Glastonbury and its Connections to the Hymn Jerusalem

First of all, Happy Easter, whether you celebrate Easter as a Christian festival like I do, or not. In honour of the season, I thought I would share the Christian legend connected to the hymn, Jerusalem. The hymn has become an unofficial national anthem of England and is seen as something very patriotic, having been sung at all sorts of events, including the London Olympics, royal weddings and the last night of the proms. It is perhaps also well known for being the anthem of the Women’s Institute, which adopted it in 1924.[1] Since then, the hymn has come to represent an idyllic England. It is within this patriotic context that the song, composed by Charles Hubert Parry, has been understood for over a hundred years since it was first debuted in March 1916, but have you ever stopped to think about what the words really mean?

The lyrics mainly come from Milton, an epic poem William Blake wrote in the early 1800s, especially the famous line “dark satanic mills”. Since the patriotic connotations became associated with the hymn, the dark satanic mills in particular has come to represent Britain’s Industrial Revolution, but in Blake’s format, it was really intended to be an allegory for Satan himself, who was a miller who ground souls.[2] Another famous line, “did those feet in ancient times”, is steeped in centuries old legend that Joseph of Arimathea, the man who gave his tomb up to hold the body of Jesus following the crucifixion, came to England and established the country’s oldest church at Glastonbury in Somerset.

View of the Abbot’s Kitchen Glastonbury, Somersetshire dated March 16 1761 from the King’s Topographical Collection at the British Library

During the medieval period, Glastonbury was a huge place of pilgrimage because of its abbey. The abbey not only had connections to Joseph of Arimathea, but in 1184, a fire hit. It was during restoration work following the fire that the graves of the legendary King Arthur and Queen Guinivere were found. Both of these links brought fame and drew on beliefs at the time. Whilst the theme of Arthurian legends and the belief of Glastonbury as being Avalon, where Arthur was buried, are interesting in their own right, there isn’t time to delve into those in this blog post, so I’ll just stick the Joseph connection. However, if you are interested in that, do feel free to research that for yourself.

According to legend, Joseph came either with a younger Jesus, or following his death and brought the Holy Grail with him, to set up a church, which later developed into what became the abbey.[3] If we follow the legend of the Holy Grail, Joseph buried the Grail at what is now known as Chalice Well. It is there that the water runs red, the colour of blood, linked with the blood of Christ. Whilst this colour is also created by the iron that runs through the water, it is clear to see why people in the past would have believed this.

Chalice Well, Glastonbury (2005), John Vigar, Wikimedia Commons

The other legend connected to Joseph is the Glastonbury Thorn Tree. It is said that on a hill just outside of the town called Wearyall Hill, Joseph’s staff turned into a thorn tree, which is a variety found in the Holy Lands.[4] What makes this tree miraculous is that it flowers twice a year: at Easter and Christmas, even though Easter changes its date ever year. Before Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries from 1536, there were known to have been three trees on Wearyall, but by the 1600s, there was only one left. When the English Civil Wars were raging, the Parliamentarian forces, who were mainly Puritans that followed strict doctrines, destroyed the Glastonbury Thorn. Luckily, local residents had taken cuttings and a replacements descended from the original were later planted, but many have either died or tragically been vandalised. There are many around the town, including one in the abbey grounds, but there is also one main one at Glastonbury’s parish church. Most monarchs since the seventeenth century, other than when the Parliamentarians ruled following the Civil War, have been gifted a cutting at Christmas to use for decoration, a tradition started when Anne of Demark, wife of James I, was gifted one.[5]

These legends originate from the fact that there was a large Jewish community in the West of England in the time following on from the crucifixion, many believed to have been tin miners in the region.[6] Whilst this may be the case, is there any truth to these tales? They cannot be totally proved or disproved with the passing of time and as there is faith behind them, I believe it is only fair to leave it up to individuals to make up their mind on this. However, an article written in 2018 about archaeological explorations made by the University of Reading at Glastonbury Abbey holds an interesting take on this. The origins of the Abbey were originally thought to date back to around 700 AD. In their excavations, they found the remnants of a pre-Saxon timber building on the outskirts of the later abbey complex. Within this they found fragments of later Roman pottery, showing links with the Mediterranean, and much earlier burials than expected.[7] These excavations have now dated the origins of the site to around 450 AD, nearly 300 years earlier than previously thought.[8]

A Holy Thorn beneath up the tower of St John the Baptist parish church (2009), geography.org.uk via Wikimedia Commons

Whilst this may not prove the Joseph of Arimathea legends, it does show that perhaps there was a much more ancient place of Christian worship than was previously thought. It showed that William of Malmesbury, an historian writing in the 1100s, was right when he noted an early church on the site at Glastonbury, which he said was the oldest he had ever witnessed himself.[9] Whatever the truth of the matter, there is no denying that Glastonbury does hold some sense of spirituality and mysticism to it, something which I can promise you can still feel today if you visit. As the hymn Jerusalem says, ‘did those feet in ancient times’, i.e. the feet of Joseph, come to England, bring Christ or Christianity with him, who knows, but hopefully this post has made you think a bit differently about that famous song.


[1] Whittaker, Jason, ‘Almost Everything You Knew about the Hymn Jerusalem is Wrong’, Prospect, 26 December 2019, https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/arts-and-books/almost-everything-you-know-about-the-hymn-jerusalem-is-wrong

[2] Ibid

[3]  ‘Myths and Legends’, Glastonbury Abbey, https://www.glastonburyabbey.com/myths-and-legends.php

[4] Ibid; Johnson, Ben, ‘Glastonbury, Somerset’, Historic UK, https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryMagazine/DestinationsUK/Glastonbury/#:~:text=The%20legend%20of%20the%20Holy,the%20site%20of%20Glastonbury%20Cathedral.

[5] ‘Myths and Legends’, Glastonbury Abbey, https://www.glastonburyabbey.com/myths-and-legends.php

[6] Ross, David, ‘Legends of Glastonbury- Joseph of Arimathea’, Britain Express, https://www.britainexpress.com/Myths/Glastonbury.htm

[7] Gilchrist, Roberta, ‘Glastonbury: Archaeology is Revealing New Truths about the Origins of British Christianity’, The Conversation, 23 March 2018, https://theconversation.com/glastonbury-archaeology-is-revealing-new-truths-about-the-origins-of-british-christianity-93805

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

A Historical Themed Weekend in Ludlow, Shropshire

As some of you will already know, I’m currently writing a biography on Anthony Woodville, a fifteenth century knight and man of letters, who was the brother of Queen Elizabeth Woodville, and brother-in-law of Edward IV. It should be out sometime next year, when it’s finished that is! This was the inspiration for a weekend away in Ludlow, Shropshire, mainly to go back to the castle there and take photographs of it for the book. Anthony was the head of the household of Edward, Prince of Wales, his nephew, who lived there for ten years until 1483. I have visited before, back in 2018, but it was great to be back in much better weather than before, but also to think about it in terms of what Anthony’s experience there would have been like. I don’t think we could have timed it better as we had the warmest weekend in March since the 1920s! Anyway, as I did a lot of history related things and enjoyed every minute of it, I thought I’d share what we did whilst there.

View of Ludlow Castle from the apartment, Author’s own image

We stayed on the grounds of Ludlow Castle inside what is known as Castle House. This part of the castle is along the entrance, and includes what is now the café, gallery shop, and the apartments where I stayed with my parents and sister. There are three apartments you can stay in, all suitably named after people connected with the castle. Our apartment, named Arthur and Catherine after Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon, who honeymooned at the castle after their wedding, had beautiful views looking towards the rest of the castle and out across the Shropshire countryside. I’m not going to deny that the accommodation was expensive, but this visit was a once in a lifetime chance to stay at a place I’m writing and researching about. I’m really glad I did as the apartment was lovely and very spacious. The views and peacefulness, whilst being right in the centre of town and only a walk away from everything, was fantastic as well. If you would like to stay in Ludlow yourself, there are lots of other great options around the town and last time, we did stay in a pub just 15 minutes away, which was also a good place to stay.

The first place we visited was Stokesay Castle, which is owned by English Heritage. I had also previously visited here, but was keen to go back as even though it is a small site, it has a lovely and somewhat homely atmosphere. Stokesay was built at the end of the thirteenth century by Laurence of Ludlow, a local wealthy merchant, said to have been one of the wealthiest men at the time. It’s survival is wonderful and really makes you feel what medieval life would have been like. It also underwent renovations during the Stuart era, so look out for the seventeenth century panelling in the Solar, which would have been the private area of the castle. As someone who loves both the medieval and Stuart periods, I must admit I was a little in my element. Also remember the lovely Stuart era gatehouse, which someone kindly told me that until English Heritage took over the site fully, the lady who granted them part ownership still lived in this part until her death in 1992. This whole place is really so photogenic though, so do make sure you’ve got your camera!

Stokesay Castle Gatehouse, Author’s own image

We also went inside the church next door. It was very small as it once served as the chapel for Stokesay Castle. Despite its size but just wonderfully formed. Despite enduring the English Civil War, the church was not wrecked by the Puritans and is an excellent example of how seventeenth century churches would look, complete with original box pews. Sorry to sound a bit nerdy, but I must admit I got excited by this as it’s the first time I remember ever seeing proper box pews. As well as the pews, there are also wall paintings of the ten commandments, another rarity in English churches. Another thing to keep an eye out for is some of the interesting gravestones and memorials dotted around the churchyard. Make sure you have a read of the ones with coats of arms that are on the side of the church, there’s a wonderful story about an incredibly long marriage for the time.

Of course we also visited Ludlow Castle itself. As we stayed in the apartments, we got free entry, so that was a plus sign. It also meant we didn’t have the worry of how long we would be there for as we only had to walk around the corner back to our apartment. The castle itself dates back to Norman period, when it was founded by the de Lacy family. Due to the age of the site, it’s impossible to go through the entire history of the castle, but the reason I have a particular interest in it was that it was a Yorkist stronghold during the Wars of the Roses. Richard, Duke of York, the father of Edward IV and Richard III, had inherited the castle from his Mortimer family ancestors. He established it as the administrative base for his lands in the region. In 1459, Richard was in the castle, with his forces preparing for the Battle of Ludford Bridge, named after one of the bridges into Ludlow. However, the Yorkists retreated before any serious action, as they feared being outnumbered. When his eldest son, Edward, became King Edward IV, the castle reverted into Royal hands. As mentioned previously, Edward chose the castle as the place to bring up his heir, Prince Edward, under the guidance of his uncle, Anthony Woodville, and others. The castle is perhaps best known as the deathplace of Prince Arthur, the eldest brother of Henry VIII.

Ludlow Castle as viewed from Dinham Bridge, Author’s own image

Ludlow Castle is now a ruin as it was neglected after the Council of the Marches, the administrative body set up to rule Welsh borders, was removed in 1641, around two hundred years after its creation. However, I must admit they are picturesque ruins! If possible, I would recommend talking the footpath that goes round the side of the castle and down to the river. This gives lovely views and also goes down to Dinham Bridge, another ancient bridge. If you walk down to either this bridge or Ludford Bridge, you will walk past lots of historic buildings. I’ve never seen so many blue plaques, which detail the history behind them. Mostly they are a mix of medieval or Tudor, with lots of Georgian ones mixed in. Keep an eye out for the lovely looking Dinham House, which once housed Lucien Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon, who was kept under house arrest there.

A short walk away from the castle is the parish church of St Lawrence. This again is a real treat and is such a beautiful place. A church is said to have stood on this site since Saxton times, but most of what you see is a mixture of Norman and Medieval. It is a very impressive church and is famous for the stained glass windows of Richard Duke of York, Edward IV, Prince Edward and Prince Arthur. Prince Arthur’s heart was also buried here after his death, with his body being buried at Worcester Cathedral, just over 30 miles away. Volunteer guides are dotted around to answer any questions you may have, so please make use of their wonderful knowledge.

Some of the stained glass windows at St Laurence’s Church in Ludlow, Author’s own image

Ludlow is also full of lots of lovely places to eat, including pubs, cafes and restaurants. There are definitely so many options to choose from, whatever your tastes are. We ate at a place aptly called Aragon’s, which is close to the marketplace. They serve the most wonderful cooked breakfasts there, but we also enjoyed lunch there too. Some in the party commented on how the sausages served were some of the best they’d ever tasted, so that definitely comes highly recommended! The staff were very friendly too, which was an added bonus. Other places to look out for are Vaughan’s, a sandwich bar that also serves salads and jacket potatoes. Many people have commented on their hot pork sandwiches being the best ever, so again give that a go. We wanted to visit, but didn’t quite have the chance this time, but definitely on the list for next time.

As we visited the weekend of Mother’s Day, I had booked a Sunday Carvery at the Fisherman’s Arms in Docklow, a 20 minute drive away from Ludlow. It is a bit of a fisherman’s retreat as there are ponds and woodland walks. There are also places to stay there, as well as a café too. The country pub/restaurant was where we went. I had heard good reviews about the place, but as a visitor, didn’t really know what to expect. All I can say was that we definitely weren’t disappointed. It was by far the biggest carvery portions I think any of us had ever had. The food quality was excellent and so were the staff. We will definitely be going back too, so definitely make this a place to visit if you can.

A market is held on the market place nearly every day, so be sure not to miss that! Last time we visited, they were holding an antique market, which was good quality and had very interesting items. This time it was the general market, which had stallholders selling food, jewellery, antiques, crafted items and all sorts of things. I came away with some lovely jewellery and photographic prints of the places we’d visited. Another shop I also brought from, not far from Aragon’s café, was Nina and Co, a quirky little antique shop. I saw some lovely sparkly brooches in the window that would look lovely for putting on clothing and bonnets for our Regency dressing up at the Jane Austen Festival in Bath, where we will be going back for a second time later this year. Thank you to them for also giving us a few free ones, which were missing a stone, but still useable for that. Again all of these were such lovely experiences.

Nina’s shop where I got the brooches from

All in all, it was probably one of the best trips I’ve been on. The peacefulness was just what was needed after what have been an awful two years. If you ever get the chance to go yourself, I promise you that you will love it. It feels like stepping back into a bygone era. What makes it all the more enjoyable is just how lovely the people of the area are. The memories I’ve made will certainly stay with me forever.

For more about the places mentioned in this post, please visit the following websites:

Ludlow town, https://www.ludlow.org.uk/index.html

Ludlow Castle, https://www.ludlowcastle.com/

St Laurence’s Church, https://stlaurences.org.uk/history-timeline/

Stokesay Castle, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/stokesay-castle/

Aragon’s Restaurant, https://www.facebook.com/AragonsLudlow5/

Vaughan’s Sandwich Bar, https://www.facebook.com/Ludlow14KingStreet/

Fisherman’s Arms in Docklow: https://www.thefishermansarms.uk/

Nina and Co: https://www.instagram.com/nina.and.co.ludlow/?hl=en

Bibliography:

Griffiths, Ralph, ‘Wales and the Marches in the Fifteenth Century’, in Chrimes, Stanley; Ross, Charles; Griffiths, Ralph (eds), Fifteenth Century England, 1399–1509: Studies in Politics and Society (Bristol: Sutton Publishing, 1972)

Shropshire Churches Tourism Group, ‘Stokesay, St John the Baptist’, https://www.discovershropshirechurches.co.uk/south-west-shropshire/stokesay/

The History of Christmas Cake

Whilst writing this, I’m listening to Bing Crosby Christmas songs, with the Christmas lights switched on. An unusual choice for a 26-year-old, you may think, but for me this has a personal connection. A running joke in my family was that my beloved grandad looked like the Crooner, so I always like to listen to him as it feels grandad is still here, despite him no longer being with us. Just in case you haven’t get it yet, I love Christmas, but I don’t like the tradition Christmas cake, Christmas pudding or mince pies. Whilst I don’t, everyone else in my family does. Our kitchen has smelt very Christmassy for the last month whilst my mum has been busy baking Christmas cakes for our family and friends. I’m sure lots of your houses will be filled with the treat too, whether homemade or store brought. It got me wondering of how Christmas cake has become a tradition at Christmas time.

Samuel Collings, Christmas in the Country (1791), Private Collection/Bridgeman Images

Up until the Industrial Revolution, Christmas was celebrated between 6th December and 6th January as the cold weather meant little work could be done in the fields. Presents were given, but usually to mark the beginning, St Nicholas’ Day and the end, Twelfth Night, also known as Epiphany. Boxing Day was usually the day presents were given to servants.[1] As the present giving was spread out, food was one of the largest part of the celebrations. Food that could be made ahead of time and served cold were popular as they could keep for season.[2] Food with fruit in was one of the flavours most preferred, as these usually kept longer.

Originally the flavouring we now associate with Christmas cake came in the form of a plum porridge, which was made to line people’s stomachs at Christmas aver a time of religious fasting over Advent.[3] This porridge was added to over time to include other fruits and honey, so much so it resembled something closer to a Christmas pudding.[4] From the sixteenth century, the oats became replaced with flour and eggs, which meant it took on the consistency of a cake. Spices were also becoming more available at this time, which were meant to represent gifts offered to baby Jesus by the three wise men.[5] Richer families also began to add lots of decorations made from sugar and marzipan to the cake to show they could afford it.[6]

Whilst this does sound more like the Christmas cake we recognise today, it was still not quite the same. It was made from the leftovers of all the puddings eaten over the Christmas period and was elaborately decorated with icing and figurines.[7] As Twelfth Night was celebrated by whole households the cake the centrepiece of the feast. It was shared by everyone, including servants. Both a dried pea and dried bean were placed into the cake and whoever found them would be the King and Queen for the day, no matter what social standing they had normally.[8] This tradition had largely disappeared by the Georgian times, but Twelfth Night cake was still eaten.[9]

George Cruickshank, Frontispiece to a set of Twelfth-night characters, showing a Cossack and Napoleon in front of a Twelfth Night Cake (c. 1813), © The Trustees of the British Museum

By the time of the Industrial Revolution, Twelfth Night itself was mostly a bygone thing. Most people had moved to live in cities, with little time to celebrate Christmas for a whole month, has had gone before. Instead, Twelfth Night became Christmas Day, as that was the day most people had off work.[10] From this, the Twelfth Night cake became known as the Christmas cake. In the 1870s, Queen Victoria officially banned Twelfth Night as she feared any celebrations that did occur would become too out of control and potentially riotous.[11] Thus the Christmas cake would finally be cemented to Christmas.


[1] Johnson, B., ‘A Georgian Christmas’, Historic UK, https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/A-Georgian-Christmas/

[2] Ibid

[3] Great British Bake Off, History of the Christmas Cake, https://thegreatbritishbakeoff.co.uk/history-christmas-cake/

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] Leach, H. M. and Inglis, R., ‘The Archaeology of Christmas Cakes’, Food and Foodways, 11.2-3 (2003), p. 146; ‘Christmas Cake’, https://www.whychristmas.com/customs/christmascake.shtml

[8] Johnson, B., ‘A Georgian Christmas’, Historic UK, https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/A-Georgian-Christmas/

[9] Ibid.

[10] ‘Christmas Cake’, https://www.whychristmas.com/customs/christmascake.shtml

[11] Jane Austen Centre, ‘A History of Twelfth Night Cake’, https://janeausten.co.uk/blogs/desserts/twelfth-night-cake

Robbery of Edward I’s Treasures from Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey has had a long history of royal ceremony and patronage, ever since its rebuilding between 1042 and 1052 by Edward the Confessor. The Westminster Abbey that we know of today was again rebuilt by Henry III in the 13th Century, and it was this rebuilding that made it a place of safety for the crown jewels. A vaulted chamber known as the Pyx Chamber was used to house the royal treasures, including the crown jewels, alongside others belonging to the monks who called the abbey home. This chamber was considered the best place to house the treasury as it was a medieval equivalent of a high security bank vault.[1] With the monks in charge of these precious items, along with many keys to the strong vault doors, it’s easy to see why this site was chosen.

Chamber of the Pyx, Westminster Abbey, London (2012), Wikimedia Commons

However, in 1303, the unthinkable happened; the treasury was robbed and in a most miraculous and somewhat laughable way. The man responsible was Richard Podlicote or Pudlicote. He was a merchant who had previously been working in Flanders before returning to England. He clearly had motive as he had previously been arrested and forced to pay £14 (nearly £10,000 in today’s money) towards King Edward I’s debts in Bruges.[2] Whilst this may sound harsh to us, it was a common right of medieval kings to force Englishmen living abroad to help pay debts.

In his confession, Pudlicote revealed how he had managed to do the robbery. It took him 98 days (roughly 3 months), between Christmas and just after Easter, to dig a tunnel under the abbey grounds.[3] He said he knew where he was going because he had done a smaller scale robbery before, taking silver dishes and drinking vessels.[4] After getting through to the chamber, he spent a whole day deciding what he wanted to take. The items were more than he could carry and so, on his way out under the cover of darkness, he left some of it under a nearby bush, which he came back for the following night.[5]

With the passage of time, we’re not entirely sure just how many things Pudlicote stole, but we do know some of the higher status items he did and did not steal. The crown jewels themselves were left alone, probably because they were too high profile.[6] One item which was possibly stolen as it was reported missing and was never seen again is a crown taken from the dead body of the Welsh Prince, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd after his death at the Battle of Builth in 1282.[7 After being taken by the English, claims began to circulate that this crown had once belonged to King Arthur, who the Welsh royals claimed as their ancestor.[8]

Contemporary image of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd wearing his crown during a ceremony of him paying tribute to Henry III (1267), Wikimedia Commons

Amazingly, the crime wasn’t discovered until early June as on the 6th, Edward I ordered an investigation into the robbery.[9] Perhaps it wouldn’t have been discovered for a lot longer if it hadn’t had been for the pawnshops and brothels the treasures ended up in. The pawnshops in their desperation to be rid of the stolen goods, offered them to nobles and others of high standing. These men were among those who knew about what these goods were and where they had come from.[10] The truth of what had happened in Westminster Abbey began to unravel and it led to Pudlicot, who was found with between £2,000-£2,200 (around £1.5 million pounds in today’s money) worth of stolen goods on him.

Despite being a previous offender, and how long it took him to dig, as well as being in or around the scene of the crime, Pudlicote claimed the monks were not involved and didn’t know of his endeavours.[11] I’m not sure that really adds up, especially as 48 monks were arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London for a brief stay, but they were never formally punished, instead they were released on Edward I’s orders.[12] It seems to be a large coincidence, so there must have been some insider help. Whatever the truth, Pudlicote was sentenced to death in November 1303.

Painting in Westminster Abbey thought to be Edward I (2019), Wikimedia Commons

The theft changed how the crown jewels were kept, something which can be seen right up until the present day. The remaining treasure was briefly placed in the Tower of London whilst the Pyx Chamber was reinforced.[13] In the later 1300s, a new and more permanent home was built in the Tower of London specifically built to house the jewels. Whilst that building is not the building currently used for that purpose, as that has long been lost, it started the tradition of the Tower being the residence of the crown jewels.

The debts of Edward I, which were a major motive for the crime, were enormous. On his death in 1307, they amounted to £200,000, nearly £142 million in today’s money. The amount is so phenomenal amount it’s virtually unthinkable. Considering this, it’s no doubt that the majority of these debts were still unpaid by the time of Edward II, the son of Edward I, 20 years after.


[1] Ross, D., ‘Westminster Abbey Chapter House and Pyx Chamber’, Britain Express, https://www.britainexpress.com/attractions.htm?attraction=4723; ‘Pyx Chamber’, Westminster Abbey,  https://www.westminster-abbey.org/about-the-abbey/history/pyx-chamber

[2] Rouse, R. and Rushton, C., The Medieval Quest for Arthur (Stroud: The History Press, 2016), p. 101.

[3] Rouse, R. and Rushton, C., The Medieval Quest for Arthur, p. 101.

[4] Ashbee, J., ‘Robbery of the King’s Treasure at Westminster Abbey’, English Heritage, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/chapter-house-and-pyx-chamber/history-treasure-at-westminster/

[5] Ashbee, J., ‘Robbery of the King’s Treasure at Westminster Abbey’, English Heritage, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/chapter-house-and-pyx-chamber/history-treasure-at-westminster/

[6] Rouse, R. and Rushton, C., The Medieval Quest for Arthur, p. 101.

[7] Rouse, R. and Rushton, C., The Medieval Quest for Arthur, pp. 91-92.

[8] Rouse, R. and Rushton, C., The Medieval Quest for Arthur, pp. 91-92.

[9] Ashbee, J., ‘Robbery of the King’s Treasure at Westminster Abbey’, English Heritage, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/chapter-house-and-pyx-chamber/history-treasure-at-westminster/

[10] Rouse, R. and Rushton, C., The Medieval Quest for Arthur, p. 101.

[11] Ashbee, J., ‘Robbery of the King’s Treasure at Westminster Abbey’, English Heritage, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/chapter-house-and-pyx-chamber/history-treasure-at-westminster/

[12] Rouse, R. and Rushton, C., The Medieval Quest for Arthur, p. 101; Keegan, V., ‘Vic Keegan’s Lost London 139: The great royal jewels heist of 1303’, On London, 13 April 2020, https://www.onlondon.co.uk/vic-keegans-lost-london-139-the-great-royal-jewel-heist-of-1303/

[13] Keegan, V., ‘Vic Keegan’s Lost London 139: The great royal jewels heist of 1303’, On London, 13 April 2020, https://www.onlondon.co.uk/vic-keegans-lost-london-139-the-great-royal-jewel-heist-of-1303/

Elizabeth Scales: Heiress, Wife and Lady-in-Waiting

Unfortunately like many women who lived in the medieval period, not much is known about the Lady Elizabeth Scales, other than she was the sole heir to her father’s estates and wife of Anthony Woodville. Most of what we do know of her is glimpsed through how others commented on her, or in connection to her wealth and status as a woman of her own means, with a husband who provided her status as the wife of the much favoured brother of Queen Elizabeth Woodville. Just like many other women of her time, there are no sources that speak with her own voice or showing her as her own person, just how she connected to the political world around her. Whilst it is difficult to reconstruct Elizabeth, I hope this blog post may help to answer at least some questions about who this mysterious, and often forgotten, woman of the late 15th century was.

Elizabeth Scales was the only surviving child of Thomas, Lord Scales and his wife, Emma. The pair had did have a son, but it is believed he died at a young age, meaning Elizabeth grew up as the heir to her father’s estates.[1] According to the post-mortem inquisitions, her birthdate is estimated at around 1436.[2] Whilst it was rare for women to inherit estates, it did happen. Just as in the case of the Earldom of Warwick, titles could pass to women, hoping that their husband could continue the line at a later date.

Image from page 304 of Wright, T., The Homes of other days: a history of domestic manners and sentiments in England from the earliest known period to modern times (1871). Credit: The British Library.

Her first husband, Henry Bourchier, had died in 1458 and the date of her second marriage to Anthony Woodville is unknown, but it is believed by Susan Higginbotham to have been in the run up to the Battle of Towton in 1461.[3] This can be reasonably assumed as William Paston falsely reported Anthony’s death at the battle, where he refers to him as Lord Scales.[4] With this in mind, it is clear that the early parts of their marriage would have been tumultuous, as Thomas Scales was murdered in 1460, as well as facing the bloody battle at Towton.

Elizabeth would have known Anthony even before their marriage as both of their fathers had been friends for many years. Lord Scales was the one who had nominated Richard Woodville, Anthony’s father, to become a Knight of the Garter in 1450.[5] The pair at this time were loyal to the Lancastrian King Henry VI and were known to offer him military support. Not long after the nomination was made, both men fought alongside each other to stamp out Cade’s Rebellion.[6] They were also regularly seen at court in each other’s company.

Following the death of her father, Elizabeth inherited many manors in Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Essex and Suffolk.[7] This does give some indication of motive behind the marriage between Elizabeth and Anthony, but to suggest this alone was a factor simplifies the motives for marrying at that time. As both families were intertwined through ties of friendship, they would have both been known to one another and would probably wish to strengthen this bond. It may even be possible that there was some love, or at least affection between the pair.

The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM)/Wikimedia Commons

Sadly, there are no sources that survive that tell us anything in depth about their relationship or what their feelings were towards one another. The only glimpses we have are comments from their time at court, where they were often noted to be in one another’s company. In November 1464, they were part of King Edward’s party at Reading, where they were playing cards together. At this game, John Howard lent Elizabeth 8s and 4d to play.[8] They also were both part of the entourage that escorted Margaret of York to her wedding to Charles the Bold in Bruges. Anthony was chosen as he had been part of the negotiations for the match and as an experienced married woman and member of the court, his wife, Elizabeth, was deemed a good choice for a companion. No doubt Elizabeth would have offered good advice for what lay ahead. Elizabeth was also chosen for this role as she was a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth Woodville, so she was also the Queen’s representative. During the period 1466-1467, we know Elizabeth was paid £40 for the role of lady-in-waiting, the same as the Queen’s sister, Anne.[9] In today’s money, this would equate to nearly £27,500. From this it is clear how valued Elizabeth was within the Queen’s household.

In 1466, Anthony placed a legal case to ensure if his wife died before him, the Scales’ estate would pass to him, rather than to distant relatives.[10] Unfortunately, we don’t know Elizabeth’s feelings on this manoeuvre, meaning that it could have been possible that she agreed with this decision, as before this, the both of them had managed the Scales’ manors and lands together, most notably at Middleton in Norfolk. However, this was outside usual practice and again, there is nothing that suggests Elizabeth’s exact opinion on the matter.

Middleton Towers near King’s Lynn (Author’s Own Image)

Elizabeth died in 1473, when Anthony was away on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. No matter what their relationship was really like, this must have been a massive blow. Anthony had gone on this pilgrimage in honour of his late mother and in doing so, was not there when his wife died. Perhaps this is why the pilgrimage was a profound experience for him, especially as he adapted the pilgrimage shell as his personal symbol from then onwards, as well as it being the reason for his later translation of the Dictes and Sayings of Philosophers.

Anthony did go on to later remarry, but despite more than one match being offered for him, including Mary of Burgundy and Princess Margaret of Scotland, he didn’t do so until around 1480 to Mary FitzLewis, an acquaintance through family connections. In his will Anthony makes more mention to his first wife than his second, which may suggest he had more affection for Elizabeth than Mary. In it he asked that 500 marks be used for prayers in the name of the souls of Elizabeth, her brother Edward, and all the Scales family.[11] The will is perhaps the only source we have where Anthony directly mentions Elizabeth. Lynda Pigeon has described the will as making “no affectionate mention” to Elizabeth, which wrongly suggests the use of a will.[12] A will is a business transaction and as Anthony’s was written whilst incarcerated at Sherriff Hutton, probably knowing his fate was execution, it would have been made hastily and with the knowledge that it may not have been carried out.

As I have already mentioned, there are little sources that describe the personality of Elizabeth, or her relationship with Anthony. I hope this blog post has helped show glimpses of what little is known about this woman who does appear to have been very capable in her roles as heiress, courtier and wife. She did not have children of her own, but she would have known of Anthony’s illegitimate daughter, Margaret, that he had before their marriage. Perhaps that means we can add a mother figure to the list of achievements this remarkable woman had to her name, no matter how little we know about her.


[1] http://www.luminarium.org/encyclopedia/scales/htm

[2] TNA: (142/1/36 Cambridge); (142/1/37 Hertford); (142/1/38 Norfolk) cited in Higginbotham, S., The Woodvilles: The Wars of the Roses and England’s Most Infamous Family (Stroud: The History Press, 2013), p. 78.

[3] Higginbotham, S., The Woodvilles, p. 78.

[4] James Gardiner (ed), Paston Letters, no. 90, part 1.

[5] George Smith (ed) Coronation of Elizabeth Wydeville: Queen Consort of Edward IV on May 26th, 1465 cited in Higginbotham, S., The Woodvilles, p. 78.

[6] I. M. W. Harvey, Jack Cade’s Rebellion of 1450 cited in Higginbotham, S., The Woodvilles, p. 78.

[7] Pidgeon, L., ‘Antony Wydevile, Lord Scales and Earl Rivers: Family, Friends and Affinity, Part 2.’, The Ricardian, 16 (2006), pp. 16-17.

[8] Higginbotham, S., The Woodvilles, p. 79.

[9] A. R. Myers, ‘The Household of Queen Margaret of Anjou, 1452-3’, The Bulletin of the Rylands Library, 40 (1957-58) cited in Higginbotham, S., The Woodvilles, p. 79.

[10] Higginbotham, S., The Woodvilles, p. 80.

[11] Anthony’s Will, appendix in Higginbotham, S., The Woodvilles, p. 181.

[12] Pidgeon, L., ‘Antony Wydevile, Lord Scales and Earl Rivers: Family, Friends and Affinity, Part 2.’, The Ricardian, 16 (2006), p. 3.

Ulrich von Liechtenstein: The Poet Knight

Like many others who have watched Heath Ledger’s film, A Knight’s Tale, I assumed the character of Ulrich von Lichtenstein was a made up person, invented to tell the story of a lowly peasant claiming to be a knight, so that he could fulfil his dream of jousting. It wasn’t until I was researching the history of tournaments, in connection with my favourite person, Anthony Woodville, that I came across the real-life Ulrich. During his lifetime, he was not just the knight you expect him to be, but also a poet, high ranking commander, steward, and provincial judge.[1]

Ulrich von Lichtenstein was born into a low status but prosperous minor noble family in Styria, now modern-day Austria around 1200. His first connections with the knightly world came during his teenage years, when he became a page to the son of a Duke. He held this role until he himself was knighted by Duke Leopold VI of Austria in his early 20s.[2] After this position was bestowed upon him, it was clear that he would have certain skills and expectations to hold. However, during the thirteenth century, there was relative peace across Europe, meaning that many knights were idle and were having to find new ways to entertain themselves, and to practise their skills.[3]

joust
Two men on horseback, wearing lavish armour, facing each other at a jousting tournament. Colour lithograph, by Th. und C. Senefelder, 1817, after H. Östendorfer, 1541. Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

In the century before Ulrich’s knighthood, the lance had first emerged as a weapon for cavalrymen, meaning that tournaments were beginning to help train and exercise the talents required to use it.[4] When they were originally formed, tournaments, or tourneys as they were called, were not just about the jousting tournaments we now understand today. They were melees, disorganised ‘peaceful’ versions of battles, designed to prepare soldiers for the real experience of war. These events also included hostage taking and could become highly political, as well as being obviously dangerous and disruptive to any town they took place at. Jousting did take place but was only a side-line activity in the days leading up to the grand melee.

It was not until the 1220s, around the time Ulrich began participating in tournaments, that jousting became an accepted part of a knight’s training in its own right.[5] Melees were still an accepted part of tournaments until the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, but the 1220s saw an acknowledgment of jousting as an art form. Ulrich von Lichtenstein played a large part in this as he became one of the many travelling knights who would tour across Europe following the tournaments. The tournament slowly became agreeable to organisers of these events, who began to see the advantages of jousting tourneys rather than melees. By devoting whole days to jousting, there would be less disruption and less competitors, but also the same areas could be reused easily as there would be less destruction to the fields used.[6] These smaller scale tournaments were still a form of training for war, but also focused on providing entertainment for the elites by using pageantry and individual skill.[7]

unknown artist; Knights Jousting
Unknown Artist, Knights Jousting, Photo credit: Preston Park Museum & Grounds

During Ulrich’s lifetime, there was an increasing association with Arthurian legend. Many of these new tournaments were known as Round Tables and Ulrich’s version in 1240 is an interesting example. During this jousting tour, he dressed as King Arthur and challenged knights to joust him, proclaiming that if any were found worthy enough, they would become one of his Knights of the Round Table.[8] This finished with a single event where a pavilion was erected to represent the Round Table, with the knights then given 5 days to defend the table.[9] This event, alongside many others were recorded in Ulrich’s poetry, written in the 1250s, some 20-30 years after they supposedly took place.

Whilst his poetry must have had some exaggeration, including the pageantry of his tournament career, there must be some basis of fact underneath, no matter how small that may be. Ruth Harvey suggests that the tales he told in these poems were a mixture of fact and fiction which “are jumbled together in a single kaleidoscopic medley”.[10] This is probably best seen in Ulrich’s description of a helmet crest he wore in 1226, which was made from gilded metal, and was laced with a fan of peacock feathers.[11] Whilst we may never know if he did wear something similar during his jousts, it is true that from the early history of tournaments, emblems were used, whether worn on the body or head, as well as on banners, to show a knight’s status and to make them identifiable. The use of these emblems had been changed from an exclusive military purpose, to include this civilian setting.[12]

What is certain from Ulrich’s writings is that he had a love and respect for women. Unusually for writers of his time, he wrote about the problems and terrible experiences women had to endure, such as drunken husbands, being beaten, and men attempting to ruin their reputation and chastity.[13] Of course this is written from a male perspective, but it does show a certain respect for women and commends their strength.[14] His love of women first started in his teens, when he fell in love with a married, older, and higher ranking noblewoman. His love remained unrequited. However, throughout his career, Ulrich dedicated his victories to her. She was flattered by this, but nothing more.

A-Knights-Tale-Heath-Ledger
Heath Ledger and Shannyn Sossamon in A Knight’s Tale (2001)

The tournaments he fought in her name and their acquaintance are detailed in his Frauenbuch or The Service of Ladies. Despite his best attempts at wooing this woman with his jousting prowess, it took something more drastic to catch her attention. He had an operation to fix a cleft lip, hoping it would improve his chances.[15] In some ways it did as she invited him to join a horse ride with her and her friends, but this backfired when he was too shy to speak to her. Feeling insulted, she banned him from using her colours in tournaments.[16] Ulrich eventually got the message when she threw him into a lake, but even this couldn’t stop his feelings.[17]

In some ways, despite some artistic license, Heath Ledger’s Ulrich von Lichtenstein was not so different from the real one. He certainly loved to show off on the jousting field, as well as having a love for women, especially one in particular, no matter how out of reach she was. Despite exaggerations in his poetry detailing his career with a lance, the danger was very real, just as is shown in A Knight’s Tale. The real Ulrich lost a finger during a tournament in 1222 and in 1226, an opponent’s lance pierced through his chain mail, cutting his chest, and causing his white outfit to turn red with blood.[18]

[1] Smallwood, K., A Knight’s Tale: The Real Ulrich von Liechtenstein http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2015/12/knights-tale-real-life-ulrich-von-liechtenstein/

[2] Smallwood, K., A Knight’s Tale: The Real Ulrich von Liechtenstein http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2015/12/knights-tale-real-life-ulrich-von-liechtenstein/

[3] Smallwood, K., A Knight’s Tale: The Real Ulrich von Liechtenstein http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2015/12/knights-tale-real-life-ulrich-von-liechtenstein/

[4] Saul, N., Chivalry in Medieval England (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2011), p. 15.

[5] Crouch, D., Tournament (London: Hambledon and London, 2005), p. 116.

[6] Crouch, D., Tournament, p. 116 and 119.

[7] Keen, M., Chivalry (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984), p. 92; Crouch, D., Tournament, p. 119.

[8] Crouch, D., Tournament, p. 118; Keen, M., Chivalry, p. 92.

[9] J. Bumke, Courtly Culture: Literature and Society in the High Middle Ages, translated by T. Dunlop, cited in Crouch, D., Tournament, p. 118.

[10] Ruth Harvey, Moriz von Craun and the Chivalric World (1961) cited in Keen, M., Chivalry, p. 92.

[11] Ulrich von Lichtenstein, Service of Ladies, translated by J. W. Thomas cited in Crouch, D., Tournament, p. 147.

[12] Saul, N., Chivalry in Medieval England, pp. 54-55.

[13] Bein, T., ‘1275, January 16: Truth and Fiction’, in Wellbury, D. (ed), A New History of German Literature (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2004), p. 135

[14] Bein, T., ‘1275, January 16: Truth and Fiction’, p. 135.

[15] Smallwood, K., A Knight’s Tale: The Real Ulrich von Liechtenstein http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2015/12/knights-tale-real-life-ulrich-von-liechtenstein/

[16] Smallwood, K., A Knight’s Tale: The Real Ulrich von Liechtenstein http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2015/12/knights-tale-real-life-ulrich-von-liechtenstein/

[17] Smallwood, K., A Knight’s Tale: The Real Ulrich von Liechtenstein http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2015/12/knights-tale-real-life-ulrich-von-liechtenstein/

[18] Ulrich von Lichtenstein, Service of Ladies, translated by J. W. Thomas cited in Crouch, D., Tournament, pp. 100-101.