Henry V

Henry V was the warrior king whose reputation his unfortunate son never could live up to, and against whom Henry VIII would allegedly measure himself, but he wasn´t born an heir to the throne.

Instead his cousin once removed, Richard II, was on the throne, and Henry himself was quite far from succession. Due to his “insignificance” in the succession line, the date of his birth was never officially recorded, but set as August 9, 1386. He was born in the gatehouse of Monmouth Castle in Wales – a fact that has led to him sometimes being referred to as Henry of Monmouth – the first child of a 20-year-old Henry of Bolingbrook and 16-year-old Mary de Bohun.

When Henry was 12 years old, in 1498, his father who had a tumultuous relationship to Richard II was banished from the country by the king, but the younger Henry himself was taken under the wings of the king, but only a year later the Lancastrian usurpation brought his own father to the throne, and suddenly Henry of Monmouth was the heir to the throne.

Henry has, with the aid of Shakespeare, received a rumour of having been a carefree and irresponsible youth, more interested in drinking and cavorting with a merry band of similar minded men, but nothing in actual history suggest this to be true.

His father soon put him to what would have been considered good use as commander of part of the English forces, and as such he led his army against Owain Glyndwr in Wales as well as joined his father in the battle of Shrewsbury against Henry Percy, also known as Harry Hotspur, in 1403 when the future Henry V was only 16 years old.

This battle could have been the end of the future king as he is said to have been shot in the face by an arrow which got lodged and had to be removed surgically.

The removal of the arrowhead is considered to be a remarkable piece of battlefield surgery, an art that didn´t have much in common with any kind of modern day surgery. The man who probably saved the life of the young prince was a John Bradmore who had been in royal service since 1399, and his own description of how he went about removing the arrowhead has survived;

“…..was struck by an arrow next to his nose on the left side during the battle of Shrewsbury. The which arrow entered at an angle (ex traverso), and after the arrow shaft was extracted, the head of the aforesaid arrow remained in the furthermost part of the bone of the skull for the depth of six inches.”

Bystanders had been yanking at the arrow before Bradmore arrived, but instead of just pulling, he enlarged the wound to remove the arrowhead easier;

First, I made small probes from the pith of an elder, well dried and well stitched in purified linen [made to] the length of the wound. These probes were infused with rose honey. And after that, I made larger and longer probes, and so I continued to always enlarge these probes until I had the width and depth of the wound as I wished it. And after the wound was as enlarged and deep enough so that, by my reckoning, the probes reached the bottom of the wound, I prepared anew some little tongs, small and hollow, and with the width of an arrow. A screw ran through the middle of the tongs, whose ends were well rounded both on the inside and outside, and even the end of the screw, which was entered into the middle, was well rounded overall in the way of a screw, so that it should grip better and more strongly.”

The wound was treated with honey for its antiseptic qualities and flushed out with alcohol, healing but leaving a scar that no doubt would have kept this day in the memory of Henry for the remainder of his life.

Henry IV started suffering from poor health at the beginning of the 15th century, resulting in the prince in practical control over the government from 1410, something that changed in 1411, due to disagreement between father and son on both domestic and foreign policies. This was only a political disagreement, but may very well be on what Shakespeare built the conflict in his play.

Henry IV died on March 20, 1413 and prince Hal was crowned Henry V just over two weeks later, on April 9, at Westminster Abbey.

Henry´s reign at home was relatively free from trouble, but he had a couple of occasions to demonstrate that he was not to be crossed, such as the execution of his old friend, the Lollard sympathizer John Oldcastle (believed to be one of at least two people merged into Shakespeare´s Falstaff, originally called Oldcastle) as well as the handling of the men behind the alleged Southampton Plot.

What Henry primarily have come to be remembered for are his campaigns in France, starting in 1415, when he sailed from England on August 12 after which his forces besieged the fortress at Harfleur, finally taking it on September 22. Henry then decided to lead his men to Calais, and it was on the way there they were intercepted by a French army on October 25, not far from the village of Agincourt.

Henry´s men were exhausted, but even so he led them into battle, thoroughly defeating the French and gaining a victory which would be seen as Henry´s greatest, bringing the English closer to recovering lost French territory as well as Henry himself closer to the French throne. The battle however left the king with a dark shadow as he ordered all prisoners, even those of noble birth who normally would have been released for ransom, to be killed.

This shadow became even stronger during his second campaign between 1417 and 1520 when he during the siege of Rouen let women and children starve to death. Arriving at the gates of Paris in August 1419 he eventually secured the Treaty of Troyes which recognized him as the heir to the French throne and not even a year after arriving in France, he married Catherine of Valois, daughter of the French king.

During a third campaign to France, starting in March 1421 with the king sailing over in August that same year, his forces besieged and captured both Dreux and Meaux. This would however be the last campaign for the warrior king who died from presumed dysentery on August 31, 1422, leaving behind an only 8 months old heir to the throne, Henry VI.

 Sources;

John Bradmore´s account of the removal of the arrowhead is “borrowed” from the Medievalist.net website, and originally taken from a paper by Michael Livingstone, associate professor at The Citadel.

Henry V (1386–1422) – Christopher Allmand, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

The Life and times of Henry V – P. Earle

Henry V. The Practice of Kingship – Leslie Gerald Harris

Half-penny image – Rasiel

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Lady Arbella Stuart

On January 21st 1582 Walshingham receives a letter from George, Earl of ShrewsburyStuart,Arabella00 where he asks Walshingham to inform the Queen of the death of his daughter – Elizabeth Cavendish, Countess of Lenox – and that she “commend to her royal favor her infant and orphan daughter” and that the little girl now was destitute and her grandmother “taketh her daughter’s death so grievously, and so mourneth and lamenteth, that she cannot think of aught but tears”

The grandmother in question was the Countess of Shrewsbury, known to history primarily as Bess of Hardwick, and the young girl who now lacked both her parents was Arbella Stuart, second cousin to the Queen and cousin of James IV of Scotland, later also to become James I of England.

Bess_of_Hardwick_as_Mistress_St_LoHer grandmother would be prepared to fight for what she believed was Arbella´s rights, and on the 28th that same month she turned to Walshingham asking him to solicit for the same portion (pension) that had been previously been granted her daughter, to secure the young girl´s education and training in good virtues. It seems her request goes unheard this first time around, because she returns in May that same year, again making that same request, stating that the young girl´s mother on her sickbed….

Arbella was 7 years at the time, and instead of becoming a ward of the crown which was the usual for heiresses, she would stay with her grandmother at Hardwick Hall, from where she seems to have gone for occasional visits to court during the years to follow. She would eventually fall out with her grandmother whose ambition to see Arbella on the throne was greater than those of Arbella herself.

Arbella did get her education through tutors, and 10 years after the death of her Portrait_of_Christopher_Marlowemother, her grandmother Bess writes to Lord Burghley, William Cecil, of one of her grand-daughters attendants, a Morley who “hath attended on Arbell & red to hyr for the space of thre yere & a half”. The fact that he had read to her, and a later reference to him studying at the university, has led some – among others the author Charles Nicholl – to believe that Morley was the playwright Christopher Marlowe who at times has his name spelt in that way.

The Countess of Shrewsbury goes on to explain that the man in question apparently has been waiting to receive some kind of annuity from Arbella as his work there had been damaging to his university studies, and that he due to this, and due to the fact that the formidable Bess finds him suspicious, not least because of his “forwardness in religion (though I can not charge him with papistry)” she took the opportunity to fire him.

While this post really isn´t about Christopher Marlowe, it is highly interesting that Bess of Hardwick still seems to have found *something* catholic about this man, as Christopher Marlowe would at one point be suspected for being catholic.

But back to Arbella; as a great-grandchild of Henry VII through his daughter Margaret Tudor in her second marriage to Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus, she had a claim to the throne – which she herself didn´t seem much interested in pursuing – and for a while she was considered as a successor to the childless Elizabeth I who was drawing towards the end of her reign and life, but it seems that from the beginning of the 1590´s, the Cecil´s preferred her cousin, James IV of Scotland (Arbella´s father had been the brother of Lord Darnley, murdered husband of Mary Queen of Scots).

George_Brooke,_9th_Baron_Cobham,_after_Hans_Holbein_the_YoungerArbella´s own seeming disinterest in the throne, and the fact that another successor was in the end chosen, did not prevent others from wanting to see her on the throne. In 1603, after the death of Elizabeth I, she allegedly was the focus point in The Main Plot in 1603. The plot is thought to have been funded by Spain, and led by Henry Brook, Lord Cobham and was only discovered during investigation into the Bye Plot – a plot striving to force the implementation of religious tolerance and headed by Lord Cobham´s brother George Brooke.

The members of both conspiracies where tried together, and one of the accused wasSir_Walter_Raleigh_oval_portrait_by_Nicholas_Hilliard Sir Walter Raleigh, at the time governor of Jersey. It was alleged that the money provided by Spain would be brought here and divided between Lord Cobham and Raleigh to be used in the plot as they saw necessary. It has on one side been suggested that it´s utterly ridiculous that Raleigh, who had fought Spain during the reign of Elizabeth, not least during the defeat of the Spanish Armada, would all of a sudden turn on England in this fashion and during many years Raleigh´s involvement in the plot was considered marginal* at most, but it did send him to the Tower for the next 13 years.

Arbella herself had early on reported the invitation to join the plot to her cousin the King.

Throughout her childhood, possible marriage candidates had been discussed, and among those suggested or interested in securing her hand was Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford (a potential match infuriated the Earl´s father), Ludovic Stuart, 2nd Duke of Lennox as well as the king of Poland, Sigismund III Vasa, son of the Swedish King John III.

2ndDukeOfSomersetWhen she did eventually marry, it was after a betrothal entered in secret. In 1610, news reached the king that Arbella was planning to marry the 13 years younger William Seymour, Lord Beauchamp. This worried the King, as Arbella was fourth in line for the throne and William – being the grandson of Lady Katherine Grey and therefore descendant of Henry VII through Mary Tudor (with Charles Brandon) – sixth in line and it´s no wonder if he thought this was a prelude to an attempt at taking the throne.

Both of them however denied that any agreement existed between them, which was clearly a lie as they got married in secret on June 22nd 1610 at Greenwich Palace. This led to their arrest once the king had found out, and Arbella was kept at Sir Thomas Perry´s house at Lambeth while Seymour was brought to the Tower.

Like her grandmother, Arbella wrote letters that has survived, some of them from this period, and sometime after her arrest, Lady_Arbella_Stuartmost likely from Lambeth, she petitioned the King, asking for his forgiveness;

“May it please your most excellent Majesty

To regard with the eyes of your royal and gracious heart, the unfortunate estate, your Majesty´s handmaid, who, knowing your Majesty´s gracious favour to her to be the greatest honour, comfort and felicity that this world can afford, doth now feel any part of the contrary to be the most grievous affliction to her that can be imagined. Whereinsoever your Majesty will say I have offended I will not contest but in all humility prostrate myself at your Majesty´s feet; only I do most humbly on my knees beseech your Majesty to believe that that thought never yet entered to my heart to do anything that might justly deserve any part of your indignation……”

 However, Arbella did not only write numerous letters and petitions to the King, she did also write to her husband, and when this came to the King´s attention, he arranged for her to be moved from Lambeth into the care of the Bishop of Durham. The move was delayed due to Arbella claiming to be sick, and during this delay she and her husband attempted to escape.

The plan was to meet up at Lee in Kent, there to get on a ship heading for France. Arbella was during her escape dressed as a man to avoid detection, and it has been suggested that Shakespeare based the character of Imogen in Cymberline on Arbella. Lady_Arabella_Stuart (1)When she arrived her husband was nowhere to be found, while he had managed to get out of the Tower, he arrived too late and the two boarded different ships.

Arbella´s ship was intercepted by the King´s men just as it was about to reach Calais, and she was brought to the Tower.

Arbella would never see her husband – who would go on to be a commander during the Civil War – again or even leave the Tower.

On September 25th 1615 Arabella Stuart died from illness and malnutrition due to refusing to eat, at the age of 40.

 

Sources:

Calendar of State Papers Domestic of Elizabeth I, 1581 – 1590

Bessofhardwick.org – collected letters of the Countess of Shrewsbury

Life of Lady Arabella Stuart, Volume 1 + 2 – Mrs A. Murray Smith

Lexscripta.com

The Letters of Lady Arbella Stuart – Sarah Jayne Steen

 

*History changes as new evidence is put forward and the view on Raleigh´s part has somewhat changed, but that is clearly for another post.

The formidable Bess of Hardwick

Bess_of_Hardwick_as_Mistress_St_LoIt is often noted, and not without reason, that history mainly belong to the men in it. But there are a number of strong and impressive women who to a large extent shaped their own destiny, and one of those was without a doubt Elizabeth Talbot, known to history as Bess of Hardwick, which is what she will be called in this post.

Her exact birthdate is not known, and suggestions are made with in the wide range of 1521 to the last part of 1527, the latter more commonly accepted. She was the daughter of John Hardwick of Derbyshire and his wife Elizabeth Leeke who belonged to the minor gentry. Not much is known in detail about Bess’ early years, but she had four sisters of which one would later die at quite a young age, and a brother who would be heir to the family’s holdings when her father passed away around the age of 40.

It has been suggested that Bess at the age of 12 got to know both London and the Tudor court through the influence of Anne Gainsford, Lady Zouche, who was lady-in-waiting of Anne Boleyn (and the one who introduced Anne B to the writings of William Tyndale), but there is no contemporary evidence to back this up.

What is clear though is that Bess, like so many other girls of her time, married very early, at “a tender age” which suggests she was younger than 16 and her first husband was the 13 year old Robert Barley. This marriage didn´t last long, due to Robert dying just a year or two later, and there is no evidence that they ever lived together as husband and wife. After his death Bess was denied her dower, which resulted in a court battle which lasted for years, but eventually was won by Bess.

By the time it was won she was already remarried, this time to the twice-widowed 593px-William_Cavendish_c1547William Cavendish, who had two daughters and was appointed Treasurer of the King´s Chamber. This marriage took place on August 20th 1547, the very last year of Henry VIII´s life. It would only last 10 years, as William Cavendish died in 1557, but the marriage resulted in eight children of which six survived. The death of Cavendish however left Bess heavily indebted to the Crown.

As the prospects for an unmarried woman was next to none in 16th century society, Bess remarried a second time in 1559 to her third husband, this time to William St Loe, making her Lady St Loe. By this time Elizabeth was on the throne, and William St Loe was captain of the Queen´s guards as well as Chief Butler of England, an appointment which basically included what the title suggests, but primarily at coronation banquets.  He held large estates in Somerset and Gloucestershire, and when he after only around six years of marriage died, something that seems to have been due to poisoning, the lack of male heirs (he had two daughters) made his worldly goods pass on to his widow Bess.

While the previous husband had left Bess in financial difficulties, William St Loe did the exact opposite, and made Lady St Loe one of the absolutely wealthiest women in the country with an annual income of £60 000, a sum which today would equal £ 16,8 million. To that should be added that she was also a Lady of the Bedchamber which gave her close and daily contact with Elizabeth I, something which undoubtedly gave her a certain amount of influence, and there is no wild guess to think that that in combination with her fortune and good looks was what made prospective husbands flock around her.

Maybe it was the knowledge that she was financially secure in her own right that kept her from rushing into a fourth marriage, as it took around three years, maybe slightly more, for her to remarry.

800px-George_Talbot_6th_Earl_of_Shrewsbury_1580Her last husband was George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, and before going into his life with Bess -or rather, her life with him – I just as a curiosity feel the need to mention that there a couple of generations back in his family tree is to be found a certain Eleanor Talbot, later Butler, who is no other than the female party in the alleged and oh so discussed pre-contract with Edward IV. But that´s all that will be said in regards to that matter in this post.

It´s maybe not easy to say who benefited most from what, but clear is that both Bess and George saw advantages in really tying their families together, because not only did the two get married, Bess 12 year old daughter Mary Cavendish was married to George´s 16 year old son Gilbert, while George´s 8 year old daughter Grace was married to Bess´s 18 year old son Henry Cavendish in a double ceremony.

Whether these two unions was to be happier than that of their parents I cannot say, but fact is that Bess and her husband George Talbot would eventually have a falling out, allegedly fuelled by no other than Mary Queen of Scots. When the Scottish queen had been driven into exile by her disgruntled lords and sought out the protection of her cousin Elizabeth I, we all know what happened, she ended up in an 18 yearlong house arrest, which for the greater part, 15 years, took place in the home of Bess of Hardwick and her husband.

It seems the Mary and Bess must have found some kind of friendship bond, andoxburgh together they spend hours at needlework, something they were both proficient at. The result is now known as the Oxburgh Hangings and can be found at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Bess´s tapestries marked by the initials BS, and part of Mary´s other embroideries were to become part of Bess´s extensive collection which can now be seen at Hardwick Hall. But there were downsides to the arrangement as well, Mary seems to have played out the Talbots against each other, with the result that Bess started rumours of her husband having an affair with the deposed queen. The marriage was falling apart, and even Elizabeth herself tried to act as a kind of marriage counsellor, but to no avail.

Hardwick_Hall_in_Doe_Lea_-_DerbyshireGeorge Talbot died in 1590, making Bess of Hardwick the Dowager Countess of Shrewsbury. Bess, now in her 70´s, did not marry again, but she did continue another “hobby”, she after having built Chatsworth House in 1560, she now embarked on Hardwick Hall, in the vicinity of the old Hardwick Hall where she lived as a child. The new hall was given it´s very own rhyme due to it´s design with an unusual amount of windows; “Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall”.

While she spent over a decade basically being a guarding an heir presumptive to the Lady_Arabella_Stuartthrone, Bes would in time herself raise one herself, her granddaughter Arabella, or Arbella, Stuart. Arabella was the daughter of Bess daughter Elizabeth Cavendish and Charles Stuart, younger brother of Henry, Lord Darnley, second husband of Mary Queen of Scots.

This made Arabella great great granddaughter of Henry VII, and yet another possible heir to the throne. While Bess indeed had such ambitions for her granddaughter, Arabella herself was less than inclined, something which would eventually lead to a complete break between the two. Seven year after her grandmother´s death, Arabella would herself die as a prisoner in the Tower due to her own actions, but more about that in a separate post.

Due to Arabella´s refusal to stake her claim to both the Scottish and the English throne, Bess never got to see a descendant as monarch, but she does in fact have one right now; Elizabeth II

While no date of birth exist for Bess, the information on her death is more specific, and this formidable woman passed away at 5 pm on February 13th, which was a Sunday, 1608 at the age of 81. She was put to her final rest in All Saint´s Parish Church, Derby, today´s Derby Cathedral.

Over the past years a large number on letters, to and from Bess of Hardwick has been found and compiled in an online database by the University of Glasgow. The letters has helped change the view of Bess and I will return to them in a later post.

 

Sources:

Mistress of Hardwick – Alison Plowden

The Life of Elizabeth I – Alison Weir

Bess of Hardwick; Portrait of an Elizabethan Dynasty – David Durant

Bessofhardwick.org

Images:

Oxburgh Hanging – Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum

Hardwick Hall in Doe Lea, Derbyshire/Wikimedia

Arabella Stuart – Robert Peake/National Galleries of Scotland

The passing of Elizabeth I

“I may not be a lion, but I am lion’s cub and I have lion’s heart”

On this day in 1603 Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, passed into infinity. She was 70 years old and had been the Queen ofElizabeth-I-in-old-age England for 45 years, almost 10 years longer than her father, and decades longer than her siblings, Edward and Mary.

One of the most widely spread quotes attributed to Elizabeth is that she was “but a feeble woman”. That, too, is a way of ruling a court, its courtiers and a country, and a way to get adversaries to let their guard down. But I don´t believe that Elizabeth herself even for a second considered herself feeble. She knew her strength.

I won´t use this text to run through some spectacular moments during her reign – as I actually first planned to do – not least because they each and every one deserve their own time and post.

Let´s just take the time to give a thought to a remarkable woman and monarch who beat the odds and to a very large extent shaped her own destiny.

Elizabeth died around 10 o´clock in the evening while the rain was pouring down outside. She is said to have turned her face to the wall and fallen into a deep sleep from which she would never again wake up*.

Elizabeth_I_Locket_Ring_2After her death, a ring made from ruby, diamonds, gold and mother of pearl, was removed from her finger. Inside it, there was a small compartment containing two miniatures of Elizabeth herself and her mother, Anne Boleyn.

The ring was publically revealed for the first time in 2002, almost 400 years after Elizabeth´s death.

 

It is said that it was Robert Carey who removed the ring from her finger and thereafter rode for three days to reach Scotland and let James IV of Scotland know that he was now James I of England.

The proclamation of Elizabeth´s death was read by Robert Cecil – the queen´s advisor and son to William Cecil who had stood by Elizabeth for close to 50 years – first at White Hall and then at St. Paul´s Cathedral. No doubt there were those among her subjects who found it incomprehensible that the Queen was dead. After the turbulence that followed the death of Henry VIII, the people of England had now been ruled by the same monarch for more than four decades and many would not personally have remembered a time when good queen Bess was not on the throne.

On the 28th of April, Elizabeth´s coffin was drawn by four horses draped in black livery and over the coffin was a covered by a large canopy carried be six Knights of the realm, and behind her coffin came procession consisting of from the beginning 1 000 mourners, a number which swelled as the procession made its way through London.

She rests in Westminster Abbey.

Procession_of_the_Heralds_at_the_Funeral_of_Elizabeth_I

 

 

Sources:

The Reign of Elizabeth: 1558 – 1603 – J.B. Black

Elizabeth – David Starkey

The life of Elizabeth I – Alison Weir

 

 

Lady of the English – Empress Matilda

Empress_MathildaEmpress Mathilda (or Maude, both names are used) isn´t the most well-known of the English regents, at least not outside England. But as granddaughter of William I – better known as William the Conqueror and victor at the Battle of Hastings 1066 – and grandmother of both Richard the Lionheart and the reluctant signer of Magna Carta, King John, as well as a participant in the civil war known as The Anarchy, she´s an interesting acquaintance.

She was born on this day, February 7th, 913 years ago, 1102.

While still a child she moved to Germany to be wed to the future emperor of the Great Roman Empire in 1114, Henry V. Matilda participated in the ruling of the empire and also acted as regent in Italy in her husband´s name. He was almost 20 years older than her, and the marriage was to be childless. Henry V died in 1125, five years after the White Ship disaster in which Mathilda´s brother William Adelin, heir to the throne, had died and left England in a vulnerable situation.

Matilda hurried to her father Henry I in Normandy where he made his court swear fealty to Matilda and her future children. She also entered a second marriage, this time with Geoffrey of Anjou, count of Anjou, Toulouse and Maine, to defend the southern borders of the empire. The marriage was reputedly unhappy, both due to age difference and cultural barriers. The realm of the English regent at this time consisted of large lands in France as well. Together with Geoffrey she had the son Henry Curtmantle, later Henry II.

Geoffrey of Anjou deserve a special mentioning, not least due to his habit of wearing a broom flower in his hat, a PlantaGeoffrey_of_Anjou_Monument Genista in Latin, from which the house he helped found, The Plantagenet’s, derive its name. The first monarch to actually use the name was his son by Matilda, Henry, and the last one was Richard III

But back to Matilda; a female heir to the throne was nothing that was relished in 12th century Europe and the resistance among the barons, whose support was needed, was strong and Matilda was prevented from being crowned after the death of Henry I. Instead she called herself the Lady of the English (the empress title came from her position as empress in the Holy Roman Empire 1114 – 1125). Instead Mathilda’s cousin, Stephen of Blois, assumed the throne with the backing of the church

Together with her half-brother Robert of Gloucester and the backing of her maternal uncle, the Scottish king, David I, Matilda invaded England from Normandy in 1139, and action that initiated the civil war known as the Anarchy. This period will at a later point get a post of its own.

Henry_II_of_England_croppedMatilda never won the war against Stephen, instead it would be her son, who at the time of the invasion had stayed behind in France. Henry Curtmantle, however, never defeated Stephen in battle, but instead made a peace agreement with him after Stephen´s son and heir Eustace had died, which meant that Henry would take the English throne after the death of Stephen which occurred in October 1154. Henry Curtmantle began his reign as Henry II in December that same year.

Henry would become a sometimes ruthless king that spent a great deal of his reign in the saddle, riding back and forth through his vast realm on both sides of “the narrow sea” (the English channel) in an effort to keep it together. I have written briefly about him in my previous post about the murder of Thomas Becket (yet to be translated). He was the first to use the name Plantagenet and would later become dad to the latter day legend Richard the Lionheart.

Matilda herself withdraw to Normandy in 1148 but to a high extent functioned as a political advisor for her son, not least did she try to mediate in the conflict between Henry and Becket

She died in 1167, 65 years old and was put to her final rest in Bec Abbey in Normandy.

 

Sources: The Plantagentes; the warrior kings and queens who made England – Dan Jones

A History of Britain 3000 BC-AD 1603 – Simon Schama

For a fictional account of Mathilda, I recommend the book Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet, or for that matter the tv-series with the same name based on said book.

 

Magna Carta 800 years

On June 15th it will be 800 years since a legendary document was signed at Runnymede in close proximity to Windsor.RunnymedeMagnacartaisle The document has come to continue to have significance throughout the centuries, and in England it can still be brought up in the political debate as a monument over guaranteed rights.

When a debate in 2008 brought up the possibility to prolong the period suspected terrorists could be held without charges being brought against them from 28 days to 44 days, the earlier Member of Parliament for Labour, Tony Benn (dead march 2014) stated that this was the day Magna Carta died.

But what was the background?

Magna Carta was, reluctantly mind you, signed by King John – known to from basically every movie about Robin Hood, from Errol Flynn´s interpretations to Disney´s cartoons to Sir Walter Scott´s Ivanhoe to Kevin Costner in tights.

In every modern depiction he is portrayed as the villain prince who aim to take the throne from his brother, Richard the Lionheart. And that really happened; when Richard was taken prisoner on his way back from the crusades, John did try to seize power.

He King_John_from_NPGwasn´t liked well enough to succeed, but he did manage to cement a genuinely bad reputation that have survived through the centuries. He ascended as a likewise disliked king at the death of his brother Richard in 1199. While historians today are in agreement that he had some talents, there is also an agreement that his many shortcomings as a king dominated, among other what has been described as “repulsive, even dangerous personality traits”; among others malice, pettiness and cruelty. Material for both books and films, in other words,

That he found himself at Runnymede that day in June 800 years ago was a result of a group of Barons whose patience with John´s self-indulgent ways to seize power and funds had come to an end.

Magna Carta was intended as a peace treaty which among other things ensured a more reasonable distribution of power between the upper layers of society, protection for the Barons against unlawful arrests and access to swift justice and limitations to feudal taxes. The Magna Carta is said to have been inspired by the Charter of Liberties signed by Henry II in 1154, which among other things promised that the King wouldn´t plunder Church properties or demand outrageous fees for inheritance or marriage. To make sure the Magna Carta A_Chronicle_of_England_-_Page_226_-_John_Signs_the_Great_Charterwas honoured a council of 25 Barons was put in place, which obviously didn´t help, as no party in the end respected the signed charter, and the conflicts resulted in what is known as the First Baron´s War, a civil war which raged between 1215 and 1217. While John very much was the cause of the conflict, he never saw the end of it, as he died in 1216 from what is believed to have been dysentery.

5136cMagnaCarta_wlThe mythology surrounding the Magna Carta has lived on well into the 20th century, and the charter is seen as being the ground work of both the British democracy as well as the American constitution and the UN declaration of Human Rights.

The judicial importance however began to diminish already in the 16th century as new laws was founded.

But that was then and this is now. Today four copies of the Magna Carta of 1215 still exist (it was elaborated and changed in 1216 and 1217), all of which are kept in England, but they haven´t been brought together until the first week of February this year. Between February 2nd to 5th they were shown to the public at the British Library after which they were brought to the Parliament, and the public had the opportunity to view them during guided tours for most of the month.

Celebrations will continue throughout the year with lectures, theatre plays, debates and exhibitions. For a calendar over the different events, click here.

The history of Magna Carta is much longer than I have written here, but on the same site as you find the above calendar, you will find much of what you may want to know.

Sources: A Knight at the Movies – Medieval History on Film – John Aberth

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

Why Magna Carta? Angevin England Revisited – Natalie Fryde

King John, Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta – Marc Morris