Monthly Archives: September 2014

Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March – from the House of Mortimer to the House of York.

white rose

Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March (born in 1391), was descended from the second surviving son of King Edward III – Lionel of Antwerp. Lionel had only one legitimate child (well at least that’s straight forward). Her name was Philippa. Her mother was Elizabeth de Burgh, Daughter of the Earl of Ulster.  Edmund is not a York claimant to the throne.  He is a Mortimer claimant – but he is the link that takes us from the Mortimers to the House of York.

Philippa, Lionel’s daughter,  married Edmund Mortimer, third Earl of March – his grandfather had run off with her great-grandmother (Isabella of France) and plotted to overthrow and possibly murder her great-grandfather (Edward II). Philippa had four children. The one we are interested in for the purposes of this post is her eldest son Roger although the others will get a mention before the end. He became the 4th Earl of March as well as Earl of Ulster. So far so good – the Mortimer claim to the succession is good – though female in origin.

There are no Salic Laws in England to prevent a female claim to the throne.  Henry IV tried to argue that his claim was better than Philippa’s and her descendents because he was a male.  However, this was the same man who fought in France basing the English claim to the French throne on the fact the Edward III was Isabella of France’s son.  When Charles IV of France died, Isabella and her descendants were the next closest claimants to the French throne – a fact which the French refused to accept based on their Salic Law.  Henry IV was essentially trying to have his cake and eat it.

 

But back to the Mortimers – Roger, Philippa’s son, married Eleanor Holland- who adds to the blue blood running through the veins of the Mortimers with the blood of the Earls of Arundel and Henry III.

 

Roger, managed to get himself killed by the Irish when young Edmund, who this blog is about, was just six. This was unfortunate because Roger Mortimer’s claim to the throne was better than that of Henry Bolingbroke who went on to become King Henry IV. Roger was descended from the second son of Edward III while Henry was descended from the third son- John of Gaunt.

Richard II had recognized Roger as heir to the throne in 1385 according to one source. Other accounts suggest that Roger was walking a difficult tightrope in his cousin Richard II’s affections from which he could have easily fallen. Certainly after Roger’s death Mortimer’s lands were swiftly set upon by an avaricious king (Richard II as averse to Henry IV who was just as bad so far as Mortimer land was concerned).

Things went from bad to worse after Henry Bolingbroke usurped the throne. Edmund (now the 5th Earl of March) and his younger brother Roger became royal wards – they were in line for the succession after all and family as well…  In reality, they were largely brought up in Windsor as prisoners.  Edmund was not permitted anywhere near his estates.

Henry IV did have reason to feel nervous of the Mortimers. The boys had an uncle- helpfully also called Edmund- who felt that young Edmund had a better claim to the throne than Henry. Uncle Edmund felt so strongly about it that he joined up with Owain Glyndwr to rebel against Henry IV. Elizabeth Mortimer- the 5th earl’s aunt, wasn’t to be trusted either. She had been married to Henry “Hotspur” Percy who had died at the Battle of Shrewsbury (1403). In short Henry IV must have looked at his Mortimer cousins and regarded them as treacherous nuisances.

Just to complicate things that little bit further another cousin, Constance Plantagenet who was the daughter of Edmund of Langley, the 4th surviving son on Edward III, attempted to free Edmund and Roger Mortimer from Windsor in 1405. She thought if she could get them to Wales and Glyndwr that Edmund could be declared king. She wasn’t terribly keen on Henry IV although she’d kept her feelings hidden long enough to be trusted to care for Edmund and Roger. She was the widow of Thomas le Despenser, Earl of Gloucester who was executed for treason in 1400. Cousin Constance managed to get the two boys as far as Cheltenham before Henry IV caught up with them. What a happy family reunion it must have been for all concerned!

Things changed somewhat when Henry V ascended the throne in 1413. Edmund was knighted and finally allowed to inherit his estates. He married Anne Stafford, the daughter of the Duke of Buckingham and appears to have done so without asking Henry V’s permission because he was fined a huge amount of money for doing so. Interestingly there is no evidence that it was paid. In any event the 5th Earl of March, perhaps because of his somewhat dysfunctional childhood and adolescence, was a loyal and quiet subject to the Lancastrian Henry V before he died of plague in Ireland – and I’m sure by this stage you’re just as pleased as the regency council of baby Henry VI must have been- without any heirs.

Edmund’s younger brother Roger also died without an heir.  So that was that, so far as a direct Mortimer claim to the throne was concerned.

However, a claim remained within the family – (I’ve nearly arrived at the York claim to the throne – hurrah!)  Roger, the 4th Earl of March, and Eleanor Holland had four or five children – Edmund, the 5th Earl who died without an heir in 1425; Roger who died sometime around 1410 without an heir; Eleanor who did get married but when widowed became a nun – died without an heir; Alice, who according to Alison Weir might not even have existed and finally the eldest child of the family – Anne Mortimer.

 

Perhaps Henry IV would have been better locking her up because she married another cousin – Richard, Duke of Cambridge the son of Edmund of Langley.  Edmund of Langley (the fourth surviving son of Edward III) was also the Duke of York. Richard’s sister was the rather daring Constance who managed to extract two small boys from their imprisonment in Windsor and get to Cheltenham with them before she was caught.

 

If Plantagenet family gatherings look as though they might have been somewhat difficult by the time of Henry VI’s birth in 1421 it is also worth remembering that Richard, Duke of Cambridge was part of the Southampton Plot of 1415. The plan was that the plotters would get rid of Henry V and replace him with Richard’s brother-in-law – i.e. Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March.

 

Edmund may have been involved in the plot up to his neck or there again he might not. The information is lost somewhere down the back of the sofa of history. Clearly Edmund got to thinking about the chances of the plot succeeding. He didn’t have to worry about hurting his sister’s feelings. She’d died four years previously. Edmund went to see Henry V to tell him all about the plot. Richard of Cambridge was executed.

However – Anne Mortimer left a son called Richard.  He became Duke of York and never forgot that his claim to the throne was much better than that of King Henry VI.

 

 

 

 

 

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John of Lancaster, First Duke of Bedford

john of lancasterJohn of Lancaster,the man with the pudding basin haircut and rather sumptuous gown on his knees in prayer, was the third surviving son of King Henry IV and his first wife Mary Bohun. He was born in 1389.  His mother died when he was just five.

He is better known in history as the First Duke of Bedford. And he is famous, or perhaps infamous, for having Joan of Arc burnt at the stake for witchcraft.  As a mere girl she shouldn’t have been wearing trousers and she certainly shouldn’t have been leading French armies that thrashed English armies.

John’s eldest brother was Henry of Monmouth who went on to become King Henry V after a dissolute youth causing his father Henry IV despair (refer to Shakespeare Henry IV Part One and Part Two for a full litany of drinking, gambling and womanising along with princely reformation).  In any event Henry of Monmouth shook boorish habits from him as soon as he became king and went off to do what medieval English nobility expected of their monarchs – he went to war with someone, gained victory and land.

Henry IV’s second son was called Thomas but he was killed in 1421 at the Battle of Bauge in France. John was the third son and he was followed by Humphrey.  Much of the period of Henry VI’s minority is filled with the political machinations of John and Humphrey who was created Duke of Gloucester and Earl of Pembroke. Each of the brothers wanted more power than the other. Henry V had relied upon John when he was away fighting to rule in his absence.  He took the reigns of power for his brother three times in total.  However it fell to John to continue the English campaign in France despite the fact that he had been named Regent.  This left Humphrey at home.  He became the Lord Protector during John’s long absences in France.

Not that this stopped Humphrey from dabbling in politics in an attempt to destabilize John’s alliances with other European magnates. There was also the small matter of Humphrey antagonizing the next most important man in the kingdom during Henry VI’s minority – Henry Beaufort who was the Bishop of Lincoln, a key figure on the regency council and the half-uncle of Henry IV’s children. (Henry IV’s parents were John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster while Henry Beaufort’s parents were John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford).

 

John’s time in France had been successful – the French might not have been his greatest admirers given his severe administration techniques- until about 1427 at which point a quiet country girl with a dodgy hair cut, a large sword and angels telling her what to do rather rained on his parade. Her name was Joan of Arc.  He was forced to raise the siege of Orleans in 1429 on account of the peasant girl. Joan’s army took the Loire Valley and defeated the English after which she had King Charles VII of France crowned at Rheims which was against the treaty that the French had agreed to after Agincourt which saw King Henry V marry Katherine of Valois.  The French felt there was a world of difference between a mature victorious king and a baby boy – they perhaps had a point given the chaos that often resulted in England when a child was on the throne.

In any event it didn’t do Joan much good.  She was burned for witchcraft in 1431 – the French king who owed her his crown didn’t lift a finger to help her.  John had his young nephew crowned King of France in Paris so that for a little while at least there were technically two kings of France at the same time, though it rather depended where you were as to which one you recognised in public.

John’s second wife was the seventeen year old Jacquetta of Luxembourg, daughter of Peter I, Count of Saint-Pol. She caused a scandal after John’s death by marrying a mere knight called Richard Woodville.  She went on to have sixteen children and the knight became the first Earl Rivers  for his services to Henry VI and his queen Margaret of Anjou.  So when the Yorkists looked down their nose at Elizabeth Woodville, Jacquetta’s daughter and King Edward IV’s wife, they were forgetting that she was the grand-daughter of a Count and that her mother had once been at the heart of the royal court – albeit a Lancastrian one.

John, as well as being a soldier and a politician, was also a scholar. He founded the University of Caen and had a collection of important religious manuscripts, many of which survive today including The Bedford Hours which is held by the British Library. John’s first wife Anne of Burgundy gave the book to young Henry VI for Christmas in 1430 (I wonder how the grandchildren would react to a beautifully hand painted devotional text rather than the usual jigsaws, board games and selected Disney dvds).

John’s died at Rouen in 1435 during negations with the Burgundians who were breaking their alliance with the English to make a separate peace with the French.  His demise further weakened the stability of the English court where opposing and increasingly vociferous factions now had no one sufficiently intimidating to hold them in check.  The Plantagenet family were moving ever closer to implosion.

 

 

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Henry Bolingbroke

Henry IVYoung Henry Bolingbroke was just eleven years old when he carried the ceremonial sword at his cousin Richard II’s coronation. The king was a year younger than Henry.

Henry, named after one of his father’s (John of Gaunt) Lincolnshire castles was also known as Henry of Lancaster. His mother was Blanche of Lancaster and as his father’s heir the title is one that makes sense. However, just to confused things he was also created the Earl of Derby and upon his marriage to Mary Bohun he was created Earl of Hereford – oh yes, then he deposed his cousin and became known as King Henry IV.

 

Henry’s variety of names is confusing enough but his familial relations look like spaghetti rather than a tree. Henry’s grandfather was King Edward III, his father John of Gaunt and his mother Blanche of Lancaster. So, far so good. However, when Henry married Mary Bohun, who was just eleven at the time and remained at home with her widowed mother after the wedding, Henry’s aunt became his sister-in-law! Edward III’s youngest son Thomas of Woodstock was already married to Mary’s older sister Eleanor. They were the co-heiresses of the Earl of Hereford. Henry’s mother-in-law was the widow of the earl and the daughter of Richard FitzAlan third Earl of Arundel.

 

As Richard II grew to manhood he became convinced about the authority of kings. It was this king who introduced the terms ‘Majesty’ and ‘Highness’. It was this king who demanded that anyone entering his presence should bow three times before they approached him. This high handed attitude, not to mention failure to go to war with France, didn’t win him friends within his family. Nor did his preference for ‘new men’ such as his chancellor Michael de La Pole help matters very much.

 

Inevitably there were plots. Eventually in 1387 the Lords Appellant, as they became known, forced Richard to tow the line. He spent some time in the Tower – possibly on the naughty step. Amongst the Lords Appellant were Thomas of Woodstock (Henry’s uncle and brother-in-law) and Richard Fitzalan, the fourth Earl of Arundel (Henry’s uncle-in-law), Thomas Beauchamp (Earl of Warwick), Thomas Mowbray (Earl of Nottingham) and Henry himself.

 

Of course, Richard didn’t take kindly to being told what to do by the nobility even if he was related to most of them. Eventually he regained his power and had Thomas of Woodstock sent to Calais where he ordered his royal uncle to be murdered. The man who organized this was another of Thomas’s nephews ….it’s always nice to see a happy extended family, isn’t it?

Henry’s uncle-in-law, Arundel, was given a show trial and executed. The Earl of Warwick must have heaved a huge sigh of relief when he found himself on a slow boat to the Isle of Man with instructions not to come back. The king seized the estates of all three of these Lords Appellent. Henry and Mowbray seemed, at least for the time being, to have escaped Richard’s wrath.

 

However, Mowbray suggested that the king would do to him and Henry what he’d done to the other three lords. The conversation was not a particularly private one and inevitably word got back to the king that Mowbray was plotting again. Henry denounced Mowbray before he could be accused of being involved.  He went on to challenge Mowbray to trial by combat. The two men were to have met at Coventry on the 16th September 1398. They were just about to attack one another when Richard banned the combat and exiled its combatants: Mowbray for life, Henry for ten years – demonstrating that Mowbray had been right all along.

 

Then John of Gaunt died. Richard changed Henry’s exile to life and claimed Lancaster’s estates as his own.

 

Henry landed at Ravenspur in July 1399. Men flocked to his banner. Richard, who was in Ireland at the time, hurried to meet his cousin but by the time he reached Conway Castle it was evident that Richard had lost his kingdom to his cousin.

 

Henry Bolingbroke became Henry IV by popular acclaim. If Richard’s abdication was real rather than forced – and the deposed king was to die very soon afterwards in Pontefract Castle.  The next rightful heir was eight-year-old Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March- and no one wanted another child on the throne.   Henry however, did not claim his right to rule exclusively from his grandfather. He claimed his right to rule through his mother Blanche of Lancaster. Blanche was descended from Edmund Crouchback, the second surviving son of Henry III. Henry IV allowed it to be known that rather than being the second born, Edmund Crouchback was actually the first born child but had been set aside in favour of his brother Edward (King Edward I) on account of his ‘crouchback’.   Given that crouchback meant cross-back it was probably a reference to his crusading zeal rather than any physical deformity.

 

Henry did not have a peaceful reign. Owen Glendower rose with the Welsh in rebellion and the Earl of Northumberland joined in with his son ‘Hotspur’. Hotspur was the husband of Ann Mortimer and therefore uncle to Edmund Mortimer (the child with a better claim to the throne than Henry). It would be nice to think that he was outraged that his nephews Edmund and Roger Mortimer were being imprisoned simply because of their ancestry but it is much more likely that he, together with his father Northumberland, was furious that they hadn’t received what they perceived to be their dues for supporting Henry when he arrived at Ravenspur. They were also expected to guard the border with Scotland more efficiently now that Henry was on the throne.

 

In any event, Henry had to quell rebellions, assassination attempts, deal with financial difficulties, his own heir’s apparent waywardness and his poor health. It was widely reported that he became a leper- he certainly suffered from an unpleasant skin disease of some description. He had difficulty walking and had a fit whilst praying in Westminster Abbey before dying on the 20 March 1413.

 

He left a warrior son to become King Henry V. Unfortunately for England, King Henry died when his own son by Katherine of Valois was an infant.

The Mortimers had not forgotten their claim to the throne (though Edmund and Roger died without children- their sister Ann had married and had children).  Their claim to the throne was  better than baby Henry VI’s. The stage was set for The Cousins War or as we know it, thanks to Sir Walter Scott, the Wars of the Roses – which strange though it may seem given that I’ve cantered through the reigns of both Richard II and his cousin Henry IV,  is what I’m warming up for with this post.

 

 

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Church styles – a beginning.

 

Tiles from Muchelney AbbeyThe invasion of 1066 was a crusade.  William, Duke of Normandy, persuaded Pope Alexander II to approve his attempt on the English throne because of his reputation as a supporter of the Church and a builder of monasteries.

Following the conquest the next century saw the majority of medieval churches being founded.  Church building had begun in England circa 900 but the Normans often rebuilt – perhaps to leave their mark on the landscape they now owned.   Consequentially there aren’t many Saxon churches – though there’s always the possibility of a surprising remnant tucked away in a corner, or in the case of Ripon Cathedral, down in the crypt.

Early Norman  churches, though sometimes built from stone, were often wooden.  The Domesday Book of 1086 notes some churches but is not a comprehensive audit of churches and monastic buildings. From 1100 onwards parish churches were rebuilt and enlarged, nearly always in stone.  The later medieval period saw churches being enlarged depending upon the wealth of each congregation and noble patronage.  Following the death of Thomas Becket in 1170, Jenkins makes the point, that many parish churches and monastic foundations were supported by Henry II.

Many churches rebuilt on older sites of worship used pre-existing dressed stone as well as carved stones dating from Roman, Saxon and Viking periods of habitation.  Hexham Abbey is a particularly good example of this.

 

The last quarter of the twelfth century saw architectural change with the arrival from France of the Gothic and the pointed arch.  Churches and cathedrals became lighter and airier as well as becoming more ornate.  Masons perfected fan vaulting and flying buttresses.  Jenkins comments on the windows.  It was during this period that rose windows and fanciful tracery became an essential part of any new church of note.

 

The Black Death left its mark on church buildings and so too did wool sales. Styles changed from Gothic to Perpendicular once again the style is best shown by the shape of the windows and the size of the churches.  Perpendicular tends to be big with tall towers.  They also have lots of tombs and monuments – largely on account of folk getting themselves needlessly slaughtered during the Wars of the Roses.  This is of course rather a simplification but I did title the post a beginning.  Norman and Gothic are styles that I recognise quite happily but  I will have to confer with my consultant about later styles  and no doubt do much more reading.

The Tudor period saw huge changes to the patterns of worship and belief.  The interiors of churches underwent huge changes as the bright colours of the medieval period gave way to more austere whitewash of puritan belief.  Henry VIII also encouraged the destruction of anything to do with Thomas Becket – taking his distant ancestor’s view that the cleric was a treacherous malcontent.

The Jacobean period saw the introduction of pews and pulpits as well as the return of altars which had been ripped out during the Reformation to be replaced with communion tables- to this day pre-Reformation tone altar slabs are being uncovered from the places where they were hidden when news of Protestant reform arrived ahead of the king’s men .

The nineteenth century saw many churches being restored  and extended as well as new parish churches being built in industrial areas.  The Gothic style was much favoured during this period.  Seventeenth century box pews fell into disfavour and were often ripped out.

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Jacobean Rood Screens – Wooden Wonders.

croscombestmaryThe parish church of St Mary in Croscombe Somerset is rather splendid. It is filled from floor to ceiling with Jacobean carving dating to 1616. The pews are still boxed. There are even two desks for the parish clerks as well as a pulpit complete with its canopy. Amongst St Mary’s pleasures is the scent of wax polish and the diversity of patterning that can be found on the pew doors (I feel a blackwork band sampler coming on.)  However, the furniture that dominates the church of St Mary is the rood screen.

 

A rood screen is the partition between chancel and nave.  There is often also a step at this point in the church.  Rood is an Anglo-Saxon word meaning a cross.  In earlier times the rood screen was usually surmounted by a cross.

 

Rood screens were removed during the Reformation by order of KingIMG_4793 - Version 2 Edward VI in 1547. After all, they served to separate officiating clerics from the laity. During the reformation altars were replaced with communion tables and the rood screen was removed.  Some were returned into position during the reign of Queen Mary only to be removed once more during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.  The Word of God became much more important than the Sacrament under protestant rulers.  The idea that the congregation and the act of worship should be separated from one another also became an alien idea along with the concept that a priest or monk was required to intercede on behalf of an individual.  These ideas  go some way to explaining the rather impressive pulpit in St Mary’s as well as the introduction of pews to listen to the lengthy sermons preached from the pulpit.

During the reign of King James I rood screens made a comeback – not to separate the congregation from all things Holy but to remind them that the monarch was in charge! Laud’s Book of Common Prayer also required communicants to have a separate space to the rest of the congregation.  This means that many churches replaced their rood screens.  As Jenkins observes the debate between factions regarding the importance of the Word and the Sacrament was ultimately a significant contributor to the English Civil War. In the meantime church interior designers may well have been hedging their bets – rood screens and pulpits to satisfy both contingents.

Leeds, St John contains a similarly ornate testament to the skills of Jacobean woodworkers. John Harrison, a local cloth merchant, built it in the mid 1630s just in time for the English Civil War. Leeds is very fortunate to have St John because it was due to be demolished during the 1860s. The churchwardens described the interior as ‘debased’ (Jenkins 924). Gothic architecture was the pinnacle of church architecture for the Victorians so no matter how fine the carvings the wooden paneling of the seventeenth century was bound to be met with some derision. Fortunately it was preserved – and the rood screen that had Leeds St Johnbeen taken out returned.

Both rood screens are fascinating because of the detail they contain from lions to monsters and grotesques to naked ladies and cornucopia. Then of course there are the royal coat of arms.  In Leeds the royal arms are on the left hand side of the screen while the right hand side sports the three feather crest of the Prince of Wales.

 

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