Conisbrough Castle – its Life and History

ConisbroughCastle

Growing up near Conisbrough Castle, South Yorkshire, I did not know much about its history. It was rather underrated. We always thought it was just a bland old place – it was great for exploring and rolling down the hills and playing hide and seek in the inner bailey. However, being so far from London, the centre of power,  it didn’t seem to have much history or national importance. The most famous thing about it was that it was used as the Saxon castle in Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe.

The castle’s early history

English Heritage have spent a lot of money on it in recent years. When I worked there in the early 1990s there was no roof, it was open to the elements, with green moss on the walls and erosion caused by acid rain. And there was just a very narrow walkway around the inside of the keep. It was just a shell. Now it has a roof, floors on every level, sensitive lighting, information videos on each floor and a fantastic little visitor centre with a small museum. 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 the castle team as a volunteer 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, in his Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain), Conisbrough was founded as ‘Conan’s Burg’ by a British leader called Conan. It was said to have later belonged to Ambrosius Aurelianus, a candidate for the legendary King Arthur. As Geoffrey of Monmouth says, Ambrosius captured the Saxon leader Hengist, once a mercenary for Vortigern, at the battle of ‘Maisbeli.’ And brought him to his stronghold at Conisbrough. Hengist was then beheaded on Ambrosius’ orders and buried at the entrance to the castle of ‘Cunengeburg’, that is Conisbrough. A small hill, locally called Hengist’s Mound, is in the grounds of the outer bailey.

What we know, for certain, is that by 1066 the Honour of Conisbrough belonged to Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex and later King Harold II of England, though there is no evidence that he ever visited. On a prominent, steep hill, the castle 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, and shortly after the Harrying of the North of 1068 Conisbrough 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, 4th Countess of Warenne and Surrey, and became 4th 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 that we can see today. 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 foundations 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 Warenne Earls of Surrey were close to the crown, and the centre of government, for the best part 3 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 Lion.

Hamelin’s son and heir, William, 5th Earl of Warenne and Surrey, married Maud Marshal, daughter of the Greatest knight, William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke and Regent during Henry III’s  infancy. A cousin of King John, William was deeply involved in the Magna Carta crisis, though not always in support of his cousin. Their son John, the 6th Earl, was Edward I’s lieutenant in Scotland and beat the Scots at the Battle of Dunbar in 1296, though he had been defeated by William Wallace at Stirling Bridge the following year. John’s daughter, Isabella, married John Balliol, King of Scots, and was mother to Edward Balliol, another Scottish king. John’s sister, Isabel, married Hugh d’Aubigny, 5th Earl of Arundel, and is remembered as the countess who stood up to Henry III, invoking Magna Carta, when he appropriated land that was rightfully hers.

The 7th – and last – Warenne earl, John, was a colourful character who lived through some of the most dramatic events of English history; the reign of Edweard II. John was the grandson of the 6th earl; his father, William de Warenne, had diedbeen killed in a tournament at Croydon, in December 1286, when John was just 6 months old. Although he was married to Joan of Bar, a granddaughter of Edward I, John lived openly with his mistress and made several unsuccessful attempts to obtain a divorce from his wife. A private feud with Thomas Earl of Lancaster saw John arrange the kidnapping of Earl Tomas’ wife, Alice de Lacey, possibly in retaliation for Lancaster standing in the way of Surrey’s longed-for divorce. The result was the 1st – and only – siege of Conisbrough Castle.

Lancaster sent forces to seize the Warenne castles at Sandal and Conisbrough. His men found the gates of Conisbrough closed to them. The castle was defended by only six men, including the town miller and three brothers, Thomas, Henry and William Greathead, who were men-at-arms. The siege lasted less than two hours and the defenders appear to have relinquished the castle after apparently putting up a token resistance; the three brothers were fined for drawing blood. The chapel in the castle’s inner bailey may have been damaged in the brief altercation, as the following year, Lancaster sent orders to his castellan at Conisbrough, John de Lassell, to ‘repailler la couverture de la chapele de Conynggesburgh.’1

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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 (also known as Richard of Conisbrough) at Conisbrough, possibly in the lavish bedchamber within the keep itself. Cambridge had the dubious reputation of being England’s poorest Earl and was executed following his involvement in the Southampton plot against Henry V; 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, known to Yorkists as 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 Lancastrian’s defeat of the Yorksists at the Battle of Wakefield on 30 December 1460. Maud died at the castle in August 1446 and is buried in Roche Abbey, about 10 miles from her home.

The castle underwent repairs during the reigns of Edward IV and Richard III, 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.

Conisbrough Castle from the outer bailey

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All photographs are copyright to Sharon Bennett Connolly, 2015.

Footnote:

1 Hunter’s South Yorkshire ii; Deanery of Doncaster ii quoted in F. Royston Fairbank, The Last Earl of Warenne and Surrey, and the Distribution of His Possessions, Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, p. 213

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Sources:

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; F. Royston Fairbank, The Last Earl of Warenne and Surrey, and the Distribution of His Possessions, Yorkshire Archaeological Journal.

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My Books

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England  looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & SwordAmazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

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©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Isabel de Warenne, Countess of Surrey

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Seal of Isabel de Warenne, Conisbrough Castle

Isabel de Warenne was the only surviving child of William de Warenne, 3rd Earl of Warenne and Surrey, and his wife Adela, or Ela, de Talvas, daughter of William III of Ponthieu. When her father died on the Second Crusade to the Holy Land, in around 1148, Isabel became 4th Countess of Surrey and one of the most prized heiresses in England and Normandy, with large estates in Yorkshire.

Isabel was born during a period of civil war in England, a time known as The Anarchy (c.1135-54), when King Stephen fought against Empress Matilda, the daughter of Henry I, for the right to rule England. Isabel’s father, William, was a staunch supporter of the king and had fought at the Battle of Lincoln in February 1141, though without distinction; his men were routed early on in the battle and William was among a number of earls who fled the field. He later redeemed himself that summer by capturing Empress Matilda’s brother and senior general, Robert Earl of Gloucester, at Winchester.

The earl appears to have tired of the civil war in 1147 and departed on Crusade with his half-brother, Waleran de Beaumont, Count of Meulan, and their cousin, King Louis VII of France. In the same year, as part of King Stephen’s attempts to control the vast de Warenne lands during a crucial time in the Anarchy, Earl Warenne’s only daughter, Isabel, was married to Stephen’s younger son, William of Blois, who would become Earl by right of his wife, following the 3rd earl’s death on Crusade in 1148; he was killed fighting in the doomed rearguard at the Battle of Mount Cadmus near Laodicea in January 1148.

Lewes Priory

It has been suggested that William of Blois was some 7 or 8 years younger than his wife, Isabel. However, this seems improbable and it appears more likely that the young couple were of similar ages. Isabel’s father had been born in 1119 and was no older than 29 when he died; his wife, Ela de Talvas, was a few years younger than her husband. This means that, even if the couple married as soon as they reached the ages allowed by the church to marry, 12 for a girl and 14 for a boy, and Ela fell pregnant on her wedding night, Isabel could have been no older 13 in 1147. Given the danger associated with girls giving birth before their teens, it seems plausible that Isabel was not born until the late 1130s and may have been between 10 and 12, or younger when she married William of Blois.

Even before it was known that Earl Warenne had died on crusade, William of Blois was already being referred to as earl in a number of charters relating to Warenne lands, one such charter, dated to c.1148, was issued with the proviso ‘that if God should bring back the earl [from the crusade] he would do his best to obtain the earl’s confirmation, or otherwise that of his lord earl William, the king’s son.’1

During the 3rd earl’s absence, and while the new earl and countess were still only children, the vast Warenne lands were administered by the 3rd earl’s youngest brother, Reginald de Warenne, Baron Wormegay, who was a renowned and accomplished administrator and estate manager. We do not know when news reached England of the earl’s death, the tidings may have arrived before the return of the earl’s half-brother, Waleran, later in the year. However, the future of the earldom was already secure with the succession of Isabel and her young husband, carefully watched over by Isabel’s uncle, Reginald.

In 1154 the young couple’s future prospects could have changed drastically when William’s elder brother Eustace, their father’s heir, died. As a consequence, William inherited his mother’s County of Boulogne from his brother, adding to his already substantial domains. He may also have expected to inherit his brother’s position as heir to the throne – or not. It seems that William’s ambitions did not extend to the lofty heights of the throne, or he was not considered suitable for the crown. Either way, the young man was removed from the succession to the crown by his own father, when Stephen made a deal with Empress Matilda’s son, Henry of Anjou, that the crown would go to him on Stephen’s death, thus returning the crown to the rightful line of succession.

William seems to have accepted this, on the whole. Although there is some suggestion of his involvement in a plot against Henry later in 1154, during which William suffered a broken leg, he served Henry loyally, once he became king, until his own death, returning from the king’s campaign in Toulouse, in 1159.

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The Warenne coat of arms

Now in her mid-20s, and as their marriage had been childless, Isabel was once again a prize heiress. Although she seems to have had a little respite from the marriage market, by 1162 Henry II’s youngest brother, William X, Count of Poitou, was seeking a dispensation to marry her. The dispensation was refused by Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, on the grounds of consanguinity; the archbishop’s objection was not that Isabel and William were too closely related, but that William and Isabel’s first husband had been cousins. William died shortly after the archbishop refused to sanction the marriage – it is said, of a broken heart.

King Henry was not to be thwarted so easily in his plans to bring the Warenne lands into the royal family, and his illegitimate half-brother, Hamelin, was married to Isabel in 1164. Hamelin was the son of Herny’s father, Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, and an unknown woman, born around 1130, in the time when Geoffrey and Empress Matilda were estranged. In an unusual step, Hamelin took his wife’s surname and bore the titles Earl of Warenne and Surrey in her right.

The marriage appears to have been highly successful. Hamelin was loyal to his brother and his nephew, Richard I, and played a prominent part in English politics whilst Richard was absent on the 3rd Crusade. He also built the highly innovative keep at Conisbrough in the 1170s and 1180s.

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The keep at Conisbrough Castle

Isabel and Hamelin had four surviving children. Their son and heir, William, would become the 5th Earl of Surrey and married Maud Marshal, daughter of the great William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke and regent for King Henry III. There were also three daughters, Ela, Isabel and Matilda, however it has been suggested that Matilda was Hamelin’s daughter by a previous relationship, but this theory is based on an erroneous death date for her husband. One of the daughters – although it is not clear which – bore an illegitimate son, Richard Fitzroy, by her cousin, John (the future King John).

Isabel died in her mid-60s, in 1203, and was buried at Lewes Priory, alongside Hamelin, who had died the previous year. In 1202, Countess Isabel had granted ‘for the soul of her husband earl Hamelin, to the priory of St Katherine, Lincoln, of similar easements for 60 beasts, namely for 40 as of his gift and 20 as of hers.’2

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Footnotes: 1 Farrer, William and Charles Travis Clay, editors, Early Yorkshire Charters, Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne; 2 ibid

Sources: Robert Batlett, England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings; Dan Jones, The Plantagenets; Donald Matthew, King Stephen; Medieval Lands Project on the Earls of Surrey, Conisbrough Castle; Farrer, William and Charles Travis Clay, editors, Early Yorkshire Charters, Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne; Morris, Marc King John: Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta; Church, Stephen, King John: England, Magna Carta and the Making of a Tyrant; doncasterhistory.co.uk

Photos: The de Warenne coat of arms taken from Wikipedia. Consibrough Castle, Lewes Priory and the seal of Isabel de Warenne © Sharon Bennett Connolly 2015.

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The story of Isabel and her family appears in my latest book, Ladies of Magna Cart: Women of History in Thirteenth Century England.

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My Books

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England  looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & SwordAmazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

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You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.

Article: © Sharon Bennett Connolly 2020

Guest Post: Busting Mediaeval Building Myths: Part Two

Tattershall Castle, Lincolnshire

I think after the wonderful insights of last week’s Guest Post: Busting Mediaeval Building Myths: Part One, we have all been eagerly awaiting Part Two of James Wright‘s brilliant article – I know I have!

So, without further ado. Here it is:

Busting Mediaeval Building Myths: Part Two

James Wright, Buildings Archaeologist, Triskele Heritage

In my last guest blog for History the Interesting Bits, we discussed five common myths about mediaeval buildings. These tall tales included stories of secret passages, yarns about the twist of spiral staircases relating to right-handed defenders and anecdotes that lepers were provided special windows in churches to watch the mass through.

As a buildings archaeologist I often meet folk who are eager to tell me all about their properties and their enthusiasm is genuinely infectious. I’m a great lover of historic architecture and believe that we can learn so much of value about a society by what it builds. However, romanticised and elaborated stories often grow up around certain mysterious features in mediaeval buildings – and it is surprising how often these get repeated all across the country in so many different structures.

In the second part of this series, I will discuss five more common misconceptions, attempt to explain how they come about and what the underlying truth behind each myth is. Hopefully this will help to give a broader and deeper understanding of historic buildings that will bring us that little bit closer to their former occupants.

  • Ship Timbers
Ship timbers, Tattershall

Perhaps the most tenacious and persistent mediaeval building myth is that lots of timber-framed buildings were constructed from salvaged ship timbers. There is even a house in Hertfordshire that is actually called Ships Timbers! Given that traditional British boozers have a reputation as hotbeds of rumour and intrigue, it will come as no shock that many pubs have the reused ship timbers story associated with them – often linked to a famous battle such as Trafalgar. Is there any truth in these tales?

On extremely rare occasions, it can be demonstrated that specific pieces of timber may have genuinely originated from a ship. I cannot stress just how rare this is and that documentary evidence is often lacking. My former colleague, Damian Goodburn, Historic Timber Specialist at MOLA, has pointed out that ship timbers rarely lend themselves to reuse in terrestrial buildings due to extreme weathering, their shaping designed for aquatic settings and the overall unworkability of seasoned oak. Instead, timbers from ship-breaking yards tend to be reused in marine or inter-tidal architecture, such as the Bermondsey foreshore of the River Thames in London. Alternatively, ship timbers may occasionally be found in the foundations of structures located very close to waterways, such as the three pieces recorded in the foundations of the Rose Playhouse, Bankside, London.

The vast majority of timber-framed buildings were constructed from newly felled trees and/or reused terrestrial structures such as barns, granaries and houses. The reuse of buildings is widely documented – for example the building accounts for Tattershall Castle, Lincolnshire, refer to the removal of timber from nearby Revesby Abbey in 1434-5. Reused timber will often be placed in a different part of the new building to the original structure leaving rectangular holes, known as mortises, visible and it is probably this which gives us the origin of the romantic story of timbers salvaged from wrecked ships.

  • Arrow-sharpening Grooves
Arrow grooves, Lambley

Worn into the hard stonework of the interior of many a church porch can be found clusters of strange vertical grooves which visitors are commonly told were created by archers sharpening their arrows, such as those at Holy Trinity, Lambley, Nottinghamshire. Given Edward III’s law of 1363, that all able-bodied men aged between 16 and 60 must practice their archery on Sundays and holy days, plus the location of many archery butts close to the parish church, the arrow-sharpening story has become received wisdom wherever the grooves are found.

There is neither any documentary evidence to suggest that archers sharpened their arrows on the stones of church porches, neither would this be a practical solution to the problem of dulled arrowheads. As churchyards were consecrated ground, archery butts were located elsewhere in the manor, creating a laborious trek to the porch. Instead, the sixteenth century archery expert, Roger Ascham tells us that bowmen would sharpen their arrows using hand-held files and whetstones. Equally, the majority of the grooves are orientated vertically and are located relatively low-down in the porches which render them as impractical for drawing a metre long arrow shaft across. Finally, these grooves are often found on soft limestones entirely useless for honing an edge.

The swashbuckling tales of English victories at Crécy and Azincourt have led to nationalistic myths of an epic proportion. Not only have accounts of the battles become rather knotted, but the desire to connect local history to the heroic archers has led to a misreading of the evidence. Folk traditions from pre-modern Germany and France, collected in the nineteenth century by Charles Rau, refer to parishioners scraping powder from church stonework to use in rituals. The stone was seen as a powerful holy material which was ingested as cures for fever or impotence. It is likely that similar ritualistic practises associated with holy buildings were also once common in Britain and the grooves in church porches relates to this folk ritual.

  • Murder Holes
Murder holes, Berry Pomeroy, Devon

Look up whilst you are visiting castles and you will often see voids in the overhead masonry associated with the defence of the building. These can take the form of slots overhanging the walls, known as machicolations (for example at Berry Pomeroy, Devon), or holes in the gate passage, known as murder holes (such as those at Caernarfon, Gwynedd). The popular story is that they were built so that the defenders could pour boiling oil down upon attackers.

Although it is not a myth that these holes were created to potentially hurl items into the spaces below them, including projectiles, stones and caustic lime, their uses were even more complicated. They could act as safe observation points from which the wall foot or passageway could be seen. If fires were started, either accidentally or deliberately, during a siege the slots could also be used to douse the flames with cold water.

Boiling oil was rarely used – it was prohibitively expensive, not often available in large enough quantities to be effective, would have been difficult to heat (it has a boiling point at 2040C), problematic to transport around the parapets and could have been a fire risk in itself. There are a very small number of scattered references to the use of hot oil, including at the siege of Orléans in 1428. For the most part, castles were rarely laid siege to and murder holes were mostly left untested. In fact many of them were intended to be nothing more than symbols of architectural prestige: the machicolations at Tattershall would have directly overlooked the roofs of the castle’s Inner Ward – not the best place to drop offensive weapons or scalding materials!

  • Templar Graffiti
Templar graffiti, Worksop

Type “Templar graffiti” into a search engine and you will find a mind-boggling number of links to hundreds of castles and churches, from the dungeons of Warwick Castle to the porch of Worksop Priory, Nottinghamshire. The websites invariably refer to cross-shaped graffiti left behind by the enigmatic Order of the Knights Templar (founded 1199 and dissolved 1312) and their crusading brethren. The legend that he Templars harboured the Holy Grail is all-consuming and many believe that the location of the cup of Christ can be found by decoding intriguing symbols and carvings at sites such as Royston Cave, Hertfordshire.

One of the principle problems with these romanticised notions is that they have more akin to conspiracy theories and Dan Brown novels than to historical research. In particular, it can be demonstrated that the “dungeon” at Warwick Castle was actually the storage basement of Caesar’s Tower, built over 30 years after the Templars were dissolved. Similarly, the carvings at Royston Cave, have been identified, by archaeologist Matthew Champion, as dating to the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Again, this falls outside of the Templar period and the religious character of the carvings is entirely consistent with those in a wide variety of other sites of the period.

Ultimately, crosses are a very common discovery in mediaeval graffiti surveys. They may be related to devotional activities such as prayer, but, as large numbers – around 80% – are found in church porches (as at Worksop) it is also likely that they relate to more secular behaviour. In particular, there is good evidence for mediaeval porches being used as sheltered meeting rooms, places where manorial courts were held, locations for reading wills and a site for parish notices to be read or fixed. As such the graffiti crosses may have been left as contractual memorials akin to swearing on the Bible or signing a document.

  • Devil’s Door
Devil’s door, Warkworth

Many churches, such as St Lawrence, Warkworth, Northumberland, have their north aisle doors blocked up – a phenomena which has been increasingly referred to as the Devil’s Door. Tradition states that this door, nearest to the font, was left open during baptisms so that demons could escape from the new-born child upon command of the priest. The north side of the church was thought of as being connected with the devil and after the Reformation these doors were blocked up as they were considered to relate to superstitions incompatible with the Protestant faith.

Francis Young has written eloquently on the subject of baptismal folklore and suggests that the sacrament was never considered to be a true exorcism, thus we might not be expecting demons to come flying out of the north door. Furthermore, Nicholas Groves has pointed out that the part of the baptism when the devil was commanded to leave the body of the infant, actually took place outside of the south porch in the churchyard. Equally, the belief that the north side of the church was particularly feared also does not stand up. Many churches have their principle entrance to the north, including Southwell Minster, Nottinghamshire, they face the principle access route from the settlement. It is also the case that large numbers of churches retained both their north and south porches, as at Kelham, Nottinghamshire.

Although it is acknowledged that north aisle doors may have been left open during baptisms, this was never part of the established liturgy. However, a number of formal church processions, including that on Palm Sunday, required the north porch as an exit point prior to walking, clockwise, around the east end of the church and back in through the south porch. Following the Reformation, these processions no longer took place making the door and porch essentially redundant. Churchwardens eventually decommissioned many of them as an expensive maintenance liability.

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I hope that you enjoyed this blog and that it will prove useful in trying to fully understand mediaeval buildings on your own visits. Should you wish for more information on this subject, please feel free to tweet me on @jpwarchaeology or email on james@triskeleheritage.com

All images courtesy of James Wright.

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I would like to say a HUGE THANK YOU to James Wright for taking the time to write two incredibly fascinating post. I owe you one, James.

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon, in the US from Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly and James Wright

Guest Post: Busting Mediaeval Building Myths: Part One

Tattershall Castle, Lincolnshire

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a talk given by buildings archaeologist James Wright, of Triskele Heritage, on Medieval Graffitti. It was a fascinating lecture and thoroughly enjoyable – if you ever get the chance to go and hear James talk, I highly recommend you do. Anyway, chatting to James afterwards we got on to the topic of the many myths surrounding medieval buildings and James very kindly agreed to write a blog post for me. It is, in fact, a rather large topic – especially after James’ Twitter followers got involved – and so has turned into 2 posts. Part Two will be along next week, but here’s Part One for your delectation.

Busting Mediaeval Building Myths: Part One

James Wright, Buildings Archaeologist, Triskele Heritage

As a buildings archaeologist, I am very fortunate to have access to all manner of mediaeval structures, many of which are not open to the public. I feel a great affinity with these buildings, be they timber-framed houses, stunning parish churches or the castles of great lords, and sense a responsibility to let folk know about new discoveries using a wide range of media. There is simply no point doing archaeology unless you tell others what you have done!

Recently I met my friend, the author Sharon Bennett Connolly, after giving a talk on the mediaeval period. Whilst we were having a catch-up, the subject of popular myths about mediaeval buildings cropped up and Sharon asked if I would be interested in submitting a guest blog for this website.

During my visits to mediaeval buildings, the information relayed on websites, leaflets and guidebooks or by property owners, custodians and stewards is not always wholly precise. I want to use this blog to gently bust a few of the more common myths. There is rarely any malicious intent in such stories – they are usually the result of the misidentification of a structure by an early antiquarian, amateur or even professional historian. If something has been repeated enough times or put into print it becomes “real”. Once it becomes “received wisdom” the myth is widely taken as factual and repeated often.

So here are the first five of ten myths, associated with mediaeval buildings, and the (often more interesting) realities hiding behind them…

  • Secret Passages
Secret Passages, Ashby

Tales of underground secret passages are so common that almost every village and town have their own version. Usually the tunnel connects two rather contrasting, and faintly scandalous, locations such as the manor house and the nunnery or the priest’s house and the local pub! In my own home town of Stone, Staffordshire, there is a persistent rumour that a passageway linked the site of the twelfth century priory to Aston Hall.

The fact that the two buildings are over one and half miles apart, and that the intervening land is on the flood plain of the River Trent, never seemed to raise any scepticism when the locals of various pubs were discussing this! How would the presence of the passage be kept secret? Who paid for it? Why was it constructed? Where was the spoil put? How was it kept drained? The practicalities all seem rather insurmountable.

Although some sites do feature genuine tunnels, such as Strelley Hall in Nottinghamshire or Ashby Castle in Leicestershire, they tend to be both post-mediaeval in date and are relatively short in length. In both cases they offer access for goods and connect different buildings within a single complex. The vast majority of tunnel myths turn out to be simple drains when investigated. The origin of the story at Stone is probably related to the survival of a small section of a storage undercroft, from the priory, which is now the cellars of a much later house.

  • Spiral Staircases
Spiral Stair, Newark

Go and visit any castle in the land and you will inevitably find a guidebook, audio-tour, interpretation panel or tour guide stating that all spiral staircases twist clockwise to provide a swordsman’s advantage for the right-handed defenders, who were able to easily wield their weapons, whilst attackers would be at a disadvantage. I’ve spotted this being presented to visitors recently at both Arundel, Sussex and Colchester, Essex.

A brilliant survey of castle staircases, by Neil Guy of the Castle Studies Group, has demonstrated that, contrary to the myth, anti-clockwise spiral staircases were incredibly common. We can find them in the eleventh century at the Tower of London; twelfth century at Newark, Nottinghamshire; thirteenth century at Conwy, Gwynedd; fourteenth century at Carisbrooke, Isle of Wight and fifteenth century at Kirby Muxloe, Leicestershire. Many of these castles were built during periods of military activity such as the Norman Conquest or Edwardian invasion of Wales – yet they still feature anti-clockwise stairs.

Some castle gatehouses (for example, Tonbridge, Kent) feature two staircase turrets, one clockwise and one anti-clockwise. They seem to relate to a similar pattern of access in monastery and cathedral towers (such as St Alphage Tower, London) which may be “up” and “down” routes to avoid collisions and jams. Many castles, such as Richmond, North Yorkshire, even feature straight stair passages. Finally, sieges rarely ended with fighting in the interiors of castles, let alone on the staircases – if the enemy was on your stair the battle was probably already lost!

  • Burn Marks
Burn marks, Gainsborough Old Hall

Huge numbers of timber-framed buildings are littered with curious tear-shaped burn marks which are often over-looked by custodians and visitors alike. However, when attention is drawn to them, as in the kitchens at Haddon Hall, Derbyshire or on an upper floor at Tudor House, Southampton, Hampshire, they are usually interpreted as being scorch marks left by unattended candles, rushlights, tapers or lamps. Many buildings, such as Gainsborough Old Hall, Lincolnshire, are so riddled with burn marks that their occupants must have been so careless that it is astonishing they are still standing!

Instead, a great piece of experimental archaeology, undertaken by John Dean and Nick Hill and published by the Vernacular Architecture Group, showed that these marks were deliberately created. A tear-shaped burn mark is almost impossible to replicate by leaving a light unattended. They found that the only way to leave such a mark was to hold a taper at a 45 degree angle, a few millimetres away from the timber, for between 5 and 15 minutes. Many marks are also found in locations unsuitable for supporting lights – the backs of doors and window shutters – and few had associated evidence of how lights would have been supported.

Once it was realised that the marks were created deliberately, archaeologists mapped their locations and found that the vast majority were on timbers near doors, windows and chimneys. In the mediaeval period, these areas were widely believed to be vulnerable to malicious fires and invasion by evil spirits. Therefore many of the marks were possibly created as part of a tradition of magical house protection. By burning the timber a little bit it would drive away the threat of more significant damage. Equally, there may be other ritual purposes associated with burn marks that may be connected to prayer, devotion, healing or purification.

  • Leper Squints
Leper squints, Lewes

Many parish churches feature curious holes penetrating their walls which are sometimes identified as windows through which sufferers of leprosy (now known as Hansen’s Disease) could observe services. Considered to be contagious and deformed, lepers were literally suffering purgatory on earth, and were therefore discouraged from mixing with the congregation.

Although lepers were considered to be outcasts, they were regularly provided for in charitable hospitals (such as St Nicholas, Harbledown, Kent) which were located on the edge of towns or at crossroads.  Ultimately, they were not encouraged to enter regular communities and the provision of squints at parish churches is unlikely.

Location and form is key here. A number features identified as leper squints (for example at St Cuthbert’s, Aldingham, Cumbria) are very small square holes, on the exterior of the church, capped by a thin lintel stone. These are relict putlog holes – left behind by builders whose mediaeval timber scaffolding was physically bonded into the masonry of the wall during construction. At the end of the work, carpenters would saw off the timber flush with the wall and over time the wood would rot away to leave a hole. Alternatively, small, low down windows like the one at St Leonard’s, Wollaton, Nottinghamshire (which usually have evidence for shutters) were probably built to allow ventilation rather than cater to lepers.

Holes found internally, such as that at St Thomas Becket, Lewes, East Sussex, are usually at an oblique angle through the wall separating the aisle from the chancel. These are formally designed, sometimes elaborately decorated, hagioscopes. This feature enabled priests officiating at side aisle altars to be able to simultaneously engage with the main celebrant, at the high altar in the chancel, during the Elevation of the Host – indicating that the ritual bread was now the body of Christ.

  • Mason’s Marks
Masons marks, Warkworth Castle

Stone buildings were constructed by masons – often considered to be a secretive bunch given to various arcane practises. One tradition states that masons had their own individual symbol (such as the illustrated example from Warkworth Castle, Northumberland) which they would chisel onto a piece of stone, once it was finished, so that they could be paid for it. By finding these marks we may be able to trace the career of a mason as he travelled from site to site.

Although there are definitely marks on the walls of mediaeval buildings which can be attributed to stonemasons, the reasons for their presence has become a little scrambled. Firstly, masons were very rarely paid per stone (i.e. piecework). Mediaeval building accounts (such as those for Caister Castle, Norfolk) indicate that masons were paid weekly wages. Secondly, the simplicity of masons marks means that they get widely repeated. Identical examples to those recorded in the early sixteenth century Hospital of the Savoy, London, were also found in fourteenth century Strasbourg Cathedral, France; seventeenth century Kirby Hall, Northamptonshire and nineteenth century Canton Viaduct, America.

The marks left behind by masons were not necessarily specific to an individual. There was no register of such things and it is likely that they were assigned to either individuals or entire work-gangs just for the lifespan of the building project. When they moved on to a new site, new marks were distributed. On a particular project the marks would be used by foremen to account for productivity, ensuring that the required number of stones were cut during set time periods.

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I hope that you enjoyed this blog and that it will prove useful in trying to fully understand mediaeval buildings on your own visits. Part two of this series will discuss subjects including crusader graffiti and ship’s timbers in mediaeval buildings.

Should you wish for more information on this subject, please feel free to tweet me on @jpwarchaeology or email on james@triskeleheritage.com

I have to extend a huge ‘thank you‘ to James for such a fabulous article. Can’t wait for Part Two!

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon, in the US from Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: All Things Georgian by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden

Take a romp through the long eighteenth-century in this collection of 25 short tales. Marvel at the Queen s Ass, gaze at the celestial heavens through the eyes of the past and be amazed by the equestrian feats of the Norwich Nymph. Journey to the debauched French court at Versailles, travel to Covent Garden and take your seat in a box at the theatre and, afterwards, join the mile-high club in a new-fangled hot air balloon. Meet actresses, whores and high-born ladies, politicians, inventors, royalty and criminals as we travel through the Georgian era in all its glorious and gruesome glory. In roughly chronological order, covering the reign of the four Georges, 1714-1830 and set within the framework of the main events of the era, these tales are accompanied by over 100 stunning colour illustrations.

I have to say that All Things Georgian: Tales from the long Eighteenth Century is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. Crammed full of glossy, colourful paintings and photographs, it is impossible for the reader not to appreciate how aesthetically pleasing this book is. It is a pleasure to browse through, just to appreciate the gorgeous images scattered throughout the book.

Having said that, the images are not all this book has to offer. All Things Georgian: Tales from the long Eighteenth Century is co-written by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden and is replete with some of the best stories from the eighteenth century; scandals, love stories and mysteries fill the pages. The most amazing characters of the Georgian era complement the colourful photos; from Marie Antoinette to ‘Crazy Sally’, from coffee shop rivalries, to smuggling, female jockeys and intrepid balloon rides.

This book has stories to entertain everyone.

On the evening of 20 June 1791, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette of France, together with their children and a handful of trusted attendants, made an ill-fated attempt to escape the revolutionary forces who were keeping them closely watched. The plan had taken many weeks to bring to fruition and the French queen, to whom it was inconceivable that she should survive without the everyday luxuries with which she was surrounded, had been engaged in smuggling various items to the safety of her sister in Brussels. AN infamous Scottish courtesan played a key role in one of these transactions, risking her life in Marie Antoinette’s service.

Grace Dalrymple Elliott, tall, willowy and stunningly beautiful, had gained her notoriety following a very public Criminal Conversation trial and divorce from her portly little husband, Dr (later Sir) John Eliot; Grace had been discovered in a Berkeley Row bagnio with her lover, the worthless Viscount Valentia who soon after discarded his mistress. The handsome Earl of Cholmondeley became her protector; tall and athletic, he was the perfect match for Grace, and the two made an attractive if slightly disreputable couple but, when a countess’s coronet was not forthcoming, Grace left for France and the arms of Louis XVI’s cousin, Louis Philippe Joseph, Duke d’ Orléans (later known as Philippe Egalité). A brief interlude back in London followed where grace bagged the affections of the young Prince of Wales and gained a permanent memento of her royal dalliance in the person of her daughter, Georgiana, who the future monarch privately – if not publicly – acknowledged as his child. The Earl of Cholmondeley became the child’s guardian and Grace, with an annuity from the royal purse, returned to her French duke, only to become trapped in Paris during the French Revolution. …

Sarah Murden and Joanne Major have done a wonderful job of recreating the Georgian world. The language is beautiful, the stories both exciting and entertaining; and scattered with just the right amount of famous and infamous people to make the reader go ‘ooh!’. The two authors are so in sync that it is impossible to discern which story is told by one of the writers and which by the other.

I usually read through books as quickly as possible, devouring them, so-to-speak. However, with All Things Georgian: Tales from the long Eighteenth Century I have taken my time, read only one or two of the fabulous stories at a time. Reading this book is a truly pleasurable experience, and I wanted to take my time and savour every moment.

All Things Georgian: Tales from the long Eighteenth Century by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden is a wonderful little treasure trove of stories and facts, brought to life in beautiful prose and accompanied by glorious images. Well researched and beautifully presented, it would be a stunning addition to any library – it even smells special!

All Things Georgian: Tales from the long Eighteenth Century is available from Amazon UK and US.

About the authors:

Joanne Major and Sarah Murden are supersleuthing historians who enjoy bringing the Georgian era to life. Their lives were changed forever when they (metaphorically) met an eighteenth-century courtesan, and this is now their fourth book together. Along with their respective families, they live in Lincolnshire.

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My books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from Amazon UK, and in the US from Amazon US. It is available now in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©2019 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.

Pos:167,Tm:584_AT,Cst:0,Gm:B,Fv:0,Stb:69
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.

330px-Major_Oak
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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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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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.

054 (2)
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.

135
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.

020 (2)
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.

178
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.

052
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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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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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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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly

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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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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Article and 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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Article and 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

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.