The earldom of Northumberland and the Percy family part 2 of 4

Harry Hotspur AlnwickI had thought three parts to this little series but having written today’s post which is largely about the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries I shall be extending it to four parts.

Generation 10 of Topcliffe/2 of Alnwick:

Henry Percy Junior was only sixteen when his father died in 1314.  Initially John de Felton held his lands in ward but by the time he was twenty Edward II had granted Henry more lands in Northumbria than his father held.  These had been part of Patrick Earl of March’s territory.  Patrick was Scottish and the land offer reflects the way in which northern territories fluctuated between Scotland and England during troubled times.  Henry was no more impressed with Edward II’s choice of male favourite than his father had been nor with the foreign policy and military prowess that saw the Scots raiding deep into Yorkshire.

In no particular order, Percy  conspired against the Despensers and was made governor of both Pickering and Scarborough Castle.  The northern Percy powerhouse was further built upon when he married into the Clifford family and Edward III granted him Warkwarth Castle.  In 1346 he was one of the English commanders at the Battle of Neville’s Cross near Durham against the Scots which must have been a bit irritating given that he had gone to Scotland in 1327 to help negotiate a peace treaty with them.

Generation 3 of Alnwick:

The next generation Henry Percy was at the Battle of Crecy – so should probably be regarded as the Hundred Years War Percy.  His correct title was the 3rdBaron Percy of Alnwick.  His first wife was Mary of Lancaster – the best way of thinking of her is as Blanche of Lancaster’s aunt.  Blanche was the first wife of John of Gaunt who is commemorated in the Book of the Duchess by Chaucer and whose land ensured that Gaunt was the wealthiest man in the country.  Mary was a daughter of Henry III.  With each marriage the Percy family made the wealth and the prestige of the family rose, as did the amount of land that they held and their proximity to the throne.

Generation 4 of Alnwick – 1st Earl of Northumberland:

The Percy family now found itself elevated to the earldom of Northumberland – after all Mary of Lancaster was a Plantagenet princess so it is only reasonable to suppose that her first born son should have a sufficiently impressive title.  The first earl, yet another Henry Percy, was born in 1341. He supported Edward III and then he supported Richard II in his various official capacities on the borders.  It was Richard who created him an earl at his coronation in 1377.  Unfortunately despite being having been married to Margaret Neville, Percy was distinctly un-amused when his power base was eroded by Richard II who created his rival (and nephew-in-law) Ralph Neville the earl of Westmorland.  The First Earl of Northumberland now had a hissy fit because of the creation of the First Earl of Westmorland. He swapped sides. Instead of backing Richard II against his enemies he supported Henry of Bolingbroke, John of Gaunt’s son, against Richard II. Bolingbroke duly became Henry IV and Percy found himself swaggering around with the title Constable of England.

Unfortunately in 1403 the earl swapped sides once more.  He was slightly irritated by the outcome of the Battle of Homildon Hill in 1402.  It was an English-Scots match that the English won.  Percy stood to make rather a lot of cash from ransoming his Scottish prisoners.   Unfortunately Henry IV was feeling the financial pinch and besides which felt that the Percys had too much power in the north.  So he demanded all the hostages and gave Percy a fraction of their value.  The earl was underwhelmed but didn’t immediately voice his irritation.

Having been given the task of subduing the Welsh in 1403, Percy and his son Harry Hotspur now joined with Owain Glyndwr.  Hotspur died at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403 but Henry IV couldn’t pin anything on the earl who hadn’t taken part in the battle.  The most that Henry IV could do was remove the office of constable from Percy who didn’t learn the lesson and continued to conspire against Henry IV. In 1405 Percy decided to take a long holiday in Scotland for the sake of his health. He took Hotspur’s son with him. The earl returned to England in 1408 where he managed to get himself killed at the Battle of Bramham Moor near Tadcaster.  This was the final battle in the Percy family rebellion against cousin Henry IV.

 

2nd Earl of Northumberland:

Joan BeaufortHotspur’s son another Henry had spent most of his childhood in Scotland because both his father and grandfather were at loggerheads with the monarch.  Very sensibly after his grandfather was killed the second earl remained safely in Scotland.  It was only when Henry IV died that Henry Percy took the opportunity to be reconciled with the Crown.  He was officially recognised as the 2ndearl in 1413.

He arrived back in England and settled down to a spot of feuding with his Neville relations. The Nevilles, particularly Richard Neville (aka the Kingmaker) and his father the Earl of Salisbury were associated with Richard of York so naturally the Percy family supported Henry VI and the Duke of Somerset.  Ironically the 2ndearl’s mother was Elizabeth Mortimer, the grand-daughter of Lionel of Antwerp, so you would have thought that he would have been more sympathetic to Richard of York who based his claims on his descent from Lionel.  Not only that but his return to the earldom had been smoothed by Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland. She also arranged his marriage to Eleanor Neville – her second daughter with the Earl of Westmorland – making the Earl of Salisbury Percy’s brother-in-law and the Kingmaker his nephew.  Talk about a tangled family web.

 

I’ve blogged about Eleanor Neville and the Battle of Heworth Moor before so there is no need to write about it again. Enough to say that it demonstrates the depths to which the feud had sunk.  And things were about to get worse.  The earl was born in 1393 and died on 22 May 1455 at the First Battle of St Albans.  It was a comprehensive victory for the Yorkists and according to the chronicles of the time an opportunity for Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, to settle some personal scores – the death of the Earl of Northumberland being on his “to do” list.  Obviously it didn’t help the relations between the Percy and Neville families as the Wars of the Roses spiralled towards the bloodiest battle in English history.

 

3rd  Earl of Northumberland:

Another Henry Percy, swearing vengeance for his father’s death was one of the commanders of the army that surrounded Richard of York and the Earl of Salisbury at Wakefield. The deaths of Richard, his son Edmund and the Earl of Salisbury on the 30 December 1460 were part of the  continuing vendetta.

The victors of Wakefield were now joined by Margaret of Anjou’s army.  They marched south and won the Second Battle of St Albans but stopped short of taking London.  Various armies marched back and forth but for the purposes of this post the next time we need to focus is at the Battle of Ferrybridge – 27 March 1461. Northumberland was supposed to stop the Yorkists from crossing the River Aire at Castleford whilst Lord Clifford held Ferrybridge for the Lancastrians. Lets just say that Northumberland arrived at Castleford late allowing Lord Fauconberg and his men to cross the river and come around behind the Lancastrians who retreated to Dintingdale (28th March) where Lord Clifford was killed by an arrow.

On the 29thMarch 1461, blinded by a snowstorm the 3rdEarl commanded the van of the Lancastrian army.  Closing with the enemy he was killed.

Edward IV was now the only king in England and issued an act of attainder against all the Lancastrian nobility who had fought at Towton.  Edward now rewarded the Nevilles who supported the House of York and punished the Percys who supported the house of Lancaster.

 

John Neville, Earl of Northumberland.

John was the Kingmaker’s younger brother. He was created Earl of Northumberland in 1464 after he had spent three years finishing off the Lancastrian threat in the north. Unfortunately for John, the Kingmaker became increasingly dissatisfied with Edward IV who, in return, became increasingly suspicious of his cousin.  In 1470 Edward removed John from post and gave him the tile the Marquis of Montagu and assorted lands to compensate for the loss of the earldom of Northumberland. It did not go down well with the Neville family who did not see any need for the balance of power  in the North to be restored by the return of the Percy family.

 

Edward was forced to flee his realm in October 1470 but returned in 1471.  John had not regained his title to Northumberland despite his brother effectively ruling England with a puppet king in the form of Henry VI on the throne.  Rather than attack Edward when he landed at Ravenspur, Neville simply shadowed the returned Yorkist king.  Ulitmately Neville would died at the Battle of Barnet along with his brother.

4th Earl of Northumberland:

Henry Percy (what a surprise) was imprisoned in the Fleet Prison in the aftermath of Towton (he was about 12 at the time) and from there he was sent to the Tower in 1464. In 1469 after swearing fealty to Edward IV he 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.

Interestingly his wife was Maud Herbert, the  girl who Henry Tudor should have married had events not unfolded as they did in 1470.  They had eleven children.

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.  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.  Popular history claims it wasn’t so much the tax collection that irritated the locals as the fact that as good Yorkshire men their loyalty lay with Richard III.

 

Barnard Castle, Anne Beauchamp and oriel windows.

IMG_6617Barnard Castle was built by the Baliol family. It remained in their hands until the reign of King Edward I when it was confiscated and passed into the ownership of the Earl of Warwick. Two centuries later it was in the hands of the Neville family but the Earl of Warwick at that time- the Kingmaker- ultimately backed the wrong monarch and managed to get himself killed at the Battle of Barnet in April 1471 as was his brother John.

Warwick left two daughters who became joint heiresses to the title and estates. Isabel Neville, the older daughter, was married to George, Duke of Clarence (brother of Edward IV) while her younger sister Anne had been married off to Prince Edward, son of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou demonstrating the Kingmaker’s ability to swap the colour of the rose in his lapel at the drop of.. er…a rose.

Detail from door grill leading to the vault where George Duke of Clarence and his wife Isobel Neville are buried in Tewkesbury Abbey.

Detail from door grill leading to the vault where George Duke of Clarence and his wife Isobel Neville are buried in Tewkesbury Abbey.

Anyway, to cut a long story short Prince Edward got himself killed scarcely a month after his father-in-law at the Battle of Tewkesbury on the 4th of May 1471. Anne was placed, by Edward IV, in the custody of her brother-in-law.  George calmly tried to ensure all the titles, estates and loots ended up in his fat little paws. It arrived at the point where Anne was hidden in the kitchen as a maid of work to prevent Richard, Duke of Gloucester and George’s little brother, from finding her. If you’re a romantic Richard and Anne had liked one another since childhood when Richard was part of Warwick’s household. If you’re a pragmatist – an heiress at the altar is a bankable asset. So Richard married Anne and there followed an undignified squabble about which husband was getting what – Richard landed Barnard Castle amongst other Northern estates. After George managed to get himself drowned in a vat of Malmsey in 1478 (two years after Isobel died) the rest of the Warwick inheritance found its way into Richard’s keeping along with his small nephew Edward and niece Margaret. Tewkesbury Abbey continued to play its role in the history of the period by being the final resting place for both George and his wife, due in part to the fact that Isobel’s grandmother was the last Despenser heiress. Tewkesbury has strong links to the Despenser family.

You have to feel a degree of sympathy for Warwick’s widow, Anne Beauchamp, who was actually the daughter of Richard Beauchamp, the previous Earl of Warwick and his wife Isobel Despenser. Her brother died in 1446 and her niece died in 1449 making her husband- Richard Neville- the Earl of Warwick. So, actually neither of her daughters should have inherited anything at that point because it was Anne – the widow of the Earl of Warwick- who came with the lands and titles. Not to worry, Edward IV swiftly ensured that for legal purposes poor Anne was declared legally dead allowing his brothers to divide up the Warwick estates between them despite the assortment of letters that Anne Neville nee Beauchamp wrote from Beaulieu Abbey demanding that her rights be recognised.

Ultimately Anne emerged from sanctuary and was handed into the care of her son-in-law Richard – we have no idea how she felt about her daughters or indeed their respective spouses.  Rous, no supporter of Richard, wrote that Anne was kept in close confinement but there is other evidence that demonstrates that the countess must have had an allowance and must have travelled around the northern estates that had once been hers.

It wasn’t until 1486 that Anne had some restitution for the loss of her money and lands and that came from the Tudors. Henry VII granted her 500 marks a year and the following year Parliament gave her estates back which she promptly gifted to the king….which suggests some shady double dealing somewhere along the line or perhaps a bid to keep her grandson the young Earl of Warwick, Isabel and George’s son safe. He was after all in protective custody in The Tower at that point.

DSC_0014Having gone all around the houses – or castles- it’s back to Barnard Castle which overlooks the Tees. Richard seems to have spent a lot of time at Barnard Castle.  He also carried out renovation and extension works.  His tenure is evidenced in the remnants of the great hall. He added an oriel window – a bay window supported by corbels- on the first floor and caused a white boar to be engraved in the ceiling above it – where it can still, just about, be seen today as can an English Heritage artist’s interpretation of what it might have looked like originally.DSC_0012

Black-Faced Clifford

'The_Murder_of_Rutland_by_Lord_Clifford'_by_Charles_Robert_Leslie,_1815John Clifford, aged twenty-one, at the First Battle of St Albans in 1455 buried his father in St Albans Abbey. It was agreed, according to Holinshed, that at the Duke of York, the Earls of Warwick and Salisbury should pay the monastery of St. Albans for masses for the souls of Thomas Clifford and the other notable Lancastrians who died during the battle and that the Earl of should pay a fine to be shared between Thomas’s children – no doubt the Vikings would have recognized it as weregeld. The new Lord Clifford wasn’t particularly interested in gold and John, according to Shakespeare, was much more interested in revenge.

 

John’s opportunity came five years later on the 30th December 1460. Five years had seen the polarization of England’s nobility while Richard, Duke of York ultimately overplayed his hand. Richard having been named Lord Protector during Henry VI’s illness in 1453 had been sidelined by Henry VI’s queen, Margaret of Anjou, once Henry regained his facilities. This led to the fisticuffs at St Albans. In the aftermath of the First Battle of St Albans, although the Yorkists had been victorious Richard had reaffirmed his loyalty to the king and an uneasy peace achieved mainly by shipping Richard off to Ireland where he was out of the way.

 

Relations between the different factions reached breaking point in 1459 when Richard arrived home without asking permission first and the Earl of Warwick arrived in Sandwich from Calais backed up by an army. Without going through the frenetic events of the next twelve months it is sufficient for the purposes of this post to say that Richard eventually rocked up in Parliament and said he wanted to be king. If he’d asked to be made Lord Protector folk might have agreed but Richard was carried away by his own spin and seems to have forgotten that when Henry Bolingbroke did the same thing in order to become Henry IV that not only had the whole thing had been carefully orchestrated but that King Richard II was in ‘safe’ custody. In Richard of York’s case neither of these precautions had been taken and even his closest allies were somewhat taken aback. There was a bit of an embarrassed silence followed by the Act of Accord which essentially said that Henry VI could be king while he lived but his successor would be Richard of York – a resolution which satisfied no one – especially Margaret of Anjou whose son Prince Edward had just been cut out of the succession.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing but it seems quite obvious that it wasn’t going to end well.

 

Richard of York took himself North and spent Christmas at his castle in Sandal just outside Wakefield. This was not necessarily the most clever thing he’d ever done as it was in enemy territory. Nor was it very sensible of Richard to emerge on the 30th to give battle to a party of Lancastrians. Sandal was a well-protected castle. All he had to do was sit tight and wait for reinforcements. This isn’t a post about the reasons behind Richard’s decisions to give battle or the rights and wrongs of them but I am finally back on track with John Clifford as he was one of the Lancastrians waiting outside Sandal.

 

The Battle of Wakefield was a vicious affair. John Clifford is purported to have come across the body of Richard of York, resting against an ant hill, and hacked off the corpse’s head. It was not a very knightly deed.  Richard’s head ended up with a paper crown facing into the city of York from Micklegate Bar having first been presented to Margaret of Anjou by way of a gift. Richard’s sons Edward, George and Richard would not forgive the insult.

 

Even worse, popular rumour stated that John Clifford killed Richard of York’s other son Edmund, Earl of Rutland in the aftermath of the battle. There is no specific evidence that John did the deed, Edmund may have been killed during the battle itself and not by John. History shows the lad was about seventeen. Shakespeare makes him a boy- as illustrated in this picture dating from 1815. Edmund, the son of a nobleman, would reasonably have expected mercy in the event of his capture for two reasons. Firstly and most importantly he could be ransomed and secondly despite the events at Agincourt when chivalry went out the window there was still an expectation of respecting ones opponents. So, to tell the tale, which probably isn’t history but definitely makes a good story; Edmund fled the battle and arrived at the bridge crossing the River Calder at Wakefield.  Some versions of the story say that he sought shelter in some nearby houses but that no one would take him in, other versions say that he was captured but anonymous.  John Clifford noticed the boy’s clothes and asked who he was. Edmund’s tutor told Clifford adding that he would be well rewarded for keeping the boy safe, thinking that it would ease Edmund’s situation – talk about misreading the situation!  John wanted revenge for his father’s death so killed the boy  saying ‘your father slew mine so now I kill you,’ or words to that effect.  Edmund’s brother Edward, George and Richard would have their own revenge in due course.

 

John’s actions at the Battle of Wakefield gained him the name “Butcher Clifford” or “Black-Faced Clifford.” The Wars of the Roses became a much bloodier affair thereafter with both sides killing one another in the aftermath of battles reflecting personal feuds running parallel to the desperate power struggle between the various Plantagenet scions.

 

The rest of John’s story is best summaries by Leland:

Next year he met with his own end. On the day before the Battle of Towton, and after a rencontre at Ferrybridge, having put off his gorget, he was struck on the throat by a headless arrow out of a bush, and immediately expired.

 

It is thought that his body was thrown into a burial pit after Towton.

 

More complicated family trees – and a link to the Plantagenets.

IMG_3953John Clifford, the Tenth Lord, maintained the reputation for jousting that his father had bequeathed to him. Like his father he met with the Douglas family in tournament at Carlisle and like his father he was established as a favourite at court.  He was present at the coronation of Henry V and following the victory at Agincourt at the coronation of Katherine of Valois.

The Cliffords were definitely  on the up. It helped that their experiences on the Scottish borders made them warriors.  John maintained his role in the north and added to the family homes by extending Appleby Castle – the gatehouse which stands today was commission by him.  John aside from his parochial responsibities in the north and job as MP for Henry IV and Henry V’s parliaments also managed to find time  to gain a reputation for thrashing the french during the Hundred Years War.

 

Edward III’s mother was Isabella of France (the one married to Edward II and known in history as the ‘she wolf’’). Upon the death of her brothers she was the last remaining member of the family so logically the French throne should have passed to her son King Edward III of England. Certainly that was what had been promised. However, the French were not keen on the English and also had a salic law in place which prohibited women from claiming the throne so handed the crown straight to a male cousin causing the English to become very irritated indeed and spend slightly more than a hundred years trying to prove their point with varying amounts of success.

 

Edward III carried his claim into war against France and it continued intermittently thereafter through the reigns of Richard II, Henry IV , Henry V and Henry VI. In its early years when the English were successful it was an opportunity for knights to make a fortune in loot and ransoms. It was also an opportunity to gain influence and power. Yerborough records of John Clifford:

 

Henry V retained him in his service for one year for the war with France. The contract was to this effect, that the said John, Lord Clifford, with fifty men-at-arms well accoutred, whereof three to be knights, the rest esquires, and one hundred and fifty archers, whereof two parts to serve on horseback, the third on foot, should serve the king from the day he should be ready to set sail for France, taking for himself 4s.for every knight, for every esquire is., for every archer 6d. a day.

P29 Yerborough, Some Notes on Our Family History

 

John was by Henry V’s side at Agincourt and at the Siege of Harfleur, then the inevitable happened. He got himself killed. He was thirty-three years old in 1422 when he was killed at the Siege of Meaux.  Again according to Yerborough and the Chronicle of Kirkstall he “was buried at Bolton Abbey apud canonicos de Boulton.’ Elizabeth his wife outlived him and married, secondly, Ralph, Earl of Westmorland.”  The moral of the story being that if you were sufficiently important someone would pickle you and send you home to your grieving wife who would promptly marry someone just as important as you even if you were a knight of the garter.

 

Marrying someone important was rapidly becoming a family pass time for the Cliffords.  Elizabeth Clifford started out as Elizabeth Percy. She was the daughter of Shakespeare’s Earl of Northumberland – Harry Hotspur- meaning that not only was she a scion of the most powerful border family in the country but she was also a Plantagenet. Her grandfather had been Edward Mortimer, Earl of March and her grandmother Philippa was the only child of Lionel Duke of Clarence, the second son of King Edward III.

Ties to the Plantagenets were even deeper and even more complicated than the Elizabeth Percy link. John’s sister Matilda (or Maud depending on the text) married Richard, Duke of Cambridge. Richard’s first wife Ann had been a Mortimer (a daughter of the fourth Earl of March– so definitely some kind of cousin of Elizabeth Percy) but Ann had died in childbirth leaving children and brothers who would find their Plantagenet bloodline and claim to the throne increasingly problematic.

 

Richard and Maud had one daughter Alice – about whom I’m currently quite upset as I thought I knew the House of York family tree rather well on the grounds that knowing who was related to whom becomes very important if you study the Wars of the Roses and now there’s someone new for me to worry about. Maud, on the other hand, was not in the least bit worried by the looks of it. She outlived Richard who managed to get himself executed in 1415 in the aftermath of the Southampton Plot.

 

The Southampton Plot had been designed to depose Henry V and replace him with Edward Mortimer – Richard’s young brother-in-law by his first wife Ann Mortimer. Edward Mortimer had a very good claim to the throne being descended from the second son of Edward III. Henry V didn’t take very kindly to Richard and his friends pointing out that Henry’s dad (Henry IV) had stolen the throne from his cousin (Richard II).  Aside from the fact that usurping thrones is generally not very nice, Henry IV and V were descended from John of Gaunt who was the third son of Edward III. Neither of them really should have been king at all – the descendants of the second son having a better claim than the descendants of the third son.  Henry demonstrated that family trees are all very well but actually being a medieval king was largely about having a large sword, an even larger army and a reputation for winning.  Had Henry V lived to see his son grow to adulthood Richard of Cambridge may well have ended up as a footnote in history as it was Henry V failed to do the one other thing that a medieval king needed to do – provide the kingdom with a strong adult male to succeed him.

 

Maud spent a lot of time at Conisborough Castle after Richard’s death and became a founder an patron of Roche Abbey.  She must have seen the various members of the Plantagenet family and their associated noble scions taking sides after Henry V’s death as to who should wield power in England – the House of York to which the Cliffords were allied through marriage or the House of Lancaster. Her will, dated 1446 (just nine years before the First Battle of St Albans), makes no mention of her troublesome step-children who would feature heavily in the Wars of the Roses.

 

Just to complicate matters that little bit further Matilda/Maud had already been married once to John Neville, the Sixth Baron Latimer. The divorce documents still remain – “casusa frigiditatis ujusdem Johannis Nevill  Now there’s a story to be told in those few words!  Who needs soap operas when the Plantagenets and the Cliffords are in town?

A City Livery Company and Spotty Panthers or maybe Leopards.

DSC_0107The livery company in question is the Worshipful Company of Dyers and leopards or even panthers are heraldic beasts.  I actually think you’ll agree that the phrase ‘big spotty cats’ just about sums up these wonderful creatures.  It looks as though someone under the age of ten has had a wild time with a paintbrush. Dying- and I think I’ve spelled that right- has been going on in London, so far as records are concerned, since the twelfth century but it was Lancastrian King Henry VI who gave the company its first charter in 1471.  Given that this was not an auspicious time for the English monarchy it is perhaps not surprising that the following year the Yorkist King Edward IV dished out a brand new charter.

The dyers have had their headquarters of Dowgate Hill since Tudor times which means that this building isn’t the original one on the site – yes, the 166 Great Fire of London strikes again.

But back to the coat of arms.  The three corded bags on the shield are bags of madder – the plant used to produce a red dye.  The motto, ‘Da Gloriam Deo’ meaning give glory to God.  So far so good. From now on the explanation gets a bit more complicated. I have, of course, arrived at the two supportive large spotty red-whiskered cats.  The Worshipful Company of Dyers describe them as panthers and they should know; after all it’s their coat of arms.

There are three big cats in heraldry – lions, leopards and panthers…though tigers do turn up occasionally but let’s leave them out of the equation for the time being as things are going to get difficult enough as it is. As I understand it – and I’m not an expert on heraldry- if the cat is ‘passant‘ which means three feet on the ground, one paw raised and face turned to look at you – think cat stalking while pausing to have its photo  taken- then its a leopard.  This in turn raises some interesting questions about the three lions on the royal coat of arms and the famous three English lions of the football song.  If the cat is standing on its back legs- rampant– then in medieval English heraldic terms it is a lion.  Just to confuse matters even further in medieval terms a leopard was the offspring of a lioness and a panther. Thankfully I don’t have to try to work out the change from leopard to lion for myself. There is a very helpful article on the subject in the BBC History Magazine website BBCHistory Magazine Extra. Basically the leopards on the royal coat of arms turned into lions during the Hundred Years War – something similar, I expect, to the rebranding exercise carried out by the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha when they turned into Windsor during World War One at the point when links with Germany became somewhat uncomfortable.  If you want to read the article click on the picture.

Anyway back to our big cats – the red whiskers and red wavy dog like ears are neither whiskers nor ears.  It’s flame.  This turns our cats in to heraldic panthers incensed- and I think I’d be fairly annoyed if I started breathing fire out of my ears.  According to the tattered remnants of my old heraldry book, this represents the very sweet breath of the panther.  Apparently the heraldic panther is more of a mythical beast than a real animal and has its origins in Greek beliefs.  The breath of the panther, as symbolised, by the flames, lures animals into its lair.  You will be pleased to hear that dragons are immune from the panther’s breath and are afraid of panthers as a consequence where as every other animal goes traipsing off to the panther’s lair – possibly to be turned into a mid morning snack but don’t quote me on that because medieval sources couldn’t agree either, some of them have the panther down as an exceptionally gentle beast.

Back to safer ground.  Heraldic panthers are also often shown with spots – that’ll be these two then- in ‘heraldic speak’ the spots are semeé of roundels. Initially I thought that the spots and bright colours of the incensed panthers was an excellent choice for the dyers – those bright colours are pretty good advertising after all. Then when I carried out a web search I discovered that there was a heraldic link to Henry VI who gave the dyers their first charter. “King Henry VI used the panther for his badge, to indicate that “a Kinge should have so many excellent and severall vertues as there are diversities of spottes and most beautifull Coullors in this Beast, and then his People will love and followe him for his vertues as all other Beastes love and follow the Panther for his sweete smell and glorious coullors” (Coll. Arms MS. L. 14, pt 2, f. 380). Other descendants of the House of Lancaster also used the panther.” http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast79.htm

I bet there was a lively discussion held by the dyers the following year when the Lancastrians were shown the door and it looked as though the Yorkists were triumphant.  It just goes to show though that the streets of London, while not paved with gold, are knee-deep in history even if you have to do a little digging sometimes. DSC_0108