The King’s Lover: Motherhood and Sexuality at the Court of Edward III, Guest Post by Gemma Hollman

In this latest guest post, I am honoured to welcome Gemma Hollman for part of a book tour to promote her latest book, The Queen and the Mistress: The Women of Edward III. The book tells the story of the women in Edward’s life, his queen, Philippa of Hainault, and his mistress, Alice Perrers. It shows how two very different women, from very different backgrounds, were able to make their way in the royal court.

Gemma Hollman is a historian and author who specialises in late medieval English history. Her previous book, Royal Witches: From Joan of Navarre to Elizabeth Woodville, was published in 2019. When not working in the heritage sector, she also runs a history blog, Just History Posts, which features many different periods of history.

Being a woman in medieval England could be tricky. Society was run by men, and whilst women could and did have freedom and power, there were lots of conflicting social pressures placed upon them. They should be pious, quiet, affable, submissive, and fertile, but many women were also expected to be clever, able to run an estate or business in her husband’s absence, wise to politics and diplomacy and otherwise be an asset in a marriage.

One part of being a woman which was viewed with the most suspicion was her sexuality. Women were seen as emotional creatures, would-be-Eves just waiting to lead men into temptation and sin. Women could control men with the lure of the bedroom, and so they were seen as a danger. This danger was particularly heightened with the women who found themselves around the king – even his wife and queen.

British (English) School; Edward III (1312-1377); The Queen’s College, University of Oxford; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/edward-iii-13121377-223628

Philippa of Hainault was the wife of Edward III for four decades, and she amply fulfilled her duties as consort by providing a vast number of children and heirs for her husband. But though their sexual attraction was clear, Philippa knew well not to flaunt her sexual status at the king’s side. Her mother-in-law, Queen Isabella, had come under scandal during her effective regency of England for taking a lover, and her potential pregnancy by this man was what ultimately led to Edward III to rebel against her and seize the reins of power for himself. Philippa had seen the damaging effects of a loose woman in power, and she was happy to demonstrate that she did not have undue influence over Edward because of her position in his bed. On one occasion when the couple were travelling their kingdom, they stayed at a monastery. The resident monks were uncomfortable with the king and queen sharing a bed in their religious institution, and Philippa happily agreed to stay in separate accommodation so as not to insult her hosts.

But though Philippa downplayed her sexual hold over the king, she profited greatly from her position as a mother. By caring personally for her children instead of placing them in separate households, she obtained extra lands and income in order to pay for their upkeep. The close relationships she cultivated with her children gave her influence over them and their extended network later in their lives. And even the image of Philippa as mother was used as propaganda in pieces of history. One of the most famous stories of Philippa’s life places her as a heavily pregnant woman pleading at the feet of her husband to spare the lives of the Frenchmen of Calais who had come under Edward’s wrath. The visceral image of a pregnant queen gave Philippa great political currency, and she was apparently able to succeed in intervening in politics in a way that none of the lords of Edward’s council were able to as a result.

Queen Philippa of Hainault begging her husband, Edward III to spare the lives of six burghers in 1347, coloured lithograph (1914), Wikimedia Commons

Whilst Philippa had found a way to carefully navigate the power and suspicion that being a lover of the king entailed, towards the end of her life another woman was to take up this mantle. Alice Perrers was one of Philippa’s ladies-in-waiting and not long after her arrival at court she became the king’s only known mistress. As a young, lower-class woman who was causing the king to sin in adultery, Alice was in a far more immoral position than Philippa. Philippa’s position as the king’s partner was sanctified by marriage and her coronation, blessed by the church, but Alice could not be further from this. Though the couple kept their relationship secret during the lifetime of the queen, it still nonetheless resulted in three children. Once Philippa died, Alice was thrust into the limelight of Edward’s court as he became more open to sharing the place Alice had in his heart.

Though Edward was very much in love with Alice and lavished her with attention and gifts, others were more conflicted by her position. As the only woman who now shared Edward’s bed, powerful men across Europe recognised Alice’s influential position and they were not shy to petition her for help. But many also found her undue influence distasteful. Thomas Walsingham, a monk and chronicler, criticised Alice’s ugly appearance and shameless behaviour as a loose woman, attributing her rise in favour with Edward to witchcraft and good luck.

Detail of Ford Madox Brown’s painting, ‘Chaucer at the court of King Edward III’ (1856-68), depicting Alice Perrers and Edward III, National Portrait Gallery via Wikimedia Commons

As if Alice’s position as a mistress was not bad enough, she had no qualms reminding those around her exactly how she gained her influence with the king. During her downfall and trial in Parliament, the men of Edward’s household described how Alice sat at the head of the king’s bed beside him, and how Edward sometimes seemed to change his mind overnight – a suggestion that a certain woman had entered his bedroom that night and changed it for him. Alice directed orders to the men around her from the same bed that she slept in with the king, and this overt reminder of her sexuality was severely disapproved of. Alice was not ashamed of her sexuality and the power it brought her, and this was brought into sharp contrast with the behaviour of the queen before her.

Ultimately, the womanly behaviour of both women was reflected in their subsequent legacies. Philippa was seen as the ideal queen who never mis-stepped, who blessed the kingdom with her generosity and fecundity, whilst Alice was despised for being a power-hungry woman who used sex to her advantage and had none of the shame and modesty a woman of her time should have. In looking back on their legacies and attempting to find their real stories, we need to remember just how important gender roles were in their reputations amongst their contemporaries – and make sure this doesn’t unfairly colour our modern opinion of them.

For UK readers, Gemma’s second book, The Queen and The Mistress: The Women of Edward III is out now, you can buy it from Amazon. For American readers, the book is due for release in Spring 2023.

You can find Gemma’s site here: http://www.justhistoryposts.com/.

You can find Gemma’s Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/JustHistoryPosts

You can also find Gemma on Twitter here: @GemmaHAuthor

Isabel and Hamelin de Warenne: a 12th century power couple, Guest Post by Sharon Bennett Connolly

In this latest guest post, I am very excited to welcome author and medieval historian, Sharon Bennett Connolly. You can view her own history blog by clicking the following link

Isabel de Warenne was the only surviving child of William de Warenne, 3rd Earl of Warenne and Surrey, and his wife Ela de Talvas. When her father died on the Second Crusade to the Holy Land, in around 1148, Isabel became 4th Countess of Surrey in her own right and one of the greatest heiresses in England and Normandy, with large estates in Yorkshire, Norfolk and Sussex.

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 Warenne coat of arms at Trinity Church Southover, author’s own image

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, in order to guarantee the Warenne lands for King Stephen’s cause, 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.

The young couple were of a similar age, being about 10 or 11 years old. 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. A charter issued in c.1148, in the name of William of Blois as earl of Surrey, had the proviso ‘that if God should bring back the earl [from the crusade] he [Reginald] would do his best to obtain the earl’s confirmation, or otherwise that of his lord earl William, the king’s son.’1 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 However, the young man was removed from the succession by his own father, in the interests of peace. Stephen made a deal with Empress Matilda’s son, Henry of Anjou, that the crown would go to him on Stephen’s death, thus restoring the rightful line of succession.

William seems to have been reluctant to accept this as there is some suggestion of his involvement in a plot against Henry later in 1154, during which William suffered a broken leg. In the event of Henry’s accession, though, William served Henry loyally, until his death, returning from the king’s campaign in Toulouse, in 1159.

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.

Seal of Isabel de Warenne, author’s own image

King Henry was not to be thwarted so easily in his plans to bring the Warenne lands into the royal family, proposing his illegitimate half-brother, Hamelin. The natural son of Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, Hamelin was born sometime around 1130, when Geoffrey was estranged from his wife, Empress Matilda. His mother was, possibly, Adelaide of Angers, though this is by no means certain. Geoffrey had a second illegitimate child, Emma, who may have been Hamelin’s full sister. Emma married the Welsh prince, Davydd ap Owain of Gwynedd.

Hamelin and Isabel married in April 1164; Isabel’s trousseau cost an impressive £41 10s 8d. In an unusual step, Hamelin took his wife’s surname and bore the titles Earl of Warenne and Surrey in her right, though was more habitually called Earl Warenne. Hamelin was incredibly loyal to Henry and his marriage to an heiress was reward for his support, whilst at the same time giving him position and influence within England.

Hamelin supported his brother the king in the contest of wills that Henry was engaged in with his archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket. When Henry called for the archbishop to appear at a great council at Northampton Castle on 12 October 1164, to answer to the charges laid against him, Hamelin was at the trial and spoke in support of his brother. Indeed, the new earl and the archbishop appear to have started a war of words; Hamelin defended Henry’s dignity and called Becket a traitor. The archbishop’s retort was ‘Were I a knight instead of a priest, my fist would prove you a liar!’ Ironically, it is thought that Hamelin’s denunciation of Becket was motivated by the injury caused to the royal family in Becket’s refusal to allow Henry’s brother, William – Hamelin’s half-brother – to marry Isabel de Warenne; who was now Hamelin’s wife.

Hamelin’s animosity to Becket was not to survive the archbishop’s martyrdom and he actively participated in the cult that grew up around Thomas Becket after his violent death. In later life, the earl claimed that the cloth covering Becket’s tomb had cured his blindness, caused by a cataract, in one eye.

Hamelin was an influential and active member of the English barony. He supported Henry during his sons’ rebellion in 1173 and formed part of the entourage which escorted the king’s daughter, Joanna, to Sicily for her marriage to King William. Hamelin remained close to the crown even after Henry’s death, supporting his nephew, Richard I. Hamelin was among the earls present at Richard’s first coronation in September 1189; and carried one of the three swords at his second coronation in April 1194. During Richard’s absence on Crusade, Hamelin sided with the Regent, William Longchamp, against the intrigues of Richard’s brother John. Hamelin held great store in the rule of law, attested by the legend on his seal, ‘pro lege, per lege’ (for the law, by the law). This adherence to the law explains Hamelin’s support for Longchamp against that of his own nephew, John, and even as the justiciar’s overzealous actions alienated others. Later, Hamelin was one of only two magnates entrusted by Eleanor of Aquitaine with the collection and storage of the king’s ransom, after he was captured by Duke Leopold of  Austria; the other was William d’Aubigny, Earl of Arundel. Hamelin’s involvement with the court continued into the reign of King John; he was present at John’s coronation and at Lincoln when William, King of Scots, gave his oath of homage in November 1200.

Conisbrough Castle, author’s own image

Away from court, Hamelin appears to have been an avid builder; he built a cylindrical keep at his manor of Mortemer in Normandy. He then constructed a larger and improved version, using all the latest techniques of castle design, at his manor of Conisbrough, South Yorkshire. He may also have been the one to build Peel Castle at Thorne, a hunting lodge which had a 3-sided donjon that was of smaller, but similar, design to Conisbrough. Hamelin spent a lot of time and money on Conisbrough Castle, which took almost 10 years to complete, and it appears to have been a favourite family residence. King John visited there in 1201, and two of Hamelin’s daughters married landowners from the nearby manors of Tickhill and Sprotborough.

Hamelin was also involved in a famous dispute with Hugh, abbot of Cluny, over the appointment of a new prior to St Pancras Priory, Lewes. Abbot Hugh was known as a man of great piety and honour; he had been prior of Lewes but became abbot of Cluny in 1199. In 1200, Abbot Hugh appointed one Alexander to the vacant position of prior of Lewes, but Hamelin refused to accept the nomination. In establishing the priory at Lewes, the abbots of Cluny had apparently reserved the right to appoint the prior, and to admit all monks seeking entry into the order; however, Hamelin claimed that the patronage of the priory belonged to him, and it was his right to appoint the prior.

The dispute dragged on, and it was only after intervention from King John that agreement was eventually reached whereby, should the position of prior become vacant, the earl and the monks should send representatives to the abbot, who would nominate two candidates, of whom the earl’s proctors should choose one to be appointed prior.

St Pancras Priory, Lewes, author’s own image

The marriage of Hamelin and Isabel appears to have been highly successful. They had four surviving children. Their son and heir, William, would become the 5th Earl of Surrey and married Matilda Marshal, eldest daughter of the great William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, regent for King Henry III. Ela married twice, firstly to a Robert de Newburn, of whom nothing else is known, and secondly to William Fitzwilliam of Sprotborough, a village just a few miles from Conisbrough. Isabel was married, firstly, to Robert de Lascy, who died in 1193, and secondly, no later than the spring of 1196, to Gilbert de Laigle, Lord of Pevensey.

Matilda married Henry, Count of Eu, who died around 1190; by Henry, she was the mother of Alice de Lusignan, who struggled to maintain her inheritance during the reign of King John, when another lord asserted his hereditary rights to her castle at Tickhill. Matilda then married Henry d’Estouteville, a Norman lord. One of the daughters – although it is not clear which – bore an illegitimate son, Richard Fitzroy, Baron Chilham, who was born, possibly, around 1190, by her cousin, John (the future King John). This must have caused considerable family tensions!

Hamelin died on 7th May 1202, in his early 70s and was buried in the chapter house at the family mausoleum of Lewes Priory, in Sussex. Isabel died in her mid-60s, in 1203, and was buried at Lewes Priory, alongside Hamelin. 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 Together, Hamelin and Isabel had played important roles in English politics for almost 40 years, all while raising a family and managing their vast estates which stretched from Yorkshire in the north to the south coast, and into Normandy.

Footnotes: Farrer, William and Charles Travis Clay, editors, Early Yorkshire Charters, Volume 8: The Honour of Warenneibid

Author bio:

Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS is the best-selling author of 4 non-fiction history books, her latest being Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey. A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Sharon also writes the popular history blog, www.historytheinterestingbits.com and is a feature writer for All About History magazine. Her TV work includes Australian Television’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?‘.

Links:

Blog: https://historytheinterestingbits.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Thehistorybits/

Twitter: @Thehistorybits

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sharonbennettconnolly/?hl=en

Amazon: http://viewauthor.at/SharonBennettConnolly

Out of the Shadows: Forgotten Nottinghamshire Castle Revealed Astonishing mediaeval castle at Greasley once rivalled Haddon Hall

Thank you to James Wright of Triskele Heritage for this press release, really exciting stuff here!

Archaeological survey work by Dr James Wright of Triskele Heritage, funded by the Castle Studies Trust, has revealed exciting new evidence that Greasley Castle in Nottinghamshire once rivalled world-famous Haddon Hall in size and appearance.


The castle, lying 8 miles to the north-west of Nottingham, was built in the mid-fourteenth century for the soldier and politician Nicholas de Cantelupe. “Greasley Castle is an enigmatic site,” says Dr Wright, “but the project has allowed us to understand this astonishing place for the first time.”


The survey shows that the site was a courtyard castle with corner turrets. It had a fine great hall accessed via an impressive doorway. The room was illuminated by tracery windows flanking an early example of a recessed fireplace. Fragments of stonework reveal that the decoration at the castle was magnificent and include carved head sculptures, moulded copings, and the crown of a vault.


The castle was a prestigious building that allowed Cantelupe to display his power and status. In 1343, Cantelupe hosted the archbishop of York at Greasley, along with several other bishops, earls and knights, during a ceremony to found nearby Beauvale Priory.


“The castle was very similar to Haddon Hall in Derbyshire,” states Wright, “it was built around the same time and the layout of the great hall is comparable. The owners of castles were often inspired by one another’s buildings – although Greasley was slightly bigger than Haddon.” Haddon Hall, the home of Lord and Lady Manners, is a beautifully preserved late mediaeval building known the world over due to its appearance in television and film as the location for productions including The Princess Bride, Pride and Prejudice and The Other Boleyn Girl.


In 1485, Greasley was confiscated Henry VII after a later owner of the castle – John Lord Zouche – supported the doomed Richard III at the battle of Bosworth. A century later, records show that the site had been turned into a farm. The survey has been able to identify the remains of the castle surviving among later farm buildings.


Jeremy Cunnington, of the Castle Studies Trust said: “The Castle Studies Trust is delighted to have funded this work and provide a good understanding of this important, but little understood castle. We hope it will provide a base from which others can build on to learn more about this significant Nottinghamshire castle.”


Sarah Seaton of Greasley Castle Farm History Project said: “Triskele Heritage have done amazing research on behalf of the Castle Studies Trust and we are so grateful to be able to finally share the story of such an important landmark with the wider community.”

The Castle Studies Trust is a charity and is fully funded by public donations. To learn more about these and previous projects the trust has funded people can visit the Trust’s website: http://www.castlestudiestrust.org

For more about Treskele Heritage, please visit their website: https://triskeleheritage.triskelepublishing.com

Home of the Yorks and the Death of a Queen – Fotheringhay Castle: Guest Post by Laura Adkins 

For a short series related to Mary Queen of Scots, I’m pleased to welcome Laura Adkins, creator of the For The Love of History Blog. I have been able to do a few guests posts for myself. She has worked at many historical sites and mainly posts about sites found in Essex, her home county. Do check her blog out if you can, I promise you it’s a very enjoyable read.

This post also follows on from a previous post on the Babington Plot, for which Mary was convicted of treason for exchanging letters. That can be found here. To find out more about Francis Walsingham, the spymaster who helped discover the plot and arrest Mary for Treason, please click here.

Standing on top of the mound which was once part of the castle of Fotheringhay one feels at peace. The surrounding views of the countryside and the River Nene are picturesque and calming. Unfortunately like many castles, Fotheringhay lost its purpose and was eventually dismantled with its stonework being repurposed elsewhere. Today all that remains is the mound and a piece of stonework. Not much for a place with such a history, one event in particular, the execution of an anointed queen – Mary, Queen of Scots.

Mary had been a prisoner in England ever since fleeing Scotland in April 1568. She thought she would get assistance from her cousin Elizabeth I, however, things turned out differently. Mary and Elizabeth were both descended from Henry VII (Elizabeth his granddaughter and Mary his great-granddaughter) and so Mary had a claim to the English throne and more dangerous to Elizabeth she was a Catholic. What led to Elizabeth finally agreeing to execute Mary was the evidence of her part in the Babington plot. A catholic plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth and place Mary on the English throne. Letters were intercepted between Mary and Anthony Babington discussing said plot by Elizabeth’s spy Francis Walsingham and it was these letters that sealed her fate. Mary was moved to Fotheringhay on 25th September 1586.

Remains of Fotheringhay Castle, Author’s Own Image

In its heyday Fotheringhay was the main home of the Dukes of York. It entered the hands of the Earl of Northampton in the 12th century and was incorporated into the Dukedom of York from 1385 which is where it stayed for many centuries. It was where the future King Richard III was born.

Fotheringhay is primarily a motte and bailey castle in design with a double moat. Like many castles, it had a number of changes and developments in its time with the biggest changes by Edmund of Langley (1st Duke of York). He had the castle rebuilt and enlarged. Its shape was that of a fetterlock, the symbol of the Yorks.  Within its walls were accommodation suites, kitchens, breweries, bakehouses, drawbridge, chapel, stables and a number of other buildings one expects in the function of a castle estate. Sadly none now remain. The great hall, where the trial and execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, was held is thought to be located to the south-east of the mound.

In July 1476 the Castle was host to one of the biggest events in its history – the reburial of Richard, Duke of York and his son  Edmund, Earl of Rutland. They were both killed in the battle of Wakefield with Richard’s head being placed on a pike at Micklegate, York. He was initially buried in Pontefract. Around 1,500 guests would attend the service including the king and royal family, nobles and bishops. Fotheringhay would have never seen anything like it (Hicks, M 2001). It is said that ‘King Edward IV, dressed in a dark blue hooded mourning habit trimmed with fur. The King ‘very humbly did his obeisance to the said body and laid his hand on the body and kissed it, weeping’. (Wakefield historical society)

Nearby the Castle and still in existence today is the New Inn, a beautiful 15th-century farmhouse.  This would have been where some of the guests stayed for the reburial. It is even believed that Mary’s executioner may have been there the night before her death.

Guest House as seen from Castle, Author’s Own Image

Maybe the Castle’s life went with Mary on that fateful day of 8th February 1587, Mary had only been informed the previous day that she was to be executed the following morning. ‘this was to be her greatest performance, her greatest triumph; she had considered every detail’(Guy, J 2004, p2). Her execution was well documented from her words, actions and what she wore.

About nine a.m., came that sweet saint and martyr, led like a lamb to the butchery, attired in a gown of black satin embroidered with a French kind of embroidery of black velvet; her hair seemly trussed up with a veil of white lawn, which covered her head and all her other apparel down to the foot. (Catholic report of queen mary’s execution by an anonymous “Catholic witness” present at the execution.)

[She asked her servants to] rejoice and pray for her…’

‘… I die a true woman to my religion and like a true scot woman and true french women’ – to Sir Amias Paulet, her steward.

The scaffold was 2 foot high by 12-foot square covered in black cotton sheets. The story goes that It was not one blow of the axe but two in addition to the executioner having to use his dagger to cut through the remaining cartilage which finally removed her head from her body. Upon lifting her head up to show the witnesses her lips were still moving in prayer and her head fell from the executioner’s grasp, revealing a head of grey hair and leaving the auburn wig held aloft.

Drawing of the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots, in the Great Chamber at Fotheringhay Castle, co. Northants., 14-15 October 1586, British Library, Wikimedia Commons

Although she had lost everything in her life she left behind a son who became King James I of England on the death of Elizabeth. A king who, if raised by his mother, would most likely have been catholic and brought about a different course of history.

Fotheringhay today may be a peaceful, picturesque location but a place where history was made and the walls may no longer be standing but the earth underneath remembers.

Sources:

Dunn, J (2004) Elizabeth and Mary. Harper Perennial; London

Guy, J (2004) My heart is my own; London

Hicks, M (2001) Richard III. The History Press; Gloucester.

Licence, A (2015) Cecily Neville. Amberly; Gloucester

Wier, A (2009) Lancaster and York. Vintage Books; London

Abernethy, S  (2015) The History of Fotheringhay Castle.  Available from: https://thefreelancehistorywriter.com/2015/02/06/the-history-of-fotheringhay-castle/ [accessed 01/12/2021]

Anon (2019) Fotheringhay Castle. Available from: http://www.castlesfortsbattles.co.uk/midlands/fotheringhay_castle.html [accessed 01/12/2021]

Anon (nd) Fotheringhay – The Mausoleum of the House of York. Available from:  https://www.englishmonarchs.co.uk/fotheringhay.html [accessed 10/12/2021]

Morris, S (2019) Fotheringhay Castle: The Final Dark Act of a Scottish Tragedy

https://thetudortravelguide.com/2019/02/02/fotheringhay-castle-the-final-dark-act-of-a-scottish-tragedy/ [accessed 01/12/2021]

Pendrill,C (nd) Death in Fotheringhay. Available from:  https://thefriendsoffotheringhaychurch.com/history/ [accessed 27/12/2021]

Wakefield Historical Society. (nd) Pontefract to Fotheringhay. Available from: https://www.wakefieldhistoricalsociety.org.uk/ [accessed 27/12/2021]

White, L 2014) The Fotheringhay Boars. Available from: https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/2014/11/13/the-fotheringhay-boars/ [Accessed 03/01/2022]

End of 2021 Thanks and Update

For me, just like everyone else, 2021 has been yet another hard year. I sincerely hope that 2022 is a better year for all of us, although I definitely remember saying the same thing at the end of 2020. I have been suffering from a foot injury since May, which is only just starting to get a bit better. Sadly that has meant not being able to do much and certainly not drive, which has been the most frustrating. At least it has meant I have had more of an opportunity to write more when I can.

Before I go on to give a further update on things, I just want to take the time to thank each and every person who has read, shared, liked and followed the blog this year. It genuinely has meant to much to me that the blog has brought people enjoyment through such tough times. This year has been the best year for views since I started this blog three years ago. The best post of all this year has been on Brushy Bill Roberts, a man who claimed to be the infamous Billy the Kid. That can be read here. All that is down to all of you readers, so sending lots of virtual love and hugs your way!

Photograph of Brushy Bill Roberts

A new thing this year has been guest posts from other writers. It has meant a lot to me that others have wanted to contribute in various ways. I’ve certainly enjoyed hosting them, so I hope you’ve also enjoyed the very interesting content they’ve created, just as much as I have reading them too. Look out for more of this next year too, with lots more interesting topics. I can definitely promise you that! I have also done quite a few guest posts on other blogs, which has also been an honour.

Another wonderful first was attending the Jane Austen festival in Bath. I should have visited last year, but Covid circumstances meant it was cancelled. As a lifetime Jane Austen fan, this was something I really wanted to do. My sister made our dresses and I must admit she made did a brilliant job with them considering she’d never really sewed historical costumes before. I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested, even if it was just to witness the amount of people in Regency dress walking around Bath.

There have been lots of firsts this year too. I’ve also done two of my first ever online talks on my research into the life of Anthony Woodville, brother of Queen Elizabeth Woodville, the wife of Edward IV. I never would have thought that possible not long ago. One was alongside author and historian, Michele Schindler, for the Be Bold History Network, on the connection between Anthony and Richard III and Francis Lovell, the most trusted friend of Richard. This can be viewed here if you would like. The other I did was a brief talk based on an academic poster for this year’s conference held by the Royal Studies Network based on Anthony’s role as educator of Edward V. Another first for me was being a guest on the Tudor Dynasty podcast on William Caxton’s contribution to printing in England in the late fifteenth century, with lots of mention of Edward IV and Anthony Woodville thrown in. If you’d like to listen to that, it can be found here.

The most exciting announcement I have to make is one that means the world to me. For the last seven years, I have been researching about the life of Anthony Woodville, with the dream of one day writing a book on this often overlooked figure from the Wars of the Roses. I approached a publisher back in 2019 with little success, but this summer, I decided to try again with a different publisher. Earlier this month, I found that it has been accepted and it has a hand in date of May 2023. I hope that in the future, you will look forward to this as this project honestly means so much to me. Thank you for all of you who have so far supported my research, it will be of so much help whilst writing the book. Special mention must go to Kevin and Alan, volunteers at Pontefract and Sandal Castles, who have already been extremely helpful. They have been creating a very useful website on the history of both sites. It can be found here.

Portrait of a young gentleman, said to be Anthony Babington, Wikimedia Commons

This shouldn’t hinder the blog, so I hope that you can continue to enjoy the blog in the coming year. There are lots of interesting topics planned ranging from Victorian prison hulks, medieval London, to pioneering women. I hope they’ll be something there for you to enjoy. The first posts coming in January 2022 are linked to Mary Queen of Scots, including one about Anthony Babington, a local landowner that once owned my hometown in Derbyshire, who was involved in the Catholic plot that resulted in the execution of Mary Queen of Scots.

All that is left now is to wish you all a healthy and much better 2022. May it be a better one for all of us. Most importantly, thank you all once again for your support over the last year. Each and every view, like and share means a lot to me, so I pass on my hearty thanks and love to all of you.

Transmitting the Tunnel Tale: Why Stories of Secret Passages Stick, Guest Post by James Wright

Tunnel at Ashby de la Zouch, Leicestershire

During the 2000s, I worked for the archaeological department at an English local authority. As a public-facing organisation we would receive many requests from individuals seeking advice on various matters. One of the most regular enquiries would involve telephone calls from excited individuals who would breathlessly announce that, during routine excavations, they had uncovered a mediaeval secret passage! Inevitably, sightings had been taken down the tunnel and it was certain to be on the same alignment as well-known historic landmarks such as the local timber-framed pub and the castle on the hill.

A member of our team would be dispatched to view the mighty subterranean labyrinth which, without fail, would turn out to be a small, brick-lined, drain dating to the nineteenth century. Despite such prosaic realities, we continued to receive similar calls at a rate of perhaps one or two every month for many years. There were so many reports that we began to keep a log which became known as The Tiny Book of Tiny Tunnels.

“Escape Tunnels”

Whilst writing the Mediaeval Mythbusting Blog it has become apparent that tales of mysterious underground tunnels are ubiquitous. Literally every single hamlet, village, town and city – including Stone (Staffordshire) and Guildford (Surrey) – have such folklore. Sometimes “discoveries” reach the desks of mainstream media journalists such as apparent secret passages near Tintern (Monmouthshire) or Burton upon Trent (Staffordshire). Many stories apparently involve significant delvings across miles of landscape. For example, there are documented tales of “escape tunnels” connecting Wigmore Castle and Abbey in Herefordshire (1.3 miles), St Radegund’s Abbey and Dover Castle in Kent (3 miles) or Framlingham Castle and Leiston Abbey in Suffolk (9.8 miles).

Leiston Abbey in Suffolk

The impracticality of such construction projects is staggering. Why would such a tunnel be required? How would such a vast scheme be kept secret? Where would the spoil be put? How would the passage be maintained, ventilated and kept dry? How on earth would pre-modern engineers have managed such a venture? These are questions which seldom trouble the minds of those who repeat such tales and yet the stories remain stunningly popular across the country. Why is this?

Making the Story Stick

Ideas which become embedded in a societal consciousness, despite little or no critical evaluation, are commonly known as urban myths. Formerly transmitted as oral accounts, over the last two decades the phenomenon has been given renewed prominence by the ease of immediate information sharing on internet platforms. Sadly, fact-checking has not had a similar Renaissance, and, despite the availability of data, misinformation thrives online.

In their 2007 book, Made to Stick, American researchers, Chip and Dan Heath, have posited that the spread of dubious information can take a firm hold if it includes a Simple central message coupled to data that is Unexpected, Concrete, Credible and appeals to our Emotions to create memorable Stories (handily, forming the acronym SUCCESs). Such stories will be received openly by a large percentage of the population – even if they are demonstrably untrue (Heath & Heath 2007, 14-19).

Ten years after the Heath brothers’ published their analysis, “Fake News” was made Word of the Year by Collins English Dictionary in reaction to (the twice-impeached former American president) Donald Trump’s attempts to discredit media reports of his extraordinary behaviour. Meanwhile, Trump’s own media team broadcast “alternative facts” – dangerously simple ideas, with little basis in truth and reality, that were lapped up by his credulous fanbase. It is often said that we live in a post-truth era in which the measured opinion of expertise is rejected in favour of information which confirms established systems of belief based on emotions. This phenomenon can also be identified when assessing tall tales connected to mediaeval buildings

Second-hand Reporting

Nineteenth century brick drains aside, the vast number of hidden secret tunnel stories are not reported by primary sources and are usually related a long time after the proposed events. The great cataloguer of secret passages, Jeremy Errand (1974, 105), noted that: “The existence of many passages is vouched for only by the memories of boyhood exploration.” Which takes us right back into an age of frolicking innocence.

The second-hand recollections of hunting through apparent secret passages in childhood must give us pause for consideration. Can the distant memories of others even be trusted? Neuropsychologists, such as Tim Rogers of the University of Wisconsin-Madison,  warn us that the distance of time can create a cognitive dissonance: “False memory studies show us that our memory is always a blend of what we know about the world generally, plus what we retain of a recent experience”. Such an observation chimes well with those of the Heaths – there is a willingness to believe the distant recollections of others if they are communicated effectively and confirm an established view of the world. Most people are not expert in mediaeval architecture and are therefore susceptible to readily accept stories of secret passages if they are delivered credibly.

Despite the widespread use of oral history as a valid technique in studying the past through memory, we must be mindful before taking second-hand reports at face value, especially when they are not recorded in a rigorous, scientifically controlled, environment (Howarth 1999, 11-46). In retelling distant memories of other people, it may be the case that those repeating the stories do not wish to directly associate themselves with information that they, consciously or unconsciously, perceive may not be entirely accurate (even if they would like them to be so).

Stories of hidden tunnels capture the imagination of the public successfully. We can apply the Heath brothers’ SUCCESs analysis to the subject by assessing the sentence: ‘secret passage between castle and pub discovered by young boy playing in fields.’ It forms a Simple passage packed with hook-laden information that is Unexpected (“secret passage”), Concrete (“between castle and pub”), Credible (“discovered by”), and plays on our Emotions (“young boy playing in fields”) to create a memorable Story. Notably, the tale is only 13 words long, but the rebuttal of this blog is significantly longer.

If you want to make a story stick, keep it short.

Conclusions

The desire to pass on tall tales relating to mediaeval buildings is rarely malicious and may be linked to a sense of whimsy, romance, nostalgia, or loyalty to the person who originally told the story (especially if they were a loved one). The Heaths have pointed to a simple formula which can explain how and why stories are successfully transmitted. However, in the case of commonly repeated secret passage tales, that formula probably has a very strong ally in the traditions of western storytelling.

Lud’s Church in Staffordshire

The adventurous narratives of secret passages are a long-lived feature of our cultural experience. Mediaeval tales incorporating subterranean themes include the Mabinogion, Green Children of Woolpit or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Many novels such as John Meade Faulkner’s Moonfleet, Kenneth Graham’s The Wind in the Willows, Enid Blyton’s Five on Finniston Farm, Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows incorporate hidden tunnels. Latterly, films such as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Clue and Skyfall all feature secret tunnels.

Exciting adventure stories can leave lasting effects – especially when first encountered at a young age. This can be coupled to a desire for wish fulfilment by linking prosaic and mundane realities to a hoped-for adventurous and fantastical world. This technique of storytelling is one of the reasons why novelists who intermingle real and magical worlds – incorporating secret passages – such as J. K. Rowling and Alan Garner are so successful.

References

Errand, J., Secret Passages and Hiding Places. David & Charles. London

Heath, C. & Heath, D., 2007, Made to Stick: How Some Ideas Take Hold and Others Come Unstuck. Random House. London.

Howarth, K., 1999, Oral History. Sutton. Stroud.

About the author

James Wright (Triskele Heritage) is an award-winning buildings archaeologist who frequently writes and lectures of the subject of mediaeval building myths. He has two decades professional experience of ferreting around in people’s cellars, hunting through their attics and digging up their gardens. He hopes to find meaningful truths about how ordinary and extraordinary folk lived their lives in the mediaeval period.

He welcomes contact through Twitter or email.

Audley End- Aristocrats, Avenues and Espionage: a Guest Post by Laura Adkins

This guest post has kindly been written by Laura Adkins, the creator of the For The Love of History Blog, which I have been able to do a few guests posts for myself. She has worked at many historical sites and mainly posts about ones found in Essex, her home county. Do check her blog out if you can, I promise you it’s a very enjoyable read.

One of the grandest houses in England, Audley End stands proudly in the countryside of Saffron Walden. Its origins date back to the 10th Century, where it began life as Walden Abbey, given to Thomas, Lord Audley, by Henry VIII, who converted the monastery into a house. 

The rooms are high and hung with beautiful tapestries: the beds amply decorated with golden velvet and silk bed hangings and covers.’

From the account of the visit of Johann Ernst, Duke of Saxe-Weimar, to Audley End, September 1613

In this post, I will be exploring three parts of Audley’s history, those who lived there – the Howards, its beautiful gardens designed by the one and only Capability Brown and its role in WW2 and the polish resistance.

Aristocrats:

The creator of the current structure of Audley End was Thomas Howard, part of the infamous Howard family. He inherited the House in 1605 and set about transforming the site into a country estate fit enough for royalty as he wanted to show off his wealth. Unfortunately, not much survives of his transformations and what we know from his estate comes from archives and documentary evidence. We know work began in 1605 and completed around 1614. Along with his uncle Henry Howard and Bernard Janssen, a Flemish mason, the three set about creating one of the greatest houses in Jacobean England.[1] Audley End had all the parts one expects in a Jacobean Mansion including symmetrical inner court, lodgings for his guests, including one for both the King and a separate one for the Queen for when they would stay. Today the house is only half the size of what it once was.

Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Suffolk by Unknown Artist, National Portrait Gallery

The Howard family’s rise to power began in 1483, when King Richard III created John Howard the Duke of Norfolk. This was the third time that the Title of Duke of Norfolk had been used, and John had blood links to the first ever Duke of Norfolk – Thomas Mowbray (made 1st Duke of Norfolk in 1397). The head of the Howards would not only hold the title of Duke of Norfolk, but that of Earl of Arundel, Earl of Surrey, and Earl of Norfolk in addition to holding six baronies. They were a powerful family, who in the reign of the Tudors were ones to watch out for. Thomas Howard, son of John would be successful in defeating the Scots at the Battle of Flodden with two of his nieces – Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard being married to King Henry VIII. Charles Howard, 1st Earl of Nottingham, would hold the title of Lord Admiral and lead the English against the invasion of the Spanish Armada in 1588. For more on this infamous family, I suggest reading House of Treason by Robert Hutchinson.

In 1751, after the 10th Earl’s death, Elizabeth, Countess of Portsmouth brought Audley End which in turn would be inherited by her nephew, Sir John Griffin Whitwell, on the agreement that he took the surname of Griffin. John was a retired soldier and MP for Andover. He had fought and was wounded at the Battle of Kloster Kampen in 1760 during the Seven Years War.

Sir John, who became Lord Howard, would make more transformations to Audley End, most of which is what we can see today. He hired the architect Robert Adam to transform the house and Capability Brown the landscape. Adam’s work can be seen in the ground floor reception rooms on the south front today. Over time, Sir John started to pick up the architectural bug and his second wife, Katherine the decor. They both, respectively, became amateur architect and decorator and thus set about making many of their own changes to the house. The central range was rebuilt to reconnect the two wings of the house, along with a unique service gallery and detached service wing, all under the eye of Sir John.

Audley End would be one of the first houses to have a flushing water closet (installed in 1775) along with a bell system for the family of the house to call their domestic staff. Today, much of what can be seen at Audley End is a result of Richard Neville, who in the 1820s remodelled the house taking it back to its Jacobean roots.

Audley End, Wikimedia Commons

Avenues:

The beginnings of formal gardens at Audley End were started during the conversion of the monastery into house. It would be Elizabeth, Countess of Portsmouth, who would begin the transformation of the gardens into a more formal landscape. However, the landscape that we see today was mostly the result of one Capability Brown.

I mentioned above that in 1763, Griffin hired John Adam to assist with the interior development, he had Capability Brown do the same with the estate. Brown’s brief was to widen the river running through the estate, building a ha-ha and transforming the overall look of the gardens into Brown’s ‘naturalistic style’. He would create new roads towards the house, including one with a bridge, which was designed by Adam’s and is a Grade I listed structure. Brown was to be paid £660 (around £1,150,000 today) for his work in three payments, the last being on completion.

The two would eventually fall out with the result being Griffin dismissing Brown and getting the unknown Joseph Hicks to finish the work. However, the elements of Brown’s work are there for all to see and appreciate, including sweeps of grass, water flowing towards the house, long curving drives with stunning views for visitors and wooded areas to hide service buildings.

Espionage:

When I visited Audley End many years ago, I did not really pay much attention to a monument within the estate, remembering fallen soldiers from WW2. It was not until planning this post that Danielle mentioned the Polish secret missions that made me go back and re look at Audley End’s history in the 20th Century.

In 1941, like a number of other country estates, Audley End was requisitioned by the Army to be used as a training facility. By 1943, those who trained there was exclusively Polish Soldiers. They were undergoing training to assist them when they were secretly returned to German occupied Poland and assist the Polish resistance.

WWII Reenactment at Audley End

Code named station 43 (overseen by the Special Operations Executive), the Polish agents, under the command of Captain Alfons Mackowiak (Alan Mack). They would undergo various training in guerrilla warfare which included close combat, assignation, forgery, planting booby traps and of course learning how to parachute out of a plane. In total 527 soldiers passed the training and were sent into Poland. Sadly, 108 of these were either killed in action or at concentration camps and are remembered on the memorial I mentioned above. The soldiers would be known as the Cichociemni (the silent and Unseen). They would be involved in many missions, including recovering a German V2 rocket and smuggling into England.

‘Between 1942 and 1944 Polish members of the Special Operations Executive trained in this house for missions in their homeland. This memorial commemorates those who parachuted into enemy occupied Poland and gave their lives for the freedom of this and their own country.’ Listed Grade II © Historic England Archive PLB/K030323

In 1948, the house was handed over to the nation. Today it is managed by English Heritage, and accessible to the public, for more information on visiting times, exhibitions and events head to https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/audley-end-house-and-gardens/

[1] Drury, P (…) English Heritage Guidebooks – Audley End

Sources:

Borger, J (2016) Honouring ‘silent and unseen’ fighters who led Polish resistance. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jun/10/honouring-poland-silent-unseen-fighters-resistance-nazi-british [Accessed 04.08/20]

English Heritage (2020) Audley End House and Gardens. Available from:  www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/audley-end-house-and-gardens/ [Accessed 25/07/20]

Historic England (2020) Audley End. Available from: historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1000312 [Accessed 25/07/20]

Historic England (2019) The Secret War: Resistance in Britain During the Second World War. Avalbne from: https://heritagecalling.com/2019/11/05/the-secret-war-resistance-in-britain-during-the-second-world-war/ [Accessed 05/08/20] Landscape Institute(2016) About Capability Brown. Available from:  http://www.capabilitybrown.org/  [Accessed 4/8/20]