Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding.

I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop...
It was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.


Friday, 31 March 2017

Malmesbury


Today I had amost enjoyable day out with a college friend from Oriel and it was an opportunity to talk about plans and hopes for the future.

We drove westwards to Malmesbury in northern Wiltshire. I had been there once before but for him it was a first visit. Attractive and slightly intriguing town on a hill almost surrounded by the river Avon, and having parked down by the river we climbed up the hill. The town is dominated by the remains of the medieval Benedictine abbey.

There is an online account of it at Malmesbury Abbey and more from a BBC site here.
The local museum website has more about it at Malmesbury Abbey by Athelstan Museum

Today only a fragment remains of the church, that is the majority of the nave, and most of the site is accessible, although the eastern chapels have disappeared under a path and gardens. The central tower appears to have fallen as a result of a lightening strike a few years before the dissolution, hence teh fragmentary stae of the church

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A reconstruction of the lost features of the abbey superimposed on the existing remains

Image: Athelstan Museum

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Malmesbury Abbey from the air
In the lower part of the picture is the tower and spire, all that now remains of the church of St Paul, once the place of worship for the townspeople

 Image: malmesburybells.co.uk

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Plan of the abbey church

Image:rareoldprints.com

The plan has been recovered of the Norman rebuilding with its later extensions eastwards. Prior to its collapse the spire, is said to have been, at 431 feet, taller than that of Salisbury Cathedral at 404 feet.

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A reconstruction of the chrch and the lightning strike

 Image: Athelstan Museum

Today the especual glory of Malmesbury is the south door and porch. This is some of the most important Norman sculpture in England, encased in a late medieval outer casing. The sculpture is  sadly worn on the  outer portal but is still very impressive.

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 Image:staticflickr.com
Within the porch are carvings of the Apostles:

 

 Image:saintsandstones.net
The inner door has Christ in Majesty, flanked by angels:

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 Image: wikimedia commons

From what remains of the ruined west end the great west door was similar. Today this is still very striking; if it was originally painted to enhance as well as protect it the effect must have been much more intense, a powerful introduction to the House of God. This is all from a  period when Malmesbury Abbey was a leading intellectual centre, with the community including the chronicler William of Malmesbury and the house possessing a major library. This was also the era of the early eleventh century Flying Monk - Eilmer of Malmesbury

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The church from the south-west

Image: Cotswold Info
 
Today about three-quarters of the nave survives. The exterior is a fourteenth to fifteenth century recasing, and inside Norman work with a gothic vault. It has arguable links to the design of the nave at Hereford both in respect of the arcades and the west end. Both churches added a western tower over the two western bays of the nave - and both collapsed wrecking catastrophic damage.

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The interior of the nave looking west to the Victorian west wall

Image: malmesbury.com


The church is now parochial and the layout of the interior reflected its modern Evangelical churchmanship. This was welcoming, but as my friend, who is a practising Muslim observed it felt like a Community centre. Yes - I know churches are communitues, but they are also more than that. I told him about the Februart half-term use of the nave as a skate park - andif you do not believe me look at  malmesbury abbey skate - Skate — Malmesbury Abbey

That said we did receive a friendly but not oppressive welcome to the abbey church, which was quite busy with other visitors.

We paid our respects to the fourteenth century tomb of King Athelstan (924-39) - arguably the first King of a unified England, and I saw there was an extensive number of books about him on sale.

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The tomb of King Athelstan

Image: Athelstan Museum

The tomb was presumably rescued from the choir, and I assume his bones still lie is the destroyed part of the church. It is somewhat battered but the detail of, for examle, his shoes suggest this was once avery splendid tomb indeed.

Afterwards we looked at the very attractive late medieval Market Cross - a simpler version of the ones in Salisbury and Chichester, and about which there is more at Malmesbury Market Cross and at Malmesbury Market Cross by Athelstan Museum - and found the fine garden at Abbey House, but that was not open until tmorrow.

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Malmesbury Market Cross

Image: Pinterest 

After lunch - not at the pub called in honour of Eilmer The Flying Monk, which we did not find - and a further walk round this attractive and quite distinctive town we travelled back via Fairford - where we did not find space to park and enable me to show the wonderful stained glass in the church to my friend - to Lechlade, where we stopped for tea and so returned to Oxford.

A very enjoyable day out with a good friend and a good way to celebrate the anniversary of my reception in 2005 into the Catholic Church.


Thursday, 30 March 2017

Clerkenwell, Smithfield and Charterhouse


Today I went on a visit to London organised by the Oxford University Heraldry Society. As always on their excursions one was taken to places of great historic as well as heraldic interest, and on this occasion all of the places I visited were for the first time.

Our first visit was to the headquarters in Clerkenwell of The Most Venerable Priory of the Order of St John of Jerusalem in the British Realm - the Anglican version of the Order of Malta, which was re-established in the nineteenth century under the patronage of Queen Victoria and her successors. There is an online history and introduction to the Order at Order of Saint John.

The site in Clerkenwell is that of the medieval Preceptory, and although only the gatehouse and part of the church survives, and now separated from each other by a road and other buildings they are still a remarkable survival.

The Church originally had a circular nave modelled on the Holy Sepulchre and similar to that of the Temple Church. That was replaced in the middle ages by a rectangular nave, but a curving foundation wall has been exposed. The chancel survived the dissolution and evolved into a fairly typical London eighteenth century church, which was a casualty of the Blitz. The post-war rebuilding emphasised the
medieval remains in a light and airy church, which displays the banners of the knights and of the modern Commonwealth preceptories.

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The restored Priory Church

Image: museumstjohn.org.uk
 
The crypt underneath has survived from the thirteenth century chancel and has monuments reaching back to the middles ages. I must admit that I was unaware of the church other than the Hollar engraving - and assumed it all lost - so this was a genuine surprise.

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The Crypt

Image: museumstjohn.org.uk

The Museum and headquarters of the Order are housed in the much better known early sixteenth century gatehouse to the original complex.

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The Gatehouse

Image: Wikipedia

Here were displays and material including portraits and pictures of Malta illustrating the history of the original unified Order, and the attempt by Tsar Paul I to take it over at the very end of the eighteenth century. The Chapter Hall and Council Chamber were richly decorated with the arms of Royal and aristocratic members of the Order.

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The Chapter Hall

 Image: museumstjohn.org.uk

There are pictures of the interiors and more information on the Museum's website at The Church - Museum of the Order of St John.

There is more about the history of the site at Clerkenwell Priory and about the church at St John Clerkenwell. There are more detailed accounts at St John's Church and St John's Square | British History Online from the Survey of London and at Clerkenwell Priory · Medieval London


When we came outside I was struck by the warmth of the air - the first real indicator that spring is here.

After walking through Smithfield market - the same place I remember as a child seeing burning down on television in the late 1950s and now handsomely restored - we had lunch in Smithfield and walked round the open space, noting the plaque commemorating William Wallace's execution there in 1305  and thinking of King Richard II's meeting with the Kentish peasants there in 1381 and the death of Wat Tyler. We also noted the gate to St Bart's Hospital and its statue of King Henry VIII and the tower of St Bartholomew the Less within the hospital.

We met up again as a group at St Bartholomew the Great on the eastern side of Smithfield. The remains of the priory church are hidden away through a timber gatehouse that leads to a oath on the site of the nave. At first the church with its relatively modern tower in the Tudor style is a little confusing, but what survives are parts of the transepts, the twelfth century choir and chapels of the ambulatory and a thirteenth century Lady Chapel.


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The choir of St Batholomew the Great
The apse is a skillful nineteenth century restoration

Image: Visit London


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The oriel window in the triforium for Prior William Bolton (1505-32) to observe the church and canons

Image:Britain Express

What remains is very impressive and it must have been a very fine building indeed before the sixteenth century depredations. It was really quite amazing to be standing in part of medieval London, a building which had survived so substantially intact the ravages and rebuildings of the last five centuries. Our visit was enhanced by the fact that we had an excellent guide from the church.

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The choir elevation and the tomb of the founder Rahere

Image: Britain Express

There is more about the history of the Priory and church at The History of St Bartholomew the Great
and at St Bartholomew-the-Great 

After that the formal tour was over but together with a friend I explored the area round about and walked up to look at the exterior of Charterhouse. Not only is this the site of the medieval London Carthusian house founded in 1371 with its great spiritual reputation and martyrs of the 1530s but it has a connection with Bishop Fleming - he blessed a bell for the community in the late 1420s when he had the semi-official role of patron of the English Carthusians. Having served as the home of the unfortunate fourth Duke of Norfolk, the present charitable foundation of Charterhouse owes its establishment in 1611 to Thomas Sutton ( 1532-1611). The Oxford DNB life of him can be viewed at here . There is more about it at the homepage The Charterhouse

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The front of Charterhouse

Image: Diverting Journeys: WordPress.com

This was a most enjoyable and informative day out and one on which one learned a lot.








Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Brexit and Lord Heseltine


As I have indicated before about Brexit I remain a Remainer.

I have never been keen on EU per se, with its obsession with over-regulation but I do accept its underlying concept of a shared culture and civilisation, and, as a consequence, the economy that make sit tick over.

Too many in the United Kingdom never understood the basic idea of binding countries together by a variety of means in the wake of the two World Wars.

Brexit is, I fear, a leap into the unknown and into uncertainty - and not least over the future of the United Kingdom in respect of Scotland and Northern Ireland

However the situation is not helped by ardent pro-Europeans like Lord Heseltine whose latest interview suggests, as a spokesman from UKIP does, that he is losig the plot. If you have not seen it then read this post from the BBC News website:Brexit 'clears way' for German domination claims Heseltine
Ironically Heseltine ends up sounding more like a Europhobe, and betrays an astonishing lack of historical understanding or simple good manners towards people we shall have to negotiate with.

What a mess!


Monday, 27 March 2017

Conferring the Diaconate at the Oxford Oratory


Last Saturday, the Solemnity of the Annunciation, Br Oliver Craddock, Cong.Orat. received the diaconate at the Oxford Oratory by Bishop Robert Byrne, Cong. Orat.

Bishop Robert's Sermon can be read here

Here are pictures of the liturgy and celebrations from the Oxford Oratory website:

The candidate is called forward:

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The Litany of the Saints:

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The promise of obedience:

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The Laying on of Hands:

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The Presentation with the Book of the Gospels:

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The new deacon assists the bishop to incense the altar:

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The Sign of Peace:

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The new deacon performs the ablutions after Holy Communion:

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Br Oliver sings the dismissal at the end of Mass:

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All the members of the Oxford Oratory together:

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The cake being cut at the party after Mass:

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Images: © The Oxford Oratory





Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Recovering the lost landscape of medieval north Germany


Medieval Histories has an interesting article about discoveries in northern Germany in advance of lignite mining and road schemes - a depressing thoughts in themselves - but the preparatory archaeology is yielding insights into the past:

Haus Verker, a fortified medieval manor near Pier in Germany

Deserted Medieval Landscape

Between Jülich and Düren in Northern Rhineland lies a bleak landscape scarred by lignite mining. Beneath lies a precious time warp of a medieval landscape   Read more.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Mary's Meals


This evening Magnus MacFarlane Barrow, the founder of the Scottish based charity Mary's Meals spoke at the Oxford Oratory. This year the Parish Lent project is Mary's Meals and the sense of enthusiasm for the work was strong in the meeting - one felt that this was not just a good cause for this particular Lent but one to keep in contact with for the future.

The simple but successful idea of creating and maintaining a link between providing a daily meal and educating the child being fed is elegant and easilt understood. By using local people and suppliers it builds both engagement and economies. 

The website of the charity can be seen at Mary's Meals: Home





Emperor Henry III


2017 is the millenium of the birth of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry III. His favoured residence of  Goslar is hosting an exhibition about him and these connected posts are fom the online journal Medieval Histories 

Medieval Exhibition

Codex Caesarius Upsaliensis (former Goslariensis), fol 10– 11. Photo: University of Uppsala.

Henry III, Holy Roman Emperor 1017 – 2017

This year, the city of Goslar in Harzen celebrates the 1000-year anniversary of the birth of Henry III, Holy Roman Emperor with exhibitions and lectures
Henry III and Agnes from the Evangeliary from Speyer. Source: Wikipedia

Henry III – Holy Roman Emperor 1016 – 1056

The Holy Roman Emperor, Henry III, was called a pious king by some of his contemporaries; others, however, claimed he was hypocrite
Scriptorium at Echternach. From: Book of Pericopes of Henry III. Bremen. Source: Web Art Galleries

The Golden Gospels of Henry III

Henry III (1016 - 1056), Holy Roman Emperor, recieved a very fine education. This prompted him to commission several remarkable Golden Gospels at Echternach   Read more.
Goslar from the Air. Source: Goslar Marketing

The Imperial Palace in Goslar

In the 11th century, the rich silver mines in Rammelsberg gave rise to the construction of a splendid palace complex in Goslar.
Borghorster reliquary Cross - detail.© Borghorst Church

Priceless Borghorster Reliquary Cross is Back

Stolen in 2013 from a local church in Borghorst, the invaluable reliquary cross from c. 1050 is back  Read more.
Sachsenspiegel from Oldenburg. Fol 63 V. Source: Landesbibliothek Oldenburg

Henry III and the Saxon Billungs

Henry III may be remembered as a pious emperor. But he was also eganged in medieval feuds, such as with the Billungs, the Saxon dukes

Saturday, 18 March 2017

St Edward the Martyr


Today is the feast of the martyrdom of  St Edward the Martyr. Having been King since the death of his father King Edgar in 975 he was murdered at Corfe on this day in 978.

There is an online account of  him at Edward the Martyr and my previous posts about him, with other links, can be seen at St Edward the Martyr from 2012 and at St Edward the Martyr from 2013.


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  Image: orthodoxwiki.org

Today in this country devotion to him appears to be strong amongst Orthodox believers and congregations. There he is venerated as a passion bearer, and perhaps fits in to their equivalent of the link or union of throne and altar. His relics are now enshrined at the Orthodox community at Brookwood in Surrey. In consequence there are several modern icons of him which I have used to illustrate this post.

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  Image: catholic.org

There is an Orthodox account of him, and of devotion to him, and which also includes pictures of various historic English churches under his patronage here


 
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Image:pravoslavie.ru

Given recent developments in reconstructing the appearance of the deceased, including ones I have featured - King Richard III, King Henry of Scots and the two priest martyrs from Yorkshire - maybe something similar could be attempted with the scull of St Edward.

St Edward the Martyr pray for us 


Friday, 17 March 2017

Badges of the Order of St Patrick


Today is the feast of St Patrick, and on previous years I have posted about the Most Illustrious Order of St Patrick, founded by King George III in 1783 as the equivalent for Ireland of the Orders of the Garter and the Thistle.

There is a useful and comprehensive online account of the Order at Order of St. Patrick

As that explains until the Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1869-70 the Archbishop of Armagh was Prelate of the Order and the Archbishop of Dublin Chancellor. The Knights had stalls with their banners in St Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin.

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Badge of the Archbishop of Armagh as Prelate of the Order
Ulster Museum

Image: Pinterest 

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Badge of the Archbishop of Dublin as Chancellor of the Order
The small symbolic purse was worn suspended on a Patrick blue riband around the neck

Image: Lord Belmont in Northern Ireland 

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Archbishop Richard Whately wearing the Chancellor's Badge
An Oriel man he was Archbishop of Dublin 1831-63

Image: Wikipedia

There are online accounts of the Archbishop at Richard Whately and at Archbishop Richard Whately from Alfred Webb A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878. The most detailed life online is by Richard Brent in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and it can be viewed here.

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Badge of the Usher of the Order

Image: Pinterest

My previous posts about the Order can be viewed at The Order of St Patrick (2011), Banners of the Knights of St Patrick (2012), The Order of St Patrick (2013), Insignia of the Order of St Patrick (2014), The Most Illustrious Order of St Patrick (2015), and Order of St Patrick (2016)

Just in case you feel like asking, yes, I am in favour of making new appointments to the Order and restoring it to its proper and historic place in the Honours system.

 
 

Thursday, 16 March 2017

The not so private life of King Edward IV


The BBC History Magazine website reproduces an article which, being by background an historian of the later middle ages, caught my eye. I have copied the article and then added some comments of my own.

The secret intimacies of Edward IV: multiple marriages and a same-sex affair?

King Edward IV is remembered by many for his role in the Wars of the Roses, the 30-year struggle between the Houses of Lancaster and York for the English throne, and for his relationship with Elizabeth Woodville.

Here, historian John Ashdown-Hill re-examines what is known about the private life of the monarch, from his possible bigamy to secret same-sex intimacies, and questions many ‘facts’ traditionally assigned to the first Yorkist king of England…

My research on the story of King Richard III began in the 1990s, and focused initially upon the allegation that he was a ‘usurper’. That was a story which was later initiated by Henry VII, who seized Richard’s throne, killed him, and then blackened his reputation. But the truth is that Richard was offered the throne by the three estates of the realm on the grounds that his elder brother, Edward IV, had committed bigamy, making Edward’s children by Elizabeth Widville illegitimate. (Her maiden surname is commonly spelt ‘Woodville’, but contemporary sources suggest that Widville or Wydville were more commonly employed in the 15th century. I therefore use ‘Widville’.)

The story of Edward IV’s bigamy intrigued me. As a result, my initial research focused upon the true story of Eleanor Talbot – the lady who was formally acknowledged in an Act of Parliament of 1484 as “married” to King Edward. Although some historians have questioned Eleanor’s existence, I established clearly her identity, with the support of solid evidence. A picture emerged that supported the proposition that she had a relationship with King Edward IV. For example, the king appears to have given her land. Also he sent presents to her former father-in-law, Lord Sudeley, while Eleanor was alive – though following her death he changed tack and destroyed Lord Sudeley. It was also clear that the legality of Edward IV’s subsequent marriage with Elizabeth Widville had always been questioned.

A new date of birth?
My research on the bigamy accusations led me to investigate all the other alleged stories about Edward IV and his private life. Once I’d started, it rapidly emerged that, while most biographies of the king have traditionally claimed that he was born on 28 April 1442, most of them cite no source for that assertion. This is a problem, because some historians have used this birth date to back a claim that Edward himself was illegitimate.

A political story, promoted by the French government and other opponents of Edward IV after he became king of England, hinted that his mother had a love affair with an archer. As a result, it was suggested that the archer, rather than Richard Duke of York, was Edward’s biological father. Some modern historians have sought to back that claim by asserting that the Duke of York was not with his wife at the time of Edward’s conception. But of course, that claim is based upon Edward IV’s alleged birth date.

When I sought out evidence for the date in question, I discovered that actually only one 15th-century source mentions 28 April 1442. Unfortunately, that source erroneously claims that the day in question was a Monday. What’s more, another source offers a different date for Edward’s birth. In short, I believe we can no longer claim to know for certain precisely when Edward was born.

Who was Edward’s real father?
The allegations of illegitimacy have, of course, thrown Edward’s relationship with his theoretical father, Richard Duke of York, into question. However, letters written by the Duke of York to King Charles VII of France – attempting (and failing) to set up a prestigious marriage for Edward with one of the daughters of the king of France – indicate that the duke considered Edward to be his son. That point is proved even more clearly by the wording that the duke used. In the surviving letters, he repeatedly refers to Edward as his son and heir. In his own writing, Edward naturally addressed the duke as his father. His letters suggest that a good relationship existed between them.

Same-sex relationships
When the Duke of York was killed in 1460, young Edward was still unmarried – and remained so when he became king of England. Shortly after his accession, however, Edward became involved with the beautiful Eleanor Talbot, and the most likely date for their secret marriage seems to have been Monday 8 June 1461, when the itinerary of Edward IV, as published in my latest book, reveals that Edward was in the vicinity of Eleanor’s Warwickshire manor houses.

Eleanor had produced no children by her first husband, Sir Thomas Boteler, and she doesn’t seem to have become pregnant as a result of her relationship with the king. Edward IV therefore found himself confronted by a fruitless relationship. But about 18 months after his secret marriage with Eleanor, Edward encountered one of her first cousins, who may well have shared Eleanor’s good looks, and who also, it seems, attracted the king. The cousin in question was Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. A wealth of clear contemporary evidence suggests that Edward loved Henry and that the two men slept together.

This is by no means the only instance of an English king having a same-sex relationship. Earlier examples involved both Richard the Lionheart and King Edward II. Although Richard I’s same-sex relationship worried his father, Henry II, the intimacy took place in France, and aroused no hostile response in England. Edward II wasn’t so lucky. Likewise the relationship between Edward IV and the Duke of Somerset aroused opposition in some quarters. This led to an attack on the Duke of Somerset, which finally helped to break up his relationship with the king.


Another secret marriage?
Later accounts – beginning with the version of ‘history’ written by the Tudor grandee Sir Thomas More – suggest that, around this time, Edward IV took on a relationship with another young woman, Elizabeth Lucy. More even went as far as to claim that Edward IV was believed, in some quarters, to have secretly married Elizabeth Lucy. More offers a detailed story of how the young king’s mother supposedly knew of this relationship. He also asserts that Richard III’s subsequent claim to the throne was based upon the premise of Edward and Lucy’s marriage.

More goes on to say that the claim was false – making Richard III a usurper. While the offering of the English crown to Richard III was indeed based upon evidence that Edward IV had committed bigamy, the evidence clearly shows that the alleged first (and legal) wife of the young king was not called Elizabeth Lucy. She was, in fact, Lady Eleanor Talbot.

Sadly, there’s not a shred of contemporary evidence that a woman called Elizabeth Lucy ever existed – let alone that she had a relationship with Edward IV. The logical conclusion is that Thomas More’s allegations were simply part of the attempt made by Henry VII and his successors to ensure that the name of Eleanor Talbot was written out of history. Henry VII had initiated this process in 1485, when he repealed unquoted the 1484 act of parliament that had acknowledged Eleanor as “married” to King Edward. On that occasion, Henry VII stated specifically that his aim was “that all thinges said and remembered in the said Bill and Acte thereof maie be for ever out of remembraunce and allso forgot”.
However, surviving letters written in 1533 and 1534 by Eustace Chapuys, the ambassador of Emperor Charles V at the court of Henry VIII, show that Henry VII hadn’t succeeded in putting the story of Eleanor’s marriage to Edward IV “out of remembraunce” on the European mainland. Therefore ongoing work was required for the sake of England’s new reigning dynasty.

Thomas More also asserted that the king had a love affair with a “Mistress Shore”. But, as in the case of Elizabeth Lucy, not a single shred of contemporary evidence exists to show that Edward IV had anything to do with Mistress Shore. Unlike Elizabeth Lucy, however, Mistress Shore definitely did exist. Her maiden name was Elizabeth Lambert.

A marriage for her was arranged by her family, and her first husband was called William Shore. Unfortunately, that marriage proved difficult, and the young wife appealed to the church for its annulment. Eventually she married again. Before that, however, she had two love affairs: one with Lord Hastings, and the other with Edward IV’s step-son, the Marquis of Dorset. Curiously, a number of sources prove that her first husband, William Shore, was a supporter of Edward IV, and worked with him. However, no contemporary sources ever claim that Mistress Shore had a relationship with the king.

Heaps of illegitimate children?
The traditional story of Edward IV’s private life asserts not only that he had mistresses, but also that he produced heaps of illegitimate children. However, that too proves to be untrue. The king is recorded as only acknowledging one illegitimate child during his reign. It was a boy, but his name is unknown. Previous historians tended to assume that the boy in question was Arthur Wayte/Plantagenet, later Lord Lisle. However, the evidence clearly shows that Arthur was only finally acknowledged as a royal ‘bastard’ many years after the death of his alleged father. So he cannot have been the illegitimate child who was accorded formal recognition by Edward IV himself.
Curiously, however, one or two girls also seem to have been recognised as illegitimate daughters of Edward IV years later, during the reign of Henry VII. One possible explanation for this is that Richard III was offered the throne on the assumption that Edward’s children by Elizabeth Widville were illegitimate!


The power behind the throne
For all the question marks hanging over her marriage to the king, Elizabeth Widville seems to have exercised a great deal of influence over Edward IV. Despite later stories that he had many love affairs, from 1464 until his death in 1483, Edward seems to have been rather fond of his wife.
Elizabeth Widville was acknowledged as Edward’s legal wife during his reign, and her children were also officially recognised as the heirs to the throne. However, their status was always questioned in some quarters. Even members of the royal family – including the king’s own middle brother, George, Duke of Clarence – disputed their claims. One result was that George was imprisoned and executed – apparently on the orders of Elizabeth Widville herself. A contemporary report written by Italian diplomat Domenico Mancini certainly suggests that this was the case.

Elizabeth’s later conduct confirms that she took a strong role in politics. Following Edward IV’s death, with the aid of members of her own family, she attempted a coup to enable herself to act as regent for her young son. But in 15th-century England, regency powers were always assigned to the senior living prince of the blood royal – not to the mother. Thus when Edward IV died, according to English custom, power belonged in the hands of his surviving brother: Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who would, of course, go on to become King Richard III…

 Image: Amazon

John Ashdown-Hill is a historian and the author of The Private Life of Edward IV (Amberley Publishing, November 2016). To find out more, click here.
To find out more about the author, visit www.johnashdownhill.com.


The Clever Boy would wish to add the following coments:

I have only read the article not the book, but it certainly raises some interesting questions

The questions raised by Ashdown-Hill about King Edward's date of birth and possible illegitimacy are interesting. King Richard III's DNA suggests something was wrong in his descent from King Edward III as well - historians tend to suggest Richard of Conisburgh was not the son of Edmund Duke of York, as in the post from Matt's history Blog Was Richard of Conisburgh Illegitimate? and  “Much Ado About Nothing?” – Pondering Richard III's DNA  from Unofficial Royalty.

The concern with dates and places of birth in fifteenth century lists suggests a keen interest in astrology and that was one of the contributory causes of the downfall of George Duke of Clarence in 1477-78, as it had been with the Duchess of Gloucester in 1441.

The allegation of bigamy makes me wonder if this somehow was a a ghost haunting King Henry VIII and the issue of remarriage and begetting heirs. As it was he was, by Catholic rules, a bigamist and by virtually everyone's rules one or other of his two daughters who succeeded to the throne was illegitimate.

I would have thought that King Edward would have had enough common sense not to commit bigamy because of its likely impact on the succession. It is possible that a relationship with Lady Eleanor Talbot/Boteler was one of those whereby you could be deemed to be married by exchange of personal vows and physical consummation, and one that the eighteen year old Edward stumbled into thinking he was merely having an affair, and which came back to haunt his family. Both Lady Eleanor and his recognised wife the former Lady Grey show distinct similarities in their social and political positions. Did the young King have a penchant for attractive widows, only to find himself snared in different ways by both ladies, and so unable to contract the more prestigious marriage that might be expected for him?

The possibility of a King Edward having a same-sex relationship with Henry Duke of Somerset is very interesting, but I am not at all sure I am convinced. Both men were certainly heterosexual at other times, the King producing a large family with his Queen and, it appears, some  illegitimate children, whilst Somerset's illegitimate son Charles Somerset is the progenitor of the line of the Dukes of Beaufort. 

To share a bed with Somerset, and in that sense to literally sleep with him, may have been a political gesture - it showed that Somerset was taken into royal favour and trusted ( he had been the Lancastrian commander at Towton ) and was calculated to show the young King's independence of and indeed to irritate the Nevilles. In that it succeeded. Until relatively recently for two men to share a bed whilst travelling was no more than a practical matter, and need not imply any sexual relationship

If the two actually did have an affair - well that could explain why, given that Somerset could be held accountable for the death of Edward's father and  brother, that the King was so willing to forgive him and take into his favour, and that this was not just not just a political one in eye for Warwick. Edward had few scruples when eliminating others, including his brother Clarence, if they were seen as a threat, although lesser Lancastrian supporters might be received into favour - not least his future Queen Elizabeth. The King and Duke were part of the wider cousinage that linked the Crown and nobility. Such an affair is not impossible one must suppose, but more evidence or interpretation is required.

As to King Richard I being homosexual I do have to ask if that story true - there seems no clear report earlier than late 1940s with John Harvey's book The Plantagenets: he cites Richard doing penance for a whole range of sins, including that, but this may refer to one incident in the past rather than a consistent life-style choice ( to be horribly modern). The largely all-male world of military life led by Richard may have led to such encounters without denominating them as his sole preference. 

Ashdown-Hill's questioning of the historicity of Jane Shore is interesting as she is so well established in tradition, as in the story of her pleas ensuring the survival of King Henry VI's foundation of Eton. To some to suggest that Thomas More could ever be wrong will send out shock waves...

So I suppose the answer is to read the complete book and see what I think then...