The face of William Shakespeare?

There are many things surrounding William Shakespeare which is shrouded in mystery, one is how he may have looked and whether the portraits Cobbe, Chandos and Droeshout may answer that question. Below Steven Wadlow tells of how the painting haning for years in his childhood home turned out to be a possibly contemporary of a man that very well may be the Bard.

When and how did you realise that the portrait in question might be William WadlowShakespeare?

Having just turned 50, I have known the Portrait all of my life. My father (now retired) was an antique dealer and picture frame restorer and he acquired it many years ago. As a child I was rather wary of it, as it followed you around the room, like the portraits in Scooby Doo! It has been hanging on the wall in the corner of the sitting room in a small 200- year old house on the corner of a road called Chapel Street in the Shires. I say this, as it is rather ironic that Shakespeare’s home in Stratford upon Avon was on the corner of Chapel Street and so if it is The Bard, he should have felt at home! Alas, he no longer sits on the wall and is now in safe storage and we hope that it will not be too long before he can be displayed for all to see.
For all of the time he has sat quietly on the wall, we have sometimes wondered whom he may be, but I confess, most of the time he has sat there quietly and anomalously. But, to get to your question, early in December 2013 my parents were watching a Time Team Special about the excavation of Shakespeare’s home ‘New Place’ and during the course of the program an image of Shakespeare (that my parents had not previously seen) was frequently used. The image was The Cobbe portrait (that had only been ‘discovered’ as a probable portrait of the Bard some four years previously). On seeing this image my parents both thought it looked similar to the portrait hanging above their television and called me, saying that they thought our portrait may be Shakespeare and I should have a look on the internet to see what I thought.


Cobbe portrait

I did have a quick look, thought it similar, but to be honest, I thought no more of it. At that time we had no idea what a discovery this would be and what a tenuous area  Shakespeare’s portraits were, indeed I thought they were probably ‘ten a penny’ and I was slightly put off by the Coat of Arms on the portrait bearing no resemblance to the Shakespeare arms. And then there was a remarkable coincidence, after all of these years with little comment, a neighbour visited my parents’ home for Christmas drinks a couple of weeks after the Time Team program and brought with them their mother who had not visited before. When she came into the sitting room she commented that she liked the “copy of Shakespeare on the wall. My father took it off the wall and showed her it was not a copy and I think she had to sit down and have a drink! It turned out that the lady lectures in art and Literature (although not a Shakespeare expert). She pointed out that we should really look into it further, thus the start of my research.

How have you gone about your research?

I have to admit straight away, that although I have always enjoyed research and History I not a researcher, I also ashamed to admit, that prior to my research beginning I knew very little about Shakespeare’s work or his life. I have since learned a great deal about his life (but I am still very ignorant regarding his works, but that is something I am trying to address). I have found his life absolutely fascinating and I am fascinated by the period in general, so if nothing else, this whole episode will have ignited a passion for learning about him and the period that will I am sure remain with me for life. So far as researching the portrait and Shakespeare’s life, I started (and apologies to my family) from scratch, basically on the internet and then reading any book I could get hold of on portraits of the period and Shakespeare.


Chandos portrait

I was not sure if our portrait was Shakespeare, it did not at first site look to me like the Droeshout or the Chandos, but I could see similarities with the Cobbe. I watched a video called Battle of Wills about the research into the sanders portrait and copied their pattern of research to a degree. I made very crude cut outs (scaled) and did my own version of ‘photo shop’ (which I do not have) and I could see there were in fact many similarities, but I was not sure if I was convincing myself from a biased angle. The first thing I wanted to do was find out about the Coat of Arms and so I corresponded with the College of Arms, where ‘Chester Herald’ Timothy Duke was most helpful and confirmed that the Coat of Arms on our portrait did not exist and was a poorly added addition (a fake). He recommended that we have the portrait x Rayed as original ‘arms’ may be found beneath.
I took the portrait to the top experts and connoisseurs who confirmed the age correct to Shakespeare’s period and whom were all impressed at what a fine portrait it is. We then took it to The Hamilton Kerr Institute at Cambridge University for X Ray and other tests. The X-Ray confirmed that there was indeed something previously beneath where the (fake) Coat of Arms now is and it also revealed that a shield shape was on the other side beneath over paint and this is very likely a coat of arms now hidden. I then contacted a Shakespeare Historian & author, Simon Stirling, who had been researching Shakespeare portraits for his opinion, which was very positive.

We then had some actual photo shop mergers done with the Cobbe, Chandos and Droeshout, all of which were impressive, although amateur. Last summer I took the portrait to Lumiere technology in Paris (in the new lately for their work and discoveries regarding The Mona Lisa), to see if they could discover what was beneath the over paint and this research is ongoing. They did though, from the initial test, believe that the portrait was painted from life and they also made a professional video merger of the Portrait and the Droeshout, which is very impressive. In fact the only area that appears different is the one area that X ray showed had been re painted / changed.

What has the reception been so far?

In a word, ‘Mixed’. I really do believe from all I have learned, discovered and seen that this is a portrait of William Shakespeare. I also believe and understand that to many, this is “Too good to be true”. We are somewhat stuck in so much as we really need a heavy weight academic ‘scholar’ behind us, but this is difficult without a ‘Heavy weight’ Institution behind us, and we cannot get such an institution behind us without the scholar!

As one art historian put it, “I cannot help investigate based on the portrait being Shakespeare, there are too many academic ships wrecks on that shore”! This is of course rather frustrating, as even though I am convinced and other have agreed, the people we need to take this seriously for it to move forward, aren’t, as it is easier to say no, rather than yes and then be proven wrong. It is a shame as we are not actually asking anyone to say THIS IS WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, we are asking for them to take the possibility seriously and help us prove that it is, or indeed is not! It is clear that no portrait of Shakespeare will turn up with a full provenance, none has yet.

Therefore, if we have a portrait that looks as though it could in fact be a life portrait, should we ignore it or try to find out more? One last point on reception so far. At the beginning I naively thought that the owners of the other portraits suspected (as none are proven) as Shakespeare may assist me. Wrong!  Let’s just say that the response from some showed a degree of what I believe was serious concern of a new kid on the block, and their comments rather than put me off, convinced me further that I am correct!


Droeshout portrait

You have speculated around the fact that Shakespeare may have been Catholic, what made you think that might have been the case?

Of course, the possibility of Shakespeare being a ‘secret’ catholic, or at the least a catholic sympathiser is not a new idea. The debate on his religious beliefs has raged for years. It is not really something I had ever thought about or believe would really matter, but as I have said, my research has included the reading of many articles and books about Shakespeare and his life and the catholic angle keeps coming up and seems to be suggested by some historians far more educated in the matter than me. It is something one has to decide for one’s self, but from what I have read, understanding the times, his families links with well-known Catholic families, his families previous beliefs & parts of his works that some think may allude to the faith, I personally believe that it is likely that he was Catholic (I am not, so I have no agenda on this) or at the least it should not be ruled out.

One can understand how that, if so, may have posed a problem during Shakespeare´s own lifetime, only decades after the suppression of the Monastic system, but you suggest that it, if confirmed, could be less than favourably received even today, why?

I do believe that there may be elements of society ‘even today’ that may not favourably receive the news that Shakespeare was Catholic. But I do not want to believe it and hope that I am wrong and indeed would be happy to be wrong.

My thoughts on this and I am no expert and would happily be corrected, is that whilst England (and I say England deliberately rather than the UK) is an extremely tolerant country of race and religion there are (as expect there are in most countries) bound to be undercurrents of distrust, fear or scepticism regarding religions other than ‘your own’, of course these are unfounded and unspoken, but to some they are there. With England, over the last few centuries since the late 16th century, not so now, the ‘enemy’ (for want of a better word) was generally Catholic / or Catholic countries, of course, James 1st tried to court both Catholic and Protestant nations, but generally the anti-catholic feeling was prevalent in the country from then and onwards.

This did not lessen as late as Victorian times, which, let’s face it were really only just over a hundred years ago! This may seem like a long time ago, but this is brought into perspective, when you realise our current queen is 90 this week! The Victorian era was one where there was much ‘ant-catholic’ sentiment, through news articles, pamphlets and even in a type of propaganda through fictional books. This ‘anti-Catholic’ atmosphere was far less prevalent after the second world war, but even if we look to the last half century, the ‘troubles’ in Ireland did not help with Catholic / Protestant relations and again thankfully things now are much better as they should be.

But the point is this, the English for the last few hundred years have had this ‘drummed’ into them through History lessons, books and media, not obviously lately, but nevertheless there. It is very difficult for a Catholic to be Prime Minister, there are restrictions on the royal family (although this has been improved lately). And so I think it is very likely that there are likely to be elements of the English establishment event today, which would be less than enthusiastic about England’s greatest cultural export turning out to have been Catholic. I am sure though, that overtime, this will become less and less of a problem.

Do you at the moment see a point where your “suspicions” that the painting is indeed a previously unknown painting of William Shakespeare will be confirmed?

Bearing in mind that (although I believe they are) The Chandos & now the Cobbe are not 100% proven to be Shakespeare and I believe, now, never can be & even the much researched ‘Sanders’ meets objections from many scholars (I am not sure about that one), my answer is a definite YES.
Our portrait has a certain mystery to it and all that have seen it, (including technical research) agree that whoever the sitter is, at some point there has been a deliberate attempt to disguise the identity. Which has of course worked, and would explain why no one realised it was Shakespeare (if it is) many years ago.
We are confident that beneath overpaint is inscription and a coat of arms or crest of some type. If we are unlucky, these have been completely scratched off and then, no we will never know, but if they were completely scratched off, we would not (I believe) be able to see the shield shape in the X Ray) and so I am confident that we will be lucky and find what is beneath. This will then prove that tis portrait is William Shakespeare, or that it is not! The real question is when?  We are nervous and reluctant to have the overpaint physically removed to find what is beneath, as careful as restorers are, it is not 100% safe and any ‘accident’ could then result in any evidence beneath being wiped away for ever.

This is why we are publicising our predicament in the hope that at some point an institution may come forward with technology that can see what is beneath for us, without physically interfering with the portrait. We have taken it to such a place in Paris, but they are a commercial enterprise and thus can only assist us to a point. That said, they are so interested, that their research is ongoing for us, but commercial work has to come first and their work on the Mona Lisa took over ten years! Thus we are keen to have other different technical analysis carried out alongside that research. If at all possible.

Bringing history to life: Reenactment

There are several ways to get involved in history, and a more hands on one is to participate in historical reenactment. Here Tim Bedcote, who is a member of the reenactment group committed to the Wars of the Roses give an insight to what it´s like.

 Sometimes reenactment is confused with roleplaying. Would you care to explain the difference?

Live-action roleplaying (LARP) is like a dress-up version of Dungeons and Dragons – you have a named character that you play, in a game with winners and losers. In re-enactment it’s more like a theatrical scenario in which we present a battle, knowing in advance who wins and who loses (Richard III never gets to win Bosworth, however much most of the crowd there would like him to!). Of at least equal importance with the battle re-enactment for many of us is the living history aspect, when we demonstrate more everyday aspects of period life – carpentry, spinning, weaving and so forth, to small groups of Members of the Public (MOPs) wandering around the camps.

Battle_of_Tewkesbury_reenactment_-_clashWould you say reenactments play an important part in making people interested in, and understanding, history?

I hope so. While the battle event pulls in the big crowds, you are more likely to get through to people in one-to-one or small group chats in the living history camps. My personal ‘crusade’ is to restore respect to the common perception of medieval surgery, one person at a time. The best moments are when you hear MOPs saying things like “I never realised…” Then you know you’ve got through to people, and that may spark them to find out more.

What part does it play in your own interest in history?

I have always been more interested in the lives of ordinary people than in the “poshBattle_of_Tewkesbury_reenactment_-_holding_the_line soap opera” approach to history. I can never experience what it was like to be the king (or his lover, given some people’s obsessions), but I can gain insights into ordinary life. Many reenactors start off being attracted by the battles, but move away from the big spectaculars because they don’t offer an authentic ‘immersion’ experience.

The most exciting thing in re-enactment is the feeling sometimes known as ‘period rush’ – a euphoric experience almost like a drug high (I would imagine, not being a drug user myself), which comes from the feeling of being entirely immersed in the past an out of touch with any 21st century input. The first time I felt it was seeing my first arrow cloud going overhead; I had a wonderful moment of it at Bosworth last year when walking down from the visitor towards the authentic camp on the Friday night (before any public came in) the only thing visible was a whole sea of period tents. It gave a momentary appreciation of what a genuine medieval army camp would have looked like.

But that connection can come from simple things too – threading a bone needle, lighting a fire with a flint and steel, or sleeping on straw.

Does it ever happen that someone is actually injured during a reenacted battle?

Occasionally, but as a rule re-enacting is somewhat safer than rugby and a lot safer than riding a motorbike. When it does happen it’s almost always accident or misjudgement personally I’ve never ha anything worse than bruises. People who like injuring others and getting injured themselves tend to gravitate towards a full-contact medieval fighting sport called Battle of the Nations. Like LARPers, I wish them all the best in their chosen hobby, but it’s not for me.

Roman_cavalry_reenactment_Carnuntum_2008_15How much time does it take to be a good reenactor? Do you get together and practice for example the battle of Bosworth?

Off-season training is worthwhile if you’re going to do anything ‘enhanced’ like working with the horses (something that’s a big feature of Bosworth). Generally though it’s not something you ever ‘finish’ – every reenactor has goals of their own to achieve, kit they could improve or replace, skills they could acquire… the whole thing is gloriously open-ended like that. It’s always best to ‘start small’ and aim low with your first kit. I sometimes encounter people on FB history groups – usually women, for some reason – who express a desire to join a re-enactment group “as the queen, with lots of gorgeous gowns!”

Well, I’m sure you’d like to, but could you carry it off? Can you afford that sort of kit, or800px-Bataille_Waterloo_1815_reconstitution_2011_3 make it yourself? Can you afford, as starter kit, to have a fully-furnished pavilion with carpets and high-status furniture? Will you be bringing your own servants? Starting as a peasant woman is far more achievable.

My first kit was as a common archer (a role I am still happy to take on the battlefield), but as I have got more into living history my civilian kit has improved beyond peasant bowman to something more middle-class, with a chaperon and fur-trimmed robe (both of which I’ve made myself), demonstrating surgical instruments and the making of potions and ointments.

There’s one legendary guy within medieval re-enactment who did a complete pilgrimage to Canterbury last winter, who comes to events as a pedlar with his own cart. That’s ‘low status’ but he does it so well, and in such detail. I had a conversation with one lady who was keen to get into re-enactment and suggested that a really good role that nobody else was really doing in detail would be that of washerwoman. A good, knowledgeable washerwoman would be a better asset for any group than a poorly-researched queen.

Is re-enactment something which is growing in terms of people participating or forming groups of their own?

Reenactment covers so many periods and groups it’s very difficult to say for certain; some individuals and groups join and others drop out almost every season. but my perception is that for my period (Wars of the Roses) as a whole it’s not only expanding but getting better in quality. Re-enactment of any period tends to start off with homemade and adapted kit, but over the years craftsmen start researching the period kit and producing better items. I blush to think of the gear I wore in my first-ever c15th re-enactment 30 years ago! ‘Authenticity’ is less a goal at which you arrive than a philosophical or ideological approach to getting deeper and deeper into the period.


Images, in order, from Wikimedia Commons. Photographers name/Alias below

(included images are from different groups, reenacting different periods)

Battle of Tewkesbury – Antony Stanley

Roman cavalry reenactment – Matthias Kabel

Battle of Waterloo – Myrabella

Battle of Grunwald, Poland – Wojsyl


Elizabeth Woodville & Edward IV – A true romance by Amy Licence.

As Amy Licence points out in the beginning of the book, Edward IV is not the king inAmy English history that has gained the most attention, unless you have had a particular interest in the Wars of the Roses, that has come to fall on more notorious monarchs such as his younger brother Richard who would become Richard III and his own grandchild Henry VIII for example.

But Edward´s reign has many interesting stories to tell, and one of those is his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. The reason for this is that Edward did something which – in latter half of the 15th century – was considered outrageous, at least for the upper classes of society and most certainly for a monarch: he married for love.

In her latest book, Elizabeth Woodville & Edward IV – A true romance, Amy Licence allow her readers not only to meet the two who defied politics and conventions, but she also takes us back to the very beginning, explaining blood relations and relationships between the families involved as well as conflicts during a turbulent century which saw the end of the Hundred Years War only to be thrown into the bloody conflict we have come to know as the Wars of the Roses which resulted in the House of York taking the throne from the House of Lancaster.

The book follows not only Elizabeth and Edward from childhood until their meeting, but offers a thorough introduction to their parents, and the paths that they took, either by choice or through decisions taken for them, not least was this the case for the women.

Even though it is a story of a man and a woman, Amy Licence highlights the situation of the women of the time, rarely masters of their own fate, and thereby follows through on her ambition in her previous work, to give, if not a voice to, so at least an increased understanding of how it was to live a life that didn´t quite belong to you.

When Edward and Elizabeth met in 1462, she was a widow and a mother of two boys, as well as five years older than Edward. She belonged to a family in the lower aristocracy and her parents themselves had caused quite a stir through their marriage, her mother being of Burgundian royal blood and the widow of the Duke of Bedford, uncle of Henry VI while the man she met – the future father of Elizabeth – was a mere knight.

By all accounts, the marriage between Elizabeth Woodville and Edward VI was a happy one, despite his many mistresses, and it certainly did result in a lot of children, two of whom would later tragically be known to history as “the Princes of the Tower”.

But it wasn´t without controversy, not at the beginning and not during its course, and in Amy Licence book you learn what happened. All in all, it´s a knowledgeable book, packed with facts and information that has something to offer both those who are entirely new to the era and the people involved as well as those who has studied the period before.

The White Ship

When the White Ship – la Blanch-Nef – sank on November 25th 1120, it was not only a220px-WhiteShipSinking tragedy in lives lost at sea, it was the spark that would linger long enough to be behind the civil war that would start in 1135 and rage for almost 20 years.

The passengers aboard the long ship – which was owned by Thomas FitzStephen, son of Stephen FitzAirard who had been the captain of Mora, the ship which brought William the Conqueror over the channel to England for the first time – was not only the cream of the young Norman nobility, it also carried William the Aetheling, only legitimate son if Henry I and therefore the heir to the crown and after his mother´s death sometimes referred to as rex designatus, king designate, as he had taken over her role as regent when Henry was in Normandy. On the ship was also Henry´s two illegitimate children Richard of Lincoln and Matilda FitzRoy, Countess of Perche.

There was cause for celebration because not only was young William relatively newly-wed, in 1119 he had married Matilda whose father was Faulk V, Count of Anjou and the future king of Jerusalem, he had also only weeks before been made the new Duke of Normandy.

The Dukedom had been handed over to him by his father Henry I, and was a step towards becoming the next king, and also a sign that William was one of the important political powers in Europe of the time.

BL_Royal_20_A._ii_f._6v._Henry_I__White_Ship1-e1369118927870So celebrated they did. Not only the young heir to the throne and his nobles, but also the crew of the ship, which at least with modern eyes seems insane. But the fact remains, that while the ship still was lying at the harbor of Barfleur, everyone aboard got heavily intoxicated. Some of the passengers on board clearly got worried and left the ship, not even in those days everyone thought it a wise idea to travel over open water with heavily drunk people. One of those who was better safe than sorry was Stephen of Blois, cousin of William and the one who would turn out to be the actual king once Henry I passed.

As the party went on, a group of clerics who arrived to bless the ship before it went on its journey was sent away, something which to some became the explanation to what later happened.

But the disaster was the result of alcohol in combination with youthful stupidity. King Henry had left ahead in another ship, and all of a sudden someone, some say prince William himself, others say someone in the entourage, dared the skipper that even though hours had passed, the White Ship was fast enough to not only catch up with the king´s great warship, but also outrun it and arrive first in England.  Most likely it was the alcohol which made this pass as a good idea. It wasn´t. But the skipper accepted.

The chronicler William of Malmesbury claimed that once the ship had weighed anchor,

she “flew swifter than the winged arrow”, but speed didn´t do much in bringing the large party closer to England, in fact they barely got out of the harbor. Just at the mouth of it, there was, and still is, a sharp rock – still visible just under the surface still today – which the ship crashed into. One of all the things we will never know is if this was a result of the oars men´s intoxication or something else, but it left a huge hole in the ship´s side, and water started pouring in.

As they were expected to, the main concern of everyone was to get the heir to the throne to safety, and William the Aetheling did get into a small dinghy.

For anyone who has read the novel Pillars of the Earth where the White Ship disaster sets the scene for the story, or seen the mini-series based on the book, it may be considered a fact that William the Aetheling was murdered during his attempt to get away from the ship. The actual fact is in a way even more tragic.

Among his following was his half-sister Matilda – obviously not the Matilda who would fight Stephen of Blois in the Anarchy for decades later – and as William was being rowed away from the scene of the disaster, he supposedly heard his drowning sister cry for help and ordered the boat to turn around to save her.

But Matilda was not alone in the cold November water, and as the boat reached the spot where she was, panic erupted among the other people desperate to save their lives. The small boat turned over, and instead of being brought to land and safety, William the Aetheling drowned not far from the harbor.

William´s wife had been rescued in another boat and made it safely to shore. She went on to become a nun and eventually the Abbess at the monastery of Fontevrault.

Henry_II_of_England_wlWhen the news reached England a day or so later, no one dared to tell the king, knowing full well the force of his rage. Eventually a servant boy couldn´t keep the dreadful secret anymore, but fell to his knees at the king´s feet and told him of the tragedy. Allegedly the king fainted and had to be carried to bed. It is said that Henry I didn´t smile again after having received the news of the death of his son.

Apart from the grief of his father, the death of William the Aetheling also threw England into a crisis of succession which would at the time of Henry´s death in 1135 lead to the civil war known as The Anarchy.  As the contemporary historian William of Malmesbury wrote; “….No ship ever brought so much misery to England”



The Plantagenets – The Warrior Kings and Queens that made England – Dan Jones

Thomas Becket, Warrior, Priest, Rebel, Victim  – John Guy

History of England – Simon Schama

William (1103–1120)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography/J. F. A. Mason

Henry I: King of England and Duke of Normandy – Judith A. Green

William of Malmesbury’s Chronicle of the Kings of England – J.A. Guiles


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.


The Gun Powder Plot – Antonia Fraser

The Gunpowder Plot: Faith in Rebellion – Alan Haynes





Lambert Simnel – pretender

It was only two years into the reign of Henry VII that the first pretender to the throneLambert_Simnel,_Pretender_to_the_English_Throne,_Riding_on_Supporters_in_Ireland appeared on the “scene”, somewhat ironically trying to put himself off – or rather, being manipulated by others to do so – as the young Earl of Warwick, the son of George of Clarence, brother of Edward IV and Richard III, the original intention had been to pass him off as one of the princes in the Tower. The man behind the scheme was John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln and nephew of Richard, and seemingly named as heir to the throne when his own son had died at a young age, even if this was never announced publically. Involved in the plot was also Bishop Stillington, who as a result of this – when all was said and done – would be kept in house arrest for the remainder of his life.

de la Pole had originally made peace with the Tudor regime after the battle of Bosworth, but only two years later he orchestrated the rebellion which had Lambert Simnel as its figurehead. Most likely it was the intention of de la Pole to take the throne himself, had the rebellion succeded. It seems a clergyman named Symond introduced de la Pole to Simnel, who appears to have had some resemblance with the real son of Clarence, who was in fact imprisoned in the Tower, and who had also lost the right to inherit the throne through the attainder against his father.

When it comes to the boy Lambert Simnel, very little is known by his background. It seems that the earlier mentioned clergyman had trained him in some courtly manners, but allegedly he was the son of a baker, and contemporary sources does not, before the actual events, refer to him as Lambert, but John, and in the attainder later passed against de la Pole, Simnel is described as the son of an Oxford joiner and organmaker.

At the time Lambert Simnel was crowned as Edward VI in Dublin and put forward as the rightful heir to the throne of England, he was not much older than ten years old, and could obviously not be “credited” with being the initiator of the rebellion that followed, a fact that most likely proved significant for his later fate.

de la Pole won the backing of the Irish lord Gerald FitzGerald, who was eager to return to the state of relative Irish self-rule that had been the case under the Yorkist kings. He also managed to convince Margaret of Burgundy that he had been part in aiding her nephew Warwick´s escape from the Tower – later she would also happily identify Perkin Warbeck as another one of her nephews, young Richard who had been put in the Tower together with his brother Edward – and she contributed to de la Pole´s rebellion with 2 000 Flemish soldiers.

The result of the rebellion was the battle of Stoke Field – considered to be the very last battle of the Wars of the Roses – which took place on June 16, 1487. The rebels had arrived in Lancashire on June 4 after which they grew to number around 8 000 men.

After a couple a skirmishes and a clash with Lancastrian troops on the 10th at Bramham Moor, when the victory belonged to the Yorkists, they finally met the army of Henry VII on the 16th. The royal army far outnumbered the Yorkists, and was also led by two skilled commanders, the king´s uncle Jasper Tudor and John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford.

John de la Pole was killed in the battle, which the Yorkists lost, and the boy Lambert Simnel captured. It is sometimes claimed that Henry VII made the process short with the pretenders to his throne, but Lambert Simnel put that claim to shame, as the boy was pardoned, most likely just because he was a boy who and been manipulated by adults.

He was given a position as a spit-turner in the royal kitchens, and later went on to be promoted to the king´s falconer. Just as there is little known about the first 10 years of Lambert Simnel´s life, very little is known about his later in life. He seems to have gotten married, and may have been the father of Richard Simnel, canon of St Osyth´s Priory in Essex.

Lambert Simnel died around 1525, at the estimated age of 48 years.



The Tudor Age – James A. Williamson

The Tudors – G. J. Meyer

Pole, John de la – Oxford Dictionary of National Biography/Rosemary Horrox

Lambert Simnel and the battle of Stoke – Michael J. Bennett

The Princes in the Tower – Alison Weir

Barking Abbey – a glimpse

Of all the abbey´s to be found in England pre-reformation, one of the wealthiest over time was Barking Abbey, located in what is now greater London as the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham.Barking_abbey_curfew_tower_london

Already from the start it was an abbey that housed the daughters of both nobility and royalty, and the position as an abbess there was more than once used as a kind of compensation for acts committed on royal authority.

Even if Henry II refused to admit, or rather strongly denied, that he had wished for the death of Thomas Becket he gave the position as abbess to Beckets sister, Mary Becket, after the murder. The Abbess of Barking Abbey would take precedence over all other Abbess´ in England.

Chertsey_Breviary_-_St._ErkenwaldThe abbey itself was founded in the 7th century, around 666 (which to me feels like an ominous number/year in this context) by Erkenwald from the kingdom of Lindsey, who would later become both the bishop of London as well as, after his death, a saint with a patronage against gout. The first abbess of Barking would come to be Erkenwald´s sister Æthelburh (also Ethelburga). At the time of the foundation there were no nunneries in England, and Erkenwald founded Barking precisely for this purpose.

It was firstly dedicated to Saint Mary, but would later be dedicated to Saint Æthelburh as well.

From the beginning Barking was a joint monastery with both monks and nuns, even if they lived separated. Eventually it would emerge as a nunnery which grew in importance. In his Historia Ecclesiastica, the Venerable Bede recounts a number of miracles that were supposed to have taken place at Barking Abbey.

For some reason, activity at the abbey seems to have ceased in the mid-9th century, and there is no proper evidence to say why, but on theory which is lifted by Teresa L. Barnes is that the abbey was attacked by Danish Vikings, something which was a common fate of abbeys during the era.

This, if it was in deed the case, was followed by about a century of silence from the abbey, after which is was re-founded by King Edgar the Peaceful who appointed as Abbess Wulfhilda, after a series of events that deserve, and will get, a post of its own.

This post is just the beginning of a subject that I during the upcoming months will spend a lot more time with.



A nun´s life; Barking Abbey in late medieval and early modern times – Teresa L. Barnes

A dictionary of saintly women – Agnes Dunbar



Drawing of what Barking Abbey may have looked like in 1500 – Tudor place

Barking Abbey curfew tower – MRSC

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

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.


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








Edward the Black Prince


There are certain names that can intrigue you, people, present or historic, it can be places, sometimes even things, or Edward the Black Princefor me, in this case; The Black Prince.

The truth is that the name the Black Prince did not come into use until about 200 years – during the Tudor Era – after the death of Edward of Woodstock, the eldest son of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault.

But this is the day on which he was born in 1330, during a calamitous time of his father´s reign. For the past three years, England had been de facto ruled by the lover of Edward III´s mother, Roger Mortimer who – supported by Isabella (the queen of Edward II and mother of Edward III – after a lengthy war had imprisoned Edward II and allegedly had him murdered at Berkley Castle in 1327, only months after Edward III had been crowned king.

This year, after the birth of Edward of Woodstock, the actual name of the Black Prince, things started to turn around. Accused of a number of crimes, one of which was assuming the Royal power, Roger Mortimer was hanged at Tyburn on November 29th 1330.

But this post isn´t about Roger Mortimer, Edward II or Edward III, who undoubtedly DO deserve a line or two on the blog. But this one is about, as earlier mentioned, another Edward; Edward the Black Prince.

King_Edward_III_from_NPGEdward III and Philippa of Hainult would have several children – without being able to really verify this straight up, it is said that the majority of the English people are actually decedents of this fertile royal couple – but Edward was the one meant to carry the dreams of a continued dynasty, the heir to the crown, and at the age of sis he was made Duke of Cornwall. This was actually the first time that the English word “Duke” was used, as up until now the French wording of “Duc” had been used.

Another one of Edward´s titles was of course the Prince of Wales.

During his entire life, the Hundred Years War would be raging, and he turned out to be a highly talented soldier who took part in the invasion of Normandy already at the age of 16, on which occasion he was knighted as he got off the ship in France, maybe slightly ironical it took place side by side of another Roger Mortimer, the grandson of the man Edward III had seen executed 16 years before. Only days after, the English army engaged in the Battle of Crecy of August 26th 1346, in which Edward of Woodstock led the vanguard, but considering his – at the time – limited military experiences, it is likely he was advised by more experienced military commanders such as the Earl of Warwick and the Earl of Northampton.

The Battle of Crecy, which the English won not least through the force of the English longbows, came to be a definingBattle_of_crecy_froissart point of the young Prince, and came not only to determine how the English would execute the war in France, would influence his household, most likely his view of himself, and not least his reputation which would live on through the centuries.

From Crecy the army marched on towards Calais to embark on an almost year-long siege after which the French surrendered due to the French king Philip VI failing to deliver aid. This was part of a recapture of France after king John had lost most of the vast territory held by his father, and England would hold Calais until 1558 when it was finally lost by Mary I.

The battle of the Hundred Years War in which Edward of Woodstock played a prominent role did not, however, only take part on dry land.

In 1350, he and his father Edward III engaged the kingdom of Castile in the Battle of Winchelsea, a bloody confrontation at sea in which the English captured somewhere between 14 and 26 Castilian ships while they themselves lost two during the battle.

The mentioned battles and siege would only be the beginning of a long line of battles, negotiations, victories and losses during the Black Prince short life, and I will not list them all here, after all, the blog is not intended to be a dictionary, but aim to inspire those of you who hopefully read the posts to find out more about what may interest you.

But I´m not quite done with Edward yet. Amidst all the fighting, he built up a reputation which almost can be seen as dual, and of course, which version would be told depended on one which side the one telling the story would find themselves.

His troops where noted for an extreme brutality in the sacking of Limoges in September 1370, when men, women and children were said to have been killed indiscriminately.

After a period of siege, the town was stormed on September 19th, when the commander in charge of the town, the Duke of Berry, had left it with only 140 men to defend it left in the town.

Siege_of_LimogesThe English forces was led not only by Edward the Black Prince, but also by his brothers John of Gaunt – through whom Margaret Beaufort would have her claim to the throne – and Edmund of Langley.

At this point the illness which would later claim his life already struck Edward, and he was carried on a litter.

The account of how over 3 000 people died in a massacre after the town of Limoges had fallen comes from the French author and court historian Jean Froissart, and has been claimed to be French bias, but the fact is that at the time of the massacre of Limoges, Froissart was at the service of Philippa of Hainault, mother of Edward, Edmund of Langley and John of Gaunt. The recent discovery of a letter in Edward´s own hand in a Spanish archive by the French historian Dr Guilhem Pepin sheds a different light on the story. Combined with other evidence, it seems that 100 soldiers and 200 civilians died.

Regardless, the sack of Limoges has been seen as the absolute opposite of chivalry, something for which Edward the Black Prince had otherwise been noted. He is however said to let expediency override the chivalry on a number of occasions.

Edward married Joan, countess of Kent and baroness Wake of Liddell, a widow two years older than Edward and Joan_of_Kentknown for her beauty; so much so that she was called by already mentioned Froissart “the most beautiful woman in all the realm of England, and the most loving”. She had five children from a previous marriage, and also already at the age of 12 had married without the Royal consent needed for a woman of her station.

Needless to say, Edward III and Philippa of Hainault was less than thrilled by their oldest son´s choice of consort. Two sons were born, one of whom – Edward of Angouleme –  only lived until the age of six and Richard, who after the death of his grandfather, only a year after the Black Prince, would be crowned Richard II.

After having been invested Prince of Aquitaine the royal couple lived there, to return to England only when Edward´s ill health prevented him from performing his duties in the territory.

The Black PrinceEdward the Black Prince died in his bed at Westminster Palace on June 8th 1376, only a week before his 46th birthday.

By request he was buried at the cathedral of Canterbury, and his tomb can be seen on the south side of where the shrine of Thomas Becket used to be. Above the tomb, replicas of his heraldic achievements can be seen, and not far from the tomb, one can still see the actual originals behind a glass pane

The poem below can be seen on his tomb;

Such as thou art, sometime was I

Such as I am, such shalt thou be

I thought little on th´our of Death

So long as I enjoyed breath

But now a wretched captive I am,

Deep in the ground, lo here I lie.

My beauty great, is all quite gone,

My flesh is wasted to the bone

One last word, well, quite a few, about the name the Black Prince; as said before, it didn´t appear until 150-200 yearsComplete_Guide_to_Heraldry_Fig478 after his death, and of course there has been speculations as to where and why it originated. One suggestion has been made that it was due to his brutality in the field, other  suggestions has been that it is related to his black shield (posted above), and maybe also that his armour could be perceived as black, as it has been described  as being of dark brown metal.



Edward the Black Prince, power in Medieval Europe – David Green

The Plantagenets; the warrior kings and queens that made England – Dan Jones

Article: Was Edward the Black Prince really a nasty piece of work – BBC Magazine 2014-07-07