Monthly Archives: May 2013

A City Livery Company and Spotty Panthers or maybe Leopards.

DSC_0107The livery company in question is the Worshipful Company of Dyers and leopards or even panthers are heraldic beasts.  I actually think you’ll agree that the phrase ‘big spotty cats’ just about sums up these wonderful creatures.  It looks as though someone under the age of ten has had a wild time with a paintbrush. Dying- and I think I’ve spelled that right- has been going on in London, so far as records are concerned, since the twelfth century but it was Lancastrian King Henry VI who gave the company its first charter in 1471.  Given that this was not an auspicious time for the English monarchy it is perhaps not surprising that the following year the Yorkist King Edward IV dished out a brand new charter.

The dyers have had their headquarters of Dowgate Hill since Tudor times which means that this building isn’t the original one on the site – yes, the 166 Great Fire of London strikes again.

But back to the coat of arms.  The three corded bags on the shield are bags of madder – the plant used to produce a red dye.  The motto, ‘Da Gloriam Deo’ meaning give glory to God.  So far so good. From now on the explanation gets a bit more complicated. I have, of course, arrived at the two supportive large spotty red-whiskered cats.  The Worshipful Company of Dyers describe them as panthers and they should know; after all it’s their coat of arms.

There are three big cats in heraldry – lions, leopards and panthers…though tigers do turn up occasionally but let’s leave them out of the equation for the time being as things are going to get difficult enough as it is. As I understand it – and I’m not an expert on heraldry- if the cat is ‘passant‘ which means three feet on the ground, one paw raised and face turned to look at you – think cat stalking while pausing to have its photo  taken- then its a leopard.  This in turn raises some interesting questions about the three lions on the royal coat of arms and the famous three English lions of the football song.  If the cat is standing on its back legs- rampant– then in medieval English heraldic terms it is a lion.  Just to confuse matters even further in medieval terms a leopard was the offspring of a lioness and a panther. Thankfully I don’t have to try to work out the change from leopard to lion for myself. There is a very helpful article on the subject in the BBC History Magazine website BBCHistory Magazine Extra. Basically the leopards on the royal coat of arms turned into lions during the Hundred Years War – something similar, I expect, to the rebranding exercise carried out by the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha when they turned into Windsor during World War One at the point when links with Germany became somewhat uncomfortable.  If you want to read the article click on the picture.

Anyway back to our big cats – the red whiskers and red wavy dog like ears are neither whiskers nor ears.  It’s flame.  This turns our cats in to heraldic panthers incensed- and I think I’d be fairly annoyed if I started breathing fire out of my ears.  According to the tattered remnants of my old heraldry book, this represents the very sweet breath of the panther.  Apparently the heraldic panther is more of a mythical beast than a real animal and has its origins in Greek beliefs.  The breath of the panther, as symbolised, by the flames, lures animals into its lair.  You will be pleased to hear that dragons are immune from the panther’s breath and are afraid of panthers as a consequence where as every other animal goes traipsing off to the panther’s lair – possibly to be turned into a mid morning snack but don’t quote me on that because medieval sources couldn’t agree either, some of them have the panther down as an exceptionally gentle beast.

Back to safer ground.  Heraldic panthers are also often shown with spots – that’ll be these two then- in ‘heraldic speak’ the spots are semeé of roundels. Initially I thought that the spots and bright colours of the incensed panthers was an excellent choice for the dyers – those bright colours are pretty good advertising after all. Then when I carried out a web search I discovered that there was a heraldic link to Henry VI who gave the dyers their first charter. “King Henry VI used the panther for his badge, to indicate that “a Kinge should have so many excellent and severall vertues as there are diversities of spottes and most beautifull Coullors in this Beast, and then his People will love and followe him for his vertues as all other Beastes love and follow the Panther for his sweete smell and glorious coullors” (Coll. Arms MS. L. 14, pt 2, f. 380). Other descendants of the House of Lancaster also used the panther.”

I bet there was a lively discussion held by the dyers the following year when the Lancastrians were shown the door and it looked as though the Yorkists were triumphant.  It just goes to show though that the streets of London, while not paved with gold, are knee-deep in history even if you have to do a little digging sometimes. DSC_0108

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Filed under Fifteenth Century, Kings of England, Wars of the Roses

Dick Whittington

DSC_0089DSC_0089Just exactly what, you might be asking, is a pantomime character doing in a history blog?  Except of course, that  Sir Richard Whittington really was the Mayor of London – not once, twice or even thrice but four times…okay three and a half if you’re being picky about it.  He first became mayor in 1397 having been asked by Richard II to fill in for a defunct mayor (hence the half prior to the election), 1406 and 1419.  He even went on to become one of London’s members of Parliament. So far so good.

However, he was not a penniless orphan. He was the son of a Gloucestershire knight born in 1350.  When Richard’s father died, young Dick – who was by way of the spare in the phrase an heir and a spare- was apprenticed to Ivo Fitzwarren, a wealthy mercer.

In reality Richard did marry Alice Fitzwarren and he did become a wealthy and influential man though that’s about as far historically as anyone can go.  There is no historical record of worldly goods being tied up in a red handkerchief, no historical record of informative city bells and no account of the cat which helped secure his fortune. Though one does feature in the window of St Michael Paternoster church on College Hill which Whittington helped to fund. Oh yes – and when excavation work was carried out in the church in 1949 a mummified cat was discovered during a search for Dick’s missing tomb- not really surprising given the amount of demolition work and rebuilding that the church has experienced over the centuries. The idea of a real cat is rather more intriguing and definitely more appealing than the suggestion that the cat originated like a game of chinese whispers from the more merchantish preoccupation with ‘achats’ or purchases.

Cat owner or not,  in reality Richard Whittington was a canny and influential mercer who sold his cloth to the royal court and lent Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V money.  In 1399 for example, Richard II owed Dick Whittington £1000. It was Richard II who chose Whittington to be mayor when the mayor at the time died, very inconveniently, mid way through his term of office. He also appears to have been able to export cloth without paying taxes – a perk of lending money to kings.

Dick died, childless, in 1423.  Alice was already dead.  He was buried by her side.  He left most of his money to charity including for St Bartholomew’s Hospital.  It should be added at this point that the original St Michael Paternoster Church burned down during the Great Fire of London in 1666 and was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren (the last of his London churches).  The new church didn’t fare too well during World War Two.  Trouble arrived in the form of a flying bomb which left the church a derelict shell.  It was rebuilt in the 1960s.

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Filed under Fourteenth Century, Kings of England, Legends

St Bartholomew the Great and the Jester.

DSC_0165The jester is called Rahere and he provided entertainment at the court of King Henry I.  He even features in his very own poem by Rudyard Kipling –

Rahere, King Henry’s Jester, feared by all the Norman Lords

For his eye that pierced their bosoms, for his tongue that shamed their swords;

Feed and flattered by the Churchmen – well they knew how deep he stood

In dark Henry’s crooked counsels…

Apparently he was deeply moved by the death of Prince William on the White Ship and set off in search of spiritual enlightenment.  Certainly he managed to contract malaria during a pilgrimage to Rome and during his illness experienced a vision featuring St Bartholomew who rescued him from a winged monster.  On his return to England Rahere built an Augustinian priory dedicated to St Bartholomew and in 1133 the monks were permitted to hold a fair on their land.  The St Bartholomew’s Fair continued until the Victorian period.  It is said that the jester turned canon used to juggle again during the fair.  Rahere died in 1144 and his tomb can still be seen inside the church, which today is the oldest church in London.


The Tudor gatehouse looks incongruous, not least because the doorway is the thirteenth century entrance to the church which was pulled down upon the dissolution of the monasteries.  It is surrounded by architecture from other periods and is only a stone’s through from Smithfield Market but as you go through the doorway, into the graveyard and head down the path towards the current entrance of the church it feels as though you’ve stepped out of time.





Filed under The Plantagenets, Twelfth Century

Thirlwall Castle.

The name means ‘gap in the wall’ and the wall is Hadrian’s Wall.  Edward I stayed on the site in 1306 but he didn’t actually stay in this castle although he may well have paused to admire the wall that the Romans built.  John Thirlwall began building his castle in 1330 on a rocky outcrop next to the Tipalt Burn with the handily placed dressed stone that some one had conveniently left laying around.  It was just as well he did.  The Scottish Wars of Independence were ongoing but battles were turning into raids.  The riding times of the border reivers had begun.  Having a good stout stone wall along with a thick oak door protected by an iron yett were handy things to have and as a consequence the Thirlwalls did well.  When Lancelot or Lionel Thirlwell died in 1582 he left his widow and eight children comfortably off.  Of course, after the Union of the Crowns in 1603 there was less need to live in a cold and isolated castle and by the 1660s the Thirlwalls had taken themselves off to Hexham.  Not that this stopped the Scottish Parliamentarian army sleighting it during the 1640s.

All that remains today is a ruin and a legend.  According to the story there was a rather alarming raid in the offing and the Thirlwall’s needed to hide their possession from the thieving Scots.  They happened to have a particularly fine jewel-laden gold table (don’t we all) which a servant hid down a well where it remains hidden to this day.  Depending on which version of the story you read, the servants still there as well!


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Filed under Anglo-Scottish history, Border Reivers, Castles, Legends

The Battle of Solway Moss

James_V_of_Scotland2The Battle of Solway Moss took place about six miles north-east of Carlisle between the English army of Henry VII and the Scottish army of James V (pictured here).  Henry wasn’t keen on his nephew’s alliance with the French for one thing or his failure to become Protestant for another.  The Duke of Norfolk was commanded north where he made himself really popular by burning Roxburgh and Kelso.  Foiled by lack of supplies and enraged Scots, Norfolk fell back but James V couldn’t get his nobles to fight the English because they were fairly grumpy about the French element of the equation as well.  James raised another army with a bit more loyalty to him and set off to wreak vengeance on the English – certainly on the English West March and hopefully out of reach of the Duke of Norfolk.

The Deputy Warden of the English West March at that time was Sir Thomas Wharton who found himself facing approximately 10,000 Scots, though Edward Hall’s Chronicle says there were 15,000 of them.  They’d kicked the party off by setting fire to property on the English side of the border.  Wharton probably had mixed feelings about that as the area around Arthuret was a predominantly Graham stronghold- not a surname known for its law-abiding tendencies- and in addition he only had 3,000 men.

However, on the 24 November 1542 according to Hall again Wharton took on the Scots and left them “wonderfully dismayed, either thinking that the Duke of Norfolk, had been come to the West Marches.”  For whatever reason the Scots fled leaving twenty-four guns behind and several wealthy prisoners to be ransomed off.

Wharton also commented on the confusion of the Scots.  Apart from the confusion about the size of the English army and who might be commanding it there was the small matter of the Scots themselves – they were being commanded by Sir Oliver Sinclair who was one of James’ favourites. The Scots really didn’t have any heart for fighting, or so it would appear.  In addition there was the fact, that as the name suggests Solway Moss is a marshy boggy terrain and the Scots deserted their horses in order to gain safety.

The effect of this battle, which all things considered, was quite a small one, resulted in James V dying within the month after a decline.  He left an infant daughter on the throne.  What followed next has become known in history as the ‘Rough Wooing’.

Sir Thomas Wharton was rewarded with a title.  He became the First Baron Wharton and carried on with business as normal including a raid on Jedburgh.


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Filed under Anglo-Scottish history, Border Reivers, Carlisle, Sixteenth Century

The Battle of Boroughbridge

DSC_0006Thomas of Lancaster was not Edward II’s favourite cousin.  After all, it was Thomas who was responsible for capturing Edward’s favourite Piers Gaveston and it was Thomas who handed Piers over to the Earl of Warwick and it was Thomas who sat with Warwick in judgement on the favourite.  It wasn’t a happy outcome for Gaveston who found his head separated from his shoulders.

The royal cousins patched things up in the short-term but following the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 when Edward was a rather inglorious runner-up – or perhaps that should be runner away. Lancaster was able to take the moral high ground and wrested power from the king’s hands.  Matters weren’t helped by the fact that the barons were resentful of the king’s bad governance, his failure to beat the Scots and the fact that moderate nobles such as the Earl of Gloucester died at Bannockburn.  It was inevitable that there would be some form of civil conflict.  The trigger was Edward’s new favourite, Hugh Despenser – a particularly unpleasant individual if the chronicles are to be believed.  He acquired land that had belonged to Gloucester on the Welsh Marches and then took the opportunity to help himself to a bit more as well.  Men such as the Mortimers, Cliffords and even the Earl of Hereford found their land holdings in Wales threatened by Despenser and Lancaster found himself with several very enthusiastic supporters.  The time seemed ripe.  He elicited support from the Scots and gathered his army.

Luck, however, was not on Lancaster’s side.  First he lost many of his stores while trying to ford a flooded river.  The king’s army, under the command of the Earls of Surrey and Kent, was larger than expected and Lancaster found himself moving north rather than south.  He wasn’t blessed with particularly talented scouts either.  No one spotted the King’s northern army under the command of Sir Andrew de Harcla heading south to join with the main army.  Lancaster found himself trapped between two forces loyal to the king.

The rebels had no choice but to take the bridge at Boroughbridge if they wished to escape but when they arrived they discovered that de Harcla had got there first. The bridge was guarded by his knights and men-at-arms while the river banks were lined with his archers.   At first, the exchange was limited to arrows singing across the river. It was stalemate, until that is, the Earl of Hereford attacked the bridge in heroic style.  It was unfortunate that armour did not protect the lower regions because Hereford was disembowelled by one of de Harcla’s spearman who’d climbed under the bridge.  There was a moment of panic that saw Roger de Clifford the heir to the castles of Appleby, Pendragon and Brougham felled by an arrow.  The rebels withdrew but in good order.

Thomas of Lancaster was forced to parley with de Harcla.  He reminded the knight that he’d gained his spurs from Thomas himself.  He promised that if de Harcla changed sides that there would be other and greater rewards.  De Harcla refused.  Finally Thomas agreed that he would surrender the next day or suffer the consequences.  Thomas went off for a good night’s sleep in Boroughbridge. De Harcla and his men spent an uncomfortable night watching the bridge.  Personally, I like to think that de Harcla wanted his old mentor to slip through the lines and make his escape because the next morning hostilities didn’t recommence until the arrival of the Sheriff of Yorkshire.

De Harcla began his attack on the town (the image of the battle with the burning houses gives some indication of Boroughbridge’s plight).  There was no more choice in the matter.  Lancaster’s army fled.  Lancaster himself sought sanctuary in a chapel just off the market square.  His sanctuary was not respected.

DSC_0004These days Boroughbridge is much more peaceful I’m pleased to say and the ramshackle wooden bridge that crossed the River Ure is decidedly more solid these days.  Where de Harcla’s men once lined up to stop Lancaster’s army there’s a picnic area.  There are some handy interpretation boards with some delightful illustrations along the way and at Aldborough there’s an opportunity to view Boroughbridge’s Battle Cross.  Up until the Victorian period it had stood in the market square for five hundred years – one of the country’s earliest war memorials perhaps?DSC_0003

When we set off on the four mile walk around the site of the battle the sun even shone – it was the beginning of June and although we didn’t realise it at the time but it was one of the few hot summer days of 2012.  Having said that we did have to pick up our pace over the last mile or so on account of the rather heavy storm cloud that threatened.  Better a soaking  though than the fate that befell Thomas of Lancaster.  He was dressed in his servant’s clothes, paraded through the streets of York, pelted with mud and then tried in his own castle – Pontefract.  When they executed him – they made him face in the direction of Scotland.



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Filed under Anglo-Scottish history, Fourteenth Century, The Plantagenets

Andrew de Harcla

Andrew de Harcla or Harclay was knighted in 1303 by Thomas of Lancaster.  As the fourth of six sons he would have to make his own way in the world and by 1312 he was on his journey to success.  He was sent to Parliament as a knight for Cumberland.  It wasn’t long before he became the ‘custos’ for Carlisle and the castle.  He started to hold other castles for the king, including Pendragon Castle.  Following the death of Robert de Clifford in 1314 at the Battle of Bannockburn he also found himself responsible for Appleby and Brougham Castle while Roger de Clifford was deemed too young to hold the castles in his own name.

images-18De Harcla found himself responsible for the security of the north at a difficult time.  Robert Bruce seeing the difficulties that Edward II managed to get himself into with his assorted favourites and bolshy barons (the Lord Ordainers) decided to snaffle some territory.  The lifestyle of raiding and warfare was on its way to being endemic by the end of the period. Prior to Bannockburn in the year 1313 Edward Bruce raided the land around Carlisle and following Bannockburn de Harcla found himself besieged for some ten or elven days in 1315 by the Scots with siege engines.  Only the rumour that the Earl of Pembroke was on his way with a relieving army and that Edward Bruce had been killed in Ireland sent the Scots on their merry way once more.   This initial letter from the Carlisle Charter shows Sir Andrew defending the castle.

King Edward II initially recognised the importance of de Harcla as a stabilising force in the north of the country.  In 1320 he gave de Harcla the right to help conserve a recently made truce with the Scots.  This meant that there was a degree of interchange between the two sides to ensure that justice was met according to the treaty.  This was reinforced in 1322 when Edward gave Sir Andrew power to treat with the Scots – again, initially this seemed to be of benefit to the King.  Letters from Thomas of Lancaster to the Scots revealed that the king’s cousin was fermenting rebellion.

In 1322 de Harcla found himself taking the field against Thomas of Lancaster at the Battle of Boroughbridge.  Thomas knew that he had to cross the river but when he arrived at the bridge it was held by the king’s men.  After a ferocious battle the two leaders made terms.  Lancaster tried to remind de Harcla that he owed his knighthood to him and that if he joined the rebellion against Edward II he would be further rewarded.  Andrew said no and the two armies settled down for a sleepless night – although unusually it was de Harcla who spent the night out in the cold guarding the bridge while Lancaster and his men were billeted in Boroughbridge.  Lancaster is said to have cursed de Harcla saying he would die a traitor’s death within the year.

At first this seemed unlikely, Edward loaded Sir Andrew with rewards for his service including making him the first Earl of Carlisle.  Unfortunately de Harcla was not left in peace to enjoy his new title.  Before long the Scots were on the march.  They laid siege to Norham Castle in the East and pushed south to Byland where an English army were soundly beaten.  Edward II did what he did best – he ran away.  The Scots plundered Ripon and did nasty things to Beverley.

It was the final straw for de Harcla, despite the fact that his permission to make treaties with the Scots had probably expired by that point he had a cosy little chat in Lochmaben Castle about the possibility of recognising King Robert Bruce and bringing the war to an end.  The Lanercost Chronicle roundly denounces de Harcla as a traitor- as indeed did the king- but at least the Chronicle makes the point that the ordinary people would have been very grateful for a bit of law and order and the chance to grow things without the Scots coming along and causing chaos.

Edward had de Harcla arrested in the great hall of Carlisle Castle by Sir Anthony de Lucy.  De Lucy was probably quite gleeful about this as he’d had a bit of a land dispute with de Harcla and now got all the property that he wanted…think Monopoly but a bit more dangerous.  Sir Andrew was stripped of his earldom and his knighthood and then he was taken out to the gallows at Harraby Hill where he was hung, drawn and quartered and all without the benefit of a trial beforehand.  His decapitated head was, apparently, taken to Knaresborough Castle for Edward to inspect before it was placed on a spike with a nice view over London Bridge.

Eventually de Harcla’s sister was allowed to collect up the scattered body parts from their various locations – Carlisle, Newcastle and London to name but three and his remains were interred in the church at Kirkby Stephen.

Ironically Edward was eventually forced to recognise King Robert of Scotland – in part because he’d had his best commander in the north executed for trying to protect Edward’s subjects.

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Filed under Anglo-Scottish history, Border Reivers, Carlisle, Fourteenth Century, The Plantagenets