The frost fair of 1608

The Thames froze for six weeks in February 1608 – and the people of London held a fair on the icy expanse. The rive was wider, more shallow and flowed more slowly. The water froze. Not only did people come onto the ice to skate and to hold a fair but they burned fires. It was the culmination of the so-called Great Frost which began in December the previous year.

Much to my delight there is a primary source, with a typically seventeenth century snappy title, available The great frost. cold doings in London, except it be at the lotterie. With newes out of the country. A familiar talke betwene a country-man and a citizen touching this terrible frost and the great lotterie, and the effects of them. the description of the Thames frozen over. It was written by Thomas Dekker. It wasn’t only the merchants of London seeking to make a profit from the cold snap which was actually a symptom of the so-called Little Ice Age.

Dekker wasn’t the only one to put quill to paper, the poet John Taylor also described the scene.

Clearly boatmen weren’t happy but it wasn’t long before carts were using the river as an impromptu road.

Let us hope the current cold spell isn’t quite so long lasting – having been snowed in today with intermittent power and even telephone lines coming down I can only admire the pragmatism of seventeenth century Londoners.

Best Bestiary beasts…

Bodelian Library bestiary (12th century)

This post is by way of a Christmas warm up. Many of England’s medieval kings had exotic animals given to them, stories about animals abounded as new lands were explored and in Christian Europe, it was believed that the natural world was ordered by God to instruct people on a good life, proper behaviour and to reinforce Biblical knowledge – all anyone needed to do was to interpret the behaviour. Essentially the whole of creation was viewed as an allegory. Inevitably the idea was pinched from the greeks. But what the medieval world ended up with was a set of texts that combined zoology with religion – with a spot of mythology…unicorns for instance feature in many medieval bestiaries but in reality an elephant was as strange as a unicorn or a dragon. And just for good measure there was almost a game of Chinese whispers played between explorers, writers and illustrators of the bestiary – resulting in some very strange looking creatures including an ostrich with hooves.

So – lets make a start – eagles are the kings of the birds in the same way that the lion is the king of the beasts (natural order – you need to know your place) Eagles look to the sun to renew their youthfulness. People should look to God for their restoration. Equally sea eagles take dramatic plunges in search of food – they’re just like Adam and Eve falling from grace. I rather like these three eagles as they seem to be smiling.

More in December including Pope Leo X’s white elephant, King John’s zoo and King Henry I’s porcupine…

The Treaty of Perpetual Peace…which wasn’t very long lasting

Reference: National Library of Scotland
MS, Seaton Armorial, Acc. 9309, f. 18 (date: early 17th century)
By kind permission of Sir Francis Ogilvy. https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/utk/scotland/popup/james.htm

In 1497, Henry VII, a man who avoided war when possible, sought to end the ongoing conflict between England and Scotland by the Treaty of Ayton which reinforced march law and sought to prevent cross-border feuding and cattle theft erupting into full scale conflict. The treaty was ratified in London on 24 January 1502 and sealed by a diplomatic marriage between Tudor’s daughter Margaret and King James IV of Scotland. The following year the Pope also ratified the treaty.

Margaret travelled to Edinburgh to marry in August 1503. She was not yet fourteen but had not left England any sooner because her grandmother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, was insistent that she was of an age to be married. She was not yet six when she was betrothed to James IV who was twenty-two-years old in 1497. Inevitably he already had a mistress and children by the time Margaret arrived in Scotland but as things turned out James was a kindly husband who treated his new bride with consideration.

It wasn’t a particularly popular match with the English who did not take kindly to the Scots after two hundred years of intermittent warfare not to mention James IV’s involvement with Perkin Warbeck which had resurrected the Wars of the Roses for a short time.

Unfortunately for all concerned, James IV was tied by the Auld Alliance to France which meant that when Tudor’s son Henry VIII resumed the centuries old habit of going to war against the French that James was obliged to open up a northern front breaking the perpetual treaty and getting himself killed at the Battle of Flodden on 9 September 1513.

Anne Neville, Queen of England

Anne Neville

Anne, the younger daughter of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, also known as the ‘kingmaker’ was married to both Margaret of Anjou’s son, the Lancastrian heir to the throne and after this death at the Battle of Tewkesbury to Richard of Gloucester, the last Yorkist king.

Anne and her older sister Isabel grew up at Middleham where they met George of Clarence and Richard. Unfortunately their father’s relationship with George and Richard’s brother, King Edward IV soured after Edward married Elizabeth Woodville. In 1470, Warwick switched sides resulting in Anne’s marriage to Edward of Lancaster.

Following Warwick’s death at the Battle of Barnet on 14 April 1471, Isabel and Anne became co-heiresses but their mother Anne Beauchamp, who was descended from the Despensers, had first to be declared legally dead before George could access his wife’s inheritance as Richard Neville was earl in jure uxoris. Anne remained countess of Warwick until her death in 1492 but her estates were nobbled by her sons-in-law, although in order to marry Anne, Richard effectively forewent much of his share. Anne had effectively become the ward of George and had no intention of sharing the kingmaker’s estates with anyone. Anne was probably destined for a nunnery but in the meantime the story went that she was hidden in the kitchens.

Richard, not known for his lack of perseverance, arranged for Anne to go into sanctuary and for a dispensation from the pope permitting their marriage. The wedding took place in 1472 and the couple returned to Middleham. Eventually Anne Beauchamp was permitted to join them. Isabel died in 1476 as a result of complications from childbirth or from TB. Anne Neville acquired some of her sisters estates as well as all but adopting her young son Edward.

Edward IV died in April 1483 and Richard was crowned in July having revealed to the world that Edward had married Elizabeth Woodville bigamously, rendering Edward V and his siblings illegitimate. Anne was crowned with him. Their only child, another Edward, became Prince of Wales. He died in Middleham in 1484 whilst his parents were journeying north to visit him. Anne, grieving for her only child, became unwell, probably from TB, and died in March 1485. She was buried in Westminster Abbey – Richard was said to have wept at her funeral although rumour already painted him as a wife killer plotting to marry his own niece. On the day Anne died there was a solar eclipse – it was said afterwards that Richard lost his favour with Heaven on the day his wife died.

Sir Andrew Murray – Guardian of Scotland

Battle of Dupplin Moor

Sir Andrew Murray’s father, also named Andrew, fought with William Wallace. Our Sir Andrew was married to Christina Bruce the sister of King Robert I although his two sons were the issue of a previous marriage. He came to prominence during the Second Scottish War of Independence which started when Edward Balliol, one of the so-called ‘Disinherited’ made his claim to the kingdom of Scotland during the minority of King David II. Having won the battle of Dupplin Moor near Perth, Edward was crowned king.

However, supporters of David continued to fight on. Amongst them was Sir Andrew. In December 1332 he won the Battle of Annan which sent Edward packing to Carlisle, dressed it was reported only in his underclothes – where he presumably spent a miserable Christmas trying to drum up local support as well as some new togs. Having promised Edward III all of Lothian the king marched north with an army and besieged Berwick – not quite breaking the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton as I don’t think he crossed the Tweed.

Rather than taking Edward and his army on and lifting the siege, the Scots tried to draw the king away by raiding England. Sir Andrew got himself caught and imprisoned in Durham in April 1333. His replacement Guardian was Sir Archibald Douglas who rather unfortunately lost the Battle of Halidon Hill in July. Rather bizarrely, and in what can only be described as an own goal, the English ransomed Murray and allowed him to return to Scotland in 1334 – where he proceeded to besiege Balliol’s ally Henry de Beaumont (both names betraying their Anglo-Norman ancestry.)

Edward III was unable to bring Murray to battle, as the wily knight recognised that this was a sure fire way to lose any advantage. Instead, Murray harried the English with guerrilla tactics. When Edward and his army left Scotland he resumed the capture of castles fallen to supporters of Balliol. It was March 1337 before he recaptured his own castle of Bothwell.

The way into England was now clear and the burghers of Carlisle were faced with a Scottish army.

Having made his point, Murray retired in 1338 to Avoch Castle where he died. By that time King Edward III of England had turned his attention to France but Murray’s actions turned the tide in David II’s and Scotland’s favour. Meanwhile in Bute, Robert the Stewart was also taking action to secure the revival of the Bruce cause.

After 1341 the Second Scottish War of Independence reached a stalemate and the seventeen-year old king returned from France where he had been sent for his own safety after Dupplin Moor. The Auld Alliance would see David invading England with disastrous consequences for his rule.

Isabel de Clare, suo jure Countess of Pembroke

The death of Isabel Marshal – daughter of Isabel de Clare, one of Isabel and William’s ten children.

The daughter of Earl Richard ‘Strongbow’ Earl of Pembroke and Striguil and Lord of Leinster and Aoife of Leinster, Isabel grew up as part of the powerful de Clare family and following her brother Gilbert’s death became one of the wealthiest heiresses in the kingdom. She was placed by King Henry II, who did not trust Strongbow, in the care of Ranulf de Glanville, justiciar of England. 

In 1189 her marriage was arranged by Richard the Lionheart to William Marshal. The couple were happily married despite a thirty-five year age gap and never having met before their wedding in August that year. Isabel travelled by her husband’s side, took part in the management of their estates and issued writs. They went to Ireland in 1200 and she may have ruled Leinster in his absence. She continued to demonstrate her capacities when, Marshal was placed under arrest in 1207, she led a campaign against the province’s rebel barons.  She was pregnant at the time. She gave William ten children, five boys and five girls. Marshal recognised that his power and his wealth came from his wife, honoured, loved and respected her intelligence. In Leinster her presence in Marshal’s life gave his rule legitimacy – she was after all the grand daughter of the last king of Leinster.

Isabel managed her husband’s affairs in his absence and following his death she took control of her own inheritance corresponding with the justiciar of England, with the papal legate and with King Philip II of France.  After thirty years of marriage, William died. One of the last things he did was to join the Templars – forgoing the company of his wife and daughters in his final days.  Isabel was devastated by Marshal’s death but she worked closely with her family to preserve her inheritance.   She died ten months after her beloved husband. Her earldom did not survive her children. All five of the couples’ sons died without heirs.

Isabel was buried in Tintern Abbey next to her mother.

Fortune’s Wheel

Fortune’s Wheel – 14th Century – British Library

It seems a strange choice for a post in the midst of a series lingering on the Scottish Wars of Independence. However, today my mind turned to Sir Andrew de Harcla or Harclay, earl of Carlisle. He started off life as a younger son who rose to the position of earl thanks to his military skills. He defended Carlisle in 1315 against Robert the Bruce and in 1322 bested the Earl of Lancaster at the Battle of Boroughbridge. But at the end of the year, Andrew made an agreement with the Scots and was consequently executed as a traitor by King Edward II. His life is an excellent example of the twists and turns of Fortune’s Wheel. Fortuna can carry you upwards but a turn of the wheel can see you heading in the opposite direction just as quickly.

The Wheel of Fortune or Rota Fortunae evolved from the Roman goddess Fortuna who was more associated with a cornucopia than a wheel. I’ve posted about it before https://thehistoryjar.com/2021/02/16/the-wheel-of-fortune/ but I keep coping back to it. I think because I love the various illuminations and it can be found in both Chaucer and Shakespeare. Inevitably the Church did not approve of Roman goddesses .

And having just completed the manuscript for medieval mistresses, I cannot help but notice that the images always depict men striving to achieve their worldly ambitions whilst Fortuna, a woman, spins the wheel. I was less amused to discover that to the medieval mind women were changeable by nature so it was only to be expected that one minute you had achieved the apex of the wheel only to be thrown down again.

The Ragman Rolls

Ragman Roll

When King Alexander III fell off a cliff one dark and stormy night in 1286, it created a problem. His heir was his granddaughter the Maid of Norway. Sadly she died when she was still a child – possibly as a result of extreme seasickness when she made the crossing from Norway to the Orkneys.

And so dear readers we arrive at 1291. There are many claimants. It swiftly became obvious that no one was going to back down and graciously recognise someone else as king. Scotland was on the edge of a civil conflict. The two key contenders were John Balliol and Robert Bruce, Lord of Annandale. King Edward I of England met with Scottish nobles at Norham on Tweed. He graciously volunteered to look at the cases of the claimants to determine who should rule Scotland. The only fly in the neighbourly gesture was this demand that everyone signs an oath of loyalty to him and that whoever he selected should recognise English overlordship…sounds decidedly Machiavellian. And ultimately it was. But at the time Edward was concerned that if he made an unpopular choice his decision would be ignored.

Many of the nobility refused to sign an oath but others did. The rolls of signatures became known as Ragman Rolls. Some people think that the name ‘ragman’ came abut because of all the seals attached to the document. An alternative theory is that is comes from the papal tax record compiled by a man named Ragimunde. There is more than one Ragman Roll. The one signed at Norham in 1291 is smaller than the roll signed in 1296 when Edward invaded Scotland.

And I’m informed the word rigmarole derives from ragman roll – and that ladies and gentlemen made my evening!

Quitclaims

Pontefract Castle

A quitclaim was basically a waiver of all legal rights – usually to do with property. it’s a document that stops someone from turning up later to claim a possession back. The two most famous examples that I can think of are the Quitclaim of Canterbury dated 1189 and John of Gaunt’s quitclaim to Katherine Swynford dated 14 February 1382 – but that may be because I’m currently exploring the Scottish Wars of Independence and finishing off some work on medieval mistresses.

Essentially the Duke of Lancaster received something of a shock with the Peasants Revolt of 1381. His estates were attacked, his London home turned into a pile of smouldering rubble, his servants murdered and his son Henry of Bolingbroke had to be smuggled out of the Tower shortly before the rebels broke in and dragged the Archbishop of Canterbury out to his death. No one knows where his long term mistress, and mother of four of his children, Katherine Swynford was during those dangerous weeks. She may also have been hiding John’s daughter Philippa of Lancaster with the rest of her family. There is a theory that she was in Pontefract Castle because when John’s wife Constanza of Castile arrived the castellan refused to open the gates to her and she was forced to find shelter at Knaresburgh Castle. Lancaster who had been negotiating with the Scots at Berwick crossed into Scotland and returned only when it was safe to do so. He swore to forego his sinful ways – which included setting aside the woman he loved.

The quitclaim was a legal document that Lancaster used to give up all rights and claims to any property or gifts that he had given to Katherine in the past. He quite literally quit all claims to anything that once belonged to him that he had granted to his mistress.

The Canterbury Quitclaim of 5 December 1189 was a treaty that reversed the feudal overlordship claimed by King Henry II over Scotland’s kings at the Treaty of Falaise when he had the good fortune to capture William the Lion during a confrontation of Alnwick. Henry’s heir, Richard the Lionheart accepted 10,000 marks from William to help finance his part in the Third Crusade and Scotland was independent once more. Simples…

The Royal House of Wessex – Scotland’s and England’s Kings since St Margaret

It’s sometimes helpful to see something in a diagrammatic form to make sense of what’s happening. Beginning with the Royal House of Wessex -King Æthelred was married twice. His second wife was Emma of Normandy who was the mother of Edward the Confessor . Æthelred had a brood of sons by his first wife but the one we need to look at is Edmund Ironside who briefly co-ruled England with King Cnut before being murdered in 1016 whilst in the toilet if the chroniclers are to be believed – and for those of you who like the gory details the assassin was given his orders by Edmund’s own brother-in-law Eadric Streona who was possibly one of the least pleasant political figures in English history, which is saying something as there’re plenty of contenders.

Cnut now claimed the whole of England and married the widowed Queen Emma. He may have hoped that Edmund Ironside’s sons Edward and Edmund would be quietly bumped off when he sent them overseas. Edward the Exile as he became known had three children, only two feature on my table. He was invited back to England by his uncle, Edward the Confessor who succeeded King Cnut’s sons Harold Harefoot (the son of Cnut’s hand fasted wife but now’s not the time to go into that) and Harthacnut (the son of Emma.) Edward the Exile died a very short time after landing on English shores and the suspicion is that he was also bumped off – but in a rather more subtle way than his father.

Whilst he was in exile he married Agatha of Hungary. The couple had three children (yes I know there’re only two on the diagram.) The child I’m interested in today is St Margaret. She married Malcolm Canmore after she fled to Scotland following the Conquest. Her daughter Edith married King Henry I, changed her name to Matilda and was the mother of the Empress Matilda. Every monarch since King Henry II has been descended from the Royal House of Wessex.

The descent of Scottish kings is more complex but it is, I think, also true to say that every king since King David I has been descended from the Royal House of Wessex. King David fathered a line that led to the eight-year old Maid of Norway who died after making the sea crossing from Norway to the Orkneys in 1090. There was no direct claimant to the Scottish Crown- but there were very many contenders. The First Interregnum began whilst King Edward I of England looked at the thirteen competitors who had a claim to the Crown. The man Edward chose, John Balliol was descended from King David on his mother’s side of the family tree. The House of Bruce was also descended from King David. Unsurprisingly the Stewarts are also descended from King David. One of Robert II’s ancestors was the base born daughter of William the Lion and another married the daughter of the Earl of Huntingdon – a title which King Henry I of England gave to King David and which he passed on to his son to avoid the complications of vassalage and overlordship

St Margaret’s ancestry – British Library BL Royal 14 B VI