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Friday 17th October 2014.To me one of the most important things in aiding research is to try and really get to know the people involved. If you know as much as you can about the characters you are researching then you can decide if what you are reading makes any sense when you take into account what you know of their personalities or characteristics.Let's take as an example the two monarchs whose likenesses you can see on my homepage, the one on the left is the first Plantagenet King, Henry II and the one on the right his great-grandson Edward I. We know from contemporary writings that Edward I's nickname was Longshanks and when, in 1774, the Society of Antiquaries opened his tomb and discovered his height really was 6'2" it was very easy to put two and two together and get five and surmise that Longshanks was because of the length of his legs. Edward was quite tall as the average height during his lifetime was 5'6" but it would seem he gained the nickname because of the inordinate length of his arms. If you look at his portrait and think about his nicknames Longshanks and Hammer of the Scots it is quite easy to get a romantic idea of how Edward should have looked and acted. But does that idea in any way fit in with a description written during his lifetime that said: "His hair was black, his complexion swarthy and his eyes fiery in anger, he had inherited his father's drooping eyelid and spoke all times with a pronounced lisp."Of Henry II, Peter of Blois, a contemporary of his, writes: "He never sits, unless riding a horse or eating… In a single day, if necessary, he can run through four or five day marches and thus foiling the plots of his enemies, frequently mocks their plots with surprise sudden arrivals… Always are in his hands bow, spear and arrow, unless he be in council or in books." We are told that when he got really angry he had been known to lie on his front and beat the floor with both his fists and his feet acting like a spoiled infant. It is perhaps, therefore, no surprise that he had so many problems with his family.
Tuesday 21st of October 2014.Today marks the birthday, in 1449, of George Plantagenet 1st Duke of Clarence and gives me the ideal opportunity to discuss why stories have arisen about the deaths of certain members of royal families in the medieval period. One of the problems lies in the fact that post-mortems were frowned upon during most of the period, this meant that if there was no outward appearance of the reason for death then sometimes suspicions led to stories. On 7th February 1478 George was sentenced to death on a charge of high treason against his brother Edward IV. Under normal circumstances he would have been beheaded but many years later remains believed to be his were exhumed and showed no signs of beheading. Prior to his death George had had a reputation as a heavy drinker, there was also a belief that after his execution his dead body was sent to Tewkesbury Abbey in a barrel of wine for burial. A rumour now started that George had chosen his own method of execution and had been drowned in a butt of malmsey wine. The point is we have no way of knowing how he died but his drowning was graphically portrayed as fact in both Shakespeare's Richard the III and a Philippa Gregory novel.As many of my colleagues know one of my favourite stories is the death of Edward II. It is said that after he failed to die from starvation a small pipe was inserted in his anus and a red-hot poker was inserted into the pipe thus burning his bowels from the inside. I now find that I must be honest with my colleagues and tell them this is only a story and we have no idea how Edward II actually died.
Wednesday 22nd October 2014.Then we have my least favourite monarch Richard I and I will leave the historian, who I believe was the best of his kind in Victorian times, Bishop William Stubbs to describe Richard. "A bad son, a bad husband, a selfish ruler and a vicious man… He was no Englishman," a few of his fellow Victorians may have disagreed with him as they were placing a statue of Richard outside the Houses of Parliament.Richard only visited this country twice as an adult, the first time was in 1189 for his Coronation, the Coronation Banquet leading to a famous incident of violent anti-Semitism. He stayed in this country for four months to try and sell as much as he possibly could, he is quoted as saying, in his native French, that he would sell London if he could find a buyer. His second visit was five years later, returning from the crusades he had been captured and held to ransom England had helped raise the 150,000 mark ransom, this was equivalent to nearly 3 years income for the Crown. This visit lasted two months in order, he said, to thank people. As he left, he was quoted as saying that England was cold and always raining and held nothing for him.It is, however, easy to judge Richard by our own morals and prejudices. It was suggested by some, possibly homophobic, historians that Richard was also gay. This was based on two passages from the chronicler Roger of Hoveden. In the first it is said that Richard, then a prince, slept with Philip King of France, this has always led to an argument about the translation of the passage from the original Latin, and is extremely questionable. However, in the second passage a hermit preached to Richard and said "be thou mindful of the destruction of Sodom, and abstain from what is unlawful." The trouble with this is that the first citation of the word sodomy, meaning the homosexual sexual act was in the early 1300s and Richard died in 1199. It is far more likely that this was about his illegitimate son. As I have said it is easy to judge Richard by using our own morals and prejudices but perhaps the worrying thing is that I believe his homosexuality is now being taught as a fact in some universities.
Tuesday, October 28th 2014.Today marks the anniversary, in 1216, of the Coronation of Henry III. A year earlier, in June 1215, his father, King John, was forced by the Barons to sign Magna Carta. During the summer of 1215 it became apparent that John had no intentions of abiding by his agreements in Magna Carta and so civil war broke out known officially as the First Barons War. The Barons who opposed John made agreements with King Alexander of Scotland and Philip Augustus King of France, the agreement with the latter was to allow the Dauphin, Prince Louis, to invade England with a French army.Louis landed in England on the Isle of Thanet on 21 May 1216 he claimed the throne as husband of Blanche of Castile who was King John's niece and also as the choice of the Barons. He arrived in London on 2 June 1216 and was proclaimed King in St Pauls Cathedral. The intention was that he be crowned at Westminster Abbey but the then Archbishop of Canterbury was at that point visiting the papal court and so the Coronation was postponed. By October 1216 Louis I, as he was now styled, controlled over half of the country and then in the middle of October John died. John's son, a 9-year-old Prince Henry, was now also proclaimed King as Henry III by a Baron called William Marshall.William Marshall as Regent now re-signed Magna Carta on behalf of Henry III and also called on the country to remove the invading French. This worked as slowly but surely all the rebel Barons came back to supporting Henry and on 11 September 1217 a definitive treaty was signed at Lambeth Palace. According to this treaty Louis was paid a large amount of money and ended his claim to the English throne, he would later become Louis VIII of France. So, for some months we had a proclaimed King Louis I, just as some years earlier we had had a Queen Matilda, yet neither appear in any list of English monarchs. The argument that they were never crowned would seem unacceptable as neither were Edward V or Edward VIII both of who do appear in the same lists. I feel a campaign coming on, anyone interested…
Friday, 7 November 2014Yesterday was the anniversary of Henry VI coming to the throne at the age of 9 months. A lot has been written about Henry especially in contemporary historical fiction so I thought today I would do something slightly different. John Blakman wrote a memoir of Henry VI in the year 1510 and I thought I'd let him tell you exactly what Henry was like, if you read the fiction you may be surprised.“He was a man of pure simplicity of mind, truthful almost to a fault. He never made a promise he did not keep, never knowingly did an injury to anyone. Rectitude and justice ruled his conduct in all public affairs. Devout himself, he sought to cherish all of the religion in others. He would exhort his visitors, particularly the young, to pursue virtue and eschew evil. He considers sports and the pleasures of the world as frivolous, and devoted his leisure to reading the scriptures and the old chronicles. Most decorous himself when attending public worship, he obliged his courtiers to enter the sacred edifice without swords or spears, and to refrain from interrupting the devotion of others by conversing within its precincts.He delighted in female society, and blamed that immodest dress, which left exposed the maternal parts of the neck. “Fie, fie, for shame!” he exclaimed “forsooth ye be to blame.” Fond of encouraging youth in the paths of virtue he would frequently converse familiarly with scholars from his college of Eton, when they visited his servants at Windsor Castle. He generally concluded with this address, adding a present of money: “be good lads, meek and docile, and attend to your religion.”He was liberal to the poor, and lived among his dependents as a father among his children. He readily forgave those who had offended him. When one of his servants had been robbed, he sent him a present of twenty nobles, desiring him to be more careful of his property in future, and requesting him to forgive the thief. Passing one day from St Albans to Cripplegate, he saw a quarter of a man impaled there for treason. Greatly shocked he exclaimed “take it away, take it away, I will have no man so cruelly treated for my account.”In his dress he was plain, and would not wear the shoes with the upturned points, then so much in fashion, and considered the distinguishing mark of a man of quality. Where are warm baths in which they say the men of that country customarily refresh and wash themselves, the King, looking into baths, saw in them men wholly naked with every garment cast off. At which he was greatly displeased, and went away quickly, abhoring such nudity as a great offence.”
The Writing of a Book
The Plantagenets, a Dynasty at War