The scandalous earl, a leaky boat and a Stuart princess

buffsjohnsheffield.jpgJohn Sheffield, the 3rd Earl of Mulgrave was born on the 7th April 1648.  He inherited his title when he was a child.  When he was eighteen he joined the fleet to fight against the Dutch in the Second Anglo Dutch war.  He went on to command his own ship, the Royal Katherine, and was also made an infantry colonel having raised a regiment of foot.  In 1680 he was sent to relieve the garrison of Tangiers.

All of which sounds like the usual “blah” until you realise that history says that he was sent off in a leaky boat to Tangiers for having looked a bit too closely at Charles II’s mistresses or else for having the audacity to look to marry James of York’s youngest daughter (it depends on the source but it was more likely the mistress than the princess given the date of his commission to relieve Tangiers which was before the princess scandal.)  Samuel Johnson mentions “some resentful jealousy of the king,” he also comments that since Mulgrave resumed his duties at court as a courtier on his return that perhaps Charles II had never been angry at all – making the whole story a Stuart red herring.

On his return from Tangiers Mulgrave became noted for his support of James of York. He was one of the men who helped to bring about the disgrace of the Earl of Monmouth (Charles II’s illegitimate but protestant son.) Not unreasonably Mulgrave may have expected a little gratitude from Monmouth’s uncle James, Duke of York.

 

fe6f287740b51454df7a553b40e9e0ae.jpgHowever, his desired reward was not forthcoming!  In 1682 Mulgrave was sent away from court for putting himself forward as a prospective groom for seventeen-year-old Princess Anne – the gossip mongers claimed that he’d progressed rather further with his courting than either James of Charles II liked. Mulgrave was thirty five at the time and had a reputation as a rake (hence the leaky Tangiers bound boat.) He was quick to report that he was “only ogling” the princess (charming) but at the time it was understood that he had written letters to the princess that were rather too personal.  When he was banished from court in November 1682 speculation about Anne’s possible seduction was rife. There were plenty of risqué songs on the subject in London’s taverns.

 

A description of the attempted disposal of Mulgrave by his dispatch to Tangiers can be found in an anonymous source in Cibber-Shiels, Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) 3:285-300. Which may be accessed from http://spenserians.cath.vt.edu/BiographyRecord.php?action=GET&bioid=35802

This account is more probably true, than the former when it is considered, that by sending the earl to Tangier, a scheme was laid for destroying him, and all the crew aboard the same vessel. For the ship which was appointed to carry the general of the forces, was in such a condition, that the captain of her declared, he was afraid to make the voyage. Upon this representation, lord Mulgrave applied both to the lord admiral, and the king himself: The first said, the ship was safe enough, and no other could be then procured. The king answered him coldly, that he hoped it would do, and that he should give himself no trouble about it. His lordship was reduced to the extremity either of going in a leaky ship, or absolutely refusing; which he knew his enemies would impute to cowardice, and as he abhorred the imputation, he resolved, in opposition to the advice of his friends, to hazard all; but at the same time advised several volunteers of quality, not to accompany him in the expedition, as their honour was not so much engaged as his; some of whom wisely took his advice, but the earl of Plymouth, natural son of the king, piqued himself in running the same danger with a man who went to serve his father, and yet was used so strangely by the ill-offices of his ministers.

Providence, however defeated the ministerial scheme of assassination, by giving them the finest weather during the voyage, which held three weeks, and by pumping all the time, they landed safe at last at Tangier, where they met with admiral Herbert, afterwards earl of Torrington, who could not but express his admiration, at their having performed such a voyage in a ship he had sent home as unfit for service; but such was the undisturbed tranquility and native firmness of the earl of Mulgrave’s mind, that in this hazardous voyage, he composed (a) poem.

The poem I should add is described by Johnson as licentious.

 

Mulgrave remained in England after  King James II fled in 1688.  He even protected the Spanish ambassador from the London mob. His political career nose dived during the reign of William and Mary.

He remained on very good terms with Anne. He became the Lord Privy Seal after she became queen  and in 1703 was created Duke of Buckingham and Normanby. When in London he lived in Buckingham House which overlooked the Mall. He was furiously Tory in his sympathies throughout his life which was a bit of a problem whilst Sarah Churchill held the queen’s ear as she was a Whig.  It’s somewhat ironic that Sarah Churchill met Anne when they were children but it was only after the Mulgrave scandal that the two became close.

 

Just a reminder –  the final short summer class in Derby entitled Queen Anne- fact and fiction- starts on Tuesday 25th June.  There are still spaces.  Follow the link to find out more. https://thehistoryjar.com/derby-classes/

 

The Butler did it!

Paxton House.jpgPaxton House in Berwickshire, pictured here from the gardens to the rear of the property, is a Regency delight stuffed with Chippendale furniture.  It was built by Patrick Home who had to pay for the design of the house by John Adam (younger brother of Robert), the quarrying, dressing and building of his delightfully symmetrical home a few miles from Berwick.  Ironically having built it he never actually lived in it.

The Homes are an ancient – and somewhat unlucky- border family. This is perhaps testified by the fact that between 1413 and 1576 every eldest son of the Home family died either in battle or as a prisoner in English hands.  The house even boasts a section of the so-called Flodden Banner that covered the bodies of Lord Home and his oldest son.   Though of course Paxton House hadn’t been built at that point.  In fact it wouldn’t be started until 1755.

The Home family managed to get itself into even deeper trouble in 1715 when it supported the Jacobite cause. Sir George Home of Wedderburn, his brother and his son managed to get caught at the Battle of Preston. Although George’s life was spared he was still guilty of treason so lost the family estate.  However, a cousin called Ninian was able to demonstrate that George owed him so much money that the estate was effectively mortgaged to him – resulting in its return to the family.  As these things tend to be, inheritance proved complicated.  Ninian had returned the property to George but none of George’s sons had legitimate heirs.  There were daughters.  Ninian intended that his son should marry George’s daughter Margaret but the son preferred Margaret’s younger sister.  Ninian having been widowed married Margaret himself…with me so far?  He was approximately thirty years older than his bride but that didn’t stop him fathering a second rather large family of whom the builder of Paxton House – Patrick- was the eldest surviving son.

Ninian died.  Margaret became responsible for her family’s upbringing.  Patrick was to be a lawyer. She sent him to be educated in Leipzig.  From there he went to Frederick the Great’s court, fell in love and was ordered to take the grand tour by his mother principally because the only way for Patrick to marry the girl he loved was to settle in Germany and Margaret did not want the family money to leave the country.

Whilst Patrick was touring Europe the family butler decided to relieve the family of the rent which was kept in a locked cabinet beneath Lady Home’s bed in her home at Linthill near Eyemouth.  The cabinet is now at Paxton House. Patrick’s mother was in the habit of carefully locking her chamber door before retiring to bed.  She also kept the keys to the cabinet under her pillow.

The butler, a man by the name of Norman Ross, knew how the tumbler mechanism for the lock to her bedroom worked.  He let himself in having stopped the lock by choking it with cherry stones, hid until Lady Home retired for the night and waited until she was asleep.  There was then the small matter of retrieving the keys from beneath her pillow.

Martin, David, 1737-1797; Margaret Home (d.1751), Lady BillieUnfortunately Margaret pictured above (image accessed from https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/margaret-home-d-1751-lady-billie-210935)  awoke.  The butler panicked and stabbed his employer with a knife – that he either had about him or which was upon the night stand depending on the source.  Margaret managed to summon help and survived long enough to name her murderer who had escaped through a window as the servants arrived on the scene.  She died on August 16 1751- the attack having happened on the night of the 12th.  Other accounts suggest that Margaret survived only two days.  In either event the murder is deemed to have occurred on the 12th.

Ross was arrested the following day and conveyed to Edinburgh where he was tried.  Prior to his execution he had his right hand chopped off.  He was also hanged in chains – one of the last men to suffer this fate.  Essentially his body was tarred and hanged in a cage where it was left to decompose. The severed hand was placed on top of the gallows.  Scottish law and English law differed in the treatment of Ross.  Under English law he would have been found guilty of petty treason but under Scottish law it was murder plain and simple.  The additional punishment reflected the fact that bond between servant and employer had been broken.  Ross was a trusted member of the household and is described in texts of the time as Margaret Home’s “confidential servant.”

It was probably as a consequence his dramatic return home that Patrick forgot to empty his travelling chest – a large and ornate piece of furniture.  It eventually languished in Paxton House for the next two hundred  and fifty years – consequentially the house has some very fine mid eighteenth century gentlemen’s costumes on display.

In 1755 Patrick began to build the house with a view to marrying the young woman he’d fallen in love with when he was twenty-two.  Unfortunately Sophie de Brandt, his sweetheart, died before the house was finished.  Patrick never furnished the house – that task fell to his cousin, another Ninian Home, when Patrick sold him the house in 1773 having inherited Wedderburn Castle from his uncle.

I loved Paxton House – a hidden gem. It’s part of the Historic Houses Association and entry to the house is by tour.  I’d have to say as much as I enjoyed the history I also enjoyed spotting the appropriately regency clad teddy bears that are part of the children’s trail! There’s no image of the Flodden Banner as photography is not permitted in the house.

 

The Scots Magazine   – Volume 13 – Page 405

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=YoE4AQAAMAAJ&pg=PA355&lpg=PA355&dq=murder+of+margaret+Home,+Lady+Billie+1751&source=bl&ots=WLN4vs7WI0&sig=ACfU3U0WxBupL5x7hwUG_E4yhfc5OQ8Klg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjD89us1eniAhW5XRUIHUHPDpE4ChDoATABegQICRAB#v=onepage&q=murder%20of%20margaret%20Home%2C%20Lady%20Billie%201751&f=false

Preston Tower and it’s builder – from murderer to warden of the east march

preston towerIn 1415 there were about 78 peel or pele towers in Northumberland.  These towers were essentially private fortifications for protection in the event of Scottish raids – or neighbours you  didn’t necessarily agree with.  The idea was that you could secure your family and portable valuables until it was safe to emerge or help arrived – beacons were kept on the top of the towers which could be lit to summon help and to worn the surrounding countryside of danger. Preston tower 1

Peel towers were an architecture that resulted from the Scottish Wars of Independence.  Some of the peel towers were not ordinarily used as dwellings – rather they should be considered refuges in times of trouble whilst at the other end of the spectrum places like Aydon Castle near Hexham resemble castles.

Preston Tower was built by Sir Robert Harbottle at the end of the fourteenth century.  Sir Robert was a man of his time.  He was part of the affinity of Sir Mathew Radmayne of Levens and rose in Redmayne’s service.  When Harbottle murdered a man in Methley in Yorkshire in 1392 it was Redmayne and his successor who secured Harbottle’s pardon.

You’d have thought that Harbottle would have kept his head down but it wasn’t long before he came to the attention of the law once again when he took part in a raid on the Yorkshire property of Isabel Fauconberg stealing her property as well as the property of her tenants.   A commission was set up to investigate but somehow or other Harbottle escaped the consequence of his crimes once more.

Henry IV,  having taken the crown from his cousin Richard II, made him constable of Dunstanburgh Castle in 1399 – clearly not having read his cv beforehand.  He even managed to acquire one of the wardenship of the east march – essentially turning Harbottle into the law.  Perhaps it’s not surprising that since he did so well from the Red Rose monarchs that Harbottle was loyal to both Henry IV and Henry V even when the Percy family rebelled against them.  Having bagged himself an heiress in the form of Isabel Monbourcher,  Harbottle had risen from henchman to man of wealth and influence.  When Hotspur rebelled against Henry IV, Harbottle was able to claim a better share of his wife’s inheritance  – so it would appear that luck was on his side as well.

In between times Harbottle had served in Henry IV’s army in 1400 against the Scots and became a member for parliament.  In short he had become part of the gentry in the north and had a good stout peel tower to prove it.

Preston Tower has walls which are over two metres thick, is three storeys high and has rooms off the main chamber at each level.  It was described by Pevsner as one of the best bits of medieval architecture in the country.

 

https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1386-1421/member/harbottle-robert-1419

Caroline of Ansbach – how to get your husband to do what you want him to do!

Caroline of Ansbach

I came across an old Jean Plaidy novel – I haven’t read one for years but, unusually, being short of a book I started reading and am hooked – I may even start to take a more lively interest in the Hanoverians so long as I don’t get mired in Whigs and Tories.

Caroline was George II’s wife.   The thing that’s impossible to escape in the fictional account is that Caroline spends a lot of time pretending to be rather dim whilst actually manipulating her husband, George II, in terms of political decision making.

Inevitably I’ve gone off to the history books to find out more. George I and George, then Prince of Wales, had an almighty row and as a consequence George and Caroline were sent away from court.  Even worse Caroline was separated from her daughters.  She’d already had to leave her son Frederick in Hanover when the family came to England in 1714.

George I died in 1727  at which point George II became king. Caroline formed an alliance with Walpole who held a substantial majority in Parliament.  Initially they formed an alliance about the amount that the civil list would pay.  During the rest of her life  they persuaded the king to do what Walpole wanted.  This meant that Caroline had some sort of say in what happened in England.  Lord Hervey, Walpole’s political opponent cultivated the king’s mistress and discovered that it didn’t get him very far at all.

Caroline arrived in England as Princess of Wales when George, Elector of Hanover became king of England in 1714.  She immediately became the most important woman at court because George I was short of a queen.  George I had locked his wife, Sophia Dorothea of Celle, (who was also George’s first cousin)  in Ahlden Castle.  She’d been there since 1694  on account of her affair with  Count von Königsmarck.  The count was rather more unfortunate – his body was apparently disposed of in a river. Sophia Dorothea died in 1726.  George did bring his half sister and his mistress with him but they hardly counted in terms of the court scene, even though they did gain the names of the Elephant and the Maypole based on their looks.

Initially her court was almost separate from that of her husband – this wasn’t unusually what was different was that she filled it with intellectuals.  This must have come as a bit of a surprise after Queens Mary and Anne who weren’t known for their brains.  She  deliberately sought out Sir Issac Newton and was friends with Jonathan Swift.  She also set about trying to improve the lives of the people of England. In 1722 she had all of her children inoculated against small pox – using a cow pox vaccine making the whole thing wildly fashionable.  I’m less sure how warmly I feel about the fact that she had all the foundlings in London’s Foundling hospital inoculated before her own children.

Lucy Worsley says that she was the cleverest queen consort to sit on the throne.  Walpole commented that he’d taken the “right sow by the ear” when he chose to work with her.  Certainly when George went back to Hanover he trusted her sufficiently for her to rule as regent, during which time she wanted a closer look at the penal code of the time.  She was liberal in thought and behaviour and demonstrated compassion not only to the country’s imprisoned masses but also tried to plead leniency for the Jacobites in 1715.

Most important of all was that she was able to soothe George’s ruffled feathers, make him believe her words were his ideas and withstand his rudeness to her in public.  Whilst she had her husband fooled the public weren’t so easily hoodwinked:

You may strut, dapper George but ’twill all be in vain:

We know ’tis Queen Carline, not you, that reign.

The truth was that everyone apart from her husband knew that she was an intelligent and able consort.

Was she a successful queen?  The terms by which queen consorts are judged are not by their capacity to manipulate their spouses but by the children they produce.  Caroline was pregnant on at least ten occasions and had eight children. She’d already had a son and three daughters by the time she became Princess of Wales.  Her favourite son was William whom history calls Butcher Cumberland.  Together with her husband she didn’t much like her eldest son Frederick and was horrible to both him and his wife continuing a Hanoverian traction that would be maintained throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Caroline who had become rather overweight in later years died in November 1737 from a strangulated bowel  that was in part the product of poor treatment after the birth of her youngest child.  She underwent several rather unpleasant operations without any painkillers, although she did apparently find the fact that her surgeon managed to set his wig on fire with a candle rather amusing. She finally died  whilst holding her husband’s hand.

 

George II announced that no other woman he knew was fit to buckle her shoe – though that hadn’t stopped him from having many mistresses during their marriage or telling Caroline that she should love one mistress because the mistress loved him.

Dennison, Mathew. The First Iron Lady

http://www.lucyworsley.com/poor-queen-caroline-and-her-horrible-death/

 

Arson, poison murder plot, secret agents and a hat pin.

Breadsall 1There may have been a  church on the site of  All Saints in Breadsall since Saxon times – certainly the stones at the bottom of the tower suggest as much.  The Normans rebuilt  and there were further changes in the thirteenth century to create a place of worship in the Early English style. Succeeding generations placed their mark on the building. It even boasted a set of chained medieval books and an Elizabethan altar until the night of 4th June 1914 when the whole lot went up in smoke.

At 11.30 pm the alarm was raised by Mr Hopkins who saw the light in the church from his cottage.  He alerted the verger who in turn summoned the rector and the church wardens.  Before long local inhabitants were through buckets of water on the fire with little or no effect.  Meanwhile the motorised fire engine in Derby needed permission before it could attend the fire so that by the time it arrived the Norman tower was an inferno.

Reverend Whitaker told journalists that suffragettes were responsible.  The aged cleric was adamant.  Witnesses spoke of an explosion suggesting arson.  The church had no electricity or gas to have caused the effect. His worst fears were confirmed when Alice Wheeldon confessed to having done so, though not to the police.

CRIwheeldonH2.jpgThe problem with this neat scenario is that aside from Alice’s confession (seated on the far left of the picture next to her two daughters and a prison warder) the only evidence of suffragette involvement were three letters which arrived after the event  and some graffiti on a wall a mile away – in other cases letters were left at the scene at the time of the arson rather than arriving afterwards. The only other evidence was a woman sized hole in a window and a hat pin which was found nearby.

Other suffragettes were available nearby (Nottingham) as were some members of the Boys Brigade (camping) -who might presumably  have fitted through a “woman-sized” hole  – though presumably they might not have required a hat pin to fix their headgear!  hough its not beyond the realms of possibility that the hat pin was simply an example of lost property.  In any event no one has ever been arrested for the destruction of All Saints.

Just when it couldn’t have got much stranger Alice was arrested on 30 January 1917,  with two of her daughters, and charged with conspiracy to murder both the Liberal Prime Minister Lloyd George and Labour Party Minister Arthur Henderson.

Alice was sentenced to 10 years in prison and was sent to Aylesbury Prison where she went on hunger strike.  From there she was sent to Holloway.  However, Lloyd George requested her release  from prison.  This happened, on licence, on 31 December 1917.  The family had always maintained that their arrests were the result of an elaborate set up, Alice was radical in her opposition to the war.  Alice, her health damaged by the hunger strike, died in 1919 but was cleared of the charges in 2013.

Meanwhile All Saints underwent restoration at a cost of £11,000.

https://www.historytoday.com/archive/losing-plot-trial-alice-wheeldon

 

Shrouded effigies at Fenny Bentley

thomas beresford fenny bentlyThomas Beresford died some ten years after his wife, Agnes. They were buried in St Edmund’s  Church, Fenny Bentley opposite their home in Fenny Bentley Old Hall.  Their tomb tells us quite a bit  about the couple – they had sixteen sons and five daughters – all of them in their shrouds, as indeed are Thomas and Agnes.

The Beresfords provided a troop of horsemen for Henry V and Thomas’s sons took part in the Wars of the Roses fighting on the side of Lancaster.  This is perhaps not unexpected as the Beresfords are listed as part of the Lancaster Affinity.  Having said that John Beresford managed to get on the wrong side of Henry IV when he refused to go to France.  The screen in the church was given by the Beresfords in the aftermath of the Wars of the Roses – presumably in grateful thanks for surviving.

Interesting as that may be it doesn’t explain why Thomas and his wife are chiselled as top knotted bundles.  The reason that is often given is that Thomas, who fought at Agincourt, and his wife died in 1473 and 1463 respectively but that the tomb was carved during the Tudor period meaning that no one knew what Thomas and Agnes looked like so the mason was forced to come up with his own solution to the problem of how they might have appeared.

A more plausible alternative is that the shroud tomb is a cheaper alternative to the cadaver tomb – this was a late fifteenth century fad to have your life like “before” effigy on the top of the tomb and a cadaver “after” effigy directly underneath complete with bones, worms, rigor mortis and a spot of light torment depending on the mason’s preferences. As if the fact that the monument wasn’t enough of a reminder of death the so called “trans” of cadaver tombs were designed to remind folk how transient life and its achievements really are. The shroud tomb is the model down from the full on skeleton.  If you couldn’t afford a full length alabaster likeness of your loved one in their shroud – or even your own likeness- there was always a shroud brass.

In Thomas Beresford’s case there is also the promise of salvation because there’s a painted ceiling above the tomb showing the Beresford coat of arms and winged angels. Except if course that the ceiling is rather later – being made from aluminium and being added in 1895.

FBNAisleCeiling

There is always the third option, if the first two don’t appeal, that the sculptor wasn’t much good at faces which accounts for why the whole family are decked out like sacks of spuds.

And yes for regular followers of the History Jar – this means that the season of  ecclesiastical peregrinations has commenced!

Bills of Mortality 1665-1666 …charting the Great Plague

Plague scenes Wellcome.jpgBills of Mortality , or the weekly list of deaths and their causes, were published in London during the final years of Queen Elizabeth I. Then from  1603 they were published continuously by the Worshipful Company of Parish Clerks.

2378023r_page_011There were 130 parishes in London.  The weekly list gives historians an insight into the statistics of the period not to mention some of the mechanisms of the Grim Reaper.  In the week commencing August 15 1665 8 people died from “winde,” another from “lethargy” whilst 190 were carried away by “fever and purples” which sounds downright unpleasant not to mention suspiciously like the bubonic plague. A total of 3880 souls were listed as having died from Yersinia pestis as the bacilli carried by fleas should be more correctly known.

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From the Bills of Mortality it is possible to chart the progress of the disease.  The earliest outbreak was in the parish of St Giles in the Fields.  It was a poor parish so no one paid a great deal of attention.  Gradually the numbers increased and the plague moved inside the city walls.

London lost roughly 15% of its population with the numbers peaking during the hottest months of the year.  In one week in September the number of deaths from bubonic plague was listed as 7,165.

BillofMort_September16652_0.jpg

While a total of  68,596 deaths were recorded in the city, the true number was probably over 100,000.

 

Those who could left the city and took the disease with them. Charles II and his courtiers left in July for Hampton Court and then Oxford.  Court cases were also moved from Westminster to Oxford. The poor had no option but to remain, shut in to their homes by officials if they or a member of their family caught the disease; discovered by searchers when they died and buried in pits such as the one unearthed by the construction of Crossrail.

As for the Bills of Mortality it turns out that the Guildhall Library in London holds the most complete collection of the documents.  They, along with the story of the plague, can be viewed at the City of London’s online exhibition about the Great Plague which can be found by clicking on the link and opening a new window. https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/guildhall-library/events-exhibitions/Pages/great-plague-online-exhibition.aspx

Bills of Mortality may be viewed on line at https://wellcomecollection.org/

https://www.historytoday.com/great-plague-1665-case-closed

Bills of Mortality August 15 -22, 1665. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

Chart of distribution of the Great Plague, 1665. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

Title page to a statistical analysis of mortality during the plague epidemic in London of 1665. Etching, 18–. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

Plague in London, 1665. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

Comets in English history and beyond -harbingers of disaster, disease and death

Bayeux_Tapestry_scene32_Halley_comet_closeup.jpgHalley’s Comet made an appearance in 1066.  Chinese scholars had been noting its appearance since 240BC so Western Europe was a bit late to the party.  The Babylonians were in on the act as well.

The English thought that the comet was an omen for war in 1066.  William the Conqueror was much more optimistic he called it a “wonderful sign from Heaven” but then he’d taken the precaution of giving a daughter to the Church and persuading the Pope to call his invasion of England a crusade.

As luck would have it I am also in the midst of the seventeenth century at the moment so was mildly delighted when I came across Samuel Pepys account of a comet in 1664 seen above London.

So to the Coffeehouse, where great talke of the Comet seen in several places; and among our men at sea, and by my Lord Sandwic, to whom I intend to write about it to-night.

Sir Isaac Newton, a student at the time, searched the skies for the comet and Pepys hoped to see it for himself, not least because it had caused a plethora of prophesies – oddly none of them positive!

Mighty talke there of this Comet that is seen a ’night; and the King and the Queene did sit up last night to see it, and did, it seems. And to-night I thought to have done so too, but it is cloudy and so no stars appear. But I will endeavor it (December 17).

My lord Sandwich this day writes me word That he hath seen (at Portsmouth) the Comet, And says it is the most extraordinary thing that Ever he saw. (December 21)

Daniel Defoe mentions it as well in his Journal of a Plague Year – which despite appearances to the contrary is a secondary rather than a primary source.

 

120px-Tiger_Tail_Star_1665-01-10Essentially the Normans and the Londoners who saw the comets in 1066, 1664 and 1665 (there were two rather than one prior to the plague and Great Fire of London) believed that they were fiery messengers of the heavens – a direct line from God.  They were an indication of his irritation with humanity and a heavy hint that something extremely unpleasant was bound to follow.  If it wasn’t fire, war and plague then someone important was bound to die.

It wasn’t long before the doom mongers were proven correct in both 1066 and 1064.  In 1066 Harold Hardrada and William of Normandy both took the opportunity to launch an invasion of England.  In 1064 people started dying rather unpleasantly from the plague and let’s not forget that there were two comets so that covers the Great Fire of London as well.

Bill+Of+Mortality+From+1665+London.jpegThe plague began in Yarmouth in the winter of 1064.  By Christmas the disease had spread to London.  The weekly Bills of Mortality were about to become extremely depressing. Not that it was a surprise.  In 1065 the plague was endemic in England.  On average it put in an appearance every couple of decades.  There had been an outbreak in 1603 which rather quelled James I’s coronation celebrations.  In 1625 – the year James had died approximately twenty percent of London’s population had succumbed to the disease. The first official mortality of the 1665 outbreak was in St Giles in the Fields – plague and typhus started to take their toll the numbers recorded on the Bills of Mortality began to rise.  The Great Comet prophecy had been fulfilled – plague had arrived.

And just so we’re clear that fiery stars caused panic amongst the population here are a few more examples.  In 1456 the Ottoman Empire invaded Hungary –  their arrival pre-ordained by Halley’s Comet.  Pope Callixtus III ordered prayers to be said in an effort to counter-act the comet.

Halley’s Comet turned up in 1910 – slightly early for World War One and even the sinking of the Titanic.  Despite the fact that by the beginning of the twentieth century scientists had given the world a better understanding of what a comet was they could still cause chaos.  In 1908 for example panic broke out in Chicago because people thought that the comet they saw (Moorhouse’s Comet) signalled the end of the world and in 1910 when Halley’s comet arrived you could purchase an umbrella to protect you from the comet – which was slightly optimistic as some scientists believed that the tail of the comet was filled with poison gas that would kill everyone when the Earth passed through it.

Obviously Halley’s comet didn’t kill everyone – that would be silly.  No, it was just a sign that Edward VII was going to pop his clogs on 6th May in Buckingham Palace – not from comet miasma but from bronchitis.  He was a man in his seventies  who had over indulged for most of his adult life and who smoked heavily.  It probably didn’t require a comet to predict his death.

And finally Giotto managed to paint Halley’s Comet as the Star of Bethlehem in 1305 – always nice to see a more positive construction of its appearance. The painting can be seen at the Scovegni Chapel in Padua.

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Danish and Saxon Kings of England before the Norman conquest – an eleventh century game of thrones

Ethelred_the_UnreadyWe think of England before 1066, if we think of it at all,  as being Anglo Saxon with a large Danish contingent in the north.  Simple perhaps,  that’s the story most of us learn as children in primary school.  Unfortunately for the Anglo-Saxons and their Norse descended neighbours things were not that straight forward. England was a wealthy country and its inhabitants might have been forgiven for thinking that they were a tasty bone being pulled first one way and then the other by  opposing forces.

Æthelred the Unready, pictured at the start of this post,  ruled England from 996.  His predecessor was Edward the Martyr.  Edward died in uncertain circumstances in Corfe Castle- Suffice it to say that Edward’s death didn’t enhance the reputation of Æthelred’s mother. Æthelred was the three times great grandson of King Alfred.  He ruled until 1013.  During that time his biggest problem were the Danes.  Thanks to bad advice Æthelred’s response was to pay them to go away and when they kept coming back he ordered the massacre of all Danes in England in 1002.

The event is known as the St Brice’s Day Massacre. It wasn’t an unmitigated success Æthelred could only really expect the order to be carried out in the southern parts of England.  In addition to which Swein, or Sweyn, Forkbeard’s sister was amongst the victims of the massacre along with her husband and child,

sweyn-forkbeard-invade-englandSwein seeking revenge and revenue committed himself to invading England. The Chroniclers do not have much good to say about Swein.  Suffice it to say he became the first Dane who could claim to be king of all England in 1013.  The following year he fell off his horse and died.

There were now two possible contenders for the crown. Æthelred who had made himself scarce on the Isle of Wight during Swein’s period in power and Swein’s son Cnut (yup – the one who allegedly demonstrated that he couldn’t hold back the tide.) Æthelred now promised the nobility all sorts of things so that Cnut found that he didn’t have as many allies as he previously thought meaning that Cnut’s territory dwindled quite rapidly.

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If this seems straight forward Æthelred’s son Edmund known as Ironside because of his warrior like tendencies now decided to revolt against his father.  It was only when Cnut came back to England in 1016 that Edmund returned to his father’s side.  By then Æthelred’s chief ally a Norwegian called Olaf Haroldson had taken himself off for a spot of light raiding in Europe. Æthelred died in April 1016.  The battle for England continued between Edmund and Cnut.  Cnut won a decisive battle in October 1016 and Edmund Ironside died at the end of November.

cnutCnut was now king of England.  He married Æthelred’s widow Emma.  Cnut the Great ruled England for the better part of two decades.  He died on 12th November 1035.  In Denmark he was replaced by his son with Emma – Harthacnut.

England was a less straight forward proposition.  Cnut had two sons by two different women – Harold Harefoot and Harthacnut.  The former found support in the north of the country – by which I mean north of the Thames- whilst the latter had more support in Wessex.  Eventually Harefoot was acknowledged king but not until 1037.  He died in 1040.

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Harthacnut_-_MS_Royal_14_B_VIHarthacnut then returned to England and became king without any difficulty.  Harthacnut celebrated his arrival by having Harefoot dug up, beheaded and dumped in a handy marsh.  He ruled until 8th June 1042 when he died having celebrated the wedding of Cnut’s standard bearer Tovi the Proud at Lambeth.  Harthacnut stood to drink a toast to the bride and promptly died.

 

England had been under Danish rule since 1016.  The House of Wessex now regained the upper hand.  Emma’s sons by Æthelred, Edward and Alfred, had grown up in Normandy.  They had attempted to regain the Crown in 1036 when Harold Harefoot and Harthacnut were at a standoff after their father’s death.  Edward had arrived at Southampton and then taken himself back to Normandy.  His brother Alfred had landed in Dover, been greeted by Earl Godwin, tricked into believing that Godwin sided with Æthelred’s sons, captured, blinded and left to died from his injuries at Ely.

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Now, in 1042, Godwin the most powerful of the earls supported Edward’s claim to the throne. It wasn’t long before Godwin’s family began to benefit from their father’s decision. Then in 1045 Godwin’s daughter Edith married Edward.  When Edward died on 5th January 1066 he had not children of his own.

Anyone with the blood of the Royal House of Wessex could have been king if they had sufficient support. Edward Ætheling, the son of Edmund Ironside, had returned to England from Hungary in 1057 but died, somewhat suspiciously, almost as soon as he arrived back in England with his three children.  Edward is also known in history as Edward the Exile.

Edward’s son Edgar was an Ætheling – i.e. throne worthy but he was not really old enough when Edward the Confessor died in 1066 to become king. The man who wielded the most political power in the country was Godwin’s son Harold, although Harold’s brother Tostig also fancied his chances.

There was also the small matter of a promise made to Duke William of Normandy by Edward the Confessor possibly in the winter of 1051-52 when he had been able to rid himself, albeit briefly, of the Godwin clan.  In 1064 Harold Godwinson had made a trip to Normandy and had not been allowed to return home until he had sworn to support Duke William’s claim to the throne.

And then there was the claim of  King Magnus I of Norway who said that Harthcnut had left the throne to him not to Edward the Confessor. He had been crowned king of Denmark in 1042 after Harthacnut’s death honouring the agreement made between the two men that which ever one of them who outlived the other would inherit the dead man’s kingdom.  Magnus had not pursued his claim to England but in 1066 his son Harold Hardrada in alliance with Harold Godwinson’s brother, Tostig, would make an attempt to secure the throne.

 

 

Before the Normans – the formation of a kingdom to conquer

submap900.jpgThere is an argument to be made that historians shouldn’t talk about the Anglo Saxon period as though it was one “lump” of political cohesiveness given that the number of kingdoms and sub-kingdoms evolved throughout the period.

Basically there were initially seven kingdoms in England – Wessex, Sussex, Essex, Kent, East Anglia, Mercia and Northumbria.  There was also Wales with its own kingdoms.  Cumbria was initially part of the Kingdom of Strathclyde.  Sometimes it was in Scottish hands, sometimes English – depending on the power and the politics of the period. Then there was Dumnonia – which we know as Devon and Cornwall. In 838 the men of Cornwall allied themselves with the Vikings against the kingdom of Wessex and lost.  By the end of the ninth century it is apparent that King Alfred held estates in the region.  Gradually the boundaries were pushed back to the River Tamar and the area we know as Cornwall today before it also became part of the kingdom of the Anglo-Saxons.  Historians debate how the independent kingdom may have become a sub-kingdom before being coalesced.

So, in terms of Saxon kingdoms start off by thinking of seven for the seventh century and  the so called Heptarchy of kingdoms listed above.  These were first identified in the twelfth century by Henry of Huntingdon when he wrote his history.  The seven kingdoms rapidly dwindled to five – Wessex, Mercia, Kent, East Anglia and Northumbria. Kent also becomes less independent over time. By 829 the Kingdom of Wessex was dominant and the royal family of Wessex held the hereditary right to rule – the Witan, or council, could choose from anyone who could prove their bloodline.

The Vikings also need to be added into the mix. By 900 AD (Anno Domini) or CE (Common Era), depending on your preference, there’s a line demarcating the boundary between Saxon rule and Danelaw which runs at an approximate diagonal from Chester to Kent.

cnut.pngBy the beginning of the tenth century there was something that looked more like a country as we might recognise it today with regions and a more centralised administration – regions being governed by powerful families.  Even so it was only at the start of the eleventh century with the Danes in charge that the Anglo Saxon Chronicle refers to “all the kingdom of the English.”  Or put another way King Cnut was able to dominate all the factions and make them do what he wanted. Even Cnut stuck to the geographical boundaries of the four dominant earldoms of England as the Anglo- Saxon Chronicle explains.

 

A.D. 1017. This year King Knute took to the whole government of England, and divided it into four parts: Wessex for himself, East-Anglia for Thurkyll, Mercia for Edric, Northumbria for Eric. This year also was Alderman Edric slain at London, and Norman, son of Alderman Leofwin, and Ethelward, son of Ethelmar the Great, and Britric, son of Elfege of Devonshire. King Knute also banished Edwy etheling, whom he afterwards ordered to be slain, and Edwy, king of the churls; and before the calends of August the king gave an order to fetch him the widow of the other king, Ethelred, the daughter of Richard, to wife.

thumb.phpThe chronicle repeats the information that Cnut was the king of all England in 1035 when he died at Shaftesbury (he was buried in Winchester.)  He is pictured below giving Winchester Abbey a large gold cross along with his wife Emma of Normandy who had previously been married to Aethelred the Unready.

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For more on Cnut open a new window https://www.bl.uk/people/cnut

 

 

 

 

Dr Nicole Marafioti, review of Formation of the English kingdom in the 10th century, (review no. 1890)
DOI: 10.14296/RiH/2014/1890
Date accessed: 2 May, 2019