I teach history courses for the Workers' Educational Association as well as giving talks on various history topics across Yorkshire and the Midlands as well as talks about the history and creation of cross stitch samplers and blackwork embroidery.
April’s labours involve pruning, ploughing continuing from March and shepherds tending to lambs. All in all it’s very fecund. So, er well how do I put this, spring being in the air a number of medieval books fo hours depict couples doing what happens when spring is in the air. Although in more decorous texts this involves going for a very respectable stroll rather than anything more unseemly. In the image above courtship seems to be in the air on the bottom right hand side of the page. Illustrations also include spring flowers in both nature and more horticultural surroundings – and often the astrological illustration of Aries or more often Taurus. The British Library holds early books of hours depicting feasting in April because of the feast of Easter coming after Lent.
This particular illumination has flower picking, tree blossom and a bit of light flirtation by the looks of it. I love the detail of the fishermen in their boats.
Brinkburn Priory, an Augustinian foundation, is near Rothbury, hidden at the bottom of a valley – and we went it was a glorious sunny day. Brinkburn was founded in 1135 at the end of the reign of Henry I. it was probably a daughter house of Pentney in Norfolk. Brinkburn’s story is largely pieced together from its chartulary.
It’s location meant that in 1419 it was raided and robbed by the Scots. Slightly more than a hundred years later it had still not recovered so was designated a lesser monastery and dissolved. It was granted by Edward VI to John, Earl of Warwick who became Duke of Northumberland when the Duke of Somerset was toppled from power on the regency council.
Reginald de Dunstanville, or Reginald FitzHenry, or Rainald rather than Reginald, was one of Henry I’s illegitimate sons by Sybilla Corbet. The Complete Peerage calculates Sybilla´s identity from the charter under which “Reginaldus, Henrici Regis filius, comes Cornubiæ” granted property to “Willielmo de Boterell, filio Aliziæ Corbet, materteræ meæ” which he had granted to “Willielmo de Boterells in Cornubia, patri…predicti Willielmi” on his marriage, witnessed by “Nicholao filio meo…Herberto filio Herberti, Baldwino et Ricardo nepotibus meis, Willelmo de Vernun, Willielmo fratre meo…Hugone de Dunstanvill…”.
He was born circa 1110 , so after Henry vowed to give up mistresses when he married Edith/Matilda of Scotland. His path followed that of many illegitimate children of the monarchy – his title and wealth came through a marriage arranged to an heiress in this case Beatrice FitzRichard the daughter of an important Cornish landowner. Reginald became Lord of Cardinham through the marriage. Having said that most sources indicate that the marriage took place in 1140 – five years after the death of Henry I. In 1141 Reginald found himself stuck in his castle in Launceston whilst Alan of Richmond roamed the county at the behest of King Stephen. There was also the small matter of an argument with the Church which involved knocking down some building work at Launceston Priory paid for by King Stephen.
But I’m jumping ahead of myself. When Henry I died in 1135 Reginald was fighting in the Contentin and did not return to England until 1138. Reginald was a key supporter of his half-sister Matilda in her claim to the throne according to the Orderic Vitalis which identified him as “fratre suo Reginaldo comite Cornubiæ.” She named him Earl of Cornwall in 1141. The earldom of Cornwall had originally been given by William the Conqueror to Robert, Earl of Morteyne but the Morteyne or Moreton family lost the title in the reign of Henry I. Reginald certainly fought for his sister. His presence is recorded at the rout of Winchester when Robert of Gloucester was captured. Some historians identify Robert as being Reginald’s full brother but Weir identifies Henry I’s favourite illegitimate son as the child of an unknown woman from Caen. Whatever the case the number of charters identifying Reginald as the son of the king demonstrate that Reginald knew that it was important to emphasise that his power and his land ownership came from his blood and that which was given to him by his royal father.
Reginald wrested power in Cornwall back when Stephen’s alternative earl – Alan of Richmond – was captured at the Battle of Lincoln. He very sensibly opted to apologise to the Church as well. Ultimately Reginald served not only his sister but also his nephew Henry II. Records show that Reginald held 215 knights fees in Cornwall – manors capable of supporting a knight, his family, his staff and providing equipment necessary for war.
Reginald had five legitimate children and two illegitimate ones but like his father before him died with out legitimate sons so the title went into abeyance before Henry II passed it to his son John. For a brief time Reginald’s illegitimate son Henry Fitz-Count held the title but he resigned it to Henry III in 1219.
In 1173 he was granted a charter to free burgesses of Truro. It was a this time he also became Sheriff of Devon. Launceston Priory benefited from links to the Dunstanville family as can be seen in its chartulary. The name Dunstanville is from Reginald’s grandmother Adeliza de Dunstanville. Reginald witnessed six charters for the priory.
Reginald died at Chertsey in 1175 and was buried in Reading Abbey where his father was buried.
And as a complete aside the ruins of St Stephen’s Priory Launceston were completely lost after the dissolution until they were uncovered during the Nineteenth century when a railway was built.
Thompson, Kathleen. “Affairs of State: the Illegitimate Children of Henry I.” Journal of Medieval History 29 (2003): 129-51.
I was delighted to find a batch of photographs I recognised today.
Fountains Abbey is a Cistercian Abbey. Apparently in the 12th century there was an outbreak of illness which saw people sleeping in tents because there was no space in the infirmary.
Fountains has many wealthy patrons as testified by the account books of the thirteenth century. despite this the abbey got into debt. This was partly because of their building projects. Edward I appointed a clerk to resolve the matter and ensure that the monks didn’t get into any deeper debt. It didn’t help that during the reign of Edward II the Scots turned up in Yorkshire to plunder and to burn. In 1319 Fountains was excused it’s taxes.
In 1443 John Neville was given the job of finding out who was “lately making a riot at the abbey.” Neville had no idea but the following year a commission was issued against “anonymous sons of inquiry” who had infringed upon the liberties of the monks. They were told that they needed to give back anything they had taken within three months or they would be excommunicated.
By 1535 the total value of the plate at Fountains was over £900. There were herds of cattle, flocks of sheep, 86 horses and 79 pigs.
Eventually the abbot and his monks were forced to surrender on 26th November 1539. It hadn’t been an easy couple of years. In addition to the abbot there was a prior and thirty monks – all of whom were required to sign the surrender in the chapter house. The abbot received a pension of £100.
Did you know there was a plan to turn Fountains into a bishopric with control of Lancashire (someone didn’t check the map methinks.)
And the original charter for the abbey is held at nearby Studley.
Henry I sometimes known as the Lion of Justice was married to Edith of Scotland, the daughter of Malcolm III and St Margaret meaning that the royal house of Wessex once again sat upon the throne, or at least quite close to it. And if you’re wondering who Edith might have been, she is known in the history books as Matilda on account of the fact that the Normans found Edith a foreign sounding name.
Henry went on to have somewhere int he region of 24 illegitimate children, many of them born to mothers unknown to history. William of Malmsebury who was a fan of Henry’s noted that “Throughout his life he was wholly free from impure desires.” The statement implies that William must have led a very sheltered or blinkered life! Until we read on to discover that the only reason Henry had so many mistresses was for “the sake of issue.” Poor King Henry I – fancy having so many women simply to increase the numbers of children with royal blood in their veins. It was a tough job but someone had to do it. It’s interesting though that an illegitimate child was a useful commodity so far as the Crown was concerned. It reflects the fact that the status of illegitimate children changed with the passage of time.
Female children could be married off in exactly the same way as legitimate ones to cement an alliance or a treaty. Sybil, the daughter of Sybil Corbet, married King Alexander I of Scotland in 1107. Another daughter, Rohese, married Henry de la Pomerai. He was a loyal supporter of the king, so the marriage may have held an element of reward for loyal service in drawing him closer to the Crown by ties of blood. Interestingly the half siblings of the Empress Matilda can be identified as bolstering support for her in the West Country during the Anarchy reflecting the importance of family ties (somewhat at odds to my more usual Wars of the Roses theme.)
William de Breteuil had no legitimate children. One of Henry’s daughters – Juliane- was married off to Eustace de Pacy, William’s illegitimate son. The marriage brought with it promises of support for Eustace against any other of William’s relations. It was the children of this union who were blinded and their noses split on the orders of their uncompromising grandfather when one of William’s hostages, the son of Ralph Harenc was blinded. Juliane attempted to kill her father with a cross bow after her two daughters were cruelly maimed.
A pharmacopoeia is a handbook of medicines. The seventeenth century texts I’m perusing at the moment for a very specific cure-all are deeply underwhelming although strangely fascinating. Remedies includes the “turds” of geese, goats, hens, swallows and a peacock . One requires millipedes. Another lists amongst its ingredients discarded nail clippings. If you weren’t ill before you certainly would have been afterwards.
Many of the more exotic ingredients would have come from the mediterranean and beyond. And as navigators explored further and colonialisation took hold the ingredients of the pharmacopoeias did become more exotic – rhinoceros brain anyone?
The Pharmacopoeia Londinensis was published on the orders of James I and it effectively created a list of all official drugs – frogs lungs…if the goods you wanted to sell to an apothecary and then on to a physician were not on the Royal College of Physicians list then quite simply it wasn’t a cure. The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries was created in 1618 so now regulation was ensured. Little old ladies with herbal connections might find themselves in real bother and so could a male apothecary not following the guild’s rules. The College of Physicians which had controlled the apothecaries retained the right to license them in London but not to prevent them from dispensing medicines or treating people and the pharmacopoeia was a way of the physicians maintaining some kind of control because they dictated what was admissible to the list.
The Pharmacopoeia Londinensis continued to be published until 1854 when a new British listing was produced. By that time goat’s urine had been removed from the list.
The Gilbertine Order was founded by Gilbert of Sempringham in 1130. Most of the priories associated with the order are in Lincolnshire and on the eastern side of the country.
Eleven of the twenty-six houses were double houses, in that they accommodated both men and women but there were strict rules about segregation. The priory at Ravenstonedale does not appear to have been a double house.
It was founded circa 1200 when the manor was granted to Watton which was a double house with some 150 women and 70 men. It seems that Ravenstonedale never grew large – there were three canons and some lay brothers. The men followed the Augustinians and were all canons whilst the women were Benedictine.
There was a fish pond and a rabbit warren to feed the canons at Ravenstonedale. Effectively the canons were the Lords of the Manor so had to fulfil that role including dispensing justice.
Gilbert of Sempringham founded the Gilbertine Order. It was the only English founded order and it was also the only one with double houses. Gilbertine nuns followed the Benedictine pattern whilst the monks followed the Augustinian pattern of canons. Not all houses were double but the one at Watton in East Yorkshire was.
The story was recorded by Ailred of Rievaulx in the early 1160s. Essentially the nun in question was an oblate in that she had been in the priory since she was four years old. Interestingly, the Gilbertines had an age requirement for entry to their order – 24 for men and 20 for women. However, our nun gained admittance as a child at the request of the Bishop of York.
The nun became enamoured of either a lay brother or one of the canons. The attraction was reciprocated. They arranged to meet. The inevitable happened. The nun was found to be pregnant. The nun was beaten and imprisoned and when her lover captured she was forced to castrate him herself. He was returned to the male side of the house at Watton and disappears from the story.
However, the nun returned to her prison, was visited by the now deceased archbishop and two women who took the baby leaving the teenage nun in her original state of virtue. At which point she was allowed out of prison – a miracle having occurred.
It would have to be said that the Gilbertines had strict rules about segregating the canons from the nuns. Nonetheless the priory at Watton which was one of the most important Gilbertine Foundations was said to have many secret passages.
Watton was where Marjory Bruce, the eleven year old daughter of Robert the Bruce, was imprisoned by Edward I in 1306. She regained her freedom after the Battle of Bannockburn.
G. Constable, ‘Aelred of Rievaulx and the Nun of Watton: an episode in the early history of the Gilbertine order’, Medieval women, ed. D. Baker, SCH, subsidia, 1 (1978), 205–26
Armathwaite can be found in the Eden Valley near Croglin. It’s said to have been founded by William Rufus in 1089. Unfortunately Rufus wa snot known for his links with the Church and it’s now generally thought that the charter was a forgery. The nuns of Armathwaite weren’t the only ones to make their founding patron or history seem more important or to gain more definite legal ownership of property so let’s not hold a spot of light forgery against them.
Edward IV accepted their documents which included freedom from toll throughout England and there was also a claim for sanctuary. Someone claiming sanctuary had to be inside the boundary of the nunnery – there’s a pillar near the nunnery to bolster this.
Detective work finds the nunnery in 1200 mentioned in the St Bees charter when Roger de Beauchamp gives the monks lank near that belonging to the nuns of Armathwaite.
The Scottish Wars of Independence were not kind to the nuns which was why Edward II gave them leave to pasture their cattle in Inglewood Forest and excused them a debt for food purchased because their lands and income had been virtually destroyed by marauding Scots.
It’s generally accepted that nunneries weren’t so well supported as their male counterparts. Although there were some foundations and patronage by royalty and the nobility the bulk of funds seem to have come from local gentry often in the form of will bequests:
“From the fourteenth century wills on record in the diocesan registers, we learn that this nunnery had some friends and received bequests as well as the other religious institutions in the county. In 1356 Dame Agnes, the consort of Sir Richard de Denton, bequeathed 10s. and in 1358 John de Salkeld 40s. to the prioress and her sisters of ‘Hermythwayt.’ Richard de Ulnesby, rector of Ousby or Ulnesby, was good enough in 1362 to bequeath them a cow which he had in that parish, while a citizen of Carlisle, William de London, in 1376, and a country gentleman, Roger de Salkeld, in 1379, made them bequests of money.”
The wheel of fortune or rota fortunae features in Chaucer’s writing and in Shakespeare’s. Both Hamlet and Lear have something to say on the topic.
Dating from Classical times the goddess Fortuna is pictured blindfolded with a cornucopia in one hand and a wheel or a rudder in the other. The original concept of the wheel or even sphere was linked to the astrological frame in which the signs of the zodiac were placed. Boethius, writing in the sixth century, extended the idea. The problem with Fate was that it was pagan and the Church didn’t necessarily approve.
But by the medieval period the rota fortunae was being used to remind people that it was probably best to concentrate of God and the hereafter rather than earthly things because Fortuna can bring luck, fortune and power or can remove all those things at a slip of the wheel and because everyone is bound to their wheel they have no choice but to accept what Fate throws at them. Fortuna isn’t being capricious – she’s more of a Heavenly enforcer. It is God’s will whether your business venture is successful, whether there is a famine, whether you suddenly find yourself being usurped from your throne.
The concept of destiny is an important one in the medieval and Tudor world views. It is linked also to the concept of the Great Chain of Being – everything has it’s place and shouldn’t try to step out from the place that God has allotted. Another way of describing the Great Chain of Being is to call it Divine Order. Essentially the more “spirt” something has the closer it is to God so therefore the higher up the Great Chain of Being it is – ladies you will no doubt be delighted to know that we’re lower down the chain than men. You are where you are in a rigid social hierarchy because God wants it that way – so please don’t revolt because if you do the Divine Order will be upset and this will reflect across the universe…there will be storms and floods and strange and monstrous happenings.
So – we’ve all been given a place in the universe based on the Great Chain of Being. Our destinies are in the stars and allotted to us when we’re born – remember horoscopes are cast as part of the medical process and Books of Hours contain dates which are more auspicious than others for things like moving house, having blood taken and going on journeys. The wheel of fortune is in the background as the main controlling force in life – explaining all life’s successes and adversities, joys and tragedies. It helped explain all those things for which there seemed to be no explanation.
Of course the Renaissance and the concept of humanism sees things a bit differently.
Radding, Charles M. “Fortune and Her Wheel: The Meaning of a Medieval Symbol.” Mediaevistik, vol. 5, 1992, pp. 127–138. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/42584434. Accessed 16 Feb. 2021.