Mute swans swimming

richard the lionheartThe 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.

 

https://britishbirds.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/article_files/V17/V17_N08/V17_N08_P174_182_A038.pdf

http://sciencepress.mnhn.fr/sites/default/files/articles/pdf/az1995n22a5.pdf

Wild geese flying

james2.jpgIn 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.

 

Two turtle doves…or in our case one phoenix, a turtle and Mr Shakespeare.

elizabethphoenix

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.

 

2nd earl of essexSo – 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’

 

On the First Day of December – a crowned partridge

fr-aunis.gifIt’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.

img4456Further 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 (991)

ethelred the unreadyThe 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.

vikings in boats

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

 

https://anglosaxonpoetry.camden.rutgers.edu/battle-of-maldon/

‘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].

 

Henry Tudor arrives at Mill Bay

henryvii
The 7thAugust 1485 saw Henry and Jasper  Tudor land at Milford Haven  in Mill Bay.  four hundred or so years later in 1840 small boys were prohibited from climbing chimneys and in 1914 Lord Kitchener proclaimed that our country needed us for the first time of the 7th August.

 

Henry Tudor was twenty-eight in 1485.  He arrived with 2000 mercenaries in an area of Wales where Jasper Tudor was Earl of Pembroke with allies, one of whom was Sir Rhys ap Thomas of Carew Castle.  According to legend Thomas was waiting at Mill Bay to great the Lancastrian claimant and having said that Henry would enter Wales over his dead body according to the story he lay beneath a bridge whilst Henry walked over the bridge – but this seems to be an interesting embroidery.

 

What is apparent is that the previous year several letters had crossed the Channel garnering support for an invasion and rebellion. They were all signed  H.R. so it was quite clear that Henry wasn’t simply returning to claim his father’s earldom in the manner that Edward IV had returned to England or, more famously, Henry IV.  The last person to simply arrive by ship and claim that he had a better right to be king than the person on the throne was Richard of York  – it hadn’t ended well for Richard III’s father mainly because the concept of deposing the anointed king who had been on the throne since his infancy was repugnant to most magnates at the time.

This spate of letter writing also meant that Henry was reliant on his Beaufort claim, which was tenuous to put it mildly. Depending on viewpoint the Beaufort claim was an illegitimate one and besides which Margaret Beaufort, Henry’s mother, was alive and well.  It is not surprising that Henry swore to marry Elizabeth of York and equally it is not surprising that Richard III would have wished to have prevented that particular eventuality.

It is unlikely that Richard would have married his own niece – he wasn’t a Hapsburg but it is telling that he arranged the marriage of her sister, Cecily, to the brother of Lord Scrope, a man within his own affinity and of far lesser rank – appropriate for an illegitimate daughter of royalty.  Skidmore suggests that Richard planned to marry Elizabeth to a cousin of John II of Portugal.  In doing that Richard would have weakened Henry’s strategy for kingship at a stroke. As it was the plan came to nothing.

Thomas ap Rhys probably received a letter from Henry and also Henry Percy the Earl of Northumberland.  Percy had helped put Richard on the throne but his family were Lancastrian by inclination. The Stanley family were probably involved and Margaret Beaufort undoubtedly stirred the pot on behalf of her absent son with the aid of her agent, Reginald Bray.

 

England spent the summer of 1485 ready for war.  On June 21 Richard signed a proclamation against Henry in Nottingham Castle – it stated that Henry was in receipt of French backing and then it attacked Henry’s claim to the throne by attacking his bloodline and legitimacy.  It was effectively a call to arms.  Commissions of array followed soon after.  Commissions of Array were letters sent by the monarch to sheriffs and men of authority in each county commanding their presence on the field of battle with a group of armed men – the medieval equivalent of Lord Kitchener’s Poster but in this case rather less successful.

On 29 July Henry and his fleet left the safety of Harfleur.  At sunset on the 7thAugust Henry set foot in Wales.  His landing at Mill Bay meant that it escaped the attention, albeit briefly, of Richard III’s observers. The chronicler Robert Fabyan stated that Henry fell to his knees and gave thanks to God.  Then, once all Henry’s mercenaries were offloaded his fleet sailed away – it was do or die for Henry Tudor.

A fortnight later at the Battle of Bosworth Henry Tudor, with his very tenuous claim to the Crown, became Henry VII – the last English king to gain a crown on the battlefield.

 

Skidmore, Chris. (2013) The Rise of the Tudors. New York: St Martin’s Press

 

Brinkburn Priory and the monks who weren’t quite quiet enough!

BrinkburnBrinkburn is an Augustinian Priory.  Usually I’m not terribly keen on buildings that have been restored during the Nineteenth Century.  The Victorians were not always terribly sensitive in the changes that they made.  However, in this instance the priory church is a truly splendid thing.

Augustinian monasteries, as a rule, were always smaller than their Benedictine and Cistercian counterparts.  Exceptions include Carlisle and Hexham.  The twelfth century was the apex of the monastery building period in England and Brinkburn fits nicely into the timeframe being founded in the early 1130s, during the reign of Henry I, by William Bertram.

The first prior came from Pentney Priory in Norfolk.  In addition to their riverside  dwelling which can be accessed down a tree dappled hill the monks also owned approximately 3500 acres nearby.  They had other pastureland elsewhere in Northumberland as well as buildings in Newcastle including an inn. Pilgrim Street in Newcastle is supposed to have gained its name from the pilgrims who lodged there. They came to worship at Our Lady’s chapel at Jesmond.  There was also a Franciscan Friary where there were supposed to be relics of St Francis.   In the copy of a grant of a house to Brinkburn Priory in Northumberland, dated 1292, this street is called Vicus Peregrinorum.  In 1564, after the Dissolution of the monasteries the inn, or one of the inns on the street, was mentioned for coining false money.  In any event whilst the canons at Brinkburn may have not had the huge amount of acres of their Cistercian counterparts they knew how to turn a profit as in addition to the inn they also owned a shop in Corbridge.  More traditionally  they gained income from bequested  advowsons, that is to say the right to appoint the priest, at Felton and Longhorsely.

 

brinkburn2

So far, so straight forward.  Unfortunately Brinkburn is north of Newcastle and it became apparent during the reign of Edward II that living anywhere near the Scottish border wasn’t necessarily a very good idea. In 1315 Robert Bruce destroyed Brinkburn and its thirteen canons had to flee their home and beg for their bread.

The story goes that on one occasion the Scots raided as far south as Brinkburn but the priory was spared because of a thick fog.  The raiders passed them by.  The canons being a grateful sort of bunch rang the bells to give thanks to God and in so doing directed the Scots to priory. The canons having realised that ringing the bell wasn’t necessarily the smartest move they could have made had fled to the other side of the River Coquet.  The story continues to say that as the Scots burned the priory the bell which had summoned them ended up in the river – I’m not sure if this was as the result of the fire or some enterprising Scottish person trying to remove them for their scrap value.  In yet another version of the story it was the monks who hid the bell in the river – presumably not wanting one of their number to ring it anymore.  And finally, the poor monks were so strapped for cash that they sold the bells to the Bishop of Durham but when they moved the bells up the hill one of them ended up in the river.  Take your pick!

The canons must have been delighted by the news that the Scots had been defeated at the Battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346.  Unfortunately three years later the Black death arrived and killed half of Northumberland. Things really seem to have gone from bad to worse for the canons.  During the early years of the Fifteenth century they suffered from reiver cattle raids and in 1484 the Scots turned up again and having stripped the place burned it to the ground.  Then there was the murder. In 1521 Richard Lighton, one of the Canons, was killed by Humphrey Lisle in a property dispute.

When Cromwell’s visitors arrived the priory was valued at only £69 so it was suppressed in 1536.  There were only six canons left at that time. After the dissolution Brinkburn changed hands several times.  On two occasions, Brinkburn’s owners lost their heads.  For a fair portion of the time the property was in the hands of the Fenwick family.  Eventually it passed into the hands of Richard Hodgson.  His son did some demolition work on the old manor house which contains the west range of the monastery.  The manor house he rebuilt was designed to be a picturesque building so much of the monastic masonry remains in situ.

The style of the church, for those folk who like to know these things, is somewhere between Norman and Gothic – the correct term is transitional.

 

Eneas Mackenzie, ‘The present state of Newcastle: Streets within the walls’, in Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827), pp. 160-182. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/newcastle-historical-account/pp160-182 [accessed 6 July 2018].

English Heritage (2003) Brinkburn Priory

The king of Spain’s beard

francis-drake.jpgNow, I know this isn’t necessarily going to be popular but Sir Francis Drake is one of my heroes.  He has been since I was a child and I’m not about to change tack now.  The problem with the global circumnavigator (the Golden Hind is smaller than some modern bath tubs) is that he was also a privateer – or put another way a pirate licensed by the queen for a spot of pirating which is apparently quite different from being a lawless thug who deserves to be strung up.

Our story begins in September 1568 when Francis was approximately twenty-eight.  Francis, he had elven younger brothers not that it has anything to do with the story, was on a moneymaking expedition with his cousin Sir John Hawkins.  They’d been doing a spot of trading with Spanish settlers which was illegal because the Spanish wanted their settlers to buy all their goods from approved sources. Inevitably there had also been a spot of light piracy on the side.  Their little fleet of vessels put in to San Juan to carry out some repairs.  A Spanish fleet also arrived.  Drake and Hawkins thought they’d arrived at a “live and let live gentleman’s agreement” but the Spanish had other ideas.  Drake was lucky to escape.  It was the start of a lifelong animosity.

He was very good at being a pirate.  Hutchinson identifies the fact that for every £1.00 invested with Drake there was a £47.00 profit. No wonder Elizabeth I gave him a knighthood.

large-drake-knighted2.jpg

As the relationship between England and Spain deteriorated Drake occupied ports, burned towns and pinched lots of loot.  Philip in Spain was not amused.  One of the reasons, apart from adding to her treasury, that Elizabeth was pleased to encourage Drake was because Spain had its own financial difficulties and for every carrack and galleon that Drake captured there was another ratchet of financial pressure to be twisted on Spain.  The bigger Philip’s financial problems the more likely that any projected invasion would have to be deferred.

Unfortunately Pope Sixtus V was quite keen on re-establishing Catholicism in England and, even though he was as almost famously tightfisted as Elizabeth I, he stumped up the cash – well he promised 1,000,000 ducats for the venture provided the invasion was successful.  Until that time the money was held by a middle man.  In any event the Enterprise of England was underway.

Walsingham received news of Philip’s planning and preparations in February 1587. In assorted coastal locations across the south various officials suffered from palpations at the thought of the Spanish landing on their doorstep- let’s just say there were one or two false sightings. John Hawkins and Francis Drake argued that it was time to take the war to Spain rather than sitting around waiting for them to turn up – their arguments were entirely militarily sound but undoubtedly the lure of profit held its own siren call.

Walsingham and the earl of Leicester supported the idea. On 25 March 1587 Elizabeth I agreed that Drake could go and do nasty things to Spanish vessels on the pretext of supporting Dom Antonio, a claimant for the Portuguese Crown which Philip II had collected for himself.  She sent off the Elizabeth Bonaventure, the Golden Lion, the Dreadnaught and the Rainbow.  The rest of the vessels under Drake’s command were financed by private investors hoping to turn a profit (think of London Merchants as being a bit like modern hedge fund investors.)  The Merchant Adventurers even had an appropriate contract for the occasion which is somewhat eyebrow raising to a modern reader.

It was all very hush hush because, after all, England was not at war with Spain.

Vessels sailed from London to Plymouth.  The entire fleet sailed on the 12 April, Drake having penned a cheery note to Walsingham, prior to his departure. Once his vessels were out of sight over the horizon Elizabeth changed her mind and ordered him home because piracy is as we all know a very wrong thing, as is setting fire to other people’s boats.  She sent a fast pinnace with the new orders to Drake…it never reached him, perhaps because its crew was too busy engaged in piracy on their own behalf.

Drake, meanwhile, was bound for Cadiz. The original plan was that he should aim for Lisbon but Cadiz was the Armada’s supply base. There was also only one entrance channel to the harbour and it passed directly beneath the gun strewn city walls. It would take a daring commander to assault the ships at anchor there.

On 29th April Drake arrived, held a council of war, lowered his flags and sauntered in battle formation toward the harbour entrance. The citizens of Cadiz only realised that they had sighted a hostile force when Drake opened fire and then raised his flags once more.  Panic erupted. Cadiz’s mayor tried to send the town’s women and children to safety in the castle but it’s captain had the gates shut causing further pandemonium.

Meanwhile Spanish galleys tried to lure the English warships onto the sandbanks that surrounded Cadiz with no success. During the next two days Drake and his men sank or fired a variety of Spanish vessels as well as Geonese merchantmen.

The Spanish militia was sent for in a bid to prevent the English gaining access to the inner harbour and they also attempted to send fireships out amongst the English fleet. These were promptly towed off whilst the English burned something like 13,000 tons of shipping and as usual looted where possible. The Spanish claimed they had lost twenty four vessels but one of Drake’s men put the total closer to sixty.

One of the key successes to the venture  was the loss to the Spanish of the wooden staves that had been destined for the manufacture of barrels which would have held the Armada’s fresh water and salted meat.  Poor provisioning was one of the key reasons for the number of Spanish deaths associated with the Armada.

During the action there was even time for an exchange of prisoners with the English offering their recently captured Spanish prisoners in return for English galley slaves.  Drake took the opportunity to ask about the size of the Armada and when told that it was more than two hundred warships in size is alleged to have shrugged his shoulders and said that it wasn’t such a lot. You might not like the man or his methods but you have to admire the swash in his buckle.

Drake and his fleet eventually sailed off and spent the rest of the month looking for Spanish vessels to capture. On the 14 May he was off  Lagos but the town was too strongly defended to be attacked so he went on to Cape Sagres where he ransacked various churches and a fortified monastery. He continued to be a nuisance in the shipping lanes. On 27 May he celebrated  his success in his usual understated style;

“We have taken forts, barques, caravels and divers other vessels.”

Drake was clearly a man with one eye on his own press cuttings.

On the 18th June the San Felipe was sighted.  It had cargo worth £108,049 13s and 11d in precious jewels, silks and spices.  Elizabeth’s share in the profit  from the capture was £40,000.  Drake was not arrested for piracy as soon as he arrived back on English shores (I can’t imagine why!) Elizabeth was heard, somewhat gleefully, telling the French Ambassador that Cadiz had been destroyed. The inference being that if it had happened once it could very well happen again.

Drake would go on to be hailed as an English hero for his part in the Armada Campaign – his alleged game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe is part of national folklore.  Inevitably after the first part of the battle in which the English fleet chased after the Spanish Drake couldn’t help but revert to form. Drake shadowed the Spanish fleet with a light burning at his stern as a guide to the following English fleet. Unfortunately the light went out. Once a pirate always a pirate.  The Spanish ship Rosario was in dire straits and Drake couldn’t resist taking it as a prize which was unfortunate as without the light to give some indication of what was happening the rest of the English vessels ran the risk of running straight into the back of the Spanish  fleet which is what Lord Howard of Effingham aboard the Ark Royal almost did. Drake would later claim that he had gone off to investigate a strange vessel which turned out to be a German merchant but Lord Howard wasn’t totally convinced.  Hutchinson makes the point that court marshalling the queen’s favourite pirate probably wasn’t on the cards either. Martin Frobisher was less circumspect in his account noting that Drake wanted the spoils of war for himself but that he, Frobisher, was going to get his share.

And just for the record, despite what most folk might think, it was not Sir Francis Drake who commanded the English fleet during the Armada it was Lord Howard of Effingham. So why you might ask is Sir Francis on my list of heroes? I’ve even posted about him before now (click here to open new page) Well, I would have to say that the actual historical man isn’t.  Quite frankly he sounds like a bit of a chancer albeit a lucky and a courageous one with a strong sense of self.  The Sir Francis who I admire is the romantic and literary creation, or perhaps propoganda, of post-Armada England.  He is brave and chivalrous and probably rescues kittens stuck up trees before helping braces of little old ladies across the road.  The popular perception of Sir Francis Drake is that of the plucky Englander with a heart of oak and virtues to match – his heirs can be seen on any repeat of Dad’s Army – overcoming adversity through bravery and guile.  He is representative of a long line of almost mythical defenders of an Island Nation.

With Elizabeth the concept of a Medieval European empire of the kind ruled over by Henry II, dreamed about by Edward III and written about by Shakespeare in his history plays was finally consigned to the History books.  Mary Tudor may have died with Calais written on her heart but her sister and her closest advisers set about creating something new  during Elizabeth’s forty year reign. Elizabeth and her government painted a picture of a Protestant sea-faring nation standing David-like against the Catholic Goliath in its Spanish guise. England’s new band of brothers would be sea farers.  This, undoubtedly, was playing fast and loose with the truth but I do like a good story, and besides, my Dad told it to me – which is, of course, how History turns into folklore.

 

 

Hutchinson, Robert. (2013) The Spanish Armada. New York: Thomas Dunne Books

 

 

Sir William Brereton (1604-1661) – Parliamentarian Commander of Cheshire

sir william brereton

Sir William Brereton from Cheshire has cropped up several times in my reading during the last couple of weeks. Initially it appears that Cheshire tried to sit on the fence. It sent no petitions to the king in the summer of 1642 whilst he was at York. Sir William Brereton, who had been an MP for Cheshire until Charles I dissolved Parliament, was a Deputy Lieutenant for the county and was in receipt of a memorandum from Parliament with regard to the recruitment of soldiers for the Earl of Essex’s army. He turned up at Lichfield, Nantwich and most importantly in Denbigh in 1645 when he was responsible for the defeat of the Royalists there, so who exactly was he?

 

He was born shortly after James I succeeded to the throne and by the time Charles I was king he had become a baronet. He seems to have travelled in the Low Countries and France. He was married to the daughter of Sir George Booth of Dunham Massey. Booth was well known for his puritanism. It is also apparent from William’s diaries that he leant towards puritanism and that as a JP in Cheshire he closed taverns and fined Catholics. It is perhaps not surprising to discover that by the end of 1642 he had been appointed to the position of commanding officer for the Parliamentarian troops in Cheshire.

 

An article in History Today reveals why history knows so much about the man. He was an inveterate letter writer. He wrote, it turns out, rather often with requests for assistance and cash in turning Cheshire into a godly Royalist-free county not that his ideal was realised during the 1643 summer of Royalist victories.

 

Sir_John_Gell_originalInitially Brereton tried to take hold of Chester for Parliament but was unable to capture it. Instead having taken Nantwich for the Parliamentarian cause in 1642 he made that his headquarters.  From there he ranged along the Welsh marches on Parliament’s behalf and down through Cheshire to Stafford. He came with Sir John Gell of Hopton in Derbyshire to the siege of Lichfield and was concerned at the later siege of Tutbury that his colleague was far too lenient on the Royalist defenders. Across the region Brereton was only defeated once at the Battle of Middlewich on December 26 1643 but he swiftly recovered from this as he had to return with Sir Thomas Fairfax to Nantwich when Sir George Booth managed to get himself besieged by Lord Byron and Cheshire was more or less completely in the hands of the Royalists not that this stopped Brereton from establishing an impressive network of spies loyal to Parliament.

 

thomas fairfaxIn January 1644 Sir Thomas Fairfax crossed the Pennines with men from the Eastern Association Army. On the 25th January his men were met by a Royalist army headed by Byron who was defeated. The place where the two armies collided was Necton but the disaster for the royalists has become known in history as the Battle of Nantwich. It meant that the king could not hold the NorthWest. Even worse Royalist artillery and senior commanders were captured along with the baggage train. None of this did any harm to Sir Thomas Fairfax’s reputation nor to Brereton who had command of the Parliamentarian vanguard.

 

It should be noted that one of his relations, another William Brereton was a Royalist. William Brereton of Brereton Hall at Holmes Chapel was married to the royalist general Goring’s daughter Elizabeth. Parliamentarian William did not hesitate to besiege his own relations who happened to disagree with him. Brereton Hall found itself under siege after the Battle of Nantwich.

 

In March 1644 Parliament granted him the right to “take subscriptions” in Cheshire to maintain his army not only against the Royalists but most especially against the hated Irish Forces for the “timely prevention of further mischiefs.”

 

Lord John ByronFrom there Brereton became involved in the siege of Chester – at Nantwich Byron had been outside the town whilst at Chester he was inside the walls.   In September 1645 Bristol in the command of Prince Rupert surrendered. The only remaining safe harbour to land troops loyal to the king was Chester. Lord Byron had withdrawn there following his defeat at Nantwich and Brereton had followed him. Byron held the river crossing and in so doing was denying the Parliamentarians a way into North Wales which was Royalist.

 

Bereton began by trying to scale the walls. When that strategy failed he set up blockades and tried to starve them out. In March the slimline Royalists and disgruntled townsfolk were given some respite by the arrival of Prince Maurice but in April Brereton returned and Chester’s rather lean diet continued. It didn’t help that Maurice had removed more than half of Byron’s men leaving only six hundred soldiers to defend the walls. By September the parliamentarians had pressed forward and were shelling Chester’s inner walls. The king himself set out to relieve the siege and possibly to break out from the Midlands and Wales.

 

Charles and his men were able to enter the city over the River Dee from the Welsh side of the city as that was still in Royalist hands. The idea was that Chalres and his cavalry would nip around the back of the besiegers and at the appropriate time Byron and his men would come bursting out of Chester squashing Brereton like a slice of meat between two Royalist slices of bread. King Charles took his place in Chester’s Pheonix Tower to watch the action. Unfortunately the Battle of Rowton Heath on 24 September 1645 did not go according to plan. Charles left Chester the following day with rather fewer men than he arrived, returning to the safety of Denbigh.   From there he would go to Newark and on 5th May 1546 surrender himself into the custody of the Scots at Southwell.

 

Meanwhile Byron absolutely refused to surrender so Brereton’s men started mining beneath Chester’s walls, kept up a constant artillery barrage and ultimately encircled the city. It was the mayor of Chester who persuaded Byron that enough was enough. After Chester surrendered in January 1646, Brereton mopped up what royalists there still were in his region and in the course of his endeavours travelled as far south as Stow-on-the-Wold becoming the parliamentarian commander to take the surrender of the last royalist army in the field in 1646. It is perhaps not surprising given his capabilities that like Oliver Cromwell he was excluded from the Self Denying Ordinance that prevented members of Parliament from holding military commissions.

 

Interestingly after the end of the second, short lived, English Civil War he took no real part in the politics of the period. For instance he refused to sit as one of Charles I’s judges. It is perhaps for this reason that upon the Restoration in 1660 that he was allowed to continue to live in Croydon Palace which had been the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury but which a grateful Parliament had given to Brereton.  Brereton had expressed his puritan views about Archbishop Laud, Charles I’s arminian archbishop by having his private chapel turned into a kitchen.

 

Brereton died the following year and managed with his death to add to the folklore of Cheshire.  He died at Croydon Palace on the 7th April 1661 but he wished to be buried in Cheshire at Handforth Chapel near Cheadle where several of the family were buried including Sir Urien Brereton.  Unfortunately it would seem that his coffin didn’t get there being swept away by a river in full spate as the funeral cortège was crossing it which is unfortunate to put it mildly although having said that he appears, according to findagrave.com to be safely buried in the church of St John the Baptist, Croydon also known as Croydon Minster.

 

For reference, and I don’t think I can describe it as a surprising connection given that the name is the same,  the family was related to the earlier Sir William Brereton who had a bit of a reputation as a womaniser in Henry VIII’s court which was unfortunate because having delivered jewels to Anne Boleyn from the king and also given her a hound (which she named after Urien Brereton- the one buried At Handforth Chapel) he found himself in the rather unfortunate position of going from one of the king’s most trusted men (even being present at the wedding between Henry and Anne Boleyn) to being accused of being one of Anne Boleyn’s lovers in 1536.  He was tried for treason on the 12 May 1536 and was beheaded on the 17th May.

Porter, Stephen. http://www.historytoday.com/stephen-porter/letter-books-sir-william-brereton

http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1604-1629/member/brereton-sir-william-1604-1661

https://www.hslc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/47-8-Robinson.pdf

 

‘March 1644: An Ordinance to enable Sir William Brereton Baronet, one of the Members of the House of Commons, to execute the several Ordinances of Parliament for advance of money within the County of Chester, and County and City of Chester, and to take Subscriptions for the better supply and maintenance of the Forces under his Command, for the security of the said places, and for prevention of the access of the Irish Forces into those parts.’, in Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum, 1642-1660, ed. C H Firth and R S Rait (London, 1911), pp. 409-413. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/acts-ordinances-interregnum/pp409-413 [accessed 24 February 2018].

 

Nunnington Hall – Jacobites, cypher and ghosts.

Picture 170Nunnington Hall in Ryedale is built on land originally owned by St Mary’s Abbey in York. The hall is fifteenth and sixteenth century in origin –so no medieval links to feasting or law should you pause a while in the double height hallway with its baronial fireplace  but its perhaps unsurprising to discover that there was a building here in the thirteenth century.

 

The_Marquess_of_Northampton_by_Hans_Holbein_the_Younger.jpgThe history of  Nunnington’s owners is lively. It passed into the Parr family when Maud Green married Sir Thomas Parr of Kendal. As the elder of the two co-heresses it was Maud who acquired Nunnington. Maud died in 1532. Her son William inherited the property but unfortunately for him the then Marquess of Northampton became involved in Wyatt’s Rebellion of 1553. The bid to replace mary Tudor with Lady Jane Grey failed. Jane had not plotted but her father the duke of Suffolk had become involved. He, his daughter and his son-in-law were promptly executed. Parr was fortunate to suffer only attainder. Nunnington was forfeit to the Crown.

 

220px-Viscount_prestonNunnington was leased out to various families including Elizabeth I’s physician but in 1655, after the English Civil War, the manor was sold to Ranald Graham. He was succeeded by his nephew Sir Richard Graham of Netherby in Cumbria. He was made Viscount Preston and Baron Esk in 1681. He would also marry into the Howard family when he married the daughter of the earl of Carlisle. He served under Charles II and James II. He even did a turn as English ambassador in France. In 1689 his luck turned when he sided with James II rather than William of Orange and James’ daughter Mary. Graham was captured on his way across the Channel. Even as his escape vessel was boarded he made every attempt to destroy incriminating documents. He was attainted and sentenced to death in 1691. The sentence was never carried out because Queen Mary spared him when his daughter Catherine pleaded for his life- it may also have helped that he did turn evidence against his fellow conspirators- but his lands were parcelled out to, amongst others, the earl of Carlisle. It was just as well that it had all been kept in the family because Richard was allowed home and his son Edward eventually inherited Graham’s estate although it was his daughter Catherine by then Lady Widdrington who ultimately inherited Nunnington when her nephew Charles died – the names give an indication of continued Graham loyalty to the Stuart cause…though how the Jacobites felt about Lord Preston giving evidence against them is another matter entirely.

 

The Graham family maintained their loyalty to the Jacobite cause particularly Richard’s daughter Catherine. Even today if you visit the house you can see a ring which contains a lock of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s hair, an Order of the Garter and blue garter ribbon belonging to Prince Charles Edward Stuart and fragments of Jacobite plaid.

The symbolism of the Jacobite cause is hard to ignore and in additon to drinking toasts to the king over the water it turns out that some families advertised their loyalty to the cause by planting Scots’ pine in a prominent position. There is one at Nunnington. There is even a notebook discovered in 2011 filled with cipher which is still unexplained made by Graham and hidden under the floorboards.

 

So there is the Bonnie Prince Charlie link and now for the second of the ghost stories:

It is said that one of Nunnington’s squires being a widower with a young son remarried. The new wife quickly provided a second son for the squire and when the squire died she set about ensuring that her son inherited rather than his elder half-brother.

At first the woman locked her step-son in an attic where he was ill clothed and poorly fed. Orders were given that no one was to have anything to do with the boy. The only person who dared to defy this order was the boy’s younger half-brother. He would take toys, clothes and food up to the attics and spend time there. However, one day he made his accustomed climb up the stairs to find the room deserted and no sign of what had become of the older boy.

It was suggested by some that he had either been sent to sea or run away to sea. Less kind folk hinted that the boy’s step- mother had murdered the lad.

The little boy now inherited Nunnington but he was devastated by the disappearance of his brother and believed that the boy would return. One day he thought he heard his brother, leant to far out of the window and fell to his death. The boy’s mother took to sitting in the panelled room where her son had fallen and it wasn’t long before she too died. It is said that the sound a a rustling silk gown can be heard as the woman searches for ever for her own dead boy.

I’d have to admit that Nunnington Hall is a tad on the draughty side but I spend rather more time trying to photograph the peahen’s chicks than stalk ghosts.

 

 

 

‘Parishes: Nunnington’, in A History of the County of York North Riding: Volume 1, ed. William Page (London, 1914), pp. 544-548. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/yorks/north/vol1/pp544-548 [accessed 17 December 2017].

 

Material Culture and Sedition, 1688-1760: Treacherous Objects, Secret Places

By M. Pittock