What happened to the Cerdic line in 1016

sweyn-forkbeard-invade-england

Sweyn from a 13th century illustration held by the University of Cambridge.

From now until Christmas I shall be focusing on the eleventh and twelfth centuries – so its the Norman Conquest; William’s sons who ruled for another 48 years after their father’s death; followed by the Conqueror’s grandchildren Stephen and Matilda and the so-called Anarchy.

The key date is, of course, 14th October 1066, the date of the Battle of Hastings.  At the beginning of the century Sweyn Forkbeard’s invasion of England had caused Æthelred the Unready to flee to the Isle of White.  By April 1016 Æthelred  was dead.

Edmund_Ironside_-_MS_Royal_14_B_VI-2His son Edmund Ironside came to an accommodation with Forkbeard’s son Cnut following Edmund’s victory over Cnut at the Battle of Assandun on October 18th 1016 but by November 1016 he was dead as well.

Emma of Normandy
The problem for the Witan was that the Cerdic line of Saxon kings had heirs but they were not seasoned warriors. Edmund’s sons Edmund and Edward, were babies whilst Ironside’s brother was eighteen and with few supporters.  Ironside’s half brothers by Æthelred’s second wife Emma of Normandy were twelve and thirteen respectively.  Emma sent them for safety to Normandy as depicted in the illustration to the right of this paragraph. The Witan, having few options available, voted that Cnut should be king of England.King-Cnut-stowe_ms_944_f006r

Ironside’s brother Ædwig was swiftly dealt with probably because he was stirring up rebellion in the south of England.  He had initially fled the country but then returned to England.  Cnut could not be seen to have him executed so it’s thought that Ædwig’s murder was on Cnut’s orders.

Ironside’s sons Edmund and Edward were packed off to Sweden and King Olaf who was either a half-brother or foster brother to Cnut.  Cnut appears to have sent a note suggesting that if the infants had a very nasty accident he wouldn’t be unduly perturbed.  Olaf ignored the hint  and sent the two boys to safety in Hungary where they were raised as princes.  Emma of Normandy’s sons Edward and Alfred had already been sent off to Normandy on the understanding that when Emma married Cnut any son she might have with Cnut would be the heir to the throne – so for the time being they were also discounted.

Cnut used the Saxon system of administration that had raised the Danegeld that Æthelred paid to ensure that he had sufficient taxes to pay for a fleet and a standing army of professional soldiers. These men were initially Danish but it wasn’t long before Saxons were included in their number. The shires and hundreds that remain on the maps even today remained in situ with Cnut’s earls or thegns administering their land holdings on a semi-independent basis but remembering to remain loyal to Cnut.

During this time Cnut favoured Godwin who he made Earl of Wessex.  Earl Godwin was a Saxon demonstrating that Cnut quickly amalgamated his following and that the Saxons were pragmatic about their new situation.  Godwin went on to marry Cnut’s sister-in-law Gytha.

Chambers, James. The Norman Kings

Eadburgh – royal poisoner

Beorhtric_of_Wessex

King Beorhtric of Wessex – 13th Century Geneological Roll

Elfrida, mother of Æthelred the Unready has had a bad press historically .  She’s usually cited as the reason why the Saxons didn’t really do queens.  There was the small matter of her first husband’s death in a hunting accident and the assassination of her step-son Edward the Martyr at Corfe Castle. However the writers who were busily turning her into an assassin usually had their own particular axe to grind.

Eadburgh was a similarly dangerous high status woman.  Her father was King Offa of Mercia who lived at the end of the eighth century.  She turns up in Asser’s life of King Alfred on account of the fact that she accidentally poisoned her husband.  The error wasn’t that it was an accidental poisoning. It was an accident that the wrong person drank the poison, she had been attempting to get rid of one of her husband’s nobles and managed to kill them both if you believe the story.

It should be noted that Asser liked a moral fable so the handsome queen ended her days as an impoverished beggar having had a run in with Charlemagne and a bit of an exciting time in a nunnery before ending up on the streets of Pavia.

Asser included the tale of Eadburgh because the unfortunate spouse was King Beorhtric of Wessex who became king in 787.  Offa’s plan was to build political alliances between Mercia and Wessex through the marriage with him as the dominant partner. Offa and Beorhtric worked together to drive another Cerdic claimant, Egbert, into exile. Egbert was Alfred’s grandfather.  Egbert took himself off to the court of Charlemagne.

Meanwhile Eadburgh became a little bit over possessive of her husband.  She poisoned Beorhtric’s favourites so that she would always be the person most important to his counsels – thus ensuring the Mercian position would always be dominant.

egbert_-_ms_royal_14_b_v

King Egbert

Having accidentally poisoned Beorhtric in 802 Egbert returned from his extended European holiday and Eadburgh found herself without a home.  She couldn’t return to Merica as Offa had also died so she packed up her belongings and went off to Charlemagne bearing gifts.

Charlemagne must have liked the look of her because he asked her who she would rather marry – him or his son. Eadburgh opted for the son and was told that had she chosen Charlemagne she might have been the mother of a prince – as it was she wouldn’t get either of them!  Charlemagne packer her off to a nunnery as an abbess.

Old habits die hard and she took a lover.  When she was discovered she was evicted from the nunnery – thus ending up as a beggar.  Asser says this is why the Kings of Wessex were not terribly keen on anointed queens. Elfrida who was the wife of King Alfred’s great-grandson became the first anointed queen of England.

Elfrida received bad press on account of a falling out with Dunstan and later writers blackened her name with each new retelling.  In Eadburgh’s case the story is also dubious but Asser in blackening Eadburgh’s name was creating propaganda against Mercia which  began the period in a more dominant role to that of Wessex. Asser paints Eadburgh as an unnatural sort of woman being more dominant than her spouse.  He also paints her as a poisoner – not a very noble method dispatching your enemies. In reality Egbert was probably not sitting around waiting to be summoned back to Wessex.

Eadburh, Queen of the West Saxons” by Susan Abernethy, The Freelance History Writer

More on Saxon kings and their wives

king edgar

King Edgar from Edgar’s position in the genealogical roll of the Kings of England © The British Library Board, Royal 14 B. VI. Accessed from https://www.royal.uk/edgar-r-959-975.

Alfred’s son Edward the Elder was a much married man.  Unfortunately we have to rely on later writers for much of our information.

For example Edward’s children by his first marriage to Egwina are described by William of Malmesbury in the twelfth century as illegitimate.  This is probably unlikely as one of his sons with Edwina was Althelstan whose rule was not contended when he became king after Edward the Elder died.  It is reasonable to assume that had there been a question mark over his legitimacy one of Edward’s other sons would have stood a better chance of becoming king – having said that legitimacy wasn’t necessarily the issue that it became later on.

Edward’s eldest son by his second marriage to Elfleda was called Edwin and he died in 933.  Weir notes that he may have been murdered on his half-brother’s orders. Two sons of Edward’s third marriage to  Edgiva would wear the crown in their turn.

Rather conveniently for us Athelstan never married.  He was succeeded by his brother Edmund who added the tag “the Magnificent” to his name and managed to marry himself to a saint in the first instance and then to an Ethelfleda who became a nun in the second.    Edmund was murdered in his own dining hall in 946 and succeeded by his brother Ædred or Edred depending on which spelling you happen to prefer. Between the Danes and assorted assassinations it was clearly not a good time to become a monarch no matter how magnificent you might have been.

By the time Edred died Edmund’s sons were considered old enough to inherit so first Ædwig (or Edwy) became king and he in his turn was succeeded by his brother Edgar.   If you recall from the previous post Edwy who was only a young teenager allegedly had a fall out with St Dunstan.  Edgar on the other hand came to rely upon Dunstan who encouraged the king to found abbeys and ensure that papal taxes were paid – resulting in Edgar being known as “the Peaceable” and being made a saint.

Having offered you a saint and a murder or two it’s now time to introduce Edgar’s lady wives.  Firstly Edgar married Ethelfelda – a popular name- so the sobriquet “the fair” is usually added to differentiate from all the other Ethelfledas. Sometime between 962 and 964 Ethelfleda died or if you prefer the scandalous version Edgar divorced her and sent her off to a nunnery so that he could marry wife number two with whom he was said to be conducting an adulterous affair.

Wife number two is  Elfrida – which isn’t entirely helpful as the names of the two women are alarmingly easy to swap around. Elfrida had been married firstly to Ethelwald, the Ealdorman of Devon. There is a question mark over the ealdorman’s somewhat convenient death.   When she was crowned in Bath Abbey on 11th May 973 alongside Edgar she became the first recorded instance of a coronation for a queen of England – she did not set a particularly good example thereafter.

When Edgar died in 975 he was buried at Glastonbury Abbey and his son by Ethelfleda (wife number one) became King Edward…the Martyr.

Alison Weir Britain’s Royal Families

From greatness to disaster. Alfred to Athelred

Ethelred_the_Unready

Æthelred the Unready from a thirteenth century copy of the Abingdon Chronicle.

Alfred was succeeded by his son, Edward the Elder who ruled until 924. Edward had campaigned against the Danes during his father’s life time just as Alfred had been his brother’s lieutenant before he in his turn became king.

Edward didn’t automatically become king.  Applicants for the Crown were required to present themselves to the Witan.  Although Edward was the son of Alfred his cousins who had been bypassed when Alfred became king because of their youth were now men. Eadweard and Ethelwald both wanted to become the next king of Wessex.

Ethelwald fermented rebellion and seized Crown lands but was swiftly kicked into touch.  He reacted by taking himself off to Norse ruled Northumbria before returning at the head of an army in 905 when he was killed. Unfortunately for Edward the Elder the battle was actually won by the Danes so he had to negotiate a settlement.  Borders and boundaries became rather fluid after that.

Edward was able to work with his sister Æthelflæd, The Lady of the Mercians to secure territory from the Danes.  Howel the Good of Wales eventually accepted Edward’s overlordship as did the Kings of the Scots and Strathclyde when they met Edward at Bakewell in 920.  Edward died in 924 following a Mercian uprising.

Edward certainly extended the Cerdic line.  He had somewhere in the region of  eighteen children including his son Æthelstan who succeeded his father and ruled until his own death in 939. Unlike his father who the Mercians regarded as a king of Wessex, Æthelstan who had been reared in Mercia was accepted there before he was made king of Wessex.  In 927 he was victorious over the Vikings in York making him effectively the ruler of England (remember Scotland was somewhat larger at that time extending down through Cumbria into Lancashire.) In 934 he invaded Scotland.

Æthelstan wished to extend law and order.  He built on the legal reforms of his grandfather Alfred which is understandable as he had a rather larger kingdom than his predecessors.  When he died rather than being buried in Winchester he was interred in Malmesbury Abbey and succeeded by his brother Edmund.

It was not a peaceful time and Edmund was eventually murdered.  He was succeeded by his brother Ædred who was king from 946 to 955.  In 954 Ædred effected the removal of Eric Bloodaxe from the Kingdom of Northumbria.  When he died the following he was succeeded by his nephew, Æthelstan’s son, Ædwig.  He was only fifteen.  Four years later he was dead. Poor Ædwig had a bit of a reputation allegedly having been caught by St Dunstan consorting with two ladies of ill repute on the night of his coronation. More likely the tale arose out of the feud between the secular and clerical world for the control of the king’s ear.

After Ædwig’s death his brother Edgar became king.  Edgar is known as Edgar the Peaceful. He ruled from 959 (he was sixteen at the time) until 975. He relied upon St Dunstan for advice. He honed the laws and set about standardising currency.  He wasn’t without scandal though.  He allegedly killed a rival in love and when he was crowned in Bath had his wife crowned alongside him – a first for the kings of Wessex. The coronation took place in 973 – rather than at the start of his reign. We will be returning to Edgar’s problematic love life in due course.

Edgar was succeeded by his son Edward in 975.  Edward was murdered in 978 where upon he became known to history as Edward the Martyr and modern historians are increasingly keen to point the finger of blame at his step-mother Ælfthryth who was Edgar’s second or third wife.   Edward had been virtually of age when he became king and had the support of the Church.  The death of Edward at Corfe left the way clear for Ælfthryth’s son Æthelred to become king even though he was still a child.

Æthelred was king from 978 until 1013. Initially his mother was his regent. Æthelred the Unready or ill-advised had Viking problems.  He’s the chap who paid vast sums of Dane-geld to the marauding Norse not understanding the free lance relationship they had with their leaders or the fact that handing over great wages of coin was actually somewhat counter productive.

In 1013 King Sweyn Forkbeard invaded England and Æthelred fled to Normandy. Sweyn died the following year. Æthelred returned and ruled until he died in 1016.

He was succeeded by his son Edmund Ironside. It was a short reign from April to November 1016.  The summer of 1016 was a summer of battles.

 

Wessex’s kings from Ine to Alfred

Æthelred_-_MS_Royal_14_B_VI.jpgBede’s history identifies the most important kings of England’s Saxon world along with plenty of skulduggery, murder and back stabbing. Northumbria, Mercia and Wessex began to emerge from the melee as the dominant kingdoms.  Unfortunately for the first two kingdoms on the list the Danes turned up.  In 865 a major invasion occurred upsetting the see-saw of power between Northumbria, Mercia and Wessex.

Asser listed King Alfred’s ancestors back to Adam demonstrating that if you wanted to be a king of England you needed to be good in a fight (or know someone who was); have a genetic claim to the Crown and be able to demonstrate a link to a) mythical heroes, b) Biblical personages and saints or c) a god of some description.  It’s interesting to note that the Cerdic line had moved its claim from Woden to the Garden of Eden.  It’s also interesting to note that Henry Tudor used exactly the same techniques to assert his right to rule.

685-688 Caedwalla – ruled for three years, went to Rome was baptised and died.  Written about extensively in Bede’s History.

688 – 726  Ine wrote the first surviving English legal code.  Like his predecessor he went to Rome.

726-740 Æthelheard is supposed to have been Ine’s brother-in-law but there isn’t much in the way of evidence.  His Cerdic claim was not something that ought to be examined too closely.  His crown may have come about because of the support of the kingdom of Mercia reflecting that Wessex was still a little kingdom whilst Mercia had become much more politically significant.

740-756  Cuthred might have been Æthelheard’s brother but again history isn’t absolutely sure.  Certainly the kingdom of Mercia was dominant during this period as Cuthred joined the Mercians fighting against the Welsh.  In 745 Cuthred’s son attempted to depose him and there was a rebellion against him.  In between all of that Cuthred fought off Mercian overlordship that had compelled him to go to war against the Welsh.

756-757 Sigeberht became king of an independent Wessex but was promptly deposed by Cynewulf who ruled until 786 when Sigeberht’s brother murdered Cynewulf in his turn.

786-802 Beorhtric ruled Wessex.

786-802 Egbert became king. His father was king of Kent, a descendant of Ine’s brother so the Cerdic claim was back on the cv.  The power struggle with Mercia continued, ultimately resulting in the defeat of Mercia followed by the king of Northumbria who submitted to Egbert at Dore (just outside Sheffield).  Egbert had become Bretwalda.  This was only temporary.

839-858 Æthelwulf was Egbert’s son. Æthelwulf had six children including a daughter Æthelswith who was married into Mercia as part of a political agreement between the two kingdoms.  By this time the Danes were making their presence felt but he still felt able to go on pilgrimage to Rome. He was succeeded in turn by three of his sons; Æthelbald, Æthelbert and Æthelred (pictured at the start of the post.) The eldest of Æthelwulf’s sons died before his father.

Æthelred died in 871 and was succeeded by his brother Alfred who ruled until 899. Æthelred had sons but they were too young to rule which was an important factor at this time as the war between the Saxons of Wessex and various Vikings had not been settled by a Saxon victory at Ashdown.  Alfred who had seen various battles was far more experienced in the art of warfare.  The results of the warfare were inconclusive but gradually Alfred found himself losing territory to the Danes.  He must have wondered whether he would eventually be driven into exile like his brother-in-law of Mercia.  After all, he had started his campaign against the Vikings helping to defend Mercia and was now watching Wessex gradually shrinking.

In 878 the Viking army made a surprise attack in the middle of winter and if you believe such things Alfred found himself in Somerset contemplating his future and burning cakes.  It looked as though Wessex had gone the way of Mercia and Northumbria.  However disaster was averted and his descendants continued to rule in succession until 1016. Alfred, is of curse, the only English monarch to be afforded the title – The Great.

 

Brooke, Christopher.  The Saxon and Norman Kings.

Small kingdoms – a start

illustration-Cerdic-edition-John-Speed-The-Theatre.jpgI was interested to read that most English shires took a form that we would recognise today by the end of the tenth century – excepting those northern counties permanently unable to decide whether they were Scottish or not, oh and Rutland.

Kent, Sussex and Essex were once been kingdoms in their own right rather than counties.  Sussex was established in the fifth century by  Ælle who founded the South Saxon kingdom.  Meanwhile the “South folk” and the “North folk” found themselves being ruled by Rædwald who joined the people of Suffolk and Norfolk in to the kingdom of the East Angles – and so, at a stroke, we have a modern region identified.  In fact Brooke describes the county, regional and town names of England as being like a palimpsest leaving bits and pieces of history littering the landscape.

For the purpose of this post it also demonstrates that history does not happen in a vacuum.  Things evolve gradually over time.  Thus the starting date of 1066 for the History Jar is somewhat arbitrary as Duke William of Normandy, Edward the Confessor and Earl Harold did not spring fully formed from thin air on the 1st January that year.

Our story begins, if family is important, with Cerdic who was an Earldorman and war leader.  In 495 he conquered, if the Anglo Saxon Chronicle is to be believed, parts of the south coast and the Isle of Wight.  Just for context this is the time that the historical King Arthur was supposed to be doing battle on behalf of the Romano-British against the raping, looting, pillaging Saxons and Angles.

Cerdic’s family, which were in all probability Celtic in origin (hence the name), hung on to the land that Cerdic took and by the time of his grandson the Gewissæ as Cerdic’s people had became known dominated their little portion of land.  They didn’t do quite so well in the seventh century when the kingdom of Mercia spread down into the top end of the Thames Valley but that was okay because the Gewissæ relocated into the southwest as well as holding their original southern territories. The most important “petty” king of the Gewissæ  of this period was Cædwalla.  Under his rule the Gewissæ became known as the West Saxons – Wessex.

Cædwalla ruled from 685-688 and was succeeded by Ine who ruled until 726. Wessex was basically Dorset, Wiltshire and Hampshire.  Cædwalla justified his right to rule not from the fact that he was handy in a fight but because he claimed descent from Cerdic – Brooke notes that its impossible to prove that particular fact.  More important even than that so far as posterity was concerned Cædwalla took himself off to Rome got himself baptised by the pope and then promptly died – ensuring that he got into Bede’s history as a shining example of a Christian life.  Poor Ine ruled for thirty-seven years and created a written code that establish clear laws- the earliest one to survive (probably thanks to King Alfred) but Bede spent more time writing about Cædwalla.

Neither of the two Cerdic leaders identified in the previous paragraph were counted as great kings.  There were plenty of little kingdoms. A single kingdom could even be ruled by several warlords.  However from time to time a great warrior would arise who would be acknowledged as a sort of senior king amongst the others – the title given to such a man would be Bretwalda. 

In 1066 when Edward the Confessor died anyone claiming a descent from Cerdic could apply to become king.  Today some historians aren’t even sure that Cerdic existed – even though the Anglo Saxon Chronicle traces his descent back to Woden.

Whilst William Duke of Normandy wasn’t a Cerdic descendant all kings since Henry II have been.  Henry II’s grandmother, the wife of Henry I (Edith, Normanised to Matilda) was the daughter of Margaret of Wessex – better known as St Margaret.

The next couple of posts will explore how Cerdic’s descendants came to dominate the   Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in England…or whether they ever did.  There will also be a family tree at some point.

Brooke, Christopher. The Saxon and Norman Kings.  

 

The Duke of Buckingham’s mistake

Edward_Stafford.jpgEdward Stafford the third Duke of Buckingham really should have known about the dangers of irritating monarchs.  His father the second duke was executed by Richard III and Edward a mere child of five was forced to flee into hiding having been dressed by his mother Katherine Woodville as a girl.

The problem was that Edward was descended thrice over from Edward III despite the fact that his mother was Katherine Woodville.  The Stafford family had been around for centuries whereas the Tudors were Johnny-Come-Late-lies.  This was so much the case that after the death of Prince Arthur in 1502 it was suggested in some quarters that the Duke of Buckingham might make an appropriate monarch.  Not only was Edward a Plantagenet with clear  and legitimate lines of descent but he had also benefitted from a royal upbringing having been made a ward of Margaret Beaufort.

Seven years later  when Edward discovered that his sister had become the king’s mistress he was absolutely furious.  He believed that his family was far to important for Anne to be the mistress of a mere Tudor, a marked contrast to the Duke of Norfolk who would spend most of his political career from the 1520s onwards dangling Howard girls under Henry’s nose.

Buckingham knew how the court worked under Henry VII – a man not admired for his lack of mistresses and had failed to notice that whilst the Plantagenets were first amongst equals – in a country where rulers appointed men to effectively rule their own regions that the Tudors centralised and appointed administrators – that they were absolute rulers for want of a better description.

Henry VII sought to use Edward’s Plantagenet blood in the marriage market when he suggested a marriage with Anne of Brittany but avarice won out when the Earl Northumberland offered the king £4000 for Edward to marry his daughter Eleanor.  By 1509 Edward Stafford had claimed the hereditary right of being Lord High Constable and was on Henry VIII’s newly appointed council having performed in a series of diplomatic and high status court roles.

Buckingham’s sense of self worth was probably reinforced when he received a licence to crenelate, i.e. to fortify a property.  He was treading the path of the fifteenth century over mighty subject who ruled his own domain. He had failed to spot that his second cousin   Henry VIII granted favours to his friends but woe betide them if they didn’t play by his rules.

Thus when Edward heard from Anne’s sister Elizabeth that Anne was conducting an affair with the king he thought that there would be no repercussions when he summoned his brother-in-law and removed Anne to a nunnery some sixty miles from court.  Even worse the affair became common knowledge.  Queen Katherine who was pregnant became very upset and Henry was embarrassed. Anne would return to court and the affair probably continued for another few years if Henry’s New Year’s gift list is anything to go by.  However, the damage was done – Henry knew how to carry a grudge.

In 1520 Buckingham was suspected of treason. It had become clear that Katherine of Aragon was not as fertile as her mother.  A child, Mary, had been born the pervious year but it was unthinkable that a girl might inherit – the Tudors were in danger of dying out.  Edward Stafford was the man, so he said, to take up the Crown –   Henry personally interviewed the witnesses. In April 1521 he was packed off to the Tower for imagining the death of the king and executed on the 17th May. The evidence was flimsy.

Jane Parker, Lady Rochford

Jane-Parker.jpgJane Parker or Mrs George Boleyn has gone down in history as the woman who accused her husband and sister-in-law of incest.  She was also the woman who connived to allow Katherine Howard to meet her lover  Thomas Culpepper- resulting in Katherine being executed and Henry VIII changing the law to allow for the execution of the insane so that Jane could share the same fate on the 13th February 1542.

The image at the start of the post is a Holbein. Recent consensus is that this particular Lady Parker is actually Grace Parker – nee Newport the wife of Jane’s brother Henry rather than Jane.

Jane was described by Henry as a “bawd” because she had helped Katherine to meet with Thomas, had passed on letters and kept watch whilst the pair conducted their assignations during the royal progress to York.. It can’t have come as a total surprise that Henry ordered her arrest when he discovered what had been going on. rather unreasonably Thomas Culpepper and Katherine Howard both tried to put the blame on Jane for orchestrating the meetings.  Jane had a nervous breakdown whilst in confinement.

So, what else do we know about her?  She was descended from Margaret Beauchamp of Bletsoe,  Margaret Beaufort’s mother – making Jane a distant Tudor relation which accounts for her court links. Her father was raised in Margaret Beaufort’s household. Jane first appears in the court records in 1520 pertaining to the Field of the Cloth of Gold.  She would have been about fifteen. She served in the households of Catherine of Aragon, her sister-in-law Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves  and also in Katherine Howard’s.  We know that she appeared in court masques and we know that in 1524 /25 she married George Boleyn.

Warnicke theorises that Jane and George were unhappily married  because of George’s sexuality- certainly something wasn’t right if Jane was prepared to send her husband to the block on some rather unpleasant charges.  The primary source evidence for this comes from George Cavendish’s account of Boleyn.  However to counter this it should be noted that Cavendish was loyal to Wolsey and there was little love lost between the Cardinal’s faction and the Boleyns. It should also be noted that George had a bit of a reputation with the ladies. The only bad thing that Chapuys, the Imperial Ambassador, could say about George was that he was very Protestant in his outlook.  It’s safe to say that had Chapuys got a whiff of George being homosexual that it would have been recorded in his letters.

Whatever the family relationship, in 1534 Jane helped Anne to get rid of an unnamed mistress of the king’s and that Jane was banished as a consequence.  This allowed Anne the opportunity to place another potential mistress under Henry’s nose – a Howard girl- possibly Madge Shelton and someone who was unlikely to be used by the conservative faction at court to weaken Anne’s position.  Jane herself was back at court the following year.

Popular history claims that Jane told the king that one of Anne’s lovers was George but whilst the primary sources talk about ‘one woman’ they don’t actually name Jane as the culprit and there is certainly no written evidence to support the idea although that doesn’t preclude the possibility of verbal evidence.  Like so much popular history we think we know what happened but the closer you look at the evidence the more elusive the truth becomes.

Julia Fox, Jane’s biographer states that Jane was only named during the reign of Elizabeth I.  Jane was long dead and who else cold have told such blatant lies – but a mad woman?  Alison Weir on the other hand concludes that Jane was probably instrumental in George’s execution.  It is also true to say that an anonymous Portuguese writer claimed a month after Anne’s execution that Jane was responsible for the incest accusation.  Weir deduces that Jane was jealous of the closeness that existed between her husband and Anne.

It is true though that the evidence of George’s trial points to Jane telling Cromwell that Anne Boleyn had talked of Henry VIII’s impotence which one imagines would have been more than enough to get Anne into serious hot water with her spouse.

Jane didn’t benefit from her husband’s death.  Thomas Boleyn refused to pay Jane’s jointure.  She was forced to write to Cromwell asking for help.

And whilst we’re at it we should perhaps also look at the idea that Jane was insane at the time of her execution.  Primary evidence supplied by Ottwell Johnson reveals a woman who went to her maker calmly and with dignity despite the fact that no one in her family had attempted to intervene on her behalf. Lord Morley (Jane’s father) and his son Henry perhaps realised the extent of Henry’s anger.

Finally – just to make life that little bit more interesting in 1519, the year before the first written account of Jane at court Henry VIII had a fling with  “Mistress Parker” or at least court rumour said he did.  At fourteen Jane fitted Henry’s liking for young mistresses best typified by Katherine Howard.  Jane like so many other of his mistresses was related to him and like many other of his mistresses a large wedding gift was given.  Alternatively maybe Mistress Parker was Jane’s mother Alice St John?

In 1519 Henry was in the midst of his affair with Bessie Blount the mother of his illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy. Mistress Parker was a diversion whilst Bessie was pregnant.  Could Alice have been Henry’s mistress and gained her daughter a place in Catherine of Aragon’s household?  It’s possible.

Alice outlived her daughter and like her husband she did not publicly mourn the death of Jane.

Fox. Julia,  (2008) Jane Boleyn: The Infamous Lady Rochford

Retha M. Warnicke “The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn: Family Politics at the Court of Henry VIII”

Thankful villages and the men who came home but never really left the trenches

IMG_0876Thankful villages are the ones that sent men off to fight in the World Wars and all the men who enlisted survived. To be Doubly Thankful means that the village in question saw the return of all its men in both World War One and World War Two.  Survival is, of course, not the same as returning unscathed.    The first time the phrase was coined was by Arthur Mee in his King’s England series of guidebooks – something which I still use on a regular basis What I’m less sure about is how many there are in total.  Mee was only able to identify 24 for certain and a quick trawl of the net reveals that the Telegraph thinks there are 56 such villages. Even the number of doubly thankful villages is open to question with thirteen being the most common response but occasionally fourteen being mentioned.

For the men who did return life had changed.  Pugh makes the point that the Church had preached war and many vicars had encouraged their congregations to enlist.  Evidence suggests that church attendance began a steep decline from the end of the war onwards because for many people the clergy had become symbolic of the State and had told the lie that it was a great and able thing to die for your country. Faith was shaken and certainties tottered.  From 1917 onwards there was a wave of strikes.  In the years following the Great War concern was not so much for declining church attendance as for an upsurge in Communism and revolution.

For other men there were physical injuries, the effects of gas and the disillusionment of a country that promised much for its returning soldiers but delivered little.  Many of the men remained silent about their experiences but one historian estimates that approximately 20% of returning soldiers suffered from shell shock.  The British Army dealt with 80000 cases during the war but for the majority of men the truth was that they just had to get on with it – the archetypal stiff upper lip was required.  There are interesting interviews from children who recalled their father’s return and the resulting lack of stability or financial security on file in the Imperial War Museum.

There were some socially unacceptable diseases that made their way to Blighty and the far flung reaches of the Commonwealth as well – a good proportion of the soldiery had contracted syphilis.

Roberts makes the point that it is unfair to blame the war for everything – a proportion of the men who returned home, self medicated with alcohol, fought and abused their womenfolk must have been rogues to start off with. Emsley’s article notes that newspapers were keen to promote the idea of violence resulting from character change during the war.  Indeed, Christie – as in the serial killer- claimed to have been one such having suffered from shell shock during the war but exploration of his past reveals that there were issues which pre-dated the war.  Even the Metropolitan Police were wary of men grown callas as a result of the war.

For others who returned there was restlessness that led to being unable to settle not to mention estrangement from family life and their pre-war lives.  Some of these men and their families finally recorded their experiences and these can be accessed in the Imperial War Museum or in private correspondence.  It would be interesting to know what proportion of men were so unable to settle that they eventually led a life of homelessness.

Other men were not able to hide their trauma.  In 1914 500 men were consigned to county lunatic asylums. By 1918 there were nearly 5,000 beds in War Mental Hospitals as it had been agreed that it was unfair to stigmatise citizen soldiers with lunacy as a result of their wartime experiences. These hospitals had been established by the Asylum War Hospital Scheme which ran from 1915 until 1919.  Under the scheme service men were required to be sent home to their families for care or sent to a war hospital rather than a county asylum.   The mental hospitals were known as war hospitals to avoid stigma.

In reality many of these hospitals were county asylums, renamed with their pre-war patients relocated to other asylums – resulting in the civilian population of mental health patients suffering lack of stability and familiar surroundings, overcrowding and an increase in patient mortality.

After the war ex-servicemen who could not return to civilian life due to mental health problems had to be dealt with differently. In some cases they were registered as private patients so spared the title lunatic. However by the 1920s the government was less keen to extend its pension provision to men who had been unable to emerge for the asylum or who had succumbed to the trauma of their experiences after the end of the conflict. It was decided by the State that genuine cases recovered – or bounced back to mental health- whilst malingers and those men who obviously had underlaying mental difficulties which had nothing to do with war continued to need care and thus came under the auspices of the county and the poor law – and could be labelled lunatic.

Not cheery – but I’ve got the information that I need!  Now all that’s required is to write the novel….

 

Barham, Peter. 2004 Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War. New Haven: Yale University Press

Emsley, Clive (2008). Violent crime in England in 1919: post-war anxieties and press narratives. Continuity and Change, 23(1) pp. 173–195.

https://theconversation.com/from-shell-shock-to-ptsd-a-century-of-invisible-war-trauma-74911

Pugh, Martin. We Danced All Night

https://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=3398&context=lhapapers

The Other War Dead: Asylum Patients during the First World War

 

 

 

Intelligence officers on the front line

IMG_0865At the beginning of World War One approximately fifty men received a telegram inviting them to join the newly formed Intelligence Corps. Amongst their number were officers from the Metropolitan Police.  Many of them worked behind enemy lines, others identified enemy agents and sabateurs. Some of the intelligence officers had motor bikes so that they could get to out of the way sites in order to find out what the enemy was doing.  They were particularly interested in maps and papers that might have been lost by the enemy.  As the war evolved they also questioned prisoners of war.  Initially this task might have fallen to the battalion intelligence officer but as the war progressed it became a more centralised role.

 

Other forms of intelligence gathering involved the battalion intelligence officer going into no man’s land and raiding enemy trenches in order to gather information – again this might involve finding maps but more usually it meant collecting a prisoner. This meant going into the darkness lightly armed with a small group of men who would be prepared for hand-to-hand combat.  Orders from further along the chain of command required a prisoner.  It was also regarded as important to know which regiments and battalions faced you on the other side of the battlefield.  Most ordinary soldiers, from first hand testimony kept in the Imperial War Museum, dreaded this kind of intelligence gathering not least because it was often seen as a waste of time and life.  Other testimony suggested that even if it didn’t gain the required information it was seen as a way of preventing ordinary soldiers from becoming trench bound and hardening them to the realities of No Man’s land – an eyebrow raising comment in these times.

On other occasions the aim was not to raid the trench and take a captive, the sole aim of this was often to find out which troops were in the field but simply to cut the wire, in advance of an attack or to listen to what was being said by the enemy – so a German speaking intelligence officer was presumably a helpful addition to a battalion.

Fans of the of black and white Sherlock Holmes films may know that Basil Rathbone, who played Holmes, was a battalion intelligence officer during the First World War.  This meant that twice a week he led patrols into no man’s land and then had to report on what he had found.  The report which Rathbone talked about in his autobiography was often vague but the idea was that not only should he observe what was happening in enemy lines but talk to different patrols and snipers and record what they had seen.   It was his responsibility to know the lay of the land and it is recorded in some instances that the intelligence officer placed markers in No Man’s land before his battalion attacked the enemy. It was also his responsibility to know what was happening and feed it back up the line.

In some cases it appears to have been the Intelligence Officer who kept the war diary which was not his role at all.  Different intelligence officers seem also to have had different skills which were not necessarily limited to intelligence gathering but which would have been useful additional skills.  Some had links with scouting and patrols which makes sense.  There is also evidence to suggest that some officers were trained to deal with signals but these were different branches of the service and would not have been performed by one officer.

For those who are interested A. A. Milne, the creator of Winnie the Pooh was a signals officer during World War One as was JRR Tolkien.  Milne was eventually withdrawn from the front line due to illness and spent the rest of the war as a different kind of intelligence officer in Whitehall dealing with propaganda.

Ultimately Rathbone suggested that night time patrols were of limited value.  He suggested something more radical. He found himself sent out during the daylight hours dressed in camouflage.  This involved going into No Man’s land before dawn and then staying very still indeed.  Rathbone was eventually rewarded with a Military Cross.

Other forms of intelligence gathering involved listening posts and, of course, the air force. Beach’s study of General Haig’s intelligence considers the way in which the British perceived the German Army and why they thought that they were winning in 1916.  He reflects on the way that the growth of intelligence gathering influenced strategy.

Beach, Jim. (2015)  Haig’s intelligence : GHQ and the German Army, 1918  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Rathbone, Basil. In and Out of Character.