William Beauchamp – providing for a younger son and tracking inheritances

1st Baron Abergavenny

William Beauchamp was the 3rd surviving son of the 11th Earl of Warwick and his wife Katherine Mortimer, a daughter of Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March. William’s eldest brother Guy died in battle, his second brother became the 12th earl. Another brother died young. William who had been destined for the church found his career path changing. Ordinarily if not a clerical career he might have been expected to make his own way in the world either as a warrior or by a judicious marriage to an heiress. He served during the Hundred Years War when younger sons could bag considerable amounts of booty as well as establishing a reputation up on the field. By 1383 he was the Captain of Calais. And then his first cousin once removed died – conveniently.

John Hastings, 3rd Earl of Pembroke died at the end of December 1389. This earl had been married as a child to John of Gaunt’s daughter, Elizabeth. She had been seventeen at the time and decided that marriage to a child was not for her, was seduced by Richard II’s half brother John Holland and John of Gaunt had to unravel the marriage so that his daughter could marry her lover. Hastings, despite the embarrassment was something of a catch so ended up married to Philippa Mortimer who was the daughter of the 3rd Earl of March (making Philippa the great great grand daughter of the treasonous 1st earl). When Hastings was seventeen he took part in a joust and was struck by his opponents lance. He died from his injuries.

The earldom of Pembroke was allocated elsewhere but the baronage of Abergavenny had come into the Hastings family via the Cantilupe family. William de Cantaloupe died in 1254 and his claim to the barony was by right of his wife Eva de Braose. Hastings in his turn claimed the barony from his childless uncle’s estate, by right of his mother Joan. No clearer? Well if nothing else it shows that following the female line demonstrates the way families and power bases were knitted together throughout the medieval period.

But back to the Beauchamps. Young John Hastings grandmother was Agnes Mortimer, a sister of William’s mother Katherine. So there’s the relationship – 1st cousin, once removed. Parliament named him Baron Bergavenny by writ in 1392.

William made his healthy marriage to Joan FitzAlan the daughter of the executed Earl of Arundel in 1392. Like the Earl of Warwick, Arundel was a Lord Appellant. The groom was more than 30 years older than the bride. Joan was her brother’s co-heiress, when he died without children Joan received a substantial share of the estate.

When her husband died Joan retained dower rights to Abergavenny throughout her life time. Her son was never recognised as Baron Bergavenny in her lifetime. She died in November 1435.

Right – I think I need a strong coffee after all that!

Shouldham Priory

Shouldham village sign

Guy Beauchamp died in 1360 leaving two young daughters by his wife Philippa Ferrers who was descended from King Edward I. He predeceased his father by almost a decade. Rather than the Warwick estates and earldom passing to Katherine Beauchamp – Guy’s daughter the estate passed to Guy’s brother Thomas who became Earl of Warwick after his father’s death. It’s possible that Guys daughters were forced to become nuns so that their uncle could inherit. One daughter died during infant whilst the other, Katherine, had become a nun at Shouldham by 1369. At that time she was just sixteen.

Shouldham in Norfolk was a Gilbertine priory – a double house containing both monks and nuns separated down the middle of the priory church. It’s founder was Geoffrey FitzPiers – an earl of Essex who made his settlement upon the house circa 1197 during the reign of King Richard I. As well as a large manor and lands he also arranged for the new priory to receive a number of shops in London (Blomefield, An Essay, vol 7, pp.414-15 in Elkins, Holy Women, p.122). FtizPiers was buried there in 1212 with his first wife, Beatrice, who whose body was moved to Shouldham from Chicksands. FitzPiers’ son, William de Mandeville continued to patronise the foundation and was also buried there – it was this Earl of Essex who was noted for siding with the barons against King John . By 1248 Henry III granted a weekly market to the foundation.

A licence paid in 1386 to King Richard II revealed that the Beachamp family gave the priory lands in order for its inhabitants to pray for Guy Beauchamp who died in 1360, for his wife Philippa Ferrers and for Katherine their daughter who was still alive at the time. Katherine was not alone, her aunt Margaret was also a nun at Shouldham. Tilotson described Shouldham as ‘a convenient repository for embarrassing members of the family’ (Tillotson:p.4).

The link to the Beauchamp Earls of Warwick had been created when William Beauchamp, the 9th earl (who was a personal friend of King Edward I and noted for his military campaigns in Wales) married Matilda FitzJohn who was a great-great grand daughter of Geoffrey FitzPiers. Two of the couple’s daughters became nuns at Shouldham. The family continued to be associated with the priory until the reign of Henry VII.

Shouldham became associated with the imprisonment of Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March’s daughters Margaret and Joan in 1324 but had been notorious before when Richard Mail bought a case against the prioress and the sisters claiming that they had assault him and ransacked his house.

The priory was dissolved during the reign of King Henry VIII having found to be worth £138, 18s, 1d and was the second wealthiest nunnery in Norfolk which is why it was saved from the first round of dissolution. Its respective wealth was in part because of the earlier patronage of the Beauchamp family. The priory’s Cromwellian visitors were Thomas Legh and John Ap Rice who described impropriety by two nuns. None-the-less the prioress received a pension in 1539 when the house was eventually dissolved. The priory manor remained in Crown hands until the reign of King Edward VI. It was sold in 1553 to Thomas Mildmay.

Blomfield, Francis, An Essay Towards the Topographical History of the County of Norfolk, volume 7, (London, 1807)

Ellins, Sharon K, Holy Women of Twelfth Century England, (1988)

Tillotson, John, H. Marrick Priory, A Nunnery in Late Medieval Yorkshire, (York, University of York, 1989)

‘House of Gilbertines: The priory of Shouldham’, in A History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 2, ed. William Page (London, 1906), pp. 412-414. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/norf/vol2/pp412-414 [accessed 12 January 2022].

Robin of Redesdale or Robin Mend-all

In April 1469 parts of the north rose in rebellion against Edward IV. John Neville, the Earl of Northumberland – the Percy family having been displaced for a time – put down the rebellion killing Robin, if Polydore Vergil is to be believed. A second leader took on Robin’s authority and name and the rebellion continued. it’s worth pointing out that John was the Kingmaker’s brother and that the Kingmaker, a.k.a the Earl of Warwick, orchestrated the uprising. Amongst the rebels demands was the removal of the Woodville family from power.

The real identity of Robin is unknown. He may have been Sir John Conyers or his brother William. Sir John was Middelham’s steward, related by marriage to the Nevilles and would fight alongside the kingmaker at the Battle of Edgecote in July 1469. Conyers was one of the casualties of the battle. Equally, it seems unlikely that Warwick’s brother would put down a rebellion fermented by the Kingmaker. An alternative source for the uprising might be the Percy family who had suffered a serious setback at Towton when their rivals the Nevilles emerged victorious and the Lancastrian king was toppled from power. The north became a Neville stronghold and in 1464 Neville became the Earl of Northumberland – which did not go down well with the locals. It should also be added that the rebels weren’t keen on the tax situation. None-the-Less the Warkwarth Chronicle places the blame for the rebellion squarely on the shoulders of Warwick.

Part of the problem in terms of understanding the rebellion, or even rebellions, and its participants is that the chronicles are often written at a later date and/or by writers living in the south. The Croyland Chronicler was not a fan of anyone who lived north of the River Trent – which isn’t even the north in He-who-is-occasionally-obeyed’s opinion but then he comes from Cumbria and most of the country is the south so far as he’s concerned. The other problem is that there’s no record of trials – there is a set of records sent to Calais (remember Warwick was the Captain of Calais)

A Talbot

Lacock Unlocked: https://wshc.org.uk/lacock/lacock-unlocked/our-favourite-documents/item/the-talbot-dog.html

Talbots were medieval hunting dogs, apparently something like a beagle – short legs, long ears and a curling tail. Oh, and they were white. They may have been quite heavy and slow but no one is quite sure how they worked within a hunting situation because the breed no longer exists. Given the number of monarchs who seemed to have spent their time crashing around in the undergrowth for one reason or another it is not unreasonable to blog about them at this time. There is even a theory that William the Conqueror arrived with the breed of dog.

The Talbot Earls of Shrewsbury took over the title from the Montgomery family. Henry I removed the earldom from his rebellious subjects. The title was given by Henry VI to John Talbot who fought during the Hundred Years War in 1442. Talbots feature on the Shrewsbury Coat of arms as charges and as supporters.

more medieval animals -supporters, sigils, charges and livery badges

I’m changing tack slightly this evening having skipped through bestiaries and peered into menageries it’s now time to take a look at medieval royal animals in heraldic terms. Supporters usually appear in pairs holding a shield up. Charges are depicted on the shield and a sigil is the symbol that appears on a seal. Livery badges were personal devices. Hope this isn’t too boaring…

Yup – tonight its the turn of the white boar which was used by Richard, Duke of Gloucester who ascended the throne as King Richard III. It’s not entirely certain why Richard used a boar by preference. It is often suggested that it was a play on Ebor or York. Richard’s wife, Anne Neville, used a white boar as well but her livery badge was chained and muzzled and was in fact associated with the earldom of Warwick. It has even been suggested that Richard chose this symbol when he was little more than a child based on the carvings at St Mary and All Saints at Fotheringhay.

A quick search of the Internet reveals plenty of white boar related posts – so I’ll keep this one short. Richard’s boar turns up on his standard, as supporters in the York Minster, as a badge and on livery collars. It even turns up as graffiti (Carlisle Castle).

Henry III’s elephant

Matthew Paris, British Library (CCCC MS 16, f. ivr)

It’s neither medieval nor an elephant but Cardinal Wolsey owned a pet cat. Just thought I’d throw it in. Anyway, King Louis IX of France gave Henry III, his brother-in-law, an African elephant – as you do. Inevitably it was packed off to the Tower where Matthew Paris saw and drew it. The poor elephant did not survive long in medieval London. It arrived in 1255 but was deadly 1257.

Apparently the elephant arrived at its destination having been traded during the Crusades. Louis led a crusade to Egypt. Louis was presented with the elephant as part of peace negotiations. The elephant was sent to France, et voila.In 1254, Henry III who was in Gascony at the time met up with Louis and the elephant was hastily passed on. As Louis gave Henry the elephant whilst in France it was Henry who had to transport the beast home – it gave the Sheriff of Dover a bit of a problem as Henry delegated the task,

Meanwhile monastic writers described the elephant as a symbol of Christ and hope of redemption. The writers of bestiaries listening to tales from travellers convinced themselves that elephants lacked knee joints and that if they fell over they couldn’t get up again. Apparently dragons were fond of baby elephants …as a light snack and elephants were also afraid of mice.

The Aberdeen Bestiary – elephant and dragon in combat.

Matthew Paris and Henry III’s elephant Richard Cassidy and Michael Clasby

King Henry I’s porcupine

Henry I had quite a collection of exotic animals including a porcupine and some hyaenas which he kept at Woodstock. Thankfully he built a large wall around it. The local population may initially have thought that he was establishing a deer park – so it may have come as something as a shock when the hyaenas arrived with the lions, leopards and camels. Henry arranged for fodder to be strewn for his non carnivorous pets by Henry de La Wade of Stanton Harcourt who also came to have responsibility for the royal falcons.

Which leaves us with the porcupine. It was a gift from William V of Montpellier who had gone on the First Crusade. Medieval bestiaries describe porcupines using their quills to spear fruit. They were also symbolic of sin -the fleshly ones apparently so an eminently suitable pet for womanising King Henry I. If you don’t fancy that particular sin othe bestiaries pinned avarice and covetousness on the porcupine and hedgehog – all those spikes collecting up everything around it.

Henry III would develop the menagerie Woodstock to form the basis of his own menagerie at the Tower of London which was initially founded by King John.

Grigson, Caroline, Menagerie: The History of Exotic Animals in England, 1100-1837, (Oxford University Press, Oxford 2016)

Poole, Austin Lane, From Domesday book to Magna Carta, 1087-1216 (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1951)

King Henry III’s polar bear

I know its not a polar bear!

What do you give a Plantagenet monarch in 1251/52? Well if you are the king of Norway (Haakon IV) you send a large white bear – possibly a polar bear although such a thing would not have been recognised by writers at the time – hence the reference to white bear. The bear, whose name is unknown, was duly ensconced in the Tower which must have come as a surprise to the lions and before long the bear was catching his own fish in the Thames. In addition to fishing rights, Henry III ordered that London’s sheriffs contribute 6d a day to support the bear and a strong rope for the handler who had to muzzle the creature before leading him down to the river to allow the bear to swim- presumably the bear and the handler got on well as there are no references to the need for regular replacement handlers.

It’s possible that a local tavern took up the name the White Bear’ because of Henry III’s pet – but that’s only speculation.

Samuel Pepys’ lion

Tower of London, lions

Alright – I know that the seventeenth century is not medieval by anyone’s stretch of the imagination – however, I just couldn’t resist.

Samuel Martin, a consul in Algiers and husband of one of Samuel’s old flames, sent Pepys a ‘tame’ lion as a gift in 1674. Sam decided that the lion would be best accommodated in his admiralty office in much the same manner as any other moggy. He wrote with his thanks and the information that ‘as tame as you sent him, and as good company.’ The cub eventually grew too big to be accommodated in Sam’s office at Derby House and he joined the menagerie in the Tower of London. Samuel had written about visits to the zoo in 1660 to see a lion named Crowly who was very tame.

Should you happen to be wandering near Seething Lane Garden where Pepys had his home you can find a carving of a lion.

The Tower of London has had a menagerie since the 1200s – which is definitely medieval. In medieval times, in order to get into the Tower visitors would have to cross a drawbridge to the lion tower built by King Edward I in about 1275 before entering. The tower was demolished during the Victorian period . In addition to lions the barbican also housed leopards.

Eventually it came to be believed, so it is said, that if a lion died someone in the royal family was about to die. The rumour was given credibility when a lioness died in 1603 shortly followed by Queen Elizabeth I.

Basilisks and cockatrices

A basilisk in a 13th-century manuscript, with one of its human victims, while being confronted by a weasel: Royal MS 12 C XIX, f. 63r https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2016/12/fantastic-beasts-at-the-british-library.html

It’s the beginning of December and I’m starting the annual advent count down to Christmas with a fabled creature from medieval bestiaries that gained more recent recognition thanks to a certain boy wizard. These creatures were allegedly hatched from the egg of a toad which had been incubated by a cockerel. As with most things scientific the medieval world took their cue from the Greeks. Pliny the Elder described basilisks killing with a single stare, being venomous and breathing fire. The Venerable Bede attested to the basilisk and Geoffrey Chaucer made mention of them.

In the event of coming across a basilisk the advice is to throw a weasel down its hole or burrow. Apparently, according to Pliny, who described the basilisk has having a deadly effect on everything in its vicinity including the vegetation, the weasel would become a fatality but the basilisk would succumb to the weasel’s smell. The weasel in this particular image from The British Library seems to be having a staring competition with the basilisk which has a resplendently serpentine tail attached to the body of a cockerel. An image of a basilisk held by the Bodleian Library shows the weasel being decidedly more aggressive and considerably larger that your average weasel. If you do encounter a basilisk but don’t have a handy weasel to lob at it, medieval writers professed the power of prayer. After all, the basilisk was an embodiment of evil. By the Renaissance, writers urged people to defend themselves with axes – presumably whilst avoiding the creature’s gaze.

A Weasel Combating a Basilisk, Folio 79, Bestiary of the Second Family, also known as The Ashmole Beastiary, Peterborough Abbey or Canterbury Abbey, c. 1200–10. BODLEIAN LIBRARY, OXFORD, MS ASHMOLE 1511

It has been suggested that Pliny was actually writing about a cobra – which hisses, spits and is deadly. Greek descriptions were used widely in bestiaries from the ninth century onwards. By 1100 they were becoming incorporated in alchemy. By the Renaissance writers were tripping over basilisks on a regular basis and inevitably charlatans were faking taxidermic examples. Francesco I de Medici had a particularly fine example on display in Florence.

I found this little chap on Pinterest. He originates in the bestiary of Anne Walshe dating from the early fifteenth century. Anne was a child and annotated several of the drawings. It can be found in the Royal Library of Copenhagen and can be viewed digitally online by following the link at the end of the post before the references.

http://www5.kb.dk/manus/vmanus/2011/dec/ha/object247995/en?id=%2Fmanus%2Fvmanus%2F2011%2Fdec%2Fha%2Fobject247995

R. McN. Alexander. “The Evolution of the Basilisk.” Greece & Rome, vol. 10, no. 2, [Classical Association, Cambridge University Press], 1963, pp. 170–81, http://www.jstor.org/stable/642817.