Henry II

I will elaborate more on Henry II at a later time, here just a sketchy portrait on the jindra_eleonora862nd anniversary of his coronation, and a way to get back to blogging again. It´s been a long time off now!

Today it´s 862 years since Henry Plantagnet – the first king to use that name which had been adopted by his father Geoffrey of Anjou – in 1154 was crowned at Westminster Abbey alongside his wife, the quite feisty Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Henry was the son om Empress Matilda – or Lady of the English as she was also known during her own struggle for the English crown which unleashed the civil war known as The Anarchy on the English people, with her cousin Stephen of Blois on the opposite side of the battlefield – and Geoffrey ”the Fair”, count of Anjou.

Just as his mother, daughter of Henry I and granddaughter of William the Conqueror, had a strong sense of birth right, and had a vast kingdom at the end of his reign, all of which he is said to have kept under control by constantly being in the saddle, riding back and forward through his domains.

He would come to have eight children with Eleanor, and it is somewhat of an understatement to say that the harmony was sometimes lacking in the family.

His son´s Henry, the heir to the throne and referred to as Henry the Young King, and his brothers Richard (known to history as Richard the Lionhearted) and Geoffrey would eventually rebel – with the backing of their mother – against their father.

Henry was of course also the king who appointed his friend Thomas Becket as Archbishop of Canterbury, and caused his death through the allegedly misinterpreted words “Will someone rid me of this turbulent priest” once the friendship had turned sour.

The conflicts with his son´s continued, and after having been defeated in a final rebellion in 1189, he shortly after died from what is believed to have been a bleeding ulcer.

Sources:

Henry II – New Interpretations: Nicholas Vincent, Christopher Harper- Bill.

Henry II – W. L. Warren.

The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England – Dan Jones

Kett’s Rebellion

On July 8th 1549, only just over two years into the reign of the young Edward VI, a A_group_of_dissenters_in_Norfolk_during_Robert_Kett's_rebellion_of_1549rebellion started in Norfolk, primarily as a response to enclosure of common land, to a large extent a result of the high demand for English wool, the farmers owning the sheep valuable sheep turning arable land into pastures for their sheep, as well as depriving peasant farmers of land where they could graze their own cattle.

The geographical starting point of the rebellion was Wymondham where the rebels went about destroying fences put up by landowners, one of which was the yeoman farmer Robert Kett, a tanner with extensive landholdings who had been prosecuted at the manorial court for putting up enclosure.

The prime target for the rebellion was however Sir John Flowerdew, who had earned the dislike of the population not only through enclosing land but also for having been the overseer of the demolition of Wymondham Abbey during the dissolution.

Flowerdew, however, sent them to another target; Robert Kett, no doubt without having even the slightest idea how that could possibly end.

Robert Kett, or Keet, a tanner with extensive landholdings who had been prosecuted in the manorial court of Wymondham for enclosing lands. It may have been that Robert Kett took the rebels a bit by surprise, but rather than being intimidated by them, he offered to be their leader.

Robert Kett was born in 1492, the son of the butcher and landowner Tom Kett and his wife Margery. In 1515 he had married Alice Appleyard who had born him five sons.

Even though Robert Kett most likely had a comfortable life, he in 1549 all of a sudden found himself heading a rebellion. Disturbances over the previous months – tearing down of fences – had most likely been committed in good faith as Edward Seymour, brother of the late queen and protector of the young king, had issued a proclamation against illegal enclosures.

Mousehold HeathThe rebels, now under the leadership of Kett, marched on Norwich, making the “The oak of Reformation” on Mousehold Heath between Hethersett and Norwich their base and the oak itself a symbol for rebellion.

After movements around Norwich, where they were refused entry, they once again set up camp on Mousehold Heath and stayed there for the coming six and a half weeks.

Setting up headquarters in St. Michael´s Chapel – later, in its ruined form known as Kett´s Castle – Robert Kett formed a council consisting of representatives of the Hundreds of Norfolk* as well as a representative from Suffolk.

As days passed, people streamed to join the rebels, and the camp on Mousehold Heathkett´s oak eventually consisted of more people than the city of Norwich itself which at the time was the second-largest city in England with a population of 12 000 inhabitants, one number which is mentioned is 20 000 rebels, and allegedly even though having been a tanner and landowner, Kett was perfectly suited as a commander of disgruntled peasants.

A list of grievances was put together, signed by Kett himself, representatives of the Hundreds as well as the mayor of Norwich, Thomas Codd, the former mayor Thomas Aldrich and the preacher Robert Watson who all three had – as a part of the negotiations between the rebels and the city of Norwich – had accepted an invitation to be a part of the rebel´s council.

The list was to be presented to the Protector, Somerset.

  1. We pray your grace that where it is enacted for enclosing that it be not hurtful to such as have enclosed saffron grounds for they be greatly chargeable to them, and that from henceforth no man shall enclose any more.
  2. We certify your grace that whereas the lords of the manors have been charged with certain free rent, the same lords have sought means to charge the freeholders to pay the same rent, contrary to right.
  3. We pray your grace that no lord of no manor shall common upon the common.
  4. We pray that priests from henceforth shall purchase no lands neither free nor bond, and the lands that they have in possession may be letten to temporal men, as they were in the first year of the reign of King Henry VII.
  5. We pray that all the marshes that are held of the king’s majesty by free rent or of any other, may be at such price as they were in the first year of King Henry VII.
  6. We pray that reed ground and meadow ground may be at such price as they were in the first year of King Henry VII.
  7. We pray that all bushels within your realm be of one stice, that is to say, to be in measure VIII gallons.
  8. We pray that priests or vicars that be not able to preach and set forth the word of God to his parishioners may be thereby put from his benefice, and the parishioners there to choose another or else patron or lord of the town.
  9. We pray that the payments of castle ward rent, blanch farm, and office lands, which hath been accustomed to be gathered of the tenements, whereas we suppose the lords ought to pay the same to their bailiffs for their rents gathering, and not the tenants.
  10. We pray that no man under the degree of a knight or esquire keep a dove house, except it hath been of an old ancient custom.
  11. We pray that all freeholders and copyholders may take the profits of all commons, and there to common, and the lords not to common nor take profits of the same.
  12. We pray that no feodary within your shores shall be a counselor to any man in his office making, whereby the king may be truly served, so that a man being of good conscience may be yearly chosen to the same office by the commons of the same shire.
  13. We pray your grace to take all liberty of leet your own hands whereby all men may quietly enjoy their commons with all profits.
  14. We pray that copyhold land that is unreasonable rented may go as it did in the first year of King Henry VII. And that at the death of a tenant, or of a sale the same lands to be charged with an easy fine as a capon or a reasonable sum of money for a remembrance.
  15. We pray that no priest shall hold no other office to any man of honour or worship, but only to be resident upon their benefices, whereby their parishioners may be instructed within the laws of God.
  16. We pray that all bond men may be made free, for God made all free with his precious bloodshedding.
  17. We pray that Rivers may be free and common to all men for fishing and passage.
  18. We pray that no man shall be put by your Feudatory to find any office, unless he holdeth of your grace in chief, or capite above 10 by year.
  19. We pray that the poor mariners or fishermen may have the whole profits of their fishings such as porpoises, grampuses, whales, or any great fish so it be not prejudicial to your grace.
  20. We pray that every proprietary parson or vicar having a benefice of 10 or more by year, shall either by themselves, or by some other person teach poor men’s children of their parish the book called the catechism and the primer.
  21. We pray that it be not lawful to the lords of any manor to purchase lands freely, (i.e. that are freehold), and to let them out again by copy or court roll to their great advancement, and to the undoing of your poor subjects.
  22. We pray that no proprietary parson or vicar, in consideration of avoiding trouble and lawsuit between them and their poor parishioners, which they daily do proceed and attempt, shall from henceforth take for the full contents of all the tenths which now they do receive, but 8.
  23. We pray that no lord, knight, esquire, nor gentlemen do graze nor feed any bullocks or sheep if he may spend forty pounds a year by his lands but only for the provision of his house.
  24. We pray that no man under the degree of [word missing] shall keep any conies (rabbits) upon any freehold or copyhold unless he pale them in so that it shall not be to the commons’ annoyance.
  25. We pray that no person of what estate degree or condition he be shall from henceforth sell the awardship of any child, but that the same child if he live to his full age shall be at his own choosing concerning his marriage the King’s wards only except.
  26. We pray that no manner of person having a manor of his own, shall be no other lord’s bailiff but only his own.
  27. We pray that no lord, knight, or gentleman shall have or take in form any spiritual promotion.
  28. We pray your grace to give license and authority by your gracious commission under your great seal to such commissioners as your poor commons have chosen, or to as many of them as your majesty and your counsel shall appoint and think meet, for to redress and reform all such good laws, statues, proclamations and all other your proceedings; which hath been hidden by your Justices of your peace, Sheriff, Feudatories, and other your officers, from your poor commons, since the first year of the reign of your noble grandfather King Henry VII.
  29. We pray that those your officers, which have offended your grace and your commons, and [are] so proved by the complaint of your poor commons, do give unto these poor men so assembled 4d. every day so long as they have remained there.

 

Portrait_of_Edward_VI_of_EnglandIn the meantime, the city had sent messengers to London, and on July 21th the truce ended when a messenger from the King´s Council, the York Herald Bartholomew Butler arrived to offer the rebels a pardon. Robert Kett refused the pardon, stating that he, or the rebels, had not committed any crime and therefore needed no pardon.

This put the end to the, in the circumstances, so far amicable relationship between the men who were now officially declared rebels and the city of Norwich which now closed the city gates.

As it doesn´t seem to have been an option to disperse the camp, the rebels now decided to take the city, something which was necessary in order to keep the thousands of men that had gathered at the camp from starvation.

After a night of exchanged fire between the rebel camp and the city of Norwich, the rebels took control of it on July 22nd.

By the time the King sent the Marquess of Northampton (William Parr, brother ofWilliam Parr Katherine Parr, last Queen of Henry VIII) with his 1 500 men, including Italian mercenaries, Robert Kett had already realised the difficulties of defending the city against the King´s forces and had retreated to higher ground outside the city, preferring to besiege it instead.

In the night between July 31st and August 1st fighting began between the rebels and the King´s army led by Northampton, but fighting in the streets of a city was not to the advantage of a trained army, and after having a senior commander, Lord Sheffield, bludgeoned to death by one of the rebels, Northampton and his troops retreated as far as Cambridge.

By August 24th the Earl of Warwick – John Dudley, who within just a few years would be in deep trouble and executed himself – had arrived with an army consisting of about 14 000 men, among which were mercenaries from Wales, Spain and Germany. It´s impossible to know what went through the heads of the rebels in the face of this increased force, but it´s clear that they weren´t prepared to abandon Kett or their cause, and fighting continued.

In the night between the 24th and the 25th, the rebels who once again had entered Norwich burnt the city.

On the 26th more 1 500 more German mercenaries arrived, and the King´s army could no longer hide in the city. The final, and for the rebels devastating, battle took place on the 27th, seeing thousands of rebels killed and the rest running for their lives.

According to sources 3 000 rebels lay dead after the battle while Warwick had lost around 200 men.

Robert Kett was captured at the village of Swannington and his brother, who had joined the rising was brought to the Tower. After having been found guilty of treason, Robert Kett was hanged from the walls of Norwich Castle in December that same year while his brother was hanged from the west tower of Wymondham Abbey.

 

“Warwyke was sent thyther wt ye kynges power, who did so handell the matter yt aboute the

begynnynge of September, bartellmewtyd, he ouer came them, & toke ther capitayn, called

Keet ye tanner, whome he sent to London to ye kynge, by whos commaundement ye same Keet was broughte throughe London ye last of September, & wt hym a brother of hys also, wh. were both broughte vnto ye Tower.

ffor ye which offence ye sayd Keet ye tanner was hanged vppon ye toppe of ye castell of Norwytche, and his brother also.”

 

 

Sources:

Kett´s Rebellion, the Norfolk rising of 1549 – S.K Land

Robert Kett and the Norfolk rising – Joseph Clayton

‘A London Chronicle: Edward VI’, in Two London Chronicles From the Collections of John Stow, ed. Charles Lethbridge Kingsford (London, 1910), pp. 17-27. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/camden-misc/vol12/no1/pp17-27 [accessed 9 July 2016].

 

 

*Norfolk was from Anglo-Saxon times to the 19th century divided into hundreds for administrative purposes.

 

 

Remember, remember the 5th of November

Shortly after midnight on the night leading up to November 5th 1606, after beingGuy-Fawkes ordered by King James I to search the cellars under the Parliament, Sir Thomas Knyvet discovered a man attempting to leave the cellars.

After having been apprehended, the man told his capturers his name was John Johnson when questioned by members of the King´s Privy Chamber.

His real name, however, was Guy Fawkes and he was part of what has become known to history as the Gunpowder plot.

Guy Fawkes was born in York in April 1570, the only date that remains today is the one for his baptism which took place on April 16th, so it´s fair to assume that he was born only days before, one date that has been suggested is the 13th.

His father died when he was only 8 and his mother married a recusant Catholic, meaning that he refused to attend Anglican church services, and Guy himself would later convert to Catholicism. Following this he travelled to the continent where he enlisted with Spanish Catholic forces against Protestant Dutch reformers in the 80 Years War. He also tried to enlist Spain in a revolt against England, something which he failed to do, but he did meet Thomas Wintour, one of his future companions in the Gunpowder plot. They returned to England together, and Wintour introduced Fawkes to Robert Catesby (note to the curious; yes, he was a descendant of Sir William Catesby, councillor of Richard III and executed after the battle of Bosworth).

1280px-Gunpowder_Plot_conspiratorsIt was Robert Catesby who got Guy Fawkes involved in the gunpowder plot, which aimed to murder the protestant King James and replace him with his daughter Elizabeth. Guy Fawkes seemed to have been popular among his fellow plotters, something allegedly due to the fact that he seems to have been talented in the intellectual sphere as well as a skilled soldier.

In her book about him, author Antonia Fraser describes him as “a tall, powerfully built man, with thick reddish-brown hair, a flowing moustache in the tradition of the time, and a bushy reddish-brown beard” who was ”capable of intelligent argument as well as physical endurance, somewhat to the surprise of his enemies”

The plotters met on five occasions, the first one on May 20th  1604 at the inn Duck and Drake in London. Through a promotion, one of the plotters, Thomas Percy, was able to gain access to a house owned by John Whynniard, Keeper of the King’s Wardrobe. There he installed one John Johnson, in reality of course Guy Fawkes, as a caretaker of the property.

They also rented an undercroft directly under the Houses of Parliament where theyGuy_Fawkes_by_Cruikshank started to store barrels of gunpowder, which by July 20th 1605 numbered 36.

But these were plague riddled times, and the risk of catching the disease kept Parliament closed for months until what would have been the faithful day – and was, but in other ways than planned – of November 5th.

What most likely blew the cover of the plotters was the fact that one had sent a letter to at least one Catholic member of Parliament, telling him to stay clear on the 5th. Clearly his sympathies wasn´t with any rebels, and the letter he had received was shown to James I, prompting a search of the facilities around the House of Parliament during the night which lead Guy Fawkes to be discovered just as he was attempting to leave the cellar.

Guy_fawkes_torture_signaturesHe was resilient for a while, but even though it´s said that James himself was impressed by the apprehended rebel´s defiance, it did not keep the king from ordering that Fawkes was tortured. The torture was ordered to continue until a confession had been obtained and everything from manacles to the rack was authorised. It is not known beyond a doubt that Guy Fawkes was put on the rack, but the shaky scribbling of his alias Guido (originated when he was fighting for Spain) hints to a man in distress and pain. By the 9th of November, his interrogators had found out what they wanted, including his own true identity as well as that of his co-conspirators.

Guy Fawkes was sentenced for high treason, the punishment for which was being hanged, drawn and quartered. The execution was to take place on January 31st.

It is not quite known what happened, but in the hanging process but Guy Fawkes broke his neck and died during the first stage of the horrific punishment, something which didn´t keep him from being quartered and his body parts sent to “the four corners of the Kingdom” as warning examples.

Guy Fawkes was 35 years at the time of his death.

Sentenced along with Guy Fawkes was the original initiators Robert Catesby, Thomas Wintour, Thomas Percy and John Wright as well as the recruited Robert Keyes, Thomas Bates, Christopher Wright, John Grant, Robert Wintour, Ambrose Rokewood, Francis Tresham and Everard Digby.guy-fawkes-mask

 

The 5th of November became a kind of Thanksgiving Day by an act of Parliament, an act that stood until 1859, the celebrations influenced by the bonfires lit on the original night. Not rarely has dolls meant to be portraying Guy Fawkes been set on fire.

During recent years, however, the mask intended to portray him has come to once again represent defiance, worn by the internet activists in the group Anonymous as well by participants in demonstrations against social and financial inequality.

There is a saying that Guy Fawkes was the last man to enter the House of Parliament with honest intentions.

Sources:

The Gun Powder Plot – Antonia Fraser

The Gunpowder Plot: Faith in Rebellion – Alan Haynes

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elizabeth Barton – the Nun of Kent

I mentioned Elizabeth Barton in my previous post, and while many interested in the Tudor era may know who she was,Elizabeth-Barton there may still be many who doesn´t, and as my posts also are a learning process for myself, here she comes;

There isn´t much known about the early life of the woman who would become known as “the Nun of Kent”, firstly both tolerated and respected, depending on which layer of society you´d ask. She is said to have come from a rather poor background in Aldington outside Canterbury, and like so many other women from the lower classes of society, she was working as a servant in a more well off home, the house of Thomas Cobb, when the visions began in 1525 when Elizabeth was 18 years old. The starting point of her visions coincided with a grave illness, where she by some accounts were catatonic up to 7 months, which may be an exaggeration, but on the other hand – without having seen either of them, obviously – what comes to mind is the state of Henry VI which lasted for over a year. After her illness she became a nun at St Selpulchre´s in Canterbury.

There have been suggestions however that she may have suffered from epileptic fits, a thought that may be supported by an account by Thomas Cromwell who wrote to a cleric “Her face was wonderfully disfigured, her tongue hanging out, and her eyes being in a manner plucked out, and laid upon her cheeks, and so greatly disordered.”

While we today most likely would look with great scepticism on someone claiming to have divine visions, but in Tudor times these were acceptable, even if unusual manifestations of religious devotions and Elizabeth Barton soon gathered a following consisting of thousands of people.

To begin with, her visions were rather harmless, she encouraged people to live good Christian lives and to undertake pilgrimages, she predicted the death of her patron´s son and she claimed to be able to give accounts of faraway places and the afterlife and she gained the blessing of the archbishop of Canterbury.

When she claimed an angle had told her that she had to go to the king and tell him terrible things would happen if he denounced Catherine of Aragon and married Anne Boleyn instead, Henry´s patience started to deteriorate. Even so, there are records that he actually received her twice. She also had meetings with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Bishop John Fisher, Thomas More and a large number of monks at Canterbury, Observant Franciscan Friars from Greenwich and Richmond as well as the Birgitte Nuns and priests of Syon.

It had been all fine and well while she was condemning rebellions and heresy, but when she started to interfere in the King´s business, her days were counted. She turned against the reformation, as well as the marriage to Anne, and stated that Henry himself would soon die a villain´s death. Henry swiftly decided that she was a fraud. Elizabeth Barton was arrested in 1533 and allegedly admitted that all her revelations and prophesies was fraudulent, after which she was condemned by attainder. All information that exists about her confessions, however, come from Thomas Cromwell and his agents.

Elizabeth Barton and five of her chief supporters, five of which were priests, were hanged for treason on April 20th 1534. She is the only woman in history who after execution has had her head put on a spike London Bridge.

 

 

 

Henry VIII – Lucy Wooding

New Worlds, Lost Worlds; The rule of the Tudors 1485 – 1603 – Susan Brigden

The Six Wives of Henry VIII – Alison Weir

The Holy Maid of Kent: The Life of Elizabeth Barton: 1506–1534 – Alan Neame

The Great Mortality III – Consequences

One last post about the Great Mortality, and this time about the consequences, which were far more complex and far reaching than that a lot of people died. But it actually turned out that this already mentioned and most obvious consequence was of an advantage to those who were fortunate to survive.

The enormous amounts of people that had died left England with a shortage of labourers, which all of a sudden gaveWat_Tyler_rebels_from_ca_1470_MS_of_Froissart_Chronicles_in_BL them an upper hand. They were able to demand a higher pay in both countryside and towns, and in the years to come, the standards of living rose for the peasantry. The government tried to curb this development on three occasions, in 1349, 1351 and 1388. The side effect of this was what is known as Peasants Revolt, or Wat Tyler´s Rebellion, which was a reaction to The Statute of Labourers passed in 1351, which meant to prevent labourers taking advantage of the situation caused by the lack of workers. But, I feel I most likely will return to the Peasant´s Revolt in a later, separate, post. I will however mention that this was the only time an attacking army, such as it was, was able to break through and enter the Tower in London.

Still wages rose drastically all over the work field for the rest part of the 14th century, and it has been estimated that wages to a skilled builder rose by two thirds and that it doubled for unskilled workers.

JwycliffejmkAnother side effect of the Great Mortality that has been suggested is the development of vernacular English due to the death of many teachers proficient in French, with the rise if poets such as Chaucer and John Gower towards the end of the 14th century. What instead in some quarters dwindled was, if not the faith in God, so at least the faith in the clergy. Their explanation had of course been that the Great Mortality was a punishment from God for the moral shortcomings of ordinary people. But to their own misfortune, a great number of priests died themselves, opening up, from the medieval view on reality, for the questioning of the actual holiness of the clergy itself. This paved the way for John Wycliffe, scholastic philosopher, theologian and lay priest whose followers were to become known as the Lollards, a slightly rebellious and anti-clerical movement demanding biblically-centred reforms, and can be seen as the fore-runners of the reformation.

The Great Mortality also affected the architecture, where for example the building of the cathedrals of Exeter and Ely were halted for years due to the shortage of labourer. During this period, and most likely due to “know how” dying off, the style changed from decorated gothic to the perpendicular gothic with less elaborate decorations.

The Great Mortality also left its mark on the art produced during and after the plague, in the sense that it gave visual art, literature and music with images turning away from optimism and towards hell, Satan and Grim Reapers. This influence would linger, and eventually result in the Memento Mori (remember you are mortal) genre.

Memling_Vanity_and_Salvation

 

Sources: England in the time of Richard III, Leicester University (course material)

A Companion to John Wyclif. Late Medieval Theologian – Ian Christopher Levy (ed)

The seven periods of English architecture defined and illustrated – Edmund Sharpe

The Black Death and English art: a debate and some assumptions – Phillip Lindley

The Black Death – Philip Ziegler

History of painters – http://www.historyofpainters.com/black_death.htm

Modification of John Wycliffe-image – John M Kennedy

Theatre in Tudor London

Theatre was not an entirely uncomplicated business in London in the late 16th imagescentury, even though it has to be said that it during the Elizabethan era both experienced a heyday as well as produced playwrights the like of which we may never see again, not least William Shakespeare, but also Ben Johnson who maybe could be described as the second name of the era, and last but absolutely not least, even if during a much shorter period; Christopher Marlowe.

Acting and entertainment of course exited in England, and London, long before the end of the 1500´s, not least masques had for a long time been popular as well as religious mystery plays as well as other dramatized performances which were presented by smaller travelling theatre groups. Plays and stories about Robin Hood was popular, but less than appreciated by the men in power, not least for their symbolic value- But Robin Hood was not the only “threat” against the power, times were hard and when Elizabeth and her lords feared the gathering of people that a play could gather also could form into a rebellion, it wasn´t completely unfounded.

Another cause for concern were the recurring epidemic of the plague which meant that travelling theatre groups were forbidden in 1574 and when all theatres was closed almost continuously between 1592 and 1594, it was due to an outbreak of the Bubonic plague.

1400x1400_697333To attend a play during this period would have been quite different from today, when it’s more or less implied that the individual should feel deeply ashamed, should he or she happen to sneeze. Theatre in the days of Shakespeare was big, it was loud, there were laughing and there were booing, and at times things were thrown at the actors. As a playwright it was also quite possible to end up behind bars for something you wrote, a fact Ben Johnson knew all about.

The plays were written during a time when the ability of the masses to read were poor, and it was for those masses the plays were produced, even if the nobility too discovered the theatre companies and were patrons of several. In spite of the harsh times, there was love between the Londoners and the theatres which in several cases could house an audience of 3 000, and sold every last ticket, something modern theatres often can only dream about.

At the time, there was no particular costume designers, no stage workers, the thingsMarlowe-Portrait-1585 that needed to be done the actors had to do themselves, from sewing to carpentry, About six different plays were played every week with little time for rehearsal, and primarily during the afternoons as it later in the evenings would be too dark for anyone to see anything.

One of the most prominent theatre companies was The Lord Chamberlain´s Men, for which Shakespeare wrote most of his plays, with mainly Richard Burbage in the leading roles. It was founded in 1594 and enjoyed the patronage of Henry Carey, at the time Lord Chamberlain of England. He was also in charge of court entertainments. The patronage as well as the title as Lord Chamberlain would in time pass on to his son George Carey. When James I ascended to the throne in 1603, the company´s name was changed to “The King´s Men”.

The second most prominent company was the Admiral´s Men, whose patron was Charles Howard, 1st Earl of Nottingham. At first they were known as Lord Howard´s Men, but when he was appointed Lord High Admiral the company changed its name, something which happened again in 1603 when they became Prince Henry´s Men.

In 1640´s all the play houses were shut down by the Puritans.

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 Sources:

Shakespearean Playhouses – J.Q Adams

The Shakespeare Stage – Andrew Gurr

London, the illustrated history – Cathy Ross & John Clark

A Shakespeare Companion – Andrew Gurr

Images: Wikimedia