ELIZABETH WYDEVILLE, JOHN TIPTOFT AND THE EARL OF DESMOND

256417-1330622773.jpg
Elizabeth Wydeville. British School 16th century artist unknown.Did pillow talk between her and Edward IV seal the Earl Of Desmond’s fate?.

I like to be fair.   I really do.   Even when I find it hard.  Take Elizabeth Wydeville ..or not if you prefer. Although I am not and never will be a fan of this lady… ‘wife’  to Edward IV, illustrious Son of York, a golden warrior but a man prone to  keeping  his brains in his pants..I try to remain open minded.  Of course the fact that Elizabeth swiftly skedaddled  across the road from the Palace of Westminster into the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey upon hearing of the approach of Richard Duke of Gloucester, after he had taken her son, the uncrowned Edward V into his care following a failed assassination plot on the Duke’s life, looks extremely suspect.  Taking her younger son, Richard of Shrewsbury,  his sisters and Thomas Grey, her oldest surviving son , plus the royal treasure, Elizabeth prepared herself for a long stay.

The outcome of all that is well known and I won’t go into it here. Later,  Elizabeth, sent into ‘retirement’ into Bermondsey Abbey, by an unforgiving son in law, paid a very high price for her propensity for plotting. But are other stories about her true..as they say give a dog a bad name..and one I have often wondered about is the story that Elizabeth was behind the judicial murder of Thomas Fitzerald,   Earl of Desmond..and not only that ..his two small sons.  The story goes, which is oft repeated in both fact and fictional accounts, is  that she was mightily  offended by a casual comment made by  Desmond to Edward, which Edward foolishly and naively repeated to her (this was in the early days of their marriage and would imply he was not yet fully aware of the nastier and vindictive side to her nature)  that he believed Edward had made a ‘mèsalliance‘ and that ‘he should have chosen a more suitable bride‘ and thus consumed by  malicious spite, she misappropriated her husband’s privy seal, removing it from Edwards ‘purche’ while he slept, and sent instructions to John Tiptoft, first earl of Worcester, then Chancellor and Lord Deputy of Ireland, to have Desmond executed on trumped up charges including a ‘ridiculous and groundless allegation that he sought to make himself king of Ireland’.

Later Edward on finding out the terrible truth was not best pleased..as the late Rosemary Hawley Jarman put it  so succinctly in her novel The King’s Grey Mare …‘I fear Madam,  he said very slowly,  I very much fear Bessy,  that you have become unkind’  and set out to pour oil on troubled waters for the execution caused much uproar, turmoil and rebellion in Ireland.  Surely this story is too horrid to be true even for those violent times.  I was thus pleased to discover an excellent article by Annette Carson and the late John Ashdown-Hill which they co-wrote for the Ricardian back in June 2005, for surely these two know their onions and would be able to discern truth from fiction.  After reading the article I came away a little shocked for  their in-depth investigation did not put this story to rest but rather made it seem more probable that Elizabeth Wydeville, with the connivance of Tiptoft,  did indeed bring about the execution of a man merely because of words spoken that she took umbrage to.

The article can be found here for those of you who wish to explore more fully this unedifying story of Edward’s queen and a man who would be known as the Butcher of England and who himself was executed in 1470 by Desmond’s friend, Warwick the Kingmaker, Tiptoft’s former brother-in-law, and good riddance to him. Perhaps Warwick had another, more personal “axe to grind” – could it be that Tiptoft treated his first wife Cicely, Warwick’s sister, coldly for he requested in a letter to Henry Cranebroke, monk of Christchurch, Canterbury,  following the death of  his 2nd wife, Elizabeth Greyndour,  prayers ‘with special remembraunce of her soul whom I loved best'(1) surely an unnecessarily slight to the memory of his first Neville wife.  Tiptoft has been described as a man of culture, erudite and a reader and lover of books! Whoopi doo dah!  More specifically he was a man who thought it perfectly acceptable to have impalement added to the already awful sentence of hanging, drawing and quartering.  This was the fate 20 of Warwick’s men suffered at Southampton on Tiptoft’s command  and  which caused much revulsion in an already cruel age.  No wonder he was described by a contemporary chronicler as ‘that fierce executioner and horrible beheader of men’ (2).

 

p13-Harvey.jpg

John Tiptoft’s memorial, Ely Cathedral.  Effigy of Tiptoft with two of his wives probably Cicely Neville and Elizabeth Greyndour..

Nevertheless it would appear that Elizabeth Wydeville may have asked Tiptoft to aid and abet her undaunted by his reputation for harshness. The most appalling part of this story is the accusation that Tiptoft also executed  Desmond’s two young sons. Another possibility is that Tiptoft was fooled by the forged letter. But in any event ‘this yeare the Earle of Desmond and his two sonnes were executed by ye Earle of Worcester in Drogheda'(3) the youngest one asking the executioner to take care as he had a boil on his neck.IMG_5765.JPG

MAGDALENE TOWER –  ALL THAT REMAINS OF THE DOMINICAN FRIARY AT DROGHEDA.  DESMOND WAS REMOVED FROM THE FRIARY AND SUMMARILY EXECUTED.

And so dear reader, do take time to read this most interesting article if you would like to explore the matter and draw your own conclusions.   The authors of the article in-depth examination of the sources, some of which have been ignored by previous writers on the subject is compelling and persuasive.  Among the somewhat damning points made are that Desmond was in fact in England, to give Edward his account of the  coin and leverage accusation being made against him, at the precise time that the Wydeville marriage became public. Edward found in Desmond’s favour and gave him a grant of manors.  Furthermore the other two men accused along with Desmond, including Kildare, his brother, only escaped execution because they managed to evade Tiptoft long enough until the matter reached the ears of Edward, who extended clemency to the pair, which implies that Tiptoft had acted without the ‘knowledge or consent of the king’. Edward went on to quell the rebellion begun by Desmond’s oldest sons who ‘raised their standards and drew their swords , resolved to avenge their father’s murder’ by promising them pardon if they lay their swords down ‘protesting at the same time Desmond had been put to death, without his order, nay his consent’. The king would later go on to ‘clearly acknowledge’ Thomas’ son, James’, title to the earldom despite Tiptoft’s act of attainder against his father.

IMG_5769.JPG

The nave of Holy Trinity Cathedral, Dublin..Thomas Fitzgerald Earl of Desmond was finally laid to rest somewhere in the Cathedral (now known as Christ Church Cathedral).

Later Richard III wrote a conciliatory  letter,  which has survived,  to Desmond’s son, James,  followed up with instructions that his messenger, Bishop Thomas Barrett, was to ‘amplify’ the message that Richard’s brother, Clarence, had suffered a similar  fate as Desmond in that his death had been brought about by ‘certain persons’.  It must be concluded that the ‘certain person’ alluded to was Elizabeth Wydeville for according to Mancini writing in 1483  contemporary opinion at the time held her responsible for the death of Clarence… ‘the queen concluded that her offspring by the king would never come to the throne unless the duke of Clarence was removed and of this she easily persuaded the king…’

IMG_5768.jpg

King Richard III sent a conciliatory message to Desmond’s son, James 8th Earl of Desmond comparing the judicial murder of his brother Clarence to that of Desmond. 

And so there we have it dear reader..if this indeed be the case, its very hard to feel pity for Elizabeth when fate’s fickle finger finally gave her the prodding she so richly deserved.

If you enjoyed this post you might like :

https://sparkypus.com/2020/06/08/elizabeth-wydeville-serial-killer/

:https://sparkypus.com/2020/07/01/bermondsey-abbey-and-elizabeth-wydevilles-retirement-there/

Edward’s Mysterious Death https://wordpress.com/post/sparkypus.com/594

https://sparkypus.com/2020/07/06/mary-plantagenet-daughter-of-edward-iv-elizabeth-wydeville-a-life-cut-short/

https://sparkypus.com/2020/07/09/margaret-gaynesford-gentlewoman-to-elizabeth-wydeville/

 

(1) W A Pantin, ( 3.103-4)

(2) Gairdner, (183)

(3) The Register of the Mayors of Dublin records (erroneously under the date 1469)

 

Edmund, Earl of Rutland, a life cut short

UK_BM_291507001.jpgFotheringhay Church and  Yorkist Mausoleum 1804.   Watercolour by unknown artist.  

Edmund, son of Richard Duke of York and Cicely Neville was born on the 17th May 1443 and died at the Battle of Wakefield with his father on the 30 December 1460.  A short life….

I think, had he lived longer  Edmund may have become a dependable and worthy member of the Plantagenets  and his early death, at the age of 17, leads to a ‘what if?’.  Everything may well have been so different.  But it was not to be and its easy to imagine the grief that must have overwhelmed his mother, when the news was broken to her of the terrible outcome of Wakefield.  Not only did she lose Edmund but her husband, who must have been her rock throughout most of her life.  However Cicely was to carry on and to suffer even more tragedy later including the judicial murder of another son, Clarence,  and the violent death of her youngest surviving son Richard at Bosworth. But that is another story.

To focus back on Edmund –   he shared much of his childhood with his oldest brother Edward as can be seen by  delightful letters written by the pair of them while at Ludlow to their father, which alway make me smile.  Assuring their ‘Lorde and Fader‘ of their ‘wilfare‘ at the writing of the letter, they tell him ‘We were in good helth of bodis thonked be God‘ and ‘beseche your good Lordeschip that hit may plaese yowe to sende us Harry Lovedeyne grome of your kechyn whose svice is to us ryght agreable And we will sende yowe John Boyes to wayte on your good Lordeschip‘ (1)!  Nice try boys!..sadly we dont know if it worked..

2018_11_11 7-21-45 pm.jpg

Edmund’s and Edward’s signatures on a letter to their father June 1454.

But  the  madness  that become known as the Wars of the Roses was to end Edmund’s life in the cruellest way. Edmund fought along side his father and maternal uncle at the Battle of Wakefield – 30th December 1460 – and its hard to read the suggestion that, had Edmund had travelled west with his brother Edward, he may have survived. But stay with his father he did – and died – after a failed attempt to flee, murdered some say by Lord Clifford or at the very least on his orders.

After the battle Edmund and his father’s heads, together with that of his uncle Richard Earl of Salisbury, which had been detached ty a mob, were placed upon Micklegate Bar, York. A further heartache no doubt for Cicely but an act which spurred the Yorkists on. Determined to avenge his father and brother’s deaths, but three months later, Edward finally crushed the Lancastrians at Towton. One of his first actions was to have Edmund buried with his father at  the Cluniac Priory of St John in Pontefract. Later in 1476, they were both ceremoniously reburied at Fotheringhey in the chancel of St Mary’s Church,  but it remains unclear whether Edmund was buried in the same vault as his father or in the Lady Chapel. When Cicely’s time came she was, presumably, buried in her husband’s vault according to a request in her will. Richard and Cicely’s bodies were moved into a joint tomb in 1573 on the instructions of Elizabeth I, where they rest to this day. The Lady Chapel was destroyed and it is not known whether Edmund was found and  re-buried with his parents – no mention of it was made – or found and lost again or still remains undiscovered. It would appear, sadly, that his remains were forgotten about at the time and are now lost (2). I do hope very much that, whether his remains were found or not, they still lay not far from his parents.

Untitled.png

The tomb of Richard Duke of York and Cicely Neville Edmund’s parents.  It is unknown whether Edmund was reburied with his parents.  Tomb erected at the instruction of Elizabeth Ist.

  1. Excerpta Histórica: Or, Illustrations of English History p9, Samuel Bentley
  2. Creating and Recreating Yorkist Tombs in Fotheringhay online article Sofija Matich and Jennifer S Alexander.

Elizabeth of York – Her Privy Purse Expenses

Henry_VII_in_Mourning-1.jpgHenry VII and his children in mourning for Elizabeth of York.  An idealised presentation of Henry, his children ,  Margaret and Mary  sitting in front of the fire while a young Henry jnr weeps into his mother’s empty bed.  From the Vaux Passional, a 15th century manuscript.

Elizabeth gave birth to her son Arthur on the 20 September 1486.    Arthur’s life was destined to be short and he died on 2 April 1502.  And so the fickle wheel of fortune turned once more with Arthur’s parents feeling the same pain, despair and shock that are recorded as having engulfed Richard lll and his Queen, Anne Neville on the death of their small son Edward.  Perhaps Henry’s pain was cushioned somewhat by the knowledge that he had a spare heir, Henry Jnr.

Elizabeth is often quoted as having said, an in attempt to comfort Henry that they were young enough to have another child. (1)   Whether she said this or not – how would such a personal conversation be known to others?  –  as sure as eggs are eggs –  Elizabeth did indeed become pregnant soon after , a pregnancy that we all know resulted in her death.  So thus in another strange coincidence Henry also lost his wife a few short months after the death of their son as did Richard.

IMG_5064.JPG

Elizabeth’s  bronze effigy on her tomb, Westminster Abbey, Torrigiano

image

Elizabeth’s funeral effigy probably modelled on her death mask @Dean and Chapter Westminster Abbey

It is said by some that Henry and Elizabeth’s marriage was a happy one, they both growing to love one another over the years.  Alternatively you will read that she was considered by some to have been kept subservient and that Henry was not uxorious.  You will have to form your own opinions over that  one dear reader.   Either way she has my sympathy with regard to her mother-in-law,  the formidable Margaret Beaufort,  to whom Henry remained close.   Indeed a certain yeoman of the crown John Hewyk ‘grumbled that he would have spoken more to the Queen  had it not been for that strong whore, the King’s mother ‘.(2)  with a Spanish observer  writing that ‘she is kept in subjection by the mother of the king. (3).  

However there are some examples that demonstrate that Elizabeth was not entirely a  push over  nor totally ‘eclipsed’ by her mother-in-law    Rosemary Horrox gives us one such example where a Welsh tenant appealed to Elizabeth over an injustice involving the king’s uncle,  Jasper Tudor, which led to Elizabeth ‘responding with a firm letter to the said Jasper. (4)    Bravo Elizabeth!

1466-1503 by unknown artist c.1502 the royal colle tion.jpg

Portrait by an unknown artist c 1503

Although much  has been written about her death and funeral ,  and I won’t go into that here,  interesting as it is,  nothing much is known about her personal feelings towards her husband,  the demise of the House of York,  the treatment of her mother, Elizabeth Wydeville,  and Elizabeth’s  ‘retirement’ in to Bermondsey Abbey,  the fates of her brothers or the identity of Perkin Warbeck.   However her Privy Purse Account have survived and perhaps some thing of her nature and true feelings may be gleaned from them.

Sir Nicholas Harris Nicholas, writing in 1830, was  editor of  The Privy Purse Expenses which also include   a memoir.  Sir Nicholas seems to have been a little in love with Elizabeth,  whose motto was ‘Humble and Reverent’ attributing to her most if not all of the virtues which adorn the female character’.   He notes that her expenses consist chiefly of rewards to persons who brought her presents with often the reward being of greater value.  Nothing was too contemptible to be received, nor was any person deemed too humble..Among the articles presented to Elizabeth were fish, fruit, fowls, puddings, tripe, a crane, woodcocks, a popinjay, quails and other birds, pork, rabbit, Llanthony cheeses, pease cods, cakes, a wild boar, malmsey wine, flowers, chiefly roses, bucks, sweetmeats, rose water, a cushion, and a pair of clarycords’.   The bearers of these gifts would never go away empty handed.

There were disbursements for servants wages, for preparing her apartments when she removed from one place to another,  which she did frequently, for conveying her clothes and necessary furniture, for messengers, for the repairs of her barge and the pay of the bargemen, for her chairs and litters, the purchase of household articles, for silks, damasks, satins, cloth of gold, velvet, linen, gowns, kirtles,  petticoats for her own use or for the ladies she maintained;  for jewellery, trappings for horses, furs, gold chains and for the charges of her stables and greyhounds;  for the support of her sister Lady Katherine Courtney and her children, including the burial of some of them;  for the clothing and board of her Fool, gambling debts and so much more.  Sir Nicholas notes that ‘her Majesties revenue was not adequate to cover all these demands and she was ‘not infrequently obliged to borrow money‘.  A look at Henry’s Privy Purse accounts shows that he, perhaps  being a good egg or because it was the least he could do under the circumstances,  frequently bailed his wife out although it was expected  these loans were to be repaid.

The accounts which cover the last year of Elizabeth’s life are too detailed to go into her but I list here a few :

MAY 1502 Item to Frary Clerc of St Johns for the buryeng of the men that were hanged at Wapping mylne  8 shillings

There are several examples of money being given to servants of her father, King Edward, who had perhaps fallen on hard times such as ;

JUNE 1502 Item ..and to a pore man in aulmouse somtyme being a servant of King Edwards IV   2s. 4d.  as well as cloth to a woman who had been nurse to her brothers –

Help was also given to people who had served other members of  her family :

DECEMBER 1502 item 3 yards of cloth delivered by commandment of the Queen to a woman what was ‘norice’ to the Princes brothers to the Queen grace

DECEMBER 1502 Item to a man of ‘Poynfreyt saying himself to lodge in his house Therl Ryvers in tyme of his death in almous  12 shillings’

For herself, other than her gambling debts , Elizabeth seemed to keep an eye on the purse strings with numerous mentions of her gowns being repaired.

DECEMBER 1502 item to the Quenes grace upon the Feest of St Stephen for hure disport at cardes this Cristmas 100 s.

She appeared to wear a lot of black during the period these accounts cover when  presumably the court were in mourning for Arthur –  an example being

NOVEMBER 1502 Item ..to Henry Bryan for 17 yards of black velvet for a gown for the Queen at 10 shillings 6d the yard.    13 yards of black  satin  delivered to Johnson for a riding gown and a yard  of black velvet for an edge and cuffs for the same gown.  Item black bokeram for lining  of the same gown, sarcenet for ‘fentes’ for the same gown and an elle of canvas for lining of the same gown –   although on a lighter note in

JUNE 1502 Item ..to William Antyne coper smyth for spangelles settes square sterrys dropes and pointes after silver and gold for garnisshing of jakettes against the disguysing lvj viiij d.

AUGUST 1502 ..to my Lady Verney for money by hur delivered by commaundement of the Queen to Fyll the Kinges paynter in reward   3s. 4d.  Item to John Reynold payntour for making of divers beestes and othere pleasires for the Quene at Windsore 10 s.

A short, interesting appraisal of Elizabeth including her expenses were included by Ann Wroe in her biography of Perkin Warbeck.  ‘The queen seems to have been a gentle passive creature.  Her world was one of frugally mended gowns, wicker baskets and works of charity.  She had little money of her own her allowance being one eighth of the king’s and she often gave it away. On Maundy Thursday she distributed new shoes to poor women but her own shoes cost no more than 12d each and had cheap latten buckles…Ayala writing in 1498 thought her’ beloved because she is powerless’ and believed as many did that her formidable mother in law kept her in subjection. Although Margaret  Beaufort showed her kindness she was undoubtedly a stronger character.  A citizen of Nottingham once tried to speak to Elizabeth when she visited that city, their pleasant conversation was stopped by that ‘strong whore’, Henry’s mother,  and Elizabeth acquiesced .(5)

Later it is poignant to read about the costs of trying, vainly,  to save her life when she was stricken  after giving birth to her last child, Katherine.

Itm To James Nattres for his costes going into Kent for Doctour Hallysworth phesicon to comme to the Quene by the Kinges commaundement.  Furst for his bote hyre from the Towre to Gravys ende and again iiij s, iiij d.   Itm to twoo watermen abiding at Gravys ende unto suche tyme the said James came again for theire expenses viij d.    Itm for horse hyre and to guydes by night and day ij s.iij d.and for his awe expenses xvj d.’

Elizabeth’s midwife Alice Massy was not forgotten; her wages being 12 shillings.

And thus Elizabeth,  with exemplary timing,  died on the anniversary  of her birthday, 11 February.  Its said that Henry took her death badly and it would seem that his behaviour and attitudes took a turn for the worse after he had been widowed but that is another story.   Perhaps theirs was not a passionate love,  duty having bound them together,  but I do get the impression from their Privy Purse accounts that they did rub along together quite nicely.

The inscription on her tomb reads –

‘Here lies Queen Elizabeth, daughter of the former King Edward IV, sister of the formerly appointed King Edward V, once the wife of King Henry VII, and the renowned mother of Henry VIII. She met her day of death in the Tower of London on the 11th day of February in the year of Our Lord 1502, having fulfilled the age of 37 years’

54af3563478c8df0d0e704730308ac7a.jpg

  1. Collectanea v.373-4 Leland
  2. Records of the borough of Nottingham 1882-1956 W H Stevenson and others.
  3. CPS Spain 1485-1509, 164
  4. Elizabeth of York, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Rosemary Horrox
  5.  Perkin Warbeck: a Story of Deception Ann Wrote pp 458.9

THE TOMB OF BLANCHE MORTIMER, LADY GRANDISON

image

The graceful effigy of Blanche Mortimer atop her tomb.  St Bartholomew,  Much Marcle.

In the chancel of the church of St Bartholomew,  Much Marcle, Herefordshire can be found one of the most beautiful tombs chests in England, that of Blanche Mortimer, Lady Grandison.  I happened by chance on this lovely monument  some years ago.  I stood there entranced, unwilling to leave.  Blanche’s tomb has been described by Nikolaus Pevsner as follows “The head is strikingly beautiful, eyes closed and lips slightly parted.  Beautiful hands with long fingers..moreover the most surprising demonstration of realism in the way of her long skirt hangs down over the tomb chest“.   Simon Jenkins in his book “England’s Thousand Best Churches describes the monument as “An image as lovely as any bequeathed by a medieval church….the effigy might be the original for Sleeping Beauty‘.    English Heritage describe it as one of the finest of its date in England.

IMG_3649.JPG

Close up of the attention to detail in the tightly buttoned sleeves of Blanche’s gown.

Blanche was born around 1316, dying in 1347 and  was the youngest daughter of the lst  Earl of March, Roger Mortimer who rebelled against King Edward II.  He and Queen Isabella were lovers and probably arranged the murder of Edward.   Roger  was eventually overthrown by Edward’s son, Edward III and executed, but that is another story.    Blanche was married to Peter Grandison.   He is not buried besides her but lies in Hereford Cathedral.  Little is knows of their relationship but the meticulous  care, craftsmanship and attention to detail  lavished on the design  and building of the tomb would indicate that Peter Grandison loved and missed his wife. And there, atop her tomb, lies Blanche to this day.  Her face, serene and lovely, her long gown hanging down gracefully in folds over the front of the tomb chest and her hands, beautifully carved, hold her rosary, although alas her little dog is missing his head.

IMG_3664.JPG

630_MG_8560X-800x991.jpg

The tomb chest with its displays of the  Mortimer blue and gold  heraldic badge and the Grandison badge of blue, red and gold.

IMG_3674.JPG

Blanche’s husband, Peter Grandison’s  tomb in Hereford Cathedral

But that is not the end of the story for Blanche.  For  while the monument was being restored, Blanche’s lead coffin was found resting within the tomb chest.    This was most unusual as it has been thought that tomb chest monuments were built on top of or nearby where the dedicatee had been buried beneath the church floor or in a vault.  It is now known, through this discovery that some coffins were  placed inside the tomb chest itself.  After the restoration was completed, led by sculpture conservator Michael Eastham, the coffin was returned to the tomb chest with new steel supports to provide future protection.  The lead coffin was briefly examined but the decision was made not to disturb it.

IMG_3645.JPG

Blanche’s lead coffin

IMG_3646.JPG

Blanche’s effigy prior to replacement on top of the tomb chest.

IMG_3673.JPG

St Bartholomew’s very own ‘Sleeping Beauty’

IMG_3644.JPG

Blanche’s effigy after renovation – her little dog, although damaged,  still lying at her feet..

And so we leave Blanche and her little dog – serene and lovely – truly St Bartholomew’s very own sleeping beauty.

If you enjoyed this post you might also like THE MEDIEVAL DOGGIE AND EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT THEM

THE ANCIENT DOORS OF OLD ENGLAND

image

ENGLAND’S OLDEST DOOR – TO BE FOUND IN WESTMINSTER ABBEY OPENING ON TO THE CHAPTER HOUSE.  

Are doors not fascinating?   If somewhere you haven’t been before, do you like me, always wonder what’s on the other side?  Of course if the door is ancient even more so.  The above is the oldest door in England and it was once thought the remnants of hide on the door were from some unfortunate soul  who had been flayed.  As it turns out recent investigation has proven its animal hide.  Oh the relief!

IMG_5948 2.jpg

An intriguing door beckons at the top of a flight of worn steps at Wells Cathedral

IMG_5949.jpg

image.png

More gems from Wells Cathedral

Little_Ease_01.jpg

‘ENTER ME IF YOU DARE’..Old photos of the doors of the cell known as “Little Ease’ in the Tower of London

IMG_5962.jpg

Another old photo of an equally forbidding doorway in the Tower..

image.png

The Sacristy door from Tewkesbury Abbey has a terrible tale to tell.  It is covered with remnants of horse armour recovered  from the Battle of Tewkesbury…

image.png

We are fortunate so many ancient doors have survived in churches such as this wonderful example – St Edward’s Church, Stow on the Wold, Gloucestershire.

image.png

Bodiam Castle, Sussex.  Two for the price of one!

image.png

The details around medieval a door could be wonderful.  I have not been able to trace anything more  about this door/carving other than it is from an old Manor House.  Who could resist a peep inside those doors?  Photo taken approx 1880.

IMG_5954.jpg

IMG_5953.jpg

Two doors from Rochester, the second one known as the “Gandalf’ door and thought to be just 30 years younger than the oldest door at Westminster Abbey (see above) – well whats in a decade or two?

image

OLD HALL, LAVENHAM, SUFFOLK.  TIMBERFRAMED AND BUILT IN THE 1390s.

Some doors, as above, have survived in more humbler buildings and can still be come across today…..just waiting  for someone to give them a gentle push open and wander in.

If you have enjoyed this you might like

GREENWICH PALACE – HUMPHREY DUKE OF GLOUCESTER’S PALACE OF PLEAZANCE

THE RAVENS OF THE TOWER OF LONDON

ROYAL PECULIARS AND THEIR PECULIARITIES

THE ANCIENT TREES OF GREENWICH PALACE HUNTING GROUNDS

 

THE DEATH OF HENRY VIII

image

Henry VIII, known as the Hamilton Portrait and once owned by the Duke of Hamilton, this portrait used to be at  Holyroodhouse.  Philip Mould.

The deaths of all three Tudor kings were protracted and wretched.  Whether this was down to Karma, bad luck (or good luck depending on what way you look at it) or just the lamentable medical treatments available at the time,  I know not.  Perhaps a combination of all three.  But I want to concentrate here on the death of Henry VIII.

image

‘The Death of Kings’ by Clifford Brewer T.D. F.R.C.S is an interesting read and covers the death of Henry in detail.   The title is self explanatory, the book being a ‘medical history of the Kings and Queens of England’.   I have drawn heavily on the book for the information I quote here concerning Henry VIII, who by strange coincidence died on the 28th January being the date on which his father Henry Tudor was born.

Henry, long since grown corpulent, was becoming a burden to himself and of late lame by reason of a violent ulcer in his leg, the inflammation whereof cast him into a lingering fever, which little by little decayed his spirits.  He at length begun to feel the inevitable necessity of death. Goodwin Annales of England.

Henry’s symptoms are too numerous to detail here and death must have come as somewhat of a relief to him after much suffering.  The actual cause of death is still debated as is did he suffer from syphilis.  Brewer points out there is no proof either way and that although , if he had,  it could explain some of the happenings in his reign there are points which contradict this.  For example there is no evidence that his long term mistress Bessie Blount suffered from syphilis which she surely would have contracted from him (neither did  their son Henry Fitzroy ever show signs of congenital syphilis).      The same can be said of Mary Boleyn or any of his wives.

d52f6e666d461e635079b23dae725e66.jpg

This is believed to be a bust of Henry as a child.  What a mischievous little chap he was, the little stinker…..

He is recorded as having suffered from a bout of malaria with recurrences throughout his life although these did not seem to incapacitate him too much.  Indeed he seems to have enjoyed  robust health engaging in ‘strenuous exercise’ and indulged in many jousts and tournaments both on foot and on horse. He did however have two lucky escapes both of which could have been fatal.  One was a jousting accident where his brother-in-law, the Duke  Suffolk’s lance shattered his helm and he was very lucky not to be blinded or even killed’.  Then in 1525 whilst  trying  to vault a very wide ditch using a pole, the pole broke and he was thrown headfirst into the mud where,   unable either to get up or even breath,  his life was  saved by a footman.  .

485px-1491_Henry_VIII.jpg

Henry in his prime.  Portrait by Joos van Cleve c1530-1535

This jousting injury might account for the belated development of several symptoms.   Henry was to alter in appearance and put on a considerable amount of  weight,  ‘his face become moonlike,  burying his small eyes in a puffy face and accentuating  his small mouth’.  After the execution of Anne Boleyn,  Henry became even more prone to fits of temper and instability.  His  great increase in weight made it difficult for him to take exercise. Henry also developed an ulcer on his leg and  Brewer speculates that this ulcer,  which was very offensive,  ‘and a trial to his attendants‘  could have been either a varicose ulcer or the result of an injury received whilst jousting which damaged the bone leading to osteitis.   This could have led to further complications – amyloid disease in which a waxy  material is laid down in the liver, kidneys and elsewhere.  Not a pretty picture.  Poor Henry.

Henry,  as he got older,  became subject of violent attacks of temper and periods of loss of memory.   On leaving London on one occasion he ordered all the prisoners in Tower to be executed.   His character become more and more unstable and by 1546 Henry had become  grossly overweight,  his legs so swollen,  due to severe oedema,  that he was unable to walk and he was moved from place to place by means of lifting apparatus.

 

Corneille_Metsys_-_Henry_VIII.jpg

Henry towards the end of his life showing the  abnormality on the side of his nose which might indicate a gamma that had healed with scarring.   Cornelis Metsys line engraving 1545.

Towards the end of January 1547 he begun to suffer from periods of partial unconsciousness alternating with periods of alertness.  He was probably passing into a uraemia coma.  Realising he was dying he sent for  Cranmer but by he time he arrived he had lost the ability to speak.  Grasping Cranmer’s hand in his,  he pressed it when asked if he  repented his sins.    This was taken as Henry’s repentance and he ‘died in grace’ ‘  – ummm I don’t think it quite works like that!  .  However, his huge and offensive body was transferred, with some difficulty,  into his coffin.  He was then taken to Windsor to be laid to rest beside Jane Seymour.  However that is not the end of the story for it is said that his coffin burst a leak and the church was filled with a ‘most obnoxious odour’.  And so Henry passed ignobly from this life and  into history and the short reign of his son Edward VI commenced.    As it transpired Edward’s death was to be perhaps  even more awful that that of his father.   But that dear reader is another story.

image

HENRY VIII’S COFFIN IN THE VAULT HE SHARES WITH JANE SEYMOUR AND CHARLES I.   ST GEORGE’S CHAPEL, WINDSOR.

CROSSRAIL – A PORTAL INTO MEDIEVAL LONDON

image

No doubt archaeologists thought that all their Christmases’  had arrived at once when they first heard the breaking news of the building of Crossrail,  Europe’s largest infrastructure which will be called the Elizabeth Line (and hopefully up and running in the first half of 2022)  and the exceptional opportunities the excavations would bring. However, did they ever imagine in their wildest dreams the wealth of artefacts that would be unearthed ranging from bison bones, 68000 years old, found at Royal Oak, near Paddington, through the mediaeval period to Roman finds, including a burial site beneath the area that once covered Liverpool Street station. Since the work began in 2009 archaeologists have unearthed tens of thousands of items from 40 sites spanning 55 million years of London’s history and pre-history (1) The new railway will run from east to west through some of London’s most historical areas. It has been described as a layer cake of history hidden beneath the city streets.

IMG_6769.JPG

LIVERPOOL STREET STATION

Some of the most interesting finds were discovered beneath Liverpool Street station which stands right in the heart of what was once mediaeval London. Of particular interest was the south-east corner where the ticket office once stood for this had been built over the Bedlam burial grounds later known as Bethlem Hospital which had been in use since 1247 to 1815.   Eighty archaeologists worked on this site retrieving thousands of objects.   A total of 4000 burials were uncovered including a plague pit containing 30 victims from the great plague of 1665. DNA testing on teeth found in the burial grounds has also confirmed the identity of the bacteria that was behind the Great Plague. One of the most poignant finds was a necklace that was found on the skeleton of a baby.

image

Modern restringing of the beads found on the baby’s skeleton.  The beads are amber, white amber, cornelian, glass and bone.

image

Plague victim from the mass pit aged 17 to 25 probably male. 

IMG_6770.PNGGrave Marker for Mary Godfree, a victim of the Great Plague who died 2 September 1665.

Charterhouse Square and Faringdon

A large ditch was excavated to the south of Charterhouse Square. It may be the remains of Faggeswell Brook which flowed into the Fleet River.   The ditch formed the southern boundary of the cemetery and Charterhouse Monastery,  founded in 1371 and suppressed in 1538.  Included in the items found,  which had been dumped in the ditch to fill it in between 1580 and 1640 , were leather shoes, parts  of a horse harness dating from the late 15th century, pottery and floor tiles dated to 1300 which were probably from the monastery.  The remains of a cemetery  were discovered containing the remains of victims of the Black Death c.1348/9.   Twenty five skeletons were discovered buried in three layers.

IMG_6771.JPG TWO MEN IN THEIR 40S BURIED HOLDING HANDS FROM ONE OF THE LAYERS OF THE CHARTERHOUSE BURIAL SITE.

Horseshoes were a frequent find, perhaps unsurprisingly, including a Roman version known as hipposandals.   These were temporary and designed to save the hooves from  the hard surfaces of city roads

roman-horseshoes-were-discovered-together-roman-road-liverpool-street-site

Worcester House Stepney Green

IMG_6772.JPG

Reconstruction of moated Worcester House built around 1450

Worcester House a 15th century moated manor house built about 1450 probably on the site of an earlier house was previously known as King John’s Palace. Rubbish thrown into the moat gives an insight into the lives of those who lived there. Among the many artefacts found were leather shoes, the remains  of a horse harness dating from the late 15th century,  dress pins, a wooden ball which was probably used as a ‘jack’ in a game of bowls or skittles. Henry VIII is known to have loved bowls but banned poor people from playing it.

IMG_6775.JPGWooden ball used for playing bowls

IMG_6773.JPG

16th century leather shoe

IMG_6774

Tudor dress pin.  In use before buttons…!

v0_master

15th century glazed goblet.  

However this is not the end of the story for this once grand old manor house for when the archaeologists had finished over four tonnes of bricks were donated to English Heritage for restoring England’s Tudor buildings.

I have merely touched upon a few of the wealth of wonderful finds from the Crossrail archaeology here.   Anyone wishing to delve deeper can find some excellent links to informative websites covering these remarkable finds.  Particularly recommended is The Tunnel Through Time Gillian Tindall.

1) Tunnel: The Archaeology of Crossrail Jackie Kelly p18

If you liked this post you might be interested in 

THE ORANGE AND LEMON CHURCHES OF OLD LONDON

THE RAVENS OF THE TOWER OF LONDON

The English Medieval Cathedral

THE ANCIENT TREES OF GREENWICH PALACE HUNTING GROUNDS

THE ANCIENT GATES OF OLD LONDON

 

 

THE DEATH OF HENRY VII

image

Henry VII on his deathbed – Wriothesley’s Heraldic Collection Vol I Book of Funerals

And so, on 21 April 1509, Henry Tudor finally expired.  He had been ill, obviously, for some time and perhaps his death was something of a relief to him. I’m sure it was for the rest of the country who probably breathed a collective sigh of relief. He had managed to keep his bony posterior on the throne for 24 years since that diabolical day at Bosworth when an anointed king was slaughtered.  It does nothing for Henry’s  reputation that he allowed the dead king’s body to be horrendously  abused  as well as the ignoble and deplorable  act of having his reign  predated from the day before the battle. But no doubt there were some that lamented his passing especially his mother Margaret Beaufort, a  most highly acquisitive woman and probably one of the most greediest.     She adored him and the pair must hardly have been able to believe their luck that he had survived the battle unscathed, probably due to the fact that he took no active part in it.

image

Unknown artist’s impression of Tudor being crowned in the aftermath of Bosworth.

It must have seemed surreal to him as he wandered through the dead kings apartments at Westminster that had now, overnight, become his.

image

Bust of Henry VII: National Portrait Gallery.

He had some worrying times with bothersome pretenders to the throne popping up with annoying regularity as well as various uprisings. Whether he was plagued by his conscience we do not  know although Margaret was prone to bursts of weeping at times when she should have been happy which must have been very tedious  for those around her.

However moving on from that , what actually did see Henry off?     His health seems to have gone into a decline when he reached his 30s.   His eyes began to trouble him and he tried various eye lotions and eye  baths  made of fennel water,  rosewater and celandine ” to make bright the sight” but to no avail.  His teeth were a source of trouble with Polydore Vergil describing him as having ‘teeth few, poor and blackish’ (1).  His eye problems must have caused him dismay as he liked nothing more than to pour over his account books to see where the pennies were going and how much he was amassing. He was predeceased by his wife, whom it is said he was fond of, and four children including his oldest son and  heir,  Arthur,  but fortunately for him,  if not the country and the Roman Catholic Church he had a surviving spare – Henry Jnr.

 

image

Death mask of Henry VII Westminster Abbey

In his interesting book, The Death of Kings, Clifford Brewer writes   “Henry had developed a chronic cough which was particularly severe in springtime.  The  condition became progressively more severe and associated with loss of weight and a general wasting . In 1507 and 1508  Henry’s spring cough become more troublesome.  He  is described as having become troubled with a tissic,  or cough,  he also suffered from mild gout.  In his Life of Henry the VII , Bacon writes

‘ in the two and 20th year of his reign in 1507 he began to be troubled with a gout but the defluxation  taking also unto his breast wasted his lungs so that thrice in a year in a kind of return and especially in the spring he had great fits and labours of the tissick’.   This suggests that Henry suffered from chronic fibroid phthisis ( chronic tuberculosis infection)  which became more and more active with  resultant wasting and debility.  This  is found in several of the members of the Tudor line.  Henry made a great effort to attend divine service on Easter Day 1509 but he was exhausted and retired to his palace at Richmond where he died on 21 April  from chronic pulmonary tuberculosis (2)”

According to Holinshed Chronicle

“….he was so wasted with his long malady that nature could no longer  sustain his life and so he departed out of this world the two and 20th of April’.

Thomas Penn in his biography of Henry, The Winter King, describes Henry as ‘unable to eat and struggling for breath,  Henry’s mind was fixated on the hereafter.  On Easter Sunday 8th April,  emaciated and in intense pain he staggered into his privy closet, where he dropped to his knees and crawled  to receive the sacrament… later as Henry lay amid mounds of pillows,  cushions and bolsters,  throat rattling,  gasping for breath,  he mumbled again and again that  ‘ if it please God to send him life they should find him a very changed man’.  Henry  made an exemplary  death,  eyes fixed intensely on the crucifix held out before him,  lifting his head up feebly  towards it,  reaching out and enfolding in his thin arms,  kissing it fervently,  beating it repeatedly upon his chest.   Fisher said that Henry’s promises took a very specific form.  If he lived, Henry promised a true reformation of all them that were officers and ministers of his laws (3)’.  However,  as they say , man makes plans and the gods laugh and Henry did not survive to bring about the changes he  was so eager on his death bed to make.  He had left it too late.

image

Richmond Palace, Wyngarde c1558-62

And so Henry Tudor shuffled off this mortal coil. The King is dead, long live the King and so began the reign of his son Henry VIII and that dear reader is another story.

1. The Death of Kings p110 Clifford Brewer.

2. Ibid pp110.111

3. Winter King Thomas Penn p339.

ANNE MOWBRAY DUCHESS OF NORFOLK. CHILD BRIDE OF RICHARD OF SHREWSBURY – ONE OF THE PRINCES IN THE TOWER – HER REBURIAL IN WESTMINSTER ABBEY.

St Erasmus in Bishop Islip's Chapel, Westminster Abbey exhibited 1796 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

St Erasmus in Bishops Islip’s Chapel, Westminster Abbey by Joseph Mallord William Turner c.1796.  The  original chapel of St Erasmus, built by Elizabeth Wydeville,  was the site of Anne Mowbray’s first burial and after recovery of her coffin she was reburied in the rebuilt Chapel.  

Anne Mowbray, Duchess of Norfolk, was born in Framlingham Castle, Suffolk on Thursday 10 December 1472.  John Paston wrote On Thursday by 10 of the clock before noon my young lady was christened and named Anne (1).  Anne died, just 8 years later and a few weeks short of her 9th birthday at Greenwich Palace,one of  her mother-in-law’s,  Elizabeth Wydeville,  favourite homes,  on the 19 November 1481, where presumably she was being raised.   Anne was the sole heiress of John de Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, who died suddenly on the 14 January 1476 when Anne was three years old.  This left her as one of the most sought after heiresses of the time andten days later it was known that Edward lV was seeking her as a bride for his younger son, Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York(2).   Agreement was eventually reached between King Edward and Anne’s mother, Elizabeth Mowbray nee Talbot, the Duchess of Norfolk,   with the Duchess agreeing ‘to forego a great part of her jointure and dower lands in favour of her daughter and little son-in-law, Richard, Duke of York.  This act settled also settled the Norfolk lands and titles on the Duke of York and his heirs should Anne Mowbray predeceased him leaving no heirs‘ (3) which is precisely what transpired.  Nothing has survived of Elizabeth Mowbray’s personal thoughts on this.   The children were eventually married on the 15 January 1478 in St Stephens Chapel, Westminster, with the bridegroom’s uncle-in-law, Richard Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III,  leading her by the hand.  Anne is perhaps best known for being the child bride of one of the ‘princes’ in the Tower.

image

Framlingham Castle, Suffolk.  Home to the Mowbrays and where Anne Mowbray was born Thursday 10 December 1472.  

Her father-in-law sent three barges to escort her body back to Westminster, where she lay in state in the Jerusalem Chamber before being buried in the Chapel of St Erasmus in Westminster Abbey which had been built recently by Elizabeth Wydeville, the funeral costs amounting to £215.16s.10d.  This chapel was pulled down in 1502 to make way for a new Lady Chapel built by Henry Vll.  When the chapel was demolished Anne’s coffin was removed to  the Convent of the Minoresses of St Clare without Aldgate, where her mother,  Elizabeth Mowbray, in the interim,  had retired to.   It was believed that Anne had been reburied, along with others in the new chapel, dedicated to St Erasmus by Abbot Islip,  who had managed to rescue the Tabernacle from the old chapel and set it up in the new chapel,  which is now known as the Chapel of our Lady of the Pew.

It is intriguing to remember that Anne’s mother, Elizabeth Mowbray nee Talbot was the sister to Eleanor Butler nee Talbot.   So ironically Anne’s aunt, Eleanor, was her father-in-law’s true wife, the irony of which surely would not have been wasted on King Edward unless he was suffering from selective amnesia!  Her mother’s privy thoughts on this matter, assuming Eleanor had told her of her secret marriage to Edward,  are unrecorded as are her thoughts on the ‘unjust and unacceptable‘(4)  division of the Mowbray inheritance.  The explanation of this rather unsavoury treatment of the Mowbray inheritance is rather complex and I wont go into it here suffice to say anyone interested in finding out more should read Anne Crawford’s article, The Mowbray Inheritance (5) which covers the matter more than adequately.

image

Anne’s mother, Elizabeth Mowbray nee Talbot.  Her portait from the donor windows in Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford, Suffolk.

Anne, the nature of her final illness eludes us, would no doubt have gently receded and become forgotten in the mists of time had not her coffin been discovered by workmen on the 11 December 1964  and she was propelled into front page news leading to her descendant, an outraged Lord Mowbray, protesting in the strongest possible terms about the treatment of her remains.  This quickly led to the matter being swiftly resolved, and Anne’s remains, surrounded by white roses, were once again laid in state in the Jerusalem Chamber, as they had been nearly 500 years previously.  Anne was reburied in the Chapel of St Erasmus, with erroneous and histrionic reports stating that she had been interred ‘as near as possible’ to the remains of her young husband, Richard, whose purported remains lay in the infamous urn in the Henry Vll Chapel.  Later Lawrence Tanner, Keeper of the Muniments and Librarian of Westminster Abbey (and in a position to know) was to debunk this myth writing that he, himself, had suggested that Anne’s remains be reinterred ‘very near to the probable site of her original burial place’ which was what duly happened(6).

IMG_0024.JPG

Anne’s lead coffin with latin inscription, with her ‘masses of brown hair’.

Untitled

Anne Mowbray’s hair. @Eleanor the Secret Queen John Ashdown-Hill

So what happened from the time of the discovery of Anne’s lead coffin to her reburial in the Abbey?  The story is taken up by Bernard Barrell, a former member of the Metroplitan Police, who was now an ‘unofficial police contact’ whenever a coffin was unearthed in the area.  According to Mr Barrell, in December 1964 workmen using a digging machine opened up a deep void in the ground revealing a brick vault filled with rubble, wherein they found a small lead coffin.  A police constable being called to the scene the coffin was transferred to Leman street Police station.  When Mr Barrel was called to the police station he was able to identify where the coffin had been discovered as the site of the former convent and was medieval in date.  After satisfying the Coroners office that the burial was medieval and of archaeological interest he was instructed that if  he was ‘unable to dispose of the coffin to a bona fide claimant’ within 24 hours it would be buried in a common grave in the City of London Cemetery, Manor Park.  In the nick of time Mr Barrell noticed a plate attached the upper surface of the coffin which had been damaged when removed from the ground and stood upright.  On cleaning the plate with a wet cloth, Mr Barrell revealed a medieval ‘black letter’ text in Latin which was difficult to decipher however he could make out two words ‘Filia Rex‘ (Son of the king).  Realising this was no ordinary burial but that of someone of high station a medieval latin scholar was summoned to the station who deciphered the whole text. The coffin was then taken by police van to the museum of London, where the remains were examined, the coffin concerved and repaired (7).

Lawrence Tanner then takes the story over.

‘I saw the body a few days after the coffin had been opened and a very distressing sight it was and after again, after it had been cleaned and beautifully laid out in its lead coffin.  She had masses of brown hair’.  Tanner as already explained, suggested that a grave be made as near to where she was previously buried.  And ‘There on a summer evening, after having laid in state covered by the Abbey Pall in the Jerusalem Chamber, the body of the child duchess was laid to rest.  It was a deeply moving and impressive little service in the presence of a representative of the Queen, Lady and Lord Mowbray, Segrave and Stourton (representing Anne’s family),  the Home secretary, the Director of the London Museum and one or two others (8)

Mowbray,-Anne,-lying-in-state-JC-72-Westminster-Abbey-copyright.jpg

Anne’s lead coffin surrounded by white flowers and candles, lying in state in  the Jerusalem Chamber, on the Westminster Pall.

And so, on the 31 May 1965,  Anne was reburied in an honourable place, with tenderness, love and care.  It has been said that her coffin,  at the Minories,  had been forgotten and the intention was for her to be reburied when the new chapel was completed.  But I’m unconvinced.  Although as far as I can ascertain it was never mentioned in Elizabeth Talbot’s will, only that she be buried near to Anne Montgomery,   I believe that the widowed Duchess of Norfolk, then living in retirement at the convent, requested that Anne, her little daughter be returned to her,  finally,  with the intention  that when her time came,  she would be buried near to her  daughter.  John Ashdown-Hill has written that ‘The remains of Elizabeth Talbot,  Duchess of Norfolk, must have been lying quite close to those of her daughter…they were apparently not noticed

The epitaph on the coffin may be translated as

Here lies Anne, Duchess of York, daughter and heiress of John,late Duke of Norfolk, Earl Marshal, Earl of Nottingham and Warenne, Marshal of England, Lord of Mowbray, Segrave and Gower.  Late wife of Richard Duke of York, second son of the most illustrious Prince Edward the Fourth, King of England and France, and Lord of Ireland, who died at Greenwich on the 19th day of November in the year of Our Lord 1481 and the 21st year of the said Lord King”.

  1. Philomena Jones, Anne Mowbray, Richard lll Crown and People p.86
  2. Ibid p.86
  3. Ibid p.88
  4. Anne Crawford The Mowbray Inheritance, Richard lll Crown and people p.81
  5. ibid p.81
  6. Lawrence Tanner, Recollections of a Westminster Antiquary p192
  7. Charles W Spurgeon The Poetry of Westminster Abbey p.207, 208, 209
  8. Lawrence Tanner, Recollections of a Westminster Antiquary, p192.
  9. John Ashdown-Hill The Secret Queen Eleanor Talbot The Woman Who Put Richard lll on the Throne p.248

If you enjoyed this post you might also like

Those mysterious childrens coffins in Edward IV’s vault….

EDWARD OF MIDDLEHAM ‘SON TO KYNG RICHARD’ & THE MYSTERIOUS SHERIFF HUTTON MONUMENT

MARY PLANTAGENET – DAUGHTER OF EDWARD IV & ELIZABETH WYDEVILLE – A LIFE CUT SHORT

OLD LONDON BRIDGE – A MEDIEVAL WONDER!

London from Southwark, c.1630. Old London Bridge is in the right foreground and old St Paul's Cathedral on the skyline to the left. This is one of the few remaining pictures showing the city before the Great Fire. Oil on panel, Dutch School not signed or

Old London Bridge from Southwark c.1630.  Unknown artist.

Old London Bridge. Claude de Jongh

There had been many manifestations of the bridge prior to this particular one, among them a  wooden one which had been brought down by a tornado in 1091, but it is this particular one most people think of when Old London Bridge is mentioned. Designed by Peter de Colechurch, a priest, chaplain and architect, building work begun in 1176 and was commissioned by Henry II who was suffering pangs of guilt since the murder of his old friend Thomas Becket. To this end one of the first buildings on the bridge was a chapel dedicated to Thomas  – The Chapel of St Thomas the Martyr on the Bridge – and the starting point for pilgrimages to Thomas’ shrine at Canterbury. This chapel was completed in 1209 and was in use until 1548 when it was dissolved and begun a new life as a dwelling place,  surveyers being instructed by the Common Council that  the chapel upon the same bridge ‘be defaced and be translated into a dwellyng-house with as moche spede as they convenyentlye may‘. The upper story was demolished in 1747 when it continued in use as a warehouse until final demolition in 1832.

image

London Bridge in the 17th Century.  Getty images.

Antiquated, in a run down state, and at 600 years old, the old bridge had reached its sell by date at the time of its demolition and of course it was inevitable but at the same time, a place so steeped in history, is surely a tragic loss. This bridge had seen some of the most memorable occasions in London’s history and there could have been few Londoners who had not crossed over at some time in their lives. It was the site of pageants, jousts, battles and even coronation processions.  It consisted of 19 arches of varying widths with piers supported on great starlings and crossing just over 900 feet of water. The Southwark end was protected by the Great Stonegate which had a portcullis which could be closed and barred.  At the seventh arch from the southern end was a functional drawbridge before the Drawbridge Gate, where a toll keeper collected tolls from passengers on the bridge and from ships which required the drawbridge to be raised.  It was upon Drawbridge Gate that the heads of traitors were displayed. 

The bridge as it appeared in 1209 before the houses were built with the Chapel of St Thomas in the centre.  Getty Image

The earlier bridges had regularly been the focal points for invasions by  marauding Vikings but things remained more or less peaceful for our bridge until the arrival of Wat Tyler and his Kentishmen in 1381.  However, as we know, things did not go to plan for him.  Things seem to have been relatively peaceful for some time after although a ‘great’ joust took place in 1395 between David, Earl of Crawford of Scotland and Lord Wells of England, the outcome of which Lord Wells found himself  ‘borne out of his saddle‘ at the third course.  Presumably they all went home then.  However, Jack Cade and more Kentishmen arrived in 1450.  In the year 1471, The Bastard of Falconbridge besieged the bridge, burnt the gate and all the houses of which there were 13 at that time.  Sir Thomas Wyatt in 1553, with even more Kentishmen – what is it with Kentishmen? – marched from Deptford towards London only to find out the bridge gates had been shut. As they say man makes plans and the gods laugh

GREAT FIRE OF 1212

On the night of 10 July 1212, and only 4 years after the completion of the bridge,  a fire occurred in Southwark on the south side of the bridge. Pretty soon the bridge was heaving with ‘a great magnitude of  people‘ who had either gone there to watch or to try to help.  By a tragic mischance the wind blew and the northern end of the bridge became engulfed in fire.   The fire that was raging in Southwark then  spread onto the southern approach of the Bridge and the people were trapped.  Ships came in a rescue attempt but to no avail as they were sunk by the sheer number of panicked people attempting to board them.  Stow tells us over 3000 people perished on that awful night from a combination of fire and shipwreck (2).

HENRY Vs FUNERAL CORTEGE

Henry V died on the 31 August 1422 in Vincennes in France not quite seven years after his great victory at Agincourt.   His funeral cortege snaked its slow way from Dover to Westminster Abbey passing over the Bridge.  His effigy lay on top of his coffin on a chariot drawn by four horses.  It can be imagined the grief stricken crowds and sombre silence as the warrior king was taken to his final resting place.  His heir was but a babe of 9 months.   Its well known how that story panned out and I’ll not go into it here.  Suffice to say that day must be counted as among the saddest  in the Bridge’s long history.  

QUEEN ELIZABETH WOODVILLE’S CORONATION PROCESSION 24 MAY 1465image

Queen Elizabeth Wydeville Royal Window Canterbury Cathedral.

The Coronation Procession of Edward IV’s consort, Elizabeth Wydeville or Woodville, as she is more commonly known,  entered London via the bridge at Bridge Foot accompanied by an assemble of dignitaries  (who had met her at Shooters Hill) and  been instructed to appear  in suche apparel as is according to youre astate and honour‘ (3)  One can only hope that someone remembered to remove  the heads of traitors from the Drawbridge Gate where they were displayed.  As it transpired the marriage of Edward and Elizabeth turned out to be a bigamous one, he already being married to another, Eleanor Butler nee Talbot.   This bigamous Wydeville marriage   was to become the tragic rock that the House of York tragically foundered upon but this story is  covered fully elsewhere and I shall not go into it here.  Returning to that day the procession must have been a sight to behold.  Accounts  of the costs incurred that day are extant today so we do know, among other things,  that a room was hired overlooking Bridge Foot from a shoemaker called Peter Johnson and from there a choir sung to the queen – costing the sizeable sum of 6s 8d.  An enormous amount of work was undertaken to get the bridge decorated after which the workmen headed to The Crown, an alehouse at the Southern approach to the bridge where the costs of their food and drink, paid for by their employer, amounted to £2 6s 10d.  Among the other expenses incurred that day include :- One ounce of saffron for dying the flax to make the hair for the angels and maidens 10d,  900 peacock feathers for making the angels wings 21d, 3 pounds of flax bought and used in the likeness of hair for the angels and maidens 9d.  For the cleansing done at the drawbridge at the approach of the queen 3s 4d.  For the carriage of forty five loads of sand sprinkled on the bridge against the approach of the queen, for each load 4d 15s.

IMG_6761

A close up of a view of Bridge Foot 1616.   The Crown Alehouse can be seen directly to the right of the gateway.  Claes Jansz Visscher 1586-1652 (4)

image.png

Londoners and anyone interested in the history of London should be grateful to John Stow who left behind so much information about medieval London including the Bridge before so much of it disappeared.  His statue in St Andrew Undershaft,  City of London.  Note the quill which is replaced every five years.

The beginning of the end of the Old Bridge came in the late 18th century when the buildings were removed to enable the road to be widened.  Inevitably this led to the decision to build a new London Bridge 30 metres upstream, which upon completion our lovely old bridge, on which so much history had taken place, was demolished in 1832.  I wonder what Peter de Colechurch would have said if he had known when he begun the building of his  wonderful bridge that it would stand and endure for 600 years.       The_Demolition_of_Old_London_Bridge,_1832,_Guildhall_Gallery,_London  The Demolition of Old London Bridge, 1832, Guildhall Gallery, London

1)A Survey of London 1598 p.42 John Stow

2) ibid p43

3) The entry of Queen Elizabeth Woodville over London Bridge 24 May 1465 Anne E Sutton & Livia Visser-Fuchs.  This is a very detailed article , which I have drawn heavily from here, covering everything anyone would need to know about the procession.  

4) Thanks to the Know Your London blog for drawing my attention to the closeup of the engraving.  

If you liked this post you might like:

Crossrail A Portal into Medieval London

Clattern Bridge, a Medieval Bridge Kingston upon Thames

The Ancient Doors of Old England

THE RAVENS OF THE TOWER OF LONDON

ROYAL PECULIARS AND THEIR PECULIARITIES

The Priory of St John at Clerkenwell and a visit by Richard III

St Stephen’s Westminster – Chapel to Kings and Queens

 

 

%d bloggers like this: