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Tag Archives: Medieval History

  • Joan of Arc and 'The Great Pity of the Land of France' by Moya Longstaffe

    Joan of Arc depicted by Albert Lynch in Figaro magazine, 1903. The epitome of the received Joan image; anyone would recognise this figure, despite the fact that no portrait from life of the Maid exists. (Author's collection, Joan of Arc and 'The Great Pity of the Land of France', Amberley Publishing)

    The facts of Joan of Arc’s life are (and always have been) well known, established beyond dispute. Her life and death are fully documented from childhood to her very public execution in Rouen. Both in the chronicles of the time and above all in the verbatim proceedings of the two trials. The first of which (1431, Rouen) condemned her and the second (1452-56, essentially appeal proceedings, with hearings held in Rouen, Domrémy, Orleans and Paris) which annulled the verdict of Rouen. I devote three chapters of the book specifically to the first trial and examine the second trial in the final chapter (there are twenty-one chapters in total).

    What challenges our understanding is the transformation of this quiet, obedient and pious child into the young girl who, overcoming all opposition and barriers, determinedly made her way to the king and persuaded him to let her lead an army to lift the siege of Orleans and next, again despite all opposition, led him through hostile territory to his coronation at Rheims. What was the nature of her inspiration? What did she tell the king in that first famous interview that left him radiant with joy? I can only present the evidence and leave the reader to ponder it. Throughout her trial, Joan stubbornly refused to divulge the secret she had revealed to Charles VII.

    A more imperious Joan. 'Joan of Arc imprisoned in Rouen' by Pierre Henri Revoil, 1819. (Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art via the Isaacson-Draper Foundation, Joan of Arc and 'The Great Pity of the Land of France', Amberley Publishing)

    No startling new facts about Joan are likely to be unearthed. We would like to have a contemporary portrait, but none has come down to us, although one at least did exist and she mentions it during her trial.  One important document is missing: the proceedings of the commission which examined her at Poitiers. Before she was allowed to set out for Orleans. The panel, numbering about twenty members, was composed of several bishops and senior clergy, mostly qualified in law or theology. No-one knows what happened to this document, we only have a summary of the findings. Quicherat, the editor of the five great volumes of the two trials (1841-1849), writes, Posterity will forever mourn the loss of the minutes of Poitiers, the finest document, I have no hesitation in saying, that we could ever possess on Joan of Arc, since that immortal young woman showed herself there in all her freshness and inspiration, full of gaiety, vigour, enthusiasm, replying spontaneously to unbiased judges that she was sure to win over”. A copy must have been sent to Rome, but so far all searches in the Vatican archives have yielded nothing.

    A 1905 photograph of the keep of Rouen Castle, which is now known as the Tower of Joan of Arc. This tower, with walls four metres thick, is the only remaining part of the castle of Rouen, dismantled in 1591. Joan was imprisoned in one of the other six towers, but was taken here and threatened with the instruments of torture on 9 May 1431. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Joan of Arc and 'The Great Pity of the Land of France', Amberley Publishing)

    The social, political and military history of the quarrel between France and England from the turn of the fifteenth century until the end of the Hundred Years War in 1453 is of course presented and examined in all its complexity. In France that covers the reigns of Charles VI and Charles VII, in England that of Henry IV and Henry V, ending during the reign of the unfortunate Henry VI. In Burgundy it covers the reigns of the devious Duke John the Fearless and that of his son, Philip the Good, the magnificent Duke of the Western World, with his three wives (not all at the same time!), twenty-four mistresses and eighteen illegitimate offspring,

    Above all, I wanted to bring to life Joan, as we hear her describe her childhood and adolescence and her career in her own words, recorded in the minutes of the first trial, and as we meet her again in the testimony of childhood friends, neighbours, comrades–in-arms, and various persons who had observed her or played a more active role during the Rouen trial. The second trial is a very important source of evidence, often unfairly overlooked or decried (pace George Bernard Shaw, that wicked old tease). But of course, we can understand her properly only in her time and it was equally important to bring to life the people of France. From the nobles at court and in the army to the terrible distress of the poor ordinary inhabitants of besieged towns, of the countryside and villages, suffering all the ills of war, from famine to the utter destruction of homes and fields and the rampaging of mercenaries on the loose.  I hope that the overall picture I have painted is full and fair.

    Moya Longstaffe's book Joan of Arc and 'The Great Pity of the Land of France' is available for purchase now.

  • Heroines of the Medieval World by Sharon Bennett Connolly

    On Saturday, 14th October, Conisbrough Castle was the venue for my first talk after the release of my book, Heroines of the Medieval World. In the glorious sunshine, the Castle looked spectacular, the ideal setting for a history talk.

    I grew up just 5 miles from Conisbrough Castle and so, as a child, every summer holiday included a picnic at the castle and a climb to the top of the keep. As a student I volunteered at the castle, helping out at events and giving guided tours to school groups. In those days, the castle was just a shell, with green slime on the walls, but now it has floors inside, a roof to protect it from the elements and visual displays throughout. The Visitor Centre has a small museum with a cartoon strip telling the castle’s story and interactive displays for the kids. Conisbrough Castle’s only claim to fame seemed to be its link to Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, in which it played the part of a Saxon stronghold.

    Conisbrough Castle, South Yorkshire, built by Hamelin and Isabel de Warenne in the late twelfth century. (Heroines of the Medieval World, Amberley Publishing)

    However, Conisbrough had been very much a Norman stronghold since the Conquest, given as a prize to one of William the Conquerors’ most loyal followers, William de Warenne, first earl of Warenne and Surrey. My talk took place on the 951st anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, the day the Castle changed hands. On the morning of the battle, it belonged to Harold II, but by the end of the day Harold had lost the kingdom and his life and Conisbrough was a prize of war.

    Heroines of the Medieval World looks at the lives of the women – famous, infamous and unknown who broke the mould. Those who defied social norms and made their own future, consequently changing lives, society and even the course of history. Four of the women in the book had strong connections with Conisbrough Castle, and so it seemed appropriate to hold my first talk and book signing at my ‘home’ castle.

    Roche Abbey, final resting place of Maud Clifford, Countess of Cambridge. (Heroines of the Medieval World, Amberley Publishing)

    My talk concentrated on these four women, telling the stories of their lives and explaining their links to this magnificent castle. The first was Isabel de Warenne, great granddaughter of the first Earl of Warenne and Surrey. Isabel was one of the greatest heiresses in England and it was her second husband, Hamelin, who was responsible for building the keep we still see today. The second Heroine was Joan of Bar, neglected wife of the last de Warenne Earl of Surrey. She was followed by Isabel of Castile, who gave birth to her son, Richard of Conisbrough, Earl of Cambridge, within the castle walls and thus became the matriarch of the York dynasty which would rule England under Edward IV, Edward V and Richard III. And the last was Maud de Clifford, widow of Richard of Conisbrough, who lived out her life at the castle and was buried at nearby Roche Abbey, and who had family on both sides of the Wars of the Roses.

    The talk was aimed at demonstrating the many links that Conisbrough Castle has to the major events in English medieval history, from the Norman Conquest, to the disastrous reign of Edward II and the civil war which became known as the Wars of the Roses. Conisbrough Castle and its former residents have a rich history and it was a pleasure to bring just a few moments of it to life.

    Attended by over 50 people, the audience was made up of friends, family, readers of my book and blog – historytheinterestingbits.com - and visitors who had called at the Castle because it was a gorgeous Saturday afternoon. And they were aged from 3 to 73! I was nervous – the last time I had done a talk was when I used to give tours at this very castle as a student. I had made plenty of notes, but in the end, I never even looked at them. The stories just flowed, from one Medieval Heroine to the next, with the children kept busy counting the number of Heroines, and the number of gruesome deaths!

    However, the audience was lovely. Some had travelled from as far afield as Manchester, Staffordshire and Nottinghamshire. One lady gave me flowers and another gave me a ‘congratulations’ card from The Swinton Book Lovers Club (from my home town). Several people had brought their copies of ‘Heroines of the Medieval World’ for me to sign and many more bought the book on the day – it was a pleasure to sign every single copy.

    I am very grateful to the staff at Conisbrough Castle, who were absolutely wonderful, welcoming guests and encouraging visitors to join the talk, and even offering discounts on Castle entry to anyone who had a copy of my book.

    It was a perfect day.

    Sharon Bennett Connolly's new book Heroines of the Medieval World is available for purchase now.

  • The Private Life of Edward IV by John Ashdown-Hill

    I seem to have become celebrated as ‘a historian with a special talent for getting behind the mythology of history’. My work in this direction began as a result of my interest in the case of King Richard III. Later, I also explored the wider mythology which surrounds the Wars of the Roses.

    But the key feature of my initial research into all the legends surrounding King Richard III focused on his claim to the throne. This claim was clearly based upon the allegation that his elder brother, King Edward IV, had committed bigamy, making his sons, the so-called “princes in the Tower”, royal bastards. In a sense, my research into the private life of Edward IV was therefore always inevitable.

    Sir Thomas More Sir Thomas More by Hans Holbein (c. Elizabeth Norton & the Amberley Archive, The Boleyns)

    One of the key writers responsible for the mythology which surrounds the reputation of King Richard III was undoubtedly Sir (St.) Thomas More. But he was writing years after the short reign of the king who was killed at the battle of Bosworth. Thomas More himself had only been seven years old when Richard was killed. He can have had no personal memory of that king and his reign, of which he later wrote an account. The source of More’s information was probably Henry VII’s leading politician, Cardinal Morton – making the story as More received it part of the political rewriting of history. But perhaps More was never entirely convinced in respect of the accounts which he had heard, because intriguingly he himself seems to have written various versions of his history of Richard III. Also he never had any of them published during his lifetime. A text of More’s ‘history’ was first published later, by his foster daughter’s son.

    Jane Shore Mistress to Edward IV ‘Jane Shore’, a fantasy image of this imaginary character, engraved by F. Bartolozzi R. A., and published in 1807. (c. The Private Life of Edward IV, Amberley Publishing)

    It is therefore interesting that, although the point has hitherto been overlooked by most writers, in reality Thomas’ More’s account of Richard III is also the key source for some of the ‘facts’ about the private life of Richard’s elder brother, King Edward IV which have hitherto been universally accepted as true. For example, Thomas More is the earliest written source for the claim that Edward IV was the lover of ‘Mistress Shore’. Astonishingly, no earlier source exists to suggest that William Shore’s ex-wife was King Edward’s mistress. Incidentally, More refers to her simply as ‘Mistress Shore’. At least he never made the ridiculous claim that ‘Mistress Shore’ bore the first name of Jane! That story was only invented even later, by Jacobean playwrights who wanted to put her as a character on stage, and who therefore needed a first name for her. Unfortunately Mistress Shore’s real first name – Elizabeth – had not been recorded by any of the sources which connected her story with that of Edward IV.

    Lady Eleanor Talbot Eleanor Talbot? A facial reconstruction based on the CF2 skull found at the Norwich Carmel, commissioned by the author from Caroline Erolin, Medical and Forensic Artist, Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification, University of Dundee, in 2015. (c. The Private Life of Edward IV, Amberley Publishing)

    Thomas More is also the key source for the allegation that Edward IV had a relationship with a woman called Elizabeth Lucy. Indeed, More states that Richard III’s claim to the throne was based upon the allegation that Elizabeth Lucy had been his elder brother’s legal wife. In reality, however, contemporary evidence shows very clearly that the woman who was accepted by Parliament as having been the legal wife of King Edward IV was definitely not called Elizabeth Lucy. The woman who really was recognised officially as Edward’s legal wife was Lady Eleanor Talbot (Lady Boteler), the daughter of the first Earl of Shrewsbury. As for ‘Elizabeth Lucy’, although I and a number of previous writers have tried very hard to find some evidence relating to her, the fact is that in reality no such person is ever mentioned anywhere in any fifteenth-century records. Thus it now appears to be the case that the alleged ‘Elizabeth Lucy’ named by Thomas More never really existed. The name was merely a later invention. Probably it was part of the well-recorded policy – explicitly stated by King Henry VII and his government – to ensure that Lady Eleanor Talbot was airbrushed out of history.

    Having shown that Edward IV’s relationship with two of his alleged ‘mistresses’ is highly questionable, my book on his private life then goes on to explore what sexual relationships the king really does seem to have had. It also investigates how many illegitimate children he produced as a result. In order to answer the question of whom the king might have met, when, and where, I have also explored for the first time, detailed contemporary evidence in respect of his movements around the country – and abroad.

    Elizabeth Widville Elizabeth Widville, Lady Grey. Copy of a contemporary portrait. (c. The Private Life of Edward IV, Amberley Publishing)

    In reality, Edward IV appears to have been rather uxorious. His reign and his political actions were often clearly based upon the wishes of his bigamous second secret wife, Elizabeth Widville. She was the mother of his two sons, the so-called ‘princes in the Tower’ – who, however, were subsequently declared by parliament to have been royal bastards.

    Other important facts emerge. For example the alleged birth and death dates which are usually published for King Edward IV himself cannot be substantiated!  Also, an appendix introduces the intriguing quest for the mitochondrial DNA of the ‘princes’. With a little help from me, a colleague who was inspired by my earlier discovery of Richard III’s mtDNA has now made remarkable progress on the mtDNA search in respect of the ‘princes’. We agreed to publish the results of his findings as they then were. But one of the outcomes of that publication has already been further progressed! Hopefully it will therefore soon be possible to establish the mtDNA haplogroup to which Edward IV’s sons belonged.

    Further progress on the DNA research is not the only update which has taken place in the very short time since The Private Life of Edward IV was published. I have spotted a couple of small mistakes in my text, and one of my readers has made helpful suggestions about the identity of three medieval place names which I had not been able to identify. The corrections and other updates will be included in later editions of the book. Meanwhile they can be found on my website: https://www.johnashdownhill.com/the-private-life-of-edward-iv/

    9781445652450

    John Ashdown-Hill's new book The Private Life of Edward IV is available for purchase now.

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