Friday, 30 January 2009

Parkin Windbreak... Alianore Audley called him.

Yes, I know I messing up the orderly progression through the 15th Century by mentioning the fellow, but then again, I never promised that this Blog would be orderly, did I? Fact is I've been re-reading Anne Wroe's marvellous book, Perkin and I'd love to be able to say, 'Truly, this man was the Duke of York' or even, as second-best, 'Truly, this man was not the Duke of York.' But I can't honestly do either. I haven't a clue who he was, and frankly, I don't think Henry VII did either.

One thing that is clear though is that Sir William Stanley and John Ratcliffe, Lord Fitzwalter, believed it was possible 'Perkin' was Edward IV's son. Now these men were no fools or hot-headed youths, and certainly they had not been supporters of Richard III. Nor were they 'outs' in a political sense - Stanley for example, was Henry VII's Lord Chamberlain. They had a lot to lose, and they lost it all, by gambling on the chance that Richard Duke of York was alive and capable of toppling the government.

Another thing that occurs to me is that 'Perkin', if not York, must have been one hell of an actor. Even in these days it wouldn't be easy for a working class foreigner to pass convincingly as a British royal. In the 15th Century it would have been many multiples of times harder. I think at a minimum 'Perkin' must have been brought up in or around a court. As for the allegation he was 'forcibly' taught English while a stranger in Ireland - well, LOL is all I can say. I was 'forcibly' taught French at school, but I doubt anyone would mistake me for a French aristo.

A fascinating mystery...

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

New Novel on Owain Glyn Dwr

I was delighted to read, on Sharon K Penman's Blog that she is planning to write a novel about Owain Glyn Dwr. (She also says kind things about Alianore Audley, but that's another matter.)

A novel on Owain is long overdue. The last really good one was Owen Glendower by John Cowper Powys, which was published before the Second World War. While it's a 'great' book, I wouldn't describe it is accessible - in fact by comparison your average Dorothy Dunnett is a young adult short story. So I'm really looking forward to the Penman version, and to what she will make of Owain, Bolingbroke, Grey de Ruthin, Edmund Mortimer and all our old friends.

For the present though, if you've got two weeks on a beach and a burning interest in Owain, you could try the Cowper Powys account.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Turn of the tide in Wales

The years 1404 and 1405 were perhaps the high point of Owain's rising. During 1404 he had control of almost all Wales, and his enemies were reduced to the occasional foray from one of their remaining garrisons. He was able to conduct diplomacy with France and Scotland, and even to hold parliaments. He removed the Welsh Church from the dominion of Rome and adhered to the rival pontiff at Avignon. He even received French military assistance.

How useful this was is in some question. One suspects the French knights had a bit of a culture shock in Wales. According to some accounts Owain advanced, with French aid, to Woodbury Hill, some eight miles from Worcester, where he was faced by Henry IV and an English army. Neither side feeling strong enough to attack the other, the Franco-Welsh army backed down and retreated.

R R Davies questioned whether this actually happened, and the fact that there is doubt demonstrates the difficulty of adequately describing the Glyn Dwr years, and maybe also the power of myth.

Anyway, in 1405 the famous Tripartite Indenture was signed between Owain, Edmund Mortimer and Northumberland to divide the kingdom between them. This was probably a reaction to the failure to get Mortimer's nephew, March, into their hands, but was a classic case of counting chickens that hadn't been hatched.

Henry IV was preparing a further massive invasion of Wales, but in the event had to take his troops north to deal with Scrope's rising - as usual the rebellious elements failed to get their act together and the King was able to deal with them in detail. Though he had not long since spared his York cousins from execution, Henry was obviously in a ratty mood, as he had Scrope (the Archbishop of York!) and Thomas Mowbray, the young Earl Marshal, summarily beheaded.

Henry fell ill almost at once (divine intervention perhaps?) and was never quite the same man again. His visits to Wales were over for good, but his cause there began to prosper.

In the spring of 1405 Glyn Dwr's forces in the south of Wales suffered heavy defeats in successive battles at Grosmont and Pwll Melyn at the hands of Richard Beauchamp Earl of Warwick and the Talbot brothers. Owain's brother was among the dead and his eldest son, Gruffudd, was captured and apparently spent the rest of his life in the Tower. His brother-in-law, John Hamner, was also captured but got away with a fine of 500 marks, a huge amount for someone of his relatively modest standing.

The rising was far from over, but this was the beginning of the end. In August commissioners were sent to the men of Usk and Caerleon to discuss terms of surrender. Meanwhile, in the north, Gwilym ap Gruffudd ap Gwilym, the most powerful man in Flintshire, surrendered himself to be imprisoned at Chester, along with his brothers and four supporters. Anglesey, the bread basket of Wales, was raided by royal naval forces based in Ireland. The island was to be forced into submission during the following year.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Bogus Ancestry

A recent post on the excellent Reading Raving and Ranting Blog about Gilbert le Despenser led to some interesting questions about the Despenser line and whether or not Princess Diana was related. Well, to cut to the chase the male line of the Despensers died out circa 1413, although there are many descendants to this day through the female line.

As to the link with the Spencers of Althorp, 'tis a myth. One of several created by dodgy Tudor heralds in return for a lined pocket.

I think I once came across a source that stated Princess Diana was descended from Constance of York, but I'm not sure of the route. Possibly through the Audleys, as Constance's descendants through that lot are legion. They include people as diverse as Robert E. Lee and Humphrey Bogart. But it's just possible Diana was descended from the Despensers after all. If anyone's interested, please do the research.

As an aside, I've been delving into my ancestry on and off for a few years now, but find they're a pretty boring lot - not a pirate or murderer among the lot of 'em. Very disappointing. You'd have thought at least one of them could have had the decency to get himself hanged. The most promising claim to fame is that I may be related to one of Charles II's minor mistresses, Katherine Pegg. Though I've not quite made the link, we seem to come from the same root, the Peggs of Ashbourne.

Loyaute Me Lie

You never know what to expect as a Manchester City Fan. One minute, in the teeth of a recession they're trying to sign Kaka for £100 million, next they're taking on Craig Bellamy for £14 million, probably twice what he's worth. I'm old enough to have seen my team win the League Championship, the FA Cup, the League Cup and the European Cup-Winners Cup, but I've also seen them relegated more times than I care to remember, to say nothing of 'enjoying' a season in the old Third Division.

Supporting City teaches a person at least two things, even if they don't start with these qualities. A good sense of humour is essential. Next to that, resilience. Because every joy is going to be balanced with a healthy dose of disaster.

Of course, I could theoretically stop supporting them, and take up with Liverpool, or even that unmentionable lot from Stretford. But supporting City is hereditary. My father and both grandfathers were there before me at Maine Road and Hyde Road, long before the present COMS was even thought about. Loyaute Me Lie. No proper fan changes these things.

But why am I so interested in the House of York? It's far less obvious, because none of my family has any connection or interest at all **. The House of Lancaster is at least equally interesting, and yet, somehow, I can't bring myself to root for them like I do for the York lot.

(** As far as I know, but I suppose I could have their blood in my veins.)

Now I did once meet a woman who was convinced she was a reincarnation of Anne Neville, but there's a awful lot of us with the same interest, and we can't all have been Edward IV or whoever, can we?

Is it the power of historical fiction that hooked me? Maybe. In fiction at least the House of York (after about 1450, anyway) tends to get a good press, sometimes unjustly so. Fiction personalises history in a way that academic texts rarely, if ever, do. Does this not lead us to see events through the eyes of the heros and heroines that various pens have created? And thus to a biased preference to 'our' side?

Let's try another period for comparison - the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. Have you ever read a novel telling the story from a Whig point of view? Because I never have. To read the legends you'd think all of Scotland was on Prince Charlie's side, when in fact half Cumberland's soldiers at Culloden were Scottish. You'd think that England was full of Jacobites to boot, and yet, with the exception of a few hapless souls from Carlisle and Manchester, Prince Charlie received no English support whatever. Yet the Jacobites are romantic and everyone plugs for them - even I have a sneaking sympathy

Hmmm - maybe fiction is to blame, and that puts a heavy duty on all who turn their pen to it. But as far as the House of York is concerned, I'm a lost cause. Loyaute Me Lie.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Edward Duke of York and the Welsh Wars

Edward, the second Duke of York (as the rascal became in 1402) had a fair amount of involvement in the Welsh wars, indeed it was during this period that he served the bulk of his career as a soldier. His younger brother, Richard of Conisbrough, was also active for at least a time.

In some ways it's surprising that Henry IV trusted Edward with any military (or indeed administrative) power, but, as in the case of Richard III and Lord Stanley, it's likely the case that Edward was just too big a player to be ignored. From 1402 he was England's only duke, and remained so until Thomas of Lancaster (Henry IV's second son) was created Duke of Clarence in the twilight days of the reign. Rank and blood meant a great deal.

What Edward's personal policy was in those days is hard to discern. He was widely mistrusted, that's for sure, and was repeatedly accused of being involved in treason, notably after the Battle of Shrewsbury, where he did not show up. His alleged participation in his sister's plot of 1405 led to a period of imprisonment and forfeiture but, as ever, Edward came out smelling of roses and within a few weeks of his release was actually opening Parliament on his sickly cousin's behalf.

The experience does seemed to have cured any interest he had in supporting the Mortimer claim to the throne, and after this point he becomes a partisan of the Prince of Wales, and appears to support the future Henry V right through to his (York's) death at Agincourt. Not a bad move, politically speaking.

York acted as a lieutenant of the Prince during the latter's campaigns in Wales in the latter half of the reign, and the Prince was suitably grateful. Following the failure of a campaign to capture the castle of Aberystwyth, Edward was once again accused of treason, but kneeling to the King before the Parliament of December 1407 the Prince 'spoke some generous words of the Duke of York, whose good advice and counsel, he said, had rescued the whole expedition from great peril and desolation.' From such a source this is praise indeed!

An interesting Guardian thread...

The Guardian talkboards has a thread at the minute called 'The thread about stuff you see on films that doesn't really happen.'

It's a long thread, but if you persevere you'll come across some really interesting stuff on the middle ages, particularly in the posts of someone called 'Oddsock.' Particularly useful for my fellow writers, but interesting for its own sake. I don't know who Oddsock is, but he/she certainly knows his/her stuff

(Edit) Oh, wonderful! Oddsock has added a brilliant post on medieval outlaws. Folks, you have to read this stuff.. It's ace.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

A Nice Place to Stay - and help animals...

Nothing to do with the House of York...

Yesterday I was over at the Tia Greyhound and Lurcher Rescue kennels and among other things was shown the beautiful holiday apartment they have just opened. It's in part of a stone farm building which I guess dates from the 17th century or thereabouts.

The location, near Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire, has a remote moorland feel to it - indeed the wind yesterday put me in mind of Wuthering Heights - but in a car it's actually not that far from a lot of places, including Haworth and the Bronte Country, the Yorkshire Dales, Bolton Abbey, York, Skipton, etc., etc. On the other hand, if you like moorland walking it's ideal for that too, and not a million miles away from the Pennine Way.

Prices are reasonable and money raised, after running costs, goes to supporting the 80 dogs in Tia's care. And get this - not only can you take your dog with you, you can even take your horse. (They have a couple of nice shires about the place.)

A very nice leaflet is available from Tia Greyhound & Lucher Rescue, PO Box 101, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, HX7 9AD. Or phone 07974 960684 for information and availability. If you fancy a holiday in Yorkshire, please consider this option.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

A bit more about the Welsh War - tactics and stuff

It's probably wrong to think of Glyndwr having an army, even in the medieval sense. I think it's more a case that he and his principal lieutenants (Rhys Gethin being perhaps the most famous) led relatively small bands into different parts of Wales and co-operated with the locals. Wales (relative to England) was more populous then than now (though of course the absolute numbers were much smaller) and there was significant manpower to muster, including many formidable warriors. Wales and the Marches had long been a source of professional soldiers.

Welsh and English people traded freely, and addition the Welsh often crossed into England to find work, including seasonal labour connected with the harvest. These business relations continued despite the war, and despite, in the case of trading, government attempts at prohibition. Ties of friendship and kinship were common, particularly in the border areas, and loyalties, as I mentioned in an earlier post, were not always straightforward along racial lines.

So rebellion could spring almost anywhere, and in great force, and die away almost as quickly. Those who partook in it were not necessarily distinguishable from peaceful subjects, at least at first sight. The risings focused on economic targets, such as market towns and the estates and other assets (e.g. mills) of the marcher lords and the Crown. The effect was seriously to disrupt judicial sessions (which were primarily a source of income!) and to prevent the collection of rents and other dues. As the devastation progressed, the point was soon reached where even those who were willing to pay were unable to do so. If your farm has been destroyed and your sheep and cattle taken, you simply have no means to pay!

This economic warfare had dire consequences for the incomes of the marcher lords, among whom, it must be remembered, were the King himself and the Prince of Wales. Used to their Welsh estates producing vast revenues, they soon found themselves with little income, if any at all. At the same time it was necessary to garrison their Welsh castles with additional men, and this did not run cheap. Imagine the cost of putting an adequate garrison into Caerphilly Castle, for example, as Constance Despenser was ordered to do in 1403!

By that time most of the castles in Wales were already under some sort of siege, even if only an informal one, which meant that the English lords could not project their power much beyond the castle walls. This meant that Glyndwr's men had effective control of most of the countryside, with obvious results. The garrison of Caernarfon was reduced to sending a woman to Chester to ask assistance, as no man was willing to brave the journey!

Henry IV's tactical response was to send large armies into Wales. In the early months of the revolt the Prince of Wales (future Henry V) destroyed Glyndwr's properties at Glyndyfrdwy and Sycharth. Other objectives of these expeditions were to relieve besieged garrisons and punish rebels. (Many were hanged, drawn and quartered, but many more were pardoned. The policy seems to have been inconsistent.) However, if the first few years of the revolt there was little success. The King seemed to be cursed by unfavourable weather, and achieved relatively little despite his supposed brilliance as a warrior. On one occasion he sacked Strata Florida Abbey because of the supposed pro-Owain attitude of the monks. (In fairness, Owain also sacked religious houses, notably the Bishop of Bangor's palace near modern Llandudno, and all the religious houses of Cardiff bar that of the Grey Friars. This was not a 'clean' war, if ever there is such a thing.)

The result of all this was that by the end of 1404 almost the whole of Wales was under Owain's control, although it must be said that that control was rather tenuous in places.

Sunday, 11 January 2009


I'm sorry for the break in blogging. As a select few of you know, my mother, Clara, died on 7 December last. She was 89, and it was her time - she had had enough - so I console myself that she is in a better place. Nonetheless, the change has disrupted our family life - she used to live with us as she needed care - and I, at least, haven't got back into my stride yet. Mourning apart, there is all the practical stuff to do, like arrange probate. Then we need to sort this house out and do a serious de-clutter - that should take about a year.

It seems to be a curse that whenever I start writing something happens. Breaks in writing do not help as I have an active mind (some would say too active) and the idleness sets me thinking of other projects. Frankly, unless I am going to live to be 120, and be fully functional with it, I already have too many prospective books lined up without adding a Great War saga plus Constance of York and the Case of the Poisoned Queen, my latest theoretical additions to the list. I need to focus and get on with the bloody R3 project!!!!

Writing is hard work - at least it is to do it properly. Any fool can come up with ideas, but the actual sitting down and banging at a keyboard, followed by rigorous self-editing takes time and discipline. I've got the time, but currently I lack the discipline. Sometimes I feel like hitting myself, but it does no good. I need to get back into my routine. Though honesty compels me to say that I shall never be a prolific writer, the sort of person who produces something every 12 months. Even if I were on a million pounds a book, I could never be that productive! (Though if were on a million pounds a book, I suppose I'd try a lot harder to write at least a couple.)

A bit of blogging may help, so I'll try to write something here from time to time.