The wheel of fortune or rota fortunae features in Chaucer’s writing and in Shakespeare’s. Both Hamlet and Lear have something to say on the topic.
Dating from Classical times the goddess Fortuna is pictured blindfolded with a cornucopia in one hand and a wheel or a rudder in the other. The original concept of the wheel or even sphere was linked to the astrological frame in which the signs of the zodiac were placed. Boethius, writing in the sixth century, extended the idea. The problem with Fate was that it was pagan and the Church didn’t necessarily approve.
But by the medieval period the rota fortunae was being used to remind people that it was probably best to concentrate of God and the hereafter rather than earthly things because Fortuna can bring luck, fortune and power or can remove all those things at a slip of the wheel and because everyone is bound to their wheel they have no choice but to accept what Fate throws at them. Fortuna isn’t being capricious – she’s more of a Heavenly enforcer. It is God’s will whether your business venture is successful, whether there is a famine, whether you suddenly find yourself being usurped from your throne.
The concept of destiny is an important one in the medieval and Tudor world views. It is linked also to the concept of the Great Chain of Being – everything has it’s place and shouldn’t try to step out from the place that God has allotted. Another way of describing the Great Chain of Being is to call it Divine Order. Essentially the more “spirt” something has the closer it is to God so therefore the higher up the Great Chain of Being it is – ladies you will no doubt be delighted to know that we’re lower down the chain than men. You are where you are in a rigid social hierarchy because God wants it that way – so please don’t revolt because if you do the Divine Order will be upset and this will reflect across the universe…there will be storms and floods and strange and monstrous happenings.
So – we’ve all been given a place in the universe based on the Great Chain of Being. Our destinies are in the stars and allotted to us when we’re born – remember horoscopes are cast as part of the medical process and Books of Hours contain dates which are more auspicious than others for things like moving house, having blood taken and going on journeys. The wheel of fortune is in the background as the main controlling force in life – explaining all life’s successes and adversities, joys and tragedies. It helped explain all those things for which there seemed to be no explanation.
Of course the Renaissance and the concept of humanism sees things a bit differently.
Radding, Charles M. “Fortune and Her Wheel: The Meaning of a Medieval Symbol.” Mediaevistik, vol. 5, 1992, pp. 127–138. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/42584434. Accessed 16 Feb. 2021.
In 1586 the younger brother of Sir Edward Stafford, the English ambassador in Paris, went to see the secretary of the French ambassador, a man called Leonard des Tappes. Stafford had a plan. Des Tappes informed his master – Chateauneuf.
Stafford explained that the plan was to blow up the queen’s bed with the queen in it. Unfortunately the queen was afraid of the dark and never slept without one of her ladies in waiting. Stafford’s own mother Lady Dorothy Stafford served Elizabeth faithfully. Although the job title Mistress of the Robes hadn’t yet been created it was what Dorothy did.
The ambassador pointed out that the risk of blowing up Lady Dorothy was quite great. Stafford said that in that case it would probably be best to stab Elizabeth or possibly poison her.
Stafford was very swiftly arrested and escorted to the Tower as was Des Tappes. The ambassador was questioned and eventually admitted that he knew about the plot. What he should have done was to reveal to the Privy Council, to Cecil, to Walsingham…to any one who would listen really…that there was a dastardly plot afoot. He hadn’t blabbed which wrong footed him and effectively put him out of the complicated Anglo-French game of spies and intrigue for a significant month of two. He was placed under house arrest and thus unable to get anywhere near Mary Queen of Scots who was being quietly entrapped by Walsingham (Babbington Plot)
Elizabeth’s guard was doubled and she became much more wary of Mary Queen of Scots which was exactly what Walsingham hoped to achieve.
And Stafford, described in documents as “a lewd, discontented person?” His mother was very distressed at the thought that he might try to blow either her or the queen up so it’s unlikely that Elizabeth was aware that it was a ruse. Certainly he was in Walsingham’s pay as indeed had Moody been at various times.
The Spanish Ambassador wrote to Philip II telling the story. Apparently Lady Dorothy and her older son were not on good terms with little brother William but that William had pretended to be a Catholic and told the French that he would place a barrel of gunpowder in the bedroom and er, well – kerboom!
And whilst we’re on the subject of Dorothy Stafford her grandmother was Margaret Pole the 8th Countess of Salisbury – yes – that one. The daughter of the Duke of Clarence (the one drowned in a vat of Malmsey) married off to a member of Margaret Beaufort’s extended family and eventually executed without trial by Henry VIII in 1541 making her grand daughter Dorothy Stafford doubly related to some degree to Elizabeth I.
According to existing records Elizabeth I was healthy and active child apart from teething problems as documented by Lady Margaret Bryan. However as she arrived at adolescence her health deteriorated and she began to experience a series of chronic ailments.
There were some very obvious additional stress factors to take into consideration – at six she’d gained her fifth step-mother, a cousin, Katherine Howard. Less than two years later Katherine was sent to the block.
In Katherine Parr Elizabeth found some sort of family life and stability, although on occasion wife number six’s head did not rest easy on her shoulders.
Not long after the death of her father, Thomas Seymour asked her to marry him. She was thirteen. Less that six weeks after Henry VIII’s death Thomas went on to marry Katherine Parr and Elizabeth found herself living in the same household as Seymour. It was not long before the thirty-eight year old began making in appropriate advances to the fourteen year old princess. Ultimately she was sent away from the household, Katherine died after giving birth to Seymour’s daughter and Seymour’s ambition became so great that he once again looked to a taking a Tudor bride. This resulted in his execution. Elizabeth now became ill and required the attended of Edward VI’s physicians.
When Mary Tudor became queen Elizabeth used her health – stomach ache in particular- to avoid attending mass. After Wyatt’s Rebellion in 1554 Elizabeth began to look ill – so much so that the French ambassador de Noailles reported that she was being poisoned. Mary’s doctors examined her and blamed her poor health on watery humours. And no wonder, Elizabeth spent the years between 1554 and 1558 dissembling. Just before Mary’s death Elizabeth became ill and complained of pain when moving. She also experienced painful swelling. One of the problems was that Mary and her advisors did not know whether she was really ill or not.
Elizabeth also experienced fainting fits, insomnia, debilitating headaches, nightmares and depression. There was much stress involved in the preparation to become Gloriana!
“The Medical Personnel of Elizabeth I (1558–1603).” The Royal Doctors, 1485-1714: Medical Personnel at the Tudor and Stuart Courts, by Elizabeth Lane Furdell, NED – New edition ed., Boydell & Brewer, Rochester, New York; Woodbridge, Suffolk, 2001, pp. 67–97. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt14brw4d.7. Accessed 11 Jan. 2021.
Taylor-Smither, Larissa J. “Elizabeth I: A Psychological Profile.” The Sixteenth Century Journal, vol. 15, no. 1, 1984, pp. 47–72. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2540839. Accessed 11 Jan. 2021.
I’ve posted about Margaret Beauchamp of Bletsoe before. She is the mother of Margaret Beaufort – to the maternal grandmother of Henry VII. She was born in about 1410, the daughter of Sir John Beauchamp of Bletsoe in Bedfordshire.
In 1421 her brother John died and she became an heiress. She inherited the manors of Lydiard Tregoze in Wiltshire, Ashmore in Dorset as well as Bletsoe and Keysoe in Bedfordshire.
Four years later she married Sir Oliver St John. He died in 1437 in France. Margaret would marry again to John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset and have one child – Margaret Beaufort the mother of Henry Tudor. Margaret Beauchamp had effectively been elevated from the gentry to the aristocracy and her St John children became, at different times, more significant players upon the political chessboard as a consequence, sometimes with disastrous consequences.
Sir John St John, Oliver St John, Edith St John, Mary St John, Elizabeth St John, Agnes St John and Margaret St John were Margaret Beaufort’s half-siblings. Where there was close contact to Margaret Beaufort and the Tudors elevation followed.
MargaretSt John became the prioress of Shaftesbury Abbey. She was elected in 1492 demonstrating that the nuns knew which sides their bread was buttered and were demonstrating their loyalty to the Tudor regime.
Edith St John married Geoffrey Pole a member of the Cheshire gentry and that would have been fine had not her son Richard then been married to Margaret the daughter of the Duke of Clarence (the one who drowned in a vat of wine). Henry VII regarded it as a safe marriage which would effectively remove Margaret from the political game of crowns. Unfortunately for Edith’s Pole grandchildren and at least one great grand child Henry VIII was less convinced – Henry, Reginald, Arthur and Geoffrey Pole came to represent the last of the Plantagenet line. Margaret, Countess of Salisbury was executed without trial. Henry Pole her eldest son was executed and his son who had been imprisoned in the tower with his grandmother Margaret never emerged. Geoffrey narrowly escaped execution and went into exile where he had a breakdown. He eventually died in 1558 a few days before his more famous brother Cardinal Reginald Pole who spoke out against Henry VIII’s divorce.
Two more of Margaret Beaufort’s half-siblings married into the Scrope family. The Scropes were an important North Yorkshire family who spent a lot of time on the borders fighting the Scots. Elizabeth St John was initially married to William la Zouche, the fifth baron. The Zouches were later attainted for their loyalty to Richard III but by then Elizabeth having been widowed in 1462 had married John Scrope, Baron Scrope of Bolton (Bolton Castle in Wensleydale) and another Yorkist.
Elizabeth, despite her Lancastrian antecidents, was one of Edward V’s godparents. Perhaps this isn’t so surprising given that Margaret Beaufort, Elizabeth’s half-sister, was herself godmother to one of Edward IV’s daughters. It reflects the fact that all parties thought that the battle for the throne was over and were settling down to winning power and influence under the Yorkist regime. There was no reason to suppose that Edward IV would die young and leave a minor on the throne.
John Scrope despite being Henry Tudor’s step-uncle supported Richard III at Bosworth so required a pardon, which was forthcoming. Unfortunately he then became involved with Lambert Simnel’s rebellion of 1487 and was forced to pay a large fine and stay in London. Ultimately his services as a northern lord were required for the traditional activity of fighting the Scots which he did in 1497 by which time Henry’s Aunt Elizabeth had died.
Elizabeth’s brother Oliver, the younger of the Margaret Beaufort’s two half-brothers married the twice widowed Elizabeth Scrope of Bolton, sister of John Scrope. He died in 1497 in Spain but his body was returned for burial to East Stoke.
And that just leaves John St John who for the purposes of this post married and had children – all related to the Tudor crown. What it takes is a little bit of digging to discover is that John’s grandson born in 1495- perhaps unsurprisingly another John – was raised by Margaret Beaufort and that he became a courtier. We know for instance that he went to Calais with Cardinal Wolsey in 1521 and that he began to take a key role in the administration of Bedfordshire and Huntingtonshire.
We know that John attended the coronation of Ann Boleyn in 1533. Much of the information comes from the inscription on his tomb. It describes him as ‘custos’ to Princess Mary. A letter of 7 Jan. 1536 sent to Cromwell by ‘John St. John’ request that the King excuse the writer’s wife from being a mourner at the ex-Queen’s funeral, both because she was recovering from a pregnancy and because the writer, ‘being in service with my Lady Princess’, could not furnish the horses and servants needed for the occasion. Although Princess Mary had been officially deprived of that title since 1533, this is who St John must have meant. History can continue to track St John at his royal cousin’s family occasions including the funeral of Jane Seymour and the baptism of Prince Edward. He was also on hand to help put down the rebels in the 1536 Pilgrimage of Grace. In 1547 he stood down from Parliament so that his eldest son – an Oliver- could take his place. He died in 1558.
John had positioned his son to advance in the Tudor court by obtaining a place for Oliver in Prince Edward’s household. It is perhaps not surprising therefore that when Elizabeth I was crowned in 1558 that Oliver became Lord St John of Bletsoe. The family continued its loyalty to the Crown into the Stuart period gaining titles on the accession of Charles I but siding with Parliament at Edge Hill.
So on one hand the St John family remained part of the gentry but on the other they were trusted by the Tudors because they were family and as a consequence their value on the political board rose…sometimes rather dangerously.
And why am I digging around the St John family? Well it turns out that Sir Robert Dudley the illegitimate son the Duke of Leicester was descended via his maternal grandmother from the St John family making him a someone distant member of the Tudor family circle, proving once again that in Tudor England everyone appears to be related to everyone else!
Jumballs can be found in many different sixteenth and seventeenth century recipe books. They were a popular biscuit at the time. They could be flavoured with caraway seeds, rosewater or almonds depending on personal preference and what was in the cupboard.
25g (1oz) soft butter)
70g (3oz) caster sugar
1 egg beaten
15g (2oz) caraway seeds
160g (6oz) plain flour
Preheat the oven to 180c. Line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper. Beat the butter and rosewater well together, then cream in the sugar.
Mix in the beaten eggs. Then add the caraway seeds and flour. Work the mixture into a dough. It should be possible to handle. If too wet, add some more flour. Separate the dough into balls the size of a walnut, then form them into rolls about 5mm in diameter and 15cm long. Shape into rings, knots and plaits.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. (knots and plaits will take longer than rings).
This recipe comes from A Taste of Townend and were written by Elizabeth Burkett in 1699. Along with Christmas treats her recipe books contains cures and charms. Other recipes are available including one from the BBCGood Food magazine:
So why small biscuits in a festive count down to Christmas? – the spices and sugar would be expensive so these little biscuits represent a treat. They are also representative of the fact that society became more affluent because more people could afford the spices and sugars which were now becoming more readily available because of trade and the growth of Empire -which draws us on to the less pleasant fact that the sugar was becoming cheaper because it was being grown by slaves.
Paycocke House in Coggeshall was the home of a prosperous sixteenth century wool merchant. It was built- or rather added on to an existing building- at the beginning of the centry by Thomas Paycocke for his bride Margaret. Their initials are carved on the house along with the Paycocke merchant’s mark.
Not only did Thomas and his wife live in the house but it was also the centre of his business. What today is a lovely garden would have been a bustling hive of industry when Thomas was alive.
Coggeshall was famous at the time for undyed broadcloth – it’s sometimes called Coggeshall White. It’s described as a “bays” – so a baize if I’ve got it right is a variety of worsted fabric. Thomas not only used his own home for the cloth but he also sent pieces out to the homes of his workers – preparing, weaving and finishing. One of the reasons for “putting out” of work may have been that the extension was designed to impress rather than to be practical – the wealth on display certainly suggests that Thomas wanted to make an impression to his visitors – think of it as a showroom perhaps?
Thomas didn’t have sons. His second wife had a daughter. The house left the family in 1584 when the last male Payecock, a great nephew of Thomas, died. It passed into the hands of the Buxton family, who were related by marriage. The house continued to evolve. These days it’s a National Trust property and like many other National Trust properties in the area it has been partly planted with dye plants.
Thomas’s father had set Thomas on his way but the economic conditions of the period helped Thomas to become very wealthy. Raw wool prices slumped at the end of the fifteenth century – it began to rise relatively early in Henry VIII’s reign. In the meantime Payecock was able to export his cloth at a substantial profit.
How many of you spotted Cardinal Wolsey’s travelling sundial this week?
This delightful object was created by the German mathematician Nicolaus Kratzer in 1522. He came to England in about 1518 and was astronomer to King Henry VIII. The base has Wolsey’s coat of arms on one side, the arms of York Minster – he was it’s archbishop form 1514 onwards- on the other and on the two smaller sides there’s a cardinal’s hat.
The sundial is polyhedral – basically it tells the time in a number of different ways depending on which side you’re using. And yes it is completely covered in gold. Aside from being a very busy man who needed to get to his meetings on time Wolsey was also demonstrating that he was a cultured and learned chap. Or put another way he liked beautiful and complicated things and if you were really lucky you might be invited to take a closer look if you visited him – so a conversation piece as well.
Holbein depicted Kratzer holding a sundial and there’s a polyhedral sundial in his picture of the Ambassadors which can be seen in the National Gallery.
For a happy half hour finding out more about the importance of mathematical objects including sundials visit the National Gallery page below to explore the Ambassadors by Hans Holbein.
Having set a challenge about Royal Arms I thought I probably ought to post a little about the way in which arms and badges were used during the medieval period. Clearly a personal badge was originally designed so that people knew who was who on the battle field or tournament ground – either on a banner, a surcoat or a shield for instance but by the fourteenth century they had developed into something that was given out almost like a contract between a noble and the group of people who served him in a variety of capacities.
An affinity was a set of political and social connections – like an extended family- but with a nobleman at the centre of the web based on his links to royalty, personal patronage, family and territory. The noble would have a household and a set of retainers, or followers, who were sworn to provide the lord with help in terms of military service, political support etc in return for which they would receive protection; a leg up the social ladder and dating agency for their offspring; offices; land. As the fifteenth century progressed these retainers wore either his livery or someothe badge that associated them with their noble – the bear with the ragged staff is a well-known badge associated with the Earl of Warwick for instance.
A powerful lord like John of Gaunt would attract local gentry as well as family and tenants. The Gaunt affinity was particularly noticeable in Derbyshire for instance. This meant that men with a large affinity, such as the duke, effectively had an army that they could call upon whenever they needed one – something of increasing importance as the fifteenth century moved into the wars of the roses. Consider the impact of the Neville affinity in the escalation of feuding during the fifteenth century.
Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III’s personal livery badge was a white boar. Sometimes the badges were taken from a charge (an emblem from the shield) on a coat of arms but they might also be more personal than that – they could be to do with an event in the lord’s life or a play on the lord’s name. Richard II’s white hart is a pun on Rich hart.
Henry VII needed to stamp out the concept of the affinity as the bands of men that nobles could gather up as part of their affinity could be used for the king but also form armies that fought against him. The Statute of Liveries of 1506 forbade issuing livery badges to men of rank; they had to be domestic servants unless the livery was covered by a specific royal licence. Eventually livery badges were reserved only for those who were part of the monarch’s affinity and for household servants of the aristocracy. Henry made sure that everyone rocked the Tudor rose rather than their own personal livery. John of Gaunt’s livery chains of entwined “esses” ultimately became associated with chains of office rather than with the Lancastrian royal house.
The bear and ragged staff was associated with the Earl of Warwick during the Wars of Roses but in the reign of Elizabeth I it was associated with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester who was the successor of the Earl of Warwick (via a circuitous route.)
The blue lion – or lion rampant azure- is associated with the Percy family.
The Prince of Wales feathers were first associated with the Black Prince when he chose them as a device on hearing about the bravery of the blind King of Bohemia.
The Stafford knot is associated with the Dukes of Buckingham.
The Talbot dog is associated with the Talbot Earls of Shrewsbury
The portcullis is associated with the Beaufort family and was used widely in Tudor iconography.
Livery badges issued by the livery companies of the City of London are of a later date.
The regular post has moved to a midweek time to accommodate the weekly history challenges. Let’s hope I can stay organised.
I’ve been doing some gardening today, making the most of the lovely weather. At this rate I’ll have the tidiest garden ever. Today I did some weeding and planted some seeds that I’ve found lurking in the back of a cupboard. Apparently heartsease populate walls, rockeries and paths easily. Time will tell. Anyway, heartsease as I know it has many different names including Jack-behind-the-garden-gate; kiss-behind-the-garden-gate; Kit-run-around; godfathers-and-godmothers; herb trinity and herb constancy to name but a few.
The name heartsease comes from the days when if you were suffering from a broken heart you could take an infusion of the pretty little plant to treat your woes. I don’t suggest that you try it. In Victorian times when courting couples couldn’t speak openly the flower represented happiness and if you gave it to someone the meaning might be that the recipient occupied the giver’s thoughts – presumably leading to the kiss behind the garden gate.
Gerard’s herbal reveals other medicinal uses for the pansy or heartsease:
It is good … for such as are sick of ague, especially children and infants, whose convulsions and fits of the falling sickness it is thought to cure. It is commended against inflammation of the lungs and chest, and against scabs and itchings of the whole body and healeth ulcers.’
So back to the history – the pansy was Elizabeth I’s favourite flower, and as a consequence it was everyone else’s as well. For Elizabeth the humble heartsease was not linked with kissing behind gates, it represented chastity- an important facet of being the Virgin Queen. In medieval times, prior to the Reformation, it was linked with the Virgin Mary. The colours of the heartsease, white, yellow and purple relate to purity, joy and mourning respectively which relate in turn to the Virgin’s life.
The Stowe Inventory of the Wardrobe identifies many of Elizabeth’s clothes in 1600 as well as her new year’s gifts which included many hand embroidered items. Elizabeth herself hand embroidered gifts for her own family, most famously Katherine Parr’s prayer book cover stitched when Elizabeth was eleven-years-old, which includes pansies or heartsease.
Look closely at any number of Elizabeth’s portraits including the Pelican Portrait, the Hardwick Hall portrait and the Rainbow Portrait for example and you will find pansies.
Simon Forman was born on December 30, 1552, near Salisbury. Unlike Shakespeare for whom there is no evidence of attending grammar school we have Forman’s account of his teacher and his education which began when he was seven. Unfortunately Simon’s father died suddenly and the boy had to leave school taking employment with a merchant who sold herbs and drugs.
Ten years later Simon left Salisbury, apparently after an argument with his master’s wife, and went to Oxford to live with his cousins. It appears that although he was eager to continue his education that he was unhappy in Oxford so when back to Salisbury where he became a teacher.
In 1579 things changed, Simon became a prophet! “I did prophesy the truth of many things which afterwards came to pass…the very spirits were subject unto me”. He also moved to London where presumably there was more need for doctoring, astrology and magic – remember these three things weren’t at odds with one another during the Tudor period. What made the real difference to Forman’s career as a doctor was that he remained in London during the plagues of 1592 and 1594. As a result he became known for his skills and the publication in 1595 of a book entitled Discourses on the Plague. He claimed that he was able to work with plague cases because he had caught and recovered from the disease.
Unfortunately the Royal College of Physicians took umbrage because he lacked their training. They described his herbal medicines as “magical potions.” In short they determined that he was a quack, fined him and told him not to call himself a doctor. Forman ignored them but within nine months a man died soon after taking one of his prescriptions and he found himself in prison. He finally gained a licence from Cambridge University in 1603 despite the fact that he had never studied there.
Forman wrote a lot of books and kept a diary which recorded his own life as well as his consultations with people from all ranks of society. He recorded some of his womanising activities even though he’d married Jane Baker in 1599.
We even know how Forman died thanks to another astrologer, William Lilly. In September of 1611, Forman apparently told his wife that he was about to make his last prophesy, namely that he would die the next Thursday evening which he did whilst rowing on the Thames.
That wasn’t the end of Forman though. Frances Howard, Countess of Somerset went on trial in 1616 for the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury in 1613. Whilst she was still Lady Essex married to Robert Devereux. Frances had gone with her friend Anne Turner to see Forman for potions that would keep Lord Essex at arm’s length and another to attract the attentions of James I’s favourite Robert Carr as he seemed a better financial and political bet than the spouse that she had been required to marry when they were both children. Forman was also accused of providing the poison which added to some tarts killed Sir Thomas Overbury whilst he was in the Tower.
Ultimately Forman’s papers ended up in the care of Elias Ashmole, the founder of the Ashmolean in Oxford and thus his diary which includes visits to the theatre to see Macbeth and The Winter’s Tale survive – though not without some dispute as to their veracity.
Kassell, Lauren (2007) Medicine and Magic in Elizabethan London: Simon Forman: Astrologer, Alchemist, and Physician