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The Derbyshire Militia – facing Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745

blue plaque derbyI’ve hopped away from the English Civil War for a couple of days. I’m currently trying to find out what I can about the Derbyshire Blues. This was the regiment of militia raised by William Cavendish, the Third Duke of Devonshire, in 1745 in response to the arrival of Bonnie Prince Charlie and his prospective invasion of England.

 

There had been an act to permit the raising of militia at the beginning of the eighteenth century which required regular renewal but this had lapsed when it was not renewed in 1735. In theory this meant that all the Lord Lieutenants of counties who raised regiments against the Jacobites were in breach of the law not that this stopped King George II’s ministers from approving the need for them on the 5th September 1745. George II was in Hanover and so Parliament could not sit until he returned so even though letters were sent out to Lords Lieutenant on the 13th they weren’t acting entirely within the bounds of legality. As a consequence the Militia Act of 1745 passed through parliament into law in one day. The Act stated that at any time up to the 30 November 1746, the militia could be called for active service, with each soldier to be provided with a month’s pay, advanced locally and repaid within six months. Any regiment of militia would be liable to serve throughout the country – although in Derbyshire there was a stipulation that none of its militia should be expected to march more than ten miles outside the county boundaries. So essentially, think of the militia as a proto-type home guard.

 

The problem seems to have been that the militia despite their pay and in many cases their new uniforms were not the kind of men that the Lords Lieutenant might have hoped for. In Carlisle men deserted in droves when they are required to defend the walls and in Lancashire despite their new coats, hats and shoes the militia took itself off to Liverpool before decamping in the direction of Warrington to destroy bridges. Beckett reveals that the militia were so ineffective that the Jacobites gave them the code name “small beer” although he does note that they were much more effective during the Jacobite retreat in that they harried stragglers and sought to slow the Highlanders by felling trees across various roads.

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In Derbyshire the Duke of Devonshire, a Whig supporter of the Hanoverians was also the Lord Lieutenant of the county. He had just returned from duties in Ireland where he had been Lord Lieutenant for six years. It was his job to raise the militia. On the 28th September there was a meeting in the George Inn on Irongate in Derby:

“to consider of such measures as are fit to be taken for the support of the Royal Person and government of H. M. King George, and our happy constitution in Church and State, at a time when rebellion is carrying on in favour of a Popish Pretender.”

As a result of the discussion a regiment of five hundred men was formed. One hundred and twenty of them had been paid for by the duke himself. Overall command of the regiment was to be given to the Duke of Devonshire with the Marquis of Hartington and Sir Nathaniel Curzon taking charge of one company each with the two county MPs taking the jobs of colonels of the regiment. The minutes of the meeting revealed the initial idea was that the men should be divided amongst Derbyshire’s market towns – Ashbourne was to have fifty men as was Bakewell whilst Chesterfield and Derby were to have a hundred men each.   Sir Nathaniel Curzon, Sir Robert Burdett, Sir Henry Harpur, Littleton Poyntz Meynell, William Cotton, German Pole, Edward Munday, Richard Harpur, Philip Gell were signatories to the document and in excess of £6000 was raised by subscription for the formation of the militia.

George InnA second meeting at the George, or the King’s Head as it became as the Jacobites drew closer was also recorded in the Derby Mercury.  It turns out that the Duke not only summoned the gentry of the county to discuss the need for a militia but that he wined and dined them as well.  Even so when commissions were sent out it was reported that some  were turned down.

The Derbyshire Blues were a nattily dressed bunch in blue serge coats, white breeches, black buckled shoes and tricorn hats sporting an orange cockade. In London it was arranged for armaments to be sent from The Tower to Derbyshire in two waggons.

On the 19th November, by which time the Jacobites had captured Carlisle, Lord Lonsdale, the Lord Lieutenant of Cumberland, wrote to the Due of Devonshire saying that he had heard from Penrith to the effect that the Jacobites were coming with an army of 8,000 men and where was the English army under the command of Sir John Ligionier? Lonsdale was concerned that his message had got lost en route and hoped that the duke could correspond with the army based at Lichfield more effectively. Ligionier was unwell and he was about to be replaced by George II’s son, the Duke of Cumberland.

 

As December approached the panic seems to have grown, trees were felled to form a blockade on the road between Buxton and Ashbourne; letters were written about the dangers of local Catholics who found themselves unable to own a horse worth more than £5.00 and forbidden to travel far from their own doorsteps. By the 3rd of December folk who could leave Derby did so.

 

The militia paraded, moved into position to guard Swarkestone Bridge and then at ten in the evening scarpered to Mansfield via Nottingham before deciding that it was still too close to the Jacobites having sent a scout to find out if they had yet left Derby and decamping to Retford – which is not exactly on a direct route to London but was much closer to Marshall Wade who was then in Doncaster! Part of the reason for their reluctance to encounter the Jacobites was that they believed that the prince’s army was considerably larger than it really was. Rumour suggested somewhere in the region of 9,000 men when actually the army was closer to 4,000. Even if they had known the true number it is hard to imagine what five hundred part-time soldiers could possibly have done against the highlanders in an unwalled city aside from getting themselves slaughtered.

 

After the whole affair was over a satire purporting to be a chronicle of the “mighty acts of Devonshire” was published – presumably by a Jacobite sympathiser or by a forerunner of Jimmy Perry.  Very sensibly the author chose a pseudonym “Nathan Ben Shaddai.” He wrote it in the manner of an Old Testament reading.  The militia are seen arguing about where is safest for them and then go to Nottingham via the village of Borrows-Ash where “they make war on the poultry” and drank “much strong drink” before departing “forgetting to pay.” During the course of their flight a certain Captain Lowe does not emerge particularly heroically and having consumed rather a lot of intoxicating liquor the regiment confuses a herd of cows with the Jacobites. The chronicle descends into farce when one of the drummers leaves his drum on the road in the confusion and a Lieutenant accidentally rode his horse over it causing even more chaos not to mention a soiling of the aforementioned  white breeches.

 

Beckett, Fredrick, William. (1991)The Amateur Military Tradition, 1558-1945. Manchester: Manchester University Press

Lord, Evelyn and  Money, David. (2004) The Stuarts Secret Army: English Jacobites 1689-1752. London: Pearson

Riding, Jacqueline. A New History of the ’45 Rebellion.  London: Bloomsbury

Stone, Brian. (2015). Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Highland Army in Derby. Cromford: Scarthin Books.

https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/The_Chronicle_of_the_Derbyshire_Regiment.html?id=HLmDAQAACAAJ&redir_esc=y

Image of the Duke of Devonshire from the National Portrait Gallery Collection.

 

 

 

 

 

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Road to War – from Parliament to Edge hill.

Charles_I_in_Three_Positions_1635-36I am currently feeling slightly out of kilter time wise as I have classes running on topics ranging from Kathryn Swynford to the English Civil War with a side interest in the names on my local war memorial – the research for which in the hundredth anniversary is proving fascinating.  I almost feel that I should do more blogs to give every area of History an airing!

So with that in mind – I shall post today about 1642.  1641 had not been a tremendously good year for King Charles I.  He had to call Parliament when he managed to mislay Northumberland and Durham into the hands of the Scots.  In August he was required to go to Edinburgh and give the Covenanters virtually everything they demanded which in turn contributed to the Irish Rebellion which like a domino toppling over onto its neighbour resulted in John Pym taking the opportunity of attacking the king and also his queen.

By January 1642 Charles I was prepared for an extremely ill-advised move against Pym and his associates.  His plan to arrest them in Parliament on the 4th January was leaked, as I’ve posted before, by Lady Carlisle who was one of Henrietta Maria’s favourites.  Charles famously discovered that the birds had flown and that most of London was up in arms about the king’s abuse of his rights.  Charles probably wasn’t terribly mused when the five men – Pym, Holles, Hampden, Haselrig and Strode returned to Westminster on the 11th of January to a heroes welcome.

The following day Charles and his family left Hampton Court for Windsor. Across the country petitions were drawn up and rumours began to circulate. One rumour said that  the Danes were going to invade whilst a more local rumour in Norwich stated that those pesky Puritans were going to destroy Norwich Cathedral’s organ.  The result of the clergy setting a guard over their prized musical instrument was a riot whilst, during August,  in Kidderminster a group of Puritans really did attempt to make the church less catholic in its ornament – and yes there was another riot.  The situation across the country was unsettled to put it mildly.  Neighbours began to look askance at one another. The threat of violence and sectarianism wasn’t far from the surface although at this stage in proceedings allegiances had not been firmly settled upon.

Meanwhile at Windsor the Stuarts had come up with a cunning plan.  Henrietta Maria was going to accompany her daughter, ten-year-old Mary to Holland – ostensibly the princess royal was going to join her spouse and Henrietta Maria was going as a doting mother. More practically the queen was going to buy munitions and mercenaries.  The family made their farewells at Dover in February 1642.  Charles’ nephew Prince Rupert turned up to thank his uncle for helping him gain his freedom.  In private he offered Uncle Charles his support which was a bit rich as his elder brother was in Whitehall at the time assuring anyone who would listen that the European Stuarts would stay neutral.

Charles collected his eldest son and headed north where he believed he would receive more support.  He entered York on the 19th March.  The king and Parliament spent several weeks firing missives and ordinances at one another which both sides rejected.  Parliament also became concerned that the arsenal at Hull was a bit too close to Charles for comfort so petition that it should be removed to The Tower.  Charles is confident that the Governor of Hull, Sir John Hotham is a good and upstanding royalist unfortunately although young Prince James receives a warm welcome on 22 April his father finds the gates of the town shut against him  on the 23rd.  Hull is promptly besieged.

In London trained bands of militia go through their drills and Parliament reserves the right to call on the militia – which is a bit difficult as Charles refuses to agree to that particular idea.  This ultimately means that every county receives two versions of a commission of array demanding armed men to take the field – one commission is for parliament whilst the other is for the king.  By June both Parliament and the King are recruiting men.  Not only that but suddenly there is a bit of a contest over fortified locations, magazines and strong points.  There is also a drive for financial aid. Charles expedited matters somewhat in York by setting up a mint.

The gentry from across the country meet to write petitions and gather signatures.  The petitions that are favourable to Charles, he kept – the rest he ignored. Derby sent two – the first asked him very politely to return to his Parliament. The most famous presentation of a petition occurred on June 3rd when Charles rode out to Heyworth Moor to receive a demonstration of loyalty from the gentlemen of Yorkshire. Thomas Fairfax who will go on to become a parliamentary general tries to present a petition to the king and is almost ridden down for his pains.  Petitions and letters continue to be swapped in a bid to avert civil strife but at the end of June Charles attempts to take control of the fleet by writing personalised letters to each of his captains.  The fleet declares for Parliament and the earl of Warwick is appointed as High Admiral.

Meanwhile Hull is still under siege and on July 12 the king leaves York and goes to Newark.  He also visits Lincoln before returning to Beverley.  He then travels down through the Midlands.

The time for the war of paper is almost over.  Parliament start appointing committees of public safety and in August passes an ordinance stating that the customs fees that have previously been paid to the king must now be paid to Parliament.  Regiments muster in different counties and batteries are raised.  Dover Castle is taken by surprise on the 21st of August by forces loyal to Parliament.  Despite this momentous event the metaphorical trail of gunpowder does not reach the powderkeg until the following day – and at the time, its something of a damp squib.

On August 22nd 1642, King Charles I raises the royal standard at Nottingham.  There is no fanfare.  England is officially at war with itself. Even now war could have been averted. The Privy Council insist that the king sends a conciliatory letter to both of the houses of parliament.  The Earl of Southampton takes the letter to the Lords where he is jeered at.  Sir John Culpeper who takes the other letter to the House of Commons is not permitted to give it to the house.  Part of the reason for this was that Parliament was much more organised in terms of recruiting and arming men for its cause.

There is rather a lot of marching around on both sides and some manoeuvring in Manchester which I’m going to ignore for the time being.  Prince Rupert turns up at Leicester and writes the mayor a very forthright letter threatening to raze the place to the ground unless a large sum of money is handed over.  This makes excellent propaganda for Parliament so Charles makes Rupert write a second letter to the mayor apologising for the content of the first one.  It should be noted that the money remained in the king’s hands.

On the 13th September King Charles marches from Nottingham to Derby.  He advances on Shrewsbury whilst Prince Rupert goes to visit Worcester which he finds indefensible.  It is at the point that he encounters some Parliamentarians  at Powick Bridge.  There is fisticuffs and it usually described as the first major encounter of the war – which in truth is a bit of an overstatement but  since Rupert won, it gave the royalists a boost and they insisted on going on about it at length-hence its place in the History books.

On the 12th October Charles left Shrewsbury to march on London. The royalist army has grown during this time but Charles is now reduced to selling titles in order to refuel his piggybank. By the 17th he is in Birmingham and on the 21st the king is in Edgcote.

The 23 October 1642 – The Battle of Edgehill.  The reasons for the battle are fairly straightforward, Charles wanted to get to London whilst the parliamentary general – in the shape of the Earl of Essex, needed to stop him from pursuing that idea.  Essex had been all over the country at this point and even on the 22nd he didn’t have an exact notion as to where Charles was because of ineffective communications. Somehow or the other both armies managed to end up in reasonable proximity to one another.  The king held the ridge at Edgehill but it couldn’t be said that the royalist army got into position quickly.  Prince Rupert was in place with his cavalry at daybreak but by the time the two armies actually got into striking distance of one another it was 2pm.  In part this was because Essex simply refused to attack up a steep hill – so the royalists had to march down.  The battle took the form of an hour long cannonade, a fight over the hedges and a cavalry charge or two. Prince Rupert demonstrated for the first time his tendency to ride straight through the battle and go for the backlines.  On this occasion he came across some fresh parliamentarian forces at the village of Kniveton, had a brief skirmish then turned his men around and headed back to the main battle rather than continuing to do his own thing which usually involved getting to grips with the baggage train.  In two hours each army fought the other to a standstill.  By then it was getting dark and the chaos of battle was confused by the the darkness of night.  Military historians describe it as a draw but practically it left the way open to London so the Earl of Essex  failed in his purpose meaning that by default the victory at Edgehill went to the king.

Essex retired to Warwick.

If Charles had marched on London he would have retaken his capital.  In medieval terms the person who controlled the capital was usually the person who ultimately won the war.  In 1642 Charles would have probably been able to take control of the fleet and he would definitely have had a larger population to tax so that he could have continued to fight Parliament.  Rupert advised his uncle to ride for London immediately but Charles was concerned about the fact that London was hostile to him.  There were also the trained bands of London militia to consider.

In November Rupert reached Brentford which he fired and plundered.  Londoners fearful of suffering a similar fate put 6,000 trained apprentices in the field and a further 24,000 Londoners took up arms. The Londoners led by the earl of Essex and the king’s army stood face to face at Turnham Green in Chiswick.  Charles eventually withdrew not wishing to be responsible for the loss of so much life.

Whilst John Pym spent the rest of the year working out how to tax people so that Parliament could pay its army, a party for peace would propose a settlement in February 1643.  The proposed Treaty of Oxford would have seen parliament called every three years, the abolition of bishops with everything else remaining in the king’s power – though he would have had to have consulted with parliament.

I suspect that I ought to post about the Earl of Essex next.

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Kirby Muxloe Castle and William, Lord Hastings

DSC_0077There’s not much left of Kirby Muxloe Castle today apart from two red brick octagonal corner turrets and a gate-house. There’s also a rather fine moat filled with water lilies and at this time of year rather a lot of Canada geese. DOn’t go during the week because the doors are locked! The gate house boasts some state of the art gun loops which reflect the ways in which war fare was changing during the fifteenth century.

 

Originally there was a manor at Kirby Muxloe but when William Lord Hastings got hold of it in 1474, he applied for a license to crenulate. Being best buddies with Edward IV, Hastings was promptly granted the right to turn the manor into a castle. He began work in 1480.

DSC_0087.JPGThe bricks which form the towers and gate house were fired locally under the direction of John Cowper, who’d been an apprentice working on Henry VI’s school at Eton. The red bricks are interspaced with a black diamond or ‘diaper’ pattern which also incorporates the initials WH – William wanted folk to know who lived in the snazzy new castle. There’s also a sleeve or ‘maunch’ from his coat of arms, a jug and a boat – although the guide book admits that historians are till scratching their heads as to why Hastings wanted those particular decorations.  A set of accounts survives from 1480 to 1484 detailing work on the castle. It reveals 100,000 bricks a week were being fired.

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The west tower was the only part of Hastings’ project to be completed. Work stopped five years later when Hastings had a nasty accident with an axe on Tower Green on 13 June 1483. Hastings’ wife continued working on the building and the family continued to live there until 1630 although Hastings’ plan was never fulfilled.

 

So who was William, Lord Hastings? He was born in approximately 1430 and his father owed his service to Richard, Duke of York. William was knighted by Edward IV in the aftermath of Towton in 1461 and swiftly became chamberlain to Edward’s household. He was one of the courtiers who helped arrange the marriage of Margaret of York (Edward’s sister) to the Duke of Burgundy. Hastings took the opportunity to build his land base in his native Leicestershire – principly Ashby de la Zouche and Kirkby Muxloe as well as Slingsby in Yorkshire whilst in the royal household. When Edward briefly lost his throne in 1470 on account of the Kingmaker being unamused at Edward’s secret wedding to Elizabeth Woodville, Hastings fled to the continent with his monarch. Hastings was with Edward fighting against the Earl of Warwick at the Battle of Barnet which may have taken some explaining at home as Hastings’ wife Katherine was actually Katherine Neville – the Earl of Warwick’s sister (also making him cousin by marriage to Edward IV and Richard, Duke of Gloucester).

 

Hastings took part in the Battle of Tewkesbury which saw the death of Lancastrian Prince Edward and the capture of Henry VI’s queen, Margaret of Anjou. In the aftermath of Tewkesbury Hastings found himself being sent to Calais in order to restore order on behalf of Edward IV. As a consequence of all that loyalty and martial activity he was even more liberally rewarded once the Yorkists were secure on the throne… and he got to go to all of Edward IV’s parties as well. Mancini describes Hastings as being privy to all of Edward’s pleasures ( i.e. all that drinking and debauchery that ruined Edward IV’s health).

 

Of course, like many other of Edward’s courtiers Hastings fought a running smear campaign against the Woodvilles and in particular with Edward’s step-son Thomas Grey, the Earl of Dorset and Elizabeth Woodville’s brother Anthony (Earl Rivers). It was, perhaps, as a consequence of this faction fighting that Hastings sent a messenger to Richard in Middleham when Edward died unexpectedly on April 9, 1483. The Croyland Chronicle suggests that Hastings may have feared for his life.

 

The Woodvilles seemed to be about to conduct a coup which would have seen them in control of the young king Edward V and which would have paid no heed to Edward IV’s clear instructions that Richard, Duke of Gloucester was to be the regent. Things must have looked bad when Hastings tried to stop the proposed coronation of 4 May saying that the Woodvilles should wait until Richard arrived in London.

What we know is thus:

April 9 1483: Edward IV died.

April 11 1483: Edward V proclaimed king. The date for the coronation was fixed on May 4. Edward V was summoned to London from Ludlow. There was an argument between Elizabeth Woodville and Hastings over the number of men who should be sent to bring the king to London. Hastings threatened to go to Calais . Hastings wrote to Richard, Duke of Gloucester in Middleham informing him of his brother’s death and the dangers of a Woodville coup. Richard had the letter by April 20th.

 

April 14 1483: News of Edward IV’s death reaches Ludlow and probably the Duke of Buckingham.

 

April 20: Council sits in London. Arguments between Woodville faction and other older noble stock including Hastings about apparent haste of coronation.

April 24: Earl Rivers sets out for London with Edward V and 2,000 men.

April 26: Richard of Gloucester in Nottingham where a certain Humphrey Percival met with him in secret to discuss the Duke of Buckingham’s proposal to meet with him in Northampton. Earl Rivers met with messengers on the road and agreed to meet Gloucester and Buckingham in Northampton.

April 29: Edward V and Lord Rivers arrive in Northampton. Sir Richard Grey (Edward’s half brother) arrived from London ordering Rivers to hurry to London. Rivers moved on to Stony Stratford- Rivers then went back to Northampton where Buckingham and Goucester had arrived to find the king gone.

April 30: Lord Rivers discovered that he was a prisoner. Sir Richard Grey was arrested as were others of Edward V’s escort. Late on the evening of the 30th Elizabeth Woodville went into sanctuary at Westminster Abbey with her remaining son and her daughters. Dr Morton, (Lord Chancellor and later Cardinal and Henry Tudor’s right hand man) surrendered the Great Seal into Elizabeth Woodville’s keeping. Hastings wrote and told Richard what Morton had done.

April 31: Hastings speaks to the Councilsaying that Gloucester was “fastly faithful to his prince.” (Weir: 85). He also said that Rivers and Grey would receive impartial justice.

May 2: Gloucester despatches Rivers and Grey north. Issues orders that Dr Morton was to be sacked as Lord Chancellor but the bishop was allowed to keep his seat on the Council.

May 3: Edward V and Richard, Duke of Gloucester leave Northampton for London.

May 4: Having spent the night in St Albans the king and the duke travel towards London.

 

To all intents and purposes Richard, Duke of Gloucester was in complete control. The Croyland Chronicle comments on how well Lord Hastings was doing out of the whole affair. But something was wrong. Perhaps Hastings resented the fact that he’d stayed in London at the heart of the danger sending information to Richard for very little reward. Perhaps he didn’t much like the Duke of Buckingham who seemed to be in the ascendant. Perhaps he was a bit concerned about Richard’s power. Certainly he discussed with like minded peers how the regent’s new powers should be kept under control. Was it possible that Hastings changed his mind and began negotiating with the Woodvilles? How was Edward IV’s mistress Jane Shore involved?

 

Jane Shore had transferred her affections from the deceased Edward IV to William Hastings if Mancini and Thomas More (who was a child at the time but who seems to have got his information from the Howard family) are to be believed. Alison Weir comments that Edward IV was generous with his friends in that he wasn’t jealous of his mistresses’ affections. It appears that one of the causes of rivalry between Hastings and Dorset were a shared interest in Mistress Shore (Weir: 55)

 

June 10 1483 Richard sent Sir Richard Ratcliffe north to the mayor of York and the Earl of Northumberland with letters ordering them south to support Richard against the Woodvilles. The letters state that Richard believed that the Woodvilles intended to murder him (Cole:185).

 

Friday June 13 1485: Lord Howard called in at Jane Shore’s house where he collected William, Lord Hastings. Howard and Hastings made their way to a council meeting in the Tower of London. At 9 in the morning Richard arrived at the meeting and sent  Dr Morton the Bishop of Ely for a “mess of strawberries.”   Richard excused himself and returned an hour and a half later in a bit of a temper. Hastings was accused of treason. Lord Stanley was taken prisoner, as was Dr Morton.

 

Hastings was dragged down to the courtyard and beheaded on some timber after his confession had been heard by a cleric. A herald was sent through London denouncing Hastings’ plot and announcing his execution.

 

Monday June 16 1485: Westminster Abbey surrounded by armed men. Richard, Duke of York went into the Tower to keep Edward V company , Richard the Protector having given his word as to the boy’s safety.

 

June 25 1485: Anthony Woodville, Elizabeth Woodville’s brother executed at Pontefract Castle.

 

Richard restored Hastings’ family to its position the month after William was killed with their titles, estates and wealth. Royle and other historians of the Wars of the Roses make the point that Richard’s accusation that Hastings was plotting with the Woodvilles via Jane Shore seems hard to believe. Hastings couldn’t stand the Woodvilles. Was it possible that Hastings feared that Richard would usurp the throne? Did he know something that no one else knew at that time? Did Richard have to silence him – a case of political expediency? Mancini wrote that Hastings needed to be taken out in order for Richard to claim the throne and that Hastings never suspected his friend of duplicity. Medieval politics weren’t just brutal, they were deadly.

Hastings’ death is the first of the historical events chalked up against Richard III – whatever we might think of him as an individual or a monarch.  It was an execution without trial and as such must be seen as murder. Earl Rivers and Richard Grey didn’t get a trial either. And no, he’s not the only monarch to indulge in a spot of murder – with or without the law on his side.

 

Cole, Hubert (1973). The Wars of the Roses. London:Granada Publishing

Royle, Trevor. (2009). The Road to Bosworth Field. London: Little Brown

Weir, Alison. (1992) The Princes in the Tower. New York: Ballantine

 

 

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Filed under Castles, Fifteenth Century, The Plantagenets, Wars of the Roses

Joan, Lady of Wales

siwanJoan was the natural daughter of King John. She is known as Joanna, Joan of Wales, Lady of Wales or Siwan to the Welsh.

She was born in about 1191 but history isn’t entirely sure who her mother was. It may have been Clemence Pinel but this information is gleaned from a sentence in the Tewkesbury Annals. Or it may have been Clemence wife of Nicholas de Verdun. This later is circumstantial evidence based on Henry III placing his niece in Clemence de Verdun’s care (http://plantagenesta.livejournal.com/53309.html)

We do know that Joan was brought up in Normandy and that in 1205 John arranged her marriage to Llywelyn the Great. This according to Morris was a mark of John’s favour to the Welsh prince. The pair were married the following year in Chester when Joan was fifteen. Joan bore at least one son and one daughter to Llywelyn – maybe more.

The marriage was certainly important for the peace of Wales. In 1210 there was a bit of a misunderstanding with Llywelyn having a bit of a rebellion whilst his father-in-law was in Ireland. The result was that John collected men and resources and proceeded to invade North Wales where his men promptly began to starve. John had to withdraw- presumably covered in embarrassment. He returned later in the year – and burned Bangor.

Joan was sent to have a chat with her father. Everything East of Conwy was handed over to John along with thirty hostages but Llywelyn remained at liberty and in possession of Snowdonia.

Inevitably the peace was short-lived which wasn’t terribly good news if you happened to be one of the thirty hostages. By 1212 open warfare was raging along the Welsh border. Chroniclers make it clear that John arrived in Nottingham on the 14 August where he made himself at home by having twenty-eight of the Welsh hostages hanged on account of the failings of their countrymen. Then he sat down for a meal – as you do.

If coffee had been available it would have been at about the coffee and mint stage of the meal that a letter arrived from Joan warning her father that there were traitors in the midst of his court and that his life was in danger if he went ahead with his planned invasion of Wales. In the event of a battle he would have a nasty ‘accident’. This was the second note of the evening. The first one had arrived shortly before from the King of Scotland containing a similar message.

Rumour ran a-mock. The chroniclers of the time became carried away by every bit of gossip available from the rape of the queen to invasion by the French. Sticking to facts- John cancelled his invasion of Wales; ensured the safety of four-year-old Prince Henry; sent all his barons home and then sent politely worded notes to the men he suspected demanding hostages flushing out two conspirators in the process.

In April 1226 Joan obtained a papal decree from Pope Honorius III, declaring her legitimate on the basis that her parents had not been married to others at the time of her birth. This did not give her a claim to the throne.

Unfortunately this respectability, which came in part from her impact in keeping the peace between Wales and England, came to rather an abrupt end in 1230. Joan was caught alone in her bedroom with William de Braose, 10th Baron of Abergevenny, a Norman lord.  Bad enough to be found in a compromising position but De Braose was hated by the Welsh, who called him Black William.

De Braose had been captured by the Welsh in 1228 and then ransomed. Llywelyn and de Braose had used the time to arrange the marriage of de Braose’s daughter Isabella to Llywelyn’s only legitimate son and heir, Dafydd. So when William visited during Easter 1230 there were no raised eyebrows. However, when William turned up in Joan’s bedroom in the dead of night – more than eyebrows were raised. Llywelyn raised a gibbet in his backyard and strung de Braose up. It didn’t stop the pre-arranged wedding going ahead in 1231 – you couldn’t make it up.

Joan was locked up for twelve months but was forgiven and reinstated. She died seven years after her unfortunate interlude with de Braose and was much mourned by Llywelyn who died in 1240 having founded a Friary in Llanfaes in Joan’s memory.

The friary was dissolved along with all the other monastic foundations in England and Wales by Henry VIII and Joan’s burial place was lost – her stone coffin was rediscovered being used as a horse trough. Today it can be seen in Beaumaris Church.

Joan appears largely in footnotes of books pertaining to the men in her life and no doubt had she not been married to Llywelyn we would know even less about her.  As is often the way when the truth is not known fiction is given freer reign.  Sharon Kay Penman’s book Here Be Dragons develops Joan’s story and that’s where I first encountered her.

joan03

Morris, Marc. (2015) King John- Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta. London: Penguin

Warren, W.L. (1978) King John. London: Methuen

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Filed under Anglo-Welsh History, The Plantagenets, Thirteenth Century

When history becomes mystery – or perhaps its the other way round. A brief look at Robin Hood.

P2101335So much for a catchy title!  Before we begin I need to admit that Robin Hood is my all time hero.  My father used to read me the tale of Robin Hood, at my request, again and again.  I visited Nottingham when I was seven and was disappointed with the castle in the way that only a seven-year-old can be.  I was expecting Hollywood turrets, battlements and assorted drawbridges.  Even worse, so far as fair Nottingham was concerned, what the bombing raids of Luftwaffe didn’t destroy, the city planners had mangled.  I can still remember my Dad going round the one way system getting progressively more irritated.  Things only really got better when we arrived in Sherwood Forest and we went in search of the Major Oak.  But enough of my personal history – just be aware that I have a not altogether unbiased viewpoint as to whether Robin existed or not.

Legend, film versions at any rate, places  Robin Hood and his merry band firmly in the reign of Good King Richard and Bad King John.  Other versions place him in the reign of Henry III, possibly dying with Simon de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham.

In some respects it doesn’t really matter.  The fact is that The Lyttell Geste of Robin Hood was set in print by William Caxton.  This is a version of an oral tradition that must have been handed down over the generations. And here its worth a moment’s digression. If we look at the ballads of the border reivers such as the tale of Kinmont Willie it is possible to see where history has become embroidered by the needs of a good story and the formula of the  ballad.  There’s also a little bit of a hint that Sir Walter Scott may have tidied the whole thing up somewhat.  It is possible to see a sixteenth century historical event turning into a story.  The same, perhaps, can be said for Robin Hood excepting the fact that there isn’t anywhere near as much paper based evidence for Robin Hood as there is for William Armstrong of Kinmont who took for himself rather than anyone else irrelevant of the wealth of his victims but still seems to have managed to stay one step ahead of the law.  And yes, Sir Walter Scott did embroider the Robin Hood story – who could forget Ivanhoe?

There is, however, a faint trace of a historical paper trail for the man in green.  The Court Rolls of the Manor of Wakefield; the Contrarient Rolls of King Edward II and the Household Expenses Account of Edward II reveal an archer by the name of Robin Hood. The key thing is though, not whether he existed or was fabricated by disgruntled over-taxed peasants, but that he became a national hero – and was sung about in English.  Robin reflects the fact that during the Plantagenet period the English were beginning to get a sense of themselves as a nation.  In part, this was because King John lost his continental empire and was forced to concentrate on England – not that the barons were terribly grateful for the favour. The accession of Henry III, the first child monarch in English history, saw a time of some weakness for the monarchy and the reissue of Magna Carta; the concept of shared power (well shared if you were a baron); a rising group of free men and a somewhat fairer legal system.  It is perhaps not surprising then that Robin’s story should be associated with a period in history when the English were beginning to evolve as a nation.

Of course, the Black Death killing one-third of the British population between 1349-50 helped matters along rather nicely as the English-speaking hoi-poloi suddenly found that they had more economic clout than previously but the fact that  English was reinstated in schools that same year, although the universities of Oxford and Cambridge continued to use Latin, reflects the growing importance of the English language and the changing perspectives of the ruling classes.  They were beginning to see themselves as English rather than Norman.  In 1362 English replaced French as the language of law by the Statutes of Pleading but records continued to be kept in Latin and English was used in Parliament for the first time.

Now if you don’t mind, I’m off to re-watch Errol Flynn being heroic in the green wood. If you want to find out more about the history of Edwinstowe where Robin Hood is supposed to have married Maid Marian, click on the image at the beginning.  It will take you to an article I wrote and had published a couple of years ago.  You might be surprised to discover that even Henry II gets in on the act as well.

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Filed under Development of English, Kings of England, Legends, The Plantagenets