Friday, November 24, 2017

Dunfermline - Kings, Queens, and Legends

By Annie Whitehead

The King sits in Dunfermline town,
Drinking the blood-red wine;
"O where shall I get a skeely skipper
To sail this ship o mine?"

Then up and spake an eldern knight,
Sat at the King's right knee:
"Sir Patrick Spens is the best sailor
That ever sailed the sea."
So begins the Ballad of Sir Patrick Spens,  which commemorates two tragic incidents: the drowning of many Scottish nobles returning from accompanying Margaret, the daughter of Alexander III of Scotland, to her marriage to King Eric of Norway, and the death on board ship twenty years after Alexander's death of his grandaughter Margaret, the Maid of Norway, heiress to the Scottish throne, on her voyage to Scotland.

Dunfermline was a royal centre from very early in Scottish history. Malcolm Canmore had a palace there in the eleventh century, and it was in Dunfermline that he married Margaret of England, who was canonised and was remembered as Saint Margaret.

In 1070, Queen Margaret established the first monastery on the site, and the small priory was enlarged into an abbey by her son David.

The abbey became a mausoleum for  Scottish royalty, and was the burial place of Malcolm and Margaret, their son David I, and Robert I (more generally known to the English as Robert the Bruce)

The abbey and lands were given as a wedding gift by James VI (son of Mary, Queen of Scots) to his bride, Anne or Anna of Denmark. Saint Margaret's power was believed to have protected women in pregnancy, and certainly, Anne-Marie, one of the guides at the abbey, told me that many Scottish queens felt a great affinity for the palace and abbey, and she believes the reason is that it was, unlike many other palaces, so strongly associated with a queen, rather than kings.

Visitors to Dunfermline Abbey will see that there are two distinct parts, one being the older abbey building, with the nave built by David I and said to be the most complete surviving example of its type in Scotland.

As with so many Scottish religious buildings, the reformation of 1560 meant that anything associated with Catholic worship was removed and/or destroyed and within three years the choir was roofless. in 1817 William Burn designed a new parish chruch and it opened on the site of the old choir in 1821. During this time, the remains of Robert the Bruce and fragments of his tomb were unearthed, and the modern church is home to a memorial for him. Major repairs undertaken in the 1840s exposed the the earlier church, under the nave floor.

Above, a bronze case of Robert I's skull; below, his memorial

It was the west side of the monastic cloister which was reused  to become the royal residence gifted by James VI to Anna of Denmark. Anna wanted a residence befitting her status, and William Schaw, the king's Master of Works, was commissioned to build it. This once glorious building is now a ruin, but illustrations show what it once would have looked like.

 the window marked as 2 above, is shown below

below, all that remains of the building shown above

The 'nursery' referred to would have been that of Anna's children: the future King Charles I was born here, as was his sister, Elizabeth of Bohemia. I was told by the guide that Anna was opposed to her sons being sent away for schooling, demanding that they be kept with her.

The history of Dunfermline is not confined to the abbey and palace, however, although my journey did bring me back to the churchyard in an unexpected way...

Across the road from the abbey is the park is Pittencrieff Park, an area popular for walks, and picnics. Within the park itself lie the remains of Malcolm Canmore's Tower, tucked well away from the modern, tarmacked path. The tower is all that marks the centre of Malcolm's centre of government, built on a defensible peninsular outcrop of rock above a deep ravine. The opening lines of the Ballad of Sir Patrick Spens are thought to refer to the tower:

Scattered around the park are also signs to 'Wallace's Well', again, hard to find, and easy to miss:

This unprepossessing slab of stones and metal grate gives little away. But an information board explains that in William Wallace's time, the Glen of Pittencrieff would have been a densely wooded area, and the legend has it that Wallace hid in this well shortly after the Battle of Falkirk. It's said that in 1303 he visited Dunfermline with his mother, to pray at the shrine of St Margaret, and that his mother died there and was hastily buried in the churchyard, under a thorn tree. I'd not noticed this tree on my arrival, so this is why I returned to the abbey.

the thorn tree, above, and the plaque, below

Dunfermline had not quite given up all its secrets, however. St Margaret's reputation for piety was not without justification. She used to pray regularly in a little cave, and in her day access was via a wooded path and a short climb up to the cave. Nowadays, visitors must descend a steep tunnel, which was built when the local council built a car park, obscuring the original entrance to the cave.

There is little left of St Margaret's shrine and all that remains now is the stone slab. Originally, her relics were encased in a carved casket covered with gold leaf. It seems likely that her remains were moved from their resting place in the original church when her son, David, began construction of his new church.

The association of Dunfermline with Margaret is hard to escape. Later queens favoured the place, as mentioned above, and it's likely that Anna of Denmark also made arrangements to be buried here when her time came. A burial vault near the south-east doorway was probably intended for her. In the event, the last member of the royal family to be buried here was Robert Stuart, infant son of James VI, in 1602. After James became James I of England, the family moved south, and Anna was buried in Westminster Abbey.

It's said that from the 1590s onwards she and James were all but estranged. I wonder if she yearned to return to her wonderful palace at Dunfermline...

[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 Æthelflæd, 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, tells the story of seventh-century King Penda and his feud with the Northumbrian kings. She is currently working on a history of Mercia for Amberley Publishing, to be released in 2018.
Amazon Page

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Ælfgyva: The Mystery Woman of the Bayeux Tapestry – Part One

By Paula Lofting

Ælfgifu, or as it was sometimes spelt Alfgyva, or even Ælfgyva as it is on the Bayeux Tapestry, must have been a popular name and one of some significance, for when Emma of Normandy was espoused to Aethelred, the witan insisted that she be called Ælfgifu, which incidentally had been the name of a couple of Æthelred’s previous partners, though none of those women had been given the title of queen, unlike Emma. Perhaps they had been so used to referring to their king’s women by the same name they thought it more expedient to refer to Emma as Ælfgifu too, lest they forget themselves and mistakenly call Emma by the wrong name. I say this tongue in cheek, but it is unclear as to why the name Emma was objectionable to them, after all, it was not unlike the English version of Ymma.

But changing a queen’s name is not an unheard-of phenomenon; later Queen Edith, great-granddaughter of Edmund Ironside, was sneered at for her Saxon name and was forced to become Queen Mathilda when she wed Henry the first.

There were so many Aelfgyvas/ Aelfgifus amongst the women of the 11th century that it must have become quite confusing at times. Even Cnut’s first consort was called Aelfgifu, mother of Cnut’s sons Harold and Sweyn. She was known as Aelfgifu of Northampton whose father had been killed during Aethelred’s reign. So one can see that if anyone called Emma, Aelfgifu, by mistake, it would not have mattered as they could be referring to either of them! Even Cnut would not have been caught out by this one.

King Cnut

There was a story about Cnut’s Aelfgifu, that she had been unable to produce her own off-spring and involved a monk to help her pass off a serving maid’s illegitimate babies as her sons by Cnut. In another version, it was said that the monk himself had fathered them.  Were they a monk’s children fathered on a serving maid so that Aelfgifu could present them as hers and Cnut’s? Or, were they lovers themselves, the monk and Aelfgifu? These are questions that, after reading the evidence, I am pondering upon. However, Emma, it is said, hated Aelfgifu and the two women were at odds with each other for many years until Aelfgifu died. It would not be implausible that these tales, rumours, Chinese whispers if you may, could have been put about by the Queen to destroy her rival’s reputation.

Which leads me now to the mystery of Aelfgyva on the Bayeux tapestry. Aelfgyva is the same name as Aeflgifu, just a different spelling, much like Edith and Eadgyth. For centuries people must have pondered over this scene, where a slim figure, clad in what would appear to be the clothing of a well-bred woman, stands in a door way, her hands are palm upwards as if she could be explaining something to a monk, apparently behind a doorway.  He is reaching out to touch the side of her face whilst his other hand rests on his hip in a stance of dominance and he looks as if he might be touching her face in a fatherly way, perhaps admonishing her for some misdeed, or perhaps he is slapping her?  On the other hand he could be caressing her face.

The text sewn into the tapestry merely states ‘where a priest and Aelfgyva…’ and the onlooker is left with no more than this to dwell on. So just what is the author alluding to? Why did he/she not finish the sentence? Perhaps they were referring to a well-known scandal of the time and they had no reason to describe the events because everyone would have known about it anyway. Who knows what the truth is? It seems the answer to the questions of the lady’s identity and the relevance the scene has to the story of the downfall of Harold Godwinson, died with the creators of the tapestry long ago. Those who presented it to the owner must have given a satisfactory explanation to him about the scene. One can only wonder as to what it might have been and was it a truthful explanation, or did it have a hidden story?

This brings me to my burning question. Was this scene depicting the scandal of Aelfgifu of Northampton and the monk and if so why and what did it have to do with the tapestry? What was its creator alluding to? Or had someone woven them into the tapestry, mistakenly confusing Cnut’s Aelfgifu/Aelfgyva with a similar story that did have some legitimacy with the story of the conquest? I have an interpretation, but it is just that, and most likely the fanciful ramblings of my imagination, although it could perhaps be close. I will attempt to explain my idea further sometime in part two soon. Watch this space as the mystery unfolds!

[all above images in the public domain]


Paula Lofting is an author and a member of the re-enactment society Regia Anglorum, where she regularly takes part in the Battle of Hastings. Her first novel, Sons of the Wolf, is set in eleventh-century England and tells the story of Wulfhere, a man torn between family and duty. The sequel, The Wolf Banner is available now. Paula is currently working on the third book in the series, Wolf's Bane

Find Paula on her Blog

Monday, November 20, 2017

Cats in the Days of King Arthur

by Kim Rendfeld

In 5th-century Britain, cats helped humans survive winter, but the way people regarded them depended on their religious beliefs.

Romans introduced housecats to Britain in the 1st century. The island already had native feline species: the lynx (now extinct) and the Scottish wildcat (now endangered). But these animals had no interest in humans—today a Scottish wildcat remained wild, even if it’s raised in captivity. The most significant difference between the housecat and the wildcat is temperament. Housecats live with us, although we’re big enough to be predators.

Unlike a lot of other animals, the early medieval housecat is similar to today’s domestic shorthair. By contrast, horses and sheep were smaller in the Dark Ages. Pigs had bristles and tusks. While some dog breeds such as greyhounds and mastiffs go back to the ancients, many were quite different from today. Some canines, like a hunting and herding dog called alaunt, have since become extinct.

Cat and parrots mosaic (detail), in the National
Archaeological Museum of Naples
(by Massimo Finizio,
CC BY-SA 2.0 Italyvia Wikimedia Commons)

Cats brought by the Roman descended from the Near Eastern wildcat, a species that hunted mice in granaries about 10,000 years ago. Today’s Near Eastern wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica, also called the African wildcat) looks like a large housecat with longer legs and a more upright posture when sitting or walking. In ancient times, the friendlier felines domesticated themselves by hanging out with the humans who fed them table scraps. Just like a cat who decided to live with me and my husband in the 1990s. After my husband fed her, she left a dead mouse on the doormat. A thank-you gift, apparently.

We named the cat Ellie, and she went on to become a pampered pet, still killing rodents on occasion. Had she lived in Arthurian Britain she would have had a job to do—just like every human and every other animal. The only pets, as we understand them, were toy-breed dogs for the wealthy who wanted to show off that they could have an animal that didn’t need to do anything. I suppose those dogs had a job, too—status symbol.

Housecats, along with ferrets and weasels, had the essential job of killing rodents that would otherwise eat the stored grain humans needed to get through winter. Perhaps, it is not too far a stretch for the Egyptians to see them as divine.

When the Romans occupied Britain, housecats and other rodent killers played an important role in the international economy, too. Surplus grain from Britain was exported to the rest of the empire. A lot of people depended on cats’ hunting skills.

Cat and two ducks, Roman artwork, 1st century BC
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Cats had a spiritual role as well. With their reproductive abilities—a female cat can have two to three litters a year, with up to eight kittens—they were symbols of fertility, an important thing in an age when aristocrats needed heirs and people didn’t know how many children would live to adulthood.

Romans might have smuggled housecats from Egypt, where they were believed to be too sacred for export, and some Egyptian beliefs about the cat-headed Egyptian goddess Bastet might have seeped into Greco-Roman mythology. Bastet, goddess of fertility and motherhood and protector of the home, became associated with the Greek Artemis and by extension the Roman Diana. A dream about a cat was a good omen and a sign of a good harvest.

Roman amulets to ward off evil have images of cats. Feline images appear on a sistrum, a bronze musical instrument a handle and a rounded open frame with bronze rods that rattled. Common in Egypt, the sistrum, associated with fertility, also was used throughout the Roman Empire and even as far as London.

The Celts, particularly the Irish and Scots, had their own belief about cats. It’s possible the Kellas cat, a black hybrid of the Scottish wildcat and housecat, had something to do with it. In the Highlands, the large black Cat Sidhe or Cat Sith could steal the soul of the dead before the gods claimed it, and the folk had several rituals to distract the creature until the body was laid to rest. At Samhain, they left a saucer of milk for the Cat Sidhe, who would bless the house. Those who neglected to leave the treat would be cursed.

Kellas cat on display in the Zoology Museum,
University of Aberdeen (By Sagaciousphil, CC BY-SA 4.0,
via Wikimedia Commons)

Christian clergy saw them as companions—purring sphinxes. Greek monks who came to Europe brought cats with them to share their cells. One of the most delightful poems about a churchman’s relationship with his pet is the 9th century “Pangur Ban.” The Irish monk compares his hunt for knowledge to his white cat’s hunt for mice and the joy each of them feels.

In 5th century Britain, religious beliefs were fluid. Pagan and Christian beliefs coexisted, often in the same person. A Christian might wear an amulet with a cat right beside their cross. They might interpret a dream of a cat as a good omen right before they attend sunrise Mass.

Regardless of religious beliefs, people would have appreciated how the felines preserved the food supply. That furry creature who killed and ate mice in the granary was still essential.


Daily Life in Arthurian Britain by Deborah J. Shepherd

Greek and Roman Household Pets by Francis D. Lazenby

“Cats were so nice, they conquered the world twice” by Nsikan Akpan, PBS News Hour

Classical Cats: The Rise and Fall of the Sacred Cat by Donald W. Engels

A cat that can never be tamed” by Bec Crew, Scientific American

The Cat Sidhe by Deborah MacGillivray

"House Cat Origin Traced to Middle Eastern Wildcat Ancestor" by Brian Handwerk, National Geographic News

"Pangur Ban"


Kim Rendfeld’s short story “Betrothed to the Red Dragon,” about Guinevere’s decision to marry Arthur, is set in early medieval Britain and available on Amazon.

She has also written two novels set in 8th century Europe. In The Cross and the Dragon, a Frankish noblewoman must contend with a jilted suitor and the fear of losing her husband (available on Amazon). In The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar, a Saxon peasant will fight for her children after losing everything else (available on Amazon).

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.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Lord Rhys; Welsh First, Henry’s Second

by Jean Gill

We all know something about King Henry II of England and Thomas Becket, but few have heard of another powerful man who sparked off the temper of that fiery king and then, against all odds, gained his trust: Lord Rhys.

When Henry died in 1189, Lord Rhys, the Welsh ruler of the kingdom of Deheubarth, had been the royal Justiciar of South Wales for seventeen years, an alliance arrived at through war, truce and stubbornness on both sides. At the peak of their conflict, frustrated in battle, Henry ordered that twenty-two Welsh hostages, including Rhys’ son, should have their eyes gouged out.

Yet the two rulers then became firm allies. How is that possible? How could a father accept such an alliance? The answer might lie in Rhys’ own style of leadership and his background. Maybe he accepted such an action in war because it’s exactly what he himself would have done.

Certainly, the alliance was politically expedient for both rulers as, although Rhys could never win against Henry’s superior manpower, Welsh guerilla warfare could harass and tire the slow, heavy English soldiers, ad infinitum. An alliance gave them both peace and a means to keep in check the greed of the Norman Marcher Lords. However, their truce held strong through later trials, when expediency for Rhys was not in loyalty to Henry, suggesting something deeper between the two men. For his part, there is no doubt that Henry felt respect for Rhys and his countrymen.

‘In one part of the island [of Britain] there is a race of people called the Welsh who are so brave and untamed that, though unarmed themselves, they do not hesitate to do battle with fully armed opponents’

King Henry II 1176

Lord Rhys 

Who was Rhys? His praise-singer described him as ‘golden’ and it might be that he was ‘fair’ like his mother Gwenllian, a princess of North Wales, who eloped with Gruffydd, Prince of Deheubarth to become a legend in her new kingdom. ‘Fair’ and ‘golden’ are compliments with many possible meanings: attractive, just, gifted, lucky, or, of course, blonde (no longer the compliment it once was!). The only other clues to his appearance are in a 14th century effigy on a tomb in St David’s Cathedral, thought to be of Lord Rhys, in which he sports a moustache worthy of a WW2 RAF pilot.

Nobody would have expected him to rule Deheubarth. Youngest of six brothers, he was four years old when his mother, Gwenllian the Warrior Princess, was betrayed by a Welshman and beheaded by the Norman, Maurice De Londres, on the battlefield now known as Maes Gwenllian. One brother, Morgan, died in the same battle and another, Maelgwyn, disappeared, never to be heard of again. Rhys’ father died a year later, of illness or grief.

The eldest surviving brother, Anarawd, then became leader until he was murdered in 1143 by order of his future brother-in-law, Cadwaladr of North Wales. The next brother, Cadell, was so badly injured by Normans from Tenby in 1151, when he was out hunting, that he renounced all worldly matters, retiring to a monastery after going on a pilgrimage.

The coat of arms of Deheubarth
Cadell left his two younger brothers, Maredudd and Rhys as joint rulers in his absence, which turned out to be permanent. Closeness between noble Welsh brothers was rare as they were usually fostered while young and competing for inheritance (with the support of their foster families) as they matured. Gelding and/or blinding were not uncommon ways of showing mercy to the loser while protecting an inheritance. However, Rhys and Maredudd, two years older, had never been fostered and had survived losses that were cruel even by the standard of the day. What little evidence remains suggests that they were close, that they rode together and fought together to win back the lands lost during their father’s time.

Wales 1153
1153, the year my fictional troubadours arrive in Gwalia (Wales), was indeed a golden year for Henry, who was named heir to the English throne by its incumbent Stephen, and also for Rhys and Maredudd. They were on a winning streak and continued to regain castles and land; Carmarthen, Llansteffan, Tenby and St Clears – a 21st birthday present for Rhys in his first sortie as Commander. They even regained Ceredigion, which the North Wales allies had helped them to defend, years earlier – and had then kept for their own, at the time Anarawd was murdered. Now there is a story begging to be told!

Both images are Llansteffan Castle © Jean Gill

I have reconstructed the taking of Tenby and St Clears from details of the building structures there in 1153, starting from the terse statement in the Brut y Tywysogion. ‘There was not much time afterwards before the sons of Rhys attacked the castle of Tenby, and by a night plot, after breaking the gate, they got possession of the castle, and delivered it into the [custody] of William, son of Gerald. And when that was accomplished, Rhys, son of Gruffudd, with an immense host, laid waste the castle of Ystrad Cyngen.

So, a night plot it was! Unfortunately, ‘an immense host’ seems to be poetic license, as on-the-spot research from Tenby sent me records showing the 12th century castle to be a small stronghold, little more than a watchtower, and St Clears (Ystrad Cyngen) was an even smaller motte and bailey.

This is why, in my version of events, my hero Dragonetz observes, ‘It’s smaller than I thought it would be,’ before the men lay siege. There is also some disagreement as to whether events took place in 1152 or 1153, a minor matter considering how little information there is on major events!

I can’t find any indication of how Maredudd died but it seems that this happened in 1155 and Rhys became sole ruler, Prince of Deheubarth, or ‘the Lord Rhys’, the title he’s known by nowadays. He continued to build his kingdom, and not just figuratively. He built castles in the Norman style, and as solidly expensive as theirs; Cardigan, Cilgerran, Dinefwr and Llandovery, among others.

According to the cleric and writer, Gerald of Wales, a relative who stayed as Rhys’ guest on his Journey Through Wales, Rhys was ‘kindly’ and ‘discreet’, a perfect host. He was highly cultured and drew poets and musicians to his court. You can imagine the harper playing in Rhys’ castle in Cardigan, as at King Henry’s court, where a Welsh harper was also employed. Steeped in this musical tradition, Lord Rhys is credited with hosting the first Eisteddfod, at Christmas in 1176.

He also started the codification of Welsh laws, later continued by Hywel Dda. I would argue that, when he did so, he had read The Usatges of Barcelona, laws that influenced law-making throughout Europe.

He founded Cistercian monasteries but hated bad clerics. Rhys was nicknamed ‘the Good’ and yet he died excommunicate for arguing with a bishop over a horse theft. His body had to be scourged before burial, in penance.

He was reputed to be charming, a man who loved many women, and this proved to be damaging for the succession in Deheubarth. Linked to Henry II in their life-times, Rhys faced the same problem; his children’s conflicts, with him and with each other. Rhys had at least nine children by various mothers and as legitimacy was not important in Welsh law, claims to Deheubarth were violently disputed.

Notwithstanding the conflicts, Rhys’ children played their own parts in history. Through one daughter named Gwenllian (there were several, just to add to the confusion), Rhys could claim ancestry to the Tudors, and from them to several of the ruling houses in Europe today, including the UK. Henry Tudor flew a Welsh dragon banner at Bosworth field to acknowledge his descent from this remarkable man, Rhys, Prince of Deheubarth.

Further reading/ Acknowledgements This is the version of Brut y Tywysogion translated by William ab Ithel in the 19th century.
The Lord Rhys – Roger Turvey
The Journey through Wales and The Description of Wales – Gerald of Wales

1) Effigy of Rhys ap Gruffydd in St David's Cathedral, Wales scanned from the 1810 engraving by John Conlon   
Credit: Rhion Pritchard 2/3/2006. Public Domain Image.

2) The coat of arms of Deheubarth
By AlexD (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

3) Map of Wales in 1153
Adapted from Map of Wales 986-99 (Maredudd ab Owain) courtesy of AlexD under the Creative Commons license

4 and 5 Llansteffan Castle © Jean Gill

6 Welsh dragon on plate © Jean Gill


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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Common Myths of the Wars of the Roses - Myth #3 - Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, the ‘Kingmaker’? Part 2…

by Derek Birks

A month or two ago, after a bit of a rant on Facebook, I started a series of posts to explode a few of the pervasive myths which surround the Wars of the Roses.

Here’s the second part of my exploration into the notion that Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, deserves the epithet of “kingmaker”.

We have seen in Part 1 how Warwick’s role in the events leading up to 1460 was that of a supporter of the Duke of York, but not one who was trying to unseat the lawful king, Henry VI. However, with the disastrous defeat at the battle of Wakefield in December 1460, the political landscape of England was changed utterly. As Christmas presents go, it was to say the least, disappointing for  York's heir, Edward, Earl of March. The York-Neville alliance was in tatters and a new strategy was required. Now the decisions rested not with York and Salisbury but with their sons: Edward and Richard, Earl of Warwick.

Surely here then is the prime example of Warwick ‘making’ a king – but is it?

If Warwick himself had been writing the script, I have no doubt that it would have read thus: 
The Earl of Warwick took the inexperienced 18 year old son of York under his wing and guided him to power. That Warwick believed this to be the case is almost certain, but that doesn’t make it true. 

The ‘kingmaker’ version of events does not match what actually happened. 

Though Edward might not have succeeded in taking the throne, without Warwick’s resources, the pivotal events of 1461 were driven by Edward, not by Warwick.

Warwick was important because he drew support for Edward and had enormous resources of men and money, but in 1461 it was young Edward who pulled the strings – both on and off the battlefield. The traditional historical view of Edward was that he was lazy and indecisive – another colossal myth bequeathed to us by the Victorians, but that’s for another day! In fact, especially in his youth, Edward was very decisive indeed and it was his drive and energy which dictated the fast pace of events in the spring of 1461, whereas Warwick was very much on the back foot.

In February, whilst Queen Margaret headed for London with a large northern army, Edward destroyed Jasper and Owen Tudor’s Lancastrian army in the west at Mortimer’s Cross, before marching east to join Warwick. At the very same time, Warwick was making a complete pig’s ear of his attempt to stop Margaret’s advance on London. 

The Earl of Warwick was not a great general – nor was he an especially lucky one. His chaotic performance at the second battle of St Albans could have destroyed the Yorkist cause. During the battle, he had no idea what was going on, with the result that most of his army was destroyed or fled. Then afterwards, he contrived to lose the one vital advantage he had which was possession of King Henry VI. Thus, when Warwick dragged the tattered remnant of his army to meet Edward at Chipping Norton, he brought very little to the table.

Edward IV, St Laurence's Church, Ludlow
This, I think, was the moment when young Edward realised that if he was going to be king, he could not rely upon Warwick to deliver the crown to him. Had Margaret decided to unleash her unruly army against London in February 1461 then she might well have secured the throne for her husband, Henry VI. Fortunately for Edward – and Warwick – she did not. Instead, almost inexplicably, she retreated northwards and allowed Edward to enter London in triumph.
In London, often supportive of his father, Edward could use the machinery of government and raise merchant loans to recruit another army with which he would later defeat the queen’s forces at the bloody battle of Towton. 

London was therefore vital and there is no doubt that it was Queen Margaret, not Warwick, who handed him the city and all its resources.

The vital occupation of London was thus achieved in spite of, not because of, Warwick’s efforts.
Becoming king in 1461 was not about diplomacy, or having the right policies, it was about winning a bitter and bloody struggle on the field of battle. During his reign, as I have said, Edward IV is sometimes accused of lethargy but in 1461 it was his drive and fighting prowess which won the day. 
Sometimes it’s as well to step outside the cosy narrative of the history books and see the man as he was perceived by others. Edward was a natural leader and in the heat of battle men saw this giant of a youth – well over six feet tall – always in the forefront of the fight, hacking down his enemies with his fearsome poll axe. Warwick was a brave soldier and indeed fought bravely at Towton, but he could not outshine Edward. It was a truly terrible battle and the outcome was still in doubt quite late on in the day. It was the arrival of reinforcements from the Duke of Norfolk which turned the tide of battle in Edward's favour. So even then, victory owed little to Warwick.

Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, though he was very important to Edward’s success, did not make Edward king in 1461; Edward did. Warwick was not a king maker.

The earl is rather like a competitor in BBC’s The Apprentice claiming in the boardroom: “I negotiated that deal, or I got that special price, or I made that massive sale that won us the task.”  
Warwick ‘talked a good game’ and after the throne was won, he saw himself – perhaps rightly – as the man who should be the king’s chief adviser.  But in the next four or five years, events did not quite follow Warwick’s plan. He hoped to be the guiding hand behind the crown and in his foreign diplomacy he projected exactly such an image. 

One of the features of Edward’s kingship, throughout his disjointed reign, is his willingness to give his enemies a second chance. In most cases, this worked well for him and ensured that his government eventually included many who had supported the old king. Though at times this generosity backfired, it did gain him the respect and support of many who had not previously been his allies. 

How irritating must Warwick have found it in the 1460s to see his place of prominence being threatened by some who had actually fought against him?
Thus by 1469, Warwick was a very disgruntled nobleman who began to see that his own best interests might lie with an alternative to Edward IV.

But more of that in Part 3…


Derek Birks was born in Hampshire in England but spent his teenage years in Auckland, New Zealand, where he still has strong family ties.

For many years he taught history in a secondary school but took early retirement to concentrate on writing. Apart from his writing, he spends his time gardening, travelling, walking and taking part in archaeological digs at a Roman villa.

Derek is interested in a wide range of historical themes but his particular favourite is the late medieval period. He writes action-packed fiction which is rooted in accurate history.
His debut historical novel was Feud, which is set in the period of the Wars of the Roses. Feud is the first of a now complete four-book series, entitled Rebels & Brothers, which follows the fortunes of the fictional Elder family from 1459 to 1471.
A new series, The Craft of Kings, picks up the story of the Elders in 1481 in its first book, Scars From The Past. Later this year, the violent events of 1483 are played out in the sequel, The Blood of Princes.

Amazon author sites:

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Counter-Reformation of Mary I

By Samantha Wilcoxson

Queen Mary I
Portrait by Eworth
Queen Mary I does not enjoy the popularity of her sister or the entertainment value of her father. Her relatively short reign was spent striving toward a goal that few of us understand today. The modern worldview that firmly separates church and state makes it difficult to comprehend how responsible Queen Mary felt for her subjects' salvation and how passionately she believed she was doing the right thing with her attempt at counter-reformation in England.

We look back with the benefit of almost 500 years of hindsight and wonder how Mary failed to realize that her plans to return England to Catholicism after her father's break from Rome twenty years earlier were doomed. The fact that Protestantism flourished after Mary's death indicates to us that Mary should have seen the signs that it was coming or that she should have taken a dose of modern tolerance and embraced her subjects' differences, but to promote either of these ideas is to fail to fully understand the mindset of a 16th century monarch.

As Eamon Duffy states in his Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor, "No sixteenth-century European state willingly accepted or could easily imagine the peaceful coexistence of differing religious confessions." Even Mary's sister, Elizabeth, who would later claim "no desire to make windows into men's souls" was scarcely less active in her persecution of Catholics. In Mary's time, the idea that faith was separate from law or that varying beliefs could thrive within one geographic area was not the progressive thought we believe it to be but something between heresy and treason.

Mary I's Entrance into London
Oil Painting by Shaw
Mary did not go into her reign believing counter-reformation would fail but that she was obligated to give it her best shot. Quite the contrary. When the common people helped secure her crown, which they knew meant a return to the Catholic mass, Mary was certain that most of her subjects shared her ambitions. Not only did she have vast popular support, but she had her cousin, Cardinal Reginald Pole. He had almost been elected to the papacy in 1550, and with his support England's smooth transition to the 'true faith' seemed assured.

During Mary's first Parliament, the marriage of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon was deemed valid, erasing Mary's illegitimacy if not the scars left from that difficult period of her life. Her brother Edward's religious reforms were also overturned, allowing Mary to reasonably believe the changes she planned to make would occur quickly and easily.

Pole published sermons to be used throughout Mary's kingdom in an effort to reach those too young to remember the old faith that they might embrace it. However, they soon realized that reformed teaching was being perpetrated at some of the highest levels in the church. Heresy is a charge that does not make sense to the modern mind but was more serious than we can imagine in the 16th century. To secure the salvation of her subjects, Mary believed that it was necessary to outlaw Protestant books and teaching. When some reformers resisted, the burnings began.

Procession into St Mary's
Engraving by Myers
The 284 people burned for heresy during the reign of Queen Mary is what she is chiefly remembered for. The most notable, historical figures such as Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer, did go to the stake with Mary's consent, but many of the other, more controversial convictions occurred under the supervision of local law enforcement who sometimes allowed charges of heresy to be used more to settle scores than root out false teaching. Burning heretics was meant to give them a foretaste of hell in the hope that they would recant and be saved for eternity. Better to suffer a finite time on Earth than forever in hell. However, Mary and her counter-reformers were surprised to find that a shocking number of convicted Protestants held firm to their beliefs, becoming witnesses to their faith rather than examples of recantation.

In the meantime, Mary made what was possibly her most serious mistake. Instead of choosing an eligible Englishman, such as Edward Courtenay or even Reginald Pole, as a husband, Mary fell in love with Prince Philip of Spain. Fear that this would make England a vassal of Spain or the Holy Roman Empire, which Philip's father ruled, caused rebellions and distrust of Mary's queenship much more than her return to Catholicism had. When the two fused into one surge of disillusionment with Mary's reign, the objectives that had seemed within reach fell away from England's first queen regnant.

Illuminated Manuscript of
Mary blessing cramp rings
During her five year reign, Mary suffered two false pregnancies, likely caused by uterine cancer. The marriage that she fought so hard for proved loveless and childless. Finally, her devotion to her people and her faith failed to be enough to see England restored to Rome and what she considered the 'true faith.' She died knowing that Elizabeth, the sister she did not trust but had little choice but to name as her heir, would reverse all of her efforts. Little did she know how stridently that sister would also work to blacken her name in order that the name of Elizabeth I would shine more gloriously.

The auspicious beginning of Mary's reign and the outpouring of love from her subjects would have helped heal the wounds left from a difficult life at the hands of her father and given her hope for the future. However, Mary could not see as clearly as we see today that successful counter-reformation in England was not what God had in mind for her after all.

Additional Reading
Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor by Eamon Duffy
The First Queen of England by Linda Porter

All images in the public domain through Wikimedia Commons


Samantha Wilcoxson is the author of the Plantagenet Embers series featuring women of the Wars of the Roses and Tudor England.

An incurable bibliophile and sufferer of wanderlust, Samantha lives in Michigan with her husband and three teenagers. You can connect with her on her blog or on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Goodreads.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Henry Mayhew and the London Poor: The Streetwalker's Tale

by Mark Patton

In earlier blog-posts on this site, I explored the arrival of strangers in Nineteenth Century London, and the interviews conducted by the campaigning journalist, Henry Mayhew, with some of those new arrivals who found themselves precariously self-employed, as street sellers, whether of ham sandwiches, combs or apples, in the City or the West End. These men and women, many of them disabled, were rarely more than a few days of sickness away from destitution, and were frequently subject to abuse, but there were even worse positions to be in. Young women, in particular, were often lured or tricked into prostitution, and, in many cases, found themselves in a position of effective slavery.

An encounter between prostitutes and a potential client (image is in the Public Domain).

"The Haymarket, Midnight" (image is in the Public Domain).

Mayhew's collaborator, the lawyer, Bracebridge Hemyng, spoke to a number of these women, presumably gaining access to them by posing as a client (Mayhew was too well known to attempt this himself). One of these had recently arrived from Lyme Regis, in Dorset, and had been lodging with an aunt, whilst seeking a "position." She was groomed by a "gentleman," and persuaded to accompany him to a house: from the description she gave, this was clearly a brothel, but the naive country girl did not recognise it as such when first taken there.

"We found the door half open when we arrived. 'How careless,' said my friend, 'to leave the street-door open, anyone might get in.' We entered without knocking, and seeing a door in the passage standing ajar we went in. My friend shook hands with an old lady who was talking to several girls dispersed across the room, who, she said, were her daughters. At this announcement some of them laughed, when she got very angry and ordered them out of the room. Somehow I didn't like the place, and not feeling alright asked to be put in a cab and sent home."

Kate Hamilton's "Night House" (image is in the Public Domain).

Her "friend" agreed to this, and offered her a drink whilst she waited for the cab. She refused wine, but accepted a coffee, which, predictably enough (to us), was drugged. As she slept, the man raped her. He subsequently kept her as his mistress for a few months, but then abandoned her, leaving her with no alternative to prostitution. She would have had no protection from violent clients. Pregnancies were more or less inevitable, and would have forced her into painful and dangerous back-street abortions. Ultimately, a sexually transmitted disease was likely to end both her career and her life.

"Mornington Crescent Nude," by Walter Sickert, 1907 (image is in the Public Domain).

"The Iron Bed," by Walter Sickert, 1905 (image is in the Public Domain).

Certain streets in the West End became known for prostitution (the City authorities did not tolerate it within the "Square Mile"). John Gay wrote, in 1721:

"O! May thy virtue guard thee through the roads Of Drury's mazy courts, and dark abodes!The harlot's guileful paths, who nightly stand Where Catherine Street descends into the Strand!"

The Cock and Magpie, Drury Lane, at the heart of Victorian London's sex trade (image is in the Public Domain).

Feathers Court, Drury Lane - the figure in the arch is probably a prostitute (image is in the Public Domain).

One hundred and eighty years after John Gay penned his comments, the late Victorian social reformer, Charles Booth (whose research, in a sense, picks up where Henry Mayhew's earlier work had left off), noted that prostitution was continuing in the same streets and alleys.

Charles Booth's (1889-1903) "Poverty Map," showing Feathers Court, Catherine Street, and the Strand (image is in the Public Domain).

The colour-coding of Booth's "Poverty Maps" - prostitutes would have lived in the "very poor" or "lowest class" dwellings, their clients in the "fairly comfortable" or "middle class housing (image is in the Public Domain).

"I don't leave off this sort of life," Hemyng's informant from Dorset explained, "because I'm in a manner used to it, and what could I do if I did? I've no character; I've never been used to do anything, and I don't see what employment I stand a chance of getting ... I get enough money to keep me in victuals and drink, and it's the drink, mainly, that keeps me going. You've no idea how I look forward to my drop of gin ... I don't suppose I'll live much longer, and that's another thing that pleases me. I don't want to live and yet I don't care enough about dying to make away with myself. I arn't got that amount of feeling that some has, and that's where it is I'm kinder 'fraid of it." 

Mark Patton blogs regularly on aspects of history and historical fiction at He is a published author of historical fiction and nonfiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.