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: In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII by Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger

51C52QElN8L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_This book provides a fresh perspective on the lives of Henry VIII’s six wives by embarking on a journey through the manors, castles and palaces in which their lives were played out.

Each location is described in a fascinating narrative that unearths the queens’ lives in documents and artefacts, as well as providing practical visitor information based on the authors’ first-hand knowledge of each site. Accompanied by an extensive range of images including timelines, maps, photographs and sketches, this book brings us closer than ever to the women behind the legends, providing a personal and illuminating journey in the footsteps of the six wives of Henry VIII.

In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII, by Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger, is an absolute treasure trove of pictures and information of the many historic locations associated with Henry VIII’s 6 wives. The book is divided into 7 easy-to-follow sections; the 1st covers the principal Royal residences of the period and the 6 subsequent portions are each dedicated to one of the 6 wives, in chronological order.

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St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury

The book examines each of Henry’s queens in turn, looking at the locations associated with them, not only when they were queen, but also from their childhood and early life. In each section, we are treated to the queen’s story, her triumphs and failures, told through the palaces in which she experienced them.

In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII takes you on a visit of each location, whether it’s a palace or manor house, the authors give vivid tours, telling you what to look out for, what is still extant – and what is lost to history. In one location, they guide you to a housing estate and point out the walls which once made up the exterior of a Henry VIII’s now-lost palace. You are also provided with a practical guide to the locations covered, giving you visitor information, parking suggestions, details on refreshments and facilities.

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Windsor Castle

With Katherine of Aragon, we visit the magnificent palaces of Spain, while Anne Boleyn takes us from Burgundy to the Loire Valley. Jane Seymour allows us to investigate the renowned Wolf Hall and Anne of Cleves gives us a fascinating glimpse into Germany’s wonderful castles. Jane Seymour The tragic story of Katherine Howard allows us to join Henry’s great progress of 1541,  through Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, before the tragic last months of imprisonment at Syon House. Which finally brings us to Katherine Parr, investigating the locations associated with her first 2 marriages, her life with Henry and then her final years with Thomas Seymour.To walk the grounds and corridors of Hampton Court Palace is to walk in the footsteps of all the Tudor kings and queens. Within the Tudor palace’s russet-coloured walls, the present fades into the brickwork and the past emerges to greet us. Although mush of the Tudor palace has, over the years, been modified or demolished and replaced with William III’s and Mary II’s baroque palace, the buildings that survive propel us back through the years to a time when Hampton Court was one of Henry VIII’s most beloved palaces, at the centre of court life and politics.

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Hever Castle, Kent

If nothing else, it is worth reading In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII for the research the Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger have conducted into the Anne of Cleves panels. These wonderful wood carvings are discussed and investigated in detail; their fascinating story told for the first time in its entirety. It is not hard to imagine the feelings of curiosity and, sometimes,  disappointment the authors must have felt as they tried to uncover the provenance of these panels, and their associations with Henry VIII’s 4th wife. Their eventual success and discoveries are a testament to the author’s persistence and tenacity.

This book is amply supported by quotes from primary sources, describing the locations as they were at the time the queens lived. The authors have a wonderful habit of discussing the difficulties involved in locating and identifying some of the less famous sites, making you feel part of their investigations.

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The Bishop’s Palace, Lincoln

An abundance of photographs and illustrations are included in the book. These include colourful photos of the sites as they are now, black and white floor plans from the Tudor period and artwork painted through the ages.

Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger have created a wonderful book, which is a combination of history book and travel guide. They have worked so well together it is impossible to see the join; they speak with one voice in this stunning collaboration. The book is produced in a way to make it easy to dip in and out of, making it possible to read only about the locations you are currently touring, or to read from beginning to end in a couple of sittings. But be careful, in just looking up one specific location you may find that you lose an entire hour without noticing.

The only criticism I would have is that there are no footnotes to clarify the source of quotations, which makes it harder to use as a research tool, but not impossible. This fault is partly offset, moreover, by an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources, and in no way detracts from the enjoyment of the book as a whole.

Remarkably, the authors give equal empathy to each of Henry’s wives. It is impossible to discern a bias for Katherine of Aragon or Anne Boleyn (a remarkable achievement). Each property is subject to the same attention to detail, whether it was a frequently occupied palace, or a manor house visited for just a few days while on progress.

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Gainsborough Old Hall, Lincolnshire

In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII is beautifully written and thoroughly engaging. You can practically hear, see and smell the Tudors. The book is a detailed, enjoyable and enlightening read, no matter whether you are intending to travel to the palaces, or visiting them through the book, you are in for a real treat. The authors have an incredible ability to invoke the past and recreate the sumptuous, lavish lives of England’s most fascinating queen consorts. It will be a valued addition to anyone’s Tudor library.

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Photographs ©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016

Book Corner: Interview with Kristie Dean

12791083_736187379851237_1299001826319792577_nThis week I have the great pleasure of starting off Kristie Dean’s Blog Tour, in honour of the launch of her new book, On the Trail of the Yorks.

Just a year ago she published the book, The World of Richard III and on Monday her latest offering, On the Trail of the Yorks goes on sale in the UK. Kristie’s books are a unique and fascinating blend of history and travel writing; they bring to life the castles, palaces and other locations  associated with one of the ,most famous kings – and families – in British history.

Here, she talks to me about her love of history and writing.

What made you become a writer?
When I was a little girl I would spend my time creating stories for the other kids. I also wrote and distributed a neighborhood newspaper. I was always writing – poems, short stories, and even reports. I wrote a research paper for my 7th grade teacher and she later talked to my parents, telling them I was pushing myself too hard. It wasn’t that; I just couldn’t stand a blank page, and so I was always looking for new ways of writing.

With a career as a teacher, how do you discipline yourself to write?
When I am working on a book, writing consumes my life. I come home from work and write for three or four hours plus I write all day Saturday and most of Sunday. If I have a school event or my husband convinces me to go out, I take that evening off. I take a week off every May to take my students to Washington DC, although I do take research materials to read on the bus. I also am a mentor teacher at my school, so that takes a chunk of time. But, just like writing and teaching, it is worthwhile and enjoyable.

How do you organise your writing day?
At 5 p.m., I get home and write until at least 8 p.m. On weekends, I am researching/writing by 9 a.m. and usually going until 5 p.m. If I am writing about a certain location and I am in a ‘zone’ I will often continue until I am done.

Kristie
Kristie Dean

How many projects do you have going at once, or do you concentrate on one at a time?
With my time constraints, I usually have one or two in the back of my mind, but I only work on one at a time. I would love to be able to work on two or three projects at a time. Authors who are able to do this amaze me.

Your books are quite unique, a combination of history and historical locations, what made you decide to write them this way?
I traveled to Europe several times and always ended up frustrated with my guidebooks. I ended up making my own guides to each location for myself and fellow travelers to reach deeper in the history. Since I was particularly fascinated with the Plantagenets (especially Richard III) and Anne Boleyn, I was frustrated there weren’t any guides to places associated with them. Then a member of a history group I am in wrote an excellent guide for Anne Boleyn. This helped me to realize that I wasn’t the only one who wanted to explore the history of a location, so I decided to start with the historical figure I was most interested in, which was Richard III.

How long do you spend researching your book before you start writing?
This is a tough one to answer since it varies. I already had a great deal of information on Richard III and the Wars of the Roses, so much of my research involved the locations associated with him. However, I have been researching for a fiction book for years. Whether it ever sees the light of day is a different story.

What do you enjoy most about writing?
I love getting to delve into the lives of historic figures and locations. I also like visiting each place to get a feel for it. I enjoy trying to make history come alive for my readers.

What is the worst thing about writing?
The long hours of solitude. It can get lonely, and when I am up against a deadline I do not have time to go out with friends.

How long does it take to do a project from start to finish?
About a year. It depends on the book and how much research I’ve done prior. It also depends on where the research takes me. I became interested in Margaret of York while writing my latest book and spent several hours researching information that I did not even need for the book.

Have you ever considered writing a novel? What would it be about?
(Laughs) Oh yes, I have. It would be a thriller, I think. I love reading those types of novels. I might eventually do an historic fiction novel, too.

Who are your favourite personalities from history?
Oh my. It would be easier to answer who doesn’t interest me, but I will give it a try. Richard III, obviously. Anne Boleyn, All the Plantagenet queens, St Margaret, Margaret of York, Cecily Neville, Anne Neville, Llywelyn Fawr, and several lesser known women from history. From a more modern time, Winston Churchill intrigues me.

What are your favourite places from history?1422626_729589277177714_706482969626694562_n
All of England, Scotland, and Wales. I feel like the area is a second home for me. I love traveling and exploring each region. Middleham Castle is one of my favourites, as well as Llanrhychwyn Church, which is believed to be the oldest church in Wales. This little church is a gem, said to have been built by Llywelyn Fawr for his wife, Joan. I had a difficult time finding it, but Sharon Kay Penman helped me by putting me in touch with someone who lived in the area. Pam took me straight there, and I was immediately enchanted.

Your last book was The World of Richard III and the new one is On the Trail of the Yorks, what is it that fascinates you about Richard III and the House of York?
I have been fascinated by that time period for a long time. It’s a time of turbulence, a time of changing allies and enemies, and a time of controversy. It just pulls me in. Originally, I was interested in the controversy surrounding Richard III, but now I am captivated by the entire period.
On another note, The World of Richard III is going to undergo a title change to On the Trail of Richard III for the paperback version. This will keep the two books aligned.

Would you ever consider doing a book about the House of Lancaster and the locations associated with it?
I would, but I think many of the locations would be the same. Of course, the difference would be what the Lancastrians would be doing at each location. It is certainly an interesting idea.

Do you ever get writer’s block? If so, how do you get around it?
Not often. When I do it is a sign that I need a break. So, I get up, play with my three dogs and two cats or take a walk outside. Or I clean the bathroom. I am always excited to get back to writing after that.

Do you find social media – such as Facebook – a benefit or a hindrance?
It’s a benefit, but I confess to not being the best at it. I don’t get around to the various groups as often as I want, so sometimes I am out of the loop. I do have several wonderfulyorks Facebook friends who help me admin my groups and keep me up to date on what’s happening in the other history groups.

What is be your next project?
I have a book about locations associated with some of history’s forgotten women brewing in my head, but it has a serious contender in Margaret, Mary and Arthur Tudor. I am not sure which will win out in the end. I am taking a much-needed break right now to collaborate with some friends on a joint project. I will spend two weeks in East Anglia this summer with them doing research.

I would like to extend a huge ‘thank you’ to Kristie Dean for her wonderful answers and wish her the every success with her latest book. And look out for my review of On the Trail of the Yorks next week!

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Kristie Dean has an MA in History and now enjoys teaching the subject, following a successful career in public relations. Her particular historic interest is the medieval era, specifically the Plantagenets, the Wars of the Roses and the Tudors. When not traveling for research, you can find Kristie at home in Tennessee with her husband, three dogs, and two cats. On the Trail of the Yorks is available from Amazon UK from 15th March 2016 and from Amazon US in May. And On the Trail of Richard III is due for release in paperback in May.

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Walking Bosworth’s Battlefield

“Two Kings – One Battle”

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The standards of Richard III and Henry VII

Last year I took my 9-year-old son and 40-something husband to visit their first battlefield. We were holidaying in Derbyshire and decided to drive down to Leicestershire and visit Bosworth. With all the hype around the discovery and re-burial of Richard III, it seemed a great way to show a 9-year-old the story of a battle.

He, of course, knows a little of the Richard III story. He can identify the king’s portrait and knows he was involved in the Wars of the Roses, but we don’t linger on the Princes in the Tower too much. I don’t think he is as familiar with Henry VII, but he can tell you all of Henry VIII’s queens, in order, and tell you their fate. So taking my son to the battlefield was a way of giving him a place and time where he could visualise the events and the people.
It worked.
However, what I found surprising was the effect it had on my husband. Hubby is a bit of a computer geek and into all the mod cons. He never had an interest in history before he met me, and even now I can see his eyes glossing over if I talk too much about the past – 15 minutes a day is usually all he can take!
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The Sundial on Ambion Hill

I have visited battlefields before; Waterloo, Stamford Bridge, Hastings and a few others. The calm serenity always amazes me. I expect to hear the echoes of battle, the cries of the wounded, clashes of arms and the shouted orders of the battle’s commanders – and the thunder of the horses hooves during the cavalry charge. At Bosworth, if you close your eyes tight, and listen intently, you can almost hear it…..

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The Battle of Bosworth Trail

The Battlefield trail is a wonderful leisurely walk. It’s not the actual battlefield; they found that a short distance away a few years ago, but it is Ambion Hill. And standing at the memorial you have a panoramic view of the area; you can  imagine the 2 sides facing each other, troops in the thick of it and those waiting to engage. My son listened in awe as I described the death of Norfolk and the final, desperate charge of Richard III; and Percy’s men standing, watching and waiting – possibly very close to where we were stood at that moment.

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View from Ambion Hill
As you walk round the hill and through the woods, there are markers, pointing the way; and viewpoints and information posts telling the story of the battle and explaining the technology and tactics used. One marker explains the use of the longbow, how it dealt death from afar. The marker explained where the archers were positioned during the fighting; you almost expected to look to your right and see them raising their bows to the air.
My son was fascinated by the idea that children as young as he was had already started their knightly training, that there were only about 1,000 knights in the whole of England. And I was amazed to discover that many who could be knights chose not to, in order to avoid the duty and responsibility that came with knighthood; these men were simply called esquires or gentlemen.

 

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Information post explaining the use of cannons in the battle

It amazed my husband to discover that cannon and handguns were in use in the battle. 1485 seems to be too long ago for men to have used gunpowder. The handguns were large and cumbersome weapons, too large for one hand to use; guns were still very much in their infancy. However, it was a scattering of cannon balls and other small metal objects (such heraldic badges, spur rowels and coins), found by metal detectors, which finally meant the location of the battlefield could be confidently identified.

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Battle standards in Ambion Wood

Although the general battlefield has now been identified, we still don’t know where individual parts of the action took place. We can’t say for certain where the action between Norfolk and Oxford took place, nor where Norfolk fell. We can’t tell where Stanley and his men were standing, watching for that turn in the battle that made him decide to join Henry Tudor’s forces.
But the specifics don’t matter as much as I expected they would. The battlefield provides its own story. And the fact you can’t say exactly where each part of the action happened serves to highlight the confusion of a battle. When you’re on the ground, in the thick of it, fighting for your life and your king, you wouldn’t be looking round to see where on the field you were. You would be looking to your own survival, fighting the man in front of you while watching your back.
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King Richard’s Well, cairn built close to where it is thought the king fell
So the locations of events are vague, but that they are remembered and commemorated is what matters. Whether the marker is where Richard fell matters less than that there is a marker to the fallen king.
And once you have walked the Battlefield Trail, there is the Heritage Centre to visit. The Centre offers wonderful background to the battle, told through the voices of those involved: a serving girl at a local inn, a mercenary’s wife, an archer. The 2 armoured kings stand watch over you as you view artefacts found on the field of battle and study maps and videos explaining the battle and the troop movements.
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Henry VII
The Heritage Centre is very hands-on; children can try on the armour and test out the helmets. You can test your ability to draw a longbow; it’s not as easy as you think. By far the most dramatic display is the little corner dedicated to the Barber-Surgeons. The tools of his trade are displayed and a skeleton depicting the wounds of one soldier from the battlefield. Given the recent discovery of Richard III, and the detailed descriptions of his wounds, this seemed a particularly poignant display.
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Richard III
Walking the battlefield is a humbling experience. So little is known about the men who fought and died in these fields on 22nd August 1485. And, yet, the date marks so much change in English history: the end of one the Plantagenet dynasty and the start of Tudor rule; the end of the Middle Ages and the beginnings of the Renaissance. Just around the corner were the marital problems of Henry VIII and the English Reformation and the subsequent, glorious reign of Elizabeth I. But the men who fought that day would know nothing of the significance of the battle beyond that moment.

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All photos © Sharon Bennett Connolly 2015

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Article originally published on The Review on 19th August 2015.

The Legend of Mother Shipton

Mother Shipton’s Cave is England’s oldest tourist attraction. People have been visiting since 1630. The area is a beautifully landscaped park, lending atmosphere to an already magical place.

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As a child I didn’t know the story of Mother Shipton, just that she was a local witch who lived in a cave. The witch part doesn’t exactly tell the whole story.

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The River Nidd

As the legend goes Mother Shipton’s real name was Ursula Sontheil. She was the daughter of Agatha, a local girl who found herself pregnant, but unmarried, at the age of 15. When she refused to tell the identity of the father, and with no parents to support her, she was shunned, banished from the village. Poor Agatha found shelter in a cave on the outskirts of Knaresborough by the bank of the River Nidd, below Knaresborough Castle. And there, one stormy night in 1488, with thunder banging, lightening crashing and gales blowing, she gave birth to Ursula.

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Knaresborough Castle

Shortly after her birth, the Abbot of Beverley took an interest in Ursula; he placed her with a local family. Her mother was sent to a convent in Nottinghamshire, where she died a few years later.

Poor Ursula had a large, crooked nose, her back was bent and her legs twisted. She had to walk with a stick. And although not a handsome child, Ursula was bright and surprised her teachers with her intelligence. However, she only attended school for a short time; she was teased and taunted by the other children. There were claims that Ursula got her revenge; hair being pulled or children being tripped and falling to the ground… when no one was near.

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Mother Shipton

She eventually found her way back to the cave in which she was born, preferring the solitude of the woods. At the age of 24 she met and married a young carpenter from York, Tobias Shipton. Some say she had bewitched him, as she was too hideous for him to be attracted to her. Their life together was short, as he died 2 years later, before they had any children. The name ‘Mother’ Shipton came years later, when Ursula became the oldest woman in the village.

Ursula made a living telling the future and fortunes of those who asked. She soon became known as Knaresborough’s Prophetess.

Ursula’s prophecies became famous. The King sent messengers from London to hear her prophecies but she became a target of Cardinal Wolsey. Wolsey became the subject of one of Ursula’s predictions. She told him that, though he would see York, he would never set foot in it; while Wolsey retorted that when he made it to York he would build a huge pyre on which to burn her as a witch.

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Cardinal Wolsey

As it transpired, Wolsey made it to Cawood, on the outskirts of York; where he was arrested for treason by Henry Percy, 6th Earl of Northumberland. As he made his journey back to a trial in London, Wolsey fell ill and died at Leicester on 29th November 1530.

Mother Shipton is also said to have foretold the Black Death of 1665 and the Great Fire of London that followed it in 1666. Among her other predictions were aeroplanes, cars, the English Reformation, London’s Crystal Palace, the American Civil War and the French Revolution; and, possibly, the internet;

“Around the world thoughts shall fly in the twinkling of an eye”.

And, of course, she predicted the end of the world:

” The world shall end when the High Bridge is thrice fallen”.

The High Bridge at Knaresborough has fallen twice so far….

Mother Shipton died in 1561 at the grand old age of 73. Having being refused burial by the Church her grave is lost to history.

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The Wishing Well

But, of course, we still have Mother Shipton’s Cave and the Wishing well beside it.

For your wish to come true, you have to put your hand in the well’s water and silently make your wish; let your hand dry naturally, and keep your wish a secret until it comes true.

I remember going there as a child, visiting the wishing well and making my wish. I have never quite forgiven Mother Shipton for the fact I asked for a doll’s pram for Christmas – and got a doll’s pushchair instead.

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The Petrifying Well

Just before Mother Shipton’s Cave is also the Petrifying Well. The Well is fed by a spring that comes from a natural lake a mile underground. The water travels through a band of porous rock,called an aquifer, in order to reach the surface, and a huge amount of minerals are dissolved. The magical water turns all things to stone; it takes 3 months to transform a teddy bear.

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Angel carving on Beech Avenue

Mother Shipton’s Cave is a wonderful place to visit. With play areas and a trail quiz for the children, wonderful carvings among the trees and even the chance to meet Knaresborough Castle’s Ravens and the Raven Keeper.

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Knaresborough Castle’s Raven, April, with her keeper

Mother Shipton herself will tell you her story and Cardinal Wolsey is not far away, trying to cause mischief and full of threats against the Prophetess. And, of course, there’s always the chance that your wish may come true…..

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All photographs are copyright to Sharon Bennett Connolly, 2015.

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Sources: Mother Shipton’s Cave Guide Book; http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net; The Prophecies of Mother Shipton by Sean David Morton; pyramidtlc.org; mysteriousbritain.co.uk

Nichola de la Haye, England’s Forgotten Heroine

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View, from the castle. of Lincoln Cathedral

Nichola de la Haye is one of those very rare women in English history. She is renowned for her abilities, rather than her family and connections. In a time when men fought and women stayed home, Nichola de la Haye held Lincoln Castle against all-comers.

The eldest daughter and co-heiress of Richard de la Haye and his wife, Matilda de Verdun, she was probably  born in the early 1150s. Richard de la Haye was a minor Lincolnshire lord; in 1166 he was recorded as owing 20 knights’ fees, which had been reduced to 16 by 1172. When he died in 1169, Nichola inherited her father’s land in Lincolnshire and his position as castellan of Lincoln Castle, a position she would hold for over 30 years.

Nichola was married twice, her first husband, William Fitz Erneis, died in 1178. Before 1185 she married Gerard de Camville, son of Richard de Camville, admiral of Richard I’s crusading fleet during the 3rd Crusade. Although her first marriage was probably childless, Nichola and Gerard had at least 3 children; Richard, Thomas and Matilda.

Nichola’s husbands each claimed the position of castellan of Lincoln Castle by right of his wife; but Nichola seems to have been far from the normal subservient wife. When her husband was not in the castle, she was left in charge rather than an alternative, male deputy.

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Lincoln castle walls

Nichola first comes to the attention of the chroniclers in 1191, when Prince John made a play for his brother Richard’s throne. Gerard de Camville was a supporter of John and joined him at Nottingham Castle, leaving Nichola to hold Lincoln. Richard I’s Chancellor, William Longchamps had headed north to halt John’s coup and laid siege to Lincoln Castle.

The formidable Nichola refused to yield, holding out for 40 days before Longchamps raised the siege following the fall of the castles at Tickhill and Nottingham. Amusingly, Richard of Devizes said of this defence of Lincoln Castle, that she did it ‘without thinking of anything womanly’.

In 1194, on the king’s return, Camville was stripped of his positions as Sheriff of Lincolnshire and Castellan of the castle; only having it returned to him on the accession of King John in 1199.

Gerard de Camville died around 1215 and, although now a widow, it seems the castle remained in Nichola’s hands. On one of King John’s visits to inspect the castle’s defences in either 1215 or 1216 there was a rather dramatic display of fealty from Nichola :

And once it happened that after the war King John came to Lincoln and the said Lady Nichola went out of the eastern gate of the castle carrying the keys of the castle in her hand and met the king and offered the keys to him as her lord and said she was a woman of great age and was unable to bear such fatigue any longer and he besought her saying, “My beloved Nicholaa, I will that you keep the castle as hitherto until I shall order otherwise”.¹

As we all know, King John’s reign wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. He lost his French lands and was held to account by the barons of England for  numerous examples of maladministration, corruption and  outright murder. In 1215 he had been forced to seal the Magna Carta in order to avoid war. Although it eventually came to be considered a fundamental statement of English liberties, as a peace treaty Magna Carta failed miserably. Within months John had written to Pope Innocent III and the charter had been declared null and void; the barons were up in arms.

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The postern gate, through which William Marshal, and his relieving force, entered Lincoln Castle

The rebels invited the king of France to take the throne of England; instead Philip II’s son, Louis (the future Louis VIII), accepted the offer and was hailed as King of England in London in June of 1216.

As Louis consolidated his position in the south, John made an inspection of Lincoln castle in September 1216. During the visit Nichola de la Haye, who held the castle for John, even though the city supported the rebels, was appointed Sheriff of Lincolnshire in her own right.

Moving south, just 2 weeks later, the king’s baggage train was lost as he crossed the Wash estuary and within a few more days John was desperately ill.

King John died at Newark on 19th October 1216, with half his country occupied by a foreign invader and his throne now occupied by his 9-year-old son, Henry III. The elder statesman and notable soldier William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke was appointed Regent and set out to save the kingdom.

Meanwhile, Louis’ forces, under the Comte du Perche, headed north and, in early 1217, took the City of lincoln and laid siege to the castle with a small force. Now in her 60s Nichola de la Haye took charge of the defences. Prince Louis  personally travelled up to Lincoln to ask for her surrender, assuring her no one would be hurt, but Nichola refused.

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The Battle of Lincoln, 1217

When the small force proved insufficient to force a surrender, the French had to send for reinforcements. For almost 3 months – from March to mid-May – siege machinery bombarded the south and east walls of the castle. On the 20th May William Marshal arrived, from the north-west, with a relieving force. Having taken the North Gate of the city walls, his army proceeded to attack the besieging forces and routed the enemy; the enemy’s commander, the Comte du Perche, was killed in the fighting.

The city, which had supported the rebels and welcomed the French, was sacked and looted by the victorious army; the battle becoming known as the Lincoln Fair, as a result.

The Battle of Lincoln turned the tide of the war. The French were forced to seek peace and returned home. Magna Carta was reissued and Henry III’s regents could set about healing the country.

In a magnificent demonstration of ingratitude, within 4 days of the relief of the Castle, Nichola’s position of Sheriff of Lincolnshire was given to the king’s uncle William Longspee, Earl of Salisbury, who took control of the city and seized the castle.

Not one to give up easily Nichola travelled to court to remind the king’s regents of her services, and request her rights be restored to her. A compromise was reached whereby Salisbury remained as Sheriff of the County, while Nichola held the city and the castle.

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Magna Carta

Nichola’s granddaughter and heiress, Idonea – daughter of Nichola’s eldest son Richard – was married to Salisbury’s son, William II Longspee; the couple inherited the de la Haye and Camville lands on Nichola’s death. The settlement was not ideal, however, and some wrangling seems to have continued until Salisbury’s death in 1226.

A staunchly independent woman, she issued some 25 surviving charters in her name. She made grants to various religious houses, including Lincoln Cathedral, and even secured a royal grant for a weekly market on one of her properties.

A most able adversary for some of the greatest military minds of the time, and a loyal supporter of King John, she was unique among her peers. Although praised by the chroniclers, they seemd to find difficulty in describing a woman who acted in such a fashion;  the Dunstable annals refer to her as a ‘noble woman’, saying she acted ‘manfully’. One cannot fail to feel admiration for a woman who managed to hold her own in a man’s world, who fought for her castle and her home in a time when women had so little say over their own lives – and at such an advanced age. Her bravery and tenacity saved Henry III’s throne.

Not surprisingly, Henry III referred to her as ‘our beloved and faithful Nichola de la Haye’.

Nichola de la Haye, the woman who saved England, lived well into her 70s. By late 1226 she had retired to her manor at Swaton, dying there in 1230. She was buried in St Michael’s Church, Swaton in Lincolnshire.

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Footnote: ¹Irene Gladwin: The Sheriff; The Man and His Office

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Photos of Lincoln Castle, copyright Sharon Bennett Connolly 2015.

Picture of the Battle of Lincoln and Magna Carta are courtesy of Wikipedia.

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Sources: The Plantagenet Chronicles edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Brassey’s Battles by John Laffin; 1215 The Year of Magna Carta by Danny Danziger & John Gillingham; The Life and times of King John by Maurice Ashley; The Story of Britain by Roy Strong; The Plantagenets, the Kings Who Made England by Dan Jones; England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings  by Robert Bartlett; lincolnshirelife.co.uk; catherinehanley.co.uk; magnacarta800th.com; lothene.org; lincolncastle.com; The Sheriff: The Man and His Office by Irene Gladwin; Elizabeth Chadwick; Nick Buckingham; swaton.org.uk.

Love, Adultery and a Fake Kidnapping? The story of Isabel de Vermandois

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Adelaide de Vermandois, mother of Isabel

Born around 1085, Isabel de Vermandois had the blood of kings flowing through her veins. Her father was Hugh Capet, younger son of King Henry I of France. Her mother was Adelaide de Vermandois, a descendant of the ancient Carolingian dynasty. She was 1 of her parents’ 9 surviving children; 4 boys and 5 girls.

As with many medieval women, there are no images of Isabel; not even a description of her appearance. Her life can be pieced together, somewhat, through her marriages and through her children. When researching her, her name also frequently appears as Elizabeth – Isabel being the French version of her name.

From her birth, as the granddaughter of the King of France, Isabel was a valuable prize. Her childhood proved to be  depressingly short. By 1096 a marriage was mooted between Isabel and Robert de Beaumont, Count of Meulan, who was 35 years her senior.

Robert de Beaumont was a seasoned warrior and courtier, with lands in both England and Normandy. He had fought alongside William the conqueror at the Battle of Hastings and was with William II Rufus when he was killed in a hunting accident in the New Forest. A loyal supporter of Henry I, he would fight for his king at the Battle of Tinchebrai in 1106, and receive the earldom of Leicester in 1107.

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Hugh I, Count of Vermandois

The marriage was originally opposed by the church; the prospective couple were related within the prohibited degrees and Isabel was not yet at the minimum legal age to marry – 12. Before leaving on Crusade, however, Isabel’s father was able to persuade Pope Urban to issue a dispensation and the marriage went ahead in 1096.

Isabel was around 11 years old, Robert de Beaumont was about 46.

Isabel gave Robert 9 children; the first was a daughter, Emma, born in 1102. Twin boys followed in 1104; Waleran and Robert de Beaumont, earls of Worcester and Leicester, respectively. The brothers were active supporters of King Stephen during the conflict with Empress Matilda, popularly known as the Anarchy, but while Robert would come to terms with Matilda’s son, the future Henry II, in 1153, Waleran was distrusted due to his support of Louis VII of France.

Another daughter, Isabel, was a mistress of Henry I before being married to Gilbert de Clare, 1st Earl of Pembroke. Through her son Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, she would be the grandmother of Isabel de Clare, wife of the great knight and Regent for Henry III, William Marshal.

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Arms of Isabel de Vermandois assumed by William de Warenne following their marriage.

Isabel’s marriage to Robert de Beaumont seems to have ended in scandal and controversy. The chronicler Henry of Huntingdon reported that she was seduced by William de Warenne, 2nd Earl of Surrey, suggesting they had a love affair, which lasted for several years. It’s hard to blame a young woman of 30, in an arranged marriage to a man more than twice her age, for looking elsewhere for love and comfort.

William de Warenne had failed, in 1093, to obtain a royal bride for himself in a match with Matilda of Scotland (she went on to marry Henry I), and so looked elsewhere for a bride. It seems that de Warenne hatched a plot to kidnap Isabel – possibly with her approval – after de Beaumont refused to grant his wife a divorce. Huntingdon has the aged warrior dying of shame following his wife’s betrayal.

Whether the story is true, or not, is highly questionable, but great for the novelists. However, Robert de Beaumont died soon after, on 5th June 1118, and William and Isabel married as soon as they could.

William de Warenne, 2nd Earl of Surrey, had a chequered career. He had succeeded his father in 1088, but was disinherited by Henry I for his support of Henry’s brother Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy, in his attempt on the English throne. De Warenne was restored to favour in 1103 and thereafter remained loyal. He would be one of the earls present at Henry I’s death on 1st December 1135 at Lyons-la-Foret.

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Castle Acre, residence of the Earls of Surrey

On his marriage to Isabel, William assumed the Vermandois coat of arms as his own and the blue and yellow checks became known as the ‘Warenne chequer’.

Isabel and William had several children; their son and heir, William, the future 3rd earl was born in 1119. He would die on Crusade in January 1148 at Laodicea in Turkey whilst fighting in the elite royal guard of King Louis VII of France. His only child, a daughter, Isabel, became the greatest heiress in England.

Another 2 sons followed, Ralph and Rainald, and 2 daughters. Gundreda married Roger de Beaumont, Earl of Warwick and Ada married Henry Earl of Huntingdon, son and heir of David I of Scotland. Two of Ada’s sons became kings of Scotland; Malcolm IV and William the Lion.

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Lewes Priory, final resting place of Isabel de Vermandois, Countess of Leicester and Surrey

Isabel’s 2 families seem to have got on quite well. Not only did Gundreda de Warenne marry a  cousin of her de Beaumont siblings, but William de Warenne also had both his son and step son with him when he attended Henry I on his deathbed.

Although her life was tinged with scandal, Isabel of Vermandois has had a great influence on the history of England and Scotland. From her are descended the greatest families of England and all subsequent Scottish monarchs.

William de Warenne died in 1138; he was buried at his father’s feet at Lewes Priory. Isabel survived him by almost 10 years, dying around 1147/8. She was also buried at Lewes Priory, near to her husband.

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Pictures taken from Wikipedia

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; knight-france.com.

Conisbrough Castle – it’s Life and History

ConisbroughCastleGrowing up near Conisbrough Castle, South Yorkshire, we always thought it was just a bland old place – it was great for exploring and rolling down the hills, but being so far from London, the centre of power,  it didn’t seem to have much history. The most famous thing about it was that it was used as the Saxon castle in Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe.

English Heritage have spent a lot of money on it in recent years. When I worked there in the early 1990s it was open to the elements and there was just a very narrow walkway around the inside of the keep. Now it has a roof, floors on every level, sensitive lighting and a fantastic little visitor centre. It looks so much better (although I still wouldn’t want to stand on the battlements on a windy day like today).

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Conisbrough’s hexagonal keep

When I joined as a tour guide, I started looking into the actual history of the Castle, seeing it more for what it has been, than for the visitor attraction it is now. Instead of being a forgotten, unimportant little castle in the middle of nowhere, Conisbrough Castle comes to life through the history it has been a part of, and the people who have called it home.

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, Conisbrough – then known as Conigsburgh, or Kynsburgh – belonged to the great British warrior Ambrosius Aurelianus. Geoffrey of Monmouth wasn’t known for his historical accuracy, of course, but it is fascinating to think that this little town may once have belonged to a candidate for the legendary King Arthur.

What we know, for certain, is that by 1066 the Honour of Conisbrough belonged to Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex and King Harold II of England. On a prominent, steep hill, it guards the main road between Sheffield and Doncaster to the east, and the navigable River Don to the north.

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The kitchen range in the inner bailey

Following Harold’s defeat and death at the Battle of Hastings, it was given to one of William the Conqueror’s greatest supporters, William de Warenne. Warenne was a cousin of Duke William of Normandy and fought alongside him at the Battle of Hastings. He was given land in various counties, including Lewes in Sussex and Conisbrough in Yorkshire; and although he developed his property at Castle Acre in Norfolk, little was done at Conisbrough. In those days the castle itself was little more than a wooden motte and bailey construction, surrounded by wooden palisades and earthworks.

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A thoroughly modern Castle

It was not until the reign of Henry II that the Castle began to take on the majestic appearance we know today. Conisbrough came into the hands of Hamelin Plantagenet, illegitimate half-brother of King Henry II; Hamelin had married the de Warenne heiress, Isabel, Countess of Warenne and Surrey, and became 5th Earl of Warenne and Surrey by right of his wife.

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Fireplace in the bedchamber in the keep

It was Hamelin who built the spectacular hexagonal keep. The stairs to the keep were originally accessed across a drawbridge, which could be raised in times of attack. The ground floor was used for storage, with a basement storeroom below, housing the keep’s well,  and accessed by ladder.

The first floor holds the great chamber, or solar, with a magnificent fireplace and seating in the glass-less window. This is where the Lord would have conducted business, or entertained important guests. Henry II, King John and King Edward II are known to have visited Conisbrough: King John even issued a charter from Conisbrough Castle in March 1201.

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The chapel’s vaulted ceiling

The second floor would have been sleeping quarters for the lord and lady. Both the solar and the bedchamber have impressive fireplaces, garderobes and a stone basin, which would have had running water delivered from a rainwater cistern on the roof.

On this floor, also, built into one of the keep’s buttresses is the family’s private chapel. This may well have been the chapel endowed by Hamelin and Isabel in 1189-90, and dedicated to St Philip and St James (although there was a, now lost, second chapel in the inner bailey to which the endowment could refer). The chapel is well-decorated, with quatrefoil windows, elaborate carving on the columns and a wonderful vaulted ceiling.

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Chapel carvings

There is a small sacristy for the priest, just to the left of the door, with another basin for the priest’s personal use, and cavities for storing the vestments and altar vessels.

The winding stairs, built within the keep’s thick walls, give access to each successive level and, eventually, to the battlements, with a panoramic view of the surrounding area.

These battlements also had cisterns to hold rainwater, a bread oven and weapons storage; and wooden hoardings stretching out over the bailey to aid in defence. The keep and curtain walls – which were built slightly later – were of a state-of-the art design in their day. The barbican, leading into the inner bailey, had 2 gatehouses and  a steep passageway guarded by high walls on both sides; an attacking force would have been defenceless against missiles from above, with nowhere to run in the cramped corridor.

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View from the battlements

Although the encircling moat is dry (the keep is built high on a hill), all the detritus from the toilets and kitchens drained into it; another little aid to defence – imagine having to attack through that kind of waste?

None of the buildings in the inner bailey have survived, although you can see their stone outlines in the ground. Along one wall there were kitchens and service rooms leading into a great hall, with a raised dais at the far end, and a solar and living quarters above.

Another range of buildings attached to the western wall also held living quarters, possibly for the garrison and any guests. There’s even a small jail cell just to the side of the barbican.

Although Conisbrough is not a large castle, the extensive range of buildings, the magnificent decorations of the fireplaces and chapel, suggest it would have been impressive in its day; and reflects the importance of the castle’s owners and occupants.

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The Castle’s Residents

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The inner bailey

The de Warenne Earls of Surrey were close to the crown, and the centre of government, for centuries. The daughter of the 2nd Earl, Ada, had married the heir to the Scots throne and was mother to 2 Scottish kings; Malcolm the Maiden and William the Lyon.

Hamelin’s son and heir, William, married Maud Marshal, daughter of the Greatest knight, William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke and Regent during Henry III’s  infancy. Their son John, the 7th Earl, was Edward I’s lieutenant in Scotland and beat the Scots at the Battle of Dunbar in 1296. His daughter, Isabella, married John Balliol, King of Scots, and was mother to Edward Balliol, another Scottish king.

The 8th – and last – de Warenne earl was a colourful character; John. Although he was married to Joan of Bar, a granddaughter of Edward I, he lived with his mistress and even kidnapped Alice de Lacey, wife of Thomas Earl of Lancaster, possibly in retaliation for Lancaster’s prevention of Surrey’s longed-for divorce. The result was the 1st – and only – siege of Conisbrough Castle; the Earl of Lancaster assaulted the castle, but was opposed by a garrison of only 6 men, who soon capitulated.

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The bedchamber in the keep, with wash basin and stairway leading to the garderobe and battlements

The last Earl of Surrey died without heirs in 1347 and Conisbrough passed to John de Warenne’s godson, Edmund of Langley, fourth son of Edward III. Edmund’s wife Isabella of Castile gave birth to her 3rd child, Richard Earl of Cambridge, at Conisbrough, most likely in the lavish bedchamber within the keep itself. Cambridge had the dubious reputation of being England’s poorest Earl; however, he is remembered to history as the grandfather of the Yorkist kings, Edward IV and Richard III.

Following Cambridge’s execution for treason in 1415 his 2nd wife, Maud Clifford, made Conisbrough her principal residence until her death in 1446. Maud entertained her Clifford family here and her great-nephew and godson John Clifford, the Butcher of Skipton was born there in 1435. In a strange twist of fate, John Clifford is the one accused of murdering the Earl of Cambridge’s 17-year-old grandson Edmund, Earl of Rutland, following the Battle of Wakefield in December 1460.

The castle underwent repairs during the reign of Edward IV, in 1482-3, but by 1538 a survey revealed the it had fallen into neglect and decay, with parts of the curtain wall having slipped down the embankment.

From then on, although it has had successive owners until it came under the protection of English Heritage, Conisbrough Castle has been a picturesque ruin, a wonderful venue for picnics and exploring its many hidden treasures.

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Conisbrough Castle from the outer bailey

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All photographs are copyright to Sharon Bennett Connolly, 2015.

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Further reading: East Yorkshire Charters Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne, edited by William Farrer & Charles Travis Clay; English Heritage Guidebook for Conisbrough Castle by Steven Brindle and Agnieszka Sadrei; English Tourist Board’s English Castles Almanac; http://www.kristiedean.com/butcher-skipton; On the Trail of the Yorks by Kristie Dean

Canterbury Cathedral

Steeped in history, Canterbury Cathedral is a wonderful place to visit.

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Christ Church Gate

 Entering through the Cathedral precinct through the Christ Church Gate, you get a wonderful sense of the size and splendour of the cathedral. It is not hard to marvel at the amazing architecture and the attention to detail of the stonemasons – even at the highest points of the cathedral’s majestic walls – as you walk around the Cathedral Close.

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Canterbury Cathedral

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The Crypt

Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to take photos in the cathedral crypt. It was so atmospheric that you felt the urge to whisper. You can still see the wall paintings in parts – it’s not hard to imagine how full of colour the cathedral would have been in Medieval times, with the wall paintings re-telling bible stories for the benefit of the congregation. It was here, also, that the shrine of St Thomas a Becket first stood, though it was later moved to the Trinity Chapel, above.

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Window depicting the family of Edward IV

From the crypt you can enter the cathedral at the actual place where Thomas a Becket, Henry II’s Archbishop of Canterbury, was murdered by four of Henry’s knights. There’s nothing to mark the actual spot – just a sign on the wall, saying that this is where it happened. It’s an eerie feeling.

The shrine to St Thomas occupied the Trinity Chapel from 1220 until it was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. A lone, lit candle now stands where the shrine once was.

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View in the Trinity Chapel, of the candle identifying the site of the shrine to St Thomas a Becket.

The first cathedral was built on this site by St Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, who arrived in Kent as a missionary of Pope Gregory the Great in AD 597. The present Archbishop, Justin Welby, is the 105th since St Augustine. The Cathedral was rebuilt by the Normans, under Archbishop Lanfranc, in the 1070s, following a catastrophic fire.

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The Trinity Chapel

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Henry IV and his queen, Joanna of Navarre

There are several notable tombs in the cathedral, but only one king is buried there. A viewing platform allows you to look down on the tomb effigies of Henry IV, the 1st Lancastrian king, and his 2nd wife Joanna of Navarre.

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Edward the Black Prince

On the opposite side of the Trinity Chapel is the tomb of Edward III’s oldest and most renowned son, Edward the Black Prince, father of Richard II. Above his tomb are suspended his gauntlets and surcoat, bearing the Royal arms of England.

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Surcoat and gauntlets of the Black Prince

Other notable tombs included Cardinal John Morton, Richard III’s enemy and Henry VII’s Archbishop of Canterbury. His tomb has been badly damaged, with his nose broken off and even the supporting eagles have lost their heads. Just along from Cardinal Morton lies Simon Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury during the minority of Richard II, he was murdered during the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381.

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The Cathedral ceiling

Among the magnificent tombs there was also a very plain one, which I found very intriguing. It was the tomb of Odet de Coligny, Bishop of Beauvais. He was a French Huguenot (Protestant) who fled to England to escape the Inquisition. Dying under mysterious circumstances in 1571, he was buried in Canterbury Cathedral in what was supposed to be a temporary tomb – until his body could be repatriated to France, bit it never was.

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The magnificent stained glass of Canterbury Cathedral

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The Nave and Chapter House

Walking from the Quire into the cathedral’s nave, you walk from the dark into almost daylight. The Nave is so full of light and the perpendicular columns seem to go on forever.

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The Nave

The last thing we saw was the Chapter House. Unfortunately it was undergoing renovations, so we couldn’t see a lot – except the ceiling, which is a wonderful, magnificent work-of-art in its own right.

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Ceiling of the Chapter House

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THANK YOU!

I would like to say a huge ‘thank you’ to my good friend, author and historian, Amy Licence for spending the day showing us around Canterbury.

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All photographs are copyright to Sharon Bennett Connolly, 2015.

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Source and for more information, visit http://www.canterbury-cathedral.org

St Augustine’s Abbey

A few days away in Kent this Easter holidays gave us the chance to  visit to the wonderfully peaceful and historic St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury.

A Brief History

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St Augustine’s Abbey

Situated just outside the city walls, the Abbey was founded around AD 598 by St Augustine of Canterbury. St Augustine had been sent to England by Pope Gregory I the Great, on a mission to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity.

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Stone marking the original site of St Augustine’s grave

A Benedictine monk, St Augustine would become the first ever Archbishop of Canterbury. The king of Kent of the time, Aethelbert, was a pagan but his wife, Bertha, was Christian and, with her encouragement, Aethelbert was converted and gave St Augustine land outside the city walls, in order to build his monastery. Aethelbert allowed St Augustine’s missionaries to preach freely among his people, thus establishing the ‘rebirth’ of Christianity in southern England.

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The site of the Abbey’s Cathedral Church

Dedicated to St Peter and St Paul the Abbey thrived, and for two centuries, following its foundation, it was the only important religious house in Kent. When St Dunstan became Archbishop of Canterbury, he enlarged the Abbey’s church and added the name of St Augustine to those of St Peter and St Paul. From then on it has been known as St Augustine’s Abbey.

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The arches of the Norman cathedral

With the Norman invasion the Abbey church was rebuilt and enlarged to become a magnificent Romanesque cathedral, of which little remains today but the arches along one side the cathedral wall, and bases of the stone columns which supported the roof. A 2nd church was later added to the site. The Church of St Pancras, was built in red brick, close to the cemetery reserved for the lay brothers. The cloisters included a Scriptorium, where the monks produced their manuscripts, sheltered from the elements, but bathed in sunshine.

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Church of St Pancras

Within its grounds you can see the tombs of the first four Archbishops of Canterbury, though that of St Augustine is now merely a memorial stone marking his initial resting place. The Abbey was also a burial-place for the Kings of Kent. You can see the modern memorial chests, in a chapel to the side of the nave, of four kings who died between 640 and 725, and were originally buried in the Anglo-Saxon church of St Mary.

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Tombs of the 3 Kentish Kings (Eadbald, Hlothhere & Wihtred) and Mulus, who invaded Kent

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The End of an Era

At the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the shrine of St Augustine was destroyed and his relics lost. After over 940 years of monasticism at the site, the Abbot and monks left the Abbey, peacefully. Parts of the Abbey were dismantled and sold off, whilst other parts were turned into a royal residence, for a short while at least.

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View towards the cloisters

It was landscaped in the early Stuart era and laid out with formal gardens; King Charles I and Henrietta Maria stayed in the Abbey gatehouse (Fyndon’s Gate)  following their wedding in Canterbury Cathedral in 1625. Soon after the Abbey passed to the Hales family, who allowed it to fall into decay and ruin,  who using the stones from the Abbey to build a new house at Hales Place. It was eventually bought by Alexander James Beresford Hope, in 1844, who established a missionary college and excavated the Abbey’s remains; the college buildings were destroyed during the Blitz, in 1942.

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The site of the Abbey Refectory, now looking towards King’s School

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Visiting Today

A haven of peace and tranquility, and yet so close to the city.

The Abbey has a wonderful little museum within the Visitor’s Centre, telling you its history and displaying artefacts found on the site.

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View from the Abbey, of Canterbury Cathedral

The audio guide is impressive – it was so good it kept my 9-year-old enthralled. . The Archbishop of Canterbury himself tells St Augustine’s story and explains the significance of the Abbey (it’s a World Heritage Site) to the history of Christianity in Britain. The guide takes you through the life of the Abbey, from its very beginnings to the present day, as you wander around the serene Abbey precincts.

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All pictures are ©Sharon Bennett Connolly, 2015.

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For further visitor information see; http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/st-augustines-abbey/