Who Were the Last Plantagenets?

Portrait of Henry IV- National Portrait Gallery (Creative Commons license)

Many people get confused when they read that Richard II was the last Plantagenet king. How can that be? During the Wars of the Roses, both the Lancastrians and the Yorkists were Plantagenets. And that’s true. However, Richard II was the last in the direct line—and that’s the difference.

One could almost say that Edward III had too many sons. If his heir, Edward the Black Prince hadn’t died prematurely, all would probably have gone a different route. Lionel, the second son of Edward III (who survived infancy) also predeceased his father, leaving a daughter Philippa from his first wife. It was through Philippa that we have the Mortimers, arguably the true heirs to the throne if you follow the “laws” of primogeniture (see below). The next son was John of Gaunt, the father of the future Henry IV (the Lancastrians). After him came Edmund Langley, later Duke of York (yes, those Yorkists), and lastly, Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester.

What is primogeniture? According to historian K.B. McFarlane, “a son always preferred to a daughter, a daughter to a brother or other collateral.” So the daughter’s heirs should come before the brother’s heirs (hence the Mortimers). Of course, it didn’t always work that way, even among the royals. As far back as King John, we see the youngest brother of a previous king mount the throne rather than the son of an elder brother (Arthur of Brittany—son of Geoffrey—should have ruled if the tradition of primogeniture were followed).

The Black Prince took nothing for granted, and on his deathbed he asked both his father and his brother John of Gaunt to swear an oath to protect nine year-old Richard and uphold his inheritance. Even this precaution didn’t guarantee Richard’s patrimony, and Edward III felt obliged to create an entail that ordered the succession along traditional male lines. This meant that the Mortimers were excluded. It also meant that John of Gaunt was next in line after Richard, and after him, Henry of Bolingbroke. This entail was kept secret at the time because of Gaunt’s unpopularity, and it’s possible that Richard later destroyed at least his own copy. It might have been lost to history until the last century when a badly damaged copy was discovered in the British Library among the Cotton charters (damaged by a fire in 1731). It clearly gave the order of succession as Richard, then Gaunt and his issue, then probably Gaunt’s brothers; parts of the manuscript are lost. According to historian Michael Bennett, “While crucial pieces of the text are missing, it is tolerably certain that the whole settlement is in tail male…”

John of Gaunt by Lucas Cornelisz de Kock
John of Gaunt with his coat of arms attributed to Lucas Cornelisz de Kock source: Wikipedia

Why is this important? It’s more than likely that at least members of the royal family knew about the entail. King Richard II and Henry Bolingbroke never got along, and as Richard continued to remain childless, the thought of Henry succeeding him was anathema. He still refused to name an heir, and since he remarried in 1396 the 29 year-old king was still young enough to father a child, even though his new queen was only seven at the time. It’s interesting that he never gave the Mortimer line much credence; he only mentioned them once in his own defense when his barons grew rebellious in 1385: why usurp Richard and replace him with a child? (The Mortimers had a history of dying young and the current heir was just a boy.) Nonetheless, many of his countrymen assumed Roger Mortimer was heir presumptive and didn’t think to question it. By 1397 the grown-up Roger was very popular, but was killed in Ireland shortly thereafter.

Fast forward to Henry IV’s usurpation. Legally, he had a problem. There was another living under-aged Mortimer heir (he quickly took the boy hostage and raised him alongside his own children). Richard abdicated the crown to Henry but only under duress. The new king was advised against claiming the crown by right of arms, because the same thing could be done to him. His reign was riddled with rebellions, and because things didn’t improve like he promised, people started remembering Richard with nostalgia. They wanted the old king back, and rumors of his escape to Scotland only added fuel to the proverbial fire.

Henry IV only ruled for a little over thirteen years, and the last half of his reign he was a very sick man. There were times he couldn’t rule at all and had to depend on his council. His son, the future Henry V, was ready and willing to take over; he even tried to persuade the old man to retire. But that miscarried and Henry dragged himself back into action for a short time, dismissing his son from the council and taking control again. But his days were numbered and everyone knew it. Henry V’s short and glorious reign was cut short by dysentery, and the long and pitiful reign of his infant son Henry VI drove the country into civil war. So much for the Lancastrians.

The Yorkists were descended from both Edmund Langley, the first Duke of York and Philippa, ancestor of the Mortimers. That’s why they felt they had a superior claim to the throne. But by the Wars of the Roses, the Plantagenet line was pretty much diluted. It’s ironic that Henry Tudor, father to the next dynasty, was himself actually descended from a Plantagenet through his mother. Margaret Beaufort was the last surviving member of the bastard line issuing from John of Gaunt (and legitimized by Richard II). It sounds like poetic justice to me.

The Fate of Ulf Godwineson, Guest Post by Ralph Murphy

Edith discovering King Harold's corpse on the battlefield of Hastings
Edith discovering King Harold’s corpse on the battlefield of Hastings by Horace Vernet

The fate of Ulf is of great interest to the Norwood family who claim descent from Harold through him. The researches of Marian Callum Norwood, the noted genealogist and family historian who did much to develop the histories of the various branches of the family, is the source of these claims. In the many years since Marion’s death however, others who have followed her work more critically have taken issue with the absence of a credible connection between Jordanus of Sheppey, the 12th century patriarch of the family from whom the Norwood clan indubitably descended and Alnod Cilt or Ulf, the son of Harold.

Ulf was seized after Hastings (where he was too young to fight) and confined in Normandy. But later, like Wulfnoth, the youngest brother of Harold, he was released by William on his deathbed, reportedly at the urging of the church, as an act of mercy. The record shows that William’s estranged son, Robert Curthose, the next Duke of Normandy took a shine to Ulf and knighted him not long after.

It is inconceivable that Ulf would not have remained close to his benefactor and fought with him during the many actions that troubled Normandy from the rivalry between Robert and his siblings, William Rufus and Henry and the activities of other unruly knights. It is equally improbable that Ulf did not accompany him as a mature warrior when he went on the Crusade. This service would have been the most evident route towards reacquiring and retaining his ancestral lands, the defense of which was an inherent element in the knight’s role.

Ulf’s aspirations to land were associated with Kent, so after his formal release in 1087, and after his belting as a knight, he is likely to have sought restoration. By this time, his Anglo-Saxon identity would have been transformed by 20 years of Norman tutelage. It is clear from Domesday that Anod/Cilt/Ulf once had major manorial holdings in Kent which overlap with the later location of the Jordanus/Norwood family properties. This link is said to consolidate the supposed connection. Alnod’s former lands are well laid out from Domesday in Marion’s third book and cover widespread manors in Alnod’s name from Rochester to Dover, embracing Canterbury, Whitstable, Sheppey, Thanet, Norwood, Chart Sutton and many more. These had been held by Alnod /Ulf from King Edward, presumably from childhood, but were subordinated to the feudal over-lordship of Odo of Bayeux, William’s half-brother and the Church after the Conquest. Marian asserts that Alnod recovered some of these and that they continued in the possession of Jordanus of Sheppey and the Norwoods for 300 years.

There is no complete record of the knights who served Robert and who participated in the First Crusade which was known to be hazardous but Pope Urban had said that “by the will of God, he absolved all penitents from their sins from the moment that they took the cross of Christ”, which produced a surge of participants. Around 60,000 soldiers took part in the Crusade of which around 6,000 were knights and a further 30,000 provided support. This is not the place to detail the history of the Crusade but the crowning moment for Robert was in August 1099 when after victory in Jerusalem, the crusaders were confronted by an Egyptian Fatimid army at Ascalon, southwest of Jerusalem. Robert commanded the centre division of the Crusader Army and charging at the heart of the Egyptian camp, personally captured the Vizier’s banner and his tent. The Emir fled and was lucky to escape, leading to a great victory for which Robert’s part was much celebrated. After the battle and before beginning the return home, Robert completed his pilgrimage by immersing himself in the River Jordan. It was this act which encouraged crusaders to give themselves the soubriquet “Jordanus”, the title held by the founder of the Norwood family.

Tomb of Robert Curthose
Tomb of Robert Curthose, Gloucester Cathedral

The obvious conclusions that one draw might from this story is that Ulf after his release from nominal confinement in Normandy, receiving his knighthood and giving service to Robert, was able to claim back at least some his lands. His 20 or so years in Normandy had “Normanized“ him. Ulf would have been at least around 40 and possibly older when he challenged for the return of his land. His most likely date of birth is around and possibly before 1050. As Harold’s older sons, starting with Godwine were of an age to contest the throne, post Conquest, it must be assumed that the hand fast marriage with Edith took place in the 1040s with children appearing at regular intervals. This would have made Ulf 16 at the Conquest, 37 upon his release by William in 1087 and in his late forties during the First Crusade. What appears to be clear and is suggested by a number of references in Domesday is that Alnod/Ulf successfully reclaimed land that we know is associated with the subsequent Northwode aka Norwood holdings.

Ulf would have been at least around 40 and possibly older when he challenged for the return of his land after the Penenden Heath trial. His most likely date of birth is around and possibly before 1050. As Harold’s older sons, starting with Godwine were of an age to contest the throne, post Conquest, it must be assumed that the hand fast marriage with Edith took place in the 1040s with children appearing at regular intervals. This would have made Ulf 16 at the Conquest, 37 upon his release by William in 1087 and in his late forties during the First Crusade. What appears to be clear and is suggested by a number of references in Domesday is that Alnod/Ulf successfully reclaimed land that we know is associated with the subsequent Northwode holdings. Marion says that Alnod/Ulf had held 20 manors but at the Domesday Survey, none, as almost half had been conveyed to Odo of Bayeux. At Penenden Heath, Alnod’s name is cited as a recent subtenant of Manors which Odo had assumed. The thesis is that on his release and rehabilitation by Robert Curthose, Ulf seized back two parts of Kings Wood on Sheppey which he was allowed to keep not by feudal but by costumal tenure, which effectively recognized the earlier status of his ownership. The source for this is Henry Bracton (c.1210–c.1268) an English cleric and jurist. These properties were also held by gavelkind, which means that they were sellable and not just held in fealty to an Earl. It is not clear which other properties Ulf recovered.

Notwithstanding these credible assertions, it is most unlikely on the face of it that Ulf was the father of Jordanus of Sheppey, as the latter was born in 1135 making Ulf around 85 at the time of his conception. This is not impossible but it is improbable. However, there is a possibility of a link between Ulf and Jordanus if we postulate that the honorific title acquired by Ulf after Ascalon passed to Jordanus of Sheppey though a third person. As some commentators have suggested, Jordanus could be the grandson of Ulf through an illegitimate or unrecognised son.
Some Norwood online trees trace their genealogy directly back to Jordanus de Sheppey, and then to Harold Godwineson as his father, basing this on Marion Norwood Callum’s researches – that cannot be true. The chronology does not hold; court documents for Jordan’s wife and children make it clear that he had to have been born long after Harold Godwinson was dead at Hastings, indeed in 1135.

Finally, there is the intriguing reference to Loup Fitz Heraut (Wulf son of Harold). It is regrettable that more is not known about this knight. An area worthy of research.

The Wily Archbishop Arundel

Portrait of Archbishop Thomas Arundel
Lambeth Palace portrait, Wikipedia

It’s hard to decide whether Thomas Arundel was a villain or an asset. On the one hand, he was a brilliant administrator. On the other hand, he tended toward despotism. If you read Terry Jones’ entertaining but very biased Who Murdered Chaucer? he was practically the devil incarnate: “The war on heresy, which Archbishop Arundel announced in that winter of 1401, added a new dimension to a period already characterized by fear and intimidation. Gone was the experimental and questioning ‘blue skies’ intellectual environment of Richard II’s court, to be replaced by repression and censorship. The country slid into a regime of Orwellian thought-control and MacCarthyite witch-hunting.” Wow. Colorful though this opinion is, I couldn’t find anyone else who agreed with it—at least to the extent of the archbishop’s oppressiveness. And I looked for it. Yes, anti-Wycliffe dogma was prevalent in Henry IV’s reign—with the approval of the king—and Arundel did attempt to control the curriculum at Oxford with varied success. Yes, the first heretic was burned in Henry’s reign (two total, I believe). But wholesale burning of heretics would have to wait until Mary Tudor.

Thomas Arundel was the younger brother of Richard Earl of Arundel, one of the Lords Appellant in Richard II’s reign who traumatized the king during the Merciless Parliament of 1387.  Thomas was serving his first of five stints as Lord Chancellor. He sided with the Appellants against the king, an error he was to pay dearly for ten years later during the Revenge Parliament. By then he was Archbishop of Canterbury, which probably saved his life; Richard shrunk from executing an archbishop. He was sentenced to forfeiture and outlawry instead, commanded to leave the country. A new archbishop was raised in his place.

When Richard outlawed Henry Bolingbroke, he demanded that the exiles never contact each other. Of course, who was going to enforce that? Just as soon as Richard left the country for Ireland, Arundel showed up on Henry’s doorstep in Paris and together they plotted Lancaster’s return. Would Henry have had the audacity to take such a risk without Arundel’s prodding? Many historians wonder. Up until that point Henry had been the obedient son, apolitical and relatively carefree (at least, before his exile). Now he was about to launch a major rebellion, with Arundel beside him every step of the way. Not long after they landed in England, Arundel took up his role as archbishop again (without any official appointment) and proceeded to preach against Richard II, allegedly spreading propaganda lies to encourage the people to rebel. You can see the dubious faces of his listeners…

Archbishop Arundel preaches against Richard II
Arundel preaching: British Library Harley 1319 F12

Of course, all went according to plan and Arundel is credited for putting together the means to legitimize Henry’s usurpation. Over the course of his reign, Henry came to depend on him more and more, though at first their association was more political than friendly. But as Henry’s health declined after 1405, he began to spend extended periods of time at the archbishop’s residences. While the king faded into the background, Arundel took a major role in governing the council as well as serving as chancellor from 1407-10 and again from 1412-13. The gap in his official duties was due to the opposition of Prince Henry, who was gaining ascendance as his father was increasingly unable to rule. In fact, the very day Henry V became king, he sacked Arundel and replaced him with his uncle, Henry Beaufort, who was the archbishop’s bitter political opponent. Arundel died a year later and was buried in Canterbury Cathedral. Interestingly, his tomb and chapel were destroyed by Archbishop Cranmer in 1540, presumably as revenge for his repression of heresy.

Insurrections Under Henry IV

Henry Bolingbroke delivers Richard II to the Londoners
Henry Delivers Richard to Londoners-Harley 1319 f53v, British Library

It goes without saying that any usurper will have to deal with resistance. Considering the wave of popularity that thrust Henry Bolingbroke onto the throne, I imagine he never would have suspected the number of rebellions he would have to confront in the first five years of his reign. Some were major, others were minor. Two nearly condemned him as the shortest reigning monarch in English history. All must have been disheartening to the man who saw himself as an honorable, chivalric knight.

What could possibly have gone wrong?

The first rebellion wasn’t much of a surprise—though the timing was shocking. Only three months after his coronation, King Richard II’s favorites launched the Epiphany Rising of January, 1400. Their aim was to capture and kill the king and his family on the eve of a tournament at Windsor Castle. Unfortunately, they were in too much of a hurry; Henry was still at the height of his popularity. At the very last minute, King Henry was warned and he made a frantic escape to London. Nonetheless, the ringleaders were committed; after they found their prey had flown they continued with their revolt, though they weren’t able to attract as much support as they expected. Rather, most of them suffered the indignity of being killed by the citizenry, who took the law into their own hands.

Needless to say, the Epiphany Revolt put an end to Richard. Or did it? Although he was reported dead by February 14 and a very public funeral was held, rumors spread that he had escaped to Scotland and was going to return at the head of an army. Disgruntled rebels were quick to challenge the usurper in his name, and the spectre of a vengeful Richard haunted Henry for the rest of his life. Or, if Richard was dead, the young Earl of March—considered by many the true heir to the throne—served the same purpose. As far as the rebels were concerned, one figurehead was as good as the other.

During most of Henry’s reign, the country was bankrupt—or nearly so—and the first few years were the worst. It didn’t take long for the populace to cry foul, for as they remembered it, he promised not to raise taxes (untrue). Things were supposed to get better (they didn’t). Mob violence was everywhere. Even tax collectors were killed. Meanwhile, a fresh source of rebellion reared its head: the Welsh.

On his way back to London after his first (and only) campaign into Scotland, the king learned of a Welsh rising led by one Owain Glyndwr, who visited fire and destruction on his recalcitrant neighbor Reginald Grey of Ruthin. Turning immediately to the west, Henry led his army into Wales, chasing the elusive enemy deep into the mountains. Unfortunately, lack of funds and terrible weather forced them to turn back. But this just added fuel to the proverbial fire. Repeated Welsh raids unsettled his border barons, who were quick to complain. During parliament—only one year after Henry’s coronation—the Commons insisted on enforcing the most repressive anti-Welsh legislation since Edward I. None of these laws would have been enacted in Richard’s reign. The Welsh were in no mood to acquiesce, and their rebellion gained steam for the next several years, sapping an already exhausted exchequer.

Royal MS 14e iv f.14v, British Library

Then there were the Percies. The Earl of Northumberland and his son, Harry Hotspur were instrumental in putting Henry on the throne. They also ruled the north as though it was their own kingdom. This would not do, and Henry followed his predecessor’s strategy of raising up other great families as a counter to their ambitions. Disappointed that Henry did not appreciate them as much as they expected—especially after they won Homildon Hill, the most significant battle against the Scots since Edward I days—the Percies launched a totally unexpected assault in 1403. It was Harry Hotspur who drove this insurrection, using Richard II’s imminent return as a means to raise the restive Cheshiremen to his cause. Once his soldiers realized that Richard wasn’t coming, they fought to avenge him instead. The resulting Battle of Shrewsbury was a very close call; if Henry hadn’t unexpectedly traveled north from London that week to join Henry Percy, he never would have been close enough to intercept the rebels when he learned about the uprising. The fighting was ferocious; it was only Hotspur’s death on the battlefield that determined which side had won the day. As it was, Percy’s ally, the Earl of Douglas, allegedly killed two knights who wore Henry’s livery, giving their lives to save the king in the confusion of battle.

The Earl of Northumberland was still in the North when the Battle of Shrewsbury took place. Historians can’t decide whether Percy’s failure to assist his son was planned or unplanned. But one thing was for sure; Henry Percy was still a force to be reckoned with. Although the king reluctantly pardoned him (with the urging of the Commons), he was back two years later, leading another rebellion in conjunction with a rising led by Richard Scrope, the Archbishop of York, and Thomas Mowbray, son of Henry Bolingbroke’s old rival. Northumberland’s thrust was repelled before he gained much speed, yet Scrope’s forces waited at York for three days before being tricked into disbanding by the Earl of Westmorland, Percy’s nemesis. Poor Archbishop Scrope became the focus of King Henry’s rage. Despite resistance from all sides, the king ordered him to be executed, creating a huge scandal and a new martyr.

Henry Percy suffered outlawry at that point, but he returned three years later, fighting one last battle, so pathetic one wonders whether he had a death wish. He was killed on the field and subsequently decapitated.

These were the major rebellions. Other disturbances were usually dealt with without Henry’s presence. In 1404, Maud de Ufford, Countess of Oxford—mother of the ill-fated Robert de Vere, Richard’s favorite—organized an uprising centered around the return of King Richard. This was in conjunction with Louis d’Orleans, the French duke who planned to invade the country in December. Alas, he was held up by the weather and Richard failed to materialize. In 1405, Constance of York, sister of Edward (Rutland), Duke of York concocted a plot to kidnap the young Earl of March (remember him, the other heir to the throne?) and his brother from Windsor Castle. She was taking them to Owain Glyndwr but got caught before they entered Wales. She implicated her brother who was imprisoned for several months, but no one knows for sure whether he was complicit or not (he probably was).

Bad weather, failed crops, an empty exchequer, regional disorders, piracy that disrupted the wool trade, all contributed to general unrest that plagued the fragile Lancastrian dynasty. Henry’s willingness to accept criticism from friends and supporters—and sincerely try to act upon it—could well be one of the reasons he survived and King Richard failed.

Author’s Inspiration: THE USURPER KING

Henry IV with coat of arms
Henry IV, MS Harley 4205 f. 7, British Library

For a long time my only knowledge about Henry IV came from Shakespeare. How typical! I suspect he would have been amazed at how literally we took his memorable characters. Interestingly, although Shakespeare wrote two plays about Henry IV, the king played a minor role in both. It is thought that because Henry was a usurper, the great bard didn’t want to ruffle Queen Elizabeth’s feathers by giving him prominence; too many of his fellow playwrights ended up in prison. Besides, it was much more diverting to give the spotlight to Falstaff! And of course, Prince Hal was safe, since he wasn’t responsible for his father’s actions.

It seems that other scholars followed Shakespeare’s example and gave Henry IV short shrift—possibly because his reign was sandwiched between two much more dynamic kings. Fortunately, modern historians have taken another look and discovered there is plenty to talk about (though much credit is due to the Victorian historian James Hamilton Wylie who wrote a four-volume biography about him. Try finding it!).

Originally, I had only planned to write my first two volumes about Richard II’s life. But I got caught up in the whole usurpation story and realized that Henry’s point of view was just as interesting as Richard’s. It was too much to include in volume two; in fact, Henry’s story covers two books on its own. Naturally, I soon realized that I might as well take the Plantagenets all the way to the end. Every one of them had a story to tell—even Henry VI (we forget that he reigned 40 years).

I found Henry IV’s story to be very sympathetic. Although it was more than a little unethical for him to break Thomas Mowbray’s confidence and start the whole brouhaha that got them exiled (see THE KING’S RETRIBUTION), the punishment was certainly disproportionate to the offense. What was the crime? Why was he declared a traitor? It was all so unfair! Once he returned to reclaim his lost inheritance, he realized that he had to go “all the way” or else risk losing his head to a vindictive Richard. There were to be no half-measures here. Luckily for him, practically the whole country rallied behind his banner.

But that’s only part of the story. All the good-will built up between him and the populace was exhausted pretty quickly. Promises were broken, expectations disappointed, the exchequer was empty, law-and-order disintegrated. Repressive measures led to even more discontent. Poor Henry was quick to learn that that that having the kingship was much less rewarding than striving for it.

But the proverbial die was cast. Once he had established the Lancastrian dynasty, Henry was determined to make it stick. However, on more than one occasion he nearly came to disaster, and his reign might have become the shortest-lasting kingship in English history. The Epiphany Rising—a mere three months after his coronation—and the Battle of Shrewsbury were only two of the rebellions he had to face in the first four years of his reign. And all this happened before the infamous execution of Richard Scrope, Archbishop of York, and Henry’s subsequent attack of leprosy (or so everyone thought). More to come in The Accursed King which I am working on as we speak.

 

WHO WAS RICHARD II’S HEIR?

Coronation of Henry IV
Coronation of Henry IV, BL MS Harley 4380, F.186V

When Henry IV took the throne, he wasn’t exactly the natural successor to Richard II, although he certainly had a place on the list! I’m being a little facetious here; there wasn’t really a “list”, and a lot had to do with whether the crown was inherited by absolute primogeniture (where the sex of the heir is not relevant) or in tail male (where males only can inherit). This was not etched in stone during the high middle ages. In 1290 Edward I made a settlement permitting his daughters to succeed. Then Edward III made an entail only allowing the succession in the male line. Allegedly this entail was kept secret, because John of Gaunt, next in line, was very unpopular at the end of Edward III’s reign. Both kings’ original entails have been lost, possibly destroyed by a later monarch. After all, how long was an entail supposed to last? Forever? Or until it was superseded by another?

One thing is for sure: Richard II absolutely did not want Henry Bolingbroke to succeed him. As early as 1394, before his first expedition to Ireland, he appointed Edmund Langley, Duke of York as keeper of the realm. (York was the younger brother of Gaunt.) This overrode John of Gaunt’s request that the post go to Henry. Traditionally the keeper of the realm was heir presumptive, so this was a real slap in the face to Gaunt. All the way to the end of Richard’s reign, York was unofficially his choice of heir, and after him, Edward Rutland, the king’s cousin and favorite. If Richard ever made it official, this too was lost.

But this wasn’t the only complication. Gaunt’s older brother Lionel died in 1368 leaving only a daughter who married Edmund Mortimer, the 3rd Earl of March. They had a son, Roger, who many thought was the heir to the throne. Since Roger was descended from the daughter, according to Edward III’s entail he was disqualified. But few knew about the entail, and Richard had little interest in the Mortimers. Roger was killed in Ireland in 1398, leaving behind a young son.

So when Richard was usurped in 1399, Mortimer was too young to stand up for himself. Edward Rutland never made a fuss over the succession. This left Henry Bolingbroke, who took young Mortimer under his “protection”. Ironically, the Yorkists, who will resurface during the Wars of the Roses, are descended both from the Duke of York and the Mortimers, giving them a somewhat stronger claim than Lancaster. But that’s another story.

The slippery Edward, Earl of Rutland Part 2: Henry IV

Henry Bolingbroke kneels to King Richard II
     MS BL Harley 1319 f.50, Wikipedia

In Part I, Edward Earl of Rutland abandoned King Richard’s cause after the forsaken monarch left his rapidly declining army in South Wales and dashed north to join the Earl of Salisbury in Conwy—where he expected to find another army waiting for him. Richard was too late, for Salisbury couldn’t hold his force together. Frantic, the king sent for Rutland to bring the southern army, only to learn that his cousin had deserted to Bolingbroke. The rest, as they say, is history.

Edward could congratulate himself on joining the winning side. But his trials were far from over. During Henry IV’s first parliament, he was among the six surviving Counter-Appellants brought to task for the murder of the Duke of Gloucester. There was quite a ruckus as lord after lord threw their hoods on the floor and challenged him to a duel until King Henry put a stop to the disturbance. All the Counter- Appellants suffered the loss of their new ranks—awarded by King Richard after the Revenge Parliament—but further retribution was avoided. Henry didn’t want to start his reign with a blood bath. After a brief imprisonment, all were released.

Unfortunately for Henry, their rancor had not diminished as a result of his leniency. Within three months of the coronation, they were plotting to kill the usurper and put Richard back on the throne. Their plan was to infiltrate Windsor castle during the Epiphany tournament, where they would dispatch the king and his family. They might have succeeded except at the last minute, someone told Henry and he fled Windsor just hours before the assassins showed up. Who betrayed the conspirators? No one knows for sure. Some thought an indiscrete accomplice told his mistress who passed it on. But most contemporaries point the finger at Rutland. Did he only pretend to be part of the conspiracy so he could tell the king? Did he change his mind at the last minute and tell his father? Or, as Shakespeare portrayed, did he give himself away by accident, whereas his father forced him to confess to the king? He apparently confirmed his guilt by abandoning his confederates later on, when King Henry showed up with his army. One thing’s for sure: he wasn’t punished. The rest of the rebel leaders were lynched by the mobs, showing their loyalty to the king. Whatever Henry felt about Rutland’s participation has been lost to history.

Though apparently the king trusted him, or at least found him useful. Soon afterwards he was sent to Guyenne as lieutenant for two years. On his return he was made Duke of York, for his father had died in his absence. Then the king made him lieutenant of South Wales, where he worked closely with Prince Henry. But this was certainly not a favor! The exchequer was out of funds and Rutland had to dig deep into his pockets to pay his men (he was still owed money from Guyenne). This could well have stretched his loyalty to King Henry.

In February, 1405, his sister Constance abducted the two Mortimer boys, kept hostage at Windsor Castle; the eldest was considered by many the true heir to the throne and kept in close confinement. Since she was apprehended taking them to Wales, there was no doubt that she was planning to deliver them to Owain Glyndwr (and their uncle Sir Edmund Mortimer, who had joined the rebellion). Constance immediately implicated Rutland, who initially denied any knowledge of her plot, but later he confessed and was imprisoned for seventeen weeks at Pevensey Castle. By October the king showed signs of forgiveness and two months later Rutland received his lands back. A year later he was made Constable of the Tower, landing on his feet again!

Battle of Agincourt by John Gilbert – Wikipedia

Apparently the Prince favored Rutland as well, for after Henry IV’s death he was involved in diplomatic matters for the new king. He accompanied Henry V to Agincourt in 1415, where he was killed on the battlefield.

One can only assume he was a man of considerable ability, which would help explain why he was given so many positions of responsibility despite his dubious reputation among his contemporaries.  As an aside, Rutland was an authority on hunting and made an English translation of Gaston Phoebus’ Livre de Chasse, with the addition of several chapters he wrote, himself.

Dual identities of some Exeter Cathedral carvings, Guest Post by John Ramsden

Exeter Cathedral Nave, Source: Wikipedia

In this post I present detailed evidence to support my contention that, surprisingly, the corbel carvings in the nave of Exeter Cathedral have represented, at various times and different places over the centuries, two lots of people.

I believe they were originally of Norman and Angevin monarchs and were in Old Westminster Abbey, but were salvaged from there when this started being demolished in 1245 prior to its rebuild over the following twenty or so years by Henry III. Presumably they then languished in some depot or in the Tower of London for some years while people wondered what to do with them, or more likely almost forgot about them.

In the early 1350s the then Bishop of Exeter, John de Grandisson, needed a set of carvings to complete the nave and the splendid barrel roof of the rebuilt cathedral. To save money and, very likely because no stone carver of sufficient skill was available following the Black Death, which had ravaged the Kingdom only a couple of years earlier, he decided it would be easier to reuse existing carvings by adding suitable extra layers of plaster and paint. The revamped carvings would represent Edward III and members of his family, including the Black Prince, and the bishop himself and his wife.

I suggest that de Grandisson learned of the Norman carvings put aside and was able to acquire them. In positioning them, he ingeniously managed to preserve the order of succession of their original Norman identities, from West to East along the nave, perhaps out of respect for who he knew they had been, while achieving a felicitous arrangement of their new identities, given the choice he had to make of who would best correspond to who from their physical similarities.

Corbel of King Stephen. Source: Alamy

Three hundred years later, in the 1650s, when richly ornate and gilt carvings were no longer fashionable or even tolerated, de Grandisson’s surface alterations were scrubbed and scraped away, leaving the original Norman identities. By then few would have guessed who these were, or in the unlikely event they did were (luckily) symathetic and kept quiet about the new identities uncovered, because carvings of monarchs would not have been welcome in Cromwell’s republic! Perhaps they were presented as Old Testament characters such as Saul, David, and Samuel, etc.

The carvings remained a drab grey and indistinct, and anonymous, until modern times when they were repainted once more, only a few years ago I gather. The lady entrusted with this task did a splendid job and really brought them to life. But, not knowing the carvings’ identities, she understandably chose the wrong colours for the hair and beards of some.

My evidence mostly relates to their present (and thus original) appearance, based on comparisons with contemporary descriptions of the monarchs I claim they represent, and the few surviving representations of them, which are mostly copies of originals. The evidence for their intermediate identities, between c 1350 and 1650, is ably provided in [Ottery]. So I have little to add to that.

Tying the two together is solely my conjecture, although I hope a well-disposed reader will agree in the end that it is plausible, and that in fact it would be hard to find any other explanation that accounts for all the features, including a couple of strange anomalies, of their present disposition.

A corollary of this, if true, is that for once the mighty Wikipedia is wrong! Its article on William the Conqueror states that “No authentic portrait of William has been found”. However, as I hope to convince the reader, an accurate carving of him, very likely the last that still exists, looms over the western door of the cathedral as large as life!

Corbel of William the Conqueror

Besides the corbel carving, which I claim is his, and very likely the most accurate, I am aware of only four surviving representations of William I’s face, in increasing order of likely accuracy:

  • Contemporary coins (hardly accurate at all, but a few may be vaguely suggestive)
  • Bayeux tapestry (maybe slightly more accurate than coins, but not much)
  • 17th century copy of earlier wooden face mask in Tower of London
  • Engraved copy of now lost painting of him and family on chapel wall in Abbey of St Stephen, Caen

The Tower of London houses a copy of earlier wooden mask of William I. This copy was produced in the 1680s from an original that was by then in very poor shape and (to my knowledge) no longer exists. The facial features are likely a fairly accurate reflection of the original, but the same certainly cannot be said of the head shape.

It seems new copies of several masks of former sovereigns were produced for a public exhibition planned by King James II somewhat similar to a waxworks display. His aim was a foolish and outdated desire to extol the merits of absolute monarchy and try to restore it. He had evidently learned nothing from the then recent grim fate of Charles I, who had also tried to maintain the divine right of kings past its sell by date!

17th century copy of contemporary wooden carving of WIlliam I

In those days people had firm ideas about what constituted an aristocratic head shape, and that was a narrow head. So, given the propaganda aims of the exhibition, if William’s original mask had an embarrassingly broad and robust face shape and lantern jaws, like a peasant’s by the refined standards of the day, then they would have thought nothing of making those of the copy much narrower and flatter, with a suitably delicate small jaw! Also, in fairness, the original may have eroded and shrunk, or lost outlying parts, to a point where the overall head shape was no longer obvious.

The superficial features of this face include: prominently arched eyebrows, a straight nose, full mouth, and cold supercilious eyes. But (predictably!) the head shape is narrow, with no prominent cheekbones nor a lantern jaw nor even jowls. This is not the face of the corpulent person William I became in his final years, possibly letting himself go somewhat and comfort eating following the death of his wife Matilda in 1083, three years before William’s death.

12th century carvings v 14th century rebuild

On the face of it, the fact that the barrel roof was not built until the 1350s is a conclusive objection to a claim that carvings which are an integral part of it can be from the 1100s, because the foliage above the carved heads definitely follows the present curved ceiling arches and thus could not have been present in the original Norman cathedral.

However, again, my proposal explains this if the carved heads were taken from elsewhere and reused at the time the roof was rebuilt.

A keen researcher, willing to root through old parchments in Exeter Cathedral library or in the records of Westminster Abbey (a task I have neither time nor skill to undertake), could perhaps confirm whether a stonemason was paid for the relevant corbel carvings as part of the cathedral rebuild. If not then, like “the dog that didn’t bark in the night”, that would tend to support my contention that these already existed from earlier times.

But note that the foliage adornments would have needed freshly carving. These carvings are exquisitely done, and to the uninitiated (such as myself) this achievement looks hideously difficult and complicated, more so even than carving faces, given the deep and convoluted 3D structures required. But it may be one of those skills that are actually fairly simple and routine with practice, and the carving of accurate life-like faces that is the more subtle and demanding task.

There’s much more to read on this subject.  Click HERE for the full article.

 

A Traitor’s death is a hard one, Guest Post by Anna Belfrage

Being a medieval king came with all sorts of challenges, chief among them how to stop people from rebelling and in general causing unnecessary upheaval in your country. Sheesh: couldn’t they just accept that the one in charge was the king? Only the king? Clearly, something had to be done to keep people on the straight and narrow, which is why – or so the story goes – late in the 13th century, Edward I decided he needed to up the death-penalty somewhat, make it even more of a deterrent. Specifically, Edward I wanted people considering treason to think again – which was why, on October of 1283, he had the last Prince of Wales, Dafydd ap Gruffydd, subjected to horrific torture before the poor man finally died. Dafydd thereby became the first recorded person to be executed by the gruesome means of being hanged, drawn and quartered. I’m guessing Dafydd would have preferred being remembered for something else… It is still a matter of dispute whether Edward I is responsible for the introduction of this terrible punishment. There are indications Henry III, Edward’s generally rather mild father, condemned someone to die like this for an attempted assassination. I imagine that had Simon de Montfort not lost his life at Evesham, he’d have been a prime candidate for being the first ever nobleman to die thus. Fortunately (well relatively speaking: Montfort’s death was no walk in the park) Montfort did die on the battlefield, and so instead here we have Dafydd as the eternal poster boy for dying slowly and very, very painfully. To be thus executed involved a lot of stages. First, you were tied to a horse (or in some cases several horses) and dragged through the town. Doesn’t sound too bad, you may think, but imagine being dragged over uneven cobbles, over gravel and stones, mud and slime, while the spectators lining the road pelt you with stuff – hard stuff, mostly. By the time the victim arrived at the gallows, he was a collection of bruises and gashes, his garments torn to shreds. Chances were, the man couldn’t stand, but stand he had to, and soon enough he was hoisted upwards, to the waiting noose.

The second stage involved the hanging as such. In medieval times, hanging rarely resulted in a broken neck. The condemned man didn’t drop several feet. Instead, the victim was set to swing from his neck and slowly strangled to death. A painful and extended demise, with the further indignity that when a man dies, his bowels and bladder give. However, the unfortunate sod who’d been condemned to being hanged, drawn and quartered, never got to the bladder and bowels part. He was cut down before he died and placed before the executioner and his big, sharp knife. The horror was just about to begin.

In some cases, the executioner started by gelding the man. Loud cheers from the spectators – or not, depending on who was being executed. Executions generally drew huge crowds, people standing about and snacking on the odd fritter or two while watching the condemned die. Nice – but hey, we must remember this was before the advent of TV and stuff like Counterstrike 4. People have always enjoyed being entertained with violence – which says a lot about the human race in general.

Once the condemned man had been relieved of his manhood (not something he’d ever use again anyway), he was cut open. A skilled executioner would keep him alive throughout the process, ensuring the dying man saw his organs being pulled from his body. And then, once the poor unfortunate finally expired, they chopped him up, sent off selected parts to be displayed in various parts of the kingdom, and buried what little was left over.

Not, all in all, a nice way to die. Men condemned to die that way must have swallowed and swallowed, knowing full well that no one could bear such indignities and die well. Before he drew his last breath, he’d have cried and wept, suffered horrific pain, hoped for the release of unconsciousness, only to be brought back up to the surface so as to fully experience what they did next to him. A truly demeaning death – most definitely a deterrent!

Edward I was quite fond of his new method of execution. Other than the unfortunate Dafydd, Edward had several Scottish “rebels and traitors” – in itself a strange label to put on men fighting for the freedom of their country – hanged, drawn and quartered, notably among them William Wallace and some of Robert Bruce’s brothers.

It is unlikely that any man subjected to such a gruesome death would be in a position to inhale and yell “FREEDOM!” as William Wallace does in Mel Gibson’s interpretation. It is far more likely that by the time the cutting began, the victim was in severe shock, incapable of uttering more than high-pitched shrieks and grunts.

There were exceptions, though. Well at least if we’re to believe some of the “eye-witness” accounts that have made it down the centuries to us. Take, for example, the case of Thomas Blount, ond of the men who conspired to murder Henry IV and his young sons on Twelfth Night. The conspiracy failed, the rebels were brutally punished, and Thomas was drawn, hanged and was watching his entrails burn when he was asked by one of his guards if he needed a drink. Thomas Blount politely declined the offer, saying that he did not know where to put it…

Back to Dafydd. He too, supposedly, died as well as one can die such a terrible death. No frantic screaming, no begging, although I imagine the poor man could not suppress the odd groan, gasp or whispered prayer.  

My recent release, His Castilian Hawk, is set in Wales during those tumultuous years when Edward I crushed the Welsh underfoot. Below, a little excerpt detailing Dafydd’s final hours on this earth as seem through the eyes of my female protagonist, Noor, who has quite the dollop of Welsh blood running through her veins.

Excerpt:

They emerged into a cold and crisp autumn day. People were drifting in the direction of the castle, there were men-at-arms everywhere, and Noor shivered, pulling her cloak tight round her shoulders. A scaffold had been erected at the top of the slope that led to the castle. To the far right stood the church of St Mary; beyond the platform rose the walls of the castle, the royal banner unfurling in the wind.

“This is close enough,” Noor said, coming to a halt. To her surprise, Marured did not protest. She was rocking the babe, eyes lost in the bright blue sky above. Soon enough, they were hemmed in, Nicholas adopting a protective stance behind them. The majority of the spectators chattered and laughed; there were wineskins passed back and forth, pies and pasties shared.

Some stood silent, little groups of mostly men who looked grim and tired. Welshmen, Noor thought, biting back a surprised gasp when she recognised one of them as Rhys, one of the men who had accompanied Dafydd when he’d visited Orton Manor. Rhys inclined his head slightly in Noor’s direction before looking at Marured and lifting a hand in a greeting. She returned the gesture, flitting behind Noor so that she stood close to Rhys, her voice low and intense as she said something to him.

“Do you think Lord Robert is here?” Nicholas asked, narrowed eyes scanning their surroundings.

“Robert?” Noor stood on her toes, craning her neck as she turned this way and that, hoping for a glimpse of a familiar leather surcoat. “I wish—”

She was interrupted by a group of men-at-arms, yelling at them to make way, make way for the traitor. Behind them came a horse, and dragged behind it was a man. A roar rose from the assembled people. Eggs, stones, offal, rotten apples—the half-naked man tied to the horse was pelted from every direction.

“Dear God,” Noor whispered.

“This is but the beginning,” Nicholas muttered in response.

The horse was brought to a halt by the scaffolds. Two men-at-arms hauled Dafydd ap Gruffydd to his feet and ripped his tattered tunic from him. They made as if to manhandle him up the ladder, but he shook off their hands and climbed up on his own. Naked, dirty, bruised and bleeding, the former prince still carried himself with dignity.

Dafydd stared straight ahead as a noose was placed round his neck. The executioner called out an order, and the rope was tightened. Noor did not want to look but could not tear her gaze away as the naked man was lifted off his feet. Limbs jerked, all of him shook, and Noor prayed and prayed that the executioner would miscalculate, thereby saving Dafydd from the coming indignities. One last twitch. The body hung still. The executioner barked instructions, the rope was released, and Dafydd tumbled onto the scaffold.

He hadn’t died. A staggering Dafydd was heaved up and tied to a ladder. The executioner held up a blade, and the mob bayed in response. From Marured came a strangled sob. From the man tied to the ladder came a high-pitched squeal, like the sound one of the pigs made when it was butchered. In difference to the pig’s squeal, this sound was abruptly cut short, as if the man being tortured had somehow regained control of himself.

Blood. So much blood. Dafydd sagged in his ropes, blood staining his upper thighs. The executioner held something up, and the crowd went wild. Marured wailed. One of the men beside her took hold of her and pulled her close.

Tied to his ladder, Dafydd was still alive. It was not over yet.

“Mother Mary, help him,” Noor groaned. “Give him strength in these his last moments.”

The crowd fell silent. When the executioner yet again approached Dafydd with the blade, Nicholas took hold of Noor and pressed her to his chest. She did not protest, hiding her face against the rough fabric of his tunic. It was as if all the assembled people held their breath, waiting. Other than the odd scuffing of shoes against the cobbles, it was so quiet she could hear her own breathing. Nicholas’ arm tightened round her. More silence, and then she heard Nicholas groan, “God save his soul.” The air filled with the faint scent of burning innards. But from Dafydd, there came not a sound, and some moments later the decisive sound of an axe cleaving flesh and bone had Noor crumpling, hot tears scalding her cheeks.

She straightened up. “May the Lord receive you into his kingdom,” she whispered, making the sign of the cross.

“Amen,” Nicholas said in a low voice. He shook himself. “Not even an accursed traitor deserves to die like that.” He nudged her and nodded in the direction of Marured, standing as if carved from stone some feet away. Her face was awash with tears, her gaze on the men still busy on the scaffold.

Rhys made the sign of the cross and muttered a soft, “Farewell, our prince.” He gestured for his companions to come with him, and they headed in the direction of the Welsh gate, a group of men who walked straight and unseeing, ploughing a path through the people still assembled. No one challenged them. Instead, they moved aside.

“He died well!” someone called out. The Welshmen came to a halt. Rhys turned in the direction of the speaker.

“All Welshmen know how to die,” he said. “It’s a lesson the English king has been kind enough to teach us over and over again.”

Amazon link: http://mybook.to/HISHAWK

MEET ANNA BELFRAGE: 

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveller. As this was impossible, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests: history and writing. Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga, set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy which is set in 14th century England. 

More recently, Anna has published The Wanderer, a fast-paced contemporary romantic suspense trilogy with paranormal and time-slip ingredients. While she loved stepping out of her comfort zone (and will likely do so again ) she is delighted to be back in medieval times in her September 2020 release, His Castilian Hawk. Set against the complications of Edward I’s invasion of Wales, His Castilian Hawk is a story of loyalty, integrity—and love.  

CONNECT WITH ANNA: 

website www.annabelfrage.com
Amazon page, http://Author.to/ABG
FB: https://www.facebook.com/annabelfrageauthor/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/abelfrageauthor

The Quandary of Public Domain Photos


I could just about guarantee that I’m not the only underpaid indie author who has wondered about using a public domain photo on the cover of their new novel. Well, I finally decided to push this question to its logical conclusion, and I thought I’d share the process with you. I am not a lawyer, so don’t take me at my word! But I have at least one experience to pass on.

For me, the picture in question was from a manuscript in the British Library. The image is all over the Internet and, most importantly, on Wikipedia, a kind of the clearinghouse for public domain images, as I see it. For the record, Wikipedia tells us “the copyright term is the author’s life plus 70 years or less.” Since I am using a manuscript illumination, that’s not a problem. I knew I could use these pictures on the Internet: a blog post, social media, and my webpage. But when it comes to something like a book, I knew somehow that the rules were different. First of all, copyright laws tend to cover the country of origin. Even if I could use it in the United States, what about Europe? I wouldn’t (or couldn’t) limit my distribution to just one country.

So I went to the British Library site (https://imagesonline.bl.uk/) where you can purchase a license. That was the easy part. Below the image you can click on an icon to determine the price. First they ask you a question: is this for personal use, advertising, editorial, or products? For personal use, the price is £7.50, for advertising the price is £691.20. I’m already confused, because if I take the image from Wikipedia for my personal use, it doesn’t cost anything.

Which category does my book cover fall into? I’m not a publisher or a business, so my book is being published personally. Isn’t it? What is the definition of advertising? Do they mean a picture on a coffee cup or a magazine advertisement, or something of that ilk? Is a book cover considered advertising? When I checked out the Terms and Conditions, it tells us, “Reproduction (allowed): includes any form of publication or copying of the whole or part of any Image whether altered or not, and derived from any Image whether by printing, photography, slide projection, xerography, artists’ reference, artists’ illustration, layout or presentation, electronic or mechanical reproduction or storage by any other means.” OK, my book is covered by “any form of publication”, I suppose.

So, taking this as permission, I paid my £7.50 and proceeded to fret about it for a couple of days. Finally, just to be sure, I sent an email to the support people and gave them a working copy of my cover with an explanation. They were very responsive. The next day I received an answer, telling me, “The licence you have purchased is only for personal use. Please let us know the print run and language territory rights required for your book. For front cover use the fee is much higher but we would deduct or refund the fee you have paid.” Well, that was that. Expecting the worst, I explained to them that my book was Print on Demand and I had no way of knowing how many were going to sell; it could be 10, or 100, or 500. I was already prepared to scrap the whole idea, having resigned myself to the worst. Imagine my surprise the next day to hear from them again: “The permission fee will be an additional £46.45.” That’s a far cry from £691 and change! Needless to say, I jumped on it (and printed a copy of the email for my records). And now I am the happy licensee of a public domain image that assuredly was inaccessible before the days of the Internet.


When it came time to publish my second book (a year or so later), I was expecting more of the same, since I used British Library again. I noticed that my “contact” was someone different and the procedure had changed somewhat. I told them I expected to sell about 500 copies, again Print on Demand. This time, the charge was £150—considerably more, needless to say! I was afraid to object so I paid it and considered myself lucky. Now, I’m about do it a third time (another year later). Who knows what I’ll come up with?

I have absolutely no idea how they arrived at a price. What I did learn is that in this new world, it behooves us not to assume anything. Had I not written that letter, I might have gotten myself into a lot of trouble. On the other hand, my image of choice was not out of reach after all.