Tag Archives: Tewkesbury Abbey

Joan Beaufort’s descendants – Eleanor Neville Countess of Northumberland

Joan BeaufortEleanor was born in about 1397 to Joan Beaufort and Ralph Neville, 1st earl of Westmorland. Eleanor, like the rest of her sisters,  was married off to another cousin – Richard le Despenser- who if you want to be exact was her second cousin.  His mother was Constance of York who was the daughter of John of Gaunt’s younger brother Edmund of  Langley, Duke of York.

The pair were married some time after 1412 but he died in 1414 aged only seventeen.  He’s buried in Tewkesbury Abbey along with his other more notorious Despenser ancestors – his two times great grandfather was Hugh Despenser who was Edward II’s favourite.  Once again though the Nevilles’ had made a wealthy match for their child.  The Despensers were amongst the wealthiest families in the country and were also Plantagenet in ancestry thanks to Constance.

Richard’s early death meant that the title of Baron Burghersh, which he had inherited from Constance, passed to Richard’s sister Isabella.  Just from point of interest it is worth noting that she would marry the Earl of Warwick  and in turn her daughter, Anne Beauchamp, would marry a certain Richard Neville – better known to history as the Kingmaker – demonstrating once again that very few families held the reins of power during the medieval period and that they were all interconnected.

Eleanor  meanwhile  married into one of the great northern families – the Percy family – which must have caused her heartbreak in later years given that the Percy-Neville feud would be one of the triggers for the Wars of the Roses.  Henry Percy, the 2nd Earl of Northumberland was the son of “Hostpur.”  In a strange twist his family hadn’t done terribly well under the Lancastrian kings despite supporting Henry Bolingbroke against his cousin Richard II.  The Percys had been rewarded in the first instance but had become disillusioned by Henry IV.  Both Henry Percy’s father and grandfather had been killed as a result of rebelling against Henry IV.  It was only when Henry V ascended the throne that our particular Henry Percy was able to return from exile in Scotland in 1413.  It was at the same time that Eleanor’s parents arranged the marriage between Henry and Eleanor.  It says something that Joan Beaufort who was the king’s aunt when all was said and done was able to work at a reconciliation between the king and the house of Percy whilst at the same time strengthening the Neville affinity in the north.

Percy, having returned to the fold, did what fifteenth century nobility did – he fought the Scots and the French.  He was also a member of the privy council during Henry VI’s minority.  But by the 1440s Percy was in dispute with various northerners over land.  He had a disagreement of the violent kind with the Archbishop of York and then fell out with the Nevilles which was unfortunate because not only was he married to Eleanor but he’d married his sister to  the 2nd earl of Westmorland (let’s just set aside the Neville-Neville feud for the moment).  The problem between the Percys and the Nevilles arose from a disagreement over land. Eleanor’s brother, the Earl of Salisbury married his son Thomas to Maud Stanhope who was the niece of Lord Cromwell.  Wressle Castle passed into the hands of the Nevilles as a result of the marriage. The Percy family was not pleased as the castle was traditionally one of their properties.  Eleanor’s husband did not become involved in a physical fight with his in-laws but his younger son Thomas, Lord Egremont did.  He attacked Thomas Neville and Maud Stanhope’s wedding party at Heworth Moor in August 1453.  The two families were forced to make the peace with one another but the hostility continued to mount.  The Nevilles were associated with Richard of York so naturally the Percy faction adhered to York’s opponents who happened to be best represented by Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset of represented Henry VI. The feuding which was really about dominance in the north was a bit like a set of dominoes knocking against one another until the whole affair moved from local to national significance. Each side became more and more determined to support their “national” representative in the hope that either York or Somerset would gain the upper hand and the patronage system would see rewards in the form of confirmation of landownership.

Henry Percy was with the king on 22 May 1455 at St Albans and was killed.  At the time it was regarded as the Earl of Salisbury’s way of dealing with the problem- meaning that he targeted and killed his own brother-in-law.  This in its turn escalated the hostility between the two factions. The death of Eleanor’s husband made the Percy family Lancastrians to the back-bone and would ensure that the feud continued across the battle fields of the Wars of the Roses.

Eleanor and Henry had ten children.  Their eldest son called John died young.  The next boy – inevitably called Henry- became the 3rd Earl of Northumberland upon his father’s death in 1455 and he in his turn was killed in 1461 at the Battle of Towton along with his brother Richard.  Eleanor’s son Henry had his own feud with the Nevilles on account of his marriage into the Poynings family.  This Henry was present at the council meeting in 1458 that demanded recompense for the events of St Albans in 1455.  He took part in the so-called Love-day orchestrated by Henry VI to demonstrate an end of the feuding but in reality Henry worked politically to have his Neville relations attainted of treason by the Coventry Parliament and he was on hand to take his revenge at Wakefield in 1460 when Richard of York and the Earl of Salisbury were killed.

Thomas Percy, Baron Egremont, the Percy responsible for the attack at Heworth Moor, was killed in 1460 at the Battle of Northampton. Ralph Percy was killed in 1464 at the Battle of Hedgeley Moor near Hexham leaving George who died in 1474 and William Percy who was the Bishop of Carlisle ( he died in 1462).  Rather unfortunately for the troubled family, Eleanor’s daughter Katherine was married to Edmund Grey, 1st Earl of Kent – the name may be familiar.  He was the man who laid down his weapons in the middle of the Battle of Northampton costing Henry VI the battle.  Another daughter Anne, lost her first husband in 1469 after he joined with the Earl of Warwick in conspiring to put Henry VI back on the throne and finally as you might expect there was a daughter called Joan who married into the northern gentry.

Eleanor’s son Henry was posthumously attainted of treason after Towton by Edward IV.  Her grandson, another Henry, was packed off to prison and would only be released when Edward IV shook off the influence of the Kingmaker in 1470.  The Percy family lost the earldom of Northumberland in the short term to the Neville family as a result of their loyalty to Henry VI in 1464 when Edward IV handed it over to the Nevilles in the form of John Neville Lord Montagu but unfortunately for Montagu  Northumberland’s tenantry did not take kindly to the change in landlord and Edward IV found himself reappointing the Percys to the earldom – which contributed massively to the Kingmaker throwing his toys from his pram and turning coat.

The new Earl of Northumberland – the fourth Henry Percy to hold the title had learned a lot from his father and grandfather.  Instead of rushing out wielding weapons Eleanor’s grandson was much more considered in his approach.  He did not oppose Edward IV and he did not support Richard III despite the fact that Richard returned lands which Edward IV had confiscated. This particular Earl of Northumberland was on the battlefield at Bosworth but took no part in the conflict.  Once again the locals had the final word though – the fourth earl was killed in 1489 in Yorkshire by rioters complaining about the taxes…and possibly the earl’s failure to support the last white rose king.

Eleanor died in 1472 having outlived her husband and most of her children.

Michael Hicks makes the point that securing an inheritance and a title was extremely important to the medieval mindset.  Once these had been gained the aim was to hold onto them.  The Neville clan headed by Joan Beaufort appear to have been increasingly single-minded about the retention of title and property and this was the key deciding factor in the variety of feuds they became involved with. (Hicks:325).

Just Cecily to go…

Hicks, Michael, (1991)Richard III and His Rivals: Magnates and Their Motives in the Wars of the Roses.  London: Bloomsbury

Wagner, John A. (2001). The Encyclopaedia of the Wars of the Roses. Oxford: ABC

 

 

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Monasteries- 1066 +

DSCN2029William the Conqueror was committed to a programme of monastery building in his new kingdom.  The invasion of England, complete with papal banner, was after all a crusade.  However, in comparison to the twelfth century when monastic foundation and building reached an apex the first Normans on English shores were relatively slow off the mark.  Chester, Colchester and Shrewsbury were early establishments as were Tewkesbury and Lewes which housed monks from Cluny.  All of the above mentioned were funded by Norman barons eager to emulate their monarch and no doubt to give thanks for doing so very nicely out of the English venture.

In addition to these new foundations and, in the North, refoundation of early sites such as Whitby there was another significant change in the Church.  Leading Anglo-Saxon abbots and bishops with a few notable exceptions such as Wulfstan of Worcester were shown the door and replaced by William’s men headed up by Lanfranc of Bec who promptly reorganised and reformed the Church.

Lanfranc did use some of the earlier Anglo-Saxon administrative structure including the incorporation of cathedrals into monastic foundations.  Given-Wilson lists them: Bath ( & Wells), Canterbury, Carlisle (hence my interest), Coventry, Durham, Ely, Norwich, Rochester, Winchester and Worcester.  Both Canterbury (pictured at the beginning of this post) and Worcester had been founded before 1066 and may have acted as the models which Lanfranc chose to emulate. Carlisle was home to an order of Augustinian Canons the other nine were Benedictine.  These cathedrals were at the heart of their dioceses with a bishop at their head.  The monastery would have been headed up by an abbot or a prior – the two posts need not be held by the same person which could, and in deed did, lead to some lively disagreements.

Not all cathedrals were staffed by monks.  Some cathedrals were ‘secular’ – which means that the clergy who ran the cathedrals were not attached to a religious order.  Lincoln Cathedral was never associated with a monastery and neither bizarrely, given the number of monasteries in the vicinity, was York.

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Roof Bosses

roof bossAs medieval builders became more confident they built their buildings higher and airier as though they were soaring heavenwards. This was a tricky thing to do architecturally speaking – the last thing that the average medieval bishop wanted was to be haranguing his congregation only to have the roof come crashing down round his ears.

The outcome was Gothic stonework called fan vaulting that reminds me of an avenue of elegant stone trees spreading out their branches to make a canopy.

 

My technical adviser (yes – that’s you Adam if you’re reading this) explained to me that you can create large spans that open up the space with fan vaulting.  Each rib acts like an arch, meaning that the weight which might otherwise be disastrous effectively adds strength to the structure.  Therefore you require fewer columns and can achieve taller buildings.  You could compare fan vaulting to an egg-shell, in the sense that it gains its strength in its unity, it is form-active, so therefore less bulk is required for it to be structurally stable. The first fan vault that is still standing in the world can be found in Gloucester Cathedral.

 

A boss, which is after all what this particular blog is about, is a block of stone or wood, found on ceilings, at the intersections of the ribs of a vault. The more ribs that there are in a ceiling, both structural and aesthetic, the more opportunity there was for medieval masons to produce intricately carved roof bosses.

In Tewkesbury Abbey there are approximately 250 roof bosses many of them telling the life of Christ. The cathedral boasting most bosses is Norwich. Tewkesbury Abbey

Bosses may be foliage filled, depict green men with their mouths sprouting foliage, have birds, beasts and fabulous creatures as well as depicting scenes from the Bible – in fact the images on roof bosses depend on the imagination of the men who carved them.   In the aftermath of York Minster’s terrible fire in 1984, the viewers of Blue Peter were asked to design some new roof bosses so one of them depicts Man landing on the moon.

 

Originally the bosses would have been painted but in the aftermath of the Reformation roof bosses often returned to the natural colours of wood and stone – some within reach of iconoclasts have lost their heads and hands. However, the majority of roof bosses are so high that the carvings remain in tact and there are often hints of the original paint as well.

 

Of course the downside of roof bosses is that you end up with a crick in the neck and lots of blurred photographs where your hands have shaken too much while you’ve been holding the camera at arm’s length – more photographic aerobic exercise.   However, some cathedrals provide a tilted mirror on wheels so that visitors don’t need to do themselves a mischief to see the ceiling in all its glory. Provided that there aren’t lots of grubby paw prints on the mirror (and I have been known to clean them off) it is much easier to take a picture of the reflection of the ceiling than of the ceiling itself.

 

This blog contains three images. The first shows a roof boss depicting an angel playing a musical instrument that has been removed from the ceiling of Tewkesbury Abbey – there are several dotted around the building.  The second image shows the ceiling of the nave in Tewkesbury. The ceiling has been restored to the way it would have looked before the Reformation.  Medieval congregations must have been filled with awe when they entered vast colour filled spaces like this one – I certainly was.  The final image – thanks to ‘he who is occasionally obeyed’- shows a boss in close-up in situ.

Tewkesbury angel

 

 

 

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The Battle of Tewkesbury

Tewkesbury AbbeyThe Battle of Barnet in April 1471 saw the defeat and death of the Earl of Warwick. A Lancastrian defeat was not the kind of news that Queen Margaret (of Anjou), wife of Henry VI, wished to hear when she came ashore with her son Prince Edward  at Weymouth on the same day.

 

Her only option was to meet with Jasper Tudor in Wales. The Yorkist king, Edward IV, needed to prevent this from happening. The two armies came face to face with one another on the 3rd of May 1471. Margaret managed to avoid Edward at Sodbury and was heading for Gloucester when the armies finally met. A battle would be fought the following day that would see Margaret and Henry’s only child, Prince Edward, killed.

 

The Lancastrians held the land to the south of the abbey. Edward used artillery and bowmen to attack the Lancastrians. The Lancastrian right wing came to the aid of its center and caught the Yorkists by surprise. Things could have gone very wrong for Edward had not his brother Richard, then Duke of Gloucester, met the attack. As it was the Lancastrians found themselves caught on marshy ground and 2,000 men died resulting in the name of ‘Bloody Meadow’ being attached to the area of battle where the Lancastrians fell.  The Duke of Somerset held John Wenlock (the  1st baron) responsible for the disaster as he’d commanded the centre of the Lancastrian army.  The Duke who’d commanded the right wing of Margaret’s forces was so incensed that he killed his compatriot on the field of battle. The army fled, many of its soldiers killed in the fields and hedgerows where the A38 runs today.  Other men sought sanctuary in the abbey.

 

However, Tewkesbury Abbey did not hold legal sanctuary status so the Yorkists forced their way into the abbey two days after the battle. They laid hold of the Lancastrians who sheltered there. The abbey church was so desecrated that it required purification the following month while the Lancastrians who survived the onslaught found themselves dragged into the market square where they were summarily beheaded. Amongst the executed were Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset (Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII was his niece) and his younger brother John. They were returned to the abbey for burial.

Prince Edward was also buried in the abbey.  The other Plantagenets to find a final resting place in the abbey were Isabella (wife of the Duke of Clarence and daughter of the Earl of Warwick) and the Duke of Clarence, Edward IV’s brother who was drowned in a butt of Malmsey.

 

As for Margaret of Anjou, she was captured on the 7th May. She remained a prisoner until 1475 when a ransom was paid for her release.

Click on the picture to open up a new window for a BBC page showing a Victorian interpretation of the Yorkists and Lancastrians in Tewkesbury Abbey.

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