Barking Abbey, part II

While the women of the poorer classes have been working since the beginning of time,hildegard_of_bingen_and_nuns “work” was not an option for women of the higher classes of society and in many cases the options were two: get married or join a convent.

The fact that some women either by their own will or by the will of the family became nuns has sometimes inspired thinking in the terms of at what rate it was religious convictions that made people join a nunnery, but I feel that in using those words, we are beginning to apply our secular way of thinking to people living in an age when “not believing in God” was as unlikely an option as finding work was for an Earl´s daughter.

This alone was not the reason for the number of daughters from the nobility choosing, or being expected to, to join a convent. Both Power and Barnes point out that doing so what not necessarily an undertaking done for free, something which is indicated already in the paying of a dowry by John of Gaunt to Barking Abbey for the admittance of Elizabeth Chaucer. Just as a wedding, the joining of the monastic life was a cost that often needed to be covered by, if possible, the bride´s family regardless of the groom was a man of flesh and blood or God.

Another factor that speaks to the advantage for women of the nobility was that the woman wanting to become a nun was expected to have some level of education. Among the lower classes, the literacy among men was lower than 20 percent England in the 1550´s, and far lower among women. Literacy among women could be found among the gentry, the mercantile class and the nobility, which obviously in most cases excluded for example the thatcher´s daughter from a life as a nun.

In 1527 they had seen Dorothy Barley, when she would have been around 37 years old, become elected abbess, a process that required a license from the patron of the order, in this case the king as Barking Abbey was a royal monastery and once that was achieved four scrutineers were chosen. Their task was to appoint candidates for the role as abbess and then the election would be held on a feast day.

medieval-nunsAll nuns would cast their vote, and to be an eligible candidate the minimum requirement was that the nun in question was at least 21 years old, of legitimate birth and of good reputation. While her popularity among the other nuns no doubt played some part, and it has been suggested that the social standing of her family outside the monastery also played its part, what was most important was her merit and capability, or as expressed in the Benedictine Rule chapter 64 requires that a nun be chosen for wisdom and doctrine.

As Abbess Dorothy Barley had her own household away from the rest of the nuns, and most likely it was also here that the children staying as wards lived. From 1437 to 1440 the two small boys Jasper and Edmund Tudor stayed here under the supervision of Katherine de la Pole, and in the last decade leading up to the surrender of the Abbey, Sir John Stanley dedicated his son to the care of the Abbess of Barking Abbey, where the boy would stay until the age of 12.

Possibly was that the same John Stanley who was an illegitimate son of the Bishop of Ely, and if so, the boy in question would only have been four at the time he joined the Abbess of Barking Abbey. For the upbringing and education of the young boy, the abbess received £20 per year. There are in some documents signs that other children may have been boarded in the household of the abbess, but unfortunately the names of their families does not remain.

She, the abbess, would also have had the responsibility for both the financial and the judicial sides of the monastery. The financial matters included the administration of the abbeys funds, which derived from leases of demesne land of the 15 manors that was in the possession of the abbey, the lease for the mill in Barking as well as rents and taxes. Added to that there was an inflow of grain, produce, hay and wood from the manors.

The ones belonging to Barking at the time of the dissolution was basically the same that hed belonged to the abbey since the 13th century: Barking, Abbes Hall, Bulphan, Caldecoates, Cokermouth, Down Hall, Great Warley, Hanley Hall, Hewkesbury, Highall, Hockley, Ingatestone, Leaden Roding, Mucking, Tollesbury, Wangey Hall, Westbury, Wigborough and Wood Barns.

Both products and cash were used by the Obedentiaries, such as the Cellaress, the Sacrist and the Infirmaress, for the upkeep of the monastery and the sustenance of the nuns and those living in the monastery, not always just the nuns, which I will return to, it seems as if the different offices had their “own” manors from which they received the revenue to make the economy of their “department” go round financially.

The abbess would also be involved in handle litigations, a not a too uncommon occurrence for the abbey as a major landholder with tenants. For these instances she had the assistance of stewards, two during the last years of the existence of Barking Abbey. They also were in employ of the monastery to keep an eye on the manors and lands belonging to the abbey, and from the 13th century it was common practice that these stewards had a legal education.

While the abbess in modern day terminology in many ways would have been seen as the public relations officer, spending most of her time dealing with the monastery´s contacts with the outside world – requiring her to be respected in a society run by men – she also had assistance by people who, to continue the modern day terminology, was in charge of the HR-department.

This was the work of the prioress, second in command to the abbess and a position held in the last years of Barking Abbey by Thomasina Jenney who had been at the abbey since the late 15th century and up until 1508 had held the position as sacrist. In 1508 she was elected prioress, a position she held for the remainder of the abbey´s existence. She was assisted by a sub-prioress and due to the wealth and power of Barking Abbey, a third prioress, and their work was to oversee the work of the obedentiaries who all held different offices within the monastery.

While the abbess was elected, the prioress and the obedentiaries were appointed, and this was a process that took place every year on the first Monday of Lent in the Charter House after Mass.  The work of the nuns holding the offices during the previous year was evaluated by the abbess and those who had excelled at their tasks might be in for a promotion while those who had performed a less than satisfactory work could be demoted from their positions and return to the life of an ordinary nun. One example of promotion is that of Margaret Scrope who had been made precentrix in 1527, lady of the pension in 1535-36 and promoted to sub prioress some time before 1539. Another example of someone who had clearly managed her office very well is Thomasina Jenney who, as previously mentioned, held her office as prioress for 30 years.

On this day positions which had become vacant due to for example the death of the previous holder was filled.

Sources:

House of Benedictine Nuns: Barking Abbey in “A history of the County of Essex: Volume 2, ed. William Page and J Horace Round (London 1907) British History Online

A nun´s life: Barking Abbey in the late-medieval and early modern periods – Theresa L. Barnes, Portland State University, 2004.

Barking Abbey: A study in its external and internal administration from the conquest to the dissolution – Winifred K. Sturman, University of London, 1961.

Dugdale Monasticon, Vol 1, part 15: Charthe longynge to the Office of the Celeresse of the Monasterye of Barkinge. 1655.

Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic of Henry VIII, August-December 1539.

Barking Abbey, London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, Museum and Heritage, Local History Resources.

Essex Record Office

 

 

 

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Interview with Amy Licence

Recently I reviewed Amy Licence book “Edward IV & Elizabeth Woodville – a trueAmy love story”, and now I have had the pleasure of asking her a few questions

 How did your interest in history start?

I don’t really remember a time before I was interested in history. It came from reading and visiting old castles with my parents. I do recall a book I got out of the library when I was about 5 or 6, about cavemen, and being so frustrated when I finished reading it, wanting to go back to the library and get another but the library was closed. By the time I was 14, I’d read all their Tudor books.

AmyAt what point did you realise it was primarily the women’s stories you wanted to highlight?

I’ve always been interested in looking at the women’s side of things; I remember reading biographies of men and spotting these fascinating figures in the margins and thinking that their stories deserved to be told in their own right. There were occasions too, when I thought some historians were unfair to women and I refused to accept their portrayals and interpretations of female motivation and actions. I think the salient moment, though, was when I became a mother, and began to see a discrepancy between my own experience and the way certain books portrayed and valued it. Then, I found that researching childbirth in the past opened up all sorts of other questions about gender relations that I wanted to pursue.

How important is history to C21st people and do you personally feel that lack of In bedknowledge influences the modern man?

I think history is important in ways that aren’t obvious. It’s important to learn about the past, so we can see the present in context and there’s always the old adage about us being doomed to repeat the past, but I think the lessons we learn are more subtle than that. Studying historical figures, particularly weighing conflicting sources and assessing bias, constantly reminds me there are more than one way of looking at something, that no one person is entirely “this” or “that.” When I’m trying to piece together the experience of someone living five centuries ago, at the remove of time and cultural distance, it makes me understand how difficult it is to interpret people from the outside and how they must be assessed within the mores of their own beliefs. This is so relevant to today, when we interact with people from different generations, countries and religions; these historical lessons are transferrable across other boundaries. This is the most valuable knowledge that comes from my work, studying the lives of people in the past.

sixWhat determines who you will be writing about when you prepare for a new book?

It’s a negotiation. Sometimes my publisher has something specific in mind they’d like me to do and sometimes I’m keen, or I might say that individual doesn’t particularly interest me. On other occasions, there will be something that I’m burning to write about and, so long as I submit a valid proposal, I’m lucky that my publisher usually agrees. Quite often an idea comes to me while writing a previous book and I want to follow that through but it demands a book of its own.

What will you be working on next?

I’m working on a biography of Catherine of Aragon for Amberley Publishing, as I want All about Richard IIIto set her in the context of a Renaissance, Humanist queen, not just a wife who failed to produce sons. I’m also continuing to write children’s books for MadeGlobal; my book on Henry VIII will be coming out with them soon.

 

Amy Licence is a historian, journalist and teacher who to date has published 10, soon to be 11, books on the history of late 15th and early 16th century, focusing on women´s history.

Published books: In Bed with the Tudors (2012), Elizabeth of York – the forgotten Tudor Queen (2013), Anne Neville – Richard III´s Tragic Queen (2013), Royal babies 1066-2013 (2013), Richard III: The Road to Leicester (2014), Cecily Neville – Mother of Kings (2014), The six wives and many mistresses of Henry VIII – the women´s stories (2014), Living in Squares, Loving in Triangles – The lives and loves of Virginia Wolf and the Blomsbury Group (2015), Edward IV & Elizabeth Woodville – a true love story (2016), Red Roses – Blanch of Gaunt to Margaret Beaufort (2016).

Amy Licence is also working on a book series for children; “All about..” featuring Richard III, Henry VII and Henry VIII

My lady, the King´s Mother

Less than a week after her grandson Henry VIII had been crowned, and the day after his 18th birthday, the true founder of theLady_Margaret_Beaufort_from_NPG Tudor dynasty gave up her last breath. Having outlived her only son and three husbands, Margaret Beaufort died on June 29th 1509 at the deanery of Westminster Abbey.

Having lived through the turbulent period of the Wars of the Roses and seen the wheel of her fortune take it´s turn for both the better and for the worst, she went to her death as a woman who had been caring and loving to those close to her, and also prepared to help those who needed, being said to at any given time having had at least 12 poor people living with her, whom she provided with food, clothes and housing.

She has been accused by modern writers for being scheming and conniving, but she was a tough survivor when times demanded that of her, and she has even been accused of being the orchestrator behind the presumed death of the princes in the Tower, which, according to me is simply ridiculous, not least as she at the time was placed under house arrest, and someone else obviously ”had the key to the door.”

When Margaret died, members of her household as well as her friend and chaplain John Fisher who decades later would be executed surrounded her on the order of her grandson.

Margaret Beaufort was laid to rest in a tomb at Westminster Abbey

Source: Margaret Beaufort-Mother of the Tudor Dynasty – Elizabeth Norton

John Fisher

Time, or rather lack of it, hasn´t quite allowed me to blog as I want to lately, and I´m looking forward to my upcoming John_Fisher_(painting)vaccation which I hope will change that situation.

Even so, I want to post a short note to commemorate John Fisher, who was executed on this day in 1535 for refusing to recognise Henry VIII as the Supreme Head of the Church of England.

John Fisher was born in Yorkshire in 1469 in Yorkshire as one of four children of the merchant Robert Fisher and his wife Agnes.

John Fisher studied at the University of Cambridge in the 1480´s, where he earned both a Bachelor´s degree and a Master´s degree in arts. He was ordanined priest in 1491.

He went on not only become  the Bishop of Rochford, but also came to play an important role in the life of Margaret Beaufort, whose chaplain and good friend he came to be during the last years of her life, and after her passing he gave a ceremon  in which he complemented her on her many qualities that often has come to be ignored in the accounts of her in the 21st Century. Under his supervision and support, Margaret Beaufort founded both the St John´s and Christ´s College at Cambridge, and he was by her side when she was dying.

He also convinced the scholar Erasmus to come and visit the University of Cambridge.

Towards the forced end of his life, he also ended up on the wrong side of Henry VIII by becoming a staunch supporter of Katherine of Aragon during the Great Matter.

After, in 1534, Fisher refused to take the oath recognising Henry VIII as Supreme Head, he was brought to the Tower, which he was to remain for a year, during which he wrote to Thomas Cromwell to bring to attention the harsh conditions under which he was kept. While his friends was allowed to send him food and drink, he was refused a priest even to the very end.

He was executed on Tower Hill on this day, one of several men who would in the end lose their lives for refusing to take said oath. At first he was thrown on an unmarked grave after having been left on the scaffold for the entire day, but was two weeks later moved to St Peter ad Vincula

He was, together with Thomas More who was executed only weeks later, canonized in 1935 by Pope Pius XI. His day of celebration is today, the same days as that of Thomas More.

 

Sources:

Margaret Beaufort-Mother of the Tudor dynasty – Elizabeth Norton

St John Fisher – Leonard Foley

 

 

 

Joan – The Fair Maiden of Kent

We may not realise it, as history is to a very large extent dedicated to men, their lives and their deeds, but the very samejoan history is full of strong, fascinating women whose acquaintance is well worth making.

One of these women is Joan of Kent, the wife of Edward the Black Prince in my previous post.

She was born in 1328 as one of two daughters (she also had two brothers) of Edmund of Woodstock, 1st Earl of Kent and Margaret Wake, 3rd Baroness Wake of Liddell.

Edmund wasn´t just “any” Earl, he was the son of Edward I through his marriage to Margaret of France, and thereby also the half-brother of Edward II, the paternal grandfather of the Black Prince.

Isabella_and_Roger_MortimerEdmund, all though loyal to his brother, found himself – due to Edward II´s favouritism of the Despenser´s – forced into the arms of Isabella and Roger Mortimer in France. Participating in their invasion of England, the deposing of his own half-brother and a later plot against the new monarchy cost him his life in 1330 when his daughter was two years old when he was executed for treason in March.

When Roger Mortimer himself was executed later the same year, one of the charges was procuring Edmund´s death, and all charges against Edmund himself was lifted.

But now back to his precocious daughter Joan, later to be known as The Fair Maiden of Kent. She seemed to have known what she wanted already early on in life, and at the age of 12 she secretly married Thomas Holland of Upholland, Lancashire, who was around 14 years older than herself. Not only did Joan not bother to seek royal consent, which was required for a noblewoman, not least as she was of royal blood herself, it seems she didn´t bother to seek the consent of her immediate family either.

This resulted in, when Thomas Holland shortly after their marriage was sent on a military expedition part of the ongoing Hundred Years War, her family demanded Joan to contract another, in their eyes more suiting, marriage this Joan_of_Kenttime to William Montague, 2nd Earl of Salisbury who was born the same year as Joan.

Apparently Joan did not say anything of her already existing marriage, and she would later state that it was due to fear that Thomas Holland would be executed for treason upon his return to England. When he returned he however appealed to the Pope who in time annulled Joan´s current marriage by the time she was 21 and allowed to return to the husband she had apparently chosen herself.

Joan of Kent and Thomas Holland went on to have four children before Thomas died 11 years after their reunion, and through one of her sons Thomas Holland´s daughter Margaret Holland, she was the ancestor of Margaret Beaufort ( Margaret Holland was Margaret Beaufort´s paternal grandmother). Other descendants of Joan include Edward IV, Elizabeth of York and Anne Neville.

Edward the Black PrinceBeing a widow, older than the heir apparent, the Black Prince, she was not the choice of daughter in law Edward III and Philippa of Hainault would have made. Just the fact that he didn´t marry until the age of 31 most likely had earned their disapproval. It seems that Joan was already at an early stage the target of the prince´s affection, as he presented her with a silver cup which was a part of his war loot early on in his military career.

Edward the Black Prince and Joan of Kent took place on October 10th 1361. Allegedly they had already married secretly in 1360 but due to the lack – at the time – of a papal dispensation, Edward and Joan were first cousins once removed, there was a risk of the first marriage, in the event it took place, would be declared invalid.

On the king´s request, the Pope however granted the dispensation needed.

The year after the marriage, the Black Prince was invested Prince of Aquitaine, where they would live for nine years. Here Joan of Kent assembled an army to fight of threats while her husband was drawn into war on the side of Pedro of Castile.

Something which is interesting is Joan´s association with the Lollards, the religious and political movement formed in mid-14th century by the theologian John Wyclif. Both in the household of Edward and that of Joan could be found men who were clearly associated with Lollardy. David Green, author of the book “The Black Prince – power in medieval Europe” states that considering Joan´s reputation of extravagance and fame for primarily being beautiful, the association is weird, but to me that´s a slightly sexist remark hinting that when it comes to a beautiful woman, there is not more than what meets the eye.

The Lollards would come even more into prominence during the reign of Richard II, the only surviving child of Joan and Edward (another son, Edward of Angouleme, died at the age of six).

At the end of the 1360´s, the Black Prince´s health had started to decline rapidly, and the small family returned to Wallingford_castle_ruinsEngland. At the age of 48, Joan of Kent became a widow for the second time.

While she would continue to take a part in her son´s life when he the year after Edward´s death, when Edward III died, became king at the age of 10 – she was in the Tower with her son with the rebels of the Peasant´s Rebellion broke through the gates – she chose to spend a large part of her time at her favourite home Wallingford Castle in modern day Oxfordshire where she died in 1385 at the age of 57.

 

(Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

(Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Joan of Kent is not buried beside Edward the Black Prince at Canterbury Cathedral. In accordance with her will, she instead rest at the side of her first husband, Thomas Holland, at Grey Friars in Stamford, Lincolnshire..

The Black Prince had planned to rest in a crypt which had had its roof embossed with the face of Joan of Kent. His request was not however granted.

Sources:

The Black Prince – Power in Medieval Europe – David Green

The Plantagenets, The kings and Queens that made England – Dan Jones

 A History of Britain – Simon Schama

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Margaret Tudor – Mother of the Tudor Dynasty by Elizabeth Norton

Non-fiction

margaret bokIf one is interested in the Wars of the Roses/early Tudor era, the chances that one has come across a number of prejudice ideas about Margaret Beaufort; a conniving she-wolf who would do anything to put her son on the throne, a woman who plotted, backstabbed and in some versions also was the one behind the disappearance and presumed murder of the princes in the Tower, all the while being pious on the verge of a fanatic.

In Elizabeth Norton´s book the true Margaret Beaufort, mother and grandmother of the two first Tudor monarchs, peaks through the veils of history and for a while become a woman of flesh and blood, far from her maligned rumour. Here we instead met a woman who is strong in a time when strength was needed to survive, and who, after her first marriage, refused to be the pawn of others but took charge of her own destiny as far as it was possible.
It also becomes clear that far from her cold, nun-like persona of fiction, Margaret Beaufort was a loving woman who cared for those around her, siblings from her mother´s other marriages, stepsons and also the sister of Elizabeth of York, Cecily.

An incident with a thank you-note and a pair of gloves suggest that she also had a kind of sharp sense of humour. While Margaret Beaufort most likely never would have identified with feminism, she certainly is someone to draw inspiration from in determination and feeling of self-worth and she steps out of the shadows as an incredibly fascinating, not “just” woman, but individual of the period.

Then there is of course heart aching story of her struggle for her son. Maybe I, as the mother of a son, is more susceptible than someone without a son – or daughter for that matter – would be, but this actually breaks my heart a little. To endure the separation from a child also demands strength.
If you think you know about Margaret Beaufort, and that knowledge has more in common with the first lines I wrote, than the latter, you need to read this book. If not, I think you should read it anyway.

Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury

We have just gotten over the anniversary of the execution of Anne Boleyn when today, May 27, it´s time to rememberMargaret_Pole,_Countess_of_Salisbury_from_NPG_retouched another one of the horrendous acts that were so frequent in the very last decade of the reign of Henry VIII: the execution of Margaret Pole, countess of Salisbury.

Something, other than the actual execution, that kind of send chills up my spine is that one might say that this was an act that definitively put the previous Royal House to rest, because Margaret was the daughter of George, duke of Clarence  -immensely troubled brother of Edward IV and Richard III – and Isabel Nevill, the eldest daughter of Warwick the Kingmaker.

Margaret who together with her future issue had been barred from the throne through the attainder against her father when he was convicted and executed (according to legend by being drowned in a butt of Malmsey) for treason against his brother king Edward IV, had married Sir Richard Pole, with whom she had 5 children, one of whom was Reginald Pole, cardinal and from 1536 a thorn in Henry VIII:s eye.

Margaret and her brother were kept by Richard III at Sheriff Hutton until 1585, when her brother Edward, earl of Warwick was put in the Tower after the battle of Bosworth and later executed allegedly for plotting against Henry VII together with Perkin Warbeck.

In 1487, Henry VII gave Margaret in marriage to Sir Richard Pole with whom she had 5 children. She became a widow in 1504 with limited land left to her by her husband, whose funeral were paid for by Henry VII.

At the time of Henry VIII:s accession, Margaret Pole was returned parts of her lands, and she was one of the gentlewomen of Catherine of Aragon. Despite her Plantagenet background, she was loyal to the Tudors, and she most likely never posed any kind of threat to Henry VIII, and she was also made governess of the young princess Mary. She had devoted her son Reginald to the church, and when the changes came in the 1530´s, he had warned against the marriage with Anne Boleyn and already in 1526 he had gone into voluntary exile as a response to Henry´s demand for support in the planned divorce from Catherine.

In 1536 the rift became irreparable when Reginald Pole after he had first spoken out against the marriage to Anne Boleyn and consequently encouraged the royal houses to depose Henry. In 1536 he had slipped back to Rome and in 1537 he was made a cardinal even though he had yet to become an ordained priest.

The previous “insubordination” of Reginald Pole would come to have a disastrous effect on his family back in England.

We will most never know in a “black and white” if he based it or fact or his convenient wishes, but Henry uncovered the Courtney conspiracy. It was an assumption of treason on the part of Margaret Pole, her son Henry and other individuals. The evidence was fragmentary, based on conversations and memories but most likely mostly based on Henry´s feelings for Reginald.

The Courtney conspiracy was an idea of marrying Edward Courtaney, grandson of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, and thereby second cousin of Reginald Pole to the disinherited princess Mary.

But with Reginald Pole out of reach for Henry, he instead turned on the family, not least on the aging countess who was imprisoned for two years in the Tower. She was executed on May 27th 1541 at the age of 67 in a display which clearly showed the horrors of capital punishment.

She refused to put her head on the block, but the inexperienced executioner delivered a blow anyway which instead of severing her head gave her a deep cut in her shoulder. Legend has it that she was chased around the block, being struck several times before she finally died, something which in large part is confirmed by contemporary state papers.

Margaret, Countess of Salisbury, was beatified December 29th 1886 by Pope Leo XIII.

The poem below is said to have been carved into the wall of her cell.

 

             For traitors on the block should die;

I am no traitor, no, not I!

My faithfulness stands fast and so,

Towards the block I shall not go!

Nor make one step, as you shall see;

Christ in Thy Mercy, save Thou me!

 

 

Sources:

Henry VIII – Elizabeth Wooding

 The execution of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury – The Anne Boleyn Files

 Executions and beheadings at the Tower of London