JOHN ROUS – Author of The Rous Roll, Warwickshire Antiquarian, Chantry Chaplain and Turncoat Extraordinaire?


John Rous ‘drawne by himselfe’.   From the Latin ‘Lancastrian’ version of the rolls.  College of Arms.

John Rous or Rows as he called himself (b.c1420 d. 14 January 1492) was the son of  Geoffrey Rous of Warwick, who was a younger son of Thomas Rous of Brinklow, and Margaret, the daughter of Richard Fyncham.  An interesting man, although not without flaws,  and who left us a wealth of information regarding the Earls of Warwick and their families as well as his version of events regarding the reign and fall  of Richard III.  He was chaplain of the Chantry Chapel at Guy’s Cliff and resided there for the most part of his adult life in the house that was provided nearby for the priests of that chapel.  The chapel was dedicated to St Mary Magdalene and had been founded in 1423 by Richard Beauchamp earl of Warwick (b.1382 d.1439). 


Chantry Chapel at Guy’s Cliff.  Early 19th century engraving.  Artist unknown.

 He was  the creator of the Rous Roll, an illustrated chronicle on rolls of vellum detailing the history of the Earls of Warwick of which he made two versions – one in English known as the Yorkist Roll,  the other in Latin known as the Lancastrian Roll both of which were accompanied by beautiful line drawings in pen and wash.   This work was produced between 1477 and 1485 and thus ended with the death of Richard III at Bosworth in August 1485 and Henry Tudor taking the throne.  This would prove to be a bit tricky for Rous who had written in positive and gushing manner about the dead Richard.  What to do?  Doubtlessly after causing him a few sleepless nights he managed to doctor the Latin roll but was unable to get hold of the English version. Yikes!


Richard as portrayed in the English version of Rous Roll.  The king holds a sword in one hand and Warwick Castle in the other.  This version of the roll is now held in the British Library.

‘Rex Richardus tercius – born in the Castel of Foderiyngay a myghti prince in his dayes special gode lord to the town & lordship of Warrewyk wher yn the castel he did gret cost off byldyng In the which his most noble lady & wyf was born and at gret instance of her he of his bounteous grace with owt fee or fyn graunt to the seyd borowh frely by charter as kyng William Conquerour his noble progenitor a fore tym gret previlagis’. 

Untitled 2

Second depiction of Richard III in the English version.  Crowned, holding a sword in his right  hand and an orb in his left hand.  His cognizance, the white boar at his feet.  English version of the Rous Roll. British Library.

The moost mighty prynce Rychard by the grace of god kynge of ynglond and of fraunce and lord of Irelond by verrey matrimony with owt dyscontynewans or any defylynge yn the lawe by eyre male lineally dyscendyng from kynge harre the second all avarice set a syde Rewled hys subjettys In hys Realme ful commendabylly poneschynge offenders of hys laws specyally Extorcioners and oppressors of hys comyns and chereschynge tho that were vertues by the whyche dyscrete guydynfe he gat gret thank of god and love of all hys subjettys Ryche and pore and gret lavd of the people of all othyr landys a bowt hym

However he seemed to have got away with it and with his head still intact was able to dedicate his other famous work, Historia regum Anglie/ Joannis Rossi Antiquarii Warwicensis Historia Regum Angliae, which he completed in 1487,  to the new king Henry VII, who according to Rous had ‘been sent by God’ (1) Moreover  Historia would go on to savagely blacken Richard III’s name.   It is this quite extraordinary, and to be honest,  rather craven,  volte-face on his original rapturous descriptions of Richard contained in the rolls, which have led to some, well many actually,  viewing him as nothing more than a dastardly turncoat.    Other than to blatantly curry favour with the new king is there anything that could perhaps excuse this strange and discombobulated turnaround?  It has been suggested by some historians, including Dr Alison Hanham,  that he may have actually believed the scurrilous and damaging rumours that Richard had poisoned his Queen, Anne Neville, daughter of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, known as the Kingmaker, and Anne Beauchamp who was herself a daughter to the earlier Earl of Warwick, Richard Beauchamp who had founded the chapel at Guy’s Cliff and this could explain the viciousness of his attack on the late king (2).IMG_9384

Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick.  Founder of the chapel at Guy’s Cliff which may be the smaller building depicted.   Carries the infant Henry VI – who is shown crowned and sceptered –  upon his left arm and a mace for that monarch’s defence.  At his feet a muzzled bear. English version of Rous Roll.  British Library.

According to our Rous, Richard,  prior to murdering his wife,  had also kept her mother,  the widowed countess, a prisoner after ‘she had fled to him as her chief refuge and he locked her up for the duration of his life’.  What his wife had to say about the cruel incarceration of her mother is lost to us in the mist of time – quelle surprise.   The accusations fall so fast and furious including the horrid murder of his nephews, Edward V  and his brother Richard of Shrewsbury,  although he doesn’t know the manner of their deaths – no-one does – only that they have been heinously ‘slaughtered’ and Richard has taken the young murdered king’s throne.   Rous’ Richard clearly took regicide in his stride because when he was the 17 year old Duke of Gloucester he had also ‘caused others‘  to  murder another king –  the ‘holy man‘ King Henry VI – and furthermore it was ‘thought by many’  that he had done this with his very own hand  – obvs.  With Richard in full tonto mode its almost a relief when Rous reaches the part where Richard is entering ‘the evening of his life’.   But it’s not quite over yet  –  Richard, who was ‘excessively cruel in his days‘  –  is compared to the Antichrist and ‘like Antichrist to come, he was confounded at his moment of greatest pride‘,  as you are, following which he was ‘unexpectedly destroyed in the midst of his army by an invading army small by comparison but furious in impetus, like a wretched creature‘. Blimey!  And it’s here at this very point, having made verbal mincemeat of the now dead king,  that bizarrely Rous does yet another quite bewildering about-face :  ‘For all that, let me say the truth to his credit’.. !  We will return to this important point below where it is discussed in the excerpt from David Johnson’s article John Rous: The man who said too much.*  

 If Rous had heard, and swallowed,  the rather unsavoury propaganda regarding the murder of his wife and imprisonment of his mother-in-law,  it may well have led to him, an avid admirer of both Anne and her mother,  being a very angry and bitter man.  However if we accept that he – being ensconced mostly at Guy’s Cliff and Warwick – he did of course  sometimes travel further afield including London, later recalling  ‘In the days of this king (Edward IV) an elephant was brought to England, which I saw at London, but it soon declined’ – and being rather out of the loop,  swallowed this nonsense it’s rather pushing the bounds of belief that he had also heard and also believed an even further nonsensical rumour that Richard had been ‘retained within his mother’s womb for two years and emerging with teeth and hair to his shoulders. … At his nativity Scorpio was in the ascendant, which is the sign of the house of Mars. And like a scorpion he combined a smooth front with a stinging tail’.   However Rous had got the date of Richard’s birthday muddled – rather than being born on the 21 October and under Scorpio he had in actual fact been born on the 2 October thus under Libra.  Nevertheless Rous apparently was not one to let fact stand in the way of a good and rather lurid story.  No! I fear our Rous was the instigator of at least some of this nonsense and he may have been merely nothing more than a basic out and out turncoat intent on worming his way into the good books of the new Tudor king. Oh dear..I am trying hard to find some redeemable qualities here…

Pressing on – Dr Hanham in her excellent book Richard III and his early historians 1483-1535 has helpfully added a modern translation of Joannis Rossi Antiquarii Warwicensis Historia Regum Angliae which has been most helpful to me in writing this post.   Unfortunately there is little in Dr Hanham’s comments about Rous to redeem his rather moth-eaten reputation: 

His tales of Richards monstrous birth and deformity deter a later time from taking him seriously and his extremely jumbled account of events makes it seem more likely that he concocted  his history from other sources than that it is in any sense an eyewitnesses testimony’.  He is described as an ‘old-fashioned antiquarian rather than a historian and busy minded man who loved gossip’ and his narrative of Richard’s reign ‘is a rag bag of gleanings’.   However to be fair, as Dr Hanham also points out,  Rous was not the instigator of the odious and ‘unprovable’ rumour that Richard had his Queen poisoned and ‘His animus against Richard may therefore derive in part from the belief that Richard had murdered his wife..’ which is something to give thanks for… I suppose. 

But is it all as it seems?  And has history’s judgement of Rous been too harsh?  He himself would say, rather mysteriously, that he had been ‘unjustly vexed with many tribulations’  (3).  An article in the Richard III Society Bulletin John Rous – The man who said too much  by David Johnson has taken a somewhat softer stance and does indeed make some interesting points.  For example after Henry taking the throne he took the astonishingly draconian step of predating his reign to the day before the battle of Bosworth which had taken place on the 22 August 1485 (4).This was such an unfair, atrocious act that even the Croyland Chronicler, who was not a fan of Richard III, denounced it and recording that because of it Henry’s parliament was on the receiving end of  ‘much argument, or to be, more truthful, rebuke’ (5).  The act would leave those men who had fought for their rightful king in the unenviable position of being traitors with all the calamities this could bring upon both them and their families.  This combined with the belief that it was dangerous to be in possession of the repealed Titulus Regius as well as a new ruling after the rebellion of 1486 that would deny sanctuary to anyone deemed guilty of treason  – ‘Henceforth sanctuary was not pleadable in treason‘  – may have made even the stoutest of hearts quake a little (6). .


Henry VII.  Oil on panel 1505.  Unknown Netherlandish artist.  NPG.  

Clearly it was not prudent to be identified as an admirer of the late king.  In his thought provoking article David Johnson suggests that ‘anyone like Rous who had enthusiastically supported Richard III would have felt threatened by such repressive measures’.   However ‘.. it also seems that the ferocity of Rous’ volte-face may have pricked his conscience. If we examine the Historia carefully we can see him wrestling rather uncomfortably with his drastically revised opinion of Richard. Following the tirade of abuse outlined at the beginning of this paper, the Historia revealingly changed tack and introduced a description of Richard’s bravery at Bosworth with the plea: ‘For all that, let me say the truth to his credit.’ *This is a remarkable statement to make in the circumstances, seeming to imply that what Rous had written in proceeding passages of the Historia was not altogether correct, and that he was now begging permission to tell the truth. Here we see the inner turmoil of a man driven to falsehood by fear and apprehension. Rous, it appears, acted to save himself in the frighteningly unpredictable world of the first Tudor king. He seems to have been convinced that his previously expressed admiration for Richard placed him in peril, and he did all in his power to replace it with the ‘ardour of love’ for Henry and as much revulsion for Richard as he could bear…’ (7). 

Is this, sadly,  how it went….?


Anne  Beauchamp and her husband, Richard Neville, ‘The Kingmaker,’ Earl of Warwick.  From the Latin version of the Rous Roll.  Donated to the College of Arms by Melvyn Jeremiah.

So having said all the above how should we view the bulk of his history of the Earls of Warwick as well as his others writings?  With caution definitely.   Charles Ross opines that Rous sufferered from ‘a narrowness of view.  Rous saw the mediaeval earls of Warwick through blinkers. The left eye was that of the local historian,  for whom events concerning  Warwick were the centre of attention,  the right eye was anxious to please the lords of Warwick of his own day’.  Clearly for Rous ‘there was was no such thing as a bad Earl of Warwick’ (8). 

However all is not lost and historian Nicholas Orme opines although he was often inaccurate about details and dates, mingling history with myth, nevertheless  he used a wide range of writers, often referred to his sources and compared  the population figures given in the hundred rolls of 1279 with those of places in his own day… He recognised the historical value of paintings and monuments, and though he did not altogether master the history of costume, he had an understanding of the evolution of body armour. His lists of university halls and deserted villages show an eye for institutions disregarded in his own day. With his contemporary and fellow Oxonian, William Worcester, he is deservedly recognised as one of the earliest major English antiquaries’ (9).  

Personally I like him best for his outspoken views on the  Enclosure Movement which saw thousands of hapless people turfed out of their villages and homes,  their livelihoods lost to them, by the unabated greed of their landlords.  He felt ‘stirred to rise against the devastation and destruction of villages by mouth and pen following the clamor and murmurings of the populace’.

The cruel injustice of the Enclosures was something that Rous felt deeply and passionately about  and he devoted three passages to it in Historia as well as  ‘listing the  seventy-eight (deserted villages) that were all within his home county of Warwickshire’ castigating the enclosing landlords as “murderers of the impoverished,” destroyers of humanity,” and “venomous snakes.” They had shown no mercy to “the children, tenants, and others whom they have forced from their homes by theft,” and so could expect “judgment without mercy” in the afterlife; certainly he would not be singing any masses for the souls of these “destroyers of towns’ (10).    And I hope heartily  that if any of these landlords chanced upon Rous’ opinions of them they had the grace to blush.  

So have we and history judged Rous too harshly?  Charles Ross has likened him to the character of the Vicar of Bray whose career may be niftily summed up in the chorus of a recently written folk song about him:

‘And this be law, that I’ll maintain until my dying day, sir
That whatsoever king may reign,  still I’ll be the Vicar of Bray, sir’.

However Ross slightly softens his stance when he recalls the beautiful tributes made by Rous to both Queen Anne Neville and her mother, Anne Beauchamp, Countess of Warwick. Of  Queen Anne Neville he wrote  ‘In person she was seemly, amiable and beauteous and according to the interpretation of her name Anne full gracious’.


Queen Anne Neville.  English version of the Rous Roll.  The queen, in royal robes, holding the sceptre and orb.  Hands appearing from clouds  on either side of her offer her the crowns of Lancaster and York alluding to her two marriages.  At her feet the muzzled bear of Warwick. 

And for Anne Beauchamp, whom he would have known personally, he wrote ‘Dam Anne Beauchamp a noble lady of the blode royal dowhter to Eorl Rychard and hole sustre and eyr to fir herre Beauchamp duke of Warrwik and aftre the deffese of his only begoten dowhtre Lady An.  by trew enheritans countas of Warrewick which goode lady had in her dayes grete tribulacon for her lordis fake Syre Rychard Neeuel fon and Eyre to fir Rychard Eorl of Salifbury and by her tityll Eorl of Warrwik a famus knyghe and excellent gretly fpoke of thorow thr mofte part of all chrifendam.  This gode lady was born in the manor of Cawerfham by redyng in the counte of oxenforde and was euer a full deuout lady in Goddis feruys fre of her fpeche to euery perfon familier accordyng to her and thore degre. Glad to be at and with women that traueld of chyld.  full comfortable and plenteus then of all thyng that shuld be helpyng to hem. and in hyr tribulacons fhe was euer to the gret pleafure of God full pacient. to the grete meryte of her own fowl and enfample of all odre that were vexid with eny aduerfyte.  Sho was alfo gladly euer companable and liberal and in her own perfone femly and bewteus and to all that drew to her ladifhup as the dede fhewid ful gode and gracious. her refon was and euer fhall. 

Charles Ross’ closing comment in his Historical Introduction to The Rous Roll reads  ‘For this generous tribute to an eclipsed Countess perhaps Rous should be forgiven a great deal’…. (11). 

So, sticking my head above the parapet here,  was Rous just a frightened elderly man,  nervous about his future as one of those who had once waxed lyrical about the defeated  King Richard III?   It’s said that history will judge men and so it does but has it got it wrong  in its appraisal of Rous?  I’ll leave you dear reader to make your own mind up about that one…

John Rous died on the 14th of January 1492 and was buried in the nave of the Collegiate Church of Saint Mary,  Warwick.  Leyland who saw the tomb 50 years later recorded what seems to have been its Latin inscription commemorating ‘John Rous chaplain of the Chantry of Gibclif who constructed the library above the south porch of this church and equipped it with books’.  However both his library and tomb were destroyed in the great fire that devastated Warwick and parts of the church on the 5 September 1694.

 1. Richard III and his earlier historians 1483-1535. Excursis. John Rous’ account of the reign of Richard III. p.p.118.124.  Alison Hanham.

2. Ibid.p.124

3. Historia regum Anglie/ Joannis Rossi Antiquarii Warwicensis Historia Regum Angliae  

4. Chrimes, Henry VII, pp 50. 63.

5. N Pronay & J Cox The Crowland Chronicle Continuations 1459-1486, London 1986, p 195

6. Chrimes, Henry VII, p 71 7 n 4.

7. JOHN ROUS THE MAN WHO SAID TOO MUCH. David Johnson.  Ricardian Bulletin article December 2013. 

8. The Rous Roll p.xii.  Introduction. Charles Ross. 1980.

9.  Rous, John (c.1420-1492). Oxford Dictionary of National  Biography. September 2004.  Nicholas Orme.

10.  These Destroyers of Towns. Matthew Green.  Online article

11. The Rous Roll p.xviii Introduction. Charles Ross. 1980.

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The Sisters Neville – Isobel, Duchess of Clarence and Queen Anne Neville, Daughters to the Kingmaker.

Coldharbour – An Important Medieval London House

L’Erber – London Home to Warwick the Kingmaker and George Duke of Clarence

Anne Beauchamp Countess of Warwick – Wife to the Kingmaker








A glimpse of  St Martin’s church from the millpond looking north.  This wonderful photo thanks to David Ireland. 

‘It may not be liefull for euery man to vse his owne as hym lysteth, but eueyre man must vse that he hath to the most benefyte of his countrie. Ther must be somethynge deuysed to quenche this insatiable thirst of greedynes of men.…’ John Hales 1549.

Since early medieval times Britain’s landscape has been prolifically dotted with deserted villages.  The abandonment of these villages was the result of, in the main, either pestilence,  which led  to the last few shell shocked survivors of these catastrophic events leaving their homes  or because the landowners wanted to have the land for the more lucrative returns made from sheep farming.  This view has been described as rather simplistic – Harriett Bradley argued in her interesting article that there were already changes afoot prior to the arrival of the  Black Death in the 14th century  – but agreed that the pestilence would have certainly accelerated matters (1).

Let’s look at the latter reason which brought about the forced abandonment of homes and villages by the people that had lived in them, some for generations.  This particular type of eviction became known as the Enclosure Movement which, with all its resultant cruelty,  led to an avalanche of evictions and was much denounced.  Many worthies of the time railed against these evictions including John Rous, the 15th century Warwickshire chantry priest and antiquarian who also listed the  54 places “which, within a circuit of thirteen miles about Warwick had been wholly or partially depopulated before about 1486″ (2).   Rous clearly did not believe in holding back and went full tonto with his  description of Richard III comparing the late king to both the  Antichrist and a scorpion, being born with a full  set of teeth and hair flowing to his shoulders and who was excessively cruel in his days (3).  He made verbal mincement of the unscrupulous landlords of the times and  Matthew Green succinctly describes in his book “Shadowlands” how Rous castigated the landlords, describing them as worshippers of Mammon”,  murderers of the impoverished“, “destroyers of humanity,” and “venomous snakes.”   They had shown no mercy to “the children, tenants, and others whom they have forced from their homes by theft,” and so could expect “judgment without mercy” in the afterlife;  furthermore he would certainly not be singing any masses for the souls of these “destroyers of towns‘ (4).  An interesting excerpt from Green’s book can be found here.

Thomas More in his Utopia written in 1516 stated:

‘…those miserable people… are all forced to change their seats, not knowing whither to go; and they must sell, almost for nothing, their household stuff.  When that little money is at an end,  for it will soon be spent, what is left for them to do but either to steal and so to be hanged or to go about and beg’. 

Decades later someone would write a short poem entitled ‘Stealing the Common from the Goose’ in the 18th century neatly encompassing the injustice of it all:

“The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common,
But lets the greater felon loose
Who steals the common from the goose.”

During the excavations of 1964 the bones of a man who had laid down to die beside one of the houses was discovered.  His name and story are unknown to us and we can only speculate.  Was he, as Matthew Green suggests,  ‘a famished vagabond’  at the end of his journey in this life or was he a villager, ‘obstinate to the end’, who returned home to die?


Wharram Percy is one of the most well preserved examples of such a deserted village standing in an idyllic spot in the heart of the Yorkshire Wolds.  This village, with the remains of its church,  about 40 grassed over peasants houses plus two manor houses was indeed one of the victims of the Enclosure Movement although most probably already left vulnerable in the aftermath of the Black Death which had decimated the country in the 14th century leaving in its wake between a third and a half of the population dead.  By 1349  Wharram Percy’s population of 67 was reduced to about 45.  Basically this catastrophic pestilence would have a knock on effect bringing about radical change.  The massively high death rate left behind fewer people to work the land.  This, combined with some of the survivors having witnessed the agonising deaths of loved ones and friends  abandoning their decimated villages in an effort to find an easier way of making a living,  led to demands for higher wages from those who stayed.  This turn of events would leave some smaller villages in a precarious position which would eventually sound their death knell.  Wharram Percy would survive this calamity and a visitor in  1368 would have found  ‘… about 30 of its houses still  occupied,  one of the mills was working profitably and both millponds generating an income from fishing. Though there were fewer households in the late 14th century, they were doubtless better off,  as shown by the excavated large peasant longhouse overlooking the church.’ (5). Tragically the village would not survive Enclosure. The final eviction of four families and the demolition of their homes marked the end of village life in c.1500.


Now if you thought that you had drawn life’s short straw to be born into medieval peasant stock it could actually be even atrocious than first appears for there was several echelons of peasantry society.   Those unfortunates who occupied the  lowest rungs of  the ladder were known as cottars.  There was only one step lower you could go than a cottar and that was homeless beggar.  These cottars, or cottagers as they were also known,  could hold no land other than their toft which was a small yard or garden surrounding their home.  Owning livestock or even a plough was out of the question.  They would pay their rent to the lord of the manor via their labour.  Any spare time they had was spent working as hired hands, if and when work became available,  to augment their almost non existent wages.   It’s believed that an area in the East Row at Wharram Percy was allocated to cotters homes due to the smaller size plots (6).    Next step upwards on the ladder was the villeins also known as serfs. These villagers, as well as their toft,  could hold an adjoining strip of  land known as a  croft  which was larger than the toft and was used for keeping a few animals or growing crops as well as one or two oxgangs in the open fields (7). 


Ploughing with oxen.  Luttrell Psalter c.1335-1340.  The British Library.

The villeins would also pay rent to the lord but in produce and cash as well as labour.  The West and North Rows were probably where the homes and tofts of the villeins would have been situated.  Villeins would have been unable to give up their homes or marry without the lord’s permission and their children would have been born into the same class.  You had reached the upper echalons of the peasant class when you were a freeman.    Freemen, also known as Sokemen, were less tied down by the obligations of the villeins and cotters.  This freedom came at a price though because they would be less entitled to the lord’s protection if and when any problems arose –  which no doubt they did.    The larger longhouses situated on the West row were probably the homes of the  Freemen/Sokemen.      It’s sobering to think about the harsh lives, the sheer grinding poverty,  that some of these unfortunate souls experienced especially the cottars.  Let’s hope that the people in the big house fulfilled their noblesse oblige and gave a helping hand in hard times.  However when life had taken its toll  and you finally succumbed,  worn out to the very bones,  you did not have to go far for burial –  Wharram Percy had its own fine church…



Window from St Martin’s Church with two stone heads either side.  These may represent two members of the Percy family.  Photo thanks to Allan Harris @ Flikr.

St Martin’s begun life as a small and simple 10th century timber chapel the postholes of which were discovered during the excavations of the church in 1962-74.   The rebuilding of the church in stone shortly before the Conquest in 1066 may possibly have been the work of a group of  freemen/free peasants whose graves may be among those that lay in a distinct group and were covered by the ancient lids of Roman coffins. The names of some of these men have come down to us via the Doomsday Book of 1086 –  Lagmann, Carli and Ketilbjorn.

Over the centuries the church was both enlarged and reduced in size depending on the size  of the fluctuating population of the time.    Following the last villagers being driven out   c.1500 the church gradually fell into disrepair, with a series of complaints made about the condition of the chancel from 1555 onwards.  As St Martin’s was the mother church of a parish serving four villages services still took place there.  However by the 17th century three of these villages had also became deserted with just Thixendale surviving although  a new vicarage was built in the early 18th century.  Be that as it may, to save a five mile round trip Thixendale constructed its own church in 1870,  which led to most of the remaining parishioners deserting St Martin’s.    Services were still carried out though  including burials which ceased in 1906, the last marriage in 1928 and the last service held in 1949 after which the fittings were removed (8).   St Martin’s still stands, defiant albeit rather battered,  minus its roof and half its tower gone following its  collapse after a storm in December 1959.   


Medieval font from St Martin’s church photographed c.1950s .

IMG_9368 St Martin’s Church photographed c.1950 before the collapse of the tower and removal of roof.


During the excavations of the church the northern side of the graveyard was excavated during which a total of 687 burials were excavated.   These were estimated to be about 10% of the burials in the churchyard – 15% of which were of children who had died before their first birthday.    This figure was much lower than the higher rate of infants deaths to be found in towns.   It’s thought this may have been because Wharram Percy mothers breast fed their infants longer perhaps until they were about 18 months old.  It was the weaning of infants that would herald in some of the awful conditions associated with malnutrition such as rickets etc.,    Malnutrition was not the only enemy – the  remains of one small boy aged about 10 showed that he had suffered and died from leprosy.  On a more positive note 40% of the burials were of individuals who had died aged over 50 with males outnumbering females by 3-2.  Some of these adults had suffered from quite serious disabilities from birth but had made it to a reasonable age demonstrating that they must have been well  cared for in the community.  Poignantly one young woman, heavily pregnant, had succumbed to tuberculosis and an attempt had been made to save the unborn baby’s life by performing a caesarean.   Sadly this had failed and the baby was buried lying between its mother’s thighs but it does demonstrate that even amongst peasant society who had so very little,  life,  including that of the smallest of infants,  was highly valued.  Dr Simon Mays, skeletal biologist at English Heritage’s Centre for Archaeology has said:

We tend to think medieval people somehow got used to death because life could be so nasty, brutish and short. But this burial tends to rebut this and suggests life was every bit as precious, leading to drastic acts to preserve it‘ (9).


Aerial view from the north looking south.  St Martin’s is the last building at top right hand side  just below the millpond.     Photo © Historic England 


Reconstruction drawing of Wharram Percy of the same view showing the North Manor at the bottom with the peasant houses, tofts and crofts as they would have appeared in the late 12th century.  Note the dovecot.  The church can be seen in the distance at  top right hand corner of the image. By Peter Dunn © Historic England 


The manor was the largest and most important residential building in Wharram Percy and would have been home to several generations of the Percy family.  Standing in the centre of a walled compound the residents would  have enjoyed a higher rate of of privacy than elsewhere in the village.  Following the Conquest in 1066 William the Conqueror had set out to dominate the northern parts of the country in a campaign that became known as the Harrying of the North.  The effect this would have on Wharram Percy, or Warron as it was then known,  was that two main landowners in the village, Lagmann and Carli (who may have been responsible for rebuilding the church (see above) lost their holdings which were granted to the Norman Sheriff of York and those of a third,  Ketilbjorn,  were granted to a Norman baron by the name of William de Percy.  Thus the Percys had arrived in Warron which thereafter became known as Wharram Percy.  Some of this William de Percy’s descendants would fare extremely well and would go on to later become members of one of the greatest families in northern England, the Northumberland Percys,  building castles such as Alnwick and Warksworth.  Their stories can be found easily elsewhere and no need to go into them here.  The Wharram Percy branch of the Percys would leave the South Manor and move into the newly built North Manor which also benefitted from the addition of a small hunting park.  It was around this time c.1254-1315 that the village enjoyed its golden era and the North and East Rows were built increasing the number of properties to about 40.  However nothing lasts forever and around 1315 things took a bit of a nose dive when Peter, the heir of the  resident lord of the manor,  Robert Percy,  died aged 25 without an heir.  His wife was left bringing up two small daughters, Eustachia and Joan.   Robert himself died in 1321, aged 76 followed shortly after by his second son Henry.  This lack of a suitable heir was troubling enough for the villagers but then 1322 brought more bad news in the form of Scottish raids.  There then followed an economic downturn  with two-thirds of the village’s land uncultivated,  plots unoccupied and the village’s two water mills disused.  In an attempt to restore stability Eustachia was then married aged 14 to Walter Heslerton from a nearby village of that name.  Four years later, on 1331,  she gave birth to a son named Walter after his father.  Walter Snr died in 1349, a victim of the Black Death.  Walter Jnr was still a minor and therefore could not inherit the Wharram Percy estate.  It was claimed by royal officials that Eustachia was mentally deficient and should come under the protection of the king  allowing the crown to manipulate the management of her Wharram Percy estate for its own profit. In 1366 Eustachia died and her son Walter Jnr only outlived his mother by a year.  On his death in 1367 the estate reverted to a distant relative,  Henry,  one of the more illustrious Percys of Spofforth Castle.  Some time between 1394 and 1402 the Spofforth Percys would exchange Wharram Percy with Shilbottle, a manor owned by the Hilton family (10).  The Hiltons seem to have been on the whole absent landlords.   The ending for Wharram Percy was hoving into sight.  It was a member of the Hilton family, William,  Baron Hilton,  who instigated the removal of the last four families and the demolition of their homes between the years 1488-1500.  In the fullness of time the remains of the peasants homes would collapse in on themselves and both these and the streets, alleys and tracks they had known so well would become covered with a protective carpet of turf formed by the sheep pastures leaving behind the mounds and hollows that can be seen today,  a sad indictment of when avarice overcomes good lordship.  We shall leave the last sad word to Bishop Hugh Latimer who wrote on the 8 March 1549:

‘for where as have been a great many householders and inhabitants, there is now but a shepherd and his dog’

8723738044_9cd9fd2970_hStone head of lady in 14th century headdress in a window of the church.  May represent one of the Percy ladies. Photo Ally Shaw Flickr.

NOTE: For those unable to visit Wharram Percy  for various reasons such as distance, lack of time or dodgy knees etc.,  I can thoroughly recommend the  English Heritage Wharram Percy  guide book.  English Heritage have a large range of guide books covering the wonderful places under their management and care which which have been  written by experts, are concise, affordable,  beautifully illustrated and contain a wealth of information.   Available from their online shop.

1. The Enclosures in England an Economic Reconstruction Harriet Bradley 1914.

2.  Historia regum Angliae (History of the Kings of England).  John Rous.  Published around 1459-86.

3. Ibid.

4. Shadowlands: A Journey Through Lost Britain p.p.143.144

5. Wharram Percy Deserted Medieval Village p.8. Alastair Oswald former Senior Archaeologist Investigator at English Heritage.

6. Wharram Percy Deserted Medieval Village Alastair Oswald former Senior Archaeologist Investigator at English Heritage.

7.An oxgang was the amount of land tillable by one ox in a ploughing season. This could vary from village to village, but was typically around 15 acre. 

8.  Heritagegate Historic England Research Records.  Available online.

9. BBC News Channel interview with Dr Simon Mays Thursday 25 August 2005.

10. Wharram Percy Deserted Medieval Village p.20. Alastair Oswald former Senior Archaeologist Investigator at English Heritage.

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Murder and mayhem in medieval London



Ranulph Lord Dacre of Gilsland – The Lord who was buried with his horse.


The monument in All Saints Church, Saxby over the grave of Ranulph Lord Dacre and his horse. Photo Mary Emma1@Flkir

Ranulph/Ranulf/Randolph/Ralph, Lord Dacre of Gilsland’s precise date of birth is lost to us – as is his exact Christian name it would seem -but has been suggested as c.1412 although his date of death is very well known.   For he would  fall at the battle of Towton, fighting for Lancaster, fought on the 29th March 1461, making his age at time of death therefore about 50. His parents were Thomas Dacre,  6th Lord Dacre (b.1387 – d.1458) and his mother was Lady Philippe Neville.  Lady Philippe (born sometime before 20 July 1399 and death before 1458) was the daughter of the formidable Ralph Neville, Ist Earl of Westmorland (b c.1364- d.1425) and his first wife Lady Margaret Stafford ( b. c. 1364, d. 9 June 1396).  It’s well known how Westmorland would go on to  largely disinherit  his sons from his first marriage to Margaret for those by his second wife Joan Beaufort.  The second set of offspring would include Cicely Neville, mother to two Yorkists kings, Edward IV and Richard III.   This grave miscalculation on the part of Westmorland would lead to years of  repercussions, turmoil, destruction and bloodshed.   As J L Laynesmith puts it in her biography of Cicely Neville the disinheriting of the children from the first marriage wouldinevitably set generations of Nevilles at odds with one another and contributed to the baronial infighting of the Wars of the Roses’.  W E Hampton wrote:‘Ironically,  the brilliant and unjustly favoured offspring of his second marriage were to bring about the destruction of the houses of Lancaster and Beaufort while the issue of the first marriage, although injured by their stepmother,  were to support Lancaster and Beaufort with results disastrous to themselves’ ( 1) Thus it’s highly likely Ranulph’s fierce Lancastrian loyalty would no doubt have been learned at his mother’s knee.   Ranulph married Eleanor FitzHugh, daughter of  Henry FitzHugh, 5th Lord FitzHugh with their marriage appearing to have been childless.

Ranulph who came from an old Cumbrian family and was an MP for Cumberland before inheriting his father’s peerage is rather a shadowy figure but we do know he was a seasoned soldier (2). W E Hampton tells us that he  possibly fought at Wakefield, while certainly fighting both at Mortimer’s Cross and at the second battle of St Albans.

George Goodwin, author of Fatal Colours tells us he was ‘a soldier experienced in the harsh clashes of raid and counter raid in the Scottish borders; he had organised the Lancastrian Commission of Array in Cumbria in 1459 and has probably done so again in 1460-61’ (3).

 He commanded the rear left wing at Towton,  his brother-in-law, Henry Lord Fitzhugh fighting alongside Ralph as one of his lieutenants as well as  Humphrey, Ranulph’s brother (4).  Both Henry and Humphrey managed to make their escape from the horrendous carnage that day but Ranulph was fatally wounded by an arrow after he had removed his helmet to drink to quench his thirst.

He would be taken for burial in the churchyard of the  nearby All Saints Church Saxton.    This would seem strange, a 15th century nobleman being buried in a churchyard,  when it was usual practice for people of high status to be interred inside the church and as close to the altar as possible.  However when you learn that Ranulph’s horse was buried with him it immediately makes perfect sense.  Prima facie the first reaction to the  story of his horse being buried with him may be to groan and ask if it is yet another one of those local myths – like willow stakes pinning bodies down at Stoke or dead kings being thrown into the River Soar at Leicester etc – that have evolved over the years, usually a creation of the Georgians.   But no – it is actually true.  W E Hampton writing in 1979 stated that Ranolph was ‘buried in an upright position with his horse under him. In March 1787,  John Rogers,  Vicar of Saxton, dug up the skull of Lord Dacre and in 1861 the sexton, while digging a grave close by, dug into the horse’s skull. It’s vertebrae extended into its master’s grave. In 1863 a bed of concrete was laid over the grave which was not again disturbed and on which the monument was reerected (5).

A W Boardman in an article in 2021 taken from his book Towton 1461: The Anatomy of a Battle goes into more detail.  Boardman, although understandably, is unable to offer any explanation as to why Ranulph’s horse was buried with him,  explains that the metal clamps securing the tombstone were broken in 1749 to bury a Mr Gascoigne – honestly those ruddy Georgians again – disturbing the illustrious medieval dead to bury their mediocre gentry!  The identical thing was done in 1709 when the remains of George Duke of Clarence and his wife Isobel Neville were turfed out of their vault in Tewkesbury Abbey to enable to burial of a ‘periwig-pated alderman’  – what an absolute disgrace!   Ooooops I’ve gone off on a tangent here, again, and back to Ranulph’s tomb.  Boardman continues that during the digging of the grave for Mr Gascoigne ‘a skeleton was actually found in a standing position. Later, when a further grave was being dug beside the tomb, a horse’s head was found with its vertebrae extending into Dacre’s grave. A letter dated 23 January 1882 confirms these two burials, although most of the excavations in Saxton churchyard, and later at Towton, were local, amateurish, and not recorded by archaeologists‘.  The letter – which is now in the Lotherton Archives, Leeds Museums and Galleries –  was written at Saxton Vicarage by a George M Webb to a Colonel Gascoigne is printed here in full

My Dear Sir,
When I was at Craignish we had some conversation on the battle of Towton, which was fought in this Parish on Palm Sunday (March 29th Old style) 1461.
I then said that I would try to get hold of a Pamphlet which I had seen on this subject, & let you have it to read. I have not forgotton my promise, but regret that I do not recall where to lay my hand upon this source of information. I have lately had some conversation with the son of the old Sexton who dug the grave close to Lord Dacre’s tomb, and who himself was assisting. He tells me that when they had got down about 6 feet, they came upon the skull of a horse, and from the position of it, and the vertebrae of the neck, it was made plain that the body of the horse extended actually into Lord Dacre’s grave.
This discovery is a wonderful verification of the tradition in the village that Lord Dacre’s horse was actually buried with him in the churchyard. I have in my possession a portion of this skull which I hope some day to have the pleasure of showing to you. The body of the horse undoubdtedly yet lies in Lord Dacre’s tomb, as I understand the Sexton did not make any excavations further than were necessary in digging the grave he had in hand
. The ‘portion’ of the horse’s skull retrieved from the grave is today held in the British Museum (6).

So there we have it.  We will frustratingly never know why Ranulph was buried with his horse and we can only speculate.  Was it a favourite, even well loved,  steed?  Such is the uniqueness of such a burial in the 15th century that it is clear that Ranulph himself must have left instructions that his horse should be interred with him in the event of their deaths on the battlefield. This request no doubt necessitated the burial to take place in the nearest suitable place to the battlefield rather than take Ranulph home for burial which would have been more of the norm for someone of high status. It also necessitated burial in the churchyard rather than inside the church. Clearly Ranulph preferred a burial with his horse outside open to the elements rather than a fine alabaster tomb inside that would endure for much longer. Now due to being outside the tomb which displays Ranulph’s heraldic achievements on four sides has become much weathered, the abbreviated Latin inscription harder and harder to read until now almost impossible. Fortunately it has been noted by the Towton Battlefield Archaeology Project and translated before one day it disappears forever:


Here lies Ranulph, Lord of Dacre and Gilsland, a true knight, valiant in battle in the service of King Henry VI, who died on Palm Sunday, 29 March 1461, on whose soul may God have mercy, Amen.


Close up of the weather worn lettering on the monument.  Taken from Towton Battlefield Archaeology Project video.


Harder to decipher with each passing year soon, sadly, the lettering will be no more. Taken from Towton Battlefield Archaeology Project video.


A drawing of Lord Dacre’s tomb and heraldic achievements.  Leodis and Elmete by R. Whittaker 1816.

Over 550 years later, fittingly,  the remains of 41 soldiers found in a mass grave at Towton Hall in 1996 were reinterred next to Randulph’s grave, a brave man and of steadfast loyalty,  who gave his life fighting for the cause he believed in.  

  1. Memorials of the Wars of the Roses p.52. W E Hampton 
  2. Henry Fitzhugh 5th Lord Fitzhugh. quoting.BP2003 volume 1, page 1013.
  3. Fatal Colours p.181.  George Goodwin.
  4.  Memorials of the Wars of the Roses p.228. W E Hampton.
  5. Ibid 
  6. History Mondays. Online article @  A W Boardman 2021.

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The Last Stand of Martin Schwartz and his German Mercenaries at the Battle of Stoke Field 16th June 1487.  Unknown artist Cassell’s Century Edition History of England c.1901.

The battle of Stoke Field fought on the  16th June 1487 has been discussed elsewhere extensively so there is no need for me to go into it here.  I would recommend for those who have not already done so, to read Lambert Simnel and the Battle of Stoke by Michael Bennett and Stoke Field The Last Battle of the Wars of the Roses by David Baldwin should they wish to delve more into the story.   I want instead to focus on the aftermath of that awful day with its tragic outcome  –  the final fall of the House of York and the destruction of its last leaders –  but mostly the lost burial place of John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln (c.1460-1487) whose parents were John de La Pole,  Duke of Suffolk and Elizabeth Plantagenet, sister to two kings.   At the end of the battle, as per usual, the vast majority of the dead would have been buried in huge pits not far from where they fell.  It is believed because of the elevated levels of parts of the churchyard of St Oswald’s,  East Stoke,  that some of the more fortunate,  if that is the right word, may have been taken there for burial in consecrated ground where they lie today.  Let us hope so.


St Oswald’s East Stoke.  Because of the elevated areas in the churchyard it’s believed that some of the dead were brought from the battlefield for burial here.  Could Lincoln have been among these..? Photo Viona Fearn @flikr.

Quite often though, the families of the higher status dead would somehow be able to retrieve their dead, take them home and give them honourable burial.  I will return to this point later.   As an example the body of John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, slain at  Bosworth in 1485,  was laid to rest at Thetford Priory while the bodies of Richard Neville,  Earl of Warwick aka The Kingmaker and his brother John Neville,  Marquess of Montague were both retrieved after Barnet in 1471 to be entombed with their ancestors at Bisham Abbey.  These names are the ones that spring to mind but there are many others including those returned to England after dying abroad such as Edward, Duke of York who fell at Agincourt and was brought home for burial in the family mausoleum at Fotheringhay.  However we do know, thanks to Virgil,  that the terminally suspicious Henry,  taken aback at the ferocity and resolution of the smaller rebel army, assumed  that there ‘must be yet further members of the conspiracy who at an opportune time and place would join with them’ gave instructions that Lincoln was to be taken alive to enable Henry to  get to the bottom of things.   No doubt he was peeved when his plan went awry,  Lincoln falling in the midst of the battle,  and did this, in turn, lead to him in a fit of pique,  to order the burial of Lincoln in a common burial pit?  In any event it is reported by some historians that the dead Yorkist leader was buried there and then on the battlefield (1) If so what the thoughts of his parents were on an already tragic situation made even worse by the totally unacceptable burial place of their eldest son are unrecorded.   The callousness of the treatment of Lincoln’s body is on a par with that of the dishonourable treatment we know was meted out to the slain Richard III with many wounds to his body dealt after he was dead and long past harm.   But finally Richard was handed over to the friars of Greyfriars in Leicester,  who were then able to give him a decent if hasty burial with the usual funeral rites of the time. With hindsight is it possible that the dead king narrowly missed being buried unceremoniously on Bosworth battlefield because it been necessary to have his remains displayed as proof that he was indeed dead? Because sadly Henry’s callous treatment of his  fallen enemy two years later, if true, leads me to conclude that he was indeed capable of making these quite shocking and at the very least spiteful decisions.  Let’s make no mistake about it by 15th standards the burial of a fallen leader of high status on unconsecrated ground at a time when it was fully expected for all Christian people to be buried on hallowed ground would have been considered heinous and it’s inconceivable that the burial of Lincoln would have taken place on the battlefield without the authority of Henry VII.    These were the days when to conform to the strong Christian beliefs of the times strenuous efforts were made, as much as humanly possible,  to return the dead to their homes for burial by their family and even the poorest of people would have hoped to be buried in their own communities where the prayers of their families and friends could assist them through purgatory (2).  Of course in a battlefield situation with many thousands of men dying in one day it would be difficult to conform to these ideals in the immediate aftermath of battle for the rank and file but certainly in cases of those of high status, being easily recognisable,  it would have been achievable to return them to their homes and families even if this entailed moving them great distances.     Should you want to read more on this subject I recommend Where are the dead of Medieval Battles? A preliminary survey written by Anne Curry and Glenn Foard where the matter is covered in detail.

So we can see how abhorrent this act would have been considered even in those brutal days.  Now here’s a thing – oddly enough the unorthodox,  inappropriate burial place of Lincoln was not recorded in any of the contemporary accounts of the battle, such as the Heralds Account,  which is exactly where you would expect to find it.  For example the city of York’s account of the rebellion written in June 1487 does not single out Lincoln for mention other than he was present with Lovell and  that  ‘ther was a soore batell, in the which therl of Lincolne and many othre aswell Ynglisshmen as Irissh to the nombre of 5000 wer slain and murdered….’  The Heralds Report written 1488/89 recorded  ‘…and there was slain the Earl of Lincoln, John, and diverse other  gentleman….’  The French Chronicler Jean Molinet writing c.1490 wrote  ‘There died the Earl of Lincoln, most noble and renowned in arms,  Sir Martin Schwartz,  a most enterprising knight and of greatest courage. ‘ How about the judgemental Bernard André who penned the Life of Henry VII? He wrote ‘the Earl of Lincoln, moreover, came to an end worthy of his deeds, for he was slain in the field… ‘   You would have thought he, after writing so fulsomely about the Tudor king,  would have delighted in spreading the whereabouts of the ignoble burial place of the fallen Yorkist leader who had had the sheer gall to challenge Henry VII!.   Vergil writing in c.1503-13 merely tells us that Lincoln was slain amongst the other Yorkist leaders.    So no mention anywhere, you will note,  of Lincoln being interred on the battlefield.  Of course the crux of the matter/problem is that wherever it was that Lincoln was buried it was not noted at the time.  But whether this should lead us to conclude he was therefore buried on the battlefield and just left there –  something which has never happened to a high status person before as far as I know – I remain unconvinced.  


John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln’s parents: John de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk and Elizabeth Plantagenet.  This is their tomb and effigy in Wingfield Church, Suffolk.

However where there is a dearth of actual facts you can always rely on local folklore to fill you in with the missing minutiae.     And this is indeed what happened with Lincoln for a  local tradition evolved that not only was Lincoln buried on the battlefield but that a willow stake were driven into his body – why? did they fear he would rise vampirelike on the stroke of midnight to forever haunt the poor, hapless locals?   Another version metes out the same fate to Martin Schwartz.    Now call me sceptical if you like but I find this rather hard to swallow although it may have indeed happened for all I know.    However as shown above I can find no primary source for this but a book written in 1828 about Stoke Field  by R P Shilton has repeated this tale.  Shilton described how in an area known as Willow Rundle there were two ancient willow trees  which had grown from the willow stakes that were driven into the mens bodies.  It is unclear whether he himself saw the trees, willows have very long lifespans apparently, or whether he was merely informed that once they had grown there.  However it would hardly be surprising to find willow trees growing in an area known as Willow Rundle would it? (3).    You honestly couldn’t make it up –  oh!  but wait you actually could.  However moving on….  Also to be found at Willow Rundle, which was situated on the southern side of Elston Lane which leads to Elston Village, is an ancient spring (for clarity I would point out that so  garbled are these tales that I’m not sure if the area was known as Willow Rundle or the spring itself?)    Willow Rundle  for some reason,  seems to have been quite a breeding ground of lurid folklore including one about the spring suddenly gushing forth from nowhere after a Yorkist soldier by the name of –  wait for it  – Willie Rundle –  quelle surprise – who dying from his wounds prayed to his patron saint for a drink.  This old chestnut is easily put to bed because the spring had already been there centuries before when it was used to provide water for a nearby  leper house.  To be honest I think we can safely put both those tales out to pasture as well as a couple of others.   However  all is not lost for there is another tradition,  one which actually sounds quite plausible this time,  and that is near to the spot where it is said Lincoln fell stands an ancient chapel known as Elston Chapel and that it is to this place he was taken for burial.     Built in the 12th century it’s quite small and modest,  as chapels tend to be, comprising of only a nave and small chancel but is it possible that Lincoln was taken there for burial?


The simple and unassuming interior of Elson.  Could Henry VII have allowed the quiet burial of Lincoln to take place here? Photo

 Could Henry have ordered Lincoln’s burial in this small unassuming chapel thinking upon the lines that no doubt both the burial and grave would soon be forgotten about in such an unpretentious setting and without name or  monument?  Which,  if so,  is actually what transpired.  Interestingly in a place of such simplicity a painting uncovered on the north wall by restoration work depicts a coat of arms.  


Elston Chapel.  Small and unpretentious  – could Henry VII allowed the quiet burial of John de la Pole here? 

Of course the fly in the ointment in this version is that surely either Lincoln’s parents or his wife, Margaret,  would have had his body retrieved if they had known about his burial in the humble chapel? Unless of course they were never informed.  Margaret  was the daughter of Thomas Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel and Margaret Woodville, the sister of Edward IV’s queen, Elizabeth Woodville, thus both she and her deceased husband were cousins to Henry Tudor’s wife, Elizabeth of York.    Would these familial links have played a part in softening Henry’s hard stance enabling a more suitable burial place for Lincoln than one on the battlefield?   Perhaps the original story about his burial upon the battlefield of Stoke is true – but I would say minus the willow part.  If so it was a shabby, dishonourable and quite shocking act which  reflects badly on Henry Tudor who seemed to be capable of mean hearted acts at times of his greatest triumphs.  He famously predated the beginning of his reign to the day before Bosworth so that those who fought for their rightful king could be labelled as traitors.  Did he also have the body of a person of royal linage, John de la Pole Earl of Lincoln, cousin to his wife,  buried in an unmarked grave on the battlefield at Stoke?  I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt here  – that he allowed Lincoln an honourable if simple burial in Elston Chapel.


Henry VII.  Artist known.  National Portrait Gallery.

  1. Pole, John de la, Earl of Lincoln. Oxford DNB. Rosemary Horrox.
  2.  Where are the dead of Medieval Battles? A Preliminary Survey.  Anne Curry and Glenn Foad.
  3.  ‘The Battle of Stoke or Burham Fight’ R P Shilton. 1828.

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St Andrew’s Church, Wingfield and the Tombs of the de la Poles




‘Is this a prologue, or the posy of a ring?’
‘Tis brief, my
’ *


This beauty is reputed to have been given by John of Gaunt (1340-1399) to his mistress and subsequent third wife, Katheryn Swinford (1350-1403).  The inscription reads ‘alas for fayte’ which was probably a nod to Gaunt and Katherine’s illicit love affair.  

Medieval Posy rings!  What a delight they are and how I have longed to own one but the bank balance say No and unless I dig one up in my garden that is likely to remain the case.   Posy, or poesy rings,  took their name from the old French word poésy which alluded to the short poetic  engraving – usually  inside the ring but sometimes on the outside –  and which worn next to the skin would only be known to the giver and recipient. Popular from medieval  to the 17th century I am focussing here on the earlier medieval ones.  How nice to think that in those times when, broadly speaking,  only the lower classes were  able to wed someone of their own choice –  betrothed couples, who were often marrying the partner of their parents choice or even older couples where the status of their spouse was paramount –  were often going into marriage with feelings of affection or that love grew later.  Anyway its all extremely romantic and whats not to like?    However to  return to the ring said to have belonged to Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster.


The engraving, worn next to the skin and therefore only known to the giver and recipient, reads ‘alas for fayte’



Katherine Swynford,  Duchess of Lancaster’s posy ring.  All photos thanks to Berganza Jewellers who sold the ring to a private buyer. 

Described as being set centrally with a cabonchon sapphire,  the sprays of flowers were originally enhanced with enamel.  C.1360-1400 with documentation relating to the provenance of the ring.  


A recently discovered posy ring found by a metal detectorist in Dorset:


Described as two intertwining gold bands symbolising two lives joined together.  Set with a diamond in the centre and the inscription in French ‘leo vos tien foi tenes le moy’ which translates as ‘I keep faith with you, keep it with me’. 

After its discovery, the ring was sent to the British Museum to be dated and authenticated.   Experts who researched the ring were able to identify the man who had owned the land where it was found – Sir Thomas Brook – and have gone on to speculate that he may have given this valuable ring to his wife,  Joan,  on the occasion of their wedding day in 1388.   The ring was found in an area covering the site of a medieval bowling alley and possibly Lady Joan may have lost the ring while playing an early form of croquet.  Who knows?  It’s a charming story though and has a ring of truth about it (did you see what I just did there!).   Anyway – it’s easy to image the lady’s horror, whoever she was, when she realised her beautiful ring was missing and mourning its loss long afterwards.

             ******IMG_9240Gold band.  Early 15th century. Engraved on the outside on the interior +hert.tought.lyfe.and.lust.   Victoria and Albert Museum.



Made c.1250-1300.   Set with a polished cabochon sapphire.  Engraved around the edges with the words AVE MARIA GRA[CIA],AMOR VINCI[T] O[M]NIA – Translates as Hail Mary.  Love Conquers all/Love overcomes all things.  Given to the Victoria and Albert Museum by Dame Joan Evans.



Mid 15th century.  Gold set with a spinel.  Inscribed on the outside ‘pour amor, say douc’, meaning ‘for love, so sweet’. This ring was found on the Thames foreshore at Bankside.  Now in the Museum of London.


This ring was discovered by a metal detectorist on the 19th April 2015 in a field nearby to the village of Green Hammerton in North Yorkshire. Double bezel mounted with a cabochon ruby and emerald.  Photo Warski. 

English 15th Century. Engraved in Norman French ‘ne meur bon’  followed by an image of a heart which translates as ‘a good heart never dies’. The ring was declared treasure under the terms of the Treasure Act (1996) and local museums were given the chance to buy it from the finder. However sadly none of the museums were able to raise the funds and it was sold privately.



Gold and inscribed on the outside with the words ‘tout pour vous’ which translates as ‘all for you’ and  sprays of flowers that were once enamelled.  Made in the 15th century and discovered near Thame, Oxfordshire


Not a posy ring but an early finger ring dating from c1400. Found by a metal detectorist in the area of Bolnhurst and Keysoe (Bedfordshire) in 2013.  Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

Now I know, I know  –  this is not a true posy ring but I’m sneaking it in as its far, far too lovely not to.  Dating from around the time of  the reign of Richard II the ring would have been set off by the sumptuous fashions of the times. Two pearls of the original four pearls  are missing but the pomegranate-red garnet is still intact.


Now here is the little hidden detail that has given me cause to include it although of course its not an engraving as such  – the letters A and M are artfully included beneath the decorated shoulder of the ring….

The collet is supported by two gold, openwork letters – A and M – underneath the decorated shoulders of the ring – as the invocation of Ave Maria  (Hail Mary).   How sumptuous is that! Perhaps my favourite of all the rings I’ve come across in my search for posy rings…



Apologies for the quality of this photo.  I’ve included it because of the poignancy behind it.  Discovered  by archaeologists from MoLA during the excavations at St Mary Spital the outside of this ring is engraved with the words ‘[Je] ne weil aymer autre vous’ (I am not seeking to love anyone but you). 

St. Mary Spital Augustinian Priory and Hospital was founded in II97 and was the second largest infirmary in London covering the area known today as Spital Square.  It stood for over 400 years until it was demolished in 1540.  It had two infirmaries the smallest one of which was for higher status patiences.  It was in the rubble of one of these infirmaries that this ring was found after being lost  presumably by one of the patients whose story is lost to us now.



This gold ring is very small and  thought to have been made for a child.  Dated to the mid to late 15th Century.  Now in the London Museum.

This small ring measures just 17 mm across.   The size indicates it was a child’s ring and possibly for a betrothal.  Decorated with engraved leaves which originally  had alternating black and white enamelling.  Interior of the ring inscribed with the words ‘nul autre’ (none other). 

I hope you have enjoyed our little meander into medieval posy rings – and now  I shall return to digging my garden….

*Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2.  William Shakespeare.

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Revolting Remedies from the Middle Ages. Edited by Professor Daniel Wakelin.  Published by the Bodleian Library Oxford.

Under the Dreaming Spires of Oxford – well Oxford University to be precise – a group of students have compiled and transcribed this entertaining selection of remedies from  medieval manuscripts in the Bodleian Library  Here in their book – Revolting Remedies from the Middle Ages, edited by Professor Daniel Wakelin,  the remedies are reproduced with one page in the original Middle English and a translation on the facing page in  modern English (1).  Make no mistake about it, this little book is a delight, and if it doesn’t raise a chuckle even on the most glummest of days then nothing will.  It should be remembered the remedies in the book have been chosen for their sheer wackiness. This places them apart from the numerous other more sensible, mundane remedies that medieval people used,  perhaps if they could not afford a doctor,  but which in some cases, would have been a better and safer option, with many of the ingredients such as verbena and fennel still used in the herbal supplements used today.  However, returning to the book, not all of the remedies included therein were for nasty diseases or debilitating illnesses but cover a wide spectrum of conditions ranging from a Leaky Bottom/For goyng out of the foundement  to those who had an annoying abundance of zits –  or zitties to be precise  –  or even unwelcome freckles/frekenes –  to those who wished, understandably,  to stop dogs barking at them.  There was also solutions for those who were uncomfortable with people staring at them such as making yourself disappear.  Worryingly a remedy for returning oneself back to visibility was not included.  Perhaps the invisibility wore off gradually in its own good time? Great fun but not without its risks.

The students who took part in Professor Wakelin’s course, which teaches people to read manuscripts from the seventh to the sixteenth centuries ‘tested their research skills on these medical manuscripts: the handwriting and the medical terms are a challenge. But having sat in the library pained by this work, they came back cured by laughter at the rude or remarkable remedies they found. They hope, now that they’ve transcribed and translated them, that you will enjoy them too’(2). Well I for one thoroughly enjoyed them and heartily recommend this charming little book. Below is just a sample of the delights therein. For clarity it should be noted the illustrations are not included in the book.


A  scribe busy at his work.  BL.Royal I 8III, f.24 the British library

For goying out of the foundement/For a Leaky Bottom

Tak henne egges and seth tham in vynegre, and mell it with oyle of lorellmes and sett thin ars theron oft times, till it be hole.  Another: Tak poudre of herte horne and cast to thin ars.  Another: Tak frankencence and seth it in water, and wesche the sore therwith, and late the breth go vp in to the foundement.

Take hens eggs and boil them in vinegar, and mix it with  oil of laurels, and sit your arse in it many times until it’s healed. Another. Take powder of a hart’s horn and put it up your arse.  Another take frankincense and boil it in water, and wash the sore with it and let the steam from it go up your bottom.

To save one from sword or gone ore any wepen/To protect yourself from a sword, gun or any other weapon

Write thes words and letters in virgin parchment and carri them aboute you : ff velle tofetis achætum + zadit   + tizadit + zadan abi atit + zadne et = æd b + abiat + + + b x in + d + + h + z + o + eliam + l + ff + m + P + v + j.  Yf you be in dought of thes, prove it apon a dogge which is all rede.

Write these words and letters on blank parchment and carry them around with you: ff velle tofetis achætum + zadit   + tizadit + zadan abi atit + zadne et = æd b + abiat + + + b x in + d + + h + z + o + eliam + l + ff + m + P + v + j. If you doubt this will work test on a dog which is completely red.


This poor gentleman obviously did not have the necessary paperwork with him on the very day he needed it the most….

However in the eventuality that the above did not have the desired effect and one found oneself badly bashed up – although still alive – help was still available:

For a man that is sore ybete/ For a man who’s been painfully beaten

Tak weyhore and boyle it in good feyn ale, and drynk it ferst a morwe and last an evene; and make hym a bed in hot horse dongge, and ley hym therinne.

Take cudweed and boil it in fine ale, and drink it first thing in the morning and last thing at night, and make the patient a bed in a pile of steaming horse dung, and lay him in it.

ce255a29316cdd5536_The booted man discovered on the Tideway site at Chambers Wharf in London (c) MOLA Headland Infrastructure

The remains of one unfortunate who did not survive the horse dung treatment being examined by 21st century archaeologists.  With apologies to the Museum of London (MOLA).

For swellynge of ballokys/For swollen bollocks

Take bene mele and vyngre, and tempere hem well togidere and make a plaster thereof, and ley therto, but lete it come a ny no feer,  for it mote be colde.  And if thu have gret benys, stampe hem and tempere hem with hony, and make a plaster, and ley to the sore al colde.  Also take rewe and wermode, stampe hem in a morter, and temper hem togidere with hony, and make a colde plaster, and ley therto.  

Take ground beans and vinegar, and blend them well together, and make a plaster from it, and lay it on the swelling,  but never let it get close to the fire because it must be cold. And if you have large beans, grind them and blend them with honey, and make a plaster and lay it on the sore all cold. Also, take rue and wormwood, grind them in a mortar and blend them well together and make a cold plaster and lay that on the swelling..


Medieval manuscript illustrations of gentlemen with swollen bits being a slight tad too explicit for this blog, here, instead, is a depiction of a man with earache.  Hopefully this will suffice……..


Treatment for earache.  Artwork from the late 13th-century French work ‘Li Livres dou Sante’.

For love/For love

Take thi swetyng yn a fayre bason and clene and afterwarde put hyt yn a wytrial of glas, and put therto the shavyng of the nedder party of thy fete and a lytyl of thy oune dong ydryet at the sune, and put therto a more of valurion.  And take to drynke, whane that ever ye will, and he schall love the apon the lyght of thyn yene.  And thys ys best experiment to gete love of what creature that thou wolt.  And Y, Gelberte, have ypreved that ofte tymys, for trewthe.

Catch your sweat in a nice clean basin and afterwards mix it with sulphuric salt, and add to it some shavings from the back of your feet and a little of your own dung dried in the sun, and add a root of the herb valerian. And take a swig whenever you want, and he will love you as soon as he catches your eye. This is the best proven method to win love from whomever you want.  And I, Gilbert, have proved this many times in truth


Gibert gets lucky yet again…  ‘Tender Embrace’ artist Master of Guillebert de Mets c.1425.  Flanders. Walters Art Museum.

Medicine for a man that is costyf/Medicine for a man who is constipated.

Tak and roste oynones, and ley to his navele, ymenged with may botre, and make hym wortes of hockes and stanmarche, percilie of violet; and gyf hym ete therwith sour bred, and drynke smal ale; and gyf hym a subposotorie of a talwe candele in hys fundement.  And so use it, for thou be hol. 

 Take and roast onions, and lay them on his navel, mixed with unsalted butter, and make him a vegetable stew made of mallow plants, horse parsley and parsley of violet, and give them to him to eat with sour bread, and give him light ale to drink, and give him as a suppository a tallow candle up his bottom. And do all this, so that you get better

To mak a man to pyse wele/To make a man piss well.

Take him and set hym in a vat nakyd, and close hym upe to the hede drafe, as it comyth fro the ale, the space of an owre.  Than wache hym in hoot water, and brynge hym to bede, tyl he have wel slepte.  

Take him, and put him naked in a vat, and cover him up to the head in new dregs that have come from brewing the ale, for an hour long. Then wash him in hot water, and put him to bed until he’s slept well.

Another maner medicyne to make heer to growe/ Another kind of medicine to make hair grow

Take ladanum, and disolve it in puryd hony; and take an herbe that hatte capillus verginis (that is to say mayden heer) and stampe hym in a morter of bras, and hony therwith.  And when it is smale inowghe, wryng it thurw a canevas, and put therto the ladanum, and set it on the fyre, and lete it boyle or velme but onys, and set it doun and let it kele.  This wil make heere grewe ovyr alle.

Take the resin of the citrus bush and dissolve it in purified honey, and take a herb called capillus virginis (that is Maidenhair fern) and grind it in a mortar made of brass, with honey in it.  And when it’s ground down finely enough strain it through canvas, and add the resin and set it on the fire, let it boil or bubble over only once, then take it off the fire and let it cool. This will make hair grow everywhere


Beehives. Tacuinum Sanitatis  (14th century)

For the emerawdys/For haemorrhoids

Take botyr and talwghe, bote claryfied, and white oyle and alum icalcit, of all ylyche moche.  Sette hem in a panne over a leuke fyre, til they been resolvyd.  Than sette it doun and stere it, til it be colde.  Anoynte hym that hath the emerawdys wyth this oynement, as far wythine the fundement as thou mayst, and then take a rostid oynoun and, as hoot as he may suffre, bynde it to his fundement.  Serve hym thus ofte and he schal be hole.

Take butter and animal fat, both purified, and white oil and a reduction of alum salt, the same amount of each. Set them in a pan over a lukewarm fire, until they’re liquefied. Then take it off the fire and stir it, until it’s cold. Anoint the man who has the haemorrhoids with this ointment, as deep inside his bottom as you can, and then take a roasted onion and, as hot as he can bear, bind it to his bottom. Treat him like this often and he’ll soon get better.

For bledyng at the nose/For a nosebleed.

Yif a man blede at the nose, take and ley his ballokkys in vinegre; and take a clowte and wete it wel in vynegre, and than wete wel the place bytwene his browys and al his forhed.  And if it be a woman, take and ley hir brestys in vinegre.  And it schall staunche anoone ryght.  

If a man is bleeding from his nose, grasp his bollocks and lay them in vinegar, and take a cloth and douse it well in vinegar, and then wet the spot between his eyebrows and all his forehead. And if it’s a woman, grasp her breasts and leave them in vinegar, and the nosebleed will stop right away


I hope you have enjoyed these delightful, if rather earthy, examples of our ancestors remedies for their, sometimes,  embarrassing medical problems.  As Professor Wakelin points out the remedies also leave us with an insight into the ‘ingenuity and bravery of the men and women of the Middle Ages’ who paved the way for today’s medications and herbal treatments that we sometimes take for granted.  Bravo and we salute you!


Two women exchange a remedy.  Le Régime de Corps c.1265.  British Library MS Sloane 2435

  1. Daniel Wakelin is the  Jeremy Griffiths Professor of Medieval English Palaeography in the Faculty of English, University of Oxford.
  2. Revolting Remedies from the Middle Ages. p.11. Ed.Prof. Daniel Wakelin. Bodleian Library.

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The peaceful garden…a tranquil spot to sit a while in the busy heart of the City of London.  Photo Haarkon 

St Dunstan-in-the-East was already ancient when John Stow wrote about it in his Survey of London Written in the Year 1598.  Not to be confused with St Dunstan-in-the West, Stow described the church as a fair and large church of an ancient building and within a large churchyard’.   First mentioned in records in 1271-2 although it would have, of course,  been older.  It had also been known at different times  as St Dunstan towards the Tower c.1271;   St Dunstan by the Tower c.1293  and St Danstan near Fanchurch in 1361 (1).     Time having finally caught up with this grand old lady and, by then being in a  perilous state,  the church was rebuilt c.1633.  I’ve been unable to discover how much, if any,  of the old medieval church was preserved and incorporated in this rebuilding but it is known that one window still retained its geometrical tracery from c.1260.  Also unknown is what become of the burials of the numerous medieval Londoners inside the church  but I fear the worse.


Wisteria overhangs a doorway… Photo Wikipedia.

Standing within a  parish that was home to many affluent Londoners the interior of  the church was rich with their tombs and monuments.  Thanks to Stow we know some of their names and the dates they were buried: 

John Kenington, parson,  1374; William Islip, parson 1382; John Kryoll and his brother Thomas 1400; Nicholas Bond, Thomas Barry both merchants, 1445; Robert Shelly 1442, Robert Pepper, grocer (obvs!); John Norwich Grocer, 1390; Alice Brome wife to John Coventry, sometime mayor of London 1433; William Isaack, draper and alderman 1508; John Ricroft sergeant of the larder to Henry VII and his son Henry VIII, 1532; Sir Bartholomew James, Draper, mayor, 1479, buried under a fair monument with his lady; Ralph Greenway, grocer,  Alderman, put under the stone of Robert Pepper, 1559;  Thomas Bledlow, one of the sheriffs 1472;  James Bacon, fishmonger, sheriff, 1573; Sir  Richard Champion, Draper, mayor, 1568;  Henry Hudson, Skinner, Alderman 1555;  Sir  James Garnado, knight; William Hariot, draper, mayor 1481, buried in a fair chapel by him built, 1517; John Tate, son to Sir John Tate, in the same chapel in the north wall;  Sir Christopher Draper, ironmonger, mayor 1566, buried 1580.  And many other worshipful personages besides whose monuments are all together defaced (2).

Only just 33 years after the rebuild of 1633 disaster struck.  In 1666, on the evening of the third day of the Great Fire of London,  Wednesday 5th September,  the terrible conflagration reached St Dunstan’s.  Stout efforts were made  – ‘a strenuous contest had waged for the preservation of St Dunstan-in-the-East’  – led by John Dolben, Bishop of Rochester and Dean of Westminster.   Dolben had been a soldier priest in the English Civil War and had fought for the Royalists at Oxford.  At Marston Moor while carrying the colours he had received a musket ball in the shoulder.  Whilst in York when it was besieged he was shot in the thigh breaking the bone.  This was not a man to stand by idly while London went up in flames!   ‘The peril of the fire revived the soldier spirit beneath the cassock.  Assembling the Westminster school boys in a strong company,  he marched at their head through the city to the eastern limits of the fire, and there kept them hard at work for many hours, fetching water from the back of Saint Dunstan’s.   They extinguished the flames in the houses crowded closely together and the church isolated by their efforts, conspicuous over the City by reason of its high leaden and steeple,  stood after the Fire of London was out,  grievously defaced, it is true, but perhaps not the mere ruin to which so many others were reduced’ (3). 

St Dunstan had survived albeit blooded with almost all of the side walls standing.   The repairs and rebuilding including the Spire and Tower designed by Sir Christopher Wren,  would amount to £1,071 and were completed more speedily than many other more badly damaged churches.  We know it was still in a ruinous state in 1668  thanks the helpful entry  Samuel Pepys made into his  Diary on Thursday 23 April of that year.   Mr Pepys who had spent the day at the Cocke Alehouse with some female friends eating lobster and being mightily merry,  as you do,  described in his diary what happened when after he had dropped the ladies off home,  he attempted to take a short cut home through the ruins of St Dunstan’s: ‘it being now ten at night; and so got a link; and, walking towards home,  just at my entrance into the ruines at St Dunstan’s I was met by two rogues with clubs, who come towards us. So I went back, and walked home quite round by the wall, and got well home, and to bed weary, but pleased at my day’s pleasure, but yet displeased at my expence, and time I lose’  (I could say serve him right but that would lead me to  digress….. ).  To return to Sir Christopher Wren who,  it was said,  was  particularly proud of St Dunstan’s.   Upon being told one morning that a hurricane had damaged many London spires, he remarked, “Not St. Dunstan’s, I am quite sure”. 



In 1810 St Dunstan had become again ruinous and a  further rebuild would take place in 1816,  with thankfully, Wren’s Tower and Steeple being incorporated.   However in the last quarter of the year 1940 St Dunstan was badly bombed during the Blitz although miraculously both Wren’s Tower and Steeple, as well as some walls survived intact.  A decision was made not to rebuild this time but instead to turn the remains into a peaceful and tranquil garden.    St Dunstan,  not for the first time almost nearly utterly destroyed,  arose yet again,  phoenix like,  from its ruinous state.   Although no longer in its former guise as a church but a beautiful and atmospheric ruin,  I’m sure if inclined,  it would still be an appropriate place to sit and offer up a prayer.

Today a serene haven, awash with wisteria and ivy,  in the middle of the hurly and burly of the City of London,  St Dunstan-in-the-East  provides a welcome refuge for the  office workers, tourists and Londoners who go there to seek a tranquil spot in which to sit and rest for awhile.



A traceried window at St Dunstan-in-theWest. Photos


An early postcard of the interior of St Dunstan-in-the-East.


19th etching of St Dunstan-in-the-East.  Unknown artist. 

  1.   A Dictionary of London 1912. Henry A Harben.
  2. A Survey of London Written in the Year 1598 p.p.129.130
  3. The Great Fire of London p. 55. W G Bell.

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The Cheapside Hoard.  Discovered beneath the floor of an ancient cellar during the demolition of 30-32 Cheapside in 1912. How the owners of such jewels must have shimmered in the candlelight.  Photo 1websurfer@Flikr.

The Cheapside Hoard as it has become known was discovered in June 1912 at 30-32 Cheapside when workmen were demolishing a trio of 17th century post-Great Fire of London houses.  The cellars of the original medieval houses destroyed in that fire of 1666 had survived the conflagration and it was somewhere from beneath their floors that the Hoard was recovered.   Although the exact spot is now lost to us newspaper reports of the time recorded that the cellar was 16 foot below street level.  This would accord with modern archaeological findings which have uncovered other footings and remains of other similar brick lines structures at the same depth.  Also unknown is what type of receptacles were used, if any,  to bury the Hoard in.   I will return to this later but for now let’s take a little look at Cheapside itself. From early medieval times Cheapside was famous for its mercers, goldsmiths and jewellers  (the terms jeweller and goldsmith were largely interchangeable in those times and sometimes both terms were applied to the same person in the same documents) who sold their sumptuous wares there.   Known as early as 1067 as Westceape  (to differentiate it from Eastcheap, the market at the east end of the city) and the Chepe of London in 1257,  it was undoubtedly  one of the glories of old London, wide enough for a market – from which it first got its name – to be held in the middle of it as well as joustings (1),

30-32 Cheapside was situated on the corner where it joined Friday Street and was owned by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths whose ownership it had been in for centuries.  In the 15th century Thomas Wood, a goldsmith who was also a Sheriff of London at one time, had there built a large timber framed structure, four stories high,  which he would later give to the Goldsmiths Company in 1491.  Comprising of 10 houses and 14 shops,  Stow  in 1598,  was to describe this structure as ‘the most beautiful frame of fair houses and shops in England’.  This structure became known as Goldsmiths Row.  Later on further houses and shops would spring up along that area of Cheapside which would eventually become generally known as Goldsmiths Row.  It was somewhere in this area that our goldsmith plied his trade.  Behind the handsome facades would spring up numerous workshops, vaults,  countinghouses,  gilding chambers, storerooms as well as living accommodation (2).  No doubt this led to a lot of coming and goings, old tenants and new tenants etc.,  Unsurprisingly all was not always harmonious with squabbles breaking out which sometimes caused the Goldsmiths Company  itself to get involved and arbitrate.   One example is when one tenant,  George Lansdale,   caused other tenants to complain  when he set up a furnace in his cellar which  ‘he doth verie dangerouslie mainteyne  and work’.  It transpired that George had tunnelled  through his privy  walls  to vent the smoke into the street so that noxious fumes wafted through the adjourning properties ‘ to his neighbours great disquiet of mind’.  When George refused to remove the furnace he was henceforth hauled off to prison.  Another situation which caused great indignation arose when John Hawes took  sneaky advantage of his neighbour Edward Wheeler‘s absence in the country to break down the wall between them.  He then extended his own property by a few inches but worse still exposed parts of Wheeler’s  study ‘wherein were  divers writings’ and other personal papers.   This was just not on and  Officers from the Company  inspected the damage.  Hawes had to pay Wheeler 20 shillings in reparation (3). 

The properties we are interested  had five stories with garrets at the top and cellars running beneath them.   Over time they had become multi tenanted with rooms divided into smaller rooms and shops so it is now impossible to know which tenant,  subtenant  or even sub-subtenant was responsible for the burying of the Hoard.   It’s all rather mysterious however the most popular theory seems to be that it was buried by our unknown goldsmith prior to making an escape before the Great Fire of London reached  the wooden façade of his home and workplace.   However as the fire did not wreak its terrible destruction on Cheapside until its third day, Wednesday 5 September,  it’s puzzling why our most certainly usually astute goldsmith did not make his escape with his stock well before then.  Indeed most of the Cheapside goldsmiths having sufficient warning had already stored their valuables in the Tower of London and ‘thanks to this wise precaution their individual losses were insignificant compared with those of other tradesmen’ (4).  Could the burying of the Hoard have occurred in 1665 when the Great Plague cut its deadly swathe across London and Londoners left in droves if able to do so?   But this scenario also begs the question why was the valuable stock not taken when the owner made his escape if he indeed did.  Was he one of the casualties of that terrible pestilance?    Perhaps there was some sort of skulduggery involved.  Robbery, even murder?   Frustratingly we will never know and presumably the person who buried it died quite soon after having done so.

The Discovery.

Stony Jack

George Fabian Lawrence aka Stony Jack in his office at Wandsworth. 

Now enters our story – drumroll! – a gentleman by the name of George Fabian Lawrence aka Stony Jack (1862-1939).  Mr Lawrence had a multifacited career as a pawnbroker, dealer, collector of antiquities and sometime employee of both the Guildhall and London Museum (5).    He had struck up an understanding and rapport  with the labourers who were regularly employed in the demolition of the buildings of old London.  They became aware that if they handed anything over of interest to him they would be rewarded.  Often to be found wandering around building sites Mr Lawrence would later say that “ I got to know a lot of navvies.  I thought what a lot of stuff was being lost because they did not know what to look for.  I decided to try to teach them.  I taught them that every scrap of metal, pottery, glass, or leather that has been lying under London may have a story to tell the archaeologist, and is worth saving.  They were apt pupils and hardly a Saturday passed without someone bringing me something.   I got 15,000 objects out of the soil of London in 15 years for the London museum alone.’ (6).   

In turn the navvies would duly pass on the word that the ‘bloke at Wandsworth who buys old stones and bits of pottery. Got a little shop full of them.   He’s a good sport is Stony Jack. If you dig up an old pot or a coin and take it to him, he’ll tell you what it is and buy it off you.  And if you take him rubbish, he’ll still give you the price of half a pint’.  

Even though accustomed as Mr Lawrence was to navvies bringing  him interesting finds he must have thought all his Christmas’ had arrived at once the day the first navvy rocked up at his door bearing a sackful of treasures unearthed from beneath the cellar at  30-32 Cheapside.  One of the navvies made the comment ‘We’ve struck a toy shop I thinks guv’nor!‘ when he unloaded his brightly coloured finds still encased in clods of earth.   In the following days other navvies would turn up, their pockets or even hats full of treasures until the amount of their finds accumulated to almost 500 pieces – all now piled up in Mr Lawrence’s office.  While nearly all the discoveries were taken to Mr Lawrence its clear that  a small amount was sold to other purchasers and it was said some navvies disappeared for long periods being able to live off the rewards they had received when they sold their findings elsewhere.  Casting that thought aside though and on with story –  Mr Lawrence wished to hand on the Hoard to a new and at that time,  still unopened museum, which was then taking shape.  This was the London Museum.  Excited phone calls took place and the Hoard was taken to the home of the Director  of the embryonic museum, Mr Lewis Harcourt later Viscount Harcourt,  in Berkeley Square.   A  silence then followed on the Hoard  for the next two years until the opening of the London Museum.   However, cutting to the chase, following both the British Museum and  Victoria and Albert Museum catching  wind of the Hoard there then ensued what can only be called an rather unseemly tug of war.  To pour oil on troubled waters some items from the hoard were given to the British Museum.  This understandably left the Victoria and Albert Museum feeling slightly miffed leading to a flurry of disgruntled memos to the Treasury asking if the treasure had been dealt with in the correct way. i.e. as treasure trove.  However by then the Hoard had slipped through the Treasury’s net and would remain where it was i.e the greater part of it in the London Museum.  Some 80 items were given to the City Guildhall Museum but in the passage of time both the Guild and the Museum of London were to unite and the bulk of the hoard  was once again under the same roof.

The Hoard Itself.

Here is just a small selection  from the fabulous treasures in the Hoard.


Scent bottle – enamelled gold, opals, opaline chalcedony, diamonds, rubies and pink sapphires.  

IMG_9065Fan handle.  Suspension loop to attach to a belt. Photo Museum of London


Fan handle: Columbian emeralds and white enamel.  Feathers  could be held in the flared opening while a loop allowed the fan to be attached to a belt.   Museum of London; photo by Robert Weldon/GIA


Gold wirework pendant decorated with enamel and pearls which would be stitched onto the edges of garment. Several of these were included in the hoard.  



Two of the numerous buttons in the hoard.  This one cloisonné enamel. The one above gold with rubies.  Museum of London; photo by Robert Weldon/GIA


Thought to be one of  the most valuable items in the Hoare – the emerald cased watch.

 Gold pendant  in form of a cross, enamelled at back and set with light-coloured rose-cut amethysts.  Photo Museum of London.   


Pin with the head in the shape of a ship the hull formed from a large baroque Pearl.  Shaft modern.Photo Museum of London. 

IMG_9047A pendant of emerald and enamelled gold in the form of a grapevine.


The stunning Salamander broach.  Columbian emeralds,  Indian diamonds and white enamelled legs.  



Three examples of the numerous rings in the hoard. The top one with a superb diamond. 

IMG_9184A bodkin.  One of three in the Hoard.  This one gold and turquoise in the shape of a shepherd’s crook.    To pin a coil of hair in place.  Photo Museum of London.


Sapphire Pendant.  Possibly for wearing in the hair.  


The charming parrot or popinjay cameo.  Carved from Columbian emerald.  Popinjays,  as parrots were then  more commonly known.  were popular pets since medieval times.  Henry VII was known to be particularly fond of them but I digress…

At the time of writing anyone travelling to the Museum of London to view the Hoard will be unlucky as it is not on display for the time being.   However a purpose-built gallery for permanent display of the Hoard is planned for the Museum’s new home in West Smithfield which is scheduled to open in 2024.

I have drawn heavily for this post from Hazel Forsyth’s excellent book The Cheapside Hoard, London’s lost Jewels, Museum of London’s informative website and the beautiful photography of Robert Weldon/GIA.  Many thanks.  

  1.  A London Dictionary of London p.186.  Henry A Harben 1912.
  2. The Cheapside Hoard,  London’s Lost Jewels p.22. Hazel Forsyth.
  3. The Cheapside Hoard:  London’s Lost Jewels p.24. Hazel Forsyth.
  4. The Great Fire of London p.64. Walter G Bell.
  5. The Cheapside Hoard,  London’s Lost Jewels p.45 Hazel Forsyth
  6.  Daily Express 27 June 1928.

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The façade of Sir Paul Pindar’s house in Bishopgate.  Now in the Victoria and Albert Museum.  Photo Victoria and Albert Museum Collection

Sir Paul Pindar acquired the site in what was then known as  Bishopsgate Street Without in 1597 and begun building the house, later known as Pindar’s House shortly afterward at the corner of Half Moon Street then known as Half Moon Alley (1).     Bishopsgate standing just outside the city walls meant the house managed  to survive the Great Fire of London as well as a further disastrous fire in 1765 when many of the other fine timber buildings were destroyed.     After Sir Paul’s death the house morphed into a tavern called ‘Pindar’s Head’.   Sadly it was unable to  survive awful neglect nor the march of progress I’m afraid to say.  In 1890 it was demolished to make room for an enlargement of Liverpool Street Station.    Over the centuries prior to the demolition the ground floor had been much altered but the upper two stories of  the façade remained much in their original state and it was this wonderful frontage which  was presented to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London where it remains today.  From this small surviver of what had once been a grand mansion we able to to catch a glimpse of how splendid the old  buildings of the well to do were in Old London.  On the first floor behind the projecting window lay a large reception  room with fine moulded plaster ceilings, an elaborate chimneypiece and oak panelling.


Stype’s map of Bishopsgate in 1720.  Sir Paul Pindar’s house is arrowed and stands on the corner of  Half Moon Street known as Half Moon Alley in Sir Paul’s time.  


Photo c.1890 showing the house when it was a tavern known as the Sir Paul Pindar. The entrance to Half Moon Street formerly Half Moon Allen can be seen to the right.


First floor exterior.  Photo Victoria and Albert Collections. Still with glass although this has sadly been removed as it was not contemporaneous with the rest of the façade  Personally I think this was a bad move as with the glass, which was still very old, there was a much better impression of how the house looked in its heyday.  Still I am not an expert. 


Close up of first floor façade.


Second floor of the house.  Glass removed.

Room on the first floor. Etching by John Thomas Smith c.1815.

Façade of Sir Paul Pindar’s house now minus the glass.


Sir Paul Pindar  Unknown artist.  1794 Engraving on paper.

Sir Paul Pindar c.1565–1650 was a successful and very wealthy merchant and diplomat  who would go on to be Ambassador to Constantinople – now Istanbul.  Born in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, he was the second son of Thomas Pindar of that town and it was the initial intention that he would go to university.  However the young Pindar chose to go down the mercantile route and he became  apprenticed aged 16  to Mr Parvish an Italian merchant.   Paul, who must have made a good impression of himself on his master,  would find himself sent to Venice as his master’s representative where he stayed for the next 15 years.  While there he used his time wisely, prospering and gaining useful knowledge of Italian banking systems.  Robert Ashton, Sir Paul Pindar’s biographer tells us:  ‘this bore fruit in the later years of James I’s reign in Pindar’s interesting, though disregarded, proposal for the establishment of an English national bank which would benefit the crown by furnishingexacte knowledge of the trewe estate of everye perticular man, by meanes wherof dewties might be Imposed proportionable to the effectuall valliditie of mens trewe Estates’ While this consideration alone might account for the failure of such proposals to attract the English mercantile community—at least before 1694—even more significant was Pindar’s suggestion that deposits in the bank would provide a potential source of loanable funds ‘uppon which his Majestie may prevayell at pleazure eyther by Consente or withoute the privitie of the Propryetaryes at all tymes’ (2). 

During his stint as English Ambassador,  which begun about 1611,  he was knighted while on a visit to England in 1620 by James Ist.  He was by this time wealthy enough to have ‘purchased a diamond from Turkey valued at £30,000 which he sold on to James Ist on credit to wear at divers times on days of great solemnity’.   The diamond was next sold to Charles Ist by whom  it was transmitted into funds for securing the safety of  Queen Henrietta Maria and her children during the Civil War (3).   Sir Paul  would finally return to live permanently in England in 1623 after which he would invest much of his wealth into the management of custom farms.   His wealth allowed him to make generous financial gifts including £10,000 towards the rebuilding of St Paul’s Cathedral.  He has been described as an ardent royalist making  massive personal loans to both James Ist and Charles Ist, particularly to the latter in 1638–9 ‘when he advanced in all about £93,000, £8000 of which was for a large pendant diamond for the king in May 1638. ‘This Sir Paul,  observed Sir Edmund Rossingham, ‘never fails the King when he has most need‘.    However Charles’ downfall and execution in 1649 meant that his debts to Sir Paul were never repaid.  This would sadly leave Sir Paul, at the very end of his long life,  with massive debts when he died aged 85 on the 22 August 1650.  He would be buried  on 3 September in his parish church,  St Botolph without Bishopsgate, to which  he had been a generous benefactor.   This church was demolished in 1729 but we do know  his epitaph read he was ‘faithful in negotiation, foreign and domestick, eminent for piety charity, loyalty and prudence’.   He had never married and in his will dated 24 June 1646 he left one-third of his estate to the children of his nephew who had predeceased him, and another third to his executor and kinsman, William Toomes. Tragically in 1655 William Toomes  ‘took his own life after failing to satisfy Pindar’s debts and legacies since, of the £236,000 at which Pindar’s estate had been valued in 1639, desperate debts now preponderated.  Also largely irrecoverable was the final third of the estate, consisting of miscellaneous legacies to friends and relatives (4). 

Although the final months  of Sir Paul likely were troubled with money worries as the reality of not being able to pay his debts kicked in,  I would like to think that he was still in his fine house, looked after and supported by loyal friends.  For he was a kind man and perhaps his only fault was to be too trusting and loyal to people who were not worthy of neither..

  1.  A London Dictionary p.476 Harben H A Harben. 1912.
  2. Pindar, Sir Paul (1565/6–1650) Robert Ashton.  Oxford DNB 3 January 2008. See also BL, Lansdowne MS 108, art. 90.
  3. Medieval Houses in St Giles Cripplegate and St Botolph Bishopsgate.  Rosemary Weinstein. London Topographical Society Journalol. Vol.XXV 1985. 
  4. Pindar, Sir Paul (1565/6–1650). Robert Ashton.  Oxford DNB 3 January 2008

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A delightful artist’s impression of ‘Richard Whittington dispensing his charities’.  Artist Henrietta Ray before 1905 oil on canvas.  Royal exchange.

Even the most disinterested in history children would recognise the name Dick/Richard Whittington and also his best, and only friend,  his cat,  most of them being familiar with the rather delightful folk story, which dates back to the 17th century,  as well as perhaps even more so,  the pantomime.   As they watch and excitedly yell ‘Behind You. …  !’ etc., they are probably unaware that Richard Whittington was a real man who lived in medieval times  and although sadly he did not have a cat he did much good and the results of his benevolence still, astonishingly,  survive up until today.

Richard Whittington c.1350-1423 was born in Pauntley Court Manor House in the small village of  Pauntley , Gloucestershire and presumably he was baptised in the ancient parish church there,  St John the Evangelist.    He  was the son of Sir William Whittington d.1358, a landowner and  Joan Maunsel (1).


Pauntley Court Manor house today.  It was here that Richard Whittington was born c.1350


St John the Evangelist Church, Pauntley, Gloucestershire.  It’s highly likely Richard  was baptised in this ancient church.

It is said  Richard’s father was experiencing some financial difficulty but in any case being the third and youngest son and thus highly unlikely to stand much chance of coming into a useful inheritance he was apprenticed at an unknown date to a London mercer.  The mercers of those times dealt with the wonderful luxurious fabrics worn by the nobility and  well to do:  silk, linen, fustian, worsted, and luxury small goods, and the wealthiest of the trade expected to participate in the export of English wool, woollen cloth, and worsted, and to import the other merceries (2).    While some young men may have ended up bitter,  twisted  and truculent by being sent away from their families to take up a trade instead of effortlessly inheriting the family jewels,  young Richard seems to have taken to it like a duck to water becoming very proficient in his trade but perhaps it is more a modern trait to endlessly whinge about how unfair life can be and how hard done by you are.     He supplied his luxury goods to members of  the royal court and in doing so he  became a favourite of Richard II.   These members of the  nobility included  John of Gaunt,  Thomas of Woodstock, Henry Bolinbroke (the future Henry IV),  the Staffords and ‘royal favourite Robert de Vere to whom he supplied nearly £2,000 worth of mercery’.   The king himself now turned to Richard to supply his wants and needs.  Initially it was quite modest buys including in 1389 £11 for two cloths of gold which the king gifted to two knights who had come down from Scotland as messengers.   However  in 1392-4 Richard’s career as a mercer was on a roll when he sold goods worth £3,474 16s 8 and half pence to the Royal Wardrobe.  These goods includes velvets, cloths of gold, damasks taffetas and gold embroidered velvets.   Richard Whittington had arrived as they say.  Anne Sutton wrote that Richard II and his uncle Thomas of Woodstock were perhaps Richard’s most profit spinning customers.  Clearly the   goods Richard supplied, some from Italy,  must have been exquisite – he has been described by Caroline Barron as a  connoisseur of works of craftsmanship – and when Bolingbroke took the throne as Henry IV,  Richard would continue to supply Henry’s court with luxury wares.    These would include some of the sumptuous  fabrics required for the marriages of the king’s daughters Philippa and Blanche such as 10 cloths of gold for Blanche’s marriage at a total cost of £215 13s 4d and pearls and cloths of gold costing £248 10s 6d for Philippa’s nuptials.  

Besides providing wonderful things he also made many loans to Richard II as well as Henry IV and his son, Henry V.   At the time of Richard II was evicted from the throne he still owed £1,000 to our Richard.  The newly crowned Henry IV agreed that Richard should be repaid this amount.   Richard’s career,  now a very wealthy man, had evolved into that of a successful money lender particularly to kings and those of the nobility including Sir Simon Burley and John Beaufort, earl of Somerset.    From 23 August 1388 to 23 July 1422, he made least 59 separate loans to the Crown of sums ranging from £4 to £2,833 (3).

About 1402 Richard made an advantageous marriage to  Alice, daughter of Sir Ivo Fitzwaryn, a wealthy landowner who had no male heirs.  This marriage thus brought with it  the prospect of a generous inheritance.  In 1402 Fitzwaryn actually settled properties in Somerset and Wiltshire upon his daughter and new son-in-law but Richard,  ever preferring liquid capital to property,  offered the titles to his brother-in-law,  John Chideok,  for the sum of £340 (4).  However as things came to pass Alice predeceased both her father and husband.   Sadly there would be no children –  or surviving children –  from the marriage which seems to have been happy and when Alice fell mortally ill in 1409/10 Richard obtained a special licence from the king to bring a renowned Jewish doctor –  Master Thomas Sampson from Mierbeawe  – over from the continent to treat her.  After Alice’s death Richard would remain a widower for the rest of his life. 


Blue plaque outside 20 College Hill, EC4, the site of Richard Whittington’s London house.   College Hill which was first known c.1231 as Pasternosterchurchstreet commemorating the church that stood nearby later shortened to Pasternosterstret by 1265 and then to  ‘La Riole’  c.1303 after the foreign wine merchants to dwelt there named it after La Reole in Burgundy. It has also been known as Whytyngton Colledge.     

Other than his London house he owned only a small handful of properties one of these being  the manor of Over Lypiatt in Gloucestershire.   This particular property however had belonged to Philip Maunsell,  his maternal uncle up until 1395 when it was assigned in satisfaction for a debt of £500 to Richard Whittington,  the celebrated mayor of London.  This property Richard would eventually leave to his brother, Robert (5).


Here are listed just some of the innumerous offices held by Whittington:

Common councillor, Coleman Street Ward 31 July 1384-86

Alderman of Broad Street Ward 12 March  1394- 24,  June 1397.  Lime Street Ward by 13 February  1398

Mayor of London 8 June 1397-13,  October 1398,  13 October 1406-7 and 1419-20.

Sheriff,  London and Middlesex, March 1393-4.

MP for the city of London 1416

Commissions to make arrests, London March,  April, 1394, November 1407; of gaol delivery October  1397, June 1398;  oyer and terminer Sept. 1401,  March,  April,  October 1403, November 1405, May 1406, November, 1407, June, July 1409, May 1414, Feb. 1416, December 1417, November 1418.

To supervise the collection of Peter’s Pence in England August 1409; of inquiry, London January 1412 (liability for taxation), Dec. 1412 (seizure of merchandise),  January 1414 (Lollards at large), July 1418 (possessions of Sir John Oldcastle).

Appointed to to administer revenues for building work at Westminster Abbey December  1413; recruit carpenters for the same March 1414.

Warden, Mercers’ Company 24 June 1395-6, 1401-2, 1408-9

Member of Henry IV’s council 1 Nov. 1399-18,  July 1400.

Collector of the Wool Custom, London 6 Oct. 1401-5,  November 1405, 20 February 1407-26,  July 1410

Receiver General in England for Edward, earl of Rutland, by 7 May 1402

Mayor of the Staple of Westminster 3 July 1405.  Calais by 25 Dec. 1406 – 14 July 1413 (6).


Arms of Richard Whittington.  Drawing by E B Price.


Ah! I hear you say, but were not works of charity considered de rigueur for the wealthy of those times.  And yes although that is true Richard was always a generous benefactor,  giving to numerous good causes throughout his life and prior to his death,  so much so that his reputation as such has come down to us through the centuries.

In 1401/02 he donated £6 13s 4d  towards the building of a new nave at Westminster Abbey, perhaps because it was a project of his late patron, Richard II.

In 1409 he purchased the land close to his London home which lay next to his parish church and then acquired a licence to give it in mortmain to the rector, to allow the church to be rebuilt and a cemetery added. The task of rebuilding was completed by his executors.

In 1411 he contributed most of the funds for building and outfitting a library at Greyfriars including the amount of £400 for the books alone. The library at the Guildhall was also to benefit from his largesse.    

He funded a refuge for ‘yong wemen that hadde done amysse in trust of good mendement’  i.e. unmarried mothers at St Thomas’ Hospital, Southwark (7).

He financed numerous new conduits and fountains giving Londoners access to clean water. These included the fountains in St Gile’s Courtyard and north of the church of St Botolph.

Other good works included  the building of a public toilet known as Whittington’s Longhouse which had a total of 128 seats: 64 for men and 64 for women.  This was built on a dock overlooking the Thames in Walbrook Street in the parish of St Martin Vintry.  Survived until the Great Fire 1666 when it was rebuilt albeit on a more modest scale.


When he drew up his will on the 5 September 1421, childless and a widower, he left all to charity other than the above mentioned manor of Over Lypiatt.  The will which is long and very detailed can be found here for anyone who wishes to delve more deeply but here are just a few snippets:

I bequeath £100 to cover the costs of my funeral expenses and for saying vespers after my death, the Placebo and Dirige  and on the following day a requiem mass; together with a monthly remembrance for my soul, the souls of my father, my mother, my wife Alice, and all those to whom I owe a debt of gratitude. I bequeath 1d. for every poor man,  woman and child, to be distributed on the day of my funeral

I bequeath 40s. to be distributed, as my executors determine best, among poor people of the parish of St. Stephen Coleman Street, London

I bequeath 40s. to be distributed, as my executors determine best, among poor people of the parish of St. Michael Bassishaw, London.  I bequeath 40s. towards the structural fabric of St. Alphege church, London, that they may pray for my soul and those of the aforementioned. I bequeath 20s. to be distributed, as my executors determine best, among poor people of that parish

£10 to be distributed, as my executors determine best, among poor people in the hospitals of St Mary without Bishopsgate, St Mary of Bethlem and St. Thomas in Southwark, and among the lepers of Lock, Hackney, and St Giles without Holborn. I bequeath 20s. to be distributed, as my executors determine best, among the poor brothers and sisters of the hospital of Elsing Spital.

For the repair and improvement of roads in bad condition, £100 to be distributed as my executors determine best, where the necessity is most felt.

I bequeath for distribution among those imprisoned in Newgate, Ludgate, Fleet, Marshalsea and the King’s Bench 40s. each week for as long as £500 holds out.

I leave to my executors named below the entire tenement in which I live in the parish of St. Michael Paternoster Royal, London, and all lands and tenements that I hold in the parish of St. Andrew, near Castle Baynard, London, and in the parish of St. Michael Bassishaw, as well as in the parish of St. Botolph outside Bishopsgate, in the same city; so that after my death they may sell them as soon as they may conveniently do so and distribute the proceeds for the good of my soul and the souls already mentioned….

I wish that my executors have in their custody a chest, secured with three locks, containing my goods and jewels, to be distributed for the good of my soul; and that none of those who are my executors remove anything from the same except in the presence or with the consent of all as a group. I further wish that my executors maintain and support my household together with meals for my personal servants for one year following my death, as they determine best (8).

Upon his death in March 1423 Whittington was buried in the church he had rebuilt,  St Michael Paternoster Royal,  which stood on the corner of  La Riole,  now College Hill where his house once stood.    This street before it was renamed La Riole was known as Paternosterstret because of the rosaries that were made there and later Whytyngton College   In his will he had requested to be buried on the north side of the altar.   He had rebuilt the church as a collegiate church, that is administered by a college of priests, known as Whittington College, hence the renaming of the lane to College Hill.  This church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London but rebuilt.  A stone now marks the site of Richard’s original burial site in the rebuilt church.


Stone marking the site of the burial place and monument of Richard Whittington in the now rebuilt St Michael Paternoster Royal.  Photo

A rather shocking postscript to this story is told by Stow:

‘This Richard Whittington was in this church three times buried,  first by his executors under a fair monument, then in the reign of Edward VI,  the parson of the church, thinking some great riches, as he said, to be buried with him, caused his monument to be broken, his body to be spoiled of his leaden sheet,  and again the second time to be buried,  and in the reign of Queen Mary,  the parishioners were forced forced to take him up to lap him in lead as afore, to bury him the third time and to replace his monument or the like over him again which remaineth and so he resteth’ (9).

It is one of the few times reading the usually very reliable Stow that I hoped he may have got it wrong so awful is it.  I do hope the odious unnamed parson’s remains ended up on a dung heap where they belonged.   But I digress and its best left unsaid what I would really like to say about this vile creature, whose name remains unknown, while our good Richard Whittington lives on after over 500 years.  As Anne Sutton put it so succulently ‘What has survived, to be cherished and turned into a legend after his death, is the sense of civic and humanitarian duty which made him leave his personal fortune to the poor’.   Bravo dear man…you did well.


View of St Michael’s seen from along College Street as it appears today.   College Street,  formerly Elbow/Eldebowe/Bow Lane  should not to be confused with nearby College Hill where Richard Whittington’s house once stood (10).  The medieval church was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and rebuilt.  This church was badly damaged when hit by a bomb in 1944 leaving only the walls and tower standing.  As can be seen today these were incorporated when the church was rebuilt.    Re-opened in 1968.  Contains a large glass window commemorating Richard Whittington and his cat.

In 1436 a  fine epitaph was penned for Whittington by the author of The Libelle of Englyshe Polyce :

‘And in worship nowe think I on the sonne Of marchaundy Richarde of Whitingdone, That loodes starre and chefe chosen floure. Whate hathe by hym oure England of honoure, And whate profite hathe bene of his richesse, And yet lasteth dayly in worthinesse, That penne and papere may not me suffice Him to describe, so high he was of prise, Above marchaundis to sett him one the beste! I can no more, but God have hym in reste’  (11).

One last thing.  While it is true Richard Whittington, as far as we know, did not own a cat, its of course also perfectly possible that he did.  After all, then as now,  there is no better way to  to get rid of mices and so forth.  Therefore I would venture to say Richard Whittington did in fact own a cat although of course not the adventurous cat portrayed in panto but no doubt an affectionate and companionable fellow.   It therefore follows surely the Whittington family cat should have some sort of memorial too?  Look no further than Westminster Abbey who erected a stained glass window to Whittington and his cat, depicted here as ginger, on the north side of the nave:   Richard Whittington and his cat shown in the memorial window to

And here we have – drum roll –  the most famous moggie of medieval times –  Richard Whittington’s cat! Westminster abbey on the north side of the nave…

  1. Florilegium Urbanum Whittington’s Charity.  Online article.
  2. Whittington, Richard (Dick) c.1450-1423.  Oxford DNB.  Anne F Sutton
  3. ‘Richard Whittington’, Studies in London Hist. ed. Hollaender and Kellaway.  C M Barron.  See also
  4. Caroline Barron, “Richard Whittington: the man behind the myth”, Studies in London History  ed. A.E.J. Hollaender and William Kellaway, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1969
  5. BHO. A History of the County of Gloucestershire V II. 
  7. Stow p.274.
  8. Online article Florilegium Urbaniam – Religion -Whittington’s Charity.
  9.  Stow p.216.
  10. A Dictionary of London p.164. Editor I. I.  Greaves. London 1916.
  11. Libelle of Englyshe Polyce ed. Warner.

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