Royal mistresses since 1066, this week, if you please. We’ll leave Elizabeth I’s romantic attachments to one side and Queen Anne’s as well. Some monarchs are remarkably discreet, others less so. Henry VII for example was not known for his mistresses – but his account book reveals payment to “dancing girls” …they may just have been dancing. Other mistresses have achieved notoriety and in the case of Henry VIII’s mistresses, in many instances, the Crown itself. You may find yourself dealing with potentially bigamous monarchs as well this week. Good luck.
Myosotis is part of the borage family and there are various folk lore based stories for it’s name. One of them is based on courtly love. A knight was walking with his lady beside a river. Obviously when one goes courting it is essential to wear full armour – in this case the knight was very chivalrously carrying the lady’s flowers when he slipped and tumbled into the raging current – as he was swept away he threw her flowers to her crying “Forget me not!” And there you have it!
Courtly love is of course the medieval form of ritualised love expressed by a knight for a married lady who is outside his reach – so duty, honour, devotion and courtesy were all important as they were part of the chivalric code. Ideally a knight’s love should be unrequited. Lancelot and Guinevere became very popular at this time. For a more in-depth article about the literature of courtly love follow the link to the British Library:
By 1190 the monks of Glastonbury had cashed in on the popular stories of the knights of the Round Table with the discovery of the graves of King Arthur and his queen.
Courtly love became the rage in the twelfth century at the point where tournaments also became the height of fashion. The use of courtly love as a motif in England grew when Eleanor of Aquitaine became queen. It was William IX of Aquitaine (Eleanor’s grandfather) who made it fashionable in 1101. Aquitainean troubadours carried songs of romance around Europe. It should be noted that William’s love was not unrequited – he appears to have been something of a serial seducer.
Henry of Bolingbroke adopted the forget-me-not as an emblem during his exile in 1398 when Richard II banished him from England for ten years. When his father John of Gaunt died the following year Richard turned the sentence into banishment for life – setting in motion the events that led to his usurpation.
Anyway, back to the forget-me-not, in medieval times if you got bitten by a dog or a snake you might be treated with forget-me-not. Gerard called it scorpion grass named due to the shape made by the curling bract of flowers.
Phillips, Stuart. (2012) An Encyclopaedia of Plants in Myth, Legend, Magic and Lore. London: Robert Hale
Swabey F. (2004) Eleanor of Aquitaine, Courtly Love and the Troubadours
According to Gerard Solomn’s seal will mend a black eye within a coupe of days caused, and I quote, by “women wilfnulnes, in stumbling upon their haste husbands fists.” I make no comment other than to be grateful that Gerard’s humour would no longer be regarded as acceptable in any way shape or form. The roots of the plant will also help heal wounds and mend broken bones.
It took me years and years to find some Solomon’s seal of my own as wasn’t very popular in garden centres at that time. I assume because it grows in such profusion that those with the plant are more than happy to share it – the knack is to find a gardener with the aforementioned plant. Consequently I have been carefully to pot up some of the plant with each successive move I have made and there is always the concern that it won’t like it’s new home but it is currently spreading happily.
The plant is called Solomon’s seal after the marks on the root which are said according to folk lore to come from King Solomon’s seal when he first discovered the plant’s medicinal properties. Rather alarmingly the notes in my dictionary of plants inform me that the fumes that come from he brewed flowers were used to inspire painters and poets and keep evil spirits at bay. I shan’t be eating it anytime soon even if it a very useful medical plant, not least because my Alnwick Poison Garden guide observes that everything about the plant is toxic -it contains saponins and convallamarin demonstrating that medieval medicine really was a case of kill or cure.
Philips, Stuart. (2012) An Encyclopaedia of Plants: in myth, legend, magic and lore. London: Robert Hale
I spent much of today foraging for stones to adorn my pond. It is frowned upon, not to mention probably destabilising, to remove capping stones from nearby walls – even your own walls- to turn them into lovely big flat pond topping stones…so I shall have to wait until a) I can get on to a well known builder’s website without having to queue virtually for hours or b) collect them myself when this is all over – which ever comes first. Or c) start a quarry in the field on the other side of the stone wall which I have definitely not disturbed in any way, shape or form.
But back to history. Did you know that in 800 AD (ish) Charlemagne drew up a list of plants that should be grown in every town? He required 73 herbs to be grown as well as roses and lilies. The list together with the other twenty or so horticultural requirements can be found in The Capitulary of Charlemagne. Capitulary is word I’m likely to misspell which means exactly the same as charter. As well as the lilies and the roses he also identified flag iris (soon to be found growing near my pond despite the risk of the roots puncturing the liner.) He listed medicinal herbs, fruit and nut trees; vegetables; salads and teasels – for combing wool as well as madder for dyeing it.
Unsurprisingly Charlemagne’s list is an important one in our understanding of medieval gardening. Floridus writing in the eleventh century also gives some insight and then there’re wonderful manuscript illustrations depicting all sorts of garden flowers. What is interesting is that many of them were there simply because they were lovely. By the beginning of the twelfth century gardens were beginning to be advocated as a backdrop necessary for the fashion of courtly love. Clearly the Romans had gardens and monastic houses required gardens for physic and for the monks to have a plentiful supply of food. The garden as a statement of courtly love was something very different.
On one hand an enclosed medieval garden may have afforded the kind of privacy that was difficult to find within a busy castle, not to mention making a statement about the wealth of the aforementioned castle owner. The concept of privacy and gardens very naturally leads to thoughts of Adam and Eve and associated sinfulness – it is possibly not surprising that the garden saw the introduction of seats for canoodling at this point in the form of raised turf hillocks – preferably studded with pretty flowers. And before we get too carried away with the image, the whole concept of courtly love was that the lady was unattainable – so whilst temptation might be present vis a vis privacy and comfy lawn hillocks, a knight and his lady simply do not demean themselves with comedy of the Carry On kind. Carnal desire is renounced in order to find God – essentially humans are part of the natural cycle but can rise above it. The garden became part of a larger scheme – of the kind with which art historians are familiar. The symbolism of the garden in art became the rationale for actual gardening if you follow Barnett’s hypothesis.
By the thirteenth century there was even a manual that covered raised turf hillocks:
Between the level turf and the herbs let there be a higher piece of turf made in the fashion of a seat, suitable for flowers and amenities; the grass in the suns path should be planted with trees or vines, whose branches will protect the turf with shade and cast a pleasant refreshing shadow.
Piero de’ Crescenzi, Liber ruralium commodorum (1305-09)
And there are certainly a great many turf seats depicted in medieval art – either being occupied by lovers or the Virgin Mary. The Virgin Mary is sometimes depicted as hortus conclusus – i.e. seated in an enclosed garden metaphorically being an enclosed garden, an allusion taken from the Song of Solomon in the psalms. It was another way of illuminating her purity. She is able to be in THE enclosed garden – Eden- because she is without sin. I’m not sure I’ve explained it very well but I’m sure that you get the gist.
Anyway the concept of the raised turf bench remained a popular one throughout the medieval period.
I shall content myself with my old wooden bench which is more than adequate for sitting in the sun with a cup of tea whilst surveying my increasingly manicured garden…incidentally how long before a frog and a dragonfly arrive to take up residence?
Innes, Miranda & Perry, Clay. Medieval Flowers
Barnett, Rod. “Serpent of Pleasure: Emergence and Difference in the Medieval Garden of Love.” Landscape Journal, vol. 28, no. 2, 2009, pp. 137–150. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/43323842. Accessed 22 Apr. 2020.
“There’s pansies, that’s for thoughts”. Ophelia
The regular post has moved to a midweek time to accommodate the weekly history challenges. Let’s hope I can stay organised.
I’ve been doing some gardening today, making the most of the lovely weather. At this rate I’ll have the tidiest garden ever. Today I did some weeding and planted some seeds that I’ve found lurking in the back of a cupboard. Apparently heartsease populate walls, rockeries and paths easily. Time will tell. Anyway, heartsease as I know it has many different names including Jack-behind-the-garden-gate; kiss-behind-the-garden-gate; Kit-run-around; godfathers-and-godmothers; herb trinity and herb constancy to name but a few.
The name heartsease comes from the days when if you were suffering from a broken heart you could take an infusion of the pretty little plant to treat your woes. I don’t suggest that you try it. In Victorian times when courting couples couldn’t speak openly the flower represented happiness and if you gave it to someone the meaning might be that the recipient occupied the giver’s thoughts – presumably leading to the kiss behind the garden gate.
Gerard’s herbal reveals other medicinal uses for the pansy or heartsease:
It is good … for such as are sick of ague, especially children and infants, whose convulsions and fits of the falling sickness it is thought to cure. It is commended against inflammation of the lungs and chest, and against scabs and itchings of the whole body and healeth ulcers.’
So back to the history – the pansy was Elizabeth I’s favourite flower, and as a consequence it was everyone else’s as well. For Elizabeth the humble heartsease was not linked with kissing behind gates, it represented chastity- an important facet of being the Virgin Queen. In medieval times, prior to the Reformation, it was linked with the Virgin Mary. The colours of the heartsease, white, yellow and purple relate to purity, joy and mourning respectively which relate in turn to the Virgin’s life.
The Stowe Inventory of the Wardrobe identifies many of Elizabeth’s clothes in 1600 as well as her new year’s gifts which included many hand embroidered items. Elizabeth herself hand embroidered gifts for her own family, most famously Katherine Parr’s prayer book cover stitched when Elizabeth was eleven-years-old, which includes pansies or heartsease.
Look closely at any number of Elizabeth’s portraits including the Pelican Portrait, the Hardwick Hall portrait and the Rainbow Portrait for example and you will find pansies.
The swans are a swimming because most of us haven’t been allowed to tuck into one since 1482 when a law was passed saying that only some landowners could keep and eat swans. They all had to be marked by nicks in their beaks. The Queen and the Worshipful Company of Dyers and also Vintners own mute swans – if they’re unmarked and in open water in England and Wales. So if you caught and ate an unmarked swan until 1994 you were technically committing treason. Since then they have been protected by the 1981 act which protects wildlife from the predation of the culinary adventurous.
In 1189, Richard I, gave the worshipful companies joint ownership along with the Crown of unclaimed swans – though given my understanding of Richard I, I would guess that there was a hefty fee for the privilege. According to legend he brought the swans home with him from Cyprus following the third crusade. Other sources mention the Romans – who get everywhere. However if we want to see documentary evidence of the mute swan in royal hands then we have to wait for the reign of Edward I who mentions them in his wardrobe accounts. There’s a cook book dating from the reign of Richard II which detail how to cook one.
The one thing that is clear is that mute swans were much prized and apparently prone to being stolen from their rightful owners in medieval times – there’s even a mention of a swanherd or ‘swonhirde’ if you prefer spelling 1282 style. And quite frankly I’m going to stop on that delightful thought.
In 1688 William and Mary were invited take the throne – thus deposing Mary’s father James II (pictured left) after the birth of a Mary’s half-brother also called James by Mary of Modena. But not everywhere took to the Protestant usurpation of James’ throne so easily. I usually steer clear of Irish history and its complexities but the Treaty of Limerick on 3rd October 1691 saw Patrick Sarsfield first Lord Lucan, a Jacobite come to terms with William’s army and bring the Williamite War in Ireland to a close.
Under the terms of the treaty Jacobite soldiers could freely leave Ireland with their wives and children. They also had the option on becoming part of William’s army. The rest could stay in Ireland so long as they gave a pledge of allegiance to William. The nobility would even be allowed to carry weapons. So far so good. Unfortunately by the mid 1690s the terms of the treaty were being ignored by the victors as they enforced new Penal Laws – though that is not what this post is about.
The men who chose to leave their home for a Catholic country such as France or Spain became known as wild geese. Regiments of Irish can be found in the French army from the sixteenth century onwards. In fact Sarsfield had experience of warfare from his years in the French army during the 1670s. He returned to Ireland in 1689 in support of James II.
The so-called “flight of the wild geese” refers to the large number of Jacobites, with Sarsfield at their head, who chose to leave their homes rather than swear allegiance to William. The Irishmen formed James II’s army in exile but in 1692 became part of the French army which also had an Irish Brigade composed of men who’d left their home shores in previous years.
The tradition of the wild geese continued into the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries – Napoleon had an Irish legion clad in green tunics.
And why wild geese? Well apparently that’s how the men were described on ship’s manifests when they sailed from Ireland to the Continent disguising their identities and protecting the ship’s captain.
The turtle dove has been in steep decline during the last century.
The Phoenix and the turtle was written in 1601 to go in an anthology entitled Love’s Martyr. All the works in the anthology have the theme of the two birds.
Essentially the phoenix is married to the turtle dove. The pair love each other so completely that they grow like one another over the duration of their relationship. But times are changing. The pair die and when they die true love dies along with them – there will be no one as virtuous or in love as them ever again. They have been married but chaste – so they leave no children. They are buried and a variety of other birds come to mourn at the funeral. It is the end of a golden age.
There are lots of different interpretations and arguments which this post has no intention of covering. Suffice it to say each bird is the subject of academic speculation. It doesn’t help that Love’s Martyr is dedicated to Sir John Salusbury – a fairly obscure personage. In which case he logically should be the phoenix and his wife Ursula the dove. In any event there wasn’t a great deal of chastity involved as they had ten children. And let’s not get into the whole who was Shakespeare thing!
The phoenix is often, but not always, seen as straight forward enough – Elizabeth I was linked to the phoenix on more than one occasion. Most famously in 1575 Elizabeth featured in two portraits by Nicholas Hilliard. In one she is holding a pelican pendant – pinched from Catholic iconography- Elizabeth is stating that she is the mother of her nation and that like the pelican which wounds itself to feeds its young so she has made a great sacrifice for her people – i.e. her unwed state. The Phoenix Portrait pictured at the start of this post is a reminder that Elizabeth is unique and that having been consumed by the flames the phoenix arises from the ashes. This could be a reference to the near disaster of her mother’s fall from favour and the dangers she faced during the reign of Mary I. It could also reference the idea that the people of England should not fear for the future because a) the phoenix lives for 500 years before going up in smoke and b) just as the phoenix regenerates so the Crown will be reborn. Unfortunately in 1601 it was clear that Elizabeth wasn’t going to last much longer and there was the small issue of who would succeed her.
Which brings us neatly to the other birds in the poem, the mourners. One of them, the “bird of the loudest lay,” could very well be James VI of Scotland whilst the crow is often interpreted as being Shakespeare himself. Essentially its important to have some understanding of bird lore before attempting the allegorical meaning behind the poem. And many scholars take the view that it really is not the point of the poem to try and decipher the bird code at all. It could simply be that Shakespeare was effectively whistling very loudly whilst writing about the intangibility of true love and trying to distance himself from the Earl of Essex’s Rebellion. He must have been very aware of the possibility he would be associated with treason given that on the 7th February 1601 his players performed Richard II (and that didn’t end well for the monarch in question). Shakespeare was paid forty shillings by some of the earl’s supporters, the Earl rose in rebellion the following day with 300 supporters and marched on London – the play was some kind of signal- but Londoners didn’t take the hint. Shakespeare must have spent some time afterwards checking that his head was still on his shoulders.
So – let us get on to the turtle dove who is after all supposed to be the centre of this post. In Tudor times the turtle dove represented fidelity. If Elizabeth is the phoenix who then is the dove? Robert Devereux the 2nd earl of Essex remains a popular choice. The idea gained popularity in the 1960s with the analysis of William Matchett. Although, quite frankly, how rushing off to fight the Spanish in 1586 without permission, getting married without Elizabeth’s approval, referencing the queen’s “crooked carcass,” arriving back from Ireland uninvited, unannounced and bursting into the royal bedchamber before finally revolting and getting oneself beheaded could be described as fidelity is another matter entirely. One view is that the phoenix and the turtle dove have burned out their love for one another. It is then argued that Shakespeare was not writing a straight forward poem at all. He was doing something very dangerous – he was writing a pro Essex poem which basically turns the earl into a hero in the aftermath of his failed rising and subsequent execution on 26th February 1601.
And yes – there are many more theories about who the turtle dove might be but I think it’s time to move away from the topic as I could go around ever decreasing circles for some considerable time.
Incidentally Salusbury was knighted for his part in the suppression of Essex’s rebellion whilst his brother got himself executed in 1586 for supporting Mary Queen of Scots.
Bednarz, J. Shakespeare and the Truth of Love: The Mystery of ‘The Phoenix and Turtle’
It’s that time of year again! Where did 2018 go? I thought I’d take the Twelve Days of Christmas for my theme this year – quite loosely but I didn’t think I would actually be able to start with a heraldic partridge sans pear tree. It turns out that several departments in the Charente-Maritime area of France boast a partridge in their heraldic devices – this one from Aunis depicts a crowned partridge.
Aunis was part of Aquitaine so came into the Plantagenet empire with Henry II’s marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine. By the Sixteenth Century it was better known as a Protestant stronghold. I’m not totally sure where the partridge gets in on the act.
Further reading reveals that partridges weren’t the bird of choice for heraldic devices in medieval times as Aristotle and Pliny had essentially depicted them as deceitful thieves. This was perpetuated in various medieval bestiaries such as the one illustrated here (British Library, Harley MS 4751, Folio 48r.) No one particularly wants to be identified with a bird that steals another bird’s eggs, rolls in the dust and is frequently over tired from too much hanky-panky. It was also associated with the devil because like Satan who seeks to steal the faithful away through flattery the partridge is left with an empty nest when the chicks hear the call of their real parent.
However by the Fifteenth Century all the more glamorous and martial birds had been spoken for and thus it came to be that the partridge began making its appearance in heraldry and oddly enough the symbolism of the partridge began to evolve from unpleasant to that of a devoted parent which will allow itself to be injured to decoy hunters away from its young – it still represented cunning though! As for the Charente- Maritime, it turns out that many of their heraldic devices were created in the 1940s.
The words to the Twelve Days of Christmas were first published in 1780 in a book called Mirth Without Mischief. It is probably a memory game such as ‘I went to market.’ The idea is that each player remembers an increasing number of gifts in the correct order or has to pay a forfeit possibly a kiss.It has been suggested that the song was a primer for Catholics to help remember key aspects of their doctrine but experts refute this proposition.
Hopefully by the time we arrive at the 25th and the beginning of the twelve days of Christmas we will have explored some more diverse and non mischief making history based facts!
Cheeseman, Clive (2010) Some Aspects of the Crisis of Heraldry. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/259641719_Some_aspects_of_the_’crisis_of_heraldry’
Impelluso, Lucia. Nature and its Symbols.
The Battle of Maldon took place on the 10thAugust 991 at the mouth of the River Blackwater near Maldon in Essex. The heroic poem about the battle was written shortly after.
Essentially, according to the poem, an army of Vikings largely from Norway led by Olaf tried to land in Maldon having made a series of unpleasant visits along the Essex and Kent coast beforehand. Olaf’s raid on Folkestone is recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. However, at Maldon they met with resistance in the form of Earl Brithnoth (or Brythnoth) and his men.
Olaf, who was camped at Northey Island, rather than fight initially asked for money to go away – the so-called Danegeld. Brithnoth recognised that paying Vikings to go away was simply asking for another bunch to arrive so refused saying, according to the poem that the only tribute his men were prepared to offer were their spears. According to the poem there was a pause whilst the tide came in but as it ebbed the Vikings crossed the river and battle was joined. The poem makes it plain that the Vikings could not have crossed from the island where they were camped had Brithnoth not allowed them to do so. This could be translated as hubris or equally the realisation that the Saxon militia was sizeable enough to take on the Vikings and that a victory was required in order for inland raids to stop.
Initially things went well for the Saxons but then Brithnoth was killed by a spear – the poem says that it was poisoned. Most of the men of Essex fled at that point apart from Brithnoth’s loyal house carls who stood over Brithnoth’s body and fought to the death. Although Brithnoth was killed the fight was so fierce that the Vikings withdrew and did not sack Maldon. We don’t actually know the poem ended because it was destroyed in a fire in 1731 and there is only a translation remaining.
Historically speaking Brithnoth’s Saxon militia may have been as many as 4000 strong. The fyrd as the Saxon militia was called was summoned after the Vikings raided Ipswich. The battle was composed of the Saxons making a shield wall which the Vikings attacked first with spears and then in the second phase with hand to hand fighting.
Of course the reason why the Battle of Maldon is remembered is not because it was unusual. Afterall this was Ethelred the Unready’s period of rule. He had become king at a young age after the murder of his brother Edward the Martyr and he would be replaced in 1016 by Swein Forkbeard. Ethelred is pictured on a coin at the start of this post. It was not a restful time to live in England. Maldon is remembered because of the 325 line poem.
Brythnoth was not a young man at the time of his death. The poem describes him as having white hair. He was a patron of Ely Abbey and that was where he was buried. Interestingly his wife is supposed to have given the abbey a tapestry celebrating his many heroic deeds – similar possibly to the style of the Bayeaux tapestry. One of the reasons he may have been such a keen supporter of Ely was that when he and his men were busy repelling assorted Scandinavians he was refused shelter and food by Ramsey Abbey whereas at Ely he was welcomed with open arms. When he left he gave the abbey a number of manors including Thriplow and Fulbourn. In 2006 a statue of Brithnoth was erected in Maldon.
In brief, Ethelred who was only twenty-four in 991 was not so wise as Brithnoth. He paid Danegeld to the Vikings not understanding that they were not a nation but individual bands of warriors and would be attracted to free loot like wasps to a picnic. Then, just to make matters worse Ethelred ordered the St Brice’s Day Massacre in 1002 which successfully alienated those Norse families settled in England and not murdered by Ethelred’s men not to mention irritating their extended families over seas. I have posted about Ethelred and the massacre in a longer post about Edward the Confessor
‘Houses of Benedictine monks: Abbey and cathedral priory of Ely’, in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 2, ed. L F Salzman (London, 1948), pp. 199-210. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/cambs/vol2/pp199-210 [accessed 10 August 2018].