Book Corner: Paula Lofting’s The Wolf Banner

51BZa0o3x+L._SY346_My latest book review, of Paula Lofting’s amazing pre-Conquest novel, The Wolf Bannerhas gone live over at The Review today!

WAR AND BLOODFEUD
1056…England lurches towards war as the rebellious Lord Alfgar plots against the indolent King Edward. Sussex thegn, Wulfhere, must defy both his lord, Harold Godwinson, and his bitter enemy, Helghi, to protect his beloved daughter.
As the shadow of war stretches across the land, a more personal battle rages at home, and when it follows him into battle, he knows he must keep his wits about him more than ever, and COURAGE AND FEAR MUST BECOME HIS ARMOUR…

The Wolf Banner is the second book in Paula Lofting’s marvellous Sons of the Wolf series which tells the story of Saxon England in the years preceding the Norman Conquest. It follows the trials and tribulations of one family; Wulfhere, his wife and children. A thegn sworn to Harold Godwinson, Wulfhere has responsibilities to his king, his lord and his family, while trying to overcome his own fears, temptations and one big problem; his neighbour and sworn enemy, Helghi.
The Wolf Banner builds on the first book, to draw the reader further into Wulfhere’s life, the highs and lows, into battles with swords and words. It is a fabulous adventure, full of family heartache, compromise and love, while never losing sight of the bigger picture; of England and the struggles of Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex, both against his enemies and his king….
To read the full review of this fantastic novel – and to enter the prize draw and be in with a chance of winning one of two e-books in the giveaway, plus a copy of the first book in the series, Sons of the Wolf, simply visit The Review and leave a comment. Good luck!
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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016

Book Corner: The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts

51+1qeawUSL._AC_US160_The Anglo-Saxon age was one of great change and unrest. Lasting from the departure of the Romans in approximately AD 400 until the Norman invasion in AD 1066, this era was defined by the continued spread of Christianity, the constant threat of Viking raids and the first stirrings of a nation that would become known as England.

With its strange customs and unfamiliar names, the Anglo-Saxon era became mysterious and misunderstood, ironically by the descendants of the Anglo-Saxons, the English people themselves. Archaeological discoveries have forced us to re-evaluate these ingenious and skilled people, and to acknowledge the debt we owe to them. Martin Wall seeks to ‘de-mystify’ the period, breaking it down into easy-to-read, bitesize chunks, and to show that the so-called ‘Dark Ages’ were by no means backward or inferior. It was a truly heroic age, whose exemplars, such as King Offa, Alfred the Great, Lady Aethelflaed or Athelstan, stand beside the giants of world history. In 100 excerpts from these turbulent, bloody and exciting centuries, a proud, complex, but ultimately doomed civilisation is revealed.

The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts by Martin Wall is one of those fascinating little books which are such fun to read. It’s 192 pages are packed full of stories from the Anglo-Saxon period which help to trace its history and define the era. Starting from the 5th century AD, the book traces the Anglo-Saxon story  all the way to the Norman Conquest… and beyond.

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Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians

In short, bite-sized chapters, The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts, is full of those little bits of history you may have missed, or overlooked. Weaving the stories together to build a beautiful picture of the now-lost Anglo-Saxon world. Not only presenting the great personalities of the era, the book also investigates the influence of the church, literature, politics and the Vikings. It helps to explain the drive behind King Alfred and his desire to unite England as one nation.

The book is written in such an easy-going, conversational manner, you don’t even realise you’re reading – it is as if the author is right there, talking to you.

Welsh malcontents murdered a Mercian abbot, Egbert, who was travelling with his companions in Brycheiniog, a small mountain kingdom in South Wales. Egbert was under the protection of Aethelflaed who was justifiably furious. Within three days she concentrated her army on the Welsh border and invaded the little kingdom, burning and ravaging as she went. Tewdr, the King of Brycheiniog, had no choice but to retreat to his fortified Crannog, a fort on a man-made island in Lake Llasngorse. The indefatigable Mercian queen was not to be denied, however, and the place was stormed and burned and Tewdr’s relatives taken as hostages, including his wife.

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Offa, King of Mercia

The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts is a very enjoyable read, full of facts and information, and a little bit of humour. All the main characters of the period are covered – from Offa to Harold II and beyond – and given their place in the larger history of the nation as a whole. Outside threats and influences – such as the church, the Normans and, of course, the dreaded Vikings – are discussed, analysed and assessed.

It’s amazing  how much information one writer can pack into less than 200 pages!

The author knows and loves his Anglo-Saxon history and it shines through on every page. Thoroughly and comprehensively researched, it is a fun read for anyone wanting to know ‘a little bit more’ about the time before the Normans, and the build-up to the Conquest from the Saxon point of view.

I just wanted to read the excerpts about Aethelflaed – for my research – and found myself devouring the entire book.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016

Book Corner: Days of Sun and Glory by Anna Belfrage

indexAdam de Guirande has barely survived the aftermath of Roger Mortimer’s rebellion in 1321. When Mortimer manages to escape the Tower and flee to France, anyone who has ever served Mortimer becomes a potential traitor – at least in the eyes of King Edward II and his royal chancellor, Hugh Despenser. Adam must conduct a careful balancing act to keep himself and his family alive. Fortunately, he has two formidable allies: Queen Isabella and his wife, Kit. England late in 1323 is a place afflicted by fear…. Tired of being relegated to the background by the king’s grasping favourite, Isabella has decided it is time to act – to safeguard her own position, but also that of her son, Edward of Windsor. As Adam de Guirande has pledged himself to Prince Edward he is automatically drawn into the queen’s plans … Once again, England is plunged into war – and this time it will not end until either Despenser or Mortimer is dead….

Days of Sun and Glory by Anna Belfrage is the 2nd book Anna’s latest series, The King’s Greatest Enemy. In the Shadow of the Storm saw Adam de Guirande, a trusted officer of Roger Mortimer, marry Kit de Monmouth and navigate the political climate of rising opposition to Edward II’s increasing infatuation with Hugh Despenser, while at the same time being 2 strangers negotiating the early tribulations and insecurities of married life. In Days of Sun and Glory the crisis in England is worsening; Mortimer is free and on the continent, leaving his supporters to face the suspicions and antagonisms of the king and Despenser.

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Isabella with her father, Philip IV, and brothers.

Days of Sun and Glory is a stunning read; full of action, love and suspense, it has the reader on the edge of their seat from the 1st page – and leaves you there right to the last.  This story will have you laughing, crying and biting your finger nails with anticipation throughout. It is a fascinating read that pulls you into the lives of, not only, the central characters, Kit and Adam, but also of the historical characters; Mortimer, Isabella, King Edward and his heir, the future Edward III.

Although we see new enemies the chief antagonist remains the same: Despenser. Anna Belfrage paints a picture of Despenser that makes you cringe every time he appears on the page. He is charmingly polite and clever; while being, at the same time despicable and slimy. He will stoop to anything to keep his position and influence with the king; using any weapon available – including children . This is one man everyone loves to hate – except the king and his wife.

As luck would have it, they ran into Lord  Despenser on their way back to their allotted chamber. Kit didn’t see him at first, she simply felt the muscles in Adam’s arm tense.

“If it isn’t my favourite traitor,” Despenser said with a smirk, stepping out to block their path. Adam bowed, as did Kit – protocol required that they do so, even if Kit would have preferred to spit Despenser in the face. This was the man who had threatened her and abused her, who had tortured her Adam, leaving him permanently crippled.

“No traitor, my lord,” Adam replied in a calm voice. “Despite your repeated attempts to smear me as such, I remain a loyal servant of my master, Edward of Windsor.”

Despenser’s mouth curled into a sneer….

And fighting against his schemes are Adam and Kit. The central characters have a love story to rival the greats. However, Anna Belfrage has cleverly placed them in their time and history. In stark contrast to the rebellious Queen Isabella, Kit is the obedient, dutiful 14th century wife – most of the time; while Adam is torn between duty to lord and obligation to family, constantly forced to balance his priorities and overcome his personal feelings. Their relationship makes the book – their love has overcome petty jealousies, personal tragedy, family feuds and the threats of the dastardly Despenser.

And behind it all lies Adam’s fears of what would happen if he or his family were to fall into Despenser’s clutches.

“It won’t happen,” she said.

“No,”  he [Adam] agreed in a shaky voice. “I’ll leap off a cliff rather than end up in his hands.”

Kit got down on her knees before him and prised his fingers off his face, cupping it and lifting it so that she could see his eyes. “It won’t,” she repeated. “I won’t let it happen.”

That made him smile. “My protective wife.” Adam stroked her cheek.

Kit had risked her life to save him from Despenser once, and she’d do it again if she had to…

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Edward III, as Duke of Aquitaine, paying homage to Charles IV, supported by his mother Queen Isabella

While Kit and Adam are becoming old-hands at the political balancing-act, thrown into the midst of it all is Adam’s new lord, Edward; son and heir of Edward II the 13-year-old prince is torn between his parents. While Adam and Kit see a desperate child forced to choose between love of his mother and duty to his father, each parent  sees that controlling the son as a means to controlling the future. Young Edward becomes a star of the book; likeable, mischievous and old beyond his years, Anna Belfrage hints at the hero-king to come, while ably depicting the fear and confusion of the child he is. Edward steals practically every scene he is written into.

Anna Belfrage has done her research well. From the historical characters to the marvellous castles and palaces in France and England, Anna brings the 14th century to life in vivid, entertaining and exciting language. The best and worst of human strengths and frailties are characterised within the magnificent castles of Vincennes and Windsor, in the sprawling cities of London and Paris; taking the reader on a wild ride through the French and English countrysides, with spies, poisoners and the possibility of ambush just around the corner.

While the reader may know the history, Anna Belfrage tells the story in a manner that will always leave you wondering what happens next. She gets under the skin of her characters, both historical and fictional. Her sympathetic portrayal of the characters and events takes the reader through a whole range of emotions; fear, anger, humour, awe … and love. Tears and laughter are never far from each other as the lives of Kit and Adam are revealed before us.

Engaging and entertaining, Anna Belfrage has created a masterpiece in Days of Sun and Glory, a book which is impossible to put down, but which you do not – ever – want to end.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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Anna Belfrage is the author of the extremely popular time-travelling series, The Graham Saga. To find out more about this incredible author and her books, please visit her website.

©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016

Book Corner: Forgotten History by Jem Duducu

51qGNL5YngL._SX338_BO1,204,203,200_Not all history is recorded in school textbooks or cast into towering monuments that shape city skylines. Quite often the most intriguing (and most bizarre) bits are forgotten and fall away into obscurity. In this fascinating book, Jem Duducu shines light on the almost forgotten, wonderfully strange, and often hilarious moments of history that would otherwise be lost forever.

Covering a wide variety of topics, from the time a Pope put his dead predecessor on trial all the way up to the awkward moment when the US Air Force accidentally dropped nuclear bombs on Spain, take a journey through time and discover the weird and wonderful history that you didn’t learn about in school.

 Forgotten History: Unbelievable Moments From the Past by Jem Duducu is one of those wonderful books that you simply can’t put down. When it arrived through my door I decided ‘I’ll just have a peek’. Two hours later and I was still ‘peeking’. The book takes you on a fascinating journey from Ancient History through all the eras right up to the 20th century. It brings you those little pieces of history that you may have overlooked, or forgotten – or simply didn’t know. From the history of the Rottweiler, to the green children of Woolpit to Sergeant Stubby, the most decorated dog in the First World War….

This book has something for everyone, it tells you the story, giving you the facts and the history of the history, so to speak. It is a fun and entertaining, and one you can read from cover to cover, or pop in and out of.

Well written and incredibly well researched, Jem Duducu has found those stories from history that have fallen through the cracks of most history books. He gives us the facts, events and personalities that you may have thought were just stories, but are, in fact, a part of our history.

For instance, I have loved Alexandre Dumas’ Three Musketeers since I was a child, but did you know the heroic, dashing D’Artagnan was real?

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The real D’Artagnan

Someone Regarded as Legendary but Isn’t

D’Artagnan, or to give him his full name, Charlers Ogier de Batz de Castelmore, Comte d’Artagnan, was pretty much the man you’d hope for. He was the captain of Louis XIV’s elite Musketeer guard, and in this instance the legend isn’t far from the reality of the man’s true character. He lived during the time of Cardinal Richelieu, he was a brave and accomplished warrior, and he fought in many battles. However, the plots of the Musketeer books bear little resemblance to events in his life…

As well as covering the important, but often overlooked, characters from history – such as D’Artagnan and the Lady Aethelflaed of the Mercians – Jem Duducu has found some rather obscure, but fascinating, facts such as the origin of the croissant, the Nazi plot to kidnap the Pope and a statue put on trial for murder….

I could go on all day – which is probably why I spent hours reading the book after only intending to have a quick look!

Forgotten History: Unbelievable Moments From the Past by Jem Duducu has something for everyone, whatever period or genre of history you like, you will find something interesting and new. Packed full of facts and information, it can be used as a learning resource, or simply as a book to read, devour and enjoy. With some wonderful photographs and illustrations to support the text, the book tells the stories in a wonderful, engaging and unique way, which will leave you with a smile on your face – and looking for just one more story before closing the book.

©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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Picture of D’Artagnan courtesy of Wikipedia

Gundrada, Daughter of Debate

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Gundrada de Warenne, Church of St John the Baptist, Southover

In 1066 William de Warenne joined his namesake the Duke of Normandy on his expedition to conquer England.  De Warenne is one of the few named knights involved in the Battle of Hastings, and one of William of Normandy’s most trusted captains.

Sometime in the years either side of the Conquest, William had married Gundrada.

Gundrada’s parentage has long been a subject of debate among historians. For many years she was believed to be the daughter of William the Conqueror and his wife, Matilda of Flanders. It seems the misunderstanding arose with the monks at Lewes Priory, when a copy of an earlier charter claimed she was the daughter of Matilda of Flanders. Lewes was founded as a Cluniac monastery by William and Gundrada and it may be that the monks got carried away with the idea of their foundress having royal blood, or that there was an error when copying the charter from the original.

For whatever reason, the claims by Lewes Priory have caused controversy throughout the ensuing centuries. In the sixteenth century Leland believed that she was the Conqueror’s daughter, while Orderic Vitalis had stated that she was ‘Sister of Gherbode, a Fleming, to whom King William the First had given the City and Earldom of Chester’¹ By the 1800s it was thought that Gundrada was not a daughter of the King, but of the queen, Matilda, by an earlier, forgotten marriage to a Flemish nobleman called Gerbod.

Other suggestions have included that she was an adopted daughter, raised alongside William and Matilda’s own children who were of a similar age. Alternatively, due to her Flemish origins, it has been argued that the confusion arose as she had joined Matilda’s household at an early age; an assertion supported by Matilda’s gift to Gundrada of the manor of Carlton in Cambridge – a manor Gundrada later gave to Lewes Priory.

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William de Warenne, 1st earl of Warenne and Surrey, Church of St John the Baptist, Southover

In 1888 in the English Historical Review, Freeman used the priory’s original charter to conclude that there was no familial relationship between Gundrada and William the Conqueror. In it, while the king and William de Warenne, both, mention Gundrada, neither refer to her as being related to the king or queen. Freeman stated ‘there is nothing to show that Gundrada was the daughter either of King William or of Queen Matilda; there is a great deal to show that she was not.’²

It now seems more likely that Gundrada was a Flemish noblewoman, the sister of Gerbod who would be, for a brief time, Earl of Chester. Her father may also have been called Gerbod, and was the hereditary advocate of the monastery of St Bertin; a title which later will pass down through the de Warenne family. Another brother, Frederic, had land in Sussex and Kent, even before the Conquest. The brothers, it seems, were deeply involved in the politics of Flanders and Normandy; indeed, it is thought that Gerbod resigned his responsibilities in Chester in order to return to the continent to oversee the family’s land and duties there. Frederic, along with the count of Flanders, was witness to Count Guy of Ponthieu’s  charter to the abbey of St Riquier in 1067.

William de Warenne was well rewarded for his part in the Norman Conquest, receiving lands in 13 counties, including the Honour of Consibrough in South Yorkshire, previously owned by the last Saxon king, Harold II Godwinson. De Warenne’s brothers-in-law had also joined the expedition, and Frederic was rewarded with the lands of a man named Toki; in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, worth over £100.

However, Frederic was unable to enjoy his good fortune for long, as he was killed in the rebellion of Hereward the Wake in 1070. His lands, still known as ‘Frederic’s Fief’ in 1086, were inherited by his sister, who retained control of them throughout her lifetime. One manor was given to the abbey of St Riquier, possibly by Gundrada in memory of her brother.

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Lewes Priory, Sussex

Gundrada’s other brother, Gerbod resigned his position in Chester in 1070 and returned to Flanders which was in the midst of civil war, following the death of its count. Gerbod’s return was essential to guarantee the safety of the family’s lands and interests. the former earl’s fate is uncertain; one report has him killed while another sees him imprisoned, and a 3rd claims Gerbod accidentally killed his lord, Count Arnulf, at the Battle of Kassel in 1071. According to this last account, Gerbod travelled to Rome to perform penance and eventually became a monk at Cluny.

It seems that neither brother raised a family, as Gerbod’s lands in Flanders were also inherited by Gundrada; the family interest in the abbey of St Bertin would eventually be passed on to Gundrada and William’s 2nd son, Reynold.

As with so many nobles of the 11th century, Gundrada and William were known for their piety. In 1077 the couple made a pilgrimage to Rome; en route, they visited the magnificent abbey of Cluny in Burgundy. They must have been impressed with the abbey, as it inspired them to found their own Cluniac priory at Lewes in Sussex. In 1078 the abbot of Cluny sent over the 1st monks as William and Gundrada were supervising the new monastery’s construction; it would be the 1st Cluniac house in England. All the churches on the de Warenne’s vast estates were given to the priory, including endowments from her brother Frederic’s lands in Norfolk.

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Castle Acre, Norfolk

Gundrada and William had 3 children together. Their eldest son, William, would succeed his father as Earl of Surrey and de Warenne. He married Isabel de Vermandois, widow of Robert de Beaumont, earl of Leicester; with whom he had, apparently, been having an affair even before the earl’s death. Young William had a chequered career, he supported the claims of Robert Curthose, duke of Normandy, to the English throne against the duke’s younger brother, Henry I. However, duke Robert lost and was captured and imprisoned by Henry. Henry eventually forgave William, who fought for the king at the Battle of Bremule and was with Henry he died in 1135.

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Gundrada’s tombstone, St John’s Church, Southover

A 2nd son, Reynold de Warenne, led the assault on Rouen in 1090, for William II Rufus, in the conflict between the English king and his older brother, Duke Robert. However, by 1105 Reynold was now fighting for the duke against the youngest of the Conqueror’s sons, Henry I, defending the castle of Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives for the duke. He was captured by Henry the following year, but had been freed by September 1106. It is possible he died shortly after, but was certainly dead by 1118 when his brother issued a charter, in which he gave 6 churches to Lewes Priory, for the soul of deceased family members, including Reynold.

Gundrada and William also had a daughter, Edith, who married Gerard de Gournay, son of the lord of Gournay-en-Bray. Gerard also supported William II Rufus against Duke Robert and took part in the Crusade of 1096. Edith later accompanied him on pilgrimage back to Jerusalem, sometime after 1104, where he died. Gerard was succeeded by their son, Hugh de Gournay, whose daughter Gundreda would be the mother of Roger de Mowbray. Edith then married Drew de Monchy, with whom she had a son, Drew the Younger.

William de Warenne was created earl of Surrey shortly before his death in 1088; after he had helped William II to suppress a revolt led by Bishop Odo of Bayeux. De Warenne was wounded during the fighting and died a short time later.

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Tombs of Gundrada and William de Warenne

However, poor Gundrada had died in childbirth at Castle Acre in Norfolk on 27th May 1085, therefore never receiving the title of countess. She was buried in the chapter house of Lewes Priory; her husband would be buried beside her 3 years later. Around 1145 new monastic buildings were consecrated at Lewes Priory, Gundrada’s bones were placed in a leaden chest and interred under a tombstone of black Tournai marble, ‘richly carved in the Romanesque style, with foliage and lions’ heads’³. The sculptor was trained at Cluny and would later work for Henry I’s nephew, Henry of Blois, bishop of Winchester and brother of King Stephen.

Following the dissolution of Lewes Priory in the 16th century, the tombstone was 1st moved to Isfield Church; it was moved again in 1775 to the parish church of St John at Southover in Lewes. The remains of Gundrada and William were discovered in 2 leaden chests in 1845 and finally laid to rest at the Southover church in 1847.

The dynasty founded by William and Gundrada would continue until the death of John, the 7th and final de Warenne Earl of Surrey, in 1347.

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¹Early Yorkshire Charters Volume 8 Edited by William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay; ²ibid; ³C.P.Lewis, Oxforddnb.com

©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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Pictures: Gundrada and William de Warenne church windows ©lewespriory.org.uk; Castle Acre and Lewes Priory courtesy of Wikipedia; Gundrada’s tombstone and the tombs of Gundrada and William courtesy of findagrave.com.

Sources: Early Yorkshire Charters Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne, Edited by William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay; England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings by Robert Batlett; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; british-history.ac.uk; kristiedean.com; English Heritage Guidebook for Conisbrough Castle by Steven Brindle and Agnieszka Sadrei; oxforddnb.com.

 

The Wedding of the Century by Sean Cunningham

bookToday I would like to welcome author and historian Sean Cunningham as part of his amazing blog tour. Celebrating the release of his new biography, Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was, Sean has written a wonderful article on the wedding of Arthur and Catherine of Aragon – just for us!

The Wedding of the Century: Prince Arthur, Catherine of Aragon and the Politics of a Teenage Marriage in 1501

The private and public lives of England’s late medieval royal families were no-doubt as fascinating to their subjects as the Windsors are to many citizens today. In a world without social and other media or mass literacy, however, popular discussion of the visibility of the fifteenth century royals is almost completely hidden from modern view. We do know from the propaganda produced by competing sides in the Wars of the Roses that public opinion mattered to the ruling elites. Since rivals for the crown were basically cousins who shared royal blood in more-or-less equal degrees, appeals to popular support were important in the search for political advantage.

Records of royal progresses, visits, formal entries and days of estate stand out in civic records of towns and cities because it was rare for the ruled to see their rulers in close proximity within public spaces. For that reason, we might expect evidence of more ambitious manipulation of London’s concentrated population in spectacular set-piece events like royal marriages. It is not found in the fifteenth century. Lancastrian and Yorkist leaders seem to have shied away from public view when they took their wedding vows.

Joan of Navarre was a thirty-three-year old widow when she married Henry IV at Winchester in 1403; a comforting arrangement, not necessarily to increase numbers of royal children. Henry V’s marriage to Catherine de Valois at Troyes in 1420 was a quiet soldier’s wedding, which very few English people witnessed, despite its massive political implications (or maybe because of them). Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou had a low-key ceremony at Titchfield Abbey in April 1445. Edward IV became Elizabeth Woodville’s second husband in a secret service in 1464. Richard III had married the widowed Anne Neville within Westminster Palace while he was duke of Gloucester in 1472. Henry VII’s own wedding did not occur until January 1486, despite the certainty that many of his supporters had followed him only because of his promise to marry Edward IV’s daughter, Elizabeth. It was not a state occasion, and received far less interest from heralds and chroniclers than King Henry’s first royal progress the following spring.

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Prince Arthur in mid-Victorian glass, St Laurence Church, Ludlow

Political circumstances, cost, and the uncertainty of factional politics and civil war account for some of these understated royal weddings. Henry VII had no such reservations about the match of his son and heir, however. The series of events surrounding the marriage of Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon in November 1501 were carefully planned and stage-managed for maximum public impact on an international scale. The marriage reveals a great deal of what the king, his mother and their family thought about themselves and what they wanted their subjects to remember as key messages relating to Tudor power, right, ancestry, and fitness to rule.

In terms of its ambition and complexity, the marriage of Arthur and Catherine was planned as one of the greatest spectacles ever seen in England. Catherine would have a ceremonial journey from her place of landfall to London; pageants of welcome to the city and on the river would explore symbolism and allegory as well as being fantastically entertaining displays by human actors and mechanical devices; the interior of St Paul’s had been reconfigured to present the wedding service as a ceremonial royal performance; the public would enjoy a never-ending wine fountain near the west door of the church; tournaments in the rebuilt tiltyard at Westminster Palace would show off the martial skill of Henry VII’s courtiers; the wedding feast would be served on gold and silver worth as much as  the crown’s annual income from taxation; lodgings within the royal palaces and other public spaces had been repaired and refreshed for over two years in preparation for a few days of occupancy; gifts, jewels and paintings were purchased from around Europe to be given away as a demonstration of the king’s magnificence. As the public face of England’s alliance with the Spanish kingdoms of Aragon and Castile the marriage was Henry VII’s single-minded statement of intent about the future of Tudor power.

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A dragon, or Wyvern, from an initial illustration on a plea roll in the Court of Common Pleas

Henry VII could aspire to build Arthur’s future in this way because 1500-01 was the high-point of his reign. Perkin Warbeck, the pretender to the crown, who had disturbed Henry VII’s sleep for most of the 1490s, was dead. His scaffold confession in November 1499 that he was an impostor (whether forced or genuine), was meant to remove all belief that the sons of Edward IV had survived the reign of their uncle, Richard III. The earl of Warwick – son of Edward IV’s other brother, George, duke of Clarence – was beheaded in the same month as Warbeck. He was the last male Plantagenet of lineal descent from Henry II. These executions made Henry VII’s queen, Elizabeth, the sole direct heir of the House of York. Emphasising that fact strengthened Prince Arthur’s position as inheritor of her ancestry and family loyalties. By 1500, it looked like the Tudor king had finally thrown of the shackles of the Wars of the Roses. Only when England was free from these lingering threats, did the Spanish monarchs agree to start preparations to dispatch Princess Catherine in the summer of 1501.

The nature of Henry VII’s reign meant that things were not stable for long. Indications soon emerged that the king’s dynastic struggles might recur. Henry’s failure to expand the ranks of his allies meant that he soon felt the effects of deaths within his circle of old friends. Two long-standing supporters, John Morton, archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor, and John, Lord Dynham, Treasurer of England, had helped to shape Henry’s power since 1485. They died in September 1500 and January 1501 respectively. This problem would accelerate after 1502 and was magnified by other factors.

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Henry VII’s imperial arms form a plea roll of King’s Bench court

More alarmingly, Edmund de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, one of the queen’s nephews, fled overseas in spring 1501. With the help of Sir James Tyrell, he was contemplating launching a claim for the crown. Tyrell was a rehabilitated loyalist of Richard III. His defection and the seeds of another attempt to start a pro-Yorkist conspiracy can only have filled the Tudor royal family with dread. Suffolk’s departure might have been prompted by the certainty that Arthur and Catherine’s marriage would strengthen Henry VII’s power even further. Evidently he felt it was worth taking a risk to secure foreign help before that happened. Although he was persuaded to return, Suffolk soon fled again to the protection of Maximilian Habsburg, Archduke of Austria and ruler of the Low Countries. He became another pretender intent on deposing the Tudor family.  King Henry moved quickly, therefore, to finalise the preparations for the wedding of his son with Princess Catherine while the political situation remained in his favour.

Ferdinand and Isabella were able to exert pressure on Henry to demonstrate that England was a stable place for their daughter’s future because their nation was a rapidly-rising world power. With little prospect of recovering former lands in France, the Tudor regime in England had recognised almost as soon as it came to power that the Spanish should be wooed as a new centre of gravity in European diplomacy. In 1501, it was less than ten years since the Columbus had discovered a new world for the Spanish monarchs. Later voyagers were only just beginning to realise the potential of the Americas, but at that time the Spanish had no rivals (following the Treaty of Tordesillas with Portugal in 1494). The reconquest of Granada at the very start of 1492 also allowed a unified Spain to begin a new focus within Europe. By the end of 1494, King Ferdinand had entered the alliance against France which soon drew many European states into the Italian wars. In the years since 1489, when Henry VII had opened negotiations for a marriage alliance, it was clear that Spanish influence was under transformation. A European superpower was emerging and the English king put himself in exactly the right place at the right time to take full advantage.

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Prince Arthur’s bride, Catherine of Aragon

Catherine left Corunna on 17 August 1501. Storms and delays meant that she landed in Plymouth and not Southampton, as planned, on 2 October – a month later than expected. She therefore had to endure a far longer land journey towards London; but that did give more people the chance to see her on the road. Henry VII was annoyed by the disruption this caused to his arrangements, but could do little until Catherine got nearer to his base at Richmond Palace. Records suggest that genuine excitement travelled ahead of the princess and down the road to London as she, her massive and exotic entourage, and the English nobles and gentry accompanying her crossed southern England.

At the centre of all of this complex activity were two teenagers. When looking at the lavish and elaborate events that were part of the marriage, it is really important to remember that Arthur and his bride had only just met. Sixteen-year-old-Catherine had been in the country for six weeks by the time of her wedding on 14 November. She had barely paused for more than a few days after a direct journey of almost two hundred miles from Plymouth to London.

This was an arranged marriage, too. Although both young people had been bred and trained for a demanding public life, nerves and perhaps shyness must still have been part of their first meetings. Language was certainly an issue – even conversational Latin was tried. Having seen England’s future queen, Henry oversaw a renewal of the couple’s marriage vows in person at Dogmersfield in Hampshire on 6 November. The king and Arthur then headed for London. Catherine stayed in Lambeth until 12 November when she was met by Prince Henry, the duke of Buckingham and many other lords in St George’s field, south of London Bridge, for the start in earnest of her wedding festivities.

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Old St Paul’s Cathedral, London

The king and his council had worked with the mayor and aldermen of London for almost two years to devise and to build pageants of welcome. The first was at the south side of London Bridge. It depicted the story of St Catherine and St Ursula. Actresses playing those saints flattered Catherine’s virtue and honour as part of an astrological allegory on the constellations of Ursa Minor and Arcturus. At the other end of the bridge, a second setting contained a castle covered in Tudor badges and imagery – the Castle of Policy. Catherine was presented as the evening star whose noble presence spontaneously opened the castle gates. A third construction on Cornhill was a mechanical zodiac that placed Arthur and Catherine in heavenly proximity to God. Arthur was depicted as an ideal knight in splendour on the heraldic fourth pageant on Cheapside; while the fifth, outside the Standard Inn, was even more celestial. God’s throne and a representation of heaven presented a dazzlingly-armoured Arthur as divine Justice. At the sixth pageant, by the entrance to St Paul’s churchyard, the Seven Virtues guarded empty thrones awaiting Arthur and Catherine next to an actor representing Honour. The clear message was that honour could only be reached by virtuous living.

Much of the level of detail would have had little impact upon the mass of onlookers. It was meant to be visually stunning but not necessarily understood in all of its allegorical complexity. The constant use of badges and beasts like the red rose, portcullis, red dragon, and greyhound made for a quick visual association between the spectacle and the king’s authority. Ramming home the message that Arthur and Catherine were deserving inheritors of this extravagant power was vitally important. This need continued on the wedding day itself.

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A marguerite rose form a plea roll of King’s Bench court

Arthur and Catherine were meant to be seen together. This marriage was a union of two people and an alliance of two nations. The setting of the church and orchestration of the ceremony reflected that. A raised platform built from thousands of deal planks formed a walkway that stretched along the interior of St Paul’s. Henry and Queen Elizabeth watched from a small closet so that they did not detract from the focus on the married couple. The bride and groom wore white satin. Catherine was escorted towards the altar by Arthur’s brother, Henry. Her Spanish style of verdugeo dress and highly fashionable hood were noticed by the herald’s keen eye. Before the service, a formal exchange of agreements and documents took place. They guaranteed Catherine’s status and income and firmly endorsed Ferdinand and Isabella’s alliance with Tudor England. The most notable moment in the ceremony came when Arthur and Catherine, now married, turned at the door of the choir to look back down the body of the church. It is easy to imagine their dazzling outfits and the faces of hundreds of people, who then spontaneously began to shout in celebration.

Outside another strange pageant was constructed like a mobile mountain, complete with rocks, trees, herbs, fruit and metal ore. A river of wine confirmed this as the allegorical source of all the things that the king’s subjects needed. It was the riche-mont, a pun on Henry’s former title of earl of Richmond. The presence of the Christian Nine Worthies placed Henry VII and Arthur in the same category of ruler as Charlemagne, King Arthur and Godfrey de Bouillon.

The magnificent wedding banquet then followed in the bishop of London’s palace. Spanish and English lords and ladies intermingled as the king’s chefs excelled themselves in inventiveness. It was also remarkable that the feast was served on magnificent silver and gilt plate while another set of dishes and jewelled chalices remained on display within the room. Henry’s proclamation of his wealth was hard to miss. The feasting and drinking lasted for most of the afternoon. In the early evening, chambers were prepared for the wedding night. What happened next (and its implications), is another part of the story and one that requires longer discussion elsewhere.

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Dragon and greyhound from an Exchequer account, 1508

Here we must leave Arthur and Catherine at the end of their exhausting wedding day. In the full glare of attention and with a weight of expectation around their shoulders, it would be no surprise if a good sleep was all that the couple managed that night. They had time on their side and in the middle of November 1501, the future for Tudor England looked to be strong and dynamic. Henry had spent a fortune in coin and energy in ensuring that the political dimension of his son’s wedding was achieved spectacularly and flawlessly. No-one could have expected that within fifteen months the regime would once again be creaking on the point of collapse as both Prince Arthur and Queen Elizabeth were dead in their tombs. The wheel of fortune had turned once again for Henry VII. How he recovered would depend on a radically different strategy to rescue control over the succession of the crown, then reliant on the survival of his only surviving son, Prince Henry.

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SeanDr Sean Cunningham, has worked at the UK National Archives for over twenty years, where he is currently Head of Medieval Records. He is the author of several works on late medieval and early Tudor history, including Henry VII in the Routledge Historical Biographies series and the newly-released Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was, for Amberley. Sean is about to start researching for a major funded project on the private spending accounts of the royal chamber under Henry VII and Henry VIII. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and co-convenor of the Late Medieval Seminar at London’s Institute of Historical Research.

Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was is available from Amberley, Amazon and other online outlets and bookshops.

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Pictures of Catherine of Aragon and Old St Paul’s are courtesy of Wikipedia, all other pictures courtesy of Sean Cunningham.

 

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©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Book Corner: A Palace for Our Kings by James Wright

book_front_cover_hi_resIn the heart of Sherwood Forest lies the picturesque, yet unassuming, village of King’s Clipstone. Between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries one of the very largest royal palaces ever to have graced the Mediaeval landscape stood there.

The palace was visited by eight kings who held parliament, Christmas feasts and tournaments; were visited by the king of Scotland, a papal envoy and traitorous barons; built a fortification, great hall and a stable for two hundred horses; went hunting, drank wine and conceived a prince; listened to storytellers, poets and singers.

This is the history of one of the great lost buildings of Britain and of the individuals that built, worked and lived there. Above all this is story of the people whose lives have been shaped for centuries by an extraordinary structure standing in a remarkable landscape.

A Palace For Our Kings: The history and archaeology of a Mediaeval royal palace in the heart of Sherwood Forest by archaeologist James Wright is a wonderful study of a little known piece of English history. It tells the story of a palace located in the heart of Sherwood Forest. James Wright is an archaeologist who has been involved with King’s Clipstone for many years and his love and enthusiasm for the project shine through on every page of this marvellous book.

The King’s Houses at Clipstone in Nottinghamshire has an incredibly unique and fascinating story to tell. The book traces the history of the village of King’s Clipstone – and it’s palace – from Roman times to the 21st century. It tells not only the archaeological story, but also the life and history of the palace and its people.

James Wright has used the medieval chronicles to explain and support his archaeological discoveries and theories. They also serve to illustrate the varying uses of the palace throughout the years, and demonstrate how national and international events influenced the history of the King’s Houses. The chronicles are drawn on to explain building practices and alterations;

The king’s chamber was whitewashed, quite a job as the space was big enough to warrant two chimneys with a window between them. This window was subsequently blocked up and the remaining windows in Henry’s chamber were installed with protective iron bars, a legacy of the attempt on his life at Woodstock thirteen years previously.

The palace’s story is amply illustrated with the help of photographic evidence, floor plans and maps throughout this highly detailed and fascinating study. The author has also drawn from the memoirs and accounts of antiquarians throughout the generations in order to tell the comprehensive story of the King’s Houses st Clipstone The book contains so much detail that it is impossible not to find something of interest. I have lived half an hour from Sherwood Forest for most of my life, but this book has given me a whole new perspective on the Forest and the people who lived within and around it; giving the Forest and its palace a whole new significance – to me and to history in particular.

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The King’s Houses, Clipstone

James Wright has managed to write an archaeological study which is riveting to the historian or general reader alike. He explains everything clearly, with the minimum of technical language.  The archaeological discoveries are discussed in the context of architectural, royal and social history, explaining how the palace developed over the years, as royal requirements and – even – the appearance of royal dignity changed through the centuries.

Pottery was often preferred for serving up victuals as, unlike silver or pewter, it did not taint the taste of food; although in the later Mediaeval period communal serving platters were used less as private dining became preferable. In this was food and dining became yet another method of social exclusion through the refinement of the palate.

A Palace For Our Kings: The history and archaeology of a Mediaeval royal palace in the heart of Sherwood Forest also places Clipstone and the King’s Houses in a regional context; discussing its purpose as a hunting lodge, as a stopover point between London and the North, and as a royal residence. The influences of the larger region – such as York, Nottingham and Lincoln – are considered, not only on the people but also the architecture of the palace.

The author draws on more famous locations, such as Clarendon and Woodstock, to explain and compare the development of king’s Clipstone and the demonstrate how improvements to other royal residences influenced the development of the King’s Houses through the centuries.

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The Major Oak, Sherwood Forest

Moreover, the book provides a fascinating insight into how the palace affected the lives of the common people in the area. From the scales of justice to the enclosure of local pastureland; the palace was intrinsically intertwined with the lives of the local populace. The book highlights how the actions of the kings who used the palace played a part not only in the livelihoods of the local community but also in their standard of living and, indeed, life itself.

From the stories of kings, through witchcraft, war and religion to the individual lives of the families who lived and worked there, this book tells the remarkable history of the palace and its people; and of its rediscovery and significance to the history of England. This book is a marvel to read; it is a fabulous story of how 1,500 years of history have affected one small area of England – and how that little village played its part in English history.

I cannot recommend it highly enough, it is written in a wonderful, conversational manner which makes it accessible to all, and tells a truly fascinating story which made it a pleasure, and a privilege, to read.

A Palace For Our Kings: The history and archaeology of a Mediaeval royal palace in the heart of Sherwood Forest by James Wright is out now as a limited edition paperback and e-book via Triskele Publishing. More information on the book and the King’s Houses at Clipstone can be found on social media: Facebook  and Twitter.

©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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‘The Major Oak’ taken from Wikipedia. ‘The King’s Houses’ photo ©James Wright.

Book Corner: Interview with Archaeologist and Author James Wright

We have a special treat at History the Interesting Bits today and it is a privilege to welcome archaeologist James Wright to the blog.

I have been watching the progress in recent years, of the excavators of the royal palace at King’s Christine Clipstone, through Jane’s Wright’s Facebook page, History & Archaeology of Kings Clipstone. James is also the author of A Palace For Our Kings, a fabulous book which traces the history and archaeology of the Kings Houses of Clipstone in Nottinghamshire; a royal palace, since the time of Henry II, in the heart of Sherwood Forest. James talks to me about the book, the palace, his career and archaeology.

How did you get interested in archaeology?

I was very young. Maybe five or six. I saw a film set during the Second World War and couldn’t believe that something so exciting was based on reality. I talked to both of my grandfathers about their experiences. I was instantly hooked on history and used to visit my local library and took out all of their history books – and not just the ones written for kids either! Later my parents started taking me to visit castles and monasteries and great houses. At high school and college I had a really good history teacher called Nick Shorthouse who really guided my interest. Archaeology became my inevitable career choice as I translated from hobby to study to profession.

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A Palace For Our Kings by James Wright

Do you get to spend a lot of time doing practical archaeology, or is most of it study-based?

I am a buildings archaeologist and historic stone specialist at the Museum of London Archaeology. A good portion of my time is spent in the field recording historic buildings. I still occasionally get involved in excavations, the last one being a small trench at the Tower of London which I dug last year. In truth I consider all research to be practical archaeology. I studied under Philip Dixon at the University of Nottingham. He taught us to “always use all of the tools in the toolkit.” I see documentary research, historiography and contextual history to be every bit as important in the study of archaeology as fieldwalking, geophysics, topographical survey and excavation. It’s all evidence!

What do you love best about being an archaeologist?

The exciting opportunity to unravel the hidden stories of real people – often for the first time in history.

What don’t you like about being an archaeologist?

Jealous and greedy backstabbers.

What is your greatest archaeological find?

When I was a field archaeologist I was lucky enough to excavate an intact Early Neolithic cup in the Trent Valley that was perhaps 6,000 years old. The most significant discovery that I have made in a building was a dense distribution of ritual protection marks carved by carpenters at the great house at Knole, Kent, in reaction to the ongoing political propaganda in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot. You can read all about it in Maev Kennedy’s article published in The Guardian.

What is the nature of your research at Clipstone?

I’ve been researching the Mediaeval royal palace at Kings Clipstone– known at the King’s Houses – in the heart of Sherwood Forest since 2004. The site was used by eight Plantagenet monarchs from Henry II to Richard II. They built one of the very largest residences in Mediaeval England that stretched across approximately 7.5 acres and had an enormous deer park lying to the west. Much of the research work has been conducted ad hoc and, in many cases, has been carried out in conjunction with other organisations or researchers. In many respects I’m following up the work of antiquarians, historians, archaeologists and the local community who have been looking at the site since the late seventeenth century!

How did you become involved in the project?

I first visited Clipstone during the opening stages of a project looking at castles in the county of Nottinghamshire. The King’s Houses was never a fortified residence so I was not able to bring the site into the scope of that project. However the passion and enthusiasm of the landowners – Martin and Mickie Bradley – was infectious. The last surviving building (once just one of a very great number) that stands in splendid isolation on its hilltop in Sherwood Forest is known as King John’s Palace. It is a very dramatic structure but, by 2004, it was in a very critical state of disrepair. It had been standing for almost 850 years by that point. I became deeply involved with a campaign to conserve the building. English Heritage (now Historic England) stumped up £100,000 to save this nationally significant grade II listed building and scheduled ancient monument in 2009. Paul Mendham Stonemasons undertook the work. It was a great relief, however my determination to better understand the archaeology and history of the site was only just beginning….

Many of England’s kings have stayed at Clipstone, from Henry II onwards, was it always for hunting in Sherwood Forest?

Hunting played a very important part in the decisions of eight Plantagenet monarchs to visit Clipstone. If we look at the reign of Edward II who visited the site on broadly seven occasions, five of those stays directly related to the hunting seasons of particular species of deer. Excavation has yielded the bones of roe, fallow and red deer which were all consumed at the palace. The deer park, surrounded by its timber pale fence, was around seven miles in circumference and enclosed approximately 1500 acres. Hunting was an important status activity for the kings and acted as a mechanism for social bonding and training in martial skills as well as food provision.

However the palace at Clipstone also acted as a backdrop for important state occasions. It was a location for the governance of the kingdom, a place where jousts were held, somewhere to host weddings, an estate that provided food for the royal household. Inside the buildings the visitors would be accommodated in chambers and would feast in the great hall whilst being entertained by musicians, storytellers and poets. Edward II and Isabella of France conceived their son John of Eltham at the palace. These were architecturally very diverse places and were conceptually and physically used in many ways.

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The Kings Houses, Clipstone

Clipstone is a long way from London, surely its historical significance is limited?

The palace is approximately 150 miles from London. However, when the site was first built in the mid-twelfth century, London was not the dominant centre of government that it became in the later Mediaeval period. Kings moved constantly around the country dispensing justice, visiting allies, conducting war, hunts and tournaments or engaging in ritual and religion. Many of their residences were located in the royal forests to take advantage of the remote game reserves which were used in a manner akin to the modern high status hotel with attached golf course – the palace and deer park were as much for business as pleasure. We can see this through Richard I’s meeting at Clipstone with the king of Scotland in 1194 or Edward I’s decision to hold parliament there in 1290.

What was your most exciting discovery at Clipstone?

The discovery of a very large part of the palace gatehouse and adjacent boundary wall that still survives up to first floor height within the later buildings of three post-Mediaeval cottages in the village. The archaeological impact of that find was spectacular enough, but pinning down the gatehouse also enabled me to understand how the rest of the palace was laid out as it proved to be pivotal in interpreting a fourteenth century documentary description of the palace buildings. Once I knew where the gatehouse was, I was able to work out its relationship to various chamber blocks, the stables, the three kitchens, the royal apartments, the great chamber and great hall. This was all done with the help of my friend and colleague Richard Reeves who translated the documents, held at the National Archives, from the Mediaeval Latin and Middle English.

Your book highlights how the King’s Houses played their part in English medieval history, did it surprise you to find out how popular it was with medieval monarchs?

I wanted to look at the deeper questions that others had not previously asked. It was known that Henry II spent a lot of money developing the palace in 1176-80. I wanted to know why he chose Clipstone and discovered that it was originally conceived by Henry as a physical statement of the power of his absolute monarchy in the aftermath of a civil war. Then I started interrogating further data and realised that Henry III ordered bars to be added to the windows in the royal apartments as added security after an assassination attempt; that Edward I ordered the construction of a massive stable for two hundred horses during a period where he was moving tens of thousands of troops into the Welsh wars; that Edward III held a morale-boosting tournament there after a setback in the wars in Scotland; or that Richard II visited in 1387 to relax after a particularly tough period of infighting with his own royal council. The more I read and researched, the more I realised that this was one of the most important and significant royal residences between the mid-twelfth and mid-fifteenth centuries. The stories that I have uncovered have demonstrated that almost the entire history of England can be told through the focused lens of this one site as a result of the importance placed on it by the kings.

Most archaeological projects don’t seem to get their own books. What made you decide to write the book?

All archaeological fieldwork must be written up and disseminated. It’s an absolute basic requirement. There is simply no point in doing archaeology if you do not tell people what you have done. Whether that be a complete grey literature site report or a published book, it is fundamentally important to release the information. I chose to write this book because after working at Clipstone for over twelve years I have decided to put into print everything that I have learned about this enormously important site. Essentially the book is my swan song and will leave a solid legacy of my work in the public domain.

Thank you James, I think its fabulous that your research has been made available to the wider public with this book.

Did you enjoy the writing process?

Very much so – the proof of that is that I spent eleven hours working on the book on Christmas Day 2015! What I found most compelling was that stories kept finding themselves. There is a constant theme running through the book which looks at how the ordinary people of Kings Clipstone reacted to, dealt with and coped with the presence of the royal palace, the forest laws and a continuing tension between their common rights and the will of the monarchs. It wasn’t always a harmonious relationship and there were definite flashpoints. The book is dedicated to a fourteenth century common rights activist called Robert de Clipstone who fought for his community against both Edward II and Edward III and eventually won his case!

Is there more to find out about the King’s Houses?

Of course! My book simply records everything that I have personally learned over the last twelve years, set alongside the work of previous researchers, and against the wider context of historical events. I hope that the ongoing excavations by Mercian Archaeological Services at the palace site will eventually yield fully developed archaeological reports in the very near future. In the meantime the focus of research is starting to shift towards a site three miles across the deer park as Forest Town Nature Conservation Group and MB Archaeology look at aspects of a fortification and agricultural community known as Clipstone Peel which was established in the early fourteenth century by Edward II. My part in the story of Clipstone is over, but there are new people asking new questions and I wish them very well!

What is your next project?

Currently I am in the process of writing up another major phase of building survey for the National Trust at Knole. I’m also working on the finishing touches of a report for the Museum of London about the very mysterious London Stone which was made famous by Shakespeare when he depicted the rebel Jack Cade touching his sword on it and claiming the city in 1450.

A Palace For Our Kings is out now as a limited edition paperback and e-book via Triskele Publishing. More information on the book and Kings Clipstone project can be found on social media: Facebook  and Twitter.

A huge ‘thank you’ to James Wright for taking the time to answer my many questions, it has been an absolute pleasure.

Look out for my review of James’ book A Palace For Our Kings tomorrow!

 

©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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Pictures courtesy of James Wright

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The Queen’s Baby Sister

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Coat of arms of Katherine’s father, Sir Richard Wydeville, Earl Rivers, KG

Katherine Wydville (or Woodville) was born into relative obscurity. Her father was Sir Richard Wydville, a Lancastrian Knight who had made a shocking and advantageous marriage with Jacquetta of Luxembourg, widow of the king’s uncle John, Duke of Bedford. Born around 1458, Katherine was probably the youngest of the couple’s 14 or 15 children. Her eldest sister, Elizabeth, was already married to Sir John Grey and had 2 sons by him.

Little to nothing is known Katherine’s childhood. She did have at least one playmate; her sister, Mary, was just 2 years older than her and it is likely they were raised and educated together.

Katherine may have spent her whole life in obscurity were not for her sister Elizabeth and the fortunes of the Wars of the Roses. In 1461 Elizabeth’s husband was killed in the 2nd Battle of St Albans, fighting for the House of Lancaster. And in 1464 she made the match of the century – and a number of enemies – by her clandestine marriage to England’s handsome, young, Yorkist king, Edward IV.

Suddenly, little 6-year-old Katherine was the sister of the queen – and her marriage prospects had improved considerably. As the daughter of a baron she would have been looking to marry a local knight; as the sister of the queen, her family could now set their sights much higher.

There is considerable debate as to why Edward IV raised the Wydvilles so high. Some historians argue that the king was acting as a good husband and brother-in-law in advancing his wife’s family to the highest positions, arguing that convention required him to make provision for his wife’s siblings. An alternative theory is that Edward was creating a new nobility, binding the great aristocratic houses to his dynasty by marrying them into his extended family, thus creating an alternative power base to rival that of the Nevilles. According to David Baldwin, “Edward could not allow the lowly position of his wife’s relatives to diminish his own status, and, as a usurper, would have seized every opportunity to forge links with the great noble families.”¹

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Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham

Whatever the reason, the end result was a series of marriages of the Wydville siblings into the great noble houses of the realm. Of Elizabeth’s sisters Margaret became Countess of Arundel, Anne became Countess of Kent, Jacquetta married Lord Strange of Knokyn and Mary married the Earl of Huntingdon. The most shocking marriage arrangement was that of Elizabeth’s brother, 19-year-old John, to the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, 65-year-old Katherine Neville.

Young Katherine Wydville’s marriage was to be one of the most exalted; even before Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1465, 6-year-old Katherine was married to Henry Stafford, the 11-year-old Duke of Buckingham. David Baldwin describes the scene at Elizabeth’s coronation:

The peers included young Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham ‘born a pon a squyer [squire] shouldr’, and among the ladies was his new wife, Catherine Woodville, likewise carried…¹

The event must have been awe-inspiring for the children; the sumptuous costumes, the roar of the crowds. The Queen was attended by 13 duchesses and countesses dressed in red velvet, 14 baronesses in scarlet and miniver, and the ladies of 12 knights bannerets wearing scarlet.¹ One can only imagine the effect such an auspicious day could have on 2 young children who were right in the middle of the celebrations.

Katherine’s new husband, Henry Stafford, had been Duke of Buckingham since the age of 4; his father, Humphrey Stafford, had been wounded at the 1st Battle of St Albans and died of natural causes in 1458 and his grandfather, Sir Humphrey Stafford, 1st Duke of Buckingham, was killed at the Battle of Northampton in 1460; both were loyal supporters Henry VI and the House of Lancaster. This left 5-year-old Henry as Duke and in the care of his grandmother Anne Neville (sister of Cecily, the new king’s mother).

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Garter Coat of arms of Sir Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham

Following Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Wydville in 1464, Henry and his younger brother were given into the custody of the new queen, who was granted 500 marks out of the young duke’s Welsh lands – soon increased by a further £100 – for the maintenance of the 2 boys. John Giles, who later be employed as tutor to Edward IV’s sons, taught grammar to ‘the queen’s beloved brothers’ during 1465-7.²

The Stafford boys remained in the queen’s custody, along with the duke’s little wife, Katherine, until the Readeption of Henry VI in 1470-71 when the duke was again returned to the custody of his grandmother and her new husband, Walter Blount, Lord Mountjoy. His younger brother, Humphrey, had disappeared from the records by this point, probably having succumbed to a childhood illness.

By June 1473, still only 17, Buckingham was granted his livery as a duke and his grandfather’s estates. Although Edward IV had returned to the throne, he appears to have had no great love for Duke Henry and he was rarely at court; staying mainly on his estates with his wife and family.

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Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham

According to Domenico Mancini, writing in 1483, Buckingham resented his marriage due to his wife’s ‘humble origin’ and his wife certainly brought no marriage portion with her and has often been described as a ‘parvenu’ by historians.² However, the couple did have 5 children together, 4 of whom survived childhood.

Edward Stafford, the future 3rd Duke of Buckingham, was born in 1478. He would go on to marry Eleanor (d. 1530), the daughter of Henry Percy, 4th Earl of Northumberland, before his execution in 1521, during the reign of Henry VIII.

A 2nd son, Henry, Earl of Wiltshire, was born around 1479 and died in 1523. He married twice, firstly to Muriel or Margaret, daughter of Edward Grey, Viscount de Lisle and secondly to Cecilia, daughter of William Bonville, Baron Harrington.

A 3rd son, Humphrey, died young, but was followed by 2 daughters. Anne married Sir Walter Herbert who died in 1507. She then married George Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon. Katherine and Henry’s youngest daughter, Elizabeth, married Robert Radcliffe, Earl of Sussex, by whom she had 3 sons.

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Anne Stafford, Countess of Huntingdon

With Edward IV’s death in 1483, Buckingham played a leading role in the turmoil which saw Edward’s 2 sons by Elizabeth Wydville declared illegitimate, and saw the late king’s brother, Richard of Gloucester claim the throne as Richard III. For a time, Buckingham was Richard’s staunchest ally and played a major role in Richard’s coronation – an event his wife Katherine, as one of the now-despised Wydvilles, did not attend.

However, by October 1483, and for still-unknown reasons, Buckingham mounted a coup against Richard, entering an alliance with Henry Tudor – in exile in Brittany – he attempted to raise Lancastrian support in the Welsh Marches. Katherine accompanied her husband from Brecon to Weobley, leaving her daughters at Brecon. Thwarted by the weather, the coup failed and Buckingham attempted to flee.

The Duke was arrested and executed at Salisbury on 2nd November 1483. The duchess and her youngest son, Henry, were captured and taken to London. Her eldest son, Edward, was also in the king’s custody. In December 1483, Katherine was allowed to have her servants and daughters brought to London from Wales. However, having been deprived of her dower and jointure, her financial position was precarious, until Richard III granted her an annuity of 200 marks.

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Arms of Jasper Tudor, Duke of Bedford

Katherine’s situation was changed again following Henry VII’s defeat of Richard III at Bosworth. Katherine was married to Jasper Tudor, the new king’s uncle and newly created Duke of Bedford, before 7th November 1483. The new regime reversed Buckingham’s attainder, awarding Katherine not only her dower rights, but also a jointure of 1000 marks, as specified in Buckingham’s will.

This took her total revenue from the Buckingham estates to £2500 and therefore bolstered her new husband’s position as the representative of the king in Wales. Jasper had practically raised the new king single-handedly, sharing his exile in Brittany following the defeat of the Lancastrian cause at Tewkesbury in 1471. Katherine, a dukedom and becoming the king’s right-hand man in Wales; this was his reward.

As with most medieval marriages, we cannot know if there was any affection in Katherine’s relationships with either of her 1st 2 husbands; both marriages were made for political reasons. During her 2nd marriage, Katherine resided mainly at Thornbury in Gloucestershire, she and Jasper Tudor had no children together and her estates were kept under a separate administration to Tudor’s own lands.

Jasper Tudor died at Christmas, around the 21st December, 1491. Poor Katherine only gets a passing mention in his will; “I will that my Lady my [line 3] wife and all other persons have such dues as shall be thought to them appertaining by right law [line 4] and conscience.”³

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Thornbury Castle today

I can’t help hoping that Katherine found some affection and comfort in her 3rd and final marriage. By 24th February 1496 Katherine had married Richard Wingfield, a man 12 years her junior. They married without royal licence, the fine for which remained unpaid at Katherine’s death. Wingfield was probably in the duchess’s service before the marriage, as his 2 brothers, John and Edmund appear to have been. When he married Katherine he was a younger son in a rather large family, with few prospects as a consequence. However, he would go on to have a distinguished diplomatic career under Henry VIII, dying at Toledo in 1525.

Katherine herself died on 18th May 1497. The unpaid fine, imposed following her marriage to Wingfield, became a charge on her eldest son, Edward, the 3rd Duke of Buckingham. Her 3rd husband, however, did not forget her; despite remarrying, his will, drawn up in 1525, requested masses be said for the repose of Katherine’s soul.

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Footnotes: ¹David Baldwin in Elizabeth Woodville; ²C.S.L. Davies in Oxforddnb.com; ³The Woodvilles by Susan Higginbotham.

©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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Pictures taken from Wikipedia.

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Sources: The Woodvilles by Susan Higginbotham; Elizabeth Woodville by David Baldwin; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner and Neil Wenborn; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, A True Romance by Amy Licence; The Wars of the Roses by John Gillingham; The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens  by Mike Ashley; Oxforddnb.com.

The Man who Won the Hand of the Fair Maid of Kent

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Sir Thomas Holland, Earl of Kent

Having recently written about William Montagu, 2nd Earl of Salisbury and husband of Joan of Kent, I thought it only fair to write an article on William’s love rival, Thomas Holland.

The 2nd son of Robert Holland, Lord Holland of Upholland, Lancashire, Thomas was born around 1315 and grew up to be quite a renowned soldier. His mother was Maud, daughter and co-heiress of Alan Zouche, Lord Zouche of Ashby. Thomas grew up with 3 brothers and 3 sisters. His older brother, Robert, succeeded to the Holland estates and  resided at Thorpe Waterville in Northamptonshire. Thomas’s 2 younger brothers, Alan and Otto, followed their brother into military service, and are often noted as having accompanied him on campaign.

The number of sisters seems to be confused; some sources put it at 5, while others mention only 3. Of the 3 known sisters the eldest, Isabella, became the mistress of John de Warenne, 7th Earl of Surrey and married to Edward II’s cousin, Joan of Bar.  Another sister, Margaret, died in 1349 and had been married to John de la Warr, while the last, Matilda or Maud, had been the wife of John (II) Mowbray, Lord Mowbray.

Thomas Holland’s father had been a chief supporter of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, who had attempted to curb the malevolent influence of Hugh le Despener the Younger on King Edward II and, by extension, the country. Holland, however, turned his coat at the last-minute and joined the king’s faction just months before Lancaster was defeated at the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322.

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Coat of arms of Sir Thomas Holland, Knight of the Garter

Lancaster was executed but Robert Holland did not get the reward he was probably expecting; he was imprisoned, with his lands confiscated. It was only in 1327, after Edward II’s deposition and the accession of Edward III, that Holland’s lands were restored. However, in October 1328 Robert Holland was murdered in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, probably by supporters of the new Earl of Lancaster, Thomas’s brother Henry.

A landless young knight, and the son of a disgraced lord, Thomas Holland had very little going for him when he started his soldiering career, probably in Scotland in the early 1330s. However, as the 1330s progressed he was making a reputation as an able soldier. In 1337 he was fighting in Bordeaux with Robert d’Artois, but by 1338 he was a knight of the royal household; serving in Flanders the following year and at Sluys in 1340.

In 1339 Thomas managed to pull off the marriage coup of the century – but no one was to know about it for 10 years. At the age of 24 Thomas married 11-year-old Joan Plantagenet, daughter of Edmund, earl of Kent, granddaughter of Edward I and cousin of King Edward III. Despite her family links, at the time of the marriage Joan was no great heiress; her brother was earl of Kent and it was only his death in 1352 and the earlier death-without-heirs of her maternal uncle, Thomas Lord Wake, in 1349, that made her a wealthy woman in her own right.

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Joan of Kent

Modern sensibilities will make us cringe at Joan’s tender age, but, although it was young even for the period an 11-year-old bride was not unheard of. We know, from Joan’s later testimony, that the marriage was consummated almost immediately; however, the couple did not settle down to marital bliss and Holland was soon on his travels.

In 1341, while Holland was away crusading in Prussia, Joan’s mother, Margaret Wake, arranged an advantageous marriage for her daughter to William Montagu, 2nd earl of Salisbury. Whether Margaret knew about the extent of Joan’s relationship with Holland is uncertain – maybe she believed Joan was infatuated with the landless knight and hoped that marrying her to Montagu would cure the pre-teen of this puppy love?

By February 1341 Joan and Montagu were married.

Thomas Holland, however, didn’t appear to be in a rush to return to claim his wife; he spent the next few years campaigning in Europe. In 1342-3 he fought in Brittany with the king and was probably in Granada with the earl of Derby by 1343. In 1345 he was back in Brittany and was at the Siege of Caen in 1346; a battle in which Joan’s other husband, Montagu, may also have taken part – awkward!

Holland played a prominent part in the Siege of Caen, capturing the Count of Eu, constable of France, who surrendered himself to Holland based on the knight’s chivalrous reputation. The count was then sold to Edward III for 80,000 florins, possibly making Holland very wealthy indeed (if he ever received the full balance owed). Thomas Holland’s eminence rose further during the 1346 Crecy campaign, seeing action at Amiens and Rouen; he was wounded at a castle on the Seine and commanded the rearguard on the march from Caen.

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Otto Holland – Thomas’s brother and lieutenant

Recognition of his exploits came from the King in 1348, when Holland was made one of the Founder Knights of the Order of the Garter. His brother and lieutenant, Otto, was also awarded with the same honour – as was William Montagu, earl of Salisbury and the ‘other’ husband of the fair Joan. Montagu was also, at this  time, employing Thomas Holland as his steward – I wonder if Joan had had a hand in the appointment?

Holland now found himself in a position to petition the papal court to confirm the validity of his marriage and have Joan returned to him. The inaugural Garter tournament on St George’s Day, 1349 must have caused great interest, seeing Joan’s current husband, the Earl of Salisbury, fighting on the king’s team, while Sir Thomas Holland was on the side of Prince Edward, the Black Prince (Joan’s future husband, just to make things more confusing). It is not hard to imagine the highly charged atmosphere, with Joan’s 2 husbands facing each other across the tournament field, with the object of their affection watching from the stands.

If you’re wondering who Joan cheered for, my guess is Thomas Holland as, when called to testify to her marriage with Holland, Joan confirmed that, not only had she married Holland but the marriage had also been consummated. In November 1349 the court publicised the verdict; Joan’s marriage to Montagu was declared null and void and she was ordered to return to Holland.

Holland’s fortunes were certainly on the rise,  his wife restored to him, and with her brother’s death in 1352, Joan inherited estates in 16 counties, making Holland (by right of his wife) a lord of vast estates. His military career blossomed, he was given independent commands and in August  1352 was made Captain of Calais Castle; from 1354 he was summoned to parliament as Lord Holland.

Joan and Sir Thomas Holland had 5 children together; 3 sons and 2 daughters. Their 1st son, Thomas, Earl of Kent, was born in 1350 and married Alice, the daughter of Richard FitzAlan, 10th Earl of Arundel; he died in 1397.  Edmund was born in 1352 and died young. Their 3rd son, John, was created Duke of Exeter in 1397 by his younger brother, King Richard II. He married Elizabeth of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt and Blanch of Lancaster, but was executed in 1400 for his involvement in a plot to assassinate Henry IV and return his brother to the throne.

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Arms of Thomas Holland, 2nd Earl of Kent

Of their daughters, Joan married John V, Duke of Brittany (who would marry Joanna of Navarre as his 2nd wife, the future queen-consort of Henry IV), but died in 1384. Their youngest child, Matilda, was born in 1359 and married twice; Sir Hugh de Courtenay, who died in 1377, and then Waleran of Luxembourg, Count of St Pol and Ligny. Matilda died in 1391.

Thomas Holland’s military prestige continued to rise throughout the 1350s, with his appointment as the King’s lieutenant in Brittany in 1353-4, receiving funding from the local revenues. Thomas also had custody of the young heir to the duchy, John V, who was later married to the Holland’s daughter, Joan.

In June 1356 Holland was appointed Keeper of the Channel Islands and tasked with the recovery of the Islands’ Castle Cornet, then in French hands; Holland’s brother, Otto, soon recaptured it for the English. In the subsequent years, Holland was placed in charge of various castles in Normandy; until October 1359 when he was appointed joint lieutenant of Normandy with Philip of Navarre.

The apotheosis of Holland’s military career came in September 1360 when he was appointed the king’s captain and lieutenant in France and Normandy. It was at this time, also, that he was finally given the title earl of Kent – to bolster his authority and prestige among friends and enemies alike, in order to  aid in his task of carrying out the provisions of the Treaty of Bretigny of October 1360.

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Gatehouse of the Greyfriars at Stamford, Lincolnshire

However, before this duty could be fulfilled, and at the height of his fame and prestige, Thomas Holland, earl of Kent, contracted an illness and died at Rouen on 26th December 1360. He was buried in the church of the Friars Minor at Rouen, but was later moved to the Church of the Greyfriars at Stamford in Lincolnshire.

His widow, Joan, would marry Prince Edward, the Black Prince and heir of Edward III, in the following year and their son, Richard would be crowned in 1377 as King Richard II. Holland’s children by Joan would be half-siblings to the King of England.

When Joan herself died in 1385 she chose to be buried beside her 1st husband in Lincolnshire, rather than with her prince in Canterbury Cathedral.

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©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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Pictures taken from Wikipedia.

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Sources: The Perfect King, the Life of Edward III by Ian Mortimer; The Life and Time of Edward III by Paul Johnson; The Reign of Edward III  by WM Ormrod; The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; Britain’s’ Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; The Plantagenets, the Kings Who Made Britain by Dan Jones; englishmonarchs.co.uk; The Oxford Companion to British History edited by John Cannon; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; oxforddnb.com; britannia.com; themcs.org.