Monthly Archives: September 2013

Monks, Money and Borgia woolly hats

DSCN3074The Austin Canons of Carlisle found that their church sometimes felt very overcrowded by ecclesiastic types in vestments with  diverse official roles and an eye on the coffers.

Henry I granted landed in Carlisle in 1102 for the foundation of a priory in Carlisle.  It was funded by four churches in Northumberland as well as the wealth of Walter the Priest who endowed the priory with all his lands when he entered holy orders.  Slowly other landowners began to make endowments and with the continued support of the king the Austin Canons continued to build their home.  It was completed by 1130.  They had three years in which to enjoy sole ownership of their new home.

The foundation of the bishopric within the priory church of St Mary in 1133 meant that the priory church  now became a cathedral.  The first Bishop of Carlisle, Adelulf had previously been the prior of Nostell Priory near Wakefield.  He tried to ensure that the revenues of the monks and the bishop were kept separate.  At a conclave in Drax he sent a messenger to ensure that  it was clearly understood that what the monks did was one thing but that what the bishop might do was entirely separate on account of the bishop having a role more like a parent within the ecclesiastic community.  Just to add a drop of confusion to the discussion – rather like adding an extra thread to a ball of wool that already has its share of tangles –  the Commons of Carlisle referred to the priory as the abbey but there was never an abbot appointed to be subordinate to the bishop.

This shared ownership presented something of a difficulty.  As the Victoria History of Cumberland edited by James Wilson explains:

The bishop’s supremacy over his cathedral church cannot be questioned. It has been already pointed out that the bishop and his chapter formed one ecclesiastical corporation and held the lands and spiritual possessions of the church of Carlisle in common. When a division of the property was made and the see became an institution in some measure separate from the priory, care was taken to define the relationship of the head of the diocese to the corporate body occupying the church which represented the unity of his diocese and contained the seat of his jurisdiction. There is little doubt that at the outset the appointment of the prior was in the patronage of the bishop, and perhaps of the king when the bishopric was void. When the terms of the arrangement for the separate endowment of the see were complete, this privilege seems to have been relinquished to the chapter in compensation for the redistribution of emoluments. At all events it was not until 1248 that the canons had the liberty of electing their own superior. On 25 November in that year, Pope Innocent IV. granted protection and confirmation of possessions to the prior and convent, and especially the chapelry of the church of Carlisle, with all offerings, tithes, and parish rights belonging to the said church, except the offering at Whitsuntide, all the land formerly belonging to Walter the priest, which King Henry gave and confirmed by his charter, and other possessions. The pope also granted to the canons the right of electing the prior and prohibited the bishop from disposing of their emoluments without their consent.

Clearly the monks had sound business heads on their ecclesiastical shoulders but they weren’t the only ones.  The bishop maintained some control over the Austin Canons.  He had a say in the selection of the sub-prior and cellarer, the two principal officers of the house. And things didn’t always go smoothly Prior Adam de Warthwyk received a stern lecture from Bishop Halton and later on Prior John de Kirkby was excommunicated by Bishop Ross which puts a whole new meaning on being sacked!  Some priors even resigned their posts and perhaps it’s not surprising since the bishop had the power to carry out a visitation. Given the canons’ church was the bishop’s cathedral it is easy to imagine some of the petty grievances and slights that resulted in the full weight of the Churches authority being bought down on the monks.  Prior Warthwyk was charged with negligence and remissness in the discipline of his house contrary to the statutes of the order.  His  household was much too expensive, he only consulted with Brothers Robert Karlile, William de Hautwysil, and William de Melburne, order was not preserved among the brethren, the business of the house was not transacted, and its goods were wasted beyond measure by his expensive entourage; the list- or rather rant- went on at some length.

 

Quite what the Bishop would have made of the canons being allowed to wear hats on account of the cold is a matter of historical speculation.  In 1258 Pope Alexander IV- the Borgia Pope- permitted the Canons of Carlisle to where caps in the choir on account of the northern cold. How this concern for monastic pates occurred is not a matter of the historical record but its nice to know that while Alexander was busy poisoning people, fighting wars, keeping bees and dallying with mistresses – though possibly not in that order- (yes- I’ve watched the series) that he had time to carry out his pastoral responsibilities for the Austin Canons of Carlisle.

 

As well as being the priory church and the cathedral, it also served as the parish church of St. Mary, Carlisle, from the date of its foundation.  Once again finances became an issue when the problem of endowing a dedicated vicar arose.  The citizens of Carlisle made a complaint that the sacrist of the priory, to whom the issues of the parish were committed, had neglected the cure of souls and that insufficient ministrations were supplied to the people.  The Bishop of Carlisle gave judgment in favour of the priory, because he said that the canons were able to serve the church through their own chaplains under the care and direction of the prior.  No one mentioned the fact that the bishop may have lost some of his revenue and powers had a third ecclesiastic been appointed to the aisles of St Mary’s.

The smallest cathedral in England was once larger than it is now but its choir and chapels must have echoed with the hiss of political intrigue and the sound of ruffled feathers – though of course at least the monks had warm heads.

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Resurrection Men in Carlisle

st cuthThe story begins with the Liverpool coach on the 6th September 1823.  Sadly it overturned and badly injured a little boy.  His right leg was amputated at the knee.  The child died on the 1st November and was buried in the graveyard of St Cuthbert’s Church.

The body-snatchers Burke and Hare were up to no good in Edinburgh this time exhuming bodies and selling them to the medical world for dissection. Accounts of graves being robbed of their occupants featured in all the newspapers.  There was concern that a grave had been tampered with in Stanwix.  Before long suspicion focused on ‘two strangers’ who’d hired a room in Long Island.  The trail led to the offices of the Edinburgh Carriers where a stoutly corded box to be delivered to Lieutenant Todd in Edinburgh had already been dispatched. Suspicion excited, the box was stopped and opened at Hawick.  Inside were the bodies of three children.  Another, rather heavier box, had already been refused transportation.

Meanwhile on the 8th of December, another interment was about to occur in St Cuthbert’s.  The mourners may have been rather alarmed at what was discovered.  The body of a Botchergate Blacksmith wash discovered with cord tied around its feet.  He was carefully reburied and a search of the graveyard made.  The little boy, killed in the coach accident, was missing as was the body of a cotton spinner.

 

A twenty guinea reward was offered for the capture of the resurrection men but they disappeared as swiftly as they had arrived.  By 1828 body-snatching had reached such a pitch  that the Government of the day needed to legalize dissection.

 

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St Cuthbert’s Church, Carlisle.

st cuthSt Cuthbert’s Church in Carlisle has had a chequered history.  These days its easy to miss tucked away as it is down a side lane between the House of Fraser and the Crown and Mitre.  St Cuthbert preached in Carlisle but it didn’t stop the Vikings destroying the church that stood on the spot.  It was William Rufus who ordered that the church should be rebuilt and it escaped the worst of the great fire of 1292 as well as the attentions of assorted besieging Scots.  In 1644 when the Parliamentarians closed the cathedral and the parish church of St Mary’s which lays inside the cathedral the mayor made St Cuthbert’s the city’s Civic Church.  It remains so to this day.

However, in 1777 it was decided that the church should be rebuilt, though the opening of the new church was delayed by a particularly bad storm in 1778 it took only two years to raise the money for the building and fitting out of the new church.   Nothing remains of the medieval church apart from some fragments of glass.  

The churchyard is an oasis of green in a city environment.  Headstones have been placed against the churchyard walls so there is no indication of the spot where executed felons and Jacobites were laid to rest.  There’s a further link to Carlisle’s troubled past as the last town besieged in England inside the church in the form of the royal coat of arms which were placed there in the aftermath of 1745 to remind the citizens of Carlisle where their loyalty lay.

  Back outside, the graveyard is the final resting place for members of the Royalist garrison who died during the siege of 1644. The guide-book also makes reference to a highwayman and if that weren’t lively enough in December 1823 the body snatchers came calling in Carlisle.  Graves were tampered with, two bodies went missing and one was discovered parcelled up ready for transportation.

Who would have thought there was so much history lurking in such a peaceful spot?

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Filed under Carlisle, Eighteenth Century, Nineteenth Century

Princess Joan of Kent

joan of kentJoan of Kent was the daughter of Prince Edmund of Woodstock, 1st Earl of Kent and his wife Margaret Wake; wife of the Black Prince and mother to King Richard II.  She is unusual in that on the death of her brother, the 3rd Earl of Kent and 4th Baron Wake, Joan inherited the titles in her own right.

She may well be named after her maternal grandmother who was Princess Joan, King John’s illegitimate daughter who married Llewelyn the Great of Gwynedd.  Just to add to the family tangle, Princess Joan was also cousin to Roger Mortimer, Earl of March.  And Roger Mortimer was the man who was Queen Isabella’s lover and the man responsible for the judicial execution of Joan of Kent’s father who had continued to be loyal to the deposed Edward II (Kent’s half brother).  Once the usurping Earl of March had been done away with and Edward III assumed control of the throne he arranged for Joan and her sister to come to court.  The two girls were raised alongside his own children.  So Joan grew up with the Black Prince.  Eventually Joan became Edward III’s ward.

 

Clearly Joan was an important member of the royal family.  Whoever won her hand in marriage would gain many points in the medieval power game.  Joan had other ideas.  She fell in love with Sir Thomas Holland.  She was twelve.  He was twenty-six. His grandmother was Ela Longespee whose grandfather was the Fist Earl of Salisbury and the illegitimate son of Henry II which puts a whole new meaning on the saying ‘keep it in the family.’  Suffice it to say Thomas Holland wasn’t someone of the make.  His ancestry was as illustrious as that of Joan.

 

The problem was that because the pair had run away to get married it wasn’t strictly legal though very romantic.  Joan, and indeed Thomas, required the king’s consent to get married.  Her guardians at the time wanted Joan to marry their son Sir Thomas Montague, who was the second Earl of Salisbury.  They didn’t see Joan’s marriage to Thomas as a problem.  They simply waited for him to leave the country to go on crusade and then forced Joan to marry their son. In 1341 Holland returned home and wasn’t terribly pleased to discover that his wife was married to another man.  Undeterred he set about winning fame in France in what was to become the Hundred Years War as a military commander and then set about regaining Joan.  Salisbury put up a fight but in the end Pope Clement VI annulled Joan’s marriage to Salisbury.

 

Joan’s firstborn son Thomas Holland who became the Earl of Kent was an ancestor of Katherine Parr which is definitely an unexpected connection – though given the medieval penchant for familial marriages it probably shouldn’t be quite such a surprise. Another son married one of John of Gaunt’s daughters. And yet another child was an ancestor of Lady Jane Grey.  Sir Thomas died in 1360 leaving Joan a rich widow.  She was eventually buried beside her first husband.

 

As well as being wealthy and well-connected with the royal family Joan was also one of the beauties of her age.  She was known as ‘the fair maid of Kent’. Many offers of marriage were made.  Joan turned them all down.  According to one version of events, one of the Black Prince’s men asked  Edward to intercede with Joan on his behalf.  Edward found himself falling in love with his childhood companion.  They were cousins within the degree prohibited by the church so before they could marry a papal dispensation was required.  On her marriage she became the first Princess of Wales.

When she became the Queen Mother her life continued to be the stuff of historical novels and mini-series.  She was so loved by the people of England that when she encountered Wat Tyler and his men at Blackheath they let her pass unharmed with an escort (you can’t help wondering who let such an important personage as the king’s mother meander into the path of revolting peasants?).  In any event the tale demonstrates that as well as being regarded in the light of national treasure she was also conventionally religious.  She was returning from pilgrimage to Canterbury when her path crossed with that of Wat Tyler.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Richard II – who do you think you are? Or meet the family.

tumblr_m94jocf45j1qeu6ilo1_500Richard II is one of those monarchs in history who is remembered for coming to a rather nasty end.  Incidentally he is also the first English monarch for whom we have a realistic portrait.

So who was the unfortunate king who lost his throne and starved to death in Pontefract Castle.  Richard’s grandparents were Edward III and Philippa of Hainhault.  His father was Prince Edward known as the Black Prince on account of the colour of his armour but only from the sixteenth century.  The prince died a year before his father of an illness that he’d contracted in Europe.  He is best remembered for his military importance at the Battle of Crecy and later on for capturing the french king.  He campaigned in Spain and made himself unpopular with the people of Aquitaine when he taxed them for his Spanish campaigns – for that and for the massacre of some 3000 inhabitants of a town that rose up in revolt against him.

Edward was married to Joan who was the daughter of the Earl of Kent.  He was the son of Edward I and Margaret of France.  So, he was the chap who supported his brother (Edward II) and was executed on the orders of Mortimer and Isabella – so not exactly a peaceful childhood.  As if that weren’t enough she’d been married before – twice.  Unfortunately the second marriage was bigamous and it took papal decree to sort the tangled matrimonial web out.  She produced five children before her legitimate husband Sir Thomas Holland died.  She then married the Black Prince and bore two sons.  The first child, a boy called Edward, died age six or seven.  Her second son, Richard, was born in 1367 in Gascony.  He succeeded his grandfather as king, the year after the Black Prince died.

Richard was a minor with lots of half-siblings on his mother’s side of the family and plenty of cousins and uncles on his father’s side of the family – the most notable one being John of Gaunt.  The stage was set for a familiar family saga of murder and mayhem.

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