Review of A KING UNDER SIEGE by Mary Anne Yarde

“With spades and hoes and ploughs, stand up now.

Your houses they pull down, to fright poor men in town,

The gentry must come down and the poor shall wear the crown…”

It was the age-old question, who should sit on the throne of France? Everyone in England knew that the French crown belonged to the English King — Richard II. Unfortunately, the House of Valois did not agree with the English consensus.

The French were a formidable foe. If the House of Plantagenet wanted to win this war, then they desperately needed to find more money. Parliament was called, and on the request of John of Gaunt, son of Edward III and uncle to the young King Richard II, a tax was agreed upon. Regrettably, this Poll tax was a very regressive tax. An unfair burden that the poor simply could not pay. It was really no surprise when the peasants revolted in 1381.

Richard II was only ten years old when he succeeded to the throne. He was too young to rule on his own. But instead of a regent, it was decided that the government should be placed in the hands of a series of councils, but even then, there were those who thought Gaunt had too much power. But it wasn’t Gaunt who rode out to meet with Wat Tyler (the leader of the rebels) at Smithfield. It was the fourteen-year-old King.

A child Richard may still be, but he was the King of England, and he believed in the royal prerogative. He had also had enough of being told what to do by men he no longer respected. Richard was old enough to know his own mind and to choose his own advisors. However, not everyone was happy with the way the monarchy was heading, and the discontent of those who had been influential rumbled around Richard’s realm like a threatening biblical storm from days gone by. It was only a matter of time before men such as Gloucester and Warwick had their retribution…

From small beginnings to disastrous ends, A King Under Siege: Book One of The Plantagenet Legacy by Mercedes Rochelle is the compelling account of the Peasant Revolt of 1381 and the following turbulent years of Richard II’s early reign.

What an utterly enthralling story A King Under Siege: Book One of The Plantagenet Legacy is. This is the story of a very tempestuous time in English history. Rochelle paints a vivid picture, not only of the peasantry and the hardship they faced but also the corruption and the dangers of court life in the reign of Richard II. These were treacherous times, and Rochelle has demonstrated this with her bold and an exceptionally riveting narrative.

The book is split into three parts, which gave the book a firm grounding of time and place. Part 1 explores the first major challenge in Richard II reign, which was the Peasant Revolt. Rochelle gives a scrupulously balanced account about the revolt. The story explores both sides of the argument, which I thought gave this book a wonderful depth and scope. Part 2 is aptly named “Resistance,” and this section was very compelling as Richard tried to take control of his throne. Part 3, was perhaps the most moving and upsetting as those who thought themselves slighted took revenge upon the King. Rochelle has this tremendous eye for writing very emotional scenes that certainly made me shed a few tears. I thought it was masterfully written.

As I have already touched upon, I thought the portrayal of Richard II was a historical triumph. Richard grows from this unsure youth to a man who is facing a war from those who should be on his side. Forget the war with France, it is the war within parliament that Richard has to try to win.

This story is rich in historical detail. It has so obviously been meticulously researched. I cannot but commend Rochelle for this exceptional work of scholarship.

A King Under Siege: Book One of The Plantagenet Legacy is one of those books that once started is impossible to put down. This book is filled with non-stop action. There are enough plots and conspiracies to satisfy any lover of historical fiction. This is storytelling at its very best.

I Highly Recommend.

Review by Mary Anne Yarde.

The Coffee Pot Book Club.

Richard II and his Queens

BL Harley ms4431-f003r Source: Wikipedia

Like many of us, I first learned about Richard II from Shakespeare. The consummate storyteller, Shakespeare gave us a grown queen who threw herself into his arms as he was led to prison following his humiliating surrender to Henry of Bolingbroke. Imagine my surprise to learn that in reality, Richard’s queen was only ten years old! Ah, and she was his second queen. His first, Anne of Bohemia, had died five years before his deposition and two years before he remarried. How in the world did that happen?

We don’t know very much about Anne of Bohemia. She was of impeccable ancestry, the eldest daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. But the real reason Richard married her was for politics. By then, the Great Schism had occurred and Europe had two popes. Clement VII moved to Avignon, and was supported by the French. Urban VI was in Rome and was supported by England as well as the Holy Roman Empire. After much negotiating, Richard was betrothed to Anne so he could gain the Emperor’s support against their mutual enemies. This was far from a popular match; Anne’s brother, the wily Wenceslaus, had succeeded her father in 1378 and was in financial straits. Not only would Anne come without a dowry, Richard was obliged to loan Wenceslaus £12,000. Many argued against the marriage, but for some reason Richard was adamant.

Anne’s journey to England was perilous. Accompanied by Sir Simon Burley, Richard’s vice-chamberlain and a slew of Bohemian ladies and knights, Anne had to wait on the Calais side of the Channel for a couple of months. She was a prize, and Norman privateers were trolling the waters looking for her—stopping and pillaging every ship they could get their hands on. Finally, her uncle the Duke of Brabant managed to persuade King Charles of France to provide a safe-conduct for her, as she was the King’s distant relative. Once the wind was favorable they crossed to Dover and landed on December 18, 1381—just in time to meet her future husband for Christmas at Leeds Castle.

Coronation of Anne and Richard from The Liber Regalis, Source: Wikipedia

By all accounts, theirs was a love match from the first. Although she was not considered a great beauty, Anne had a sweet disposition. At age fifteen she was one year older than Richard and their closeness in age (and inexperience) probably contributed to their affection for each other. Unlike most kings of the middle ages, he was not unfaithful to her. She provided him with love and support even during his most troublesome episodes with his overbearing uncles. They were rarely apart during their twelve year marriage. He built a private getaway on a little island in the Thames across from Sheen Palace (same site as Richmond Palace) called Le Neyt—a rarity in times when royalty was almost never alone. Even so, sadly, she never conceived.

Anne is best known for introducing the sidesaddle to England—a strange contraption which consisted of a little bench strapped to the horse with a footrest. Each lady’s palfrey was led by a footman who managed the bridle-rein while the lady held onto a pommel; this meant that they could proceed at no faster than a walk. But this was no matter; the sidesaddle was merely used for ceremonial purposes. The Bohemians also introduced those funny shoes with elongated points called Crakows, or sometimes Poulaines because they were originally from Poland (the extreme version was attached to the knee with a gold chain). They were also the first ladies in England to wear the outrageous headdresses with wires and pasteboard horns extending two feet high and two feet wide and shaped like a wide-spreading mitre, draped with fine glittering veils.

Queen Anne died suddenly in 1394, possibly from the plague because it all happened so quickly — but this seems unlikely to me since nobody else was ill. Richard was inconsolable and ordered his workmen to destroy Le Neyt (or maybe even the whole palace; no one knows for sure). He swore he wouldn’t enter any building they lived in for a whole year, excepting the churches. Anne was buried at Westminster Abbey and her gilt bronze effigy (alongside Richard) can still be seen.

But a kingdom without an heir left itself open to civil war, as Richard knew all too well. At the same time, for many years he had been leaning toward peace with France, even though many of his militaristic subjects strongly disagreed. Two years after the death of Queen Anne, Richard concluded a 28 year truce with France, and part of this agreement was his offer to marry King Charles’s seven year-old daughter Isabella. Why did he do this? I’m inclined to think that this gave Richard plenty of time to grieve for Anne while accomplishing an alliance that was very important to him. At 29 years of age, he felt that he still had plenty of time to beget an heir.

A great ceremony was held on a large field at Andres, eight miles south of Calais. Ironically, this was exactly the same site as the Field of the Cloth of Gold attended by Henry VIII and Francis the First 124 years later. It was said that Richard’s pageant was every bit as elaborate and expensive as his successor’s. Interestingly, on opening day Richard’s retinue was dressed in red velvet with heraldic trappings from Queen Anne’s livery. He was determined not to forget her.

Little Isabella came back to England with her handsome new husband and was housed at Windsor Castle. She was crowned at Westminster the following year. Richard doted on his Queen and it was said she adored him, but there was no question that many years would pass before he took on his conjugal duties. As it turned out, of course, he was dead in four years, leaving her a prisoner of the usurper Henry IV; the new King wanted her to marry his son, the future Henry V. But she showed amazing fortitude for someone so young; Isabella refused and went into mourning. A year later Henry allowed her to go back to France but he kept her dowry. When she was sixteen she married her cousin Charles, Duke of Orléans who was only eleven. And yet, three years later she died in childbirth. Poor Isabella never got a break. If they had been given more time and had Richard II managed to sire an heir, it would have been much more difficult for anyone else to usurp the crown. And perhaps the Wars of the Roses would never have occurred.

Book Review of RICHARD II AND THE IRISH KINGS by Darren Mcgettigan

This is a book written by an Irish man for the Irish reader. It’s a very interesting angle, because it helps to demonstrate that Richard II’s part of the history is not necessarily at the foremost of everybody’s mind (“In 1397 Roger Mortimer’s uncle, Sir Thomas Mortimer, fell foul of the king in some palace intrigue…”). The contemporary Irish kings are what matter most here, and how they interacted with the intrusive English. This is the best book I’ve found so far that actually gives us a good idea just went on in the Irish campaigns, how Richard caught the famous Art MacMurchadha Caomhanach totally by surprise, and how Art later put his hard-earned lessons to good use. We also see that much of the violence that wracked Ireland after Richard left in 1395 was associated with Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March and lord lieutenant of Ireland: “By 1396 Roger Mortimer was at war with many of the Irish kings of north Leinster and south Ulster. The annals record that in that year he attacked the Clann Sheoain… He also attacked the O Raighilligh kingdom of East Breifne, where he cut passes through two forests and killed the noble Mathghamhain O Raighilligh… In early 1396 Mortimer ‘made a treacherous raid on O Neill before launching a larger assault on Tyrone…’” This sounds quite contrary to Richard’s policy of tolerance, justice and good government. Mortimer may well have done more harm than good, and his death precipitated Richard’s second expedition to Ireland in 1399.

Although I found the Irish names difficult to grasp, the author wisely gave us maps that helped locate the chieftains and kingdoms, as well as all the towns and castles, mountains and forests that Richard had to negotiate. I consulted them regularly! As a reference book, if you are researching the Irish campaigns, this book is invaluable. For light reading, you may get bogged down (pardon the pun!) in a hurry.

Shakespeare’s Richard II

Richard II Westminster portrait. Source: Wikipedia

Like many of us, I first learned of Richard II from Shakespeare. Even though I knew nothing about him, I was totally moved during the prison scene while he bemoaned the fate of kings—and I never recovered! But his story goes way beyond the events of this play; in fact, Shakespeare only covered the last year of Richard’s life. He tells us nothing about what led up to the famous scene between Bolingbroke and Mowbray, where their trial by combat was interrupted and they were sent into exile. This was indeed the crisis that led to the king’s downfall, but Richard’s story is much more complicated than you would ever think from watching the play.

First of all, did you realize that Henry of Bolingbroke was Richard’s first cousin? The clues are all there but it’s not easy to put them together. The old John of Gaunt (“This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England…”) was the eldest of Richard’s surviving uncles, and because Richard was childless he was next in line to the throne (debatable, but that’s another story). Bolingbroke, Gaunt’s eldest son, was next after him. This did not appeal to Richard; in fact, according to all reports, having Bolingbroke as his heir was anathema. Why? Events in my book, A KING UNDER SIEGE, will give you a good idea. Richard and Henry were never friendly, but during the second crisis in Richard’s reign, Bolingbroke was one of the Lords Appellant—the five barons who drove the Merciless Parliament to murder the king’s loyal followers.

Arundel, Gloucester, Nottingham, Derby, and Warwick, Before the King Source: Wikimedia

Richard’s minority was not easy. The doddering Edward III was hardly a role model, and neither was his father, the ailing Black Prince who languished for years, disabled and debilitated. On Edward III’s death, Parliament insisted on Richard’s coronation instead of a regency; many feared that John of Gaunt would seize the throne. Nonetheless, what could one expect from a ten year-old? Four years later, the boy king proved himself worthy during the Peasants’ Revolt, but his subsequent attempts to assert himself led to conflict with his magnates. His bad temper, sharp tongue, and impetuous nature gave the restive barons plenty of excuses to hold him down. Richard’s solution was to surround himself with cooperative friends and advisors and exclude the self-righteous lords from his inner circle, which infuriated them. The king needed proper guidance, they insisted; his household needed purging.

The Lords Appellant, as they came to be known, threatened Richard with abdication—humiliating him and destroying his power base. At first there were three of them: Richard’s uncle Thomas Duke of Gloucester, Thomas Beauchamp Earl of Warwick, and Richard FitzAlan Earl of Arundel.  After Richard’s aborted attempt to raise an army in defense, Henry of Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray joined their ranks—the same who challenged each other in Shakespeare’s play.

Richard Stops the Duel Between Hereford and Norfolk from “A Chronicle of England” illustrated by James William Edmund Doyle. Source: Wikimedia

So you can see that Shakespeare’s trial by combat had a lot more going on than could easily be explained. Richard may have appeared detached while he observed the quarrel between Bolingbroke and Mowbray, but under his regal bearing he must have been shivering with glee. The altercation between these two knights was actually the result of their involvement in the Merciless Parliament. A year before the play took place, Richard had already succeeded in wreaking revenge on the original three Appellants. Mowbray feared that their turn was next, and when he voiced his concerns to Bolingbroke, the latter tried to save his skin by telling the king. The argument escalated from there, giving Richard the perfect opportunity to get rid of both of them. He made his fatal error when he went too far and deprived Bolingbroke of his inheritance.

Shakespeare gave us the poignancy of Richard’s last days. Historians have left us more of a conundrum which may never be sorted out. Richard’s 22-year reign can be divided into two parts: the 12 years of his minority and the ten years of his majority—each of which are brought to a tragic climax. Hence, it will take two books to cover his story. As you might guess, volume two will be called THE KING’S RETRIBUTION.

New Release: A KING UNDER SIEGE

BOOK BLURB: Richard II found himself under siege not once, but twice in his minority. Crowned king at age ten, he was only fourteen when the Peasants’ Revolt terrorized London. But he proved himself every bit the Plantagenet successor, facing Wat Tyler and the rebels when all seemed lost. Alas, his triumph was short-lived, and for the next ten years he struggled to assert himself against his uncles and increasingly hostile nobles. Just like in the days of his great-grandfather Edward II, vengeful magnates strove to separate him from his friends and advisors, and even threatened to depose him if he refused to do their bidding. The Lords Appellant, as they came to be known, purged the royal household with the help of the Merciless Parliament. They murdered his closest allies, leaving the King alone and defenseless. He would never forget his humiliation at the hands of his subjects. Richard’s inability to protect his adherents would haunt him for the rest of his life, and he vowed that next time, retribution would be his.

Richard II has proved to be one of the most enigmatic kings in the Middle Ages. Just like that other Richard (III, as we know him) his reputation was demolished by the person that usurped him. Historians are destined to muddle through documents that have been altered or written by hostile chroniclers. They must search for missing records and interpret passages written by survivors anxious to curry favor with the new king—or at least escape censure. It doesn’t help that there is such a wide range of conflicting opinions about him.

Like many of us, I first learned about Richard II from Shakespeare. Even though I knew nothing about him, I was totally moved during the prison scene when he bemoaned the fate of kings—and I never recovered! But his story goes way beyond the events of this play; in fact, Shakespeare only covered the last year of Richard’s life. We know nothing about what led up to the famous scene between Bolingbroke and Mowbray, where their trial by combat was interrupted by the king and they were sent into exile. Once I did my research, I was astounded at how complicated Richard’s life really was. His 22-year reign can be divided up into two parts: the 12 years of his minority and the ten years of his majority—each of which are brought to a tragic climax. Hence, it will take me two books to cover his story. As you might guess from the book blurb, volume two will be called THE KING’S RETRIBUTION.

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Richard II and Primogeniture

British Library: MS Harley 4205 f.6V

At first glance, one might not question the law of succession in England during the Middle Ages, but in reality the rules were open to interpretation, which is one reason the Wars of the Roses were fought with such intensity. As far back as King John, we see the youngest brother of a previous king mount the throne rather than the son of an elder brother (Arthur of Brittany—son of Geoffrey—should have ruled if the tradition of primogeniture were followed). Even Edward I, after the death of his three eldest sons, declared an order of succession that included his daughters. When it was Richard II’s turn, the issue was far from settled.

In 1376, Edward the Black Prince was dying. His child Richard, who was himself the second son (the first son Edward had died two years previously), was only nine years old. The Black Prince took nothing for granted, and on his deathbed he asked both his father and his brother John of Gaunt to swear an oath to protect Richard and uphold his inheritance. Even this precaution didn’t guarantee Richard’s patrimony, and Edward III felt obliged to create an entail that ordered the succession along traditional male lines. This meant that the Mortimers, descendants of Gaunt’s deceased elder brother Lionel (through his only daughter Philippa) were excluded. It also meant that John of Gaunt was next in line after Richard, and after him, Henry of Bolingbroke.

By this time, Edward III was an enfeebled old man and Gaunt had already started attending Parliament in his name. At this stage of his life, John of Gaunt was an overbearing, arrogant bully and he was incredibly unpopular. There were great fears—probably unfounded—that he would usurp the throne from his nephew; most historians believe that because of this, Edward III’s entail was not publicized. Presumably only the inner family and the great officers knew about its existence. After all, why inflame the public unnecessarily? If Richard were to sire an heir, the whole entail would be moot.

Coronation-Richard-BL-Royal-20-C-VII-f.-192v

So the ten year-old Richard was crowned king; nobody wanted to take a chance on a less-than-secure regency. But this was not the end of the story. In the short run, of course, there was no reason to give the succession much thought. Richard married at age fifteen and his queen was only a year older than him. But after five or six years of infertility, it was beginning to look like there might be a problem. Queen Anne’s untimely death after twelve years of marriage and Richard’s subsequent espousal to the 8 year-old Isabella of France made it obvious that a child could not be expected for a long time—possibly never.

Many people, including our primary chroniclers of the period, took it for granted that the Mortimers were next in line for the throne. But Richard made no effort to show favor to Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March, nor did he make reference him to him as heir except possibly once in 1385 or 1386 (historians are not in agreement on this). When threatened with deposition, Richard could well have declared Roger his successor, a political ploy to remind his opponents that a 12 year-old would not rule any better than him. Although the Earl of March was well liked by the general population, after 1394 he seemed to have lost political clout. He moved to Ireland, where he served as Lieutenant mostly for the rest of his life. Roger was killed in a skirmish in 1398, leaving behind a seven year-old son. This effectively removed the Mortimers as candidates—for the time being—but they were destined to come back and haunt Henry IV in the rebellions of 1403 and 1405. (Also, their bloodline descended to Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York on his mother’s side.)

But even this wasn’t the end of the story. Richard was antagonistic toward John of Gaunt and this ill-will was transferred to his cousin Henry of Bolingbroke, especially after Henry joined the Lords Appellant and nearly cost him his throne in 1388. After the Appellant crisis, when Gaunt returned from Portugal, Richard received him joyfully back into the country; he had finally discovered that Gaunt’s presence was the only factor that kept his rebellious magnates at bay. In this time frame, by all indications, he restored Edward III’s entail and treated Gaunt as his heir—at least for the next five years.

John of Gaunt with his coat of arms attributed to Lucas Cornelisz de Kock source: Wikipedia

But this favor did not extend to Bolingbroke. In 1394, as Richard was planning his expedition to Ireland, Gaunt petitioned Parliament to appoint Bolingbroke as Keeper of the realm. The Keeper was traditionally the heir to the throne, so Gaunt was fishing for a commitment. He couldn’t serve as Keeper himself because he was due to leave for the Aquitaine, so naturally Henry—next in line according to the entail—would take his place. However the Earl of March raised a strong objection, for he felt that he was heir apparent (it is possible he did not know about Edward III’s entail). Richard told them both to be silent and instead decided that his uncle Edmund of Langley, Duke of York (Gaunt’s younger brother) would be Keeper in his absence.

This was a whole new turn of events! Suddenly Gaunt was out and Edmund was in. From that point on, relations between Richard and the House of Lancaster began to sour. The King showered favors on his cousin, York’s son Edward, and created him Duke of Aumale. Whether Richard had intended to make York his heir, as Ian Mortimer concluded, remains speculation. If this was the case, it’s puzzling that Edmund defected to Bolingbroke, thus giving up his own—and his son’s—potential claim to the throne. Perhaps he had no inclination to be king; he was thought by many to be an indolent, irresolute fellow. Nonetheless, it was Edmund of Langley who fathered the House of York which proved so formidable in the Wars of the Roses.

Richard found it useful to keep everyone in suspense about the succession and never did proclaim a definite heir, though for the last several years he favored his fair-weather cousin Edward Duke of Aumale. When Bolingbroke invaded England, Aumale eventually went over to his side. That was the end of Edward’s possible aspirations!

After Richard’s usurpation, Henry IV chose to justify his claim—not by force of arms, but by citing his double descent from Henry III (through Edward III on his father’s side and Edmund “Crouchback”—younger son of Henry—on his mother’s side). Nonetheless, the Lancastrian line petered out in two generations, leaving the country ripe for a dynastic struggle—precipitated, many say, by the murder of the last true Plantagenet king.

In the end, could it be said that Richard II was usurped by his natural heir? He certainly wouldn’t have thought so! His reckless decision to disinherit Bolingbroke showed all the characteristics of personal enmity. Many historians think he was only waiting for Gaunt to drop dead before confiscating the Lancastrian inheritance and eliminating Henry’s influence forever. But he reckoned without his own unpopularity, and without Bolingbroke’s courage and decision. It’s ironic that the one person he strove so carefully to eliminate from the succession turned out to be the very man who destroyed his rule, his life, and his reputation.

 

FURTHER READING:

Bennett, Michael, Edward III’s Entail and the Succession to the Crown, 1376-1471, from “The English Historical Review, Vol. 113, no. 452 (June 1998), pp.580-609

Given-Wilson, Charles, Richard II, Edward II, and the Lancastrian Inheritance, from “The English Historical Review, Vol. 1009, No. 432 (June, 1994), pp.553-571

Mortimer, Ian, Richard II amd the Succession to the Crown, from “History”, Vol. 91, No. 3 (303) (July 2006), pp. 320-326

 

Book Review: The Royal Bastards of Medieval England by Chris Given-Wilson & Alice Curteis

I found this book to be surprisingly diverting and helpful. The paper book cover shows that famous romantic painting of the two princes in the Tower by John Everett Millias, so I was half-expecting yet another repetition of arguments pro and con about Richard III’s involvement with their murder. In actuality, the princes are given a nod, but the true subjects of this book are shown sorely-needed attention as they are often glossed over in histories despite the fact that many of them were quite influential. For instance, I knew all about the Beauforts (John of Gaunt’s bastards who were later legitimized), but didn’t really give much credit to Henry VII’s great-grandfather, John Beaufort, as the head of the Tudor dynasty (on the maternal side). Without Beaufort’s royal blood, Henry might not have dared an attempt at the throne. Other royal bastards, such as Geoffrey Plantagenet (son of Henry II), and Robert of Gloucester (son of Henry I), were key actors in major events and given their own chapters.

The structure of this book gives us an explanation of how important (or at times unimportant) legitimacy was viewed throughout the middle ages. An extremely long introduction gives a good overview of marriage, divorce, and the Catholic Church’s views throughout this period, which is more than helpful. Consider this: since the twelfth century, “the church was teaching not only that the consent of the man and the woman was the vital prerequisite for any marriage, but also that that consent of any other person—parent, lord or whatever—was unnecessary. Among the aristocracy and royalty, it is only in modern times that this idea has really gained acceptance: parentally arranged marriages have remained common among the upper classes right through to the twentieth century…Even for the elite, the doctrine of consent did have one crucial result: if a man and a woman did flout the wishes of their parents or guardians and get married, perhaps secretly, and if it was then proven in a church court that they had both consented to the marriage, the marriage remained valid in the eyes of the church…” I can’t help but think of the secret marriage between Joan, the Fair maid of Kent and Thomas Holland which fell into this category.

Especially in the early days after William the Bastard made his mark on history, bastards could fare just as well as their luckier brothers (short of inheritance). Geoffrey Plantagenet is the only son of Henry II that stuck with him all the way to the end, even when all his legitimate brothers rebelled. He ended up as Bishop of Lincoln (hotly contested), archbishop of York (also hotly contested) and chancellor of England, though when Henry II died his career took a downward spiral. He was in constant conflict with his brothers and died in exile, a bitter man. After Edward III’s time, illegitimacy began to take on more political overtones, and accusations got bantered about that could potentially add strength to the opposition party. Even Richard II was accused of being a bastard (because his mother’s secret marriage ruined her reputation). It was thought that Prince Edward, son of the unstable Henry VI, was the illegitimate son of Queen Margaret, which added fuel to the Wars of the Roses fire. George, Duke of Clarence was executed after accusing his brother Edward IV of being a bastard. And of course the Princes in the Tower were removed from the royal inheritance by their uncle Richard III.

On the other hand, by the time of Henry VIII (whose father was stained by the curse of illegitimacy on both sides of his family) it looked like the pendulum might swing the other way; if Henry FitzRoy had lived past his teenaged years, it was commonly thought he might be declared heir. And in 1685, the popular son of Charles II, James Duke of Monmouth, made a serious grab at the crown, only to be defeated in battle at Sedgemoor and beheaded two days later. “He was the last royal bastard in England to entertain such ambitions. It is one of those perverse ironies of our history that neither Henry I, who fathered more bastards than any other English king, nor Charles II, who ran him a close second, was able to pass his crown to a legitimate son.” Nonetheless, it makes for great reading!

Inheritance in Medieval England

Source: Wikipedia: Genealogical roll of the kings of England. 1300-1308. Royal 14 B VI Membrane 7 From Henry III to Edward III

Cut-and-dried? Not on your life. Primogeniture, or the “law” governing inheritance, even in its basic form could prove elusive to the most determined lawyer. “Primogeniture among males, equal shares between females, a son always preferred to a daughter, a daughter to a brother or other collateral. For the fief to retain its coherence, it was thus essential that its proprietor, if not childless, should have at least one son or, failing sons, not more than one daughter.” (see K.B. McFarlane’s “The Nobility of Later Medieval England”). Easier said than done! Sorting out the details got messy very quickly.

According to McFarlane, approximately 25% of all noble families failed in the direct male line in every generation. So according to the laws of inheritance, any daughters would be next in line, even if there was a male nephew, for instance, or a surviving brother, known as collateral heirs. When the inheritance went to an heiress, the line would be passed to her husband—an unfortunate outcome, needless to say. A famous example of this was the Beauchamp inheritance. When in 1446 the Earl of Warwick died with no male heir, his lands and title passed on to his daughter who died in infancy; after that the earldom passed on to his full sister, married to Richard Neville who was already Earl of Salisbury—and later known as the Kingmaker. If there were multiple daughters, they would split the inheritance. In the case of Richard Neville, he had no sons—only two daughters, the elder married to George Duke of Clarence and the younger to Richard Duke of Gloucester, the future Richard III. George became next Earl of Warwick through Isabella, then was executed, passing the title to his son Edward Plantagenet. Imprisoned in the Tower of London at age 10, Edward spent the rest of his life there and was executed in 1499, at which point the line became extinct.

If the father had a big family, naturally he would want to take care of younger sons and daughters, notwithstanding the legends of the younger son driven from home to seek his fortune. In the case of royalty, the younger sons often were often made earls, or dukes—and married to an heiress, if possible. And of course there was sometimes a situation where a younger son was preferred over the direct heir. What was a man to do? What’s important to the study of primogeniture is to know that property could not be devised by a will, as we know it today. According to McFarlane, “If a landowner died, his heir inherited; if he wanted to benefit his younger children he had to do it in his own lifetime.” Most people did not want to divest themselves of their lands à la King Lear, so this was not a common option.

Clever aristocrats soon found a way around this restriction: the estate tail. What happened here is that the grantor would surrender his fief as a “conditional gift” to his king, his immediate lord, or a group of friends. Then he would receive it back “on terms different from those governing ordinary inheritance”. He no longer owned the fief in “fee simple” (by definition unconditional); he held it in “fee tail”. This way he could cut out the direct heir, or possibly his daughter in favor of collateral heirs (or any other situation—even bastardy). If women were excluded altogether, or at least until all male descendants were extinct, this estate was called “tail male” or “entail”. The entail was irrevocable and perpetual, even if the principal changed his mind before he died. No one could alter it. However, in the legal interest of the direct heir, entails usually reverted back to the head of the family if there was a total failure of male heirs in the cadet branches after three generations.

Slightly more adaptable was another legal device known as the use.  A man would grant his lands, “or any part of them, to a number of his friends, usually called his feoffees, to hold to his use as long as he lived and to dispose of when he was dead in accordance with his last will.” (McFarlane)  For all intents-and-purposes the grantor was now a tenant for life rather than owner of the estate. The use had the added advantage that an underaged lord who inherited was not subject to a wardship in his minority—hence, it was a bit of a tax dodge, since wardships had a monetary value. A disadvantage was that the feofees had to be trusted implicitly; if they acted fraudulently or in disobedience, there was little established recourse for the wronged party.

By the end of the fourteenth century, “tail male” became ingrained and extended to earldoms as well. An added bonus, by the way, is that an estate held in “fee tail” could not be forfeited for treason. Ultimately this new freedom to bequeath land had its own consequences: too many unsustainable cadet branches weakened the line. Primogeniture reasserted itself around 1500, though many permutations continued to exist.

The Dark Ages: The time of King Arthur. Guest Post by Mary Anne Yarde

Source: Wikipedia

In 1846 William John Thoms, a British writer, penned a letter to The Athenaeum, a British Magazine. In this letter, he talked about “popular antiquities.” But instead of calling it by its common name, he used a new term — folklore.

What did Thoms mean by this new word? Well, let’s break it down. The word folk referred to the rural poor who were for the most part illiterate. Lore means instruction. So folklore means to instruct the poor. But we understand it as verbal storytelling. Forget the wheel  — I think storytelling is what sets us apart. We need stories, we always have and we always will.

The Dark Ages is, I think, one of the most fascinating eras in history. However, it does not come without challenges. This was an era where very little was recorded in Britain. There are only a handful of primary written sources. Unfortunately, these sources are not very reliable. They talk of great kings and terrible battles, but something is missing from them. Something important. And that something is authenticity. The Dark Ages is the time of the bards. It is the time of myths and legends. It is a period like no other. If the Dark Ages had a welcoming sign it would say this:

“Welcome to the land of folklore. Welcome to the land of King Arthur.”

Throughout the years there have been many arguments put forward as to who King Arthur was, what he did, and how he died. England, Scotland, Wales, Brittany and France claim Arthur as their own. Even The Roman Empire had a famous military commander who went by the name of Lucius Artorius Castus. There are so many possibilities. There are so many Arthurs. Over time, these different Arthurs became one. The Roman Artorious gave us the knights. The other countries who have claimed Arthur as their own, gave us the legend.

Source: Wikipedia

We are told that Arthur and his knights cared, for the most part, about the people they represented. Arthur was a good king, the like of which has never been seen before or after. He was the perfect tool for spreading a type of patriotic propaganda and was used to great effect in the centuries that were to follow. Arthur was someone you would want to fight by your side. However, he also gave ordinary people a sense of belonging and hope. He is, after all, as T.H. White so elegantly put it, The Once and Future King. If we believe in the legend, then we are assured that if Britain’s sovereignty is ever threatened, Arthur and his knights will ride again. A wonderful and heartfelt promise. A beautiful prophecy. However, there is another side to these heroic stories. A darker side. Some stories paint Arthur in an altogether different light. Arthur is no hero. He is no friend of the Church. He is no friend to anyone apart from himself. He is arrogant and cruel. Likewise, history tells us that the Roman military commander, Lucius Artorius Castus, chose Rome over his Sarmatian Knights. He betrayed them and watched as Rome slaughtered them all. It is not quite the picture one has in mind when we think of Arthur, is it? It is an interesting paradox and one I find incredibly fascinating.

But putting that aside, Arthur, to many people is a hero. Someone to inspire to. This was certainly true for Edward III. Edward was determined that his reign was going to be as spectacular as Arthur’s was. He believed in the stories of Arthur and his Knights. He had even started to have his very own Round Table built at Windsor Castle. He also founded The Order of the Garter— which is still the highest order of chivalry that the Queen can bestow. Arthur, whether fictional or not, influenced kings.

So how do we separate fact from fiction?

In our search for Arthur, we are digging up folklore, and that is not the same as excavating relics. We have the same problem now as Geoffrey of Monmouth did back in the 12th Century when he compiled The History of the Kings of Briton. His book is now considered a ‘national myth,’ but for centuries his book was considered to be factually correct. So where did Monmouth get these facts? He borrowed from the works of Gildas, Nennuis, Bede, and The Annals of Wales. There was also that mysterious ancient manuscript that he borrowed from Walter, Archdeacon of Oxford. Monmouth then borrowed from the bardic oral tradition. In other words, he listened to the stories of the bards. Add to the mix his own imagination and Monmouth was onto a winner. Those who were critical of his work were brushed aside and ignored. Monmouth made Britain glorious, and he gave us not Arthur the general, but Arthur the King. And what a king he was.

So is Arthur a great lie that for over a thousand years we have all believed in? Should we be taking the Arthurian history books from the historical section and moving them to sit next to George R. R. Martin’s, Game of Thrones? No. I don’t think so. In this instance, folklore has shaped our nation. We should not dismiss folklore out of hand just because it is not an exact science. We should embrace it because when you do, it becomes easier to see the influence these ‘stories’ have had on historical events.

The Du Lac Prophecy

(Book 4 of The Du Lac Chronicles)
By Mary Anne Yarde

Two Prophesies. Two noble Households. One throne.

 Distrust and greed threaten to destroy the House of du Lac. Mordred Pendragon strengthens his hold on Brittany and the surrounding kingdoms while Alan, Mordred’s cousin, embarks on a desperate quest to find Arthur’s lost knights. Without the knights and the relics they hold in trust, they cannot defeat Arthur’s only son – but finding the knights is only half of the battle. Convincing them to fight on the side of the Du Lac’s, their sworn enemy, will not be easy.

 If Alden, King of Cerniw, cannot bring unity there will be no need for Arthur’s knights. With Budic threatening to invade Alden’s Kingdom, Merton putting love before duty, and Garren disappearing to goodness knows where, what hope does Alden have? If Alden cannot get his House in order, Mordred will destroy them all.

BUY LINKS: 

Amazon US
https://www.amazon.com/Du-Lac-Prophecy-Book-Chronicles-ebook/dp/B07GDS3HPJ

Amazon UK
https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07GDS3HPJ/

Amazon CA
https://www.amazon.ca/Du-Lac-Prophecy-Book-Chronicles-ebook/dp/B07GDS3HPJ/

 

Author Bio:
Mary Anne Yarde is the multi award-winning author of the International Bestselling series — The Du Lac Chronicles.

Yarde grew up in the southwest of England, surrounded and influenced by centuries of history and mythology. Glastonbury — the fabled Isle of Avalon — was a mere fifteen-minute drive from her home, and tales of King Arthur and his knights were a part of her childhood.

Media Links:

Website/Blog: https://maryanneyarde.blogspot.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/maryanneyarde/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/maryanneyarde

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Mary-Anne-Yarde/e/B01C1WFATA/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15018472.Mary_Anne_Yarde

Book Review: Nobility of Later Medieval England by K.B. McFarlane

I found another jewel! Author K.B. McFarlane was universally extolled by his fellow historians for his exhaustive scholarship on late Medieval England, but he met an untimely death by stroke in 1966, leaving most of his work unpublished. Fortunately, he gave many lectures and wrote many papers that were gathered by his associates and published complete with footnotes they researched to support the text. We are assured that these essays were not written for publication (he didn’t publish most of his work) and therefore not polished, but I found them quite readable. The amount if information was incredible to me; he discussed—in detail—many topics I only “sort of” understood. The eight sections are as follows:

  1. The English Nobility 1290-1536 (sub-sections include Nobility and War, the Land, the Family, Expenditure, Service and Maintenance, Continuity)
  2. Extinction and Recruitment
  3. The Wars of the Roses and the Financial Position of the Higher Nobility
  4. The Beauchamps and the Staffords
  5. Landlord versus Minister and Tenant
  6. The Education of the Nobility
  7. Had Edward I a ‘Policy’ towards the Earls?
  8. The English Nobility in the Later Middle Ages

This may sound a little dry, but this is the kind of book where you will learn “why” things happened as well as “what”. For instance, he goes into great detail about inheritance and primogeniture. It is a big theme in this book that most great families failed to produce direct heirs to continue the line: “I do not mean they were sterile; in each generation there were as a rule large numbers of children; but few reached manhood, fewer still had male children of their own.” In this quote he is actually referring to the cadet branches; the the same thing applies to the direct heirs. “In 1300 there were 136 families whose head had by then received at least one personal writ of summons to Parliament from Edward I and whose issue can be traced… Of the original 136 only 16 were still represented by a male in 1500.” The rest “had been interrupted by the intervention of an heiress or of several coheiresses”.

When the heirs are female, there is a strong possibility that the estates will be broken up by marriage, and her portion will go to the husband (prime example Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick—Kingmaker—who married into the Beauchamp inheritance). This is one way that great families increased their wealth—at the expense of other families. Also, if the head of the family arranged for the estate to be broken up between younger sons or daughters they went to great lengths to protect the inheritance; this is where we get to entails. “The intention (of the Statute of Westminster the Second 1285) was to ensure that should a man grant lands to his younger sons, or to his daughters in free marriage, these should not be alienated by them until after the third generation; if the line failed before a third heir (i.e. the fourth generation) had entered, then the estate was to revert to the head of the family.” This is just the beginning; it gets more complicated from there! We learn about the many types of inheritances, wills, escheats, extinctions, feoffees, entails, etc. In the end, it all boils down to this: “With minor exceptions the law governing the inheritance of a fief was simple and unambiguous: primogeniture among males, equal shares between females, a son always preferred to a daughter, a daughter to a brother or other collateral (kin).” Of course, as he goes on to say, “It was thus essential that its proprietor, if not childless, should have at least one son or, failing sons, not more than one daughter. Those were difficult conditions to fulfil.”  There is a lot to digest here, and I’m sure it will take another reading or two before I’ve absorbed most of it. It’s a great addition to my library.