Sunday, 19 October 2008

The National Archives are cool!!

You know, I knew the National Archives were a wonderful source. Not long ago I bought a copy of my several times great-grandfather's army service record dating from not long after the Sharpe era. But I didn't realise that there was original medieval stuff on the web that you can download for free! For example here is Constance's Petition of 1406 asking, in essence, 'Please can I have my lands back, sir?'

Don't expect to be able to read a single word of it unless your screen is a damn sight bigger and better than mine, but at least you can see what a medieval petition looked like, and there is a summary to tell you what it's all about. Isn't it amazing that you can get something like this on your computer, on a Sunday, within minutes, free, gratis and for nothing? And for a modest fee they'd send you a printed copy through the post.

Book of the Month

My book of the month is The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer.

This book covers just about every imaginable aspect of life in fourteenth century England, and indeed some that are pretty unimaginable. To quote from the blurb: 'How do you greet people in the street? What should you use for toilet paper? How fast - and how safely - can you travel? Why might a physician want to taste your blood? And how do you test to see if you are going down with the plague?' It's all this and a lot, lot more.

For anyone newly aspiring to write novels about late medieval England it's an invaluable source that will save you days and weeks of research. For those of us who thought we had done that research, it's a reminder that we didn't know everything, and a useful insurance against future bloops. Sharon K. Penman would never have put that famous grey squirrel in Sunne In Splendour if she had had this book.

Don't mess about - just buy it!

Friday, 17 October 2008

Founders and Benefactors Book of Tewkesbury Abbey

This book, which belongs to the Bodleian Library, is online here and some of you may be interested. It includes portraits of the various patrons of Tewkesbury Abbey including Robert Consul, Gilbert de Clare, Hugh Despenser the younger, Thomas Despenser, Isabelle Despenser (she actually gets two illustrations!), Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, Warwick the Kingmaker and George Clarence.

The work dates from early Tudor times and the costumes depicted reflect this, but the extensive heraldry is well worth careful study. For example on Thomas Despenser's page you will find his marital impalement with Constance of York ** and also an illustration of the short-lived impalement of Edward the Confessor's arms with the royal arms used by Richard II from circa 1397-99 as a mark of his devotion to the Saint.

**At least that's what I take it to be - the one that Thomas is more or less pointing at with his right hand. But oddly, the artist has placed Constance's arms at heraldic right (the left as we look at it) and Despenser's at heraldic left. Which is the wrong way round. Theoretically this coat represents a marriage between Edmund of Langley or Edward of York and one of Thomas's sisters! You see, you can't even trust prime manuscript sources completely.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

The House of York takes stock.

The events of January 1400 had a major impact on the York family, though on some more than others.

Edmund of Langley had established himself as a loyal supporter of Henry IV, though Richard's deposition had naturally cost him the Lancastrian properties and offices he'd been granted. He was in ill health, in particular he had severe skeletal problems, and after this point he seems to have retired from active public life.

Edward of York had lost his Aumale title, and was probably lucky not to have lost his life, being more culpable than most members of Richard's government. He suffered severe financial losses because of the resumption of his 1397 grants, but on the other hand Henry was already showing him limited favour (for example the grant of the Isle of Wight) and was to continue to employ him in various offices, albeit none as lofty as those he had enjoyed under Richard.

Richard of Conisbrough still had his annuities and his position was theoretically unchanged. He was not to know that Henry IV was soon to become effectively bankrupt and unable to honour annuities.

Constance of York had lost her husband and was notionally penniless because although Despenser had not been attainted (yet) everyone proceeded on the assumption that he had been. Widows of attainted men were not entitled to dower, and the jointure she had was in lands granted in 1397 and taken back. Fortunately for her, Henry IV was quite generous in providing for her, starting with the gift of £30 found on Despenser's body. It appears (if my understanding of the process is correct) that she kept submitting petitions, and as each one was granted went back and petitioned for a bit more. Forfeits of treason apart (most of Despenser's moveable property* and certain lands granted quickly away to others) she eventually ended up with the whole of the Despenser lands (bar her mother-in-law's dower) and the wardship of her son. She had to pay a rental (farm) for this, but that was par for the course, and she even had a protection written in that the wardship was not to be taken away if someone else offered to pay more! In the case of the manor of Bawtry (Yorkshire) she was in dispute with someone who had been granted it by the King, but it seems she won this fight as she certainly died possessed of Bawtry.

(*I should mention that some part of Despenser's property went missing, and the King sent out a commission to discover what had happened to it. Presumably it was either stolen or hidden away by well-wishers.)

The only widow the King treated with similar kindness was his sister, Elizabeth of Lancaster, and as I have mentioned before, it seems to me that Henry Bolingbroke had due respect for Plantagenet blood. He was very much less generous to the countesses of Salisbury and Wiltshire, for example, who received the next thing to damn all.

Pilgrimage to an Obscure Place.

I've been meaning to mention Burford (Salop) Church for some time, trying to find an excuse. It's an obscure location, most people have not heard of it, and no, I still haven't thought of an excuse, but I'm going to mention it anyway. The place is near Tenbury Wells, just a little way off the main A49. (It should not be confused with the better-known Burford in Oxfordshire, which was at one time a Despenser manor and belonged to Constance of York and later Warwick the Kingmaker.)

This Burford, at the end of the 14th century, belonged to Sir John Cornwall. Cornwall was sometimes known as 'the Green Cornwall' because he was born at sea - presumably from the colour of his mother's face at the time. He claimed descent by an illegitimate line from Henry III's brother, Richard, Earl of Cornwall.

Anyway, this Cornwall married Elizabeth of Lancaster, John of Gaunt's daughter, and her tomb is the gem of this obscure church. It isn't quite as classy as Richard Beauchamp's at Warwick (what tomb is?) but it has a very attractive painted effigy of Elizabeth and if you are ever in that part of the world I recommend a visit. The only thing is, you must go at weekend as the church only seems to be open on Saturdays and Sundays, as I discovered when I arrived midweek, camera in hand, only to be disappointed. Chance later got me back there on a Saturday but the camera was sadly not with me so I can't post a picture of the tomb, and sadly, nor can I point you to one on the web as there doesn't seem to be one. (I do have a photo, but it's copyright and so would be rather naughty for me to post! Sorry!)

John and Elizabeth had two children together, John and Constance. The latter was eventually to marry the Earl of Arundel. The name 'Constance' was rare in England at that time but Elizabeth obviously liked it as she had a daughter by John Holland with the same Christian name. Constance Holland may well have been named for her step-grandmother, Constance (aka Constanza) Duchess of Lancaster. As for Constance Cornwall, we may speculate that her godmother was none other than Constance of York, which gives me (at last!) a tenuous link back to the House of York.

Gardeners among you may care to visit the adjoining garden centre (which specialises in Clematis) or tour the nearby Burford House Gardens, which are more or less or exactly on the site of the Cornwall manor house. A grand day out, as they say.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Isabella Beaufort

Yesterday, while reading English Medieval Monasteries 1066-1540 by Roy Midmer (research you know) I found this intriguing snippet under Marrick Priory, Yorkshire: 'In 1536 the rich and beautiful girl, Isabella Beaufort, whom Henry VIII had tried to marry, is said to have obtained sanctuary here for almost 4 years until the house surrendered.'

I am really puzzled by this because as far as I know the last two male Beauforts died at Tewkesbury in 1471, and even if they had a legitimate daughter (which I'm virtually certain they didn't) she would scarcely be a 'girl' in 1536. Their elder brother, Henry, Duke of Somerset, had an illegitimate son, Charles, from whom the present Duke of Beaufort descends, but the surname was and is 'Somerset' not Beaufort.

There's very little about this lady on the internet but that little says she was maid-of-honour to Catherine of Aragon and eventually married her true love. Potential for a novel, maybe, but not for me as I could not bear to write about the ogre Henry VIII. Does anyone know anything about Isabella, particularly who her father was?

Thursday, 2 October 2008

The White Boar by Marian Palmer

The White Boar by Marian Palmer was the book that introduced me to Richard III (and Ricardianism) so it seems quite appropriate to write about it on the man's birthday.

These last few days I have been reading it again. With novels, as with places and employers, it's not always a good idea to go back; sometimes the memories do not stack up with the reality. Sometimes tastes have changed.

But in this case - I still rate it. OK, there's the odd bit of head hopping, which my literary advisers tell me is a Bad Thing, but on the whole it's beautifully crafted - I think I appreciate the writing technique more than when I first had it in my hands, circa 1971. It's not everyone's cup of tea (someone once told me that she absolutely hated the book) but if you fancy reading a Richard III novel, you could do a lot worse than try this one.

A few years ago I was in touch with Marian Palmer through one of the Lists, and it was a great pleasure to tell her how important her book had been to me. In a sense, it was life-changing.