardthorpe.
Whether he went first to the king and was on his way back toward York, or was still on his way to the king from York, halfway along the road, at Bustardthorpe, he apparently didn’t at first recognise Ralph, yet he must have known the young man well. Ralph had been in Richard II’s household since childhood, and had always been around at court. Holand was older, of course, so he’d certainly have witnessed Ralph growing up alongside the king. Maybe the encounter at Bustardthorpe took place in the dark? Maybe there was a mist from the Ouse? Whatever, there was a violent set-to-which must have included an argument of some sort. Maybe Ralph even sneered that Holand’s men had deserved what they got? Whatever, it ended with Holand drawing his sword and running Stafford through.
I doubt very much if either man was in armour or even helmet, so the main illustration above gives a false impression. It’s much more likely that both were dressed a little like this photograph below, of James Purefoy as Mowbray, from the Richard II episode of The Hollow Crown, and therefore the same period as the incident in 1385.
It’s always possible, of course, that the two men didn’t like each other anyway, which would add an extra edge to the confrontation. One wrong word from Ralph would ignite Holand’s already smouldering blue touchpaper, and that would be that. Afterward, when his alarmed men told him who he’d just killed, Holand is reported to have said he’d rather have killed the earl’s firstborn son than any number of the earl’s men, because it was fitting recompense for the loss of his favourite squires. Then, like the Earl of Stafford’s men before him, he too fled for Beverley Minster’s sanctuary, thirty or so miles away to the south-east.
Ralph was buried temporarily at Blackfriars in York, and Richard II attended the funeral. Then Ralph’s remains were removed to King’s Langley Dominican Priory. His father went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem shortly afterward, but died at Rhodes before reaching his destination.
The only thing we can be sure of in this whole sorry affair is that Sir John Holand did indeed kill Ralph, and did indeed haul his guilty hide to Beverley. His actual words in the heat of the moment of killing Ralph can never be known. I have to concede though, that given what I’ve gleaned about Holand’s temperament, it wouldn’t surprise me if the sentiments reported were accurate.
Right then, now you have the bare bones of the matter. The impression is always given that Holand heard what had happened in Beverley, leapt on to his horse, dashed to seek revenge, bumped into Stafford, killed him and that was that. All virtually in the blink of an eye. But his actual route from Catton to Bustardthorpe had to be more involved.
Catton is on the east bank of the Derwent. The nearest bridge—wooden with stone piers—is a mile or so upstream at Stamford Bridge. This was once the tidal reach of the Derwent, and was originally a ford, where Roman roads converged. I understand that the name Stamford originates from “stone-paved ford”.
But now I’ve discovered that according to the Petworth House Archives “…Catton village stands along a single street roughly parallel with the Derwent. From its northern end a lane runs towards the river and the church. On the other side of the manor-house site Wath Lane formerly led to the river bank where there was once a ford…”
So Catton had a ford too! This means that if Holand’s camp was on the Catton village side of the river, he could simply have ridden across the ford and then on toward the Ouse. Or maybe his encampment was already in the meadows to the west. Whatever, we can discount the Derwent as being a hurdle. All he had to do was cross it on horseback, ride like the wind the six miles or so over the flat land to the Ouse. Now, to cross the Ouse by a bridge, he’d have to go to the old stone bridge in York, then south on to the road to Bustardthorpe and Bishopthorpe.
Well, it’s perfectly possible that this was the route Holand chose, but it involved two sides of a triangle, whereas the crow flew along only one side. Rivers can be forded (he’d already forded the Derwent) and maybe the Ouse could be too, when the conditions were right, of course. Even the mighty Severn Estuary was once forded by a man who walked chest-high in the water. Completely nuts! But it goes to show that if a large, rather wild estuary, with the second highest tidal reach in the world, can be forded at the right time by a single man, on foot, then surely the Ouse could be too? The weather of 1385 was perhaps helpful in this respect. According to my research, January and February were unusually wet, February to July was unusually warm, and June to July was unusually dry.
One source states quite specifically that the summer of that year was “one of excessive heat from May to 5th September (the Nativity of the Virgin)”. I imagine the heavens must have really opened on 5th September for a note to be made of it!
If the summer was indeed warm and dry, it would mean that the Ouse was probably lower than usual too, and perhaps it was known among the locals that the Ouse could be ridden across quite easily in various places in such conditions. I rather think this would appeal to Holand, who was impatient to seek redress. He was hot-tempered and justifiably so in this case. His men had been killed, and he wasn’t about to take it lying down! He was nothing if not loyal to his men and would want to make a beeline to complain to the Earl of Stafford, not a tiresome meander around the countryside.
But I don’t even really know if I have the right Catton, only the nearest one that I can find. Yorkshire isn’t a county I’m well acquainted with (a weekend stay at Leyburn in 1959 is my limit!) I even managed to confuse myself today by muddling this Catton with another one on the banks of the River Swale, further north. A friend has now told me there are Cattons all over the county – well, not all that liberally, of course, but certainly more than just the two I’ve mentioned. Someone else has suggested that Catton might actually be a medieval contraction of Catterton, which is some five miles or so west of Bishopthorpe. Maybe it is.
What would really make my day would be for some long-forgotten Catton to be in the close vicinity of Bishopthorpe and on the same western bank of the Ouse. After all, Bustardthorpe has now virtually disappeared. On Google Maps it’s only detectable by some allotments that bear its name. To see a realy interesting zoomable view of the allotments, go to https://www.flickr.com/photos/davidhopley/26438359595. There used to be a cross at Bustardthorpe, paid for by Holand, saying that it was the place of Stafford’s violent death, but the cross too has gone. (BTW, does anyone know what happened to it? It was once important regarding marking the boundary of Micklegate) The cross is recorded as follows: “…In the early eighteenth century this cross, quaintly described as the ‘Staffherd’ Cross, still helped to mark the boundary of Micklegate Ward. Though the cross has disappeared, it is possible to locate its original site reasonably accurately. From Skaife, ‘Extracts from the House Books of the Corporation of York’, p. 448; Royal Commission, South-West of the Ouse, p. 118…” The Stafford Cross is mentioned in the text.
In the aftermath of Ralph’s death, Richard II promised the outraged Earl of Stafford that he’d punish Holand as if he were a common felon, but then time went on a little, Holand returned to court, did penance, paid for a memorial cross at the place of Ralph’s death, endowed a chantry for Ralph’s soul and so on. But he went on to become Earl of Huntingdon, marry John of Gaunt’s daughter, be raised to Duke of Exeter. Then he was reduced to Huntingdon again by his brother-in-law Henry IV, against whom he then took part in the Epiphany Rising of 1399, intending to restore Richard II to the throne. Holand fled when the rebellion failed, was captured on the storm-swept coast of Essex, hauled off to Pleshey Castle and summarily executed, watched by the late Earl of Arundel’s sister and son. Holand had witnessed the late Earl of Arundel’s execution, and had also been present at Pleshey when the king’s uncle, Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, had been arrested (to be done away with shortly afterwards in Calais). So for John Holand it was time to pay the ultimate price.
He was a passionate man who led a fiery life, and history condemns him as a violent murderer of little worth, but he was of considerable consequence, and possessed of a fatal charm. One of the top jousters of the day, he could be guaranteed to not only win but provide a theatrical display second to none, and the ladies certainly liked him. He was never boring, and he’s a major character in my wip (which threatens to go on forever, and I’m more than content to let it do so!) I certainly don’t see him in quite the same light as all the historians. Ah, but then I see Richard III in his true light as well.
We all have our favourites, and John Holand, sinner or not, is one of mine.
PS: I wish to thank the many members of the British Medieval History group for their help regarding the Yorkshire locations in this article.
Beneath our feet and hidden away in nooks and crannies of Britain’s towns and cities, there is still a treasure trove of ancient wonders to be found–we’ve learned that from important finds in recent years such as the Staffordshire Hoard, and, of course, King Richard III’s grave in Leicester. Even more recently there have been some interesting historical places, including medieval roads, hermitages, castles and town walls, re-discovered in Yorkshire and gaining new interest from the public. Some were/are hiding in clear site, with the local towns growing up and over them. Others lay in the countryside, hidden away on estates or covered by foliage.
One site of particular interest is Common Hall Lane in York, which runs alongside the 14th c Guildhall, a place Richard would have known well. Both the hall and the medieval lane were constructed over the site of the Roman road that runs through York. In later times, the lane was closed off and now lies behind a locked wooden door which is on the water level. Being so near the river, it apparently floods often. The Guildhall is undergoing restoration at present and it is hoped that when the work is complete, Common Hall Lane will be re-opened as well.
Another site that has received recent attention is the medieval Hermitage that lies under the old Pontefract General Infirmary. A series of chambers run underground, containing a 72 step staircase, the hermit’s bed, bench, and fireplace, a well supposedly filled with magical, curative water and a macabre carved skeleton, representing death, who holds up a spear. At present, there is no general access to the cave…but there are occasional open days arranged by the custodians.
Scarborough Town Walls have also recently been added in to heritage walking tours of the area. These walls were in fact raised on the orders of Richard in 1484, replacing older structures,. Only one section still remains–near a car park. A blue plaque commemorates Richard’s renewal of the town’s defences; the King also renovated the castle at the same time.
If Richard was planning to seize the throne all along why did he a.) start by getting everyone in Yorkshire to swear allegiance to Edward V and b.) set off south with only a modest retinue of 300 men? Given that he was in a position to raise most of the north in arms, wouldn’t it have been a good idea to do just that?
If we accept that Richard did not initially plan to seize the throne what made him change his mind? a.) An attempted ambush by the Woodvilles/Wydevilles? b.) The realisation that he ‘couldn’t work’ with Edward V? c.) The discovery of the precontract? d.) Or did he just wake up one morning and think ‘**** it, I’ve not got any supporters down here but I’ll take the throne anyway!’
Why did Elizabeth Woodville run off into sanctuary, given that the Woodvilles were (supposedly) innocent of any wrong-doing? As a woman and a Queen, no one was going to kill her, and by staying out and standing her ground, could she not have made Richard’s work a lot more difficult to achieve?
Why did Richard only send for his supporters when things had already kicked off and when it was actually too late for them to get to London to help him? Was he really that bad a planner or is it more likely that he was taken by surprise by some development?
Why did Anthony Woodville send off for an exemplification of his powers to recruit troops in Wales just at this particular time? Did he think Owain Glyndwr had come back or had he some other purpose for raising armed men?
While looking in A Dictionary of Superstitions, edited by Iona and Moira Tatem, specifically for anything concerning Midsummer traditions, I found one that involved the orpine/sedum plant. The following passage was taken from Brand, Antiquities I 263-4, 1777:-
“….on 22nd January, 1801, a small gold ring….was exhibited to the Society of Antiquaries….It had been found….in a ploughed field near Cawood, in Yorkshire, and had for a device two Orpine plants joined by a true-love knot, with this motto above: ‘Ma fiance velt’, i.e. my sweetheart wills, or is desirous. The stalks of the plants were bent to each other, in token that the parties represented by them were to come together in marriage…From the form of the letters it appeared to have been a ring of the fifteenth century….”
Apparently the tradition at Midsummer was to take two slips of orpine/sedum plant and put them close together in a chink in the roof joists. They were kept moist and called Midsummer Men, representing a lover and his sweetheart. The way the slips grew toward or away from each other told if the lovers would know happiness or not. Woe betide them if the slips died!
Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find out more about this ring, not its present whereabouts or an illustration, but it is yet another such treasure from the fifteenth century found in Yorkshire.
Cawood has an ancient bridge over the River Ouse, and a former residence of the Archbishops of York that is now called Cawood Castle. According to Wikipedia: “….George Neville became Archbishop of York in 1465 and held a feast at the castle. The Earl of Warwick, the Archbishop’s brother, aided in the preparation of the feast and is said to have wanted a feast larger than the King’s coronation feast. Guests included the Duke of Gloucester, the King’s brother. The feast lasted several days and became known as the Great Feast of Cawood due to the sheer size of it. Records from the feast show that a substantial quantity of food was consumed, including 104 oxen, 6 wild bulls, 400 swans, 1000 capons and 104 peacocks; 25,000 gallons of wine were consumed with the meal….”
To read more of the feast and of the castle and its history, go to this article This site is well worth a lengthy visit.
Perhaps it was during this great shindig that the ring was lost! But all this goes to show how astonishing research can be. This time it started with finding an interesting Midsummer superstition, led to a 15th-century ring with twined sedum flowers, and thence to a nearby residence of the Archbishops of York and the famous Great Feast of Cawood, attended by Richard and Warwick the Kingmaker, among others. From little acorns great oak trees do grow!
This illustration is from the Yorkshire Post and has been chosen to illustrate the sort of wonderful finds that have been made by detectorists.
There has been a positive rash of such discoveries, and each time I am reminded again of how dreadful it must have been, way back when, to lose something as valuable as, say, a ring. People had fewer possessions then, and a jewelled ring would have been a dreadful loss.
There are other examples of lost jewellery, such as this article
Of course, not all detectorists are well-intentioned. Those they call nighthawks are in it for more nefarious reasons.
I cannot claim to have lost anything as valuable as the Middleham Jewel, but I did lose the emerald from my engagement ring. That awful moment when I glanced at my hand and saw the hole/space/gap, will live with me forever. It was like hearing the hollow clang of a huge invisible bell. My beautiful emerald had gone forever, and I was gutted.
Finding another emerald of the same colour and clarity proved impossible, so the ring now boasts a lovely ruby instead, but I still wonder what happened to the emerald.
Might someone find it in years to come? Or has it gone forever? I’d been into Gloucester that day, so it could had been lost then. A girl going shopping goes everywhere! One thing’s certain, unless they invent an emerald-detector, it won’t be located by some hopeful detectorist in a future century.
This seems a wonderful idea. Don’t we all like looking at old photographs of place and seeing what is still there now? if anything? It’s possibly why the Francis Frith photographs are so popular. We love to look at what has been lost forever, but which some of the more senior of us still remember.
Of course, Ricardians would love to see photographs that were taken in medieval times. Impossible, I know. But we can dream.
PS: I confess that my very first thought on seeing the above photograph was that if it had been taken on a very “touristy” day in midsummer, someone pausing like this, to compare past with present, would very likely cause a huge knock-on effect! People everywhere, like skittles.