The Battle of the Spurs

henryholbeinThe Battle of the Spurs is also known as the Battle of  Guinegate. It took place on August 16 in 1513.

Essentially Henry VIII had a full treasury and wanted to be a traditional monarch which meant going to war in Europe, preferably against the French.  He was encouraged in this by the young men of his court who wanted fortune and glory. Polydore Vergil noted that the king was aware of his responsibility to seek military fame – and what better way to do it that to retrieve the Empire.  All that remained of Henry V’s campaign victories and the early empire of the medieval kings was Calais and its Pale.  This fitted nicely with his father-in-law Ferdinand of Aragon’s military plans.

0n 17 November 1511 Henry signed up to Treaty of Westminster and the Holy League  which promised to protect the papacy. The only thing better than fighting the French was to fight the French as part of a  holy war – you might describe it as a win-win situation so far as Henry was concerned.

 

Pope_Julius_IIThe Holy League was formed by Julius II with the intention of removing the French from Italy – so really and truly it is part of the Italian Wars which began in 1495 and were concluded in 1559.  Julius II realised the threat that the French posed and entered into an alliance with the Venetians in 1510.  Let us leave the tooings and froings of the European powers  aside – suffice it to say that in March 1512 Julius II withdrew the title  “Most Christian King” from Louis XII and then gave France to Henry VIII of England. There was the small matter of the French not wanting to hand France over to Henry.

 

ferdinand of aragonThomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset arrived in the basque regions with 10,000 men. They marched to Fuenterrabia where the plan was that an Anglo-Spanish force would capture Aquitaine.  Thomas Grey was the second marquess and the third son of Thomas Grey the eldest son of Elizabeth Woodville – meaning that our marquess was one of Henry’s half-cousins.  The family had a bit of a colourful relationship with the Tudors but now he was sent off to acquire Aquitaine. This suited Ferdinand of Aragon’s (pictured at the start of this paragraph) desire to put the French off invading Northern Spain.  He had his eyes on Navarre.  The English stayed put until August 1512 during which time Ferdinand didn’t provide the support to capture Aquitaine that he had promised to his son-in-law (which didn’t help Katherine of Aragon’s relationship with her spouse) and also tried to persuade Grey to help him in his campaign in Navarre. Grey refused to deviate from his task.

 

Whilst all this was going on finances ran low as did food and all I can say is that troops turned to wine and became rather unwell due to lack of food, poor hygiene and bad weather. 3,000 of them caught the bloody flux.  They blamed it on foreign food but generally speaking dysentery isn’t caused by garlic or wine.  Sir Thomas Knyvet died at this time. Ultimately Grey’s army mutinied and when he arrived home Grey was in the doghouse.  Henry considered trying him for dereliction of duty. It can’t have helped that Henry was hardly covered in glory at this point.

Somehow Grey managed to extricate himself and went with Henry the following year on campaign to France.  He was at the Siege of Tournai and the Battle of the Spurs.  In May 1513 English troops began to arrive in Calais.  By then the Emperor Maximilian had joined the Holy Roman League and Louis XII of France was trying to persuade the Scots to attack the English – which ended disastrously for the Scots at Flodden.  By the end of June Henry VIII was also in France having been outfitted by Thomas Wolsey who increasingly had the king’s ear at the expense of Katherine of Aragon – whose father had made something of a fool of Henry encouraging him to make an attempt on Aquitaine the previous year with the intent of using him as a distraction for his own ends.  Despite that Henry left Katherine as regent during his French campaign and to ensure that there wasn’t any unrest had the  Earl of Suffolk executed before he went – and let’s not forget that he was a cousin of sorts as well.  Edmund de la Pole was the Yorkist heir.  The Earl’s younger brother was in France so escaped Henry’s precautionary executions but it probably didn’t help that he called himself the White Rose.

 

On 24 July Henry and emperor Maximilian laid siege to Thérouanne. The Duc de Longueville was sent to relieve the town but  when the English saw the French cavalry make an attempt to supply the town they chased after it.  The French fled – hence the name Battle of the Spurs- suggesting that the French did more fleeing than fighting!

 

Part of the reason for the French confusion was because Henry Percy, the Fifth Earl of Northumberland appeared with English cavalry in front of the French forces whilst they were also potentially outflanked by English archers.

 

There was an undignified chase with the French trying to get their men to stop and fight.  Henry and the Holy Roman Emperor captured six French standards and the Duc de Longueville.  The duc, Louis d’Orleans, was packed off back to England where he was ensconced in the Tower.  Whilst he was a prisoner he began a relationship with Jane Popincourt, a Frenchwoman who had been in the household of Elizabeth of York, who is also alleged to have been one of Henry VIII’s mistresses.  Certainly when all the shouting was over and Henry’s sister Mary Tudor was married off to the aged Louis XII he struck Jane’s name from a list of women in Mary’s household.  When Jane did eventually go to France to join Longueville, Henry gave her £100 which might have been for loyalty to Elizabeth of York, might have been for tutoring the Tudor children in French and it might have been for other things – unfortunately the accounts don’t give that kind of information.

 

Really and truly  the Battle of the Spurs is not a battle in the truest sense of the word but it did bulk up Henry VIII’s martial reputation and answered what he’d arrived in France for in the first instance – i.e. glory and prestige on a European stage.

 

Thérouanne surrendered on the 22 August.

 

Hutchinson, Robert. (2012) Young Henry: The Rise of Henry VIII. London: Orion Books

Weir, Alison. (2001) Henry VIII: King and Court. London: Jonathan Cape

 

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

 

The coronation of Henry I

henry iiiUpon the death of William Rufus, Henry hastened to Winchester where the royal treasury happened to be located.  Henry was the fourth son of William the Conqueror and he had inherited no land from his father although under the terms of the Conqueror’s will he had been left money.

Under normal circumstances it would have been William and Henry’s older brother who inherited England.  Robert Curthose inherited Normandy from William the Conqueror and after some nastiness with William eventually came to terms with his younger sibling and took himself off on crusade.  When William died in the New Forest Robert was on his way home from the Holy Land.

Henry on the other hand was in England and able to seize the opportunity that presented itself.  Having taken control of the treasury he then ensured that some barons elected him as their king in a nod to the Anglo-Saxon practice of the Witan electing kings and arranged for his coronation to take place as soon as possible.  This took place in Westminster on 5th August 1100.

Henry I’s Coronation Charter is the earliest one to survive.  It is thought that the charter was part of the process by which a king came to the throne in Anglo-Saxon times.  The new king would essentially say to his barons this is what I’m giving you in return for your support of me. More than one copy of the charter exists suggesting that is was circulated in the shires. Basically he condemns William Rufus’ rule “the kingdom has been oppressed by unjust exactions” and then claims that by becoming king Henry has brought peace to the English Nation.  It is said that Henry I’s Coronation Charter is the basis for Magna Carta.  The charter is also called the Charter of Liberties in some sources.

Henry promises that he will not take property that belongs to the Church.  He also says that whilst he expects his barons to consult the monarch in the matter of their daughters’ marriages that he will not exact a tax for them being allowed to marry.  He also explains that if a baron dies with underage heirs that Henry will determine who those heirs will marry but that he will consult with the rest of his barons in the matter.  He also recognises that widows shouldn’t be required to remarry without their consent in the matter.

As well as dealing with feudal matters and wardship Henry also tackles the royal mint.  He makes it clear that it is the king who mints the coinage – no one else is permitted to do so.  He also makes sure that all the royal forests used by William the Conqueror remain in his own hands.  This is a rather clever wheeze of ensuring that if anything had been given away or sold by either William the Conqueror or William Rufus it now returned to the Crown – an veritable example of “having your cake and eating it.”

Essentially the charter places Henry and his successors under the rule of law.  Henry was aware that there had been recent rebellion and resentment of William Rufus.  There was also the small matter of the difficult relationship with the Church.  At a stroke Henry sets the clock back to zero and in so doing gives the barons president for Magna Carta and in turn for the Provisions of Oxford which Henry III was forced to accept by Simon de Montfort in 1264 and which Edward I was prudent enough to adapt in the Statute of Westminster.  It is perhaps not surprising then that Henry’s by-name is Beauclerk – or good scholar.

Henry I would reign for thirty-five years.  He set about bringing unity to his kingdom  not only with his barons but also with his Saxon commoners by marrying Edith of Scotland, the daughter of St Margaret of Scotland (i.e. niece of Edgar the Aethling and granddaughter of Edmund the Exile, the son of King Edmund Ironside, who arrived back in England on the invitation of Edward the Confessor only to die in unexpected circumstances.)  Edith was too Saxon a sounding name so it was promptly changed to Matilda but it was said of Henry that his court was too Saxon.  Certainly his son William who was born in 1103 was called the Atheling in an attempt to weave two cultures together.  So we can also see movement of a wise king towards the unification of his people.  Of course it wasn’t as straight forward as all that not least because William was his only legitimate male heir and he was drowned in 1120 when the White Ship sank.

After the death of his son, Henry remarried to Adela of Louvain who I have posted about before.

It was just as well that Henry had been so conciliatory to his barons and the wider population because in 1101 big brother Robert did invade England.  But, possession is nine tenths of the law and Henry gave him his properties in Normandy as well as an annuity to go away and leave England alone.  In 1106 Henry took advantage of the political turmoil in Normandy and beat Robert at the Battle of Tinchebrai – no more annuities and an entire duchy to add to the list of things that Henry owned although Robert’s son William Clito was unhappy about the outcome for obvious reasons.  Henry drew the line at killing his older brother but Robert would remain a prisoner for the rest of his life.

https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/coronation-charter-of-henry-i

http://www.arts.cornell.edu/prh3/MDVL%202130/Texts/1100charter.pdf

The Battle of Evesham

simon de montfortI am leaping around historically speaking at the moment. The Battle of Evesham was fought on the morning of the 4th August 1265.  Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester was in Evesham when news arrived that the royal army under the leadership of Prince Edward had been sighted – probably from the abbey.  Despite holding Henry III captive, De Montfort was outnumbered by as many as three to one which is why he started the battle with a cavalry charge which had it succeeded would have split Edward’s army and given de Montfort an opportunity to escape from Evesham with most of his men.  He had to charge uphill which was never going to be tactically satisfactory.  Unfortunately for de Montfort Prince Edward was going to turn into King Edward I – probably England’s most effective martial king. Edward learned much from de Montfort regarding tactics when he’d been at the receiving end of them at the Battle of Lewes. Now he employed them against de Montfort himself. The royal army swung in from both sides on de Montfort’s flanks and after several hours fighting it became a rout.  Henry III barely escaped with his life so eager was the royal army to let blood.

 

There was even a thunder storm to add  some atmosphere to an already bloody battle.  As many as 4000 of de Montfort’s 6000 men were killed. Many of the nobles that fought on his side were slaughtered including de Montfort and his son Henry.  Prince Edward did not offer any quarter regarding de Montfort as a rebel who needed to be extinguished. This was unusual at the time as it was generally accepted that quarter would be given and ransom obtained.  De Montfort was killed by Roger de Mortimer.  It proved to be the decisive battle of this particular Barons’ War –the Second one- but it would be another two years before peace was restored to the kingdom on account of many of the rebellious barons having well defended castles.

 

Almost inevitably the town and abbey of Evesham suffered in the aftermath of the battle.  Simon de Montfort, whose body was badly mutilated, was finally buried near the high altar in the abbey.  Only the bell tower remains today.

Our story actually began when Henry III tried to turn the clock back.  The Provisions of Oxford in 1258 had led to reforms from which many would argue parliamentary democracy had its foundation.  Henry III tried to undo the reforms and in 1264 had fought the Battle of Lewes.  In that battle de Montfort captured Henry III and Prince Edward, effectively allowing de Montfort to rule England for a year and to summon Parliaments thus drawing on Magna Carta which was about fifty years old at that point as well as the Provisions of Oxford.    De Montfort ensured that barons loyal to the Crown were fined or incarcerated – the Earl of Derby found himself in the Tower for instance.

However, things did not go all de Montfort’s way.  In May one of de Montfort’s supporters, the Earl of Gloucester (yup – that’s right he was a de Clare) suddenly changed sides.  The so-called Red Earl on account of his hair colouring and temper helped Prince Edward escape and put an army together.  He drew on his extended family and affinity – many of the Crown’s army came from the Welsh marches.  The outcome was the slaughter on the 4thAugust 1265 but ten years later in 1275 the Statute of Westminster accepted many of the Oxford provisions and there was reconciliation between Crown and barons.

A first hand account of the battle may be found at the National Archives. http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/magna-carta/battle-of-evesham/

 

 

 

 

The death of William Rufus – accident or murder

king-william-rufus-william-ii-house-of-normandy-1087-1100-1351385894_bOn the 2nd August 1100 William Rufus or rather William II of England, who was born in 1056, had a nasty accident whilst hunting at Brockenhurst in the New Forest.  He’d been king since 1087 and demonstrated that being the eldest son of the previous monarch wasn’t the most necessary of qualifications for taking over the job at that time.

William was the third of William the Conqueror’s four sons. Robert Curthose, the eldest son inherited Normandy which was viewed as the greater part of William’s patrimony.  There were also the usual family relationships to be considered as well as fate. The second son Richard died in 1075 whilst, er, hunting in the New Forest.  William the Conqueror’s youngest son, named Henry, was left money.

William Rufus was not satisfied with England but then he’d never particularly liked his brother Robert either. There is an account of him emptying a chamberpot over Robert’s head for a joke in his youth.  Before long William Rufus and Robert were at war.  William the Conqueror’s nobility had a bit of a problem.  Many of them owned land in both Normandy and England.  It was difficult to decide which one of the brothers they should effectively rebel against.  Ultimately each man made his brother his heir – demonstrating that neither of them could gain the upper hand. Eventually Robert felt secure enough to go off on a crusade and leave William in charge of Normandy in his absence.

Meanwhile the Anglo Saxon Chronicle was not overly delighted with William Rufus.  The chronicler described him as “harsh and severe” though it seems unlikely that it would have been possible to rule in those times if one were approachable and cuddly.  The Anglo Saxon Chronicle suggested that William was advised by evil councillors when it came to extorting heavy taxes from his subjects.  One reason for William’s need for cash were his wars.  It was the Rufus who took on the Scots with regard to the ownership of Cumberland and he also made a less successful foray in Wales.  Then of course there was his war with his brother over Normandy.

So, back to 2nd August 1100.  The hunting party was composed of Gilbert and Roger de Clare.  There was also a man named Walter Tirel the would-be son-in-law of  Richard de Clare.  William Rufus’s little brother Henry was also on the scene.

The day hadn’t begun well.  A messenger had arrived from the Abbot of Gloucester with the news that a monk had dreamed that the king would be killed in the event of him going hunting that day.  William was not impressed.   He wasn’t terribly impressed with the Church full stop.  He was inclined to mock clerics. In another version of the same story it was a friend who arrived with news of an unsettling area,  The group split into two parties in order to better chase the deer.  William was with Tirel.  Apparently there were two deer; one for each man.

William of Malmsebury chronicled what happened next:

“The sun was now declining, when the king, drawing his bow and letting fly an arrow, slightly wounded a stag which passed before him… The stag was still running… The king, followed it a long time with his eyes, holding up his hand to keep off the power of the sun’s rays. At this instant Walter decided to kill another stag. …Walter immediately ran up, but as he found him senseless, he leapt upon his horse, and escaped with the utmost speed. Indeed there were none to pursue him: some helped his flight…”

Instead of shooting a deer Tirel had shot the king through the chest and to make matters worse William tried to remove the arrow, thus hastening his death.  To all intents and purposes it looked very much like a tragic accident, although clearly there were those who had their doubts.  The Orderic Vitalis also contains an account of events.  It said that the sharpest arrows go to the man who knows how to inflict the deadliest shots.  Aside, rather understandably from Tirel fleeing the scene, instead of collecting up his brother’s body, Prince Henry dashed off to the treasury at Winchester and having secured it, declared himself to be the new king of England becoming Henry I on 5th August.  The de Clare’s were his key supporters and were handsomely rewarded by the new king.

Various historians have argued that the descriptions make it unlikely for Tirel to have been the murderer.  They talk about trajectory, distance and the account of the arrow that killed William glancing off the deer meaning that the arrow was more likely to have lost its power.  Mason’s biography of William Rufus, published in 2005 suggests that he was assassinated by a French agent. Mason puts forward the theory that William was planning to invade France and that Prince Louis effectively had him replaced with Henry who was not likely to be so bellicose. Mason pins the blame on Raoul d’ Equesnes who was in the household of Walter Tirel.

The evidence for it not being a genuine hunting accident nearly a thousand years down the line is circumstantial.  Usually it is pointed out that Tirel was not pursued, that Henry did rather well out of William’s untimely death and that the de Clare family didn’t do so badly either.

Tirel, having scarpered to one of his castles in France entertained Louis very shortly after William Rufus’s death.   Tirel never returned to England but not only was he not physically pursued he wasn’t pursued by the law either so his English estates were passed on to his children on his death.

 

The English forces which were gathered around the Solent ready for William Rufus  to invade France were sent home very shortly after Henry declared himself king.

 

William Rufus’s body was found by a charcoal burner and it was he who transported  the body back to Winchester.  The image of William from the Stowe Chronicle shows him clutching an arrow.

Mason, Emma. (2005)  William II: Rufus the Red King.