Sunday, July 23, 2017

Saturday, July 22, 2017

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.

An Editor's Choice from the EHFA Archives. Originally published on 21 October 2014. 

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.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Dinas Powys Hillfort: A Dark Ages Trading Center

By Kim Rendfeld

When the Romans abandoned Britain around 410, an economy based on mass production and export collapsed. But international trade did not die. From the 5th through 7th centuries, the inhabitants of Dinas Powys hillfort might have enjoyed olive oil, spices, and other imports.

Southwest of today’s Cardiff, Wales, the hillfort is a treasure trove for anyone interested in post-Roman Celtic life. Anglo-Saxons (a catchall term for Germanic tribes who migrated to England) didn’t conquer Wales. The site probably was abandoned around 700, but a nearby village of the same name exists today.

The Cadoxton River, near Dinas Powys hillfort
(by Jaggery CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

In 410, Britons might have thought themselves freed from Roman occupation. Still, they needed to rely on resources close to home for survival, and they faced the constant threat of invasion from opportunistic Irish, Picts, and Anglo-Saxons.

When Dinas Powys was thriving, it was home to a petty king and his family, along with household servants, weavers, and metalsmiths. The property is about one-fourth of an acre, about the size of a good-sized lot in the United States.

Two stone buildings apparently sat at right angles to each other. One was a 600-square-foot hall, a place for feasting. The meals often included meat, particularly pork, but the livestock was likely raised elsewhere and bought into the fortress. The second structure, about half the size of the first, might have been used for storage or slave sleeping quarters. I can imagine it as a treasury.

The hillfort was in a forested area about 1.5 miles from the sea, a good location to trade with merchants who sailed from far-away lands.

Whoever chose the hillfort’s site had defense in mind. The fortress was on a ridge, with steep slopes to the north and west. Over ensuing decades, its rulers constructed a series of ramparts and ditches on the southern part of the area, and they employed smiths to smelt and craft iron, essential for armor and weapons.

The defenses served other purposes. Commoners did the actual building, probably as a service to their king. This reinforced the social order—peasants served their lord, and their lord protected them from enemies. Bulwarks and ditches were also a show of wealth—that the family had possessions worth guarding.

The kings were indeed protecting their source of wealth, much of it not from Britain. Archeologists have found North African and Mediterranean amphorae that could have contained olive oil or wine. The family might have also bought spices, dried foods that didn’t grow in their climate, or textiles.

Detail from illustration
by S. Martin-Kilcher
CC BY-SA 4.0
via Wikimedia Commons
In the kitchen, servants used unglazed, undecorated, and unpainted course ware from western Gaul. Made on a wheel, jugs, jars, and bowls were light brown to grey but could also be red, black, or cream. Hard and gritty, the surface looks like someone had wiped or sponged it while it was still wet.

At the table, visitors would have seen imported pottery, a better quality than vessels made by Britons. Plates, bowls, cups, and mortaria (bowls with flanges and embedded with sand or grit to pound and mix food) from the Bordeaux region would have greyish-black slip, and the bowls featured rouletting and stamp decorations.

Host and guests might have drunk that imported wine from a Kentish blue-glass squat beaker, similar to one in an Anglo-Saxon princely burial, or glass bowls. Apparently, the Celts and Anglo-Saxons weren’t always fighting.

What the kings at Dinas Powys traded for these goods is open to speculation.

They probably didn’t pay with money. The system of exchanging coins for products went away with the Romans.

So the kings needed commodities worth a long and hazardous voyage from the Mediterranean. The fortress could produce cloth, furs, and leather, and it had hearths for melting copper-alloy, silver, gold, and glass, and making the materials into jewelry. Bronze Roman coins might be worth more if they were melted and shaped into a brooch.

From The Portable Antiquities Scheme/
The Trustees of the British Museum
CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The kings might have been something of middlemen, too, trading goods made elsewhere in Britain with merchants from overseas. At their feasts, they would give and receive presents. Perhaps, they exchanged some of those gifts—say an Anglo-Saxon glass claw beaker—a few amphorae of wine.

The finds at Dinas Powys show us Britain was not completely isolated from the rest of the world after the Romans left. Those discoveries also cut into a few stereotypes about the Dark Ages. Although life in early medieval times was far from ideal by 21st century Western standards, it was not all poverty and war.


Dinas Powys in Context: Settlement and Society in Post-Roman Wales by Andrew Seaman

Daily Life in Arthurian Britain by Deborah J. Shepherd

The Quest for Arthur's Britain, by Geoffrey Ashe

“Early Medieval E Ware Potter: An Unassuming but Enigmatic Kitchen Ware?” by Ian W Doyle, Fragments of Lives Past: Archeological objects from the Irish road schemes

“Mediterranean and Frankish pottery imports in early medieval Ireland” by Ian W. Doyle, The Journal of Irish Archaeology, Vol. 18 (2009)


Kim Rendfeld’s work in progress—“Betrothed to the Red Dragon,” a short story about Guinevere’s decision to marry Arthur—is set in Dinas Powys, and in her versions of events, the ruler is a queen. If you’d like to get an email when it’s published, email Kim at kim [at] kimrendfeld [dot] com.

If you want read what Kim has already written, check out her two novels set in 8th century Europe.

Kim's first novel, The Cross and the Dragon, in which a Frankish noblewoman must contend with a jilted suitor and the fear of losing her husband, is available at AmazonKoboiTunesBarnes & NobleSmashwordsCreateSpace, and other vendors.You can order The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar, about a Saxon peasant who will fight for her children after losing everything else, at AmazonKoboBarnes & Noble, and iTunes.

Connect with Kim at on her website, her blog, Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at, on Facebook at, or follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The King’s Son: The Short Life of Edward of Middleham, Prince of Wales

by Karlie aka History Gal

In April 1484 King Richard III and his wife Anne Neville were enjoying a respite from their royal progress. They were lodging at Nottingham Castle when they received the devastating news that their son Edward of Middleham, Prince of Wales was dead.

Richard and Anne Neville - Attribution

The Croyland Chronicler recorded that King Richard and Queen Anne were “in a state almost bordering madness, by reason of their sudden grief.” 1

Prince Edward’s death would have profound consequences in Richard and Anne’s personal and political lives. It would also herald in the beginning of the end of the Plantagenet’s reign.

 Edward of Middleham, Prince of Wales, had taken his last breath at the same place in which he was born: Middleham Castle in North Yorkshire. Edward’s nursery, located in the west wing of the Castle, was adjacent to the south wing known as the ‘Prince’s Tower’ (where Anne is said to have given birth to him).

The precise date and year of Prince Edward’s birth is unknown. Various historians have estimated that he was born within the years of 1473 to 1477; this would have made Edward 11 to 7 years old at the time of his death in 1484. According to “the Tewkesbury chronicler,” it’s likely that Edward “was born…in 1476 – an old style year that continued until 25 March 1477...” 

Middleham Castle - Attribution

Few records survive of Edward’s life both before and after his father, Richard, became King of England in June 1483. The first official record we have of him was written on 10 April 1477 when the priests at York Cathedral were asked to “pray for the good estate of the King and his consort (Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville) and the King’s brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester (the future Richard III) and Anne his consort and Edward their son...” 3

As the nephew of the King, the son of a Duke, and an Earl in his own right, Edward was cared for and tutored as befitting his high status. The woman employed as his wet nurse was Isabel Burgh: wife to one of King Richard’s favorite courtiers.

The mistress of the nursery was Anne Idley: the widow of “Peter Idley, author of a book of manners, or education, for the rearing of boys, called Instructions to His Son.4 Edward’s parents must have been happy with Anne Idley’s services, because Richard penned a letter (to William Stoner) praising Idley, referring to her as “our right well beloved servant.5 In Edward’s later years, a lady by the name of Jane Collins was employed as his caretaker and Master Richard Bernall was assigned as his tutor.

Even with his exemplary upbringing, the prospect of Edward ever becoming King seemed less likely to occur during the early years of his life. At that time, Richard’s eldest brother –and Edward of Middleham’s uncle, (possible) god father and namesake—Edward IV was King of England. Edward IV’s son: Edward, Prince of Wales (the future Edward V) was the next in line to the throne, followed by his other son Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York.

Edward IV - Atribution

Things changed after the deaths of Richard’s other elder brother George, Duke of Clarence in 1478, Edward IV’s death in 1483 and subsequently the latter’s sons’ disappearance in 1483. These series of events made it possible for Richard to assume the role as King of England.

In early 1484 parliament declared King Edward IV and Queen Elizabeth’s marriage invalid due to an alleged pre contract of marriage between King Edward to Lady Eleanor Butler. This proclamation made all of the late King’s offspring with Queen Elizabeth illegitimate, thus forfeiting their right to the crown.

As the new heir to the throne, King Richard’s son inherited grand titles. On 26 June 1483 Edward of Middleham became the Duke of Cornwall, a month later he was given the honorary title of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. On 24 August 1483 he was created Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester. The following month he was formally invested as Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester in an extravagant ceremony held at York Minster. The venue was chosen as the place for his investiture instead of “Westminster Abbey as was customary…because the boy’s fragile health made distant travel ill advised.” 6 Edward was supposedly too weak to ride on horseback for the ceremony, and had to be carted from and back to Middleham Castle in a litter. Nonetheless, this was a proud moment for the young Prince’s parents to have witnessed, particularly since Edward was not in attendance for their joint coronation.

Although there is very little contemporary evidence to prove that Prince Edward suffered from a frail constitution throughout his entire life, it seems that he did spend the majority of his time in the confines of Middleham Castle. The scant records that exist of his life, show that he was able to live a fairly normal existence.

Edward Prince of Wales - Attribution

At Middleham, “Edward would have spent his days playing in the court yard watching mummeries (elaborate plays) in the Great Hall and spending time with his parents when they were at the keep.” 7 He also had a fool (a court jester) named Martyn who no doubt provided him with hours of entertainment. “Edward’s leisurely activities may have included watching the hounds” 8, as part of his inventory shows that during a visit to Pontefract Castle, he had in his possession “a pack of hounds…” He also occasionally traveled with his retinue to the “religious houses of Coverham, Fountains and Jervaulx.” 9

In the spring of 1484 Prince Edward was curiously absent during his parent’s royal progress. It’s possible that his father “left him behind in the north, as a symbol to his most loyal adherents of the new regime to which they owed allegiance, but it was likely that (his son) was also too ill to travel.” 10 What is certain is that neither King Richard nor Queen Anne expected their son to die during their absence.

In this age of superstition, it did not go unnoticed that Richard’s heir died in April 1484, “on a date not very far distant from the anniversary” 11 of King Edward IV’s death. This gave way to malicious gossip at court that Prince Edward’s death was just punishment because his father had been responsible for the deaths of the Prince’s in the Tower: Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York.

There has been much speculation regarding the cause of Edward of Middleham’s death. One theory is that he died from tuberculosis: a bacterial infection that primarily affects the lungs. Whatever the true cause was, the Croyland Chronicler notes that his illness mercifully lasted but a “short duration.”

There can be no doubt that King Richard and Queen Anne genuinely loved their son. The “maddening grief” that they displayed shows that they were not as cold hearted as history has portrayed them. And that they didn’t just see their son as another pawn in their dynastic ambitions.

There is a lot of speculation concerning the whereabouts of Prince Edward’s remains, as no surviving record exists of his burial place. The Church of St Mary and St Alkelda in Middleham, Jervaulx Abbey in East Witton, Coverham Abbey in Coverdale, and the Church of St Helen and Holy Cross in Sherriff Hutton, are locations speculated as being Edward’s final resting place. At the Church of St Helen and Holy Cross, there is an alabaster cenotaph depicting a young boy dressed in fine robes. However, “recent research has proved that it dates from the first half of the 15th century” 12; thus the cenotaph is likely that of a Neville family relation.

A few months after Prince Edward’s death, King Richard traveled to North Yorkshire to pay off the remainder of his son’s expenses. The document he signed (detailing Edward’s expenditure) included the words “most dear son” and following that “in his own handwriting [Richard] added 'Whom God has pardoned'”.13

With his heir gone, the question arose about who Richard’s successor would be. The latter fathered two (perhaps three) illegitimate children with an unidentified woman, prior to his marriage to Anne Neville. King Richard’s other son, John of Gloucester, was knighted at York Minster on the same day that Edward of Middleham’s investiture as Prince of Wales took place.  Because bastards could not inherit the throne, John could not become King of England. The next obvious successors were Richard’s two nephews: John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln (son of Richard’s sister: Elizabeth of York, Duchess of Suffolk) and Edward, Earl of Warwick (son of Richard’s late brother George, Duke of Clarence). However, an Act of Attainder, issued by Edward IV against George, Duke of Clarence, prevented the latter’s offspring from inheriting the throne. This fact was further cemented in a statute, issued by parliament in 1484, called Titulus Regius (a statute essentially stipulating that Richard was the rightful King of England). Other than the contemporary English historian John Rous writing that King Richard named Edward, Earl of Warwick as his successor, there is no other evidence to support this. Although John de la Pole was never formally confirmed as such, Richard appears to have accepted him as his successor.

King Richard’s hopes of producing another heir were dashed when his wife became ill during the winter season of 1484. Tragically, 11 months after the death of her son, Anne died at the Palace of Westminster on 16 March 1485. She was only 28 years old and had been Queen Consort of England for almost 2 years. The general consensus among modern scholars is that the most likely cause of her death was either tuberculosis or some form of cancer.

Cenotaph once alleged to be that of Edward of Middleham

After the death of his wife, King Richard’s reign became blighted by political and domestic turmoil and scandals. The gossip at the English court and abroad was that Richard had poisoned his wife so that he could marry his young and attractive niece Elizabeth of York. The marriage never came to be, and for a time he made negotiations to marry Princess Joanna of Portugal, but that union never came to pass.

King Richard also had to contend with the hostile Lancastrian faction and their figurehead Henry Tudor. Henry had been living in exile in Brittany for over a decade, until he landed on the shores of Mill Bay in Wales on 7 August 1485. His mission: to become the new King of England.

The fight for dynastic supremacy, known as the Wars of the Roses, reached its crescendo at the Battle of Bosworth Field, on 22 August 1485. King Richard and his army put up a valiant fight but were ultimately defeated by Lancastrian forces.

Richard died on the battlefield after sustaining several blows to his head by “possibly four assailants armed with halberds, swords, and heavy-bladed daggers” .14 Henry VII became King and his family, the Tudors, ruled England for the next 118 years.

Portrait of King Henry VII - Attribution

Edward of Middleham’s legacy, much like his life, was short lived. He is a footnote in history, overshadowed by the political climate of his time, and the character and reign of Richard III. A sad state of affairs for a Prince whom—had he outlived his father—could have gone down in history as a famous Yorkist King, prisoner, martyr and or soldier.

1. 11. “Richard, The Man behind the Myth” by Andrea Willers
2. “Anne Neville: Queen to Richard III” by Michael Hicks
3. “Calendar of the Patent Rolls: Edward IV-Richard III.” by Great Britain. Public Record Office
5. “The Contemporary Review, Volume 3” by A. Strahan, 1866
6. “Lives of England's Reigning and Consort Queens” by H. Eugene Lehman
7. “The World of Richard III” by Kristie Dean
8. wales/
9. “Richard III: England's Black Legend” by Desmond Seward
10. “Queens Consort: England's Medieval Queens from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Elizabeth of York” by Lisa Hilton
13. “Memoirs of King Richard the Third and Some of His Contemporaries, Volume 1”by John Heneage Jesse


I’m Karlie (also known as History Gal on Twitter)! I have many interests including reading, writing, drawing and painting but my passion is history. I have read and love to read just about every period in history but I am most interested in the Plantagenet and Tudor eras. I’m intrigued, not just by their dynasties, but also the world in which they lived i.e.: the people, the religion, the politics, the conflicts, the events, the castles, the beautiful clothes, just overall their way of life.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Editors Weekly Round-up, July 16, 2017 #EHFA

by the EHFA Editors

Enjoy this week's round up of articles from the blog.

by Maria Grace

photo credit: amandabhslater via Visualhunt / CC BY-SA

by Richard Denning

by Barbara Kyle
an Editor's Choice from the EHFA Archives

Friday, July 14, 2017

Did the Queen Kill Her Husband? The First Trial of Mary, Queen of Scots

by Barbara Kyle

Mary, Queen of Scots

The news that reached London astonished Queen Elizabeth and all her court. Her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots, had been defeated on the battlefield near Glasgow and in terror had fled to England. She had arrived in a fishing boat on the coast of Cumbria with nothing but the clothes she stood up in. It was May 1568.

Mary instantly wrote to her "dear cousin" Elizabeth asking for her protection and her support. Eager for revenge, Mary wanted to rage back to Scotland at the head of an army and vanquish her enemies. Those enemies were led by her own half-brother, the Earl of Moray. 

The year before, Moray and his confederates had forced her (she said at knife-point) to abdicate and had taken over the government. He had also accused her of adultery and conspiring with her lover to murder her husband, Lord Darnley.

Welcome to the shark-infested waters of 16th-century Scottish politics.

Mary and Darnley
Darnley had indeed been murdered - the house he was staying in near Edinburgh was blown up. It had been undermined with kegs of gunpowder. Charges for masterminding the crime were laid against the Earl of Bothwell, the tough military man Mary had turned to when her marriage had soured. Many believed their relationship was adulterous. At his trial Bothwell was acquitted, thanks to Mary's support, and three months after Darnley's death she took Bothwell as her new husband.

Moray then accused Mary herself of the murder and imprisoned her. Bothwell fled to Denmark. Mary escaped, raised an army, and that's when she came up against Moray's army on the Glasgow battlefield. She lost, losing her kingdom for a second time. She was twenty-six years old.

Arriving in England as a royal refugee, Mary fully expected the support of her cousin Elizabeth. Mary was often blind to reality when she had a passionate stake in a situation, and never was she more blind than when she asked Elizabeth for help.

That's because Mary's arrival in England created a terrible quandary for Elizabeth. England was Protestant, but a large, disgruntled portion of its people were Catholics who believed that Mary, a pious Catholic, should be on the throne, since they regarded Elizabeth as illegitimate and a heretic. Both queens had Tudor blood. (Elizabeth was the granddaughter of the first Tudor monarch, Henry VII; Mary was his great-granddaughter.) 

Elizabeth, unmarried at thirty-five, had no children, and Mary had the best claim to succeed her. Elizabeth feared that Mary would be a lightning rod for these disaffected Catholics to rise up to depose her. If they tried, Mary could expect the backing of the mightiest power in Europe, Catholic Spain.  

Elizabeth's councillors were appalled at the thought of Mary moving freely about England to draw Catholics to her cause, and they advised her to imprison Mary. Elizabeth recoiled at that, for she took her cousin's royal status very seriously. However, she knew that Mary was a dangerous threat to her throne. So, crafty ruler that she was, she found a way forward. 

Her solution was Machiavellian - and pure Elizabeth. She let it be know that, much as she sympathized with her fellow queen, she could not support her if Mary was, indeed, an adulteress and a murderer. To discover the truth, she proclaimed, she would hold an inquiry into the charges against Mary.  

In soothing letters to her cousin she assured her that if the charges proved unfounded, as Mary vehemently insisted, Elizabeth would wholeheartedly back her in restoring her to her Scottish throne. Elizabeth's tactic was one that modern-day crafters of smear campaigns would appreciate. Dirt, once it is hurled, tends to stick. If it did, Elizabeth would be free to abandon Mary and uphold the alliance she wanted with Moray's Protestant government in Scotland. Mary, at this point, was notorious for the scandals that had swirled around her, so at the news that there would be an inquiry all of Europe waited, agog, for the outcome.

It was not called a trial, since English courts had no jurisdiction over foreign rulers, but for all intents and purposes, a trial is what it was. Elizabeth set the venue; the proceedings would take place at York, then move to Westminster. She invited the Earl of Moray to come and argue his case before her commissioners. He eagerly agreed, and set out from Edinburgh with a rookery of lawyers.

Mary was furious. She said there was only one way she would appear to answer charges made by her subjects: if they were brought before her in chains. She refused to attend the inquiry. It was one of the many impetuous decisions she made that doomed her, for by all accounts she had extraordinary charm and had she attended she might very possibly have won the commissioners' sympathy. Instead, she appointed commissioners to act in her name, Lord Herries and the Bishop of Ross. These men were staunchly loyal to her, but they did not have her "star" power.

Elizabeth appointed the Duke of Norfolk, the premier peer of her realm, to preside. But Norfolk, like just about everyone involved in this intricate piece of political theater, including Elizabeth, had a hidden agenda. Mary, ever seeking to enhance her power base in England, had made Norfolk an offer he could not resist: marriage. Secretly, in letters, the two formed a marriage plan. For Norfolk, it was the brass ring. Mary had the best claim to be Elizabeth's heir, and if she came to the throne, then he, as her husband, would be king. Norfolk, therefore, was secretly predisposed to find Mary innocent.

But then something happened that changed the course of the proceedings, and of history. Moray presented evidence to the English commissioners: eight letters written by Mary to the Earl of Bothwell while she was married to Darnley. These have become known as the "casket letters," so named because, Moray said, they were found in a small silver casket in Bothwell's house after he had fled the country. Found under a bed!

How convenient, Mary raged. She had good reason to rage, for she only heard of this development from leaks. Moray had presented the letters to Elizabeth's commissioners alone, in secret. Mary was not allowed to see the evidence that was to damn her.

And damning it was. The letters were the intimate words of a woman to her lover. She called herself "the most faithful lover that ever you had or shall have" and "I end, after kissing your hands...your humble and faithful lover who hopeth shortly to be another thing unto you for my pains...Love me always, as I shall love you." "I remit myself wholly unto your will." Worse, they indicated that Mary and Bothwell had indeed been plotting to kill Darnley. "Burn this letter, for it is too dangerous." News of the letters, carefully leaked, shocked all of Europe.

Mary swore to her dying day that the letters were forged. And the fact that she was allowed no rebuttal at the inquiry was such a miscarriage of justice, her furious commissioners withdrew in protest.

Elizabeth gave Mary one last chance to come before the inquiry and defend herself. Mary refused, sure that such a desperate move would be a virtual confession of guilt. But the damage had already been done. Mary's reputation was in tatters. Even many of her Catholic followers turned away from her. Elizabeth was satisfied. She wrapped up the inquiry without even proclaiming a verdict. She didn't need to.

Did Mary plot with Bothwell to murder her husband? We may never know. The casket letters no longer exist. Moray took them back to Scotland where they eventually ended up in the possession of Mary's son, James. He became king, and the letters were never seen again.

Mary never regained her freedom. Elizabeth kept her under house arrest for the next nineteen years. Hers was a comfortable captivity, spent in a series of old castles with a small retinue to serve her, but it was captivity nonetheless. During those nineteen years she plotted ceaselessly to take Elizabeth's crown. 

Eventually, she was part of a plot in which her own writings - irrefutable this time - proved her guilt. Elizabeth had had enough. Charged with conspiring to murder Elizabeth, Mary came to trial in October 1586. This time, it was not her reputation that was in jeopardy, it was her life. 

The trial was a mere formality, its outcome never in question. Three months later Mary was executed, beheaded at Fotheringhay Castle.

The famous rivalry between these two queens has enthralled the world for over four hundred years. It enthralls us still.

An Editor's Choice, originally published 29 April 2013.

Barbara Kyle is the author of the Tudor-era "Thornleigh" novels including,  The Queen's Gamble, The Queen's Captive, The King's DaughterThe Queen's Lady, and Blood Between Queens.

Facebook: Barbara Kyle Author Page
Twitter: BKyleAuthor

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Kinwarton Dovecote

By Richard Denning

On a recent trip to Evesham I stopped at this National Trust Property. The Kinwarton Dovecote is a (fairly rare in the UK) surviving circular 14th-century dovecote situated in Kinwarton, near Alcester in Warwickshire. The dovecot is the only remaining structure from a moated grange that belonged to the Abbey of Evesham, which was close by. (A grange is an outlying farm with tithe barns belonging to a monastery or feudal lord.)

The right to own and use a dovecote was a 'perk' of being a Lord of the Manor.

There is evidence of a certain Robert Green gifting a dovecote to Abbot William de Boys of Evesham. There is no specific evidence that this is that dovecot but its the right age so it could well be.

The dating of the dovecot is based on the style of the doorway which is called a ‘ogee’ arch which have a sort of double S shape. The walls which are over 3 feet thick are built of rubble with plaster rendering.

The interior is lined with over 580 nesting boxes arranged in 17 layers. Access to the boxes was made possible due to the installation of a ‘potence’; a ladder which is made to pivot around a central post.

Above you can see the timbered roof and below an idea of the thickness of the walls can be gauged from this shot of the door way from inside the dovecote.


Richard Denning is an historical fiction author whose main period of interest is the Early Anglo-Saxon Era. His Northern Crown series explores the late 6th and early 7th centuries through the eyes of a young Saxon lord. Explore the darkest years of the dark ages with Cerdic.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Joining the Gentry

by Maria Grace

The Regency era gentleman was a fairly rare bird. During the era, the gentry class only made up about one and one half percent of the British population. When the rising merchant class had the means to join the elite group, they jumped at the chance. Still, the process was not as easy as simply buying their way in. The transition into the gentry class could take several generations to complete since inherited wealth, especially that related to land ownership, still offered higher social standing than earned wealth.

The Pathway to Gentry Standing

For those not gently born, the pathway to gentry status began with earning money, ideally a very great deal of it. However, wealth alone did not offer real status. It had to be turned into the trappings of the gentry: land, education, and connections.

Arguably, the most significant of these was the purchase of land. And by land, not just a small parcel would do. A yeoman farmer’s plot of fifty acres or so would only grant the status of a “respectable farmer”, not a gentleman. To be part of the gentry, a man needed at least three hundred acres, preferably already fashioned into an estate.

Photo credit: amandabhslater via Visualhunt / CC BY-SA

What is an Estate?

Through the Georgian era, estates were largely self-sustaining economic entities. The most obvious feature of an estate was the grand house where the master of the estate and his family lived and conducted their business. Houses might stand for generations, but changes in fashion, architecture, and gardening meant an estate owner might spend a great deal on bringing the house and grounds up to modern, fashionable standards.

While the house might be the most obvious feature, the more significant ones were those that provided income and sustenance to the owner. A home farm provided food and necessities for the family in residence, as well as the servants who lived with them. Tenant farms and rental properties provided the majority of a gentleman’s income. Natural land resources like trees (lumber), coal, fishing, etc. could supplement incomes. These passive forms of income separated the gentleman from the working class whose hands were soiled by paid work.

Acquiring an Estate

Large land owners were a very exclusive group. By the end of the eighteenth century, half the farm land of Britain belonged to only about five thousand families. (Lane, 2005)

How much did it take to acquire an estate?

In 1801, a one hundred acre estate (not enough to make one part of the gentry, though) in Sussex sold for £3,500. (Donnelly, 2012). In general, an estate would be priced at about thirty times the income it produced. So, an estate producing £1000 a year would sell for approximately £30,000.

To put these numbers in perspective, during the era, the edge of poverty was approximately £50 a year. A shopkeeper might make £150 a year. A comfortable middle class income was £250 while just a quarter million families made a very comfortable £700 pounds or more per year. In 1801, only the top one percent of the population made more than £800 a year. (Morris, 2014)So, it was just a very small fragment of the population who could aspire to land ownership.

Land Ownership was not Enough

Simply owning an estate was not sufficient to grant entry into the upper classes. A family was not part of the gentry until members of the gentry accepted them as part of their social equals. Socializing together was important, but intermarriage was the surest sign of acceptance. Before that could happen, all financial ties with the business that brought in the wealth—commerce, colonial endeavors, manufacturing, military, finance—had to be severed and the family seen to live in a “good sort of way.”

A man aspiring to the gentry class would ensure his sons, especially the eldest, received a gentleman’s education. At Cambridge or Oxford he would be taught the classics, at the not insubstantial sum of £300 a year. Perhaps more significant, the exposure to his social betters would allow him to develop the necessary social graces to mingle with the upper crust.

Photo via

While his expensive education would not actually provide useful instruction in how to manage an estate, it would afford him the opportunity to rub shoulders with others sons of the gentry, establishing connections that could serve him well throughout his life.

Not surprisingly, a daughter’s education was secondary, but if there was money available, she might be sent to a “finishing school,”  or girl’s seminary, to complete the education her mother would have begun at home. Training in French and Italian, dance, music, and deportment would be aimed at making her a “social asset” for her future husband—a man whom she might well meet through a brother’s connections. For a daughter, good manners and an excellent dowry were even more important than a pretty face and figure for social mobility.

Once the next generation was sufficiently acceptable to be marriageable to the gentry class, and an estate (and hopefully fortune to go with it) were inherited, the transition to gentry class could be considered complete.

The Importance of Owning Land

To the modern perspective, the emphasis on land over actual wealth seems perplexing. What made land so significant?

In the centuries leading up to the Regency era, people existed in a largely subsistence economy. Crops were difficult to grow and, for most, producing enough for personal use was an achievement. To grow more than one needed was truly a show of success and required a significant amount of land.

Growing crops for market helped shift the economy from a subsistence to a market economy, and helped solidify the mystique of land ownership. Land ownership became a prerequisite for social power. Only land owners could vote. Masters of large estates often served as local magistrates, presiding over civil and certain criminal complaints. They also frequently served as church wardens managing tithes to the local rector and maintaining the parish church.

Thus, land afforded not only economic power, but social standing and influence as well, making it the natural vehicle of the upwardly mobile nouveaux riche to make their impact upon society.


Colburn, Henry. A new system of practical domestic economy: founded on modern discoveries and the private communications of persons of experience. London: Printed for Henry Colburn and Co., 1823.

Davidoff, Leonore, and Catherine Hall. Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780-1850. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

Donnelly, Shannon. "Regency Coin — What Did it Cost?" Shannon Donnelly's Fresh Ink. January 14, 2012. Accessed March 2, 2017.

Jones, Chris. "Land Ownership." In Jane Austen in Context , 269-77. Cambridge: University Press, 2005.

Lane, Maggie. Jane Austen's World: The Life and times of England's Most Popular Novelist. 2nd ed. London: Carlton Books, 2005.

Morris, Diane. "Mr. Darcy Was a Second-Class Citizen." Moorgate Books. August 10, 2014. Accessed March 20, 2017.

Savage, William. "The Path to Landed Gentry Status." Pen and Pension. October 05, 2016. Accessed March 10, 2017.

Sullivan, Margaret C., and Kathryn Rathke. The Jane Austen Handbook: Proper Life Skills from Regency England. Philadelphia, PA: Quirk Books, 2007.

Wilson, Richard, and Alan Mackley. "Founding a landed dynasty, building a country house: the Rolfes of Heacham in the eighteenth century." In Counties and Communities: Essays on East Anglian History: Presented to Hassell Smith. University of East Anglia: Norwich: Centre of East Anglian Studies, 1996.


Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful.

After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.

Click here to find her books on Amazon. For more on her writing and other Random Bits of Fascination, visit her website. You can also like her on Facebook, or follow on Twitter.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Editors Weekly Round-up, July 9, 2017

by the EHFA Editors

Enjoy these great articles from the blog, and don't forget to sign up for the Giveaway before tonight's deadline.

by Cryssa Bazos

by Lauren Gilbert

by Annie Whitehead

And don't forget to sign up for the Giveaway before midnight (Pacific) tonight.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Escomb Church - Anglo-Saxon Rarity

by Annie Whitehead

I love Anglo-Saxon history, but researching it can sometimes be frustrating, not just because of the paucity of surviving documents, but because of the lack of 'locations'. If this blog post were about Anne Boleyn, it would be illustrated with photographs of the Tower of London, and paintings of the lady herself, complete with her famous necklace.

We Anglo-Saxonists aren't quite so fortunate in that regard. Many of the buildings associated with the age no longer exist, buried under later, Norman, edifices. The wooden house at Corfe where Queen Ælfthryth was staying when she murdered, or didn't murder, her stepson King Edward, has long-since disappeared, and even the stone castle built there is now a ruin. There is no surviving artwork which gives us even a rough approximation of how people looked.

Imagine, then, how thrilling it is to be able to visit Escomb Church, built of stone and probably dating to the late seventh century.

Escomb Church is about a mile and a half from Bishop Auckland, home to the Prince Bishops of Durham, and is quite a contrast to the towering grandeur of Durham Cathedral.

I always imagined that Escomb Church, being so ancient, was situated in a small, quaint village, but in fact it sits on a circle of land, surrounded on all sides by modern housing. Yet it exudes calm, an ancient building standing proud, refusing to give up all its secrets, and leaving historians puzzled.

The village of Escomb is mentioned in a grant of land by Bishop Ealdhun, who was bishop of Durham in the tenth century.

Symeon of Durham's Life of St Cuthbert, shows the bishop leasing to "three earls: Ethred, Northman and Uchtred the following lands: Gainford, Whorlton, Sledwich, Barforth, Startforth, Lartington, Marwood Green, Stainton, Streatlam, Cleatlam, Langton, Morton Tinmouth, Piercebridge, Bishop Auckland and West Auckland, Copeland, Weardseatle, Binchester, St Andrew Aucklad (?), Thickley, Escombe, Witton-le-Wear, Hunwick, Newton Cap, Helme Park." (Symeon of Durham. HistoriadeSanctoCuthberto 31.)

It is clear from the architectural evidence, though, that the church itself was built much earlier, but the first puzzle is who built it, and why? We may never know. The second of the puzzles is that the stones in the upper courses are smaller than those lower down. The height of the building and the ground plan hint at Irish Celtic influence, and the very fact that it was, unusually for Saxon buildings, constructed in stone, might point towards a connection with Gallic chapels.

The chancel arch is believed to have been reassembled from a Roman archway, although the scroll paintwork on the underside is probably much later, perhaps even fifteenth century.

The Saxon cross behind the altar is believed to date from the ninth century, although according to the guide I spoke to, it's possible that it is an earlier 'preaching cross' and actually predates the church.

Of the church windows, the smaller ones which have round headed lintels are thought to have been carved 'in situ', and their design conforms to the earliest period of Saxon building.

Behind the pulpit, carved into the wall, there is a cross, described by my guide as an 'incised consecration cross.' Its shape points once more to an Irish/Celtic influence.

Carvings to the side of a blocked up doorway in the sanctuary are believed to depict Adam and Eve standing beneath the tree of life.

In the porch, which is a later, medieval, addition to the building, there are various Saxon artefacts - the remains of Saxon crosses, and pieces of glass and pottery excavated from the churchyard.

In that churchyard, an unusual gravestone has been dated somewhere between 1100 and 1300, although it was not originally outside, but laid in the floor of the nave.

Above the porch, there is a sundial, which being on the porch, is later medieval, but on the original church wall, there is an older, Anglo-Saxon sun dial:

And so to the final puzzle: why did this church survive? It is a rare thing, indeed - a surviving stone Saxon church, so why has it not been knocked down, or 'improved', other than the addition of the porch?

It is thought that the Prince Bishops of Durham were not interested in building a bigger/better church in such a tiny village. In other words, it has probably - ironically - survived because of a lack of interest. The bishops of Durham, whose official residence is still at Auckland Castle in Bishop Auckland, (pictured below) became virtually autonomous and wielded extraordinary power. Little Escomb Church was in all likelihood a beneficiary, in a strange way, of their almost regal status.

For those interested in the later period of Saxon history, it should be pointed out that Bishop Ealdhun was witness to a charter of King Æthelred in 1009 granting land to Morcar, thegn of the Seven Boroughs. He was also the father of Ecgfritha, who married Uchtred, Earl of Bamburgh. Perhaps a more familiar spelling is Uhtred. He was also known as Uhtred the Bold, he was treacherously killed, and it is he from whom a certain Mr Cornwell claims descent...

[all photographs by and copyright of the author]


Annie Whitehead is an author and historian, and a member of the Royal Historical Society. Her first two novels are set in tenth century Mercia, chronicling the lives of Æthelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, who ruled a country in all but name, and Earl Alvar who served King Edgar and his son Æthelred the Unready who were both embroiled in murderous scandals. Her third novel, also set in Mercia, is scheduled for release later this year, and she is currently working on a history of Mercia for Amberley Publishing, to be released in 2018.
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