The Crystal Sceptre. Given by a grateful King Henry V to the City of London in recognition of the financial aid given towards the Battle of Agincourt. Photo The Lord Mayor of London @Twitter.
Some of the eagle eyed amongst you who recently watched the coronation of Charles III may have spotted a very special piece of regalia that was being carried not by the king but by the Lord Mayor of London. This extraordinary and exquisite artefact is known as the Crystal Sceptre and was given to the City of London by a grateful Henry V (b.16 September 1386 – d.31 August 1422) as thanks for the generous financial aid the City gave towards the funding of the Battle of Agincourt fought on the 25 October 1415. It had dawned on Henry in November 1414 – after announcing his plans for a French campaign in Parliament – that the resultant grant, which was to be collected via taxes in two instalments in February 1415 and February 1416, was not going to supply him with the ready cash he desperately needed up front to pay for the army he would be taking to France.
This was obviously a huge stumbling block and problem. What to do? The City of London was known to be a provider of loans in certain circumstances if they could be convinced to do so. Historians Sinclair Rogers and Anne Curry describe in their interesting article how Henry ‘to that end, and following customary practice, sought loans on the security of the tax grants’. However Henry stlll had to somehow persuade the City it was a good idea to agree to the funding. And so on the 10 March 1415 he duly ‘summoned the mayor and aldermen, and some of the more substantial citizens of London to the Tower of London to tell them that he intended to reconquer the possessions of the crown in France and that he needed money:
‘Well-beloved. We do desire that it shall not be concealed from the knowledge of your faithfulness, how that, God our rewarder, we do intend with no small army to visit the parts beyond sea, that so we may duly re-conquer the lands pertaining to the heirship and crown of our realm, and which have been for long, in the times of our predecessors, by enormous wrong withheld. But, seeing that we cannot speedily attain to everything that is necessary in this behalf for the perfecting of our wishes, in order that we may make provision for borrowing a competent sum of money of all the prelates, nobles, lords, cities, boroughs, and substantial men, of our realm, we, knowing that you will be the more ready to incline to our wishes, the more immediately that the purpose of our intention, as aforesaid, redounds to the manifest advantage of the whole realm, have therefore not long since come to the determination to send certain Lords of our Council unto the City aforesaid, to treat with you as to promoting the business before mentioned’ (1).
This astute little speech did the trick and the City offered the king a loan of 10,000 marks which equated to ‘£6,666 13s 4d which is worth almost £2,760,000 today. For security the Bishop of Norwich, Richard Courtney, treasurer of the royal chamber and keeper of the king’s jewels handed over : one great collar of gold, made of workmanship in crowns and beasts called antelopes, enamelled with white esses (i.e. in the style of the Lancastrian SS collar), and the beasts surcharged with green garnets; the charge being of two pearls, and each beast having one pearl about the neck. And each of the crowns is set with one large balass and nine large pearls; and in the principal crown, which is in front, there are set, in addition to the balass and the pearls, two large diamandes in the summit; and besides the crowns, there are other balasses therein, eight in all, the collar weighing 56 ounces in the whole…’ (2).
And so the financial bits taken care of Henry and his army sailed for France on the 12 August 1415. What happened after that is well documented elsewhere and I won’t touch upon it here but return to the crystal sceptre given in gratitude by Henry. Despite its great historical value it has remained rather a mysterious object that is sadly seldom seen by the general public being only brought out on rare occasions such as coronations – which as we know are very few and far between – and for the ceremonial swearing in of each new Lord Mayor. On a very rare occasion to mark the 600th anniversary of the St Crispin’s Day that fell on the 25 October 1415 it was put on public display in 2015 at the Guildhall Art Gallery for six weeks. St Crispin’s Day 1415 was of course the day when it is said 9,000 English and Welsh soldiers engaged as many as 36,000 of their French counterparts at Agincourt (3), I have to say I’m not so sure on the accuracy of these figures but it’s clear to see that the English and Welsh were vastly outnumbered and without this massive loan which paid for men, equipment and particularly the longbow archers who played such a pivotal role in the battle the day may have ended very differently possibly changing the history of England rather drastically. To mark his relief and delight at winning the battle a grateful Henry commissioned the sceptre which was presented to the City of London some time between 1415 and 1421 as a tangible sign of his thanks. .
The Battle of Agincourt. From the painting by Graham Turner.
Described as ‘17 inches long andmade out of two spiral stems of rock crystal – whichis thought to have been made in Paris – ironically perhaps, given the reason behind its creation – and was inlaid with gold. The jewels which decorate the crown at the top of the stem were sourced from the far corners of the known world; its red spinels from what is now Afghanistan, blue sapphires from Ceylon and dozens of pearls plucked from the seas of the Arabian gulf and traded in Cairo’ (4).
Photo Medieval Histories.
Photos with thanks to Paul D Jagger.
As Art Historian Dr Michael Hall points out:
“The most remarkable aspect of the story surrounding the Crystal Sceptre is that it is still safely in the hands of those for whom it was made 600 years ago – the City of London. As well as being a rare and surviving English royal treasury object, the precious materials – rock crystal, gems and gold – make it an object of great beauty which has been carefully hiding in plain sight for six centuries……” (5).
Henry V, as Prince of Wales. Artist Homas Hoccleve c.1411-1413
The gold crown at the top of the sceptre displays Henry’s coat of arms on parchment. Photo Paul D Jagger.
How has this precious treasure survived? During the republican protectorate of Oliver Cromwell when royal regalia and jewels were sold, reused or simply melted down the City authorities were worried that the precious Crystal Sceptre could go the same way and had it surreptitiously hidden away. A few years later in 1666 another great danger reared its head in the form of the Great Fire of London. This time it was the then incumbent Lord Mayor of London, Sir Thomas Bloodworth/Bludworth who saved the day ensuring that the sceptre was evacuated from the burning city. However the sceptre did not escape entirely unscathed in its long history for in the 1830s the stem’s central cut-glass boss was damaged so badly that it had to be replaced by the royal jewellers, Rundell, Bridge & Rundell. Casting this aside we should give thanks that this fabulous object has indeed came through the centuries in one piece and would to this day be recognised by Henry V, the grateful king, who gifted it in thanks for the financial aid given that no doubt contributed towards his victory at the Battle of Agincourt.
How did the City of London fund Henry V’s expedition of 1415? Sinclair Rogers and Anne Curry.
11 Oct 2015 Patrick Sawyer. Daily Telegraph.
Medieval Histories. Nature History Heritage
If you have enjoyed this post you might also like:
Artist’s impression of a medieval wedding being solemnised. ‘Frieze of a Medieval Wedding’. Artist Thomas Stothard (1755-1835) Yale Centre for British Art.
I have, in my most recent meanderings, meandered quite a bit. Of late I’ve meandered from the Plague Pits of London 1665 to Gleaston Castle, rendezvous point for the 1487 Yorkist Rebels, to Medieval Doggies and from there to Love and Marriage in Late Medieval London(1). I came across this interesting little book while in a meandering search looking for another entirely different book and very pleased I am – I have learnt much from it. The subject of medieval marriages has been covered very well elsewhere but why I found this book a delight was because it details cases that were taken to the 15th century London Church Courts (2).This was usually in an attempt to have a marriage validated rather then dissolved – and in doing so opening up a window into the everyday lives of people of lower social levels and enabling their voices to be heard centuries later. The need for these cases was triggered by the ease in which a marriage could be made but sometimes the difficulty in getting them later legally recognised (should someone try to opt out for example) as well as, should the worse come to the worst, unmade. There was no obligation to have a witness present, leading to some cases where one of the spouses changed their minds at a latter date – perhaps in the heat of the moment one of the parties had got confused as to what was actually going on – as you do – or had even suffered a convenient bout of amnesia. The examples given in the book are interesting and in great detail and it’s a great shame that the outcomes, because they were noted elsewhere, are unknown.
So how did one get hitched in those times. All it took was for A to say to B ‘I take you B tobe my wedded wife ‘and B to say to A ‘I take you A to be my wedded husband’ – known as present consent – and bingo! There was also future consent i.e. ‘I will take you…. ‘ which was immediately validated once consummation had taken place. In the case of the future consent marriage remaining unconsummated it could it be ended by mutual consent or if one of the partners made a present consent with someone else. This exchange of consent was known as a ‘contract’ and it was not required to have a priest in attendance although from the Church’s perception it was preferable there was.
I do not know the origin of this illustration but it seems to me to scream a ‘future’ consent thing could be going on here..?
Neither were witnesses obligatory although of course, that too was desirable. Of course all this only applied to marriages where both parties were willing and not being coerced. I’ll return to this later. The next step was to make it generally known to family, friends, employers and neighbours etc., with perhaps a wedding feast to celebrate.
A 13th century wedding party celebration? 13th/14th century manuscript.
Finally, although not in all cases, after the banns were announced the wedding would be solemnised by an official church ceremony which could be performed either at the church door or in the nave of the church. The Church would take a dim view if this final step was not undertaken and it was considered sinful not to go through this procedure even though the couple would remain married. That was it basically.
Folk that were slow to solemnise the marriage in a church ceremony would be subtly persuaded by the local clergy…
Despite the almost casual ease of two people being able to enter into marriage by performing the ‘ceremony’ themselves in a domestic setting without the presence of a priest – and assuming there were no impediments – marriage was nevertheless viewed as one of the sacraments of the Catholic church thus in the event a dispute arising it would come under the jurisdiction of church law which was known as canon law. Divorce being rare these disputes were usually about validating the marriage rather than dissolving it. And this is where the ease of making a marriage and where it was not a necessary requirement to have witnesses could prove to be problematical in the event of one of the spouses later wanting out for whatever reason. It would then fall to the injured/deserted party to prove that the marriage had taken place. The book states ‘the issue at stake was almost always, whether or not consent had been properly exchanged, and a contract made. In other words, the party bring in the suit, usually wanted the court to validate the marriage, not to dissolve it’.
Marriage was then considered more or less indissoluble and divorce was practically unknown although it could be sought in extreme cases on the grounds of adultery ,heresy, coersion or cruelty. It should also be remembered that a medieval divorce was nothing like a modern divorce. The divorce that was known as a mensa et thoro (from table and bed)was more a legal separation which freed the spouses from their obligation to live and sleep together otherwise known as their conjugal debt.However the couple still remained married and thus unable to marry anyone else. Divorcea vincula (from the bond)was more of an annulment where the marriage had been invalid from the very beginning an example being: ‘The most common basis for a divorce a vincula was a prior contract or bigamy. X was already married to Y when he made a contract with Z, and thus X’s marriage to Z never existed as X could not be married to two women at the same time’.
Then as now marriages failed and extricating oneself could prove to be a bit of a nightmare if not impossible. This led to some couples simply self-divorcing i.e. one deserting the other with or without their agreement and blessing. This may have solved some immediate difficulties but was nonetheless illegal and would have prevented the ex-spouses from making a second marriage unless of course one or both of them upped sticks and moved to a part of the country where they, and their marital history, were unknown.
NOT BOTHERING TO GET HITCHED? (Do not even think about it….! )
What about not bothering at all with the shenanigans ? Well it appears to me only the boldest couples would indulge in a sexual relationship outside of marriage. The opprobrium of an outraged neighbourhood would have been enough to shrivel the stoutest hearts. For example you might find a delegation of elderly, disapproving, neighbours bearing down the path to your door….Yikes!’
‘Marriage … as the foundation of the social system, it was considered to be of community concern as well. The wider community had both informal and formal means by which it encouraged or pressured men and women to conform to accepted norms and standards. If a couple were engaged in a sexual relationship without any moves towards marriage, those around them might bring informal pressure to bear. For instance, a deputation of the senior men of the neighbourhood might question a man about the nature of his relationship with a certain woman. If such encounters were unsuccessful in persuading, a man or a woman, to do the right thing, then more formal means existed. The leaders of the neighbourhood community might bring a case of fornication, adultery, or bigamy to the attention of the church courts. The local secular courts of the city also called fornicators and adulterers before them, and coerced them to marry or desist, such moral issues were of common concern (4).
As mention above as long both parties were willing and neither of them were under duress then all was well. However if this was not the case then there might be some wriggle room to seek a divorce a vincula. As mentioned above this was basically an annulment allowed because the marriage had never actually existed. This type of divorce/annulment was sought by a William Rote on the 10 March 1475. William declared that the contract/marriage between him and Agnes Wellys was invalid as it had been brought about under duress. William declared that when he visited the house of John Wellys one afternoon, taking with him a jug of ale to drink with John, the welcome was not as warm as he had expected. Instead a clearly incensed John raged ‘You have violated Agnes, my daughter and have known her carnally. You will contract marriage with her if I have to force you and you will be sorry’. William agreed he had known Agnes carnally, but even so, he had no wish to marry her thank you very much. Things rapidly went downhill after that : ‘Then John Wellys in the presence of Agnes Wellys and Thomas Barber and his wife took out a dagger as if he meant to stab William. John appeared to be very angry, and he was lifting his arm to stab this William when Thomas Barber stepped between them and Wellys pulled back. William took the opportunity to flee and run out of the house on to the public street. Agnes and her mother ran after him shouting ‘holde the thef’. They caught him and brought him back to the house where John Wellys was waiting. Still very angry Wellys said that unless William would contract marriage with his daughter, Agnes, he or someone else in his name, would give him a sign that he would take with him to his grave. Wellys said that he would bring William before the mayor and aldermen where he would be confounded by such embarrassment that the shame would compel him to contract marriage with Agnes, so as much from fear of his body, and from shame at appearing before the mayor and alderman, William contracted marriage there with Agnes(5)’ Afterwards William had summoned enough courage to take the case to court. Frustratingly we do not know the result of this case but it’s difficult to see how anyone emerged from it undamaged with possibly the reputations of both William and Agnes damaged beyond repair.
Despite the clear rules on the making of marriage contracts some people still pushed the boundaries and made more than one. This invariably led to problems further down the line when one of the parties kicked up a fuss and then it would be down to the court to decide which contract had taken place first and was thus the binding one.
In the case of Maude Knyff – who appears to have been a wealthy widow who had two gentlemen desiring to make her their wife – a witness, Arnold Snarynge, came forward who swore that on the afternoon of Wednesday 4 July 1470 he had been approached by Robert Grene who told him he had contracted a marriage with Maude. He asked Arnold to come, that afternoon, to Maud’s house to witness what would be said. This Arnold did and peering through the window he witnessed Robert, who he noted wore a gown of murrey, and Maud, wearing a black kirtle, standing in the parlour embracing. Robert, with his left hand, took from Maud’s left hand a gold ring. When that was done, Maud asked Robert to guard that ring well, out of love for her, because she would not want that ring to be lost, out of love for her deceased husband. She said to Robert, their hands still joined together, ‘Robert I shall never have husband but you and thereto I plyght thee my trouth a fore god’. Then Robert said, their hands still joined, ‘Gra mercy, maistress Mawlt, I shall never have other wyf but you and thereto I plyght you my trouth a fore God’. They then kissed one another. This Arnold testified that he would swear before the ‘Highest Judge in the day of Judgement’. This seems pretty clear. However, Maud would deny all. According to her, fifteen days or more ago, she and Robert Green were sitting together in the shop at her house in the road known as Snowhill in the parish of St Sepulchre without Newgate. They were talking together about certain matters but what they talked about she could not remember. While they were talking, Robert took her by the left hand and took a gold ring with a blue coloured stone from one of fingers against her will.
At this point a lady by the name of Joan Bristall enters the story testifying that a week earlier her husband had instructed her to go to Maud’s house that afternoon to witness Maud being affianced to a man by the name of Thomas Torbold. She found Thomas and Maud sitting together in the parlour. Maud then announced to her ‘Behold here is my husband’. Thomas then announced that Maud was his wife informing Joan ‘For the greater and more evident notice of this matter know that this Maud is my wife‘. He took her by the hand and said to her ‘I Thomas take you Maud as my wife as long as we shall live and thereto I give you my faith.’ Then Maud took him by the hand and said to him, ‘So am I, as longe as my lyf lastyth and the thereto I plgyht you my trough…’ . Thomas then declared ‘Behold Maude is my wife,’ and she said, ‘And you are my husband’ holding up the gold ring on the index finger of her right hand.
When questioned by the court Joan would give her opinion of Robert Grene. ‘He is a boy and a knave. I truste to god he shall have a fall in his matier and he shall be hanged. Fye on him, fals theff’.
Clearly someone was telling porkies but whom? Again, the outcome is unknown to this story. Did Thomas and Maud live happily together or was the marriage between her and Robert found to be the legal and binding one?
Entwined in a letter ‘S’ for ‘sponsus’ – latin for groom or husband – a man places a ring on a woman’s index finger. 14th century. British Library Royal MS 6 E VI, fol. 104
There are other numerous examples given in this interesting book covering some of the pitfalls of medieval marriages. Of course the majority would prove to be long lasting, loving and a great comfort in times that could sometimes be harsh and difficult.
Roman de la Rose. Oxford, Bodleian Library.
Love and Marriage in Late Medieval London. Editor Shannon McSheffrey. The Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages.
The Consistory Court of London between 1467 and 1476 and the Commissary Court of London between 1489 and 1497
Love and Marriage in Late Medieval London p.6. Editor Shannon McSheffrey. The Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages.
If you have enjoyed this post you might also like:
Gleaston Castle today. Entrance to south west tower. Photo Chloe Grainger @castlestudiestrust.org
Some of you reading this may be familiar with other posts I have written concerning what I call the Coldridge theory. For those of you who are not familiar with the theory here is a brief résumé. A number of clues in Coldridge church, Devon have led to a theory that Edward V was sent to Coldridge by Richard III to live incognito as John Evans where he was in time given the position of Parker. An important point here is that Coldridge was owned by Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset – Edward’s half brother. Another lead is that Richard sent one of his loyal followers, Robert Markynfield from Yorkshire to Coldridge on 3rd March 1484 which was two days after Edward’s mother, Elizabeth Woodville/Wydeville, left sanctuary at Westminster after making her peace with Richard III: Robert Markyngfeld/the keping of the park of Holrig in Devonshire during the kinges pleasure…(1). It was at this point that Elizabeth wrote to Thomas, who was then in France with Henry Tudor, telling him to return home …. all was well and that King Richard would treat him well. It was around this time Coldridge, which had been at that time removed from Thomas but would be returned to him when Henry Tudor took the throne, was granted by Richard to one of the most powerful men in Cornwall Sir Henry Bodrugan (2). Following Richard’s death at Bosworth 1485 and around the time news of the so called Simnel Rebellion (early 1487) was breaking, Henry Tudor would send one of his loyal followers, Sir Richard Edgecombe, to Cornwall to arrest Bodrugan and his son Sir John Beaumont, after accusations were made that they had ‘withdrawn themselves into private places in thecounties of Devon and Cornwall and stir up sedition’(3). Bodrugan made his escape and then rocked up in Dublin where he was a participant in the coronation of the youth who was crowned as King Edward (14th May 1487). Only later in Lincoln’s Attainder, November 1487, would the Tudor regime produce a younger boy of about 10 years old who they named – possibly after a cake? – Lambert Simnel – who was clearly a fake. However some historians even today seem unable to grasp this despite historian A F Pollard clearly stating that ‘No serious historian has doubted that Lambert Simnel was an imposter’. Bodrugan had been joined in Dublin by the Yorkist leaders Lovell and Lincoln and following the coronation the latter two left Ireland and arrived – with an army obvs – in Lancashire accompanied by the newly crowned king Edward. Their journey took them to East Stoke, Nottinghamshire, where the matter was concluded at the battle known as Stoke Field fought on the 16th June 1487.
The choir Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. Here the Yorkist rebels including Sir Henry Bodrugan and his son John Beaumont attended the coronation of the ‘Dublin King’. Photo with thanks to Diliff @ Flikr.
Following the rebels defeat at Stoke and the deaths of the leaders, the young king Edward, so recently crowned in Dublin, was discovered: ‘And there was taken the lade that his rebelles called King Edwarde, whoos name was in dede *John*, by a vaylent and a gentil esquire of the kings howse called Robert Bellingham’ (4). Well I never! Jean Molinet further reported that King Edward was taken and made prisoner in the town of Newarkbut after that what become of King Edward/John (Evans) has been carefully blotted out from history (5). However If the Coldridge theory is correct Edward/John Evans, possibly wounded or even disfigured, was returned there to live out the remainder of his life incognito. This Coldridge theory is littered with links and numerous coincidences similar to a jigsaw puzzle with new pieces being discovered and slotted into place regularly and I have now come across yet another possible link which could add weight to the theory that Thomas Grey Marquess of Dorset, half brother to the young Edward V/John Evans, was an important and vital cog in the wheel of this mystery allowing his properties to be utilised in firstly providing a sanctuary, Coldridge, for his young half brother and then a rendezvous point, Gleaston Castle, for the rebels in 1487. It’s thanks to an article in a Richardian Bulletin of June 2022 written by members of the South Cumbria Richard III Society group entitled Simnel’s real march to battle? that made me aware of the ownership of Gleaston Castle and its handy proximity to the feverish activity that took place in that area in June 1487. On reading the article I had a weird sense of déjà vu when I read‘the army’s most likely route would have to been to follow the coastline past Gleason Castle’. For Gleason Castle was owned, as noted above, by none other than Thomas Grey Marquess of Dorset. Thomas had come into ownership of Gleason castle the same way as he had come into ownership of Coldridge – that is via his lucrative marriage to wealthy heiress Cecilia/Cecill/Cecily Bonville (c.1461-1529). It may be that more importance should be placed on Cecilia’s role in this story than has been done so far. She came from a family of staunch Yorkists – her father William Bonville (b.1442) and grandfather, another William had both died at Wakefield on the 30 December 1460 where they fought for Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York. Her great grandfather, yet another William, had been ‘treacherously’ executed after fighting for York at the second battle of St Albans February 1461 (6). Her mother, Katherine Neville, was the sister of Richard Neville, later known as the Kingmaker, who took as her second husband that fiercely loyal Yorkist, Sir William Hastings, bosom buddy to Edward IV. Look no further for why the couple should be involved in what was such a highly dangerous enterprise. Besides a sense of familial loyalty to the young Edward V how much more advantageous for them both to have a Yorkist king – with links to both of them – once again sat upon England’s throne rather than the new Tudor one? This is the crux of the matter and it’s highly likely that the youth crowned in Dublin was the same lad that had been living incognito at Coldridge and also highly likely that he had been escorted to Dublin by Sir Henry Bodrugan, who was but a short time ago the owner of Coldridge but now rebel and fugitive.
Leaving the rebels for a while and turning to Gleaston Castle which stands on the Furness Peninsular in a part of Cumbria that was formerly known as Lancashire North of the Sands. The castle, also known as Glaiston or even Gleanson – was built for John Harrington, Ist Baron Harrington (b. 1281–d. 1347) in the 14th century. Sir John was knighted in 1306 and fought in the Scottish border wars. The castle then descended through several generations of the Harrington family until 1457 when it ceased to be a ‘manorial residence’ and passed through marriage to the Bonvilles (7). When both Cecilia’s father and grandfather fell at the battle of Wakefield on the 30 December 1460 fighting for Richard Duke of York, the castle would pass to her while she was still an infant. Following her marriage the castle, and Coldridge, then became the property of her husband, Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset. Although the reasons for Gleaston being abandoned as a manorial residence are unknown today, Dr Helen Evans and Daniel Elsworth the authors of an in-depth conservation report commissioned by Historic England, and funded by the Castles Studies Trust, have suggested that the abandonment may have been down to the civil unrest in the ‘early part of the reign of Henry VII’ as well as the ‘Bonville’s family’s political affiliation with the Yorkist faction during the reign of Edward IV’ . This civil unrest was of course was the Yorkist rebellion led by Lovell and Lincoln later named erroneously as the Lambert Simnel rebellion. The authors of the report suggest that this pertinent question – which was out of their remit at the time of making the report in 2017 – should be the focus of any future research into Gleaston. Bring it on I say. For if it indeed transpired that Thomas Grey, the owner of the castle, which stood so conveniently close to the landing point of the rebels, was so heavily embroiled in the rebellion to the point that he offered up Gleaston as a convening point then that would strengthen the theory that the young Edward V had been sequestered away at Coldridge – another Grey property. Henry Tudor, who may have been many things, but being a fool was not amongst them, had been informed at a council meeting at Sheen in February 1487 that Thomas Grey was up to his neck in rebellion – which Thomas, acting all offended like, strenuously denied – as you do. Perhaps, unable to get to the bottom of Thomas’ involvement in the plot, Henry prudently had him – now his brother-in-law – placed in the Tower for the duration of the rebellion. Meanwhile Thomas’ mother, Henry Tudor’s mother-in-law, Elizabeth Wydeville/Woodville, mother to the young Edward V, also up to her neck in the plot – quelle surprise – was without any further ado sent to Bermondsey Abbey for the duration of her life. And here may be the real reason why Gleaston was finally abandoned. Strangely the castle was never mentioned in neither Grey’s or Cecilia’s wills. Which is hardly surprising considering the castle’s role in the rebellion.
The castle then passed down through the Grey family until Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk was executed for treason in 1554. As a result, Gleaston Castle became royal property before it was bought by the Preston family in the 17th century, and then passed to the Cavendish family.
Interior of south eastern tower. Photo Chloe Grainger @ castlestudies.org
Now in a ruinous state and with a 19th century farm incorporated into parts of it, in its heyday it was a substantial building with walls 9 foot thick in some parts, consisting of a large hall and three stone towers joined by a curtain wall. Built at a time when that part of Cumbria – or Lancashire North of the Sands as it was then known – was subjected to regular Scottish border raids although it was probably also built as much to reflect wealth, status and comfort as defence with what archaeologists believe, a ‘pleasure garden’ in a landscaped area to the north. Think more fortified manor house than rugged castle. One hundred years after its abandonment it was reported to have become ruinous by the antiquarian John Leland who wrote ‘there is a ruine and waulles of a castell in Lancastershire cawlyd Gleston Castell sometyme longinge to Lord Harrington now to the Marquis of Dorset’. Evans and Elsworth also go on to say that while it is assumed that Gleaston Castle was dismantled after its use as a manorial residence ceased ‘17th and 18th century leases suggest parts of it were still habitable in those periods’. Although the location on the Furness Peninsula today appears to be remote, this is misleading, as historically access was easy either by boat or by crossing the sands of the Morecambe Bay estuary at low tide – a mere short walk (8)
To return to the rebellion. There is some debate as to where the rebels actually landed. Some believe it was Piel Island, or as historian David Baldwin prefers, somewhere else in the Furness Peninsula although this is not of overly importance to us because wherever it was would have been in close proximity to the castle. Baldwin also repeats the local tradition that the rebels spent their first night camped on Swarthmoor near Ulverston. Their route thereafter would have taken them via Newby Bridge, Kendal, Sedbergh and through Wensleydale (9). However Michael Bennett states the landing place was Foulney Island, ‘a safe natural haven which even at low tide was six fathoms deep’ and mentions ‘allies in theneighbourhood‘ (10). These allies would have included Sir Thomas Broughton who had fought for Richard III at Bosworth in 1485 and since making his escape from that place had been holding out in Furness Fells. Thomas’ brother John and the Huddlestons of Millom would also have been counted in the welcoming party. A further suggestion that Furness Harbour was the landing place was made by both Molinet who told of the rebels disembarking at a ‘harbour known as Furness’ and in Lincoln’s Act of Attainder which mentioned a ‘great navy in Furness in Lancashire’. Bennett mentions that the Abbot and convent of Furness, owners of the harbour as well as Furness castle, were slightly less than welcoming and at the most may have provided the rebels with food and supplies alone (11). The fact that the father of one of Henry VII’s most trusted agents, Christopher Urswick, was a lay-brother at Furness may have had some input in their reluctance to aid the rebels more than absolutely necessary. However, as mentioned above, wherever their landing place was should not bother us too unduly – wherever it was would have placed them but a short distance away from Gleaston Castle and a sheltered spot for meeting, greeting and getting their acts together. Bennett goes on to repeat the Swarthmore tradition, which lay less than 10 miles away from his choice of landing place, and agrees with Baldwin that their most direct route would have been via Newby Bridge, Kendal, and Sedburgh.
However, Gleaston Castle, if Gleaston Castle was indeed the rendezvous point for the rebels, was left behind by the rebels who continued onwards with their journey which reached its bloody and tragic climax at Stoke Field. The story of the Battle of Stoke is readily available elsewhere. I would recommend Michael Bennett’s Lambert Simnel and the Battle of Stoke and Stoke Field David Baldwin.
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.
1.Harleian Manuscript 433. Vol.1.
2. Harleian Manuscript 433. Vol.1
3. Cal.Pat.Rolls 1485-94.
4. Herald’s Report c.1488-90. Author: A Herald or pursuivant at the court of Henry VII.
5. Chronicles of Jean Molinet c.1490.
6.Memorials of the Wars of the Roses p.188. W E Hampton
7. Farrer and Brownbil 1914.
8. Gleaston castle, Gleaston, cumbria.Results of Aerial Survey and Conservation Statement 2016. Helen Evans and Daniel Elsworth. Castle Studies Trust.
9. Stoke Field. p.p.39.40. David Baldwin.
10. Lambert Simnel and the Battle of Stoke p.71. Michael Bennett.
11. Lambert Simnel and the Battle of Stoke. p.p.70.71. Michael Bennett.
If you have enjoyed reading this post you might also like:
‘May 29th 1666. Spent on the City Marshall at ye shutting up of a visited house . . Is.0d.’
Plague had always stalked England throughout the centuries with regular outbreaks such as the one known as the Black Death in the 14th century which brought death on such a scale that whole villages were so absolutely decimated hundreds of them were abandoned – the few survivors, if any, moving away perhaps reduced to beggarhood. But probably the outbreak that springs to mind for most of us is that of 1665 which became known as The Great Plague. The plague had been hovering about for the previous 30 years with some serious outbreaks such as the one in 1647 when 3,597 souls succumbed to it. Prior to that in 1603 there had been 33,347 deaths which led to the weekly publication of the Bills ofMortality. It probably never entirely left – trapped in the rancid, fetid alleys formed by the overhanging roofs of the timber framed houses that seem so picturesque to us nowadays. The light and fresh air could not permeate those dark, dank places that were often ankle deep in mud – and a lot worse besides – nothing more than open sewers dotted here and there with equally malodorous laystalls where dung, rotting animal carcasses and general refuse were deposited. Lord Macauley noted ‘The drainage was so bad that in rainy weather the gutters soon became torrents. Several facetious poets have commemorated the fury with which these black rivulets roared down Snow Hill and Ludgate Hill, bearing to Fleet Ditch a vast tribute of animal and vegetable filth from the stalls of butchers and greengrocers. This flood was profusely thrown to right and left by coaches and carts. To keep as far from the carriage road as possible was therefore the wish of every pedestrian. The mild and timid gave the wall. The bold and athletic took it. If two roisterers met, they cocked their hats in each other’s faces, and pushed each other about till the weaker was shoved towards the kennel. If he was a mere bully he sneaked off, muttering that he should find a time, If he was pugnacious the encounter probably ended in a duel behind Montague House'(1).
However the heavy frosts of the unusually severe winter of 1664 and the beginning of 1665 perhaps held the pestilence at bay for a while until the frost finally broke in March when the first deaths appeared in St-Giles-in-the-Fields which lay just outside the city wall as well as Westminster where several members from the same family are recorded as all dying suddenly from it. Plague had arrived (2).
People had already been nervous – a great comet had been seen in the sky in late 1664 and in a superstitious time this did not bode well as many thought. Soon the rich and whoever could manage it begun to exodus London – first in a trickle and then in a deluge. It should be noted however not all those that could leave did. An example is William, Earl of Craven (1608-1697). He was a member of the commission appointed to consider the best means of preventing the spread of the epidemic. He recommended the use of pest houses where the sick could be taken as opposed to cruely shutting up both the sick and well together in their homes until they all succumbed and died or in some cases went insane. William stayed put throughout the duration of the epidemic to perform his duties and was still present in London in 1666 when the Great Fire struck. A delightful little anecdote described how his horse become so accustomed to his master attending fires that he would automatically head towards where the fire bell sounded without any bidding. There was also some courageous doctors and apothecaries who stayed behind to perform their duties and who paid heavily for their bravery. Included amongst these brave medical practitioners was Samuel Pepys doctor. Pepys made the most of the opportunity and together with a friend ‘drank a cup of good drink’. He would go on to explain“I am fain to allow myself alcohol during this plague time… my physician being dead ….’ However broadly speaking it was London’s poor who would suffer the brunt of the horror. Walter George Bell – author of possibly the most knowledgable book ever written about the contagion – The Great Plague of London – noted for example that not one single magistrate would succumb to it.
A contemporary drawing of the time depicting people attempting to flee London. Unknown artist.
The deaths begun to increase rapidly and it’s highly likely many cases were disguised as death by other causes in the Mortality Bills – people, naturally – didn’t want to be boarded up in their houses with a red cross painted on the door and left until they and all their family finally and inevitably perished. A contemporary writer of the time described how those poor souls ‘were compelled, though well, to watch upon the death-bed of their dear relation, to see the corpse dragged away before their eyes. Affrighted children stand howling by their side. Thus they are fitted by fainting affliction to receive the impressions of a thousand fearful thoughts in that long night they have to reckon with before release, as the family so dismally exposed, sink one after another in the den of this dismal likeness of Hell’ (3).
‘An Incident in the Great Plague’. Artists impression of a street scene somewhere in London 1665. The man has returned home to find the door with a red cross and boarded up. He is unable to gain entry to help his family. Tragic scenes like this must have played out on a regular basis. Painted c.1840. Artist Alexander Christie.
It is estimated 100,000 were to lose their lives that horrendous year to the pestilence creating a terrible and hideous problem. And it is here the infamous plague pit came into play. It’s now known that not all plague victims were deposited unceremoniously into the pits with many remains of victims being found buried, although uncoffined, in what was an orderly although probably hurried burial. The Crossrail excavations have come across several of these mass burials such as the one on the Liverpool Street site where the remains of 45 people were found that appear to have been buried at the same time. A stone was also found with 1665 carved upon it. I’ll return to the plague pits later.
The grave of the 45 victims of the Plague found at Liverpool Street Station. Photo Crossrail Project MOLA.
The dogs and cats of London, those great foes and exterminators of the Black Rat – host to the true culprit of the catastrophe – the flea that carried the Yersinia pestis bacteria and main carrier of the plague – were themselves exterminated before they could perform their duties. Thousands of them were unnecessarily slaughtered, powder and shot being supplied for the job, their bodies being carried away in wheelbarrows by the ‘rakers’. One killer of some of the hapless animals was paid 4s for burying 353 dogs alone. The black rat,Rattus rattus, was not for nothing known as the House Rat, preferring to make their homes as close to humans as possible and to live off their food rather than go to the trouble of having to forage outside. Not only that – the medieval timber framed houses of the time, with lathe and plaster walls, made perfect rat runs and the boarded floors with cellars with earthen floors beneath, all proved perfect living conditions for the little blighters. Smaller than the larger brown rat we have today – known as Rattus Norvegicus – Rattus Rattus’ dark shiny coat could take on an almost bluish hue, his large hairless ears giving the impression he was always on alert for the slightest sound. It transpired, tragically, that the very fleas that the rat was playing host to, were the undetected source of horrendous and fatal disease and when it had succeeded in killing the host rat it would leap off onto its next victim – which if there were no available rats in the vicinity would be the nearest man, woman or child. Dr Anne Roberts in an excellent History Today article tells us that ‘Like most fleas, the rat flea prefers to feed off a single species of animal, and will only bite humans when an outbreak of rat plague has left insufficient rats to feed off‘. For all you ever want to know about the rats and their fleas click here (4). Sometimes the fleas would linger – until a suitable host happened along – in cracks and crevices or even clothes and blankets something which led to the tragic outbreak in the village of Eyam in Derbyshire. This undetected and horrendous danger led to the seemingly never ending outbreaks of pestilence which caused literally millions of deaths until the 17th century when the Brown Rat, Rattus Norvegicus, larger and more powerful, finally arrived in England when in the fullness of time it would overrun its smaller cousin. It’s possibly the arrival of the Brown Rat or the sewer rat as it is also known, was the main reason for the elimination of the plagues which had troubled England so greatly over the centuries rather than, as is sometimes assumed, the Great Fire of London which destroyed the major part of old London with its closely packed timber framed houses. It should be remembered that the plague also disappeared from the unburnt parts of London including Stepney which had suffered some of the highest death rates than any other parish. St Giles-in-the Fields, St Margaret’s Westminster, St Martin’s and Cripplegate as well as the rest of England were never again to suffer from the catastrophic consequences of a major outbreak of plague – another pointer in the favour of the demise of Rattus Rattus being a major reason for the disappearance of the pestilence. Finally in 1894 thanks to the Indian Plague Research Commission the source of plague was discovered: ‘The communicating agents are the fleas of infected rats – the germ B.pestis – the cause of all the trouble – being conveyed by the infected flea direct from rat to man by innoculation by flea bites through the skin’. It was not until later in the early 20th century that the bacillus of Plague was discovered during an epidemic in Hong Kong by a Japanese Doctor Kitasato (5) How tragic that this was never picked up upon meaningfully enough to bring about a major cull of Rattus Rattus and his fleas earlier and thus save millions of lives over the centuries.
An image of a street scene… From a facimile of a broadsheet. The Great Plague of London by Walter George Bell.
The above scene has a lot going on – a dead dog lies in the road with another dog about to get clubbed to death. Other dead animals appear to be being taken away in a wheelbarrow. Note the two ‘searchers of the dead‘ – women, often elderly, carrying white staves as a warning to the public to keep a distance from them. Here also is shown one of the many fires – one before every sixth house – which were lit from the night of 5th September and kept burning for three days and three nights in the belief it would decontaminate ‘the infected air‘ (6). It was certainly not a new idea – in the plague of 1563 every household was ordered to lay out wood three days a week to enable the fires to continue to burn. This proved about as much use as the tying of a dried toad to your chest and probably made matters worse. However I suppose anything was worth a try when you have nothing to lose.
THE BILLS OF MORTALITY
When someone died in a London Parish a ‘Searcher of the Dead‘ would be sent to ascertain the cause of death. These Searchers were inevitably elderly, poverty stricken women, often in the most horrible dire straights themselves, forced to carry out this awful duty as a last resort to keeping alive themselves. During times of plague these Searchers had to live as outcasts from the rest of society. Walter Bell describes how they were required to lodge at a place appointed, not going abroad more than was necessary and then only in execution of their duty. They were to absent themselves from their families and to avoid mixing with other people. They should keep as far distant from others as might be, carrying in their hand a white wand by which pedestrians should know and avoid them. All this they were caused to swear upon an oath to do. Worryingly the task of ascertaining the cause of death would also fall on these ‘ancient matrons‘. They then reported to the Clerk of the Parish, who each week returned a list of deaths to the Company of Parish Clerks at their hall in Brode Lane, Vintry. The company in turn gave the information to the Lord Mayor who in times of Plague would pass it on to the Minister of State. The Bill of Mortality containing all this information was then made up and printed. Occasionally the Searchers would be advised of a doctors opinion as to the cause of death if a doctor had actually attended but usually they were either given the cause of death by relatives, or despite their lack of any medical training made a diagnosis themselves based their own observations of the corpse which led to a plethora of weird and wonderful causes of death. Clearly they were never at a loss in making a diognosis and anything they did not know they made up as they went along. This led to an abuse of a totally inadequate system. To paraphrase a contemporary writer ‘The old women Searchers after the mist of a cup of ale and the bribe of a two groat fee instead of one given to them cannot discern a bonce from a bottom’ (7). This makes Bills very interesting reading and it’s not difficult to cotton on to the fact that some plague deaths were described as deaths by other causes to avoid the house being shut up with the resultant deaths of the whole family. The examples below are from the Bill dated 15th to the 22nd August 1665
Chrisomes 9, Frighted 2, Gowt 1, Head-mould-shoot 1, Jaundies 7, Imposthume 8, Kingsevil 4, Lethargy 1, Meagrome 1, Purples 2, Rising of the Lights 18, Stopping of the stomach 17, Strangury 3, Suddenly 2, Tiffick 9, Winde 4, Wormes 10 and Gripping-in-the-Guts (sounds like a small town in Gloucestershire!) Total deaths from Plague were 4237.
This Bill covers the 12th to the 19th September…
THE PLAGUE PITS
It is said in times of human troubles ‘this too will pass’. And indeed towards the end of 1665 the number of plague victims begun to subside – perhaps as a result of the fleas either dying themselves for lack of new hosts or going into hibernation. Slowly Londoners returned to their homes. We can only imagine the shudder of horror of that must surely have run through them when they viewed the churchyards with their now much higher raised levels evidencing multi burials. Pepys has left us with his vivid memory of this particular harrowing sight: ‘It frighted me more than I thought it could have done, to see so many graves lie so high upon the churchyards where people have been buried of the Plague (8). Even more horrifying were the sights of the many newly dug pits. Some of the whereabouts of the pits are known, but the greater majority are lost to us as in time they were built over and forgotten. Sometimes in recent times when a building project is going, on a pit will be uncovered, which is what happened during the excavations of the Crossrail Link. Daniel Defoe, born in 1660, when writing his fictional work Journal of the Plague Year would have been able to talk to survivors of the Plague who were able to inform him of the whereabout of some of the pits especially the larger ones the awful remembrance of which would have been left ingrained upon their memory. The known ones include:
Shoreditch, Holywell Mount. In the main now built over but a small open area still survives between Holywell Lane, Scrutton Street and Curtain Road.
Mount Mill near Goswell Street, north of Seward Street, Finsbury. Mentioned by Defoe who described this pit being mostly for victims who had lived in Aldersgate and Clerkenwell. Later made into a Physick (Herb) Garden but now covered by a car park. Some of the pit may also lay beneath an open area to the south now a playground in Seward Street.
Bishopsgate Street. Upper end of Hand Alley – now known as New Street. Defoe wrote ‘The upper end of Hand Alley in Bishopsgate Street was then a green field, and was taken in particulary for Bishopgate parish, though many of the carts out of the City also brought their dead thither also…’ When an attempt was made to build upon the pit quite soon after it is said some of the bodies were found to be still well preserved enough to be able to distinguish the women by their long hair. This caused a bit of a problem with concern that this disturbance of the remains would cause the pestilence to rear its head once again. What to do? Consequently 2000 bodies were buried nearby in a new pit which was cordoned off with strict instructions it was not to be built upon. This area would eventually evolve over time into Rose Alley.
Hand Alley, now New Street. The original pit was in a field which lay at the end of the lane to the east and the new pit was built in Rose Alley both of which are encircled – Rose Alley being marked by the green dot. Ogilvy and Morgan map 1676-79.
New Street and Rose Alley today. The layouts of London streets and lanes seldom change over the centuries.
Stepney Fields – south west of St Dunstan’s and All Saints Church. Large. Burial pit for 2,978 victims of the Plague of 1625 as well as 6,583 in 1665 (9). Stepney then was semi rural. Plague arrived here towards the end of July when 33 died but by September the figures had leaped to 716. The parish which included areas which backed onto the Thames had a number of ship owners resident there. They pertinently ‘shut themselves up in their berthed ships, all sails furled under the relentless sun, to see the disaster out’ (10).
St Paul’s Shadwell. One of five large pits in Stepney.
Moorfields: Discovered during the building of the Elizabeth Line. Defoe described plague burials in a ‘piece of ground at Moorfields, by the going into the street which is now called Old Bethlem‘. Gillian Tindell in her book The Tunnel Through Time says this would be the garden of Bethelem Hospital – which covered over an acre.
Gower’s Walk Whitechapel – excavated in 1893. Now rebuilt over.
Marylebone – churchyard of St John the Evangelist.
Oxford Street. During the rebuilding of a bookshop in the 1920 vast numbers of bones were found all heaped together indiscriminately which would suggest this was a plague pit burial (11).
Southwark. Southwark’s many victims of the plague were buried in fields along Deadman’s Place now known as Park Street – a name chosen because it run across what had once been the Bishop of Winchester’s Park who had a palace in the area. The area covering the pit would later be absorbed into Messrs. Barclay and Perkins’ Brewery. Now redeveloped but the area of the pit can still be seen today.
Deadman’s Place burial ground/plague pit circled in red. From Horwood’s Plan 1792-99. Map now held in The British Library.
The site of Deadman’s Place today. Now surrounded by houses but still recognisable.
Fulham, Lille Road. Large numbers of human remains are said to have been uncovered here in the area of an orchard belonging to Normand House. Later covered by Lintaine Grove (12).
Rear of 41 Beak Street and Golden Square, Soho. When the houses in Beak Street – of which 41 and 43 are still standing today – were erected in the late 18th century, cartloads of bones were discovered, which makes it highly likely a plague pit had been uncovered. This may have been a secondary plague pit or even part of the main one which lay beneath a nearby field that later became known as Golden Square. Lord Macaulay writing in 1685 tells us ‘On the east was a field not to be passed without a shudder by any Londoner of that age.There, as in a place far from the haunts of men, had been dug, twenty years before, when the great plague was raging, a pit into which the dead carts had nightly shot corpses by scores. It was popularly believed that the earth was deeply tainted with infection, and could not be disturbed without imminent risk to human life. No foundations were laid there till two generations had passed without any return of the pestilence, and till the ghastly spot had long been surrounded by buildings (13).
Kensington, Tattersall’s Gate.
Tothill Fields, Westminster. Part of the pit now lies beneath the playing fields at Vincent Square (which is owned by Westminster School) and some beneath Government buildings. Piles of bones were uncovered during excavations as well as broken clay pipes which were smoked by the men who collected and threw the bodies into the pits in the hope that the smoke would ward of the disease.
Green Park. Discovered in the 1960 during construction of the Victoria Line.
St Giles-in-the-Fields. It is said over 1000 people were buried in pits in the churchyard.
Bakerloo Line, London Depot. At the south end of the depot lie two tunnels; one leads to Elephant and Castle whilst the other is a dead end and acts as a runaway lane for trains that are unable to stop. Behind the walls of this tunnel lies a plague pit.
Crossbones Graveyard. Leased to the churchwardens of St Saviour’s parish in 1665 during the height of the Great Plague. Used later as a burial place for prostitutes.
Upper Street, Angel. A small triangular piece of land now known as Islington Green covers the area of the plague pit.
St John’s church, Scrandrett Street, Wapping.
Hoxton, Pitfield Street, Hackney. Now covered by a council estate. A sign has been erected by Hackney Council asking residents to ‘Please Keep off the Grass. This is one of many burial grounds pertaining to the Black Plague 1665-1666′.
Whitechapel. Now covered by Sainsbury’s Supermarket.
Aldgate Station. This pit was the overspill from the large pit in the nearby churchyard of St Botolph without Aldgate. This pit about 40 foot long, 15 or 16 foot broad, and 20 foot deep, and between the 6th and the 20th of September, 1,114 bodies were thrown into it (14). Discovered in the 1860s when the station was being constructed. Daniel Defoe who must have heard it described by survivors of the plague wrote ‘A terrible pit it was, and I could not resist my curiosity to go and see it. As near as I may judge, it was about forty feet in length, and about fifteen or sixteen feet broad, and at the time I first looked at it, about nine feet deep; but it was said they dug it near twenty feet deep afterwards in one part of it, till they could go no deeper for the water; for they had, it seems, dug several large pits before this. For though the plague was long a-coming to our parish, yet, when it did come, there was no parish in or about London where it raged with such violence as in the two parishes of Aldgate and Whitechappel.’
LIVERPOOL STREET STATION. Stands on the site of the burial ground of old Bethlem/Bedlam hospital. Mentioned by Defoe. The skeletons of 45 Plague victims were discovered in one grave during the building of the Elizabeth line. Archaeologist believe there were originally more than 100 victims buried in layers one on top of the other. This pit lay not far from the Hand Alley pit mentioned above.
WALTHAMSTOW, VINEGAR ALLEY. According to local tradition there was a plague pit north of the ancient St Mary’s Church. The lane running alongside was named after the vinegar that it was believed might ward of the pestilence.
14th century monument to Sir Thomas de Berkeley of Coberley (1289-d.1365) and his wifeJoan Lady de Berkeley nee Archer d. 1369. The small monument besides the Berkeley monument is that commemorating a heart burial belonging to an unknown female. St Giles’ Church, Coberley, Gloucestershire. Photo C B Newham Church Monuments Society
The large monument in Coberley Church shown above commemorates Sir Thomas de Berkeley (1289-d.1365) and his wife Joan Lady de Berkeley (d.1369). Joan remarried after Thomas’ death and would therefore have died elsewhere, possibly at Pauntley, the family home of her second husband William Whittington, so possibly the tomb and effigies may have been commissioned prior to Sir Thomas’ death. Alternatively it’s also possible Joan may have requested burial next to her first husband and the monument was then commissioned by their son, another Thomas (1351-1405). However moving on – Sir Thomas – depicted in armour and who fought at the Battle of Crecy on the 26 August 1346 – was the son of Sir Giles de Berkeley (1240-1294) who fought in the Crusades. Joan was the daughter and heir of Geoffrey Archer of Stoke Orchard also known as Stoke Archer. You could be forgiven for thinking that the photo shows the monuments to a family – the parents on a joint tomb and a separate monument commemorating their small, unnamed daughter and indeed you would not be alone as its erroneously stated in numerous accounts that this is the case. This would be understandable bearing in mind that there are examples of childrens effigies from that period showing them wearing adult dress as is the figure in the effigy. See for example the children of Edward III and his queen Philippa of Hainaultwho were interred in the Chapel of Edward the Confessor in Westminster Abbey. Their effigies display them in the adult fashions of the time despite the fact that William of Windsor who was born in 1348 did not make it to his first birthday and his sister Blanche of the Tower, born in 1342 also lived for only a short while.
William of Windsor and Blanche of the Tower. Children of Edward III and Philippa of Hainalt. St Edward the Confessor’s chapel, Westminster Abbey. Photo Westminster Abbey.org.
However the small effigy in St Giles’ Church is that of an adult female commemorating the burial of her heart. The clue, as well as the size of the effigy, is that her right hand is pulling aside her bodice and pointing to her heart while the left holds what appears to be a glove, rather than the usual hands clasped together in prayer.
The effigy of the unknown lady. 14th century heart burial. Could this heart have once belonged to the wife of Sir Giles de Berkeley whose heart was interred in St Giles church, Coberley. Photo C B Newham Church Monuments Society
Unknown as she is – although the Church Monuments society have suggested she was a member of the Berkeley family – we will never know why this lady had requested that her heart be buried in a separate place to her body. However – having had a lightbulb moment – I do wonder if the heart buried was that of Sir Giles’ wife who perhaps had opted for her heart to be interred in the same place as that of her husband’s while both their bodies would be interred at St Giles Priory, Little Malvern? I will return to Sir Gile’s heart burial later. Certainly her costume is that of an earlier era to the period of the costumes of Sir Thomas and Joan which again is another reason for debunking the chances that this was their daughter. Still as per usual let not facts get in the way of a heart rendering story that brings tears to the eyes of the unwary onlooker.
As mentioned above after Thomas’ death in 1365 Joan would marry William Whittington of Pauntley the elder brother of the famous Richard Whittington who went on to be Lord Mayor of London (be careful not to get our Joan muddled up with her mother-in-law, Joan Maunsel, something I have seen repeatedly while researching this post OR even our Joan being the mother of her brothers-in-law – sigh). This second marriage was of short duration though with Joan dying in 1369 (1)
Stone effigy of Joan Lady Berkeley. After Thomas’ death in 1365 Joan would marry William Whittington of Pauntley the elder brother of the famous Richard Whittington who went on to become Lord Mayor of London as well as a fabulously rich man and a great benefactor to Londoners.
In an aside to this story in 2012 an attempt was made to steal the small female effigy. I will let Sally Strachey of Historic Conservation take up the story : ‘Thieves had quite boldly wandered into the open church with tools for the job and attempted to lift the monument. In doing so, the effigy had been uprooted and the stone edges have been damaged where a crowbar had been used on it. Luckily, I think they probably gave up when they attempted to handle the deceptively heavy girl and looked back down the hundred meter walk back to the car park!’ (2). The monument has since been made, hopefully, thief/idiot proof.
The small effigy is not the only monument commemorating a heart burial in St Giles’ church. A second one in the form of a wall memorial, commemorating Sir Thomas’ father, Sir Giles de Berkeley (1240-1294) can be found opposite the monument to his son. Sir Giles is portrayed holding a large heart over his shield. He fought in the Crusades and while he was buried in St Giles Priory, Little Malvern his heart was returned to the family home at Coberley in Gloucestershire. His favourite charger, Lombard, is said to be buried in the churchyard , a story which is confirmed on a plaque beneath the wall monument (3). Another known horse burial in a churchyard occurred over a century later – this time the owner of the horse, Ranulph Lord Dacre, was buried with his horse and not in the church after the Battle of Towton on the 29th March 1461 This might imply that the owners of horses that perhaps had accompanied them into battle and were well loved had their steeds buried in churchyards more than we think.
13th century wall monument commemorating Sir Giles de Berkeley. Photos RexHarris @ Flikr.
Plaque below Sir Giles de Berkeley’s monument noting the burial in the churchyard of Lombard – his favourite charger. Unknown photographer.
Sometimes hearts were buried separately due to the owner dying very far from home. However in the case of Robert the Bruce it would be the reverse with Robert being buried in Dunfermline Abbey but requesting that his heart be buried in the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. This did not go according to plan. It’s a great story and has been told elsewhere but as this post is about heart burials it’s too good not to give it a mention here. Briefly the faithful James Douglas set out for the Holy Land in fulfilment of his oath to the dying King, taking the Bruce’s heart with him in a silver casket. However during a ferocious battle that was going badly for him Douglas threw the heart of the Bruce deep into the melee, biding it “Go first as thou hast always done.” Douglas himself was killed in the ensuing fighting. The casket containing the heart of the Bruce and Douglas’ body were both retrieved and carried back to Scotland by Sir William Keith of Galston and the heart finally interred at the Abbey of Melrose.
Another famous heart burial was that of Eleanor of Castile (1241-1290) wife to Edward lst. Her body was interred in a fabulous tomb in Edward the Confessor’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey, her heart was buried at the Dominican priory at Blackfriars next to her son Alphonso who had died at II years old and her viscera interred at Lincoln Cathedral.
While researching this post I have discovered that heart burials were not as rare as I first thought. I’ve found several others besides the more famous ones of Eleanor and the Bruce in Frederick Crossley’s wonderful book English Church Monuments. Printed in 1921 this book is an absolute wealth of information on church monuments.
Monument commemorating the heart burial of Bishop Aymer de Valence c.1261. Winchester Cathedral. Shown in Crossley’s English Church Memorials p.48. Photo with thanks to 1066.co.nz.
Monument to a heart burial said to be dedicated to either Robert de Roos, 1st Baron de Ros, 1285 or according, to the Crossley book – English Church Monuments p.179 – to William de Albini/d’Aubigné c.1280. St Mary’s Bottesford, Leicestershire. Photo with thanks to jmc4 Church Explorer.
Originally this small monument – only 16′ tall- was at Croxton Abbey – where King John’s heart was buried – from whence it was brought toSt Mary’s at the Dissolution. The figure clad in chainmail appears to be holding a heart. The plaque below, which is thought to have once lain over Robert’s heart, was also brought back with the monument but it’s impossible to say if the heart accompanied them. Hopefully it did. Robert was married to William de Albini’s daughter and heir Isabella which is where the confusion may have arisen.
“Here lies the heart of Lord Robert de Roos Whose body is buried at Kirkham Who died the 13th of the Kalends of June AD 1285 Isabella Lady de Roos Wife of the said Robert de Roos lies at a new place near Stamford who died AD 1301“
(Photo with thanks to J.Hannan-Briggs)
So keep that in mind dear reader in your wanderings… it may well be that you come across a small effigy in a church somewhere and your eyes moisten at the thought of a dear lost child. It may not be what it appears to be…
BERKELEY, Thomas (1351-1405) of Coberley and Stoke Orchard, Glos., Chilcote, Derbys and Elsersfield, Worcs. The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993. Author L S Woodger.
Bodiam Castle, Sussex. Built by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge between 1385-1388. Photo History of Bodiam Castle.
Bodiam Castle. What a beauty and is it possible to find an even finer epitome of a medieval English Castle? The builder was Sir Edward Dalyngrigge – also spelt Dallingridge – (c.1346-1393), the son and heir of Roger Dallingridge (c.1311-1380) of Dallingridge and Alice Radingden, daughter and heiress of Sir John Radingden of Radynden, Sussex. In the early 14th century the Dallingridge family had originally been minor gentry who rose through the ranks after making several lucrative marriages. Edward’s grandfather John (d.1335) through his marriage to Joan, daughter of Sir Walter de la Lynde, a wealthy Lincolnshire man, acquired the manor of Bolebrook in Sussex as well as a moiety of that of Laceby in Lincolnshire. Roger, Edward’s father, would continue the trend when he married Alice Radingden. When Sir John Radingden died in 1359, Alice’s inheritance included five manors including Sheffield (the one in Sussex and not the one up north!) and Fletching, 25 miles east of Bodiam. Fletching being the principal seat of his parents was probably where Sir Edward spent his childhood. In Fletching church there is a fine brass to a knight and lady from the Dalyngrigge family and although its been identified as Walter, Sir Edward’s younger brother, it is more than likely their parents, Roger and Alice. Note the lady’s headdress fashionable c.1375-1380 and that Roger’s death occurred in 1380.
Dalyngrigge brass in Fletching Church. Possibly that of Roger and Alice, Sir Edward parents.
On Roger’s death all these inherited lands would pass to Edward, who had already made his fortune from his time spent in France. His wealth had already been further bolstered when he too adhered to family tradition and made an ‘opportune marriage’ – arranged by his father – when in about November 1364 he married Elizabeth Wardieu/Wardedieu (b.c.1347-d.1383) daughter of John Wardieu of Sywell, Northants and importantly Bodiam. When Elizabeth’s father died in 1377 she inherited the manors at Bodiam and Hollington as well as 750 acres of land elsewhere in Sussex, a number of properties in Kent, and the manors of Sywell, Hannington and Arthingworth in Northamptonshire although her entitlement to certain estates in Leicestershire and Rutland was disputed. However, quelle surprise, the Dalyngrigges triumphed. Added to this Sir Edward, now one of the wealthiest landowners of his county would add to his ever growing lands and properties by further purchases such as the manor of Iden. However he would make Bodiam his principal residence. (1).
There is a beautiful but damaged brass in Bodiam church of a man in 14th armour identifiable by its heraldry as being that of a member of the Wardieu family. It has been suggested it is Sir John Wardieu, Elizabeth’s father, but it appears to be of an earlier date and possibly of her grandfather.
Effigy of a member of the Wardieufamily in 14th century armour in Bodiam church – possibly Elizabeth’s father or grandfather.
SIR EDWARD DALYNGRIGGE’S CAREER
Sir Edward has been described as a ‘successful career soldier, politician and courtier’. He seems to have been successful at every stage of his career although of course in those frequent tricky times things did not always go according to plan and one could easily find oneself getting into scrapes. And indeed our Sir Edward, who had close links to the Earl of Arundel, finding himself on the wrong side of John of Gaunt ended up in prison not once but twice when in June 1384 in a culmination of the long running feud between him and Gaunt, he was summoned to appear in court during a special commission of oyer and terminer at the suit of Gaunt. (2).The tribunal was ‘strongly biased in Gaunt’s favour’and Sir Edward ‘treating the case as a matter of honour’ appears to have gone full tonto, throwing his gauntlet down according to some accounts, and answering the charges ‘with a wager of battle ‘as you do. Obviously this did not pan out well for him and he was committed to custody for contempt of court (3). His patron the earl of Arundel managed to sweet talk the king, Richard II, into releasing him on the 26 July while the king was a guest at Arundel castle and Gaunt otherwise preoccupied – well he was abroad at the time basically. On Gaunt’s return in October he rectified the matter, well to his liking, and had Sir Edward rearrested and this time he stayed that way until the following January when he was released, his skills being urgently required to supervise the fortification of Rye and Winchelsea in the face of threats of a French invasion. I do wonder if this stuck in Gaunt’s craw? (4).
This was not Sir Edward’s first experience at finding himself on the wrong side of the law for in the autumn of 1370 he had been ‘ …arrested and brought before Edward III’s council for having failed to embark for France in the major expeditionary army commanded by Sir Robert Knolles after receiving an advance payment of his wages’ (5).However as far as I can tell he appears to have emerged from that unscathed and on the best of terms with Sir Robert – indeed Sir Robert’s arms were carved above one of Bodiam’s gates.
Here is just a very brief curriculum vitae of some of the posts Sir Edward held:
Steward to the widowed Countess Warenne in the 1350s. After her death in 1361 transferred his services to her heir Richard, Earl of Arundel.
Over a 30 year period covering 1359-89 he served in many of the major expeditions against France.
Master forester at Ashdown Chase 13 Aug. 1381-6 Sept. 1383.
Represented Sussex in Parliament on 4 occasions between 1360-1377 (6).
Served in the retinue of the Earl of Arundel during Gaunt’s expedition to France 1369
Served in the retinue of Edward, Lord Despenser 1373 and 1375
Served as a commissioner of array in 1377, 1385, 1386 and 1392
Member of Richard II’s council 4 May 1389
Ambassador to France 12 Apr – 15 July 1390
Keeper and escheator of the City of London 25 June-22 July 1392
We have seen from above how Bodiam came into the possession of Sir Edward who abandoned the Wardieus’ original manor house – which stood at the northern end of the village – to build his new castle lower down by the River Rother. He was granted a licence to crenellate on the 20 October 1385:
‘The King to all men to whom etc greeting. Know that of our special grace we have granted and given licence on behalf of ourselves and our heirs, in so far as in us lies, to our beloved and faithful Edward Dallingridge Knight, that he may strengthen with a wall of stone and lime, and crenellate and may construct and make into a castle his manor house of Bodyham, near the sea, for the defence of the adjacent country and resistance to our enemies, and may hold his aforesaid house so strengthened and crenellated and made into a castle for himself and his heirs for ever, without let or hindrance of ourselves or our heirs, or any of our agents whatsoever. In witness of which etc. The King at Westminster 20 October’ (7).
Nevertheless since the 19th century it has been hotly debated by both architectural and military historians whether Bodiam was ‘essentially a fortress with residential provision built to defend the country from French attack or whether it was primarily a residence built in a fortified style’ (8). Architectural historian Anthony Emery has suggested that the castle was Sir Edward’s ‘belligerent response to his wounded ego’ having been ‘bested in his quarrel with John of Gaunt’s agents in Sussex during the early 1380s’(9).So a kind of defiant ‘up yours’ maybe? And we do know how very fragile the egos of these members of the medieval aristocracy could be. Bodiam has also been described as having ‘serious military vunerability’ such as an easy to drain moat and badly situated gun ports. Its also been suggested it may have been ‘an old soldier’s dream house‘ – although I would argue with that comparison – Sir Edward was neither old and although dying at home in his own bed, this veteran of the Hundred Years War was surely the absolute epitome of a medieval warrior as far as I’m concerned and remained so until the day he drew his last breath (10). Anthony Emery has also opined that Bodiam was ‘a house of swagger with the architectural trappings of defence set in a deliberately conceived landscape, yet it is also markedly impressive irrespective of its owners intent for mindset’ (11). But therein lays the exquisite, unique beauty of Bodiam Castle which lacks the foreboding appearance of many castles such as Conwy, Caernarfon or Goodrich for example although to be fair they were earlier. Bodiam looks sublime, almost welcoming, in a glorious setting and on a misty day or in a certain light has the appearance of floating above the water of the moat, a romantic and atmospheric ruin.
Evocative image of Bodiam Castle at dusk. Photo thanks to Peter Blake at flikr.
Sir Edward was dead by August 1393, a comparatively short life, but he had been able to enjoy the newly built Bodiam castle for a time albeit short. He would be buried next to Elizabeth in the Cistercian abbey at nearby Robertsbridge. He would be succeeded by his son Sir John who would also go on to be a politician, courtier and royal ambassador. Sir John would marry Alice Boteler/Butler in 1406 dying two years later childless.
As we see above Sir John married Alice Boteler/Butler nee Beauchamp, widow of Thomas Boteler/Butler of Sudeley who had died in 1398. Going off on a total tangent here – but much too interesting to leave out – is that Alice and Thomas were the parents of Ralph Boteler/Butler, Lord Sudeley, whose son, another Thomas, was the first husband of Eleanor Talbot (c. 1436 – June 1468) daughter of the famous John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury. The widowed Eleanor would later marry Edward IV in a secret ceremony. It was this secret marriage, known as a ‘precontract’, that made his later second – yet another secret ‘marriage’ – to Elizabeth Woodville/Wydville bigamous. Thus the children of this second clandestine ‘marriage’ were declared illegitimate in 1483 when Edward IV suddenly and unexpectedly died and the secret got out after Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells, let the cat out of the bag. This would, with all its tragic repercussions, prove to be the catalyst for the destruction of the royal House of York culminating in the death of Richard III at Bosworth in 1485. The two sons from this Woodville marriage were of course Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury – the missing princes. But that, of course dear reader, is another story….
The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe 1993.
The House of Commons 1386-1421 Vol 2. p.739. Roskell.
Calendar of the Patent Rolls Preserved in the Public Record Office: Richard II. A.D. 1385- 1389.
Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales Vol.3 p.p 317-318. Anthony Emery.
Lancaster – v – Dallingridge: a franchisal dispute in fourteenth century Sussex. Sussex Archive Collection 121 (1983) p.p.87-94. S. Walker
D. J. Turner, ‘Bodiam Sussex: True Castle or Old Soldier’s Dream House?England in the Fourteenth Century: Proceedings of the 1985 Harlaxtion Symposium, ed. by W. M. Ormrod (Woodbridge: The Boydell, 1986), pp. 267-277.
Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales Vol.3 p.p 317-318. Anthony Emery.
If you have enjoyed this post you might also like:
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’.
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 Historiawould 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).
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 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 Regiusas 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,” “destroyersof 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.
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 https://www.laphamsquarterly.org/roundtable/these-destroyers-towns.
11.The Rous Roll p.xviii Introduction. Charles Ross. 1980.
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 backand 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…
ST MARTIN’S 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 . historicengland.org.com
St Martin’s Church photographed c.1950 before the collapse of the tower and removal of roof. historicengland.org.uk
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).
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’
Stone 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.
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. Wikipedia.org.
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.
The monument in All Saints Church, Saxton 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 would ‘inevitably 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 Battlegoes 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:
HIC JACET RANULPH / DNS DE DAKAR ET G[ILLESLAN]D VERU MILES Z STRENUUS IN BELLO / PR… .HENRICO VI / …O DNI MCCCCLXI XXIX DIE MNSI….RCII VIDL DNICA RAMIS PALMARU / CU’ AIE P’PCIET D’S AME
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.
Memorials of the Wars of the Roses p.52. W E Hampton
Henry Fitzhugh 5th Lord Fitzhugh. thepeerage.com quoting.BP2003 volume 1, page 1013.
Fatal Colours p.181. George Goodwin.
Memorials of the Wars of the Roses p.228. W E Hampton.
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 historicengland.org.
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. The Croyland Chronicler commented on this nasty act declaring :
‘Oh God, what assurance will our kings have, henceforth, that on the day of battle, they will not be deprived of the presence of the subjects, who, summoned by the dreaded command of the king, are well aware that, if the royal cause should happen to decline, as it has often been known, they will lose life, goods, and inheritance complete?’
So the question is did Henry have the body of a person of royal linage, John de la Pole Earl of Lincoln, cousin to his wife, buried in an unmarked and unconsecrated grave on the battlefield at Stoke or in a simple but holy nearby chapel? I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt here – that he allowed Lincoln an honourable burial in Elston Chapel.
Henry VII. Artist known. National Portrait Gallery.
Pole, John de la, Earl of Lincoln. Oxford DNB. Rosemary Horrox.
Where are the dead of Medieval Battles? A Preliminary Survey. Anne Curry and Glenn Foad.
‘The Battle of Stoke or Burham Fight’ R P Shilton. 1828.
If you have enjoyed this post you might also like: