Stained Glass in Great Malvern Priory

DSCF2447.jpgThe priory’s treasure is its windows.  It has the largest collection of fifteenth century glass in England which means that the parliamentarians didn’t get there during the English Civil War. It also means that although the parishioners of Great Malvern were able to buy the priory for £20 they were unable to remove the coloured glass and replace it with plain Protestant panes in later years.

I was told that the glazing of the East Window began in 1430 and although the pieces of glass no longer tell a story because of the impact of time and ivy the panes are still medieval having been moved around from other locations within the church. Wells suggests that the window was originally given by Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick and his wife Isabel Despenser because of the roses and circle stars that appear there and which also feature on their coat of arms.

 

DSCF2426Looking to the west, the arms of Richard III, then Duke of Gloucester can be found.  This was probably moved from the West Window which was originally donated by him and his wife Anne Neville.  Her coat of arms can be found in the western choir aisle in the so-called museum window which is largely plain with sections of medieval glass being inset there.  The heads of two bear supporters – referencing the bear and ragged staff can be seen. The West Window told of the Day of Judgement. Depending upon your viewpoint of Richard III there may well be some irony in his donation and the fact that of all the windows this was the one which survived least well into the modern era.

The west window of the transept is known as the Magnificat Window and was donated by Henry VII.  I shall do a separate post on that as it contains images of Henry, Prince Arthur and some of his leading henchmen.

 

IMG_7777.jpgHowever, in Queen Anne’s Chapel a treat awaits.  Most stained glass involves a crick in the neck but here the windows are substantially lower so the glass is much closer.  The crucifixion window is Victorian but the rest of the glass is medieval.  One window tells the story of the Creation, another the stories of Noah and Abraham whilst the third relates the stories of Isaac, Joseph and Moses.  It is a reminder that in an age where most people lived in small dark buildings that churches were full of light and colour.  It is also a reminder that the word of God came not only from the priest but from the pictures that surrounded the congregation.

 

 

 

 

 

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The tradition of donors, some of whom are pictured above, giving windows continued in Great Malvern Church through the Victorian era with Princess Charlotte, the only child of George IV who died in childbirth, donating a window amongst others. The Friends of Malvern Priory donated the Tom Denny windows which celebrate the millennium.  They can be found in the north choir.  Their theme is psalm 36. Denny has used the Malvern hills as part of his inspiration as well as colours which echo the medieval windows.  Denny was also commissioned in Leicester for the Richard III memorial windows. Once seen, his style is instantly recognisable.

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Wells, Katherine. (2013). A Tour of the Stained Glass of Great Malvern Priory. The Friends of Malvern Priory.

 

Great Malvern Priory

IMG_7747.JPGWhat a gem!  Great Malvern Priory was founded in 1085 by a hermit, Aldwin, from Worcester Abbey on land belonging to Westminster Abbey.  This means that during the life of Great Malvern’s monastic establishment it looked to  Benedictine Westminster for direction which is why it’s a priory rather than an abbey in its own right.

Aldwin was supported and guided by Bishop Wulfstan of Worcester who went on to become one of King John’s favourite saints. The priory also received its charter and funding from  William the Conqueror who gave charters to many monasteries – a reminder that the conquest of England had the Pope’s blessing and that William was conscious of the need to give thanks for his victory. Henry I and Edward III confirmed and renewed the charter. The priory wasn’t without its problems though.  The fact that it was on Westminster Abbey land but founded by a monk from Worcester and looked to the Worcester for guidance led to friction at various times in the priory’s history.

DSC_0102The pillars in the nave of today’s building are Norman and there are odd clues to the Norman past scattered about the building but the priory as it stands today dates largely from the fifteenth century.  The Bishop of Worcester was called upon to consecrate the new build in 1460 – just as the Wars of the Roses really got started (Battle of Wakefield December 30 1460).  However, the new build ensured that assorted Lancaster and York monarchs added their ‘bit’ to the decor from Henry VI’s tiles via Richard III’s stained glass windows to Henry VII. At least those monarchs wanted to enhance the building, finished in 1502.

In 1535 Dr Legh, one of Cromwell’s commissioners and a bit of a thug by all accounts,  visited the priory.  Things can’t have been that bad as there is no report of his findings amongst Cromwell’s documents.  According to the Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535, the income of the prior and convent amounted to £375 0s. 6½ d. It escaped the act suppressing the small monasteries, although a cell belonging to the priory wasn’t so fortunate.

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In 1539 the monastery was dissolved despite the please of Hugh Latimer the Bishop of Worcester (he would ultimately go to the flames in the reign of Mary Tudor for his Protestantism). He wrote to Cromwell on behalf of the prior; ‘at the request of an honest man, the prior of GreatMalvern, of my diocese,’ pleads for the ‘upstandynge’ of his house, and continuance of the same to many good purposes, ‘not in monkery . . . but to maintain teaching, preaching, study with praying, and (to the which he is much given) good “howsekepynge,” for to the “vertu” of hospitality he hath been greatly inclined from his beginning, and is very much commended in these parts for the same . . . The man is old, a good “howsekepere,” feeds many, and that daily, for the country is poor and full of penury. Alas, my good lord, shall not we see two or three in each shire changed to such remedy? . . Sir William Kingston can report of the man further.’ The letter dated 13 December 1538 finishes with flattery: “Blessed be God of England that worketh all, whose instrument you be! I heard you say once after you had seen that furious invective of cardinal Pole that you would make him to eat his own heart, which you have now, [I trow], brought to pass, for he must [needs] now eat his own heart, and be[as] heartless as he is graceless.”  Latimer went on to offer Cromwell 200 marks and the king 500 if they would spare the priory.

Not that it did any good. By January 1539 the priory had been suppressed and the lead stripped from its roof.  The prior, one Richard Whitborn, received h £66 13s. 4d. each year.  Ultimately, in 1541, the parishioners of Great Malvern purchased the priory for £20.00 as the original parish church was in a poor state.  They acquired the “stateliest parish church in England.” The parish church of St Mary and St Michael is without a shadow of a doubt a show stopper.

 

A second post will consider Great Malvern’s medieval tiles whilst a third post will explore the wonderful medieval windows and also a fourth post on the glass given by Richard III and by Henry VII.  As you might guess, I spent a very happy morning in Great Malvern Priory although I wasn’t able to study the misericords (the ledges on which the monks could rest during services) because of work being done in the choir of the church.  Great Malvern is unusual in that as well as depicting a mermaid on its misericords it also has a merman.

For fans of C.S. Lewis it is also worth noting that he went to school in Malvern College just before World War One and whilst he was there he may have been inspired by the enclosed east doors of the priory church which ultimately turned into the wardrobe by which the Pevensies entered Narnia.  A glimpse through the lock reveals a fir tree and a lamp post.

‘Houses of Benedictine monks: Priory of Great Malvern’, in A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 2, ed. J W Willis-Bund and William Page (London, 1971), pp. 136-143. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/worcs/vol2/pp136-143 [accessed 16 August 2016].

Cleop. E. iv.264. B. M.Wright’s Suppression of the Monasteries,148. ‘Henry VIII: December 1538 11-15’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 13 Part 2, August-December 1538, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1893), pp. 438-455. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol13/no2/pp438-455 [accessed 23 August 2016].

‘Parishes: Great Malvern with Newland’, in A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 4, ed. William Page and J W Willis-Bund (London, 1924), pp. 123-134. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/worcs/vol4/pp123-134 [accessed 16 August 2016].

Margaret Beaufort’s other family part 2

478px-Lady_Margaret_Beaufort_from_NPGMargaret Beauchamp of Bletsoe, Margaret Beaufort’s (pictured  at the start of this paragraph)  mother, was married in the first instance to Sir Oliver St John who died in 1437. From this union Margaret Beaufort had seven siblings; two brothers and five sisters.

 

The eldest of the five daughters was called Edith and she married Geoffrey Pole who owned land in Cheshire. Edith, about whom not much appears to be known, died in 1459.  She had a daughter called Eleanor Pole who served as one of Katherine of Aragon’s ladies-in-waiting (double click on the link to open a new window with my post about Eleanor).  And that might have been that apart from the fact that her son Sir Richard Pole, a loyal supporter of the Tudors married the daughter of the Duke of Clarence, the one who was allegedly drowned in a vat of Malmsey.

 

Just so we’re clear, Sir Richard Pole a Lancastrian of Welsh descent via his father Geoffrey was Henry VII’s cousin because Richard’s mother Edith was Henry VII’s aunt.  Margaret Beaufort had fond memories of her all to short childhood growing up with her St John kin. She took an interest in her extended family and it is perhaps not surprising that they lurk in the background of Tudor history.

 
As family Sir Richard Pole was trusted by Henry VII. He was married off to Margaret Plantagent the niece of Edward IV and Richard III and whose brother the youmargaret salisbury.jpgng Earl of Warwick was kept locked up in the Tower until he was executed –. Henry VII was satisfied with letting the blood of Margaret’s brother and marrying her to a minor member of his own family.  Even Shakespeare, the Tudor spin doctor, said of this union; “His daughter (the Duke of Clarence’s) meanly have I match’d in marriage.” They went on to have five children and must have thought that they had weathered the Wars of the Roses storm.

It cannot, sadly, be said that Henry VIII trusted the Poles. The Poles were doubly his cousins – through their relationship to Margaret Beaufort and through the fact of their descent from George Duke of Clarence. Despite Sir Richard Pole’s loyal service to two generations of Tudors, his wife and sons were rounded up and executed on account of their Plantagenet blood  and their Catholicism– an irony for the Pole children given their Lancastrian heritage and links to Margaret Beaufort.

 

 

Margaret Beaufort’s other family

Stained_glass_in_the_Burrell_CollectionDSCF0301_07.jpgThe Wars of the Roses or The Cousins War as it was called at the time is complicated enough without looking too closely at the relationships that existed between the women of the period and the links forged by marriages often arranged to secure family alliances and extend land holdings. Yet, to do so gives a new insight into the power dynamics, politics and family relationships of the period and also of the Tudor period given that Henry VIII emulated his father when he approached mid-life by starting to execute members of his nobility with too much Plantagenet blood in their veins.

 

Margaret Beaufort and her assorted extended family is typical of the far reaching links that often seem to run counter to what might be expected from the overarching political affiliations depicted in history books. Her mother was Margaret Beauchamp of Bletsoe. Margaret Beauchamp was married three times. She had children by all three of her husbands. These children were Margaret Beaufort’s half-siblings and thus aunts and uncles of Henry Tudor, thought much less publicized than Jasper Tudor. Margaret Beaufort’s youngest half-brother, John born sometime around 1450, was the child of Margaret Beauchamp’s third marriage to Lionel de Welles, the sixth baron Welles.

 

Lionel died at the Battle of Towton in 1461 fighting on the Lancastrian side. Barons number seven and eight (Lionel Welles’ son and grandson from a previous marriage) had their heads chopped off for plotting against Edward IV in 1470. This resulted in an Act of Attainder and the removal of titles and estates most of which were situated in Lincolnshire. John Welles, not put off by the severing of heads from shoulders, continued the family tradition of loyalty to Lancaster by becoming involved with Buckingham’s rebellion against Richard III in 1483. He then scarpered across the Channel where he joined his nephew Henry Tudor.

 

So far so good – though I admit a family tree would help. He returned to England in 1485 by his nephew’s side, was knighted and got his lands back. He also acquired a bride some nineteen years his junior and who tied him more closely than ever to the royal family.

 

His bride was Cecily Plantagenet, the second daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville to survive to adulthood (her elder sister Mary died young). She had been offered as a bride to King James III of Scotland’s heir in 1474 – and in 1482, the year before Edward IV’s death, to the Duke of Albany although there was the slight problem of Albany already having a wife.

 

Cecily’s grand Scottish match came to nothing. Instead her father died and she found herself in sanctuary for the second time in her short life and no longer a princess. Her parents’ marriage was declared invalid on account of her father’s alleged pre-contract with Lady Eleanor Butler making his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville bigamous and Cecily and her siblings illegitimate.

 

Richard III arranged for his niece to marry Ralph Scrope the younger brother of a northern baron. The marriage was swiftly brought to an end once Henry VII gained the throne. Cecily was required at court and in the hands of a good Lancastrian rather than a supporter of Richard III. In 1486 she carried Prince Arthur to his baptism and in 1487 she accompanied her sister Elizabeth, Henry VII’s wife, to her coronation. By the following year she was married to Henry VII’s less well-known uncle John Welles. This was a clever move on Henry’s part. It rewarded his uncle for his loyalty and ensured that Cecily didn’t acquire an overly ambitious husband.

 

It was, however, a marriage that makes for complicated family ties. Cecily as well as becoming Henry Tudor’s sister-in-law also became his mother’s (Margaret Beaufort) sister-in-law; something of an irony bearing in mind that Margaret Beaufort in the red corner and Elizabeth Woodville in the white corner (Cecily’s mother) were consummate rivals and only united in 1483 against a common foe in Richard III (if popular history is to be believed and we set aside the fact that Elizabeth Woodville not only accepted Margaret Beaufort at court whilst Edward IV was alive but asked her to be godmother to one of her daughters at a time when both women might reasonably have supposed that their positions were established and secure…I did say it was complicated).

 

Cecily and John had two daughters both of whom died in childhood. John died in 1499 and Cecily continued with her duties at court where she seems to have been something of a favourite. She was part of Prince Arthur’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon. Records state that she carried the bride’s train and danced with Prince Arthur at the festivities afterwards. Jones and Underwood note that during this time she and Margaret Beaufort spent time together and seem to have grown to like one another.

 

She was also financially secure. Welles having died without children left a will giving Cecily an interest in his estates for her lifetime. He named her as executor of his will along with Margaret Beaufort’s, and now Henry VII’s, long trusted henchman Sir Reginald Bray.

 

Behind the scenes Cecily was taking her life in her own hands. History knows relatively little of the arrangements behind her first marriage to Ralph Scrope but in all likelihood it was arranged by Richard III who’d promised his nieces marriages to gentlemen (but not nobility of the first order). Her second marriage was obviously political. In that Cecily’s life was no different from countless other women of the period but she was about to break the rules. In 1502, Cecily married Thomas Kyme of Friskney, a Lincolnshire esquire, without royal license and socially far below her in rank.

 

Henry VII was not amused.

 

However, Cecily and Thomas had an unexpected ally in Cecily’s sister-in-law, Margaret Beaufort. Margaret permitted Cecily, of whom she appears fond, to stay in her house at Collyweston until the king’s anger had time to simmer down. She also began negotiations on Cecily’s behalf. As you might expect much of Henry’s anger was about loss of prestige, something important to the parvenu Tudor. But, almost as important to Henry VII was his treasury. As soon as the marriage came to light Henry set about removing the Welles’ estates from his sister-in-law but Margaret, canny negotiator, ensured that Cecily retained some of her lands and was able to pay her way out of trouble though not back into royal favour which may explain why she didn’t attend her sister, Elizabeth of York’s funeral – a noticeable absence after all the other key events she’d played an important role in.

 

Cecily appears to have continued to be often in Margaret Beaufort’s company and when Cecily died in 1507 it was Margaret Beaufort who paid most of her funeral expenses.

 

Jones, Michael K and Underwood, Malcolm G.(1992) The King’s Mother: Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

 

 

 

The Constable brothers and The Pilgrimage of Grace

pilgrimage-of-grace-banner2My last post on Katherine Parr got me thinking about the fate of the gentry involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace and the way in which events are often more complicated than we first suppose.  Take the Constable brothers, though some texts identify them as an assortment of brothers and cousins.  They weren’t young men.  Two of them were veterans of Flodden. Sir John Constable of Burton Constable and Sir William Constable of Great Hatfield, one of the brothers at Flodden, lived some of the time in the wapentake of Holderness. Both of them were in residence in October 1536.

That month Anthony Curtis arrived in the area with the news that had spread through Lincolnshire and was now making its way through Yorkshire. The King, it was said, was going to limit the number of churches to one every five, or seven miles depending on the source, and was about to raise fees for marriages, christenings and funerals.  Bad enough that the new articles of faith denied there was any such place as Purgatory. Soon the area was up in arms as the Commons answered the call to join the Pilgrimage of Grace. Those who were less than enthusiastic either fled or were ‘persuaded.’

John and William Constable took themselves off to Hull and remained behind the town’s walls. They, together with the two Sir Ralph Ellerkers (which must have been uncomfortable as there was something of a feud going on between the two families) were the leading gentry of the area and it wasn’t long before the pilgrims arrived at Hull’s gates demanding the town and the gentry to lead them. Burton reveals that their brother Sir Robert Constable who’d been knighted by Henry VII after the Battle of Blackheath in 1487 was already in Pontefract Castle and that their other brother Sir Marmaduke, another veteran of the Scottish wars, went into hiding where he remained a loyal man of the king…always easier to achieve when you haven’t got a mob threatening to do very nasty things to you or your family.

On the 19th of October Hull capitulated when it started to run out of food.  The rebels forced the men behind its walls to take their oath.  Sir John Constable after initially refusing to submit to the rebels found himself in charge of Hull whilst Sir William, together with the pilgrims, headed in the direction of Pontefract.

Pontefract Castle fell to the rebels on the 21st and the Constable family found another of their number sworn to the pilgrim oath. Sir Robert now began working with Aske to organise the host of men who’d answered the call to arms or had been forced into rebellion. Later Sir Robert would negotiate with the various captains and commons for negotiation with the Duke of Norfolk rather than battle although it is evident there was a time when he wanted to continue beyond Doncaster towards London.  This did not endear him to Henry VIII.  Moorhouse reveals that Henry had a little list of men he wished to make an example of including Robert Aske and Lord Darcy.  Sir Robert Constable’s name also featured on the list.

In the aftermath of the rebellion Sir John managed to talk his way out of the situation. In 1537 he oversaw the trials and executions of Hull’s pilgrims. Sir William also sat on the trial commission.

King Henry VIII did not forget his little list of men who did not deserve pardon in his opinion.  Sir Robert was at Templehurst (Temple Newsam) , home of Lord Darcy, when Robert Aske arrived there on January 10, 1537.  He’d been wined and dined over Christmas by the king so had no idea that Henry was after vengeance as he was now trying to damp down renewed calls for rebellion.  Notices had been stuck on church doors across the area demanding a return to the old format of service. The three men decided the best thing to do was to try and keep the north calm until the Duke of Norfolk arrived.  The problem was that all three of them would soon be summoned to London.  Sir Robert received his politely worded note on the 19th February.  By Easter  he was in the Tower. The men went voluntarily believing that the king would treat them fairly.    They didn’t understand that Sir Francis Bigod’s rebellion in January 1537 nullified the agreement that Henry had reached with them…in Henry’s mind.  It didn’t matter that Robert Aske even had a letter of recommendation from the Duke of Norfolk.

Due process of the law now kicked into play.  The Duke of Norfolk put together a jury to hear the accusations against the men.  This was held in York.  Moorhouse notes that the jury was composed of a large number of relatives of the three men.  This effectively ensured that there would be an indictment, or as Moorhouse observes, the three men would have been joined in the Tower by some of their nearest and dearest. There were three men prepared to turn evidence against Constable.  Moorhouse details it (p298-99) and the fact that it was undoubtedly a fix – not least because one of the prosecution witnesses was a certain Sir Ralph Ellerker (you’ll remember him from Hull where he also signed the pilgrim oath).  Ellerker was either buying his own safety or taking the opportunity to take out a member of the Constable family with whom the Ellerkers were feuding.

Lord Darcy was executed in London but Sir Robert Constable, Robert Aske and Lord Hussey, another leader of the pilgrimage, were sent back to the places where they’d rebelled against the king.  It must have been an unhappy convoy that set off from London.  Lord Hussey was dropped off at Lincoln where Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk awaited him with an executioner.  The convoy continued north.  Aske would die in chains in York but Sir Robert was destined for Hull.  When he arrived there was time to spare as his execution was set for market day (plenty of spectators).  He was executed on the 6th of July 1537 and his body was hung in chains.

As for Sir Marmaduke – he purchased Drax Priory from the Crown because of it’s links to his wife’s family.

To find out more about the history of the Pilgrimage of Grace double click on the image to open up a new webpage.  Rather alarmingly I have added to my list of posts for this week – there’re Sir Nicholas Tempest who was hanged at Tyburn for his part in the pilgrimage as well as Sir John Bulmer and his wife Margaret Stafford.  She was burned at Smithfield for her treason.  It’s not that I’m turning this blog into a series of posts about who Henry VIII executed – although there’s enough material for it- it’s more that I’ve become curious about who escaped and who paid the ultimate penalty and why.

 

Bush, M.L. (1996) The Pilgrimage of Grace: A Study of the Rebel Armies of October 1536 Manchester: Manchester University Press

Lipscomb, Suzannah. (2006) 1536: The Year That Changed Henry VIII Oxford: Lion Hudson

Moorhouse, Geoffrey. (2002). The Pilgrimage of Grace. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson

 

 

Catherine of Aragon – penniless princess to queen consort.

catherine of aragonAs Catherine of Aragon settled into Durham House after Arthur’s death in April 1502 her parents were already sending an envoy to England with plans for her future. Hernan Estrada was to demand Catherine and her dowry back immediately and at the same time to suggest ten-year-old Henry as a possible husband.

Following Elizabeth of York’s death in childbirth, Henry VII suggested himself as a husband. Isabella was not amused.  She sent a letter instructing her daughter to pack her bags and be ready to board the first available Spanish ship that dropped anchor.  Intentionally or not this had the effect of concentrating Henry and Ferdinand’s minds.   On 23 June 1503, Catherine was betrothed to Prince Henry and a dispensation was sent for. Julius II duly obliged and even managed to skirt around the thorny issue of whether Catherine was still a maiden or not by wording the dispensation to suggest that the marriage had ‘perhaps’ been consummated in Tremlett’s words.

henry8unknown3By 1504 Catherine was often ill.  It has been suggested that she may have been anorexic. This may have been one of the reasons she had difficulty producing children.  Henry VII was so concerned about Catherine that he wrote to the pope.  Julius II duly obliged by writing to Catherine commanding that she ate more. To find out more about Tremlett’s research into Catherine’s eating disorder and her time as a penniless princess double click on the image of Catherine to open a new window.

Meanwhile Henry VII and Ferdinand argued about money and Catherine was left, short of funds, in Durham House and from there she found herself moved to Richmond.  She still didn’t speak English and she was still surrounded by her Spanish ladies in waiting.  Then in 1507 the engagement to the young Prince Henry, pictured right, was off because Ferdinand hadn’t sent the dowry money.

It was at that point that Catherine made history for the first time.  In 1507 she became the Spanish ambassador.  In the meantime Catherine’s sister Juana had been bereaved by the death of her husband.  Henry, having met Juana, when Philip and she were stranded in England due to bad weather decided he would like to marry Juana.  It helped that she was queen of Castille and it probably also helped that Ferdinand did not want the match. Aside from the first six or so months of her time in England, Catherine’s experience had not been a good one. She is even said to have contemplated joining religious orders. Then on 21 April 1509 Henry VII died and the stalemate shattered.

The penniless princess who’d learned how to send secret letters, argue her cause and dissimulate to her own father as well as her father-in-law married seventeen-year-old Henry on 11 June 1509. There was a six year age gap between husband and wife but at tho stage it wasn’t particularly noticeable. Catherine, it turned out, knew how to nurse a grudge.  She sent Spanish diplomats and servants home with a flea in their ears and got on with being queen of England in a court where pageantry, feasting and jousting were now de rigeur.  Henry even turned up in Catherine’s private rooms disguised as Robin Hood.  Catherine, unlike some of Henry’s later wives, had the good sense to feign surprise and delight.

Henry_VIII_Catherine_of_Aragon_coronation_woodcut

By November Catherine was pregnant and Henry was caught canoodling with Anne, Lady Hastings the sister of the Duke of Buckingham.  They were exposed by Anne’s sister Elizabeth who was a favourite of Catherine’s.  Anne was carted off to a nunnery; Elizabeth was banned from court and Henry found himself in his wife’s bad books.  Caroz, the Spanish ambassador, described her as ‘vexed.’  In January 1510 Catherine miscarried.  The fairytale was over and the business of providing an heir began the sorry tale that would culminate in Henry divorcing his Spanish princess.

Tremlett, Giles. (2010) Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish Queen. London: Faber and Faber

Catherine of Aragon- childhood and marriage

catherine11In the same year that Henry Tudor won the Battle of Bosworth, Isabella of Castille gave birth to a baby girl- Catalina.  It had been a difficult year for the baby’s parents; there was a war against Spain’s last remaining Moorish kingdom, an outbreak of plague and the problem that the girl’s mother Isabella of Castille insisted on reigning as a sovereign power rather than the docile little wife that Ferdinand of Aragon might have preferred (not that it stopped the couple being  passionate about one another or Isabella being very jealous when her spouse strayed). Catalina was the last of five children of whom all but one were girls.  Isabella was thirty-four years old that Christmas in 1485 when the girl who would be known as Catherine of Aragon was born.  Tremlett notes that our understanding of Catalina’s childhood comes from her mother’s account books.

The picture is thought to be Catherine aged eleven.  Double click on the image to open a new page and find out more.

Three years later the English arrived at the town of Medina del Campo in Castille. Tremlett describes the pageantry through the eyes of the two English ambassadors who’d been sent to strike a deal between the joint Spanish monarchs and their own sovereign Henry VII of England. This was, in fact, the return visit.  The Spanish had already been to London to inspect the infant Prince Arthur.

The two countries were in the midst of negotiating a trade treaty.  When Henry Tudor became Henry VII he confirmed the existing trading arrangements with Spain.  Now, in 1489, Henry wanted more favourable trading arrangements for English merchants especially as his Navigation Acts which insisted that English ships be used to import foreign goods had resulted in a kind of stalemate with the Spanish insisting something similar for themselves. Following the treaty both countries were able to use whatever vessels they wanted to move their goods around and the rates of taxation were set favourably as well.

The two countries also wanted to arrive at terms that would enable their mutual benefit against the French. Broadly speaking if either country went to war with the French the other country would immediately become involved in the conflict.  Henry was involved with the protection of Brittany at this time.  It would have to be said that the treaty wasn’t particularly effective in terms of Henry’s aims agains the French.  Ultimately the French got their hands on Brittany and  it was partly because the ink was hardly dry on the Treaty of Medina del Campo when Ferdinand made peace with the French in July of the same year.  To be fair he was trying to win a war against the Moors at the time.

All English treaties at this time included the clause that the co-signatory wouldn’t harbour English rebels or Yorkist pretenders to the throne.  This would become important in 1499 when the Spanish refused to send Catalina to England until all potential Yorkist kings had been dealt with: the executions of the Earl of Warwick and Perkin Warbeck was a price that Henry was prepared to pay.

Because this was an important treaty it really needed to be sealed by a royal marriage.  Henry was keen on a marriage between his son and one of Isabella and Ferdinand’s four daughters because it demonstrated that he wasn’t a usurper on a wobbly throne any more.  A marriage to Spain would mean that he was a safe European player.

The treaty also covered Catalina’s dowry.  She was to have 200,000 crowns paid in instalments – and Henry Tudor liked the sound of coins clinking in his treasury almost as much as he liked being recognised as a European monarch. Little could Catherine or her father have realised that the dowry would cause so many problems in Catherine’s future.

The treaty was signed on the 27th March 1489.

Of Catalina or Catherine  (Usually a C but a K is also used and the Royal Palace at Hampton Court must know what it’s talking about) as she would become when she arrived in England we know relatively little as a child other than from the account books and from scenes that were carefully staged by the Spanish royal family such as Medina del Campo when she was shown off for the benefit of visiting dignitaries.  Tremlett records that the royal children had tutors from Italy and dancing teachers from Portugal; that Catherine learned to ride when she was six, that she was expected to learn how to sew and that Isabella kept a very decorous court so that Catherine’s childhood was not only sumptuous but cloistered.

We also know that the family was constantly on the move as Ferdinand and Isabella strove to bring unity and order to their country which until recently had been many kingdoms ruled by many races and creeds.  The place that Catherine called home was probably Alhambra where she lived from 1499 to 1501 when she set sail for England.

Tremlett, Giles. (2010) Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish Queen. London: Faber and Faber

Henry Percy, Fourth Earl of Northumberland

museumbossThis particular Earl of Northumberland is an unusual one in that he was the only one of his family to appear on the Yorkist side of the battle listings during the Wars of the Roses which of course means that a bit of back story is required for his actions to make sense.

Essentially the two great northern families were the Percys and the Nevilles (think Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick a.k.a. the Kingmaker). Had Henry VI been a little bit more effective it is possible that the two families wouldn’t have reached such a state of animosity that when Henry VI broke down in 1453 that the two sides came to blows.  A force of more than seven hundred Percys and their retainers, led by Lord Egremont (the Earl of Northumberland’s second son), attacked a wedding party of Nevilles on Heworth Moor near York.  Quite clearly this did not bode well for wide political implications as it was almost inevitable that if the Percys were favoured by Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou that the Nevilles would look to the other side for support.

The Nevilles affiliated themselves with the Richard of York. The Earl of Salisbury (the Kingmaker’s father) also called Richard Neville was Richard of York’s uncle.  His sister, Cicely Neville a.k.a. ‘The Rose of Raby’ was married to Richard of York.

So far so good. The Earls of Northumberland then proceeded to drop like flies and of course they all rejoiced in the name Henry thus making remembering them easy or difficult depending on what you’re trying to remember. The Second Earl of Northumberland didn’t make it beyond the first official battle of the Wars of the Roses.  He was killed at the First Battle of St Albans on 22 May 1455.  He was succeeded by his eldest son Henry Percy (just to confuse matters he’s also known as Lord Poynings on account of gaining the title when he married his wife) who became the Third Earl of Northumberland. The third earl was definitely Lancastrian.  The feud was in full swing now as the noble families of England merrily took turns slaughtering on another. He died in his turn on 29 March 1461 at the Battle of Towton.  This battle was won by Richard of York’s son Edward who was now Edward IV of England, his father having fallen victim to a sharp weapon at the Battle of Wakefield the previous year.

The death of earl number three finally brings us to our Henry Percy.  He did not automatically become the Earl of Northumberland. His father’s earldom was forfeited at the Battle of Towton by the victorious Yorkists who naturally declared everyone fighting on the wrong side of the battle field traitors and promptly confiscated anything of value as well as lopping off a few heads.  In that sense Henry Percy was lucky.  He was imprisoned in the Fleet Prison and from there he was sent to the Tower in 1464.  During this time John Neville, the Kingmaker’s brother  was created Earl of Northumberland – I don’t even want to imagine how that went down with the locals.

In 1469 after swearing fealty to Edward IV  Henry Percy was released.  He then set about trying to get his estates returned. He petitioned for the reversal of his father’s attainder though this was not granted by Parliament until 1473.  For various reasons including his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV began to find his Neville cousins rather wearing and ultimately Henry Percy gained Edward IV’s support.  John Neville found himself kicked out of his newly acquired earldom whilst Henry Percy regained the family title.  Ta dah! Henry Percy, Fourth Earl of Northumberland and Ta dah! John Neville, Marquess of Montagu.

Unsurprisingly John Neville wasn’t best pleased and promptly changed sides along with his brother the Earl of Warwick who was displeased with having been made to look a fool whilst negotiating for Edward IV’s marriage to a french princess only to discover that he’d married Elizabeth Woodville. After that the Nevilles found that dominating court became rather tricky with the best perks going to a huge extended Woodville clan.  Both brothers were killed at the Battle of Barnet in 1471

Henry Percy went back to doing what the Earls of Northumberland had been doing for a very long time – i.e. ruling vast tracts of land and skirmishing with the Scots. He held many of the important government posts in the north of England which were traditional in his family including from 10 May 1483, as protector, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, confirmed the fourth earl of Northumberland’s appointment as warden-general of the east and middle marches ‘during the space and time of a whole year’, after which it was renewed for five months but perhaps it would appear not as much power from Richard III as he had hoped. Naturally enough  he fought at Bosworth where he commanded the right wing of Richard III’s army.

And now for the twist.  The Percys were naturally Lancastrian by inclination. Percy’s father and grandfather had died for Henry VI. Some historians says that Percy betrayed Richard III by holding his forces back from action.  Percy’s northern levies weren’t committed to the battle.

If Northumberland had been a metaphorical spoke in Richard’s wheel he wasn’t very well rewarded by Henry Tudor who now became Henry VII. Northumberland, along with the earls of Westmoreland and Surrey was taken into custody and kept in prison for several months, being released only under strict conditions of good behaviour.  He was restored to his position as warden but with curtailed powers.  Henry may not have trusted him but Percy knew how to protect England’s northern border. He was also at hand to help defeat the Yorkist forces that gathered during the Lambert Simnel rebellion in 1487.

In 1489 Northumberland was part of the king’s administration gathering £100,000 of tax. This led to the Yorkshire Rebellion.  Northumberland had to deal with the resistance of Yorkshiremen to the tenth of incomes demanded for Henry’s Breton war and for the raising of a force against the Scots.  Things can’t have gone well for the Earl  as his own tenants were up in arms.  He was so alarmed that on Saturday, 24 April, he wrote to Sir Robert Plumpton from Seamer, close to Scarborough, ordering him to secretly bring as many armed men as he could to Thirsk by the following Monday. It didn’t do him much good.

On  Wednesday, 28 April, having gathered a force estimated at eight hundred men, he came into conflict with the commons, whose ringleader was one John a Chamber, near Thirsk, at a place variously called Cockledge or Blackmoor Edge, and was killed.

It was at first reported that he had gone out unarmed to parley with the rebels. It rapidly became clear that another reason for the earl’s death was that the good men of Thirsk who had been loyal to Richard III held the earl partly responsible for their king’s death.  The rebellion was  ultimately suppressed by the Earl of Surrey (the son of the Duke of Norfolk and yet another noble who’d been on the wrong side at Bosworth).  Surrey  took on Northumberland’s lands whilst the newest Henry Percy  was a minor.

The death of Henry VII

henry_deathbed_largeKing Henry VII died on 21st April 1509 at Richmond Palace. He’d not been well since the spring of 1507 when it was feared that he would die of a severe throat infection.  In fact he’d been taken ill shortly after Prince Arthur’s death in 1502 at which point there must have been real concern for the stability of the Tudor succession but he survived long enough for his remaining son to reach maturity.  In 1508 Starkey noted that Henry VII suffered from an acute rheumatic fever followed by “a loss of appetite and bouts of depression”. He was ill again at the beginning of 1509. It is thought to have been tuberculosis. His funeral effigy made from his death mask shows a man made old by illness and the burdens of kingship not to mention all those Yorkist plots and rebellions.henry7deathmask

 

On the 20th April, Henry VII summoned his confessor to administer the last rites. He died on the 21st April surrounded by clerics including his confessor Richard Fox the Bishop of Winchester, ushers and members of his household as well as three doctors who can be identified by the urine bottles that they are holding.

 

News of Henry’s death remained a secret until the 23rd of April when seventeen-year-old Henry was proclaimed King Henry VIII. The reason for the secrecy was to ensure a smooth transition of government. Whilst two de la Pole brothers were in the Tower another, Richard, was abroad plotting Yorkist plots. There was also Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham and possible claimant to the crown.

 

As Hutchinson says, for forty-four hours there was rather a lot of activity ranging from summoning councilors who then began thrashing out the format that government would take to playing hunt the old king’s treasure. £180,000 was secured and accounted for. The king who took the throne and found an empty treasury had become a very wealthy monarch indeed: not popular but wealthy.  It’s perhaps not surprising that one of the first things that Henry VIII did was to have Henry VII’s tax collectors Empson and Dudley attainted of constructive treason and executed.

 

As for the format of Henry VIII’s government, well, he was seventeen. He would come of age when he was eighteen in June. Earlier medieval monarchs had ruled from younger ages but times had changed. Margaret Beaufort, her son’s informal and constant advisor, was the chief executor of Henry VII’s will. She was also the oldest member of the royal family. If you were picky about it you could also argue that because England had no salic law prohibiting women from the crown it was she rather than her son who ought to have been crowned in the first place. Now, she set about advising her grandson on who his councilors ought to be. It would appear that Henry VIII took his grandmother’s advice. Margaret died the day after Henry came of age.

 

Meanwhile Henry VII’s ministers were still popping in for a chat with their old master, guards still stood at the door to his chamber (for rather obvious reasons), trumpets were being blown and food tasted for the monarch who was well passed the need to have his meals checked for poison. To all casual viewers it was service as normal. Whenever the new king put in an appearance he was still addressed as Prince Henry. Official business was conducted in the name of Henry VII.

 

However, someone somewhere must have looked a bit more fraught than usual because the Spanish ambassador certainly had an idea that something was afoot and he wanted to know what it would mean for Katherine of Aragon who was living a strange half life as a penniless princess whilst her father and father-in-law argued about finances and marriages. In London panicky merchants were seen out and about but when all was said and done there was a smooth swap of monarchs – the first time peaceful transition  had occurred since the Wars of the Roses began.  Being rather arbitrary about it, since May 1455 (dated to the First Battle of St Albans).

The drawing at the start of this post was made by Sir Thomas Wriothesley for his book of funerals.  It is held by the British Library.  Double click on the image to open up a new window with more information about the people in the image and about Sir Thomas.

 

Hutchinson, Robert (2012) Young Henry: The Rise of Henry VIII. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson

Norton, Elizabeth. (2011) Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty. Stroud: Amberley Publishing

Starkey, David. (2009)  Henry: Virtuous Prince. London: Harper Press

 

Sir Reginald Bray – Tudor advisor, architect and spymaster

sir reginald bray.jpgSir Reginald Bray is often mentioned as Margaret Beaufort’s man of business and then as Henry VII’s advisor – a sort of Tudor prime minister and chancellor of the exchequer rolled into one politically astute package.  Bray first came to Tudor attention when he was master of the household to Margare Beaufort’s third husband (if you count the childhood proxy marriage and annulment from John de la Pole), Henry Stafford and given that Richard III issued him with a pardon of Lancastrian sympathies. His father is mentioned by Leland as one of Henry VI’s doctors. Indeed Sir Reginald is also mentioned as doctoring Henry. There seem no end to the man’s talents. In the meantime after Sir Henry Stafford’s death, following injuries sustained at the Battle of Barnet in 1471, Bray continued as the steward of Margaret’s household.

 

Somehow or other Bray often found himself at the centre of things. Whilst Margaret Beaufort was conspiring with the Duke of Buckingham  in 1483 it was Bray who carried messages for Buckingham on the advice of his ‘house-guest’ Bishop Morton of Ely who described Bray as “secret, sober and well-witted.” Following Bosworth it was Bray who allegedly retrieved Richard’s crown from a thorn bush so that Lord Stanley could place it on his step-son’s head. It was Bray who told Henry VII during his progress to York in April 1486 that Lord Lovell and the Stafford brothers (Sir Thomas and Humphrey) intended to break out of sanctuary in Colchester. Henry initially didn’t believe him because Bray’s source would not reveal the name of the person who had told him the information. On a later occasion Sir Francis Bacon records that bray paid a bribe of £500 from the king’s privy purse to Sir Robert Clifford to betray Perkin Warbeck.

 

Bray appears to be something of a polymath since not only did he do finance and spying but also a spot of doctoring and architecture. He had a hand in the design of Henry VII’s chapel at Westminster and also St George’s Chapel Windsor. The image  of the Sir Reginald on the left hand side of the picture in this post comes from the Henry VII window at Worcester Cathedral. Sir Reginald was one of the donors.

 

Sir Reginald reaped the rewards for his service. As well as being made a knight of the Bath he also became a knight of the Garter, was granted the constableship of the castle of the castle of Oakham in Rutland, and was appointed joint chief justice of all the forests south of Trent, and chosen of the privy council. After this he was appointed high-treasurer and chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. He was also made keeper of the parks of Guildford and Henley, with the manor of Claygate in Ash for life. He was also high steward for the university of Oxford and a member of Parliament.

 

In Jun 1497 following the Cornish Rebellion and the Battle of Blackheath he was rewarded with more titles. He also landed Lord Audely’s estate in Surrey when the unfortunate lord was found gulty of treason and lost his head.

He was born in Worcester in 1440 and buried in St George’s Windsor in 1503 after a career devoted to the Tudors. Edmund Hall extolled him as “a sage and grave person.”