Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Whalley Abbey

by Elizabeth Ashworth

The Cistercian monks of Whalley originally had an abbey at Stanlaw in Cheshire, founded by John FitzEustace, constable of Chester on the eve of his departure for the Holy Land in 1178. It was built on a sandstone outcrop at the confluence of the rivers Mersey and Gowy, and was surrounded by low-lying marshland. In 1279, a great storm flooded much of the abbey and representation was made to the Pope for permission to leave and build a new monastery on another site.

Whalley Abbey
When John FitzEustace’s son, Roger, had inherited the Honour of Clitheroe from his grandmother and taken the de Lacy name, he had granted the valuable rectory of Rochdale to Stanlaw Abbey. Roger’s son, John de Lacy, who became the Earl of Lincoln, also granted various lands in Lancashire to the abbey, including the rectory of Blackburn. So it wasn’t surprising that the monks looked to Henry de Lacy (the great, great grandson of the original founder) when seeking a new home. Neither Rochdale nor Blackburn was deemed suitable, but when the site at Whalley, on the banks of the River Calder, was offered the monks agreed to migrate to there.

Henry de Lacy agreed to give the land at Whalley on certain conditions: the remains of his ancestors and others buried at Stanlaw would be reburied at Whalley, and the name of the abbey would continue to be Locus Benedictus (the blessed place). On 23rd July 1289, Pope Nicholas IV granted a licence for the translation of the abbey and the appropriation of the church at Whalley on the resignation or death of its aged rector, Peter de Cestria (Peter of Chester), who had held the benefice for 54 years. But he was so long-lived that the monks had to wait until January 1295 before the move to Whalley could begin, leaving behind a cell of four monks at Stanlaw.

On the 4th April 1296, St Ambrose Day, a small group of monks took possession of the land. The monks lived in Peter de Cestria’s manor house whilst building work began. It progressed slowly owing to financial difficulties, changes of abbot, problems with the weather and a lack of wood for buildings and fires, and it was not until June 1308 that Henry de Lacy laid the foundation stone for the new abbey church. Even then, the monks were not entirely happy at Whalley and after the death of Henry de Lacy in 1311, they asked Thomas of Lancaster for an alternative site, but in the end nothing came of it and under the leadership of Abbot Robert de Toppecliffe serious building work began in 1330.

Peter de Cestria's chapel.
Around this time the monks moved out of Peter de Cestria’s house into temporary accommodation, probably a collection of wooden huts in the midst of a busy building site. But their religious life would not have been neglected. Prayers would have offered and mass said every day in Peter de Cestria’s small chapel, which pre-dates the other abbey buildings. 

The chancel of the church must have been complete by 1345 when the burial of John of Cuerdale, a benefactor of the abbey, is recorded. This calls into question the re-interment of Henry de Lacy’s ancestors. He may not have lived to see the remains of his ancestors brought from Stanlaw and there is, in fact, no record of this happening, but I doubt the monks did not carry out the full terms of their licence. Henry de Lacy’s daughter, Alice did not die until 1348 and would have been eager to see her father’s wishes for her own ancestors fulfilled. And in the ruins of what would have been the chancel of the church there is a broken gravestone that clearly shows the de Lacy lion. I believe that this is the site of the burial of Roger de Lacy, John de Lacy, Edmund de Lacy and maybe their wives and other family members.

This gravestone shows the
engraving of the de Lacy lion.

In 1348, the Black Death came to England and this seems to have interrupted the work on the church as permission was given to build a crenelated wall around the outer precincts of the abbey, probably to guard against the plague being brought in by casual visitors. When the sickness passed work began again on the central tower of the church, which was built in a plainer style than the chancel. It held a bell and a lantern and would have been three times the height of the present gatehouse. Work must have been well advanced by 1356, when Brother Ralph of Pontefract was killed by a falling stone.

Whalley Parish Church
After Henry de Lacy's death, his lands had passed to his son-in-law Thomas of Lancaster and after Thomas's execution for his rebellion against Edward II, to his younger brother Henry. In December 1360, Henry Duke of Lancaster gave land at Ramsgreave and Standen for the maintenance of a recluse or anchoress to live in a hermitage in the churchyard at Whalley. However, it seems that many of the recluses were somewhat reluctant and in 1437, a widow, Isolde Heaton, ran away from the hermitage. You can read more about it in my blogpost here: Reluctant Recluses

By 1425, the Chapter House was brought into use when William of Whalley was the abbot and an account of the dedication of the Dormitory records: Lord William, the Abbot, and the whole Convent standing in processional order sang the hymn ‘Te Deum Laudamus’. Then the Abbot, clothed in a cope and carrying his pastoral staff, sprinkled all the beds with holy water…

The north east gatehouse.
The last building that completed the abbey was the North East Gatehouse and this remains today with its original great oak doors and the heavy bolt with which they can be secured. In all it took until 1444, which was 136 years after Henry de Lacy laid the foundation stone, for the abbey to be completed and even after that new buildings were added.

Life at Whalley Abbey settled into a routine of prayer, care for the sick and poor, and sheep farming. Abbot followed abbot until John Paslew entered the Novices' Cell at Whalley on St Matthew's Day 1487. His father is listed as a gentleman from Wiswell, although the family were originally from Yorkshire and had connections with East Riddlesden Hall. He became the abbot and built what seems to have been a spectacular Lady Chapel to attract both pilgrims and income, although no trace of it remains. It was during the time that John Paslew was abbot that Henry VIII decided to close down the monasteries and use their wealth for his own purposes. It was not a popular decision and throughout the north of England there was rebellion, culminating in the Pilgrimage of Grace.

Although Abbot Paslew seems to have taken no active part in the uprisings, other than giving sanctuary to a monk from nearby Sawley Abbey after it was closed, he was arrested and taken to Lancaster for trial on five counts of treason. For an inexplicable reason he pleaded guilty and at the age of 70 was hanged as a traitor. Local legend says that he was hanged outside the abbey, but as there are no records it is impossible to verify whether he was killed at Lancaster or Whalley. 

After the dissolution, the site was stripped of its valuables: lead from the roof, books, plate and embroideries were taken away on carts by Thomas Cromwell's men, although some of the vestments were saved by the Towneley family of Burnley. 

The remains of the abbey were bought by Ralph Assheton who made his home in the abbot’s lodgings. The ruins of the abbey and its church remained until Mary Tudor came to the throne and brought back the Catholic faith. The families who were now living on former abbey lands became concerned that Mary would reinstate the monasteries and so Assheton, like many others, set about destroying what was left so that it was beyond use and would not be reclaimed for the church. 

The church windows were 1
probably taken from Whalley Abbey.
Windows from the abbey were taken away to be used in other places. They can be seen in the chapel of Samlesbury Hall, for example, where the Southworth family remained Catholic, and it seems that the church of St Leonard at Old Langho, one of only a handful of Catholic churches built during Mary's reign, was constructed using stones and timbers from the abbey. 

St Leonard's Old Langho

The Assheton family continued to live at Whalley Abbey until they ran out of male heirs. The house was sold to John Taylor, who in turn bequeathed it to Colonel John Hargreaves, but after the upheavals of the First World War, the role of country houses was declining and many owners found their upkeep too expensive. Colonel Hargreaves put the house up for sale in 1923 and its function was brought full circle when it was purchased by the Diocese of Manchester for use as a training college and conference centre. When the diocese was split up and the Diocese of Blackburn created the abbey came into its care and remains so.

In the 1930s, when Canon J R Lumb became the Warden of Whalley Abbey, he suggested that work could be created for the large numbers of unemployed men in the area by beginning an excavation of the gardens to see what traces of the abbey remained there. By 1936, the foundations of the church had been uncovered and on 14th June that year, the site was rededicated as a place of worship, with an altar placed on the site of the original one in the chancel of the church. Today the abbey is used as a conference centre. The grounds are open to the public for a small fee and if you are ever in the area, it is well worth a visit.


Elizabeth Ashworth lives in Lancashire close to Whalley Abbey and has traced her ancestors in the village back to the 1600s. She has a particular interest in the history of the de Lacy family and they feature in several of her historical novels: The de Lacy Inheritance, Favoured Beyond Fortune, and The Circle of Fortune.

The George and Its Patrons – Lord Nelson, Jack Aubrey and Horatio Hornblower

by Margaret Muir

Lord Nelson
The George Hotel in Portsmouth was long regarded as a prestigious establishment providing rooms and meals for weary travellers arriving by coach from London. It was frequented by admirals and sea captains alike, including Horatio Nelson who stayed there on several occasions. The most notable was his last day on English soil before embarking on HMS Victory.

While factual history fixes the George on the map, nautical fiction authors, Patrick O’Brian and CS Forester used the venue to colour the exploits of Jack Aubrey and Horatio Hornblower respectively. Patrick O’Brian refers to the George at least 10 times in his 21 books, and CS Forester not only made several mentions of the famous coaching inn, but (in ‘Hornblower and the Hotspur’) chose the hotel’s coffee-room to host the wedding breakfast following Hornblower’s marriage to Maria.

Russell Crowe as Jack Aubrey

Because of the intriguing connections existing in both fact and fiction, when I planned a 5-day visit to Portsmouth (from Australia), there was only one hotel I wanted to stay at – the George. But in the words of Robert Burns, ‘The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley’.

On arrival at the hotel, full of anticipation, I was confronted by a building dating back to 1781. And for a visitor, it was ideally located only a stone’s throw from the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. But this was neither the original George Hotel, nor the one I had come looking for. I soon learned that the famous coaching house had been severely damaged by German bombs on 10 January 1941 and subsequently demolished. Disappointed but not undaunted, I set about to locate the site where the original George had stood and, if possible, secure an image of the old hotel.

Having ascertained the coaching house was located near Portsmouth’s Anglican Cathedral, I headed for the High Street and found a pair of post-war lamp posts gracing the curb where a pair of gas lamps had one stood. They marked the spot where the London coaches came to a halt outside the George’s front entrance. It was here Lord Nelson had stepped from his post-chaise from Merton and entered the building. It was here, in fiction, that Jack Aubrey and Horatio Hornblower had entered the premises to spend many a happy hour.

Today, on the pavement between the two lamp posts is a bronze plaque that reads: ‘Lord Nelson rested at this old Posting House on 14th September 1805 before embarking on his flagship H.M.S. Victory’.

Because of the devastation caused by the WW11 air raids, the site was levelled and, in 1954, an uninspiring block of flats arose in its place. It was named "George’s Court". On the wall of the latter-day building is another plaque paying tribute to Nelson’s visit.

But my search had not been for the ghosts of the past but for the building that had accommodated them. While the first hotel on this site had been a thatched-roofed house called the “Waggon and Lamb”, I can only presume the name George Hotel was adopted during the reign of George I, when the new building, with its Georgian façade, was constructed.

At that time, High Street was a busy thoroughfare, not only with horse-drawn carriages, coaches and carts, but sailors, soldiers, local traders and pedestrians.

In 1739 a Town Hall and Market House had been constructed in the centre of the road. This seemingly odd location created a thriving hive of shops, stalls and offices, but it also created a massive bottleneck to the traffic passing along the street. For that reason, it was eventually demolished in 1837.

Also situated on High Street, only a cable’s length from the hotel was the Church of St Thomas à Becket or St Thomas of Canterbury (now Portsmouth Anglican Cathedral). It was here CS Forester’s characters Horatio Hornblower and Maria were married before repairing to the George for the wedding breakfast.

Portsmouth Anglican Cathedral
Continuing along to the end of High Street brought the visitor to the fortifications that had defended the town since the reign of Henry VIII to one of the sally ports and the beach. But when Nelson left the George in the early afternoon of the 14th, he did not head down the High Street; instead, to avoid the already congested thoroughfare and the well-wishers who were eager to accompany him, he slipped out of the hotel’s back entrance into Farthing Street.

As a further means of avoiding attention, from Fighting Cock Lane (Pembroke Road), he detoured across the garden of the Governor’s residence. At the time, this was part of the complex occupied by the Garrison Church – a building dating back to 1212. Sadly, the Church’s nave was also badly damaged in the war-time bombings.

Accompanied by George Rose, the Vice-President of the Board of Trade, and George Canning, the Treasurer of the Navy, Nelson headed across a narrow bridge over the moat to the triangular shaped fortification – the Spur Redoubt, which protruded into the sea, and to the beachfront beyond. There, with pebbles crunching under his feet, he was able to gaze across Spithead and see the fleet gathering for departure to the Cadiz Road.

Nelson’s diary entry of Saturday, Sept 14th, 1805 reads, “… embarked at the Bathing Machines with Mr Rose and Mr Canning at 2: got on board Victory at St Helen’s; who dined with me; preparing for sea.”

Mermaids at Brighton,
William Heath, 1829
As an aside – I find it hard to imagine bathing machines, normally associated with the Victorian era, being present on the beach in Nelson’s time. They are described in Outon’s Traveller’s Guide of 1805 as:
“four-wheeled carriages, covered with canvas, and having at one end of them an umbrella of the same materials which is let down to the surface of the water, so that the bather descending from the machine by a few steps is concealed from the public view, whereby the most refined female is enabled to enjoy the advantages of the sea with the strictest delicacy.”

Goodbye, My Lads! by Fred Roe
Fred Roe’s 1905 stylized painting “Good bye, my lads” depicts Lord Nelson, with a ship-of-the-line in the background, waving farewell when he departed Portsmouth. It is a far cry from the image I conjure in my mind of a senior naval officer standing on a shingle beach with bathing machines and swimmers in the water nearby.

Nelson’s final hours on English soil had been busy and included two visits to the George Hotel. But they were to be his last. The hotel long remembered the Admiral’s visit with pride and preserved his room for the next 136 years until the hotel, like the British admiral, fell to enemy fire during an unforgettable conflict that would long be remembered.

Note: this follows an earlier post – “The Portsmouth Road aka the Sailor’s Highway

Images to blog post.

1 – Admiral Lord Nelson – statue in Trafalgar Tavern in Greenwich

2 – Jack Aubrey - Russell Crowe from Master and Commander: www.imdb.com

3 – Two street lamps on High Street mark the old coaching stop

4 – Plaque on wall of George’s Court.

5 – The George Hotel (Pre-war image – taken from plaque outside George’s Court.)

6 – Town hall and Market Place from Portsmouth Image Town Hall images

7 – Portsmouth Anglican Cathedral

8 – Pembroke Road and the Garrison Church

9 – ‘Mermaids at Brighton’ by William Heath 1829

10 – ‘Good-bye, my lads’ Fred Roe - 1905

Photo images by Margaret Muir (2012)


Margaret Muir is author of 4 historical fiction novels set in Yorkshire (her birthplace) and a nautical fiction series written under the by-line M.C. Muir. Inspired by her love of tall ships, Muir’s latest adventures are set during the Napoleonic sea wars. The first 3 books in the series have been published as an e-book boxed set: “The Oliver Quintrell Trilogy”. Book 4 is due later this year. Other individual titles are available from Amazon.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Independent English Domestic

by Diane Scott Lewis

In the eighteenth century, a time when domestic service was seen as easier than toiling in a shop or factory, a poor farmer’s sons and daughters would go happily into this type of work. Even a parson’s family did not look down on the occupation. However, the English domestics thought of themselves as a cut above.

The English servant was quite independent and rarely satisfied with low wages. Instead of being content in the early part of the century with £2 a year, they were demanding as much as £6 and £8. Writer Daniel Defoe wanted to see wages fixed at no more than £5, or soon this rabble would insist on as much as £20.

Lord Fermanagh, when writing to a friend about his butler, who had the audacity to ask for £10, said: "I would have a sightly fellow and one that has had the smallpox, and an honest man, for he is entrusted with store of plate, and can shave, but I will give no such wages as this."

The English servant stood up for himself, giving notice or running away if ill-treated. One servant, after being struck by his master, turned on the man and killed him with a pitchfork.

Foreigners were amazed—since they treated their servants like slaves—to see a nobleman like Lord Ferrers hanged in 1760 for the murder of his steward.

In the earlier part of the century there was a scarcity of women servants, but later, after years of bad harvests, starvation sent many girls into service. One lady, upon advertising for another housemaid, had over 200 applicants.

If wages were low, servants in a large house could supplement their pay with vails (tips). One foreigner complained after dining with a friend at his home: "You’ll find all the servants drawn up in the passage like a file of musqueteers from the house steward, down to the lowest liveried servant, and each of them holds out his hand to you in as deliberate a manner as the servants in our inns on the like occasion."

One clergyman reported that when he dined with his Bishop, he spent more in vails than would have fed his family for a week.

At lease the Duke of Ormonde, when inviting a poor relation to dine, always sent him a guinea ahead of time for the vails.

A movement, rumored to have started in Scotland, was put forth to abolish vails, but nothing came of it.

If servants believed themselves independent, striving for respect, their employers often demanded too much from them for little pay. Mrs. Purefoy advertised for a coachman who can not only drive four horses but must understand husbandry business and cattle, plus he’d also be expected to plough. She also required a footman who could "work in the garden, lay the cloth, wait at table, go to the cart with Thomas, and do any other business that he is ordered to do and not too large sized a man, that he may not be too great a load for the horse when he rides."

Servants were derided by their "betters" as being lazy and selfish, especially when they’d leave their positions for higher wages and vails.

Of course, many servants during the eighteenth century—especially in the larger towns and cities—were mistreated and far underpaid, if paid at all.

Still, some servants were honored and treated as members of the family, as shown by this epitaph on a coachman’s headstone: Coachman the foe to drink and heart sincere; Of manners gentle and of judgment clear; Safe through the chequered track of life he drove; And gained the treasure of his master’s love...


Diane Scott Lewis. To learn more about her eighteenth-century novels, please visit her website:


Source: English Country Life in the Eighteenth Century, by Rosamond Bayne-Powell, 1937

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Giveaway: The Kraals of Ulundi by David Ebsworth

David is giving away a copy of The Kraals of Ulundi. You can read about the book HERE. Please comment below to enter the drawing. Be sure to leave contact information.

A Visit That Changed a Life and Led to Sainthood

by Kim Rendfeld

What did those Irish missionaries say to Richarius that made him give up what he knew and devote his life to Christ?

As with many early medieval saints, information about the seventh century Frank also known as Riquier is scant and contradictory, but the stories are tantalizing. Whether they’re true is up to the reader.

Richarius was born in a village then known as Centula in today’s France. Either he was working class guy who pursued rustic occupations or he was a nobleman, depending on which source you consult. With the events that follow, I think he was an aristocrat. Whatever his background, the visit of the two Irish missionaries, Caidoc and Fricor, changed his life.

When visitors arrived in Centula, they were mistreated by the locals. Except for Richarius, who offered his hospitality. After listening to their preaching, Richarius repented of his sins. So much that one story has him surviving only on barley bread strewn with ashes and water often mingled with his tears. Another has him offering protection to his guests so they could preach freely – something a nobleman could do.

A 17th century illustration
of St. Riquier Abbey (public domain)
Richarius later became a priest providing relief for the sick and poor and redeeming captives. He spent a few years as a missionary in Britain, then returned to Centula, where he founded a monastery around 625 and served as its first abbot. Such an accomplishment would be easier for a nobleman, especially if he already owned the property to give to the Church. Apparently, Richarius remained close to Caidoc and Fricor. They joined him at Centula and spent the rest of their lives there.

As an abbot, Richarius would be in a position of influence. He had control over land, which was power in early medieval times, and could make alliances among fellow noblemen, both lay and clergy. In addition, the medieval populace believed that prayers from the monks could sway events here on earth, including who won the battles.

During a visit from Frankish King Dagobert, Richarius impressed the monarch by giving him good advice, especially not to listen to flatterers, and the king rewarded him with a generous gift.

Richarius could have kept his place as abbot for life. Or if illness prevented him from performing his duties, he could retire in relative comfort at the monastery. Instead when his health was failing, he traveled 15 miles away to a forest and lived in a hut with only one companion, Sigobart.

St. Riquier’s relics in the abbey he founded
(photo by Paul Hermans,
used under the terms
of the GNU Free Documentation License)
Shortly before his death, believed to be April 26, 643, he told Sigobart to make a coffin. His grieving companion felled an oak in whose trunk the body was placed. The monks at Centula must have guessed that Richarius would soon be declared a saint, a decision of local bishops at the time, and took his relics back to the monastery.

About 150 years later, that monastery, named St. Riquier, became a center for learning with Angilbert as its abbot. His close friend, Charlemagne, provided a golden shrine for the founder’s relics.

Images via Wikimedia Commons


Lives of the Saints, Omer Englebert

A Dictionary of Christian Biography, Literature, Sects and Doctrines: Naamanes-Zuntfredus Sir William Smith, Henry Wace

The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Alban Butler

Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne, Pierre Riché (translated by Jo Ann McNamara)

An Ecclesiastical History of Ireland, from the First Introduction of Christianity among the Irish to the Beginning of the 13th Century, John Lanigan

Kim Rendfeld’s latest release, The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar (2014, Fireship Press), has a few scenes taking place at St. Riquier monastery 12 years before Angilbert became its abbot. During a trial there, the characters swear on a piece of wood from a tree the monastery’s founder liked to rest under. The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, Kim’s second book, is a tale about a medieval mother who will go to great lengths to protect her children. It is a companion to Kim’s debut, The Cross and the Dragon, in which a young noblewoman must contend with a jilted suitor bent on revenge and the anxiety her husband will die in the coming war.

Kim's book are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers. To read the first chapter of either book, get purchase links, or find out more about Kim, visit kimrendfeld.com or her blog Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at kimrendfeld.wordpress.com. You can also like her on Facebook at facebook.com/authorkimrendfeld, follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld, or contact her at kim [at] kimrendfeld [dot] com.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Who Was the Real Charles Brandon?

By Nancy Bilyeau

English Princess Mary Tudor
Erasmus said of Mary Tudor, "nature never formed anything more beautiful." The pampered and adored younger sister of Henry VIII was married at 19 to Louis XII, king of France. After the princess arrived in Paris with her dowry of 400,000 crowns and hundreds of attendants, the French, disposed to find her a disappointment, admitted that she was, indeed, a "nymph from heaven."

King Louis, 52, crippled with gout, died less than three months after the wedding but not before showering his teenage wife with jewels, including "the Mirror of Naples," a diamond pendant with a pearl "the size of a pigeon's egg." Everyone expected the widow of the French king to make another spectacular royal marriage.

Instead, while still in France, she secretly took as her second husband a 31-year-old Englishman, Charles Brandon, the newly elevated Duke of Suffolk, celebrated for his good looks, military valor and jousting skill. Before she sailed for France, Mary had told her brother she would only agree to wed the old French king if she could choose her second husband herself. Desperate for the diplomatic alliance, Henry VIII had agreed. But Mary feared that if she returned to England, her brother would force her into another arranged marriage. She persuaded Brandon, whom she had known for years and had probably fallen in love with in England before her marriage, to marry her.  They had no permission to do so and were in disgrace, with Brandon facing arrest, until Henry VIII forgave them. Charles Brandon was, after all, his best friend.

It was a highly romantic episode, inspiring a stream of novels over the centuries, most significantly When Knighthood Was in Flower in 1898, which sold so many copies it inspired a burst of similar historical novels and no less than three films, including one in 1922 financed by William Randolph Hearst and starring Hearst's mistress, Marion Davies.

Mary Tudor and her new husband, Charles Brandon

A booted Marion Davies in When Knighthood Was in Flower

"Margaret" Tudor (Gabrielle Anwar) and Charles Brandon (Henry Cavill) in the miniseries "The Tudors"

But the real Charles Brandon, while an impressive and charismatic man to his contemporaries, is not a one-dimensional figure of handsome chivalry. His record with women was notorious. He'd already been married twice when he wed Mary Tudor--one of the wives still alive and fighting the annulment --and had contracted to wed yet a third, a child heiress whose family title he was using. A year and a half before he married Mary, ambassadors gossiped that he was trying to seduce Margaret of Austria, Regent of the Netherlands and daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor. The root of his behavior was not womanizing--or at least not only womanizing--but a willingness to use women as a means of gaining fortune and, if possible, fame, a common policy in the Tudor and Stuart age. He had a powerful sexual appeal, and he monetized it.

Like many real people of Henry VIII's court, Brandon is made up of both light and shadow. He is a product of the man-on-the-make spirit of the early Tudor age, which itself was made possible by the violent chaos of the death of Plantagenet rule.

His life is buried in myth, and the first is that of favored royal ward, orphaned by the Battle of Bosworth when his father, Sir William Brandon, a heroic man of "pure Lancastrian heritage" bearing the standard of Henry Tudor, was personally slain by Richard III. Which is not true in every respect.

The Brandons were an old, respectable country family. They lived in a small West Suffolk town, drawing income from farms and cattle for at least three centuries. A Geoffrey Brandon, succeeding in trade in Norwich, sent his son, William, to London in the last half of the 15th century. Says one historian: "He was a pushing, shrewd, energetic and very unscrupulous knave, who soon acquired great influence in the city and amassed corresponding wealth. Finally he became sheriff and was knighted by Henry VI." Yet when Henry VI was no longer king, replaced by the Yorkist Edward IV, Sir William Brandon switched to that side, and he lent Edward IV "considerable sums of money."

Which Edward IV declined to pay back.

Ordinarily a rich man would have had no recourse to a King's reneging. But when King Edward died, and his brother Richard III displaced his nephews and took the throne, an opportunity arose for another switching sides. Henry Tudor, in exile in Brittany, was now the leader of the Lancastrians. Brandon threw his support to Tudor. Two of his sons, William and Thomas, joined the Duke of Buckingham's rebellion against Richard III and when it failed, they fled England to join Tudor's cause. William was married to a young widow with some money named Elizabeth Bruyn. In 1484, she gave birth to Charles, the future Duke of Suffolk, in either England or France, and died shortly after.

But before we travel to the heroics of Bosworth, a terrible fact must be disclosed about the young William Brandon, knighted by Henry Tudor before they invaded England. He was, by one historical document, a rapist. In 1478 he was "in ward" for raping an "old gentlewoman" and her daughter, according to Paston. One chronicler of the time thought he would hang for it, but for unknown reasons he went free. The veracity of this record is debated today.

Early 19th century depiction of the Battle of Bosworth

It was a period of sexual brutality. Edward IV tried to assault a beautiful young woman named Elizabeth Woodville but she turned a knife on her own throat, threatening to kill herself. Somehow this made the right kind of impression, and she became his wife and queen. He had countless mistresses, passing them to his courtiers when he tired of them, often against their will.

But even within this context, standard bearer was a great honor, and William Brandon was a strange choice for it. He was not a close friend of Henry Tudor's, he lacked a distinguished battle record and he was no noble. Probably Tudor, who left England for foreign exile in 1471, did not know about the rapes. One theory is William Brandon was chosen to carry the standard and stand at the side of Tudor because he was tall and strong. Nonetheless, Richard III is said to have "cleaved" his skull in his desperate charge on Tudor. Brandon's death was the most notable loss on Tudor's side.

After Bosworth, the baby Charles Brandon was an orphan. But the romantic tradition that a grateful King raised the boy with his son Henry, sharing lessons, is simply not correct. There is no record of him living with the royal children. And Charles was seven years older than Henry (and two years older than Arthur). As an adult, he was obviously intelligent but knew scant French and exhibited no interest in scholarship; he lacked Henry VIII's knowledge of languages, history, theology, and literature. Instead, Charles Brandon seems to have spent his childhood in the care of his grandfather and uncles, possibly in the country. His later letters, the "worst spelled and written of his day," were "phonetically spelled, proved him to have spoken with a broad Suffolk accent."

When Charles' grandfather died, the family fortune passed to the oldest surviving uncle, Richard. Little Charles had nothing.

Thomas Brandon is an underappreciated force in the life of Charles. He was an ambitious man of ability who managed to advance himself in the court of Henry VII, and he pulled his young nephew Charles along as best he could. After he became Master of Horse, he found a place for Charles in Arthur's household: he was a sewer, or waiter. A far from cry from the legendary status of chosen playmate to princes.

How then did Charles Brandon rise so high from such inauspicious beginnings, sewer to duke? Like Thomas Cromwell, he used his personal gifts and worked extremely hard. Cromwell was a brilliant lawyer. Brandon was an outstanding athlete, the best jouster in a highly competitive group of men fighting for the attention of first Prince, then King Henry. At the age of 17, he appeared in the lists honoring Arthur's wedding to Catherine of Aragon, and was noticed by all for his prowess when he rode in a tournament held in honor of Philip of Austria and his wife, Joanna of Castile, in 1506. At this time young Brandon was serving as Master of Horse for the Earl of Essex. That household is where he lived; he did not have lodgings at the royal court.

This is the time when he began his marital misadventures. He seduced Anne Brown, a gentlewoman of good family serving Queen Elizabeth, and according to her family, promised to marry her. She was pregnant by him in 1506. But then Brandon jilted her for her wealthy widowed aunt, Dame Margaret Mortimer, old enough to be his mother. They married and, once he got his hands on her property, he sold it all and kept the cash. An appalled Venetian ambassador wrote, "In this country, young men marry old ladies for their money."

In 1507, 23-year-old Charles Brandon had the brief marriage annulled and returned to Anne Brown, whom he married. They had two daughters before she died in 1511.

Mary Brandon, by Holbein. She was one of the daughters from his first marriage.

 Lady Mortimer bitterly opposed the annulment, and became a thorn in Brandon's side for 20 years, until he managed to get the pope himself to support the annulment in 1527. The mess of his early marriages was to haunt not just Brandon but his descendants. Elizabeth I was supposed to have examined the legal documents of the Mortimer annulment to find a way to discredit Brandon's granddaughter, Catherine Grey, who many considered next in line to the throne but who Elizabeth loathed.

After Henry VIII succeeded, Brandon rose higher and higher in his estimation, based mostly on his tournament prowess. He took over his uncle's position of Master of Horse. When England went to war with France, Brandon served with great bravery and distinction. Throughout his long life, he was to serve Henry VIII on the battlefield time and again. "He is like a second king," an awestruck advisor wrote Margaret of Austria.

Margaret of Austria

Back in England, Brandon was soon up to his old tricks. He signed a contract to marry his 10-year-old ward, Elizabeth Grey, a wealthy heiress, and was known as Lord Lisle, her family's title, until his best friend, King Henry VIII, made him Duke of Suffolk. "From a stableboy into a nobleman," commented Erasmus skeptically. He was one of only three dukes in England.

Brandon was still contracted to his ward when he flirted with Margaret of Austria, pretending to steal her ring while Henry VIII laughed in encouragement. There were rumors that she would marry him, until her father, the Holy Roman Emperor, grew furious. She backed away quickly.

Young Henry VIII

A 19th century historian wrote of Henry VIII and Charles Brandon:
"The two men were of the same towering height but Charles was, perhaps, the more powerful... both were exceedingly fair and had the same golden curly hair, the same steel gray eyes planted on either side of an aquiline nose.... owing to the brilliance of their complexions, they were universally considered extremely handsome."

This was the man Princess Mary fell in love with at the same time her brother was arranging her marriage to the King of France. There is no hint of impropriety between them at the English court; she was scrupulously chaperoned. Brandon did not escort her to France. So why did Henry VIII send his friend, infamous for his treatment of women, to escort a vulnerable Mary back to England after King Louis died? He is supposed to have made Brandon promise not to marry her in France. Brandon was always a loyal friend to Henry VIII...yet he did marry her. The French royal jewels that the couple smuggled out of the country and gave to Henry VIII--including the Mirror of Naples--mollified him.

Did Mary Tudor find happiness with the husband she chose for herself, who she risked her brother's wrath to marry? Was this a man who, despite his irresistible good looks and athletic prowess, could be a good husband, even in the 16th century? Perhaps. That is another question entirely, fit for another blog post.


Nancy Bilyeau is the author of a trilogy of novels set in the court of Henry VIII, published by Simon and Schuster. The main character, Joanna Stafford, is a Dominican novice. The Tapestry, the third in the trilogy, will be published March 2015. To learn more, go to www.nancybilyeau.com

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Treatment of Typhus During the Napoleonic Campaign in Russia

by Regina Jeffers

In the year 1817, a Prussian army physician by the name of Krantz published a medical history of the treatment of typhus during the Napoleonic campaign in Russia. It was entitled: Bemerkungen ueber den Gang der Krankheiten welche in der koniglich preussischen Armee vom Ausbruch des Krieges im Jahre 1812 bis zu Ende des Waffenstillstandes (im Aug.) 1813 geherrscht haben, which is translated as "Remarks on the course of the Diseases which have reigned in the Royal Prussian Army from the Beginning of the War in the Year 1812 until the End of the Armistice [in August] 1813."

According to Krantz, the soldiers of the Grande Armée (Grand Army) had brought more than the destruction of war to the Russian front. Whole families, especially those with whom the French soldiers had dwelled, were stricken down by typhus. The Prussian soldiers of York's corps supposedly did not know the disease until they followed the French's retreat. Krantz reports that the Prussian army corps rapidly knew typhus. He also records another phenomenon: There was a certain uniformity among the different divisions. "On account of the overflowing of the rivers, the men had to march closely together on the road, at least until they passed the Vistula near Dirschau, Moeve, and Marienwerder. Of the rapid extent of the infection we can form an idea when we learn the following facts: In the first East Prussian regiment of infantry, when it came to the Vistula, there was not a single case of typhus, while after a march of 14 miles on the highway which the French had passed before them, there were 15 to 20 men sick in every company, every tenth or even every seventh man. In those divisions which had been exposed to infection while in former cantonments, the cases were much more numerous, 20 to 30 in every company." ("The Treatment of Typhus," Historion.net)

In addition to the typhus outbreak, epidemic ophthalmy spread through some of the divisions. A common "causal nexus" connected the two diseases. However, it was noted that the two ailments never attacked the same individual. It was as if typhus gave the patient an immunity against ophthalmy and vice versa. Ironically, Krantz and the other physicians discovered the diseases were often "cured" by the cold of the march. "'We found confirmed', says Krantz, 'what had been asserted a long time before by experienced physicians, that cold air had the most beneficial effect during the inflammatory stage of contagious typhus.'" ("The Treatment of Typhus," Historion.net) Those suffering from typhus were dressed in warm clothing to protect them from the cold and placed on a wagon to be covered completely by straw. The wagons followed the retreating troops, but they stopped frequently so the patients could be given a tea of "Infusum Chamomillae, species aromaticarum, etc., with or without wine or spiritus sulphuricus aetherius." Those suffering from typhus were given several cupfuls of the mixture to warm them. The soldiers' hands and feet were wrapped in rags to prevent frostbite.

At night, those infected were crowded into makeshift hospitals. Those with typhus were separated from those needing other medical treatments, often being placed in barns or larger homes - all filled to capacity and then some. "All the hospitals between the Vistula and Berlin, constantly overfilled, were thoroughly infected, and thus transformed into regular pest-houses exhaling perdition to everyone who entered, the physicians and attendants included. On the other hand, most of the patients who were treated on the march recovered. Of the 31 cases of typhus of the 2d. battalion of the infantry guards reported from Tilsit to Tuchel, only one died, while the remaining 30 regained their health completely, a statistical result as favorable as has hardly ever happened in the best regulated hospital and which is the more surprising on account of the severe form of the disease at that time." ("The Treatment of Typhus," Historion.net)

Krantz goes on to say that of 330 patients in the first East Prussian regiment of infantry, 300 recovered and 30 were sent to hospitals in Elbing, Maerkisch, Friedland, Conitz, and Berlin. None died. What was discovered was the cold prevented the spread of the disease. Keeping the patients in the wagons and moving about the countryside did not permit the disease to brew and develop into a death sentence. For most patients, three days after they had been free from fever for 24 hours they were fit to rejoin their units.

As opposed to the customary treatment of the time, which included the exclusion of fresh air and the hourly administration of medication, those treated on the march experienced a 2-3% mortality rate.

Note: I used the research as part of my Regency era based novel, A Touch of Honor (Book 7 of the Realm Series).

About the Author 

Regina Jeffers is the author of Austen-inspired novels, including Darcy’s Passions, Darcy’s Temptation, Vampire Darcy’s Desire, Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion, The Phantom of Pemberley, Christmas at Pemberley, The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy, Honor and Hope, >and The Mysterious Death of Mr. Darcy. She also writes Regency romances: The Scandal of Lady Eleanor, A Touch of Velvet, A Touch of Cashémere, A Touch of Grace, and The First Wives’ Club. A Time Warner Star Teacher and Martha Holden Jennings Scholar, Jeffers serves as a consultant in media literacy.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Those Forgotten Racing Mares

by Sue Millard

Equine Mixed Marriages

The Darley Arabian

Three stallions, the Darley Arabian, Byerley Turk and Godolphin Arabian, are well known as the foundation sires of the racing Thoroughbred. It is sometimes forgotten, though, that these famous Oriental stallions could not reproduce by themselves!

In fact, 47 out of 74 foundation racehorse stock are listed on http://www.tbheritage.com as “dam unknown”. 70 have either “unknown dam” or both sire and dam “unknown”. That doesn’t prove the “unknowns” were British, of course, because they could equally be lost records of Orientals, but it does open the door to a historic tradition that is often overlooked: that some of the best British racehorses were descended purely from mares long-native to Britain, and not any imported from “the Orient.” 

The “royal mares” of King Charles II were indeed imported “Orientals” (actual country of origin seems to have been less important than the Oriental label), but the “Galloways” in the modern Thoroughbred’s pedigree surely came originally from the same source as our present native pony breeds. British mares, and very clearly mares from the North, were the mothers of modern racehorses.

The Epsom Derby, 1836, by James Pollard (1792 - 1867) (via Wikimedia Commons)

Gervase Markham wrote in “Cavalerice” (1607): “...when the best Barbaries that ever were in my remembrance were in their prime, I saw them overrunne by a black hobbie at Salesburie of Maister Carlton's and yet that hobbie was more overrunne by a horse of Maister Blackstone's called Valentine, which neither in hunting nor running was ever equalled, yet was a plaine-bred English horse by both syre and dam.” 

The Earl of Rutland’s family had been breeding “running horses” since the early 15th century. “The Rutlands were prolific breeders of ‘hobby’ horses; the origins of this breed are obscure but probably had ancestors in the Irish Hobby with Barb influences. There is an early reference to Rutland ‘hobbies’ in 1596 recording his Lordship’s racing victory in the Forest of Galtres (just north of York). Mackay-Smith differentiates between ‘hobby horses’ at Helmsley and ‘running horses’ at Sedbury.” http://www.tbheritage.com/Breeders/FoundBreeders/Helmsley/HelmsleyWilk.html

In the early years of the 18th century, the Earl of Rutland owned a mare known as “The Massey Mare”. “Most historians consider the Massey Mare descended from the Belvoir horses, long established in England, and not descended from any ‘royal’ mare belonging to any of the Stuart kings.”  A modern equine mtDNA study has matched her genetic heritage in the female line with that of a Celtic-type pony,  a horse population derived from Northern Europe and Britain. [i]  http://www.tbheritage.com/GeneticMarkers/mtdnaintbdamlines3.html  

Molly Long Legs with her Jockey, by George Stubbs (1761-62) (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool; via Wikimedia Commons)

“The cosmopolitan maternal heritage of the Thoroughbred racehorse breed shows a significant contribution from British and Irish native mares.[ii]  … Our data demonstrate that Thoroughbred foundation mares were of cosmopolitan European heritage, with contributions from British and Irish Native and Oriental horses. The contribution from British and Irish Native horses is close to twice that of Oriental horses. … By contrast, Oriental mares made a limited contribution to Thoroughbred maternal lineages with a minimal contribution from Arabs.”

Modern Thoroughbred horses that are best suited to sprint racing carry the “C-variant” in their genetic makeup[iii]. It was rare in the infancy of the Thoroughbred, which in the 17th and 18th centuries was bred for stamina – horses capable of running up to 4 miles in their races, several times in a day. However, this gene has become widespread in modern racehorses due to selective breeding for “sprinting speed” as opposed to “stayers”.

There was a single introduction of it into the Thoroughbred: from one British-native mare. We can’t pin down which of our modern breeds deserves the honour of being its contributor, since the concept of a breed with a pedigree had only just caught on in aristocratic circles and it had certainly not reached as far down as commoners’ horses and ponies; but I’d like to think she was a Galloway mare. 

[i] E.W. Hill, et.al., "History and Integrity of Thoroughbred Dam Lines Revealed in Equine mtDNA Variation," Animal Genetics 33, 187-294. London: Blackwell Publishing.
[iii] http://www.nature.com/ncomms/journal/v3/n1/full/ncomms1644.html


Sue Millard maintains the Fell Pony Museum, and writes books about history and horses. Find her at Jackdaw E Books.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Fair Rosamund, Mistress of Henry II

By E.M. Powell

King Henry II has a deserved infamous reputation for extra-marital affairs. Documented evidence exists of several liaisons, some of which produced illegitimate offspring, with women rewarded financially for their services to the King. By far the most well-known of Henry's mistresses is Rosamund Clifford, the young woman who is often referred to as Fair Rosamund. A less flattering contemporary description comes from Gerald of Wales, Henry's acerbic chronicler, who refers to her as 'that rose of unchastity.'

Fair Rosamund
John William Waterhouse, 1916
Public Domain

Her story has been embellished by layers of myths and legends over the last eight centuries. Born to Sir Walter de Clifford, a knight who had served Henry faithfully, Rosamund may have begun her affair with Henry at a very young age. The affair became open and public in 1174 when Henry had imprisoned his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, for her part in a rebellion against him. Later chroniclers mistakenly claimed that Rosamund bore Henry children, but there is no evidence that she did so.

Fair Rosamund in her Bower
William Bell Scott, after 1854
Public Domain

The bearing of children is one of the tamer stories that grew up around Rosamund. Ranulf Higdon, monk of Chester, born almost a century after her death, claimed that Henry had built pleasure gardens and a labyrinth or a maze for her at Woodstock in Oxfordshire. There is no evidence of such structures at the site which is located near Blenheim Palace. The spring and pond known as Rosamund's Well were not part of the buildings at Woodstock when Rosamund lived there.

Rosamund's Well today. The well is beside the lake in Blenheim's Great Park.
  © Copyright Philip Halling Creative Commons Licence

But that didn't stop the rumour factory of popular imagination. A further embellishment was that Rosmund had been murdered by Eleanor, who had found her in the maze.

Thomas Deloney, a renowned writer of  popular ballads who died about 1600, wrote 'The Ballad of Fair Rosamond'. An edition in circulation between 1658 and 1664 is titled: 'A mournful ditty of the lady Rosamond, king Henry the seconds concubine, who was poysoned to death by Queen Elenor in Woodstocst [sic] bower near Oxford.'

Poet Samuel Daniel wrote 'The Complaint of Rosamond' in 1592 and dedicated it to his wealthy patron, Mary, Countess of Pembroke. Again, the myth of Eleanor poisoning Rosamund endures, with Rosamund uttering such lines in the poem as;

‘And after all her vile reproches used,
She forc'd me take the poyson she had brought...
The poysoon soone disperc'd through all my vaines,
Had dispossess'd my living sences quite.’

Fair Rosamund & Queen Eleanor
Edward Burne-Jones, 1861
Public Domain

There continued to be numerous references to Eleanor carrying out the ghastly murder of Rosamund. As well as poisoning, there was stabbing, burning, bleeding and doing something unmentionable with toads. In Alfred, Lord Tennyson's play, Becket, Rosamund becomes the reason for Archbishop Thomas Becket's murder in Canterbury Cathedral. 

La Normandie, Jules Janin
Public Domain

Rosamund's life certainly was cut short. She died at Godstow Nunnery in Oxford in 1176 to where she had retired. The cause of her death is not known. Henry paid for a highly decorated tomb to be erected before the altar at Godstow. The records also show Sir Walter de Clifford making grants of 'several mills and a meadow' to Godstow in memory of his wife and daughter.

Godstow Nunnery today
© Copyright Pierre Terre and licensed for reuse under  Creative Commons Licence

Henry's generosity continued after his death in 1189. Bishop Hugh of Lincoln visited in 1191 and found the tomb still adorned with silk cloths and looked after by the nuns in accordance with Henry's wishes. Bishop Hugh, however, took a rather dim view of what he found. He ordered the removal of Rosamund's tomb to the nearby cemetery for 'she was a harlot.'

Fair Rosamund
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1861
Public domain

It was finally destroyed during Henry VIII's Dissolution. But even Henry VIII couldn't succeed in wiping out the memory of Fair Rosamund. Her myths endure to this day.

References and sources:

Archer, T.A., rev Hallam, Elizabeth, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press 2004-2014)
British History Online: www.british-history.ac.uk
Broadside Ballads Online- from the Bodleian Library: http://ballads.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/
Daniel, Samuel: 'Delia. Contayning certayne Sonnets: vvith the complaint of Rosamond.' 
Guy, John: Thomas Becket, Penguin Books (2012)
The Poetry Foundation: www.poetryfoundation.org
Warren, W.L., Henry II, Yale University Press (2000)
Weir, Alison: Eleanor of Aquitaine: By the Wrath of God, Queen of England, Vintage Books (2007)


E.M. Powell is the author of The Fifth Knight, a medieval thriller based on the murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.

The sequel is The Blood of The Fifth Knight, in which someone is trying to murder Henry's mistress, the Fair Rosamund. It will be released by Thomas & Mercer on 01.01.2015. 

Visit her website at www.empowell.com