Monday, 24 June 2013

Phillippe Pot. Burgundian nobleman, military leader, and diplomat.

We can see below the magnificent tomb of a Burgundian nobleman Phillippe Pot. 
In 1468, it was Pot who had headed negotiations with the English for a new bride for Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. Charles's new wife was to be Margaret of York, older sister of Richard III.

My blog on Phillippe Pot has been updated and can now be viewed on my website at 

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Eleanor of Aquitaine

Married at the age of fifteen to a man ten year her senior, Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the most powerful and fascinating women in medieval Europe. Married to the twenty five year old son of Louis VI of France, Eleanor was an independent ruler in her own right since she had inherited the huge Duchy of Aquitaine and Poitiers from her father. She became Queen Consort on Christmas Day 1137. An intelligent and feisty woman, Eleanor is said to have to have arrived at the cathedral town of Vezelay dressed like an Amazon galloping through the crowds on a white horse, urging men to join the crusades. She also had every intention to go herself, accompanied by three hundred of her ladies dressed in armor and carrying lances. 

Eleanor and Louis VII on Crusade  

During her marriage to Louis VII of France, she gave birth to two daughters but by 1152 Eleanor's marriage to Louis had come to an end, their marriage was annulled and her vast estates, from River Loire to the Pyrenees came under her control. A year later, Eleanor married Henry, son of Matilda of England and Geoffrey of Anjou. Two years later Henry became King and Eleanor once again became a queen. For Eleanor, history seemed to repeat itself, within a few years Eleanor was having problems with Henry who was an philanderer and constantly unfaithful. Even though Eleanor was said to have been vocal and argumentative and their relationship somewhat ‘fiery’ Eleanor did manage to give Henry eight children. It seems that she was not too perturbed by Henry's womanising but Henry's affair with Rosamund Clifford was the final straw for Eleanor and their marriage was becoming  ‘terminally strained’.  By 1173, after twenty years of marriage to Henry, Eleanor had had enough and in a very unusual act for a woman she lead her three of her sons in a rebellion against Henry which surprised even him, but by the end of the same year Henry had regained control and Eleanor was imprisoned. This confinement last fifteen years. Out of her five sons, Richard, was her favourite and when Henry II died in 1189 Richard became king. Whilst the ‘Lionheart’ abandoned his country for his preference of fighting, Eleanor supported him. When he was captured on his way home from the Crusades Eleanor used her influence to raise a ransom.

 These two carvings are said to be of Eleanor and Henry II in the porch of of Candes St Martin.

Not only was Eleanor was a clever and extremely able politician, she was also said to have been beautiful. Her court in France was said to have been known as the Court of Love and Eleanor was a patron of, and encouraged the art of the troubadour which was somewhat strange considering the the act of chivalry stated that women be passive and silent, Eleanor was certainly neither. One story talks of a troubadour named Bernart de Ventadour who was in love with Eleanor. The following line from a song was said to have been about her:

You have been the first among my joys and you shall be the last, so long as there is life in me” 

Eleanor became unwell for the second time in 1201 but the support of her son John, now king, against King Phillip of France took its toll, and on her return to Fontevraud she became a nun. Eleanor spent the last three years of her life at Fontevraud and it was there she died on the first day of April 1204 she was buried alongside her husband and son Richard.

  The Tomb of Eleanor and Henry II

We have seen that Eleanor was a strong, intelligent and creative woman, she played an important role which is impressive considering medieval women were considered lesser beings

Sunday, 9 June 2013

The things you forgot you had....

I wonder why we feel the need to keep and store objects that have come into our lives at differing times and why do we feel we have to keep what we no longer use. Usefulness is one reason, those things we keep in sheds and cupboards under the stairs just in case we need them. Memories are another, items that represent good times in our lives, these things we keep in our loft spaces. At the time they became of no real use we still cannot bear to part with them, in my case, the hat my grandmother wore to my wedding, the upside down metal frame of a small coffee table that my number one daughter used to take her first steps, old books and toys, the list goes on and my loft is full of such things. My incentive for a good clear out was to find the baby rocker and Moses basket I promised my daughter she could have.  She is no longer a baby and my grandmother has been gone for over thirty years it is with slow realisation I have come to the point that I can now part with most of the things I have kept and this weekend I am determined to stay cheerful and bravely make a start. 

Day One

The entrance to our loft, unlike those you find in most houses, can be found in the back of a built in wardrobe on the top floor of hour house.  Its a bit like the loft space in C S Lewis's book The Magicians Nephew where Digory and Polly explore the attic that connects their houses. Fortunately for me there is no chance of me opening the wrong door and finding assorted guinea pigs or my very own wicked Uncle Andrew. If I had of course, I'd be in some strange woodland jumping in and out of puddles being chased by some angry woman in a chariot and not sitting among dust, cobwebs and a very well thumbed Cricketer's Almanck. 

So into the darkness I proceeded, torch in hand, expecting to find all sorts of goodies that might be worth millions. Sadly, I surfaced hours later without so much as a sniff of an antique or a 13th century skeleton that would send the worlds media into a frenzy! However I did not emerge empty handed, here is a list of what I found yesterday and I must say I am amazed. 

  • Maternity wear, late 1980's early 1990's. Can you believe that I actually kept them? All you 80's mum's will know what I mean. Farmer Giles smocks with bows, bat winged tops and multicoloured dungarees with adjustable waists.  My goodness, I must have looked like I'd been graffitied! 
  • HP fax the loft due to someone spilling a bottle of perfume over it! No, I don't know why or how! 
  • Monstrous 1980's computer cables, found along side a wafer thin plasma screen tv, which we must have deemed to small to watch blockbuster movies in style.
  • Assorted primary school, GCSE and A Level projects...dusty. I obviously didn't have the heart to dispose of it all when I watched all three daughters work so hard.
  • Toy dog with battery pack attached by a wire. 1960's...there was no such thing as wireless in those days, kept because my Dad brought it back from an unaccompanied tour of duty in the Middle East. Bless him.
  • One CDi gun for cowboy computer game unopened and unused (confiscated as violent item). No need to explain my reasoning for that.
  • Magic trick box...also confiscated due to eldest daughters squabbling  and shouting they would turn each other into toads and the fact that the finger trapping device was a lethal weapon.

Maternity Dresses

Day Two

With the support of the dog I approached the second day in the loft with enthusiasm. The dog, just like me the day before discovered no bones and cleared off at the sound of a tin HappyDog Chicken in Gravy opening. Alone in the loft I felt quite chuffed that I had made more headway than I thought  and squinting my eyes could actually see the brick chimney breast at the other end of the roof space, as it turned out said chimney was hidden behind two huge piles of jigsaws, yes I know who keeps jigsaws? After much moving of stair gates, old suitcases, a flat teddy and a box of homemade faded paper chains I found what I was in the loft for the baby rocker. This baby rocker enabled us to rock our three daughters to sleep without having to put down the television whizzyon thing. Putting the rocker to one side I spent another half an hour in the loft and found the following.

  • Mahogany rocking chair, which according to my mother, I had said "Gran, when you are dead can I have this rocking chair"  Was obviously a horrid child and inattentive parent. See above mentioned baby rocker!
  • Half made macrame owl....obviously the novelty had worn off pretty quickly.
  • Amstrad laptop c 1990...must be worth something?
  • Squash rackets...novelty wore off quicker than the macrame owl. 
  • Four large boxes of baby and toddler clothes 99.9% girls  .1% boys
  • Wedding Dress....... still very pretty but slightly yellow and a tad dated and I'd never get into it now!
  • Two christening robes  c 1930 hand made by my great grandmothers...the best find of all.

Handmade Christening gowns

I am pleased to say that all of the items from day one are now at our local tip, apart from the school work and the items  from day two have been replaced in the loft. What do you mean they are no use? of course they are. Let me explain, the rocking chair will fit nicely in a corner when I get my new extension, the macrame owl I hope to finish on the nights after I've beaten my husband at squash. My daughter may like to pick some bits and pieces from the clothes boxes, the christening robes and wedding dress are heirlooms and a can't get rid of those can I?

Friday, 7 June 2013

Crowning an English Monarch, King Edwards Chair and the Stone of Scone

It is sixty years ago this month that we crowned, Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, Queen Elizabeth II of England at Westminster Abbey. On the 2nd June 1953 the coronation took place but the twenty five years old Elizabeth ascended the throne upon the death of her father King George VI who had died on February 6th 1952.

The coronation ceremony is performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury who is the most senior cleric in the Church of England. This ancient ceremony has remained largely unchanged for a thousand years. The sovereign is  presented to, and acclaimed by, the people then swears an oath to uphold the law and the Church. The monarch is anointed with oil and then crowned.  The timing of the coronation has varied throughout British history, William The Conqueror was crowned on the day he became king the 25 December 1066, most of his successors were crowned within days or weeks after ascending to the throne whilst Elizabeth II's coronation was a year after the death of the late king. A monarch, however, accedes to the throne the moment their predecessor dies not when they are crowned and this is why we hear this saying "The King is dead. Long live the King." History has seen some monarchs not crowned at all due to circumstances occurring during the time between accession and coronation. Edward V and Lady Jane Grey were both deposed before they could be crowned, in 1483 and 1553 respectively. Edward VIII also went uncrowned, as he abdicated in 1936.

The chair on which every King or Queen sits during the coronation is known as King Edwards Chair and except for three kings every monarch since the coronation of Edward II has been crowned on this chair. Edward I had commissioned a court painter to decorated the chair, you cannot see in this picture but there is a figure of a king, either Edward the Confessor or Edward I his feet resting on a lion painted on the back. Only traces of this original paintwork survive and the chair has been damaged with graffiti by visitors and boys form the Westminster school carving their names in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the early sixteenth century four gilt lions were added at the base of the chair but the present ones were placed there in 1727. Under the chair was a red sandstone stone that Edward I had brought back with him from his battles with the Scots. Edward, known as the Hammer of the Scots, was determined to bring Scotland under English control, he invaded Scotland in 1296 taking the town of Berwick and crushing Scottish forces at Dunbar. On his return to England he brought back the above mentioned stone. Known as the Stone of Scone it was the Scottish coronation stone that had been used for centuries in the coronation of the Kings of Scotland. In November 1996 the Stone was returned to the Scottish people and it is now on exhibition at Edinburgh Castle, but will be used for the coronation of our future monarchs.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Dr James Gairdner, Richard III and Shakespeare


It has taken me a while but I now am able to talk about William Shakespeare without harping on about the fact that he is solely responsible for Richard III's bad press. I can now read and enjoy his plays for what their are, just plays.

Shakespeare in his day was just a poet with a living to make he certainly wasn't considered a historian by the people around him he was simply writing what  Elizabethan theatre goers wanted to hear and see. The Elizabethans liked their

 " villains to be villainous," the audiance had  a "constant demand for a really bloody gangster play just as today there is a similar demand for a sadistic gangster film. Shakespeare's Richard is nothing but a royal gangster who had been presented to him ready made by Tudor chroniclers" V E  Lamb writing in 1959

Shakespeare wasn't concerned with historical accuracies, he just made the facts fit his plays. In The Betrayal of Richard III it is suggested that it was of no consequence to Shakespeare that he presents Richard as a monster, a grown man who was "reveling in the bloodshed at the Battle of Towton" when in fact he was an eight year old exiled in Utrecht, or that he makes Margaret of Anjou wander around the Palace of Westminster in 1483 foretelling Richards downfall when she actually had been in France since 1475. None of these were actual facts, Shakespeare simply used what he knew to make his plays more exciting. After all we have seen it done today, you have only got to watch the television series The Tudors to see that. Shakespeare portrayed  Richard III as the villain his public loved to hate, the murderous, lying, ruthless hunchbacked king.

I read recently that the English take their religion from Milton and their history from Shakespeare how true is that. Not only have I fallen into that trap but many accredited historians have done the same such as Dr James Gairdner a British historian who studied the early Tudor period relating to Richard III, Henry VII and Henry VIII. As an introduction to his work entitled Lancaster and York he writes

   "For the period of English history treated in this volume we are fortunate in possessing an unrivalled interpreter in our great dramatic poet Shakespeare. A regular sequence of historical plays exhibits to us not only the general character of each successive reign but nearly the whole chain of leading events from the days of Richard II to the death of Richard III at Bosworth. Following the guidance of such a master mind we realise for ourselves the men and actions of the period in a way we cannot do in any other epoch"

There are many of us who are in someway to blame for Richard III being portrayed for over 500 years as a wife poisoning, niece lusting, nephew murdering tyrant. The Tudor usurpers who needed to blacken his name so that they could hold onto his crown, historians like Gairdner for perpetuating the lie and the likes of me for not thinking for myself by reading and listening to all points of view before making my mind up but I see now that we cannot wholly blame William Shakespeare for his undoing.