Posts Tagged ‘Wars of the Roses’

18
Jul

Guest Post by Helen Cox

   Posted by: Helen Cox    in News

History Matters: Shakespearean Battles at Towton

Helen Cox, author of two excellent books on the Battle of Wakefield, here tells us about her meeting with the Bard at Towton.  We are very grateful to Helen for making this article, which was first published on her blog, Helen Rae Rants!, available to us.  You can find out more about Helen on Herstory Writing & Interpretation.

On Sunday 14th July, history was made again on the battlefield at Towton in North Yorkshire, when the world-renowned Globe Theatre company performed a Shakespearean marathon – all three parts of Henry VI, at the site where some of the action in Part III actually took place in 1461.

I went with some trepidation, I confess; Shakespeare can be hard going, so the prospect of three plays back-to-back, (starting at 12.30 and finishing at 10 pm, with an hour’s break between them), was slightly daunting. However, thanks to Nick Bagnall’s superb direction and an equally superb cast, it was a joy – beautifully interpreted, easy to follow and altogether riveting. I boggled in amazement at what they achieved with imaginative use of a very simple set; no fancy backdrops or painted scenery, just scaffolding towers and a few bits of cloth – but it became everything from the gates of Orleans to Wars of the Roses killing fields to the Tower of London, and much more besides. (You’ll find some pictures of it, and a link to BBC 1′s Breakfast News item about the plays, on the News page of Herstory Writing & Interpretation).

The way the fighting was rendered was also massively impressive. How will they recreate Towton, (a battle where more than 20,000 men are said to have died), with a cast of 14, I’d wondered beforehand. Well, now I know: with the beating of enormous drums, the clash of swords on scaffolding poles, and a handful of actors facing the audience, performing slow-motion, stylised movements with their weapons. It worked beautifully – as did the well-choreographed one-on-one fight scenes that crop up throughout.

Although all the actors were marvellous, Henry VI, played by Graham Butler, was possibly my favourite. I particularly enjoyed his appearance in Part I; as an infant or young child while much of the action takes place, he naturally does not speak; but he was a dominant, silent presence in his central tower, reacting to the dialogue, shrinking in horror from the violence, studying his book or twiddling his thumbs. It was a clever, subtle, very effective way of evoking this hapless king’s character; and sometimes very funny, as when the juvenile Henry reaches down for an important scroll, only to have it whisked away from his groping fingers. Wonderful. But Mary Doherty also played a corking Margaret of Anjou, especially in Part III when she gleefully slays Richard of York. Simon Harrison’s Richard, Duke of Gloucester was another real treat, portrayed as the classic limping, withered-armed hunchback (archaeology has proved that he wasn’t really like that, but the acting had to fit Shakespeare’s script!). And he made a delicious, gloating villain; also very funny, and (not surprising!) warmly received by a Yorkshire crowd.

The performance ended with a sprightly dance on stage and a standing ovation from the audience – and by heck, those actors had earned it. But I wasn’t sorry to go home, because Part III (featuring the Battle of Towton) had given me the heebie-jeebies. As a member of Towton Battlefield Society, I’ve studied, written about and talked about that battle ad infinitum. I’ve ‘met’ some of the battle dead – at least, their poor mutilated skeletons. And as one of the Society’s Wars of the Roses re-enactors, I’ve been on that field (the site of the Lancastrian camp, close to the location of the mass graves made famous by Channel 4′s documentary, Blood Red Roses), at all hours of the day and night. I’ve even slept there on numerous occasions, waiting, hoping, wanting to feel some frisson of atmosphere – but it never really happened until Sunday. Maybe it was listening to the hours of near-contemporary language that did it… for the first time, I felt the full horror of Towton not just intellectually but physically. Yes, it had really happened, right where we were sitting… and as the evening wore on I kept tensing, expecting a rout of exhausted Lancastrians to come panting over the hill, pursued by screaming Yorkists on horseback, cut down and hacked to pieces; expecting to see blood and body parts around my chair; becoming deeply unsettled.

So I have The Globe Theatre to thank for that – not only the most amazing day of drama I’ve ever enjoyed, but the deepest, most poignant connection with the true history I’ve ever experienced on that field. I commend it to you, if you get chance to go; the company are taking it to three more battlefield sites: Tewkesbury on 4th August, St Albans on 8th August and Barnet on 24th August. (It’s also on at various theatres round the country… but it won’t be quite the same indoors!).

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12
Aug

Duchess Anne of Exeter

   Posted by: Judy Howard    in Medieval Miscellany, Medieval People

It is a tradition in the NSW branch that at the August general meeting we have “Scrabble Talks”.  Once a year, members draw Scrabble tiles out of a bag and then prepare a short talk on a topic starting with their letter.  The following is Judy’s talk on ‘Duchess Anne of Exeter’.  This was a particularly fitting, as the day before our meeting was Duchess Anne’s birthday.

Duchess Anne of Exeter

I’ve been allocated the letter ‘A’ for my talk at the August general meeting of the NSW branch, so I would like to tell you about Princess Anne Plantagenet, better known as Duchess Anne of Exeter, who was the eldest sister of Edward IV and Richard III and apparently Edward’s favourite sibling.  You will be familiar with this memorial brass to Anne and her second husband, which I think is the only likeness of her to survive.


Anne’s story is a very good example of a high born woman who became a pawn in the political manoeuvres of her male relatives.  But we can presume she found happiness towards the end of her life.

Anne was born in 1439 and was the eldest surviving child of the Duke of York and Cecily Neville.  She was betrothed in 1445 at the age of 6 years to Henry Holland, who was 15 years old and the son of the Duke of Exeter.  York paid a huge dowry of 4,500 marks, the largest known in late medieval England. Within five years of this, you will recall, was around the time that the King, Henry VI, began showing signs of his illness and the Wars of the Roses was beginning to seriously foment.  It is believed York’s motive in securing the betrothal was partly political and he was hoping for Exeter’s alliance in his attempt to return to France.  It was also a dynastic move as Exeter was the next closest male relative of Henry VI and descended from John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster.  York took the opportunity to combine two great dynasties but in fact, in both personal and political terms, it was a disaster.

Anne and Henry married soon after their betrothal and Henry inherited his father’s titles and land in 1450 and as the Duke of Exeter and became admiral of England, Ireland & Aquitaine and Constable of the Tower of London.  Their first and only child, also called Anne, was born in 1455, and she went on to marry Elizabeth Woodville’s son, Thomas Grey in 1467.  The young Duke of Exeter, Henry, was described as an unappealing character, violent, cruel and lacking in any real experience and was unintelligent – not the makings of a great husband or political ally!!

During York’s Protectorate in 1453 – 54, young Exeter (York’s son-in-law) played a prominent role in the serious breakdown of local law and order and the uncontrollable violence, particularly in Yorkshire which was York’s biggest challenge during his protectorate, seems to have been perpetrated by Exeter himself.  Exeter planned a major uprising in the north and may have even plotted to murder York by luring him to Yorkshire.

It was unlikely that Duchess Anne was able to escape the animosity Exeter felt towards his wife’s father, given his character.  In addition, York defaulted on the later instalments to her dowry, which is understandable but would not have helped the relationships.  Anne did have a child with Exeter in 1455 but we can presume that the marriage broke down soon after.

Exeter was a staunch Lancastrian during the descent into Civil War and he became a very bitter enemy of York and the Nevilles.  Exeter thought, as the King’s closest relative, he was entitled to a prominent role in government and he was not happy when York began to advance his own claims as King Henry’s heir presumptive. As a committed Lancastrian, Exeter joined forces with Somerset, Northumberland and others in opposition, which culminated in the death of York, his son Edmund and brother-in-law Salisbury at Wakefield in 1460.

In 1461 Exeter fought for the Lancastrians at the battles of Blore Heath, Northampton, St Albans and Towton and even though defeated, he continued to be aligned with the Somerset and the other hard-core Lancastrians.  This caused further and continuing difficulties for the new King Edward in his attempts to establish his rule and find a collegiate solution to the regional turmoil caused by the civil war.  Exeter escaped overseas and was attainted by parliament and his estates were granted to his wife – one advantage of being the new King’s sister.  Exeter lived in poverty during his exile until the Duke of Burgundy gave him a modest pension.  But remember that the Duke of Burgundy was soon to become Edward’s brother-in-law when he married Princess Margaret of York.

Anne at this stage was still married to Exeter and was herself the second lady in the land after the King’s mother, Cecily.

Anne, around this time, began a relationship with Sir Thomas St Ledger who became her lover (who could blame her!!).  Thomas was made an esquire of the body to Edward IV and was granted eight manors in Buckinghamshire and Cambridgeshire, including a royal manor, and received a number of other wardships and grants.  Here, and in the granting of Exeter’s estates to her, Anne benefited considerably from being the King’s sister.

Thomas proved to be a loyal member of the King’s household, he resisted Clarence and Warwick in 1469 – 1470 and he even joined Edward in exile in 1470.

But, not to be forgotten, that flea Exeter returned to England and commanded the left wing of Warwick’s army at Barnet in April 1471 and in doing so opposed his 3 brothers-in-law, Edward, Richard & Clarence.  He was seriously wounded on the battlefield but eventually recovered to be imprisoned in the Tower of London.  Anne finally got her divorce from Exeter and she married her lover Thomas St Ledger the next year.

But Exeter was not to be put down so easily, he was released from custody in 1475 to join Edward’s French expedition but on the return journey he drowned in the English Channel, reputedly thrown overboard with the King’s knowledge.  A fitting end for such a despicable character.  I wonder what Anne thought??

Tragically for Anne, though, her daughter with Exeter died the same year.

The next year in 1476, Anne gave birth to a second daughter also called Anne, but unfortunately Duchess Anne herself died, probably in childbirth.  The infant Anne, whose father was Thomas St Ledger, was to marry George Manners and become the Baroness Ros and have two children, one of whom became the 1st Earl of Rutland. This title has remained in their family until today – Duchess Anne and her lover Thomas had established a very successful and long lasting dynasty.

But to continue the story of the people in Duchess Anne’s life:  after Edward’s death in 1483, Anne’s second husband Thomas St Ledger attended Richard III’s coronation but in July of that year he was dismissed from all posts.  He became closely aligned with Thomas Grey, Marquis of Dorset, and a leader in the Buckingham Revolt around Exeter and held out against the royal forces at Bodmin Castle until mid-November.  Thomas St Ledger was executed a few days after.  How sad for Anne, but we do not truly understand the circumstances of this period and cannot understand the extremes of emotion that Edward’s old household felt given the events which followed Edward’s death and Richard’s subsequent coronation.

We also do not know much about Duchess Anne as a person, which is not unusual for women of this period.  However in 1491 her daughter by her second husband Thomas, founded in her honour the Rutland Chapel, as it is now called, in the north transept of St George’s Chapel at Windsor, just down the aisle from Edward IV’s vault.  The memorial brass to Anne and Thomas is on the east wall of this chantry chapel.

The Chantry, although established for her parents, also contains a fine tomb chest and alabaster effigies of Anne junior and her husband George Manners, the 12th Baron Ros.  These effigies are very fine examples of the period. (You can find photographs of these here)

The Rutland Chantry is a beautiful place to visit and is still used regularly for services at St George’s Chapel.  It has some very beautiful new tapestries hanging within, along with some new furniture and today remains a very peaceful place of worship and contemplation.  A fine memorial to Duchess Anne.

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15
Feb

Battle of Towton Commemoration

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in News, News from Other Organizations

With thanks to Helen Cox for alerting us about this event.

The Towton Battlefield Society is planning a commemoration of the Battle of Towton, fought in a snowstorm on Palm Sunday, 29 March 1461.  The battle is considered to have been the biggest, bloodiest and longest battle on English soil.  It was fought between the adherents of Henry VI of the House of Lancaster and those of Edward of the House of York, ending with a Yorkist victory and Edward IV on the throne.

The commemoration will take place on this year’s Palm Sunday, 1 April 2012.  It will be a full day event, from 10h00 to 16h00, however, guided walks will be starting from 9h30.  The walks cover a distance of 4 miles (stout footwear is required) and will start every 15 minutes until 10h45.

There will also be a living history camp or you can look at – and be tempted to buy from! – craft stalls.  To make the battle come alive there will be combat demonstrations.  And at 13h00 visitors have the opportunity to attend a  memorial service.

This promises to be fun for the whole family.  And we hope for the organisers of this event and everyone who is involved that the weather will not be too evocative of that bloody battle fought 551 years ago!

Below is  copy of the poster for this event.  If you think you might be attending, let me know and I will get the press release for you, which should come out in March.

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12
Oct

The Lady of the Rivers

   Posted by: Julia Redlich    in Bookworm

The Lady of the Rivers

Book Review:  The Lady of the Rivers

Philippa Gregory, The Lady of the Rivers, Simon & Schuster.  ISBN HB 978-1-84737-59-2.

This is the third novel in The Cousins’ War series, examining the woman who became the mother of Elizabeth Woodville.  Her importance became evident to the author as she wrote The White Queen, and as we have seen in her previous books, Gregory can focus on the women in history who are frequently placed several places in the rear while men take centre stage, but whose impact on history in enormous.

The story of the young Princess Jacquetta of Luxembourg opens with her recognition of the skills inherited by some of the women in her family thanks to their descent from the water goddess, Melusine.  A few years later she marries John, the great Duke of Bedford, who admits her to his secret world of alchemy and learning and, in England, she soon realises the difficulties she will have to face: not just a new language to learn, but to meet a young, easily led king, his ambitious relatives and confront the jealousy of Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester.  And it is the witchcraft trial, hideous deaths of accomplices and incarceration of Eleanor that is a warning of what Jacquetta herself might have to face if she cannot hide her own gifts. Read the rest of this entry »

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3
Aug

Queen by Right

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Bookworm

Queen by Right

Book Review:  Queen by Right

Anne Easter Smith, Queen by Right.  Touchstone, New York, 2011.  ISBN 9781416550471 (paperback)

The queen of the title of Anne Easter Smith’s latest novel is Cecily Neville, the mother of Edward IV and Richard III.  Many readers of historical fiction will shared the experiences of  her sons in novels, but this has been much less the case for Cecily.  And after meeting Anne Easter Smith’s Cecily I can only wonder why.

Queen by Right covers Cecily’s life from 1423, when she is eight years old, until her son Edward’s coronation in June 1461.  And while the events of the remaining 34 years of Cecily’s life would easily provide enough material for at least one other novel, I welcome her decision to limit this one to the earlier – and at least for me – less well-known period. Read the rest of this entry »

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2
May

Walk Wakefield 1460

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Bookworm, Ricardian Places

Walk Wakefield 1460

Book Review:  Walk Wakefield 1460  – today

Helen Cox, Walk Wakefield 1460:  A Visitor Guide to Battle-Related Sites.  Herstory Writing & Interpretation/York Publishing Services, 2011.  ISBN 978 0 9565768 1 1 (available from YPD Books)

I finally received my copy of Walk Wakefield 1460 by Helen Cox.  The subtitle, ‘A Visitor Guide to Battle-Related Sites’, gives a clear indication as to the purpose of the book.  If you have read Helen’s excellent The Battle of Wakefield Revisited and now want to explore where the action took place, this little book is a must.

Helen gives short overviews of the individual battles (Worksop and Wakefield), but the aim is to identify the sites that a visitor today can see.  This is of particular interest for Sandal Castle and Pontefract Castle, where only ruins remain.  She explains clearly which part of the castle the wall fragments come from and what the purpose of the various features was.

She also provides valuable information on opening hours as well as addresses for further information.  Also included are directions on how to get to the places by car or foot.  The book is well illustrated with pictures of the sites as well as maps showing them in today’s landscape (in the case of Wakefield this can be compared to a map showing the outlay in the 15th century).

If you are planning to visit Yorkshire, I can only recommend Walk Wakefield 1460.  I can hardly wait to get a chance to visit the sites to which Helen takes us.

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27
Apr

The Launch of ‘Walk Wakefield 1460’

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in News

The long awaited launch of Helen Cox’s follow-up to The Battle of Wakefield Revisited took place on 19 March 2011 at Waterstone’s Booksellers in Wakefield.

In Walk Wakefield 1460 Helen is our guide to all the sites connected with the battle.   The book contains a brief history, directions to the sites (including maps), and up-to-date information on opening times and admission charges for visiting.

Helen Cox and her husband Mick Doggett at the launch of Walk Wakefield 1460 (photograph © Mike Wilson)

Helen reported that there was a good turnout for the launch and was particuly happy to see some who had travelled long distance to attend, like a Battlefield Society member from Preston in Lancashire, and a Richard III Society member from Beverley in East Yorkshire.  Some people bought copies of both Wakefield Revisited and Walk Wakefield. Read the rest of this entry »

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26
Apr

The April General Meeting

   Posted by: Julia Redlich    in Meetings

The speaker at our meeting on April 9 was Dorothea Preis, whose report on the “Blood and Roses” special interest weekend held at Christ Church College, Oxford, at the end of March features elsewhere on our website. Luckily for those many members attending we heard about the enlightening papers in much more detail and enjoyed the excellent choice of illustrations and photographs that brought the weekend to colourful life.  When it comes to colour, I suspect most of us were green with envy at what was obviously a time of special interest to Ricardians and Dorothea’s good fortune in participating and meeting other Ricardians from the USA, Canada and the UK. Read the rest of this entry »

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4
Apr

Blood and Roses – Special Interest Weekend

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in News

Recently I had the pleasure to attend the Special Interest Weekend on ‘Blood and Roses:  England 1450 – 1485’, which took place at Christ Church College Oxford from 24 to 27 March 2011.  This is the eighth Special Interest Weekend Christ Church is hosting, past events included a variety of topics.

A group of overseas Ricardians – US, Canada and Australia – who had arrived early, met on the Wednesday evening prior to the official start for a highly enjoyable pub crawl and dinner at The Trout.  A big thank-you goes to Dave for organising this.  It was great that Christine, a Ricardian from Stroud in Gloucestershire, could join us for the evening.  Wherever Ricardians meet you can be sure they will have a lot to talk about and enjoy themselves. Read the rest of this entry »

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9
Mar

Walk the Wakefield Battlesite with Helen Cox

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Bookworm

Helen Cox, Walk Wakefield 1460: A Visitor Guide to Battle-Related Sites, YPD Books, 2011, ISBN  978-0-9565768-1-1

We all know Helen Cox from her fascinating analysis of the Battle of Wakefield

This new book will be essential reading if you plan to visit the site of this decisive battle in the Wars of the Roses,  or are just interested in seeing the historical setting in today’s geography.  Both are aspects which interest me, so Walk Wakefield 1460 has top place on my wish list.

This new book covers the campaign of the winter of 1460, from its opening skirmish at Worksop to the grisly aftermath in York, through sites connected with the battle.  Each section of the concise illustrated guide features a brief history, directions to the sites (including maps), and up-to-date information on opening times and admission charges for visiting.  The sites covered are:

Worksop Priory & Castle
Sandal Castle
Duke of York’s Monument
The Battlefield at Wakefield Green
St Mary’s Chantry Chapel
Pontefract Castle
Micklegate Bar & York City Walls

The book will be launched at Waterstones Booksellers, The Ridings Shopping Centre, Wakefield, on Saturday 19 March 2011, from 11h00 -13h00.  What a pity, this is just before my trip to the UK to attend the Blood and Roses Weekend in Oxford.  Should you be in the area though, I am sure Helen would be delighted to see you and sign a copy for you.

You can also get signed copies of both Helen’s books at the Friends of Sandal Castle Open Meeting at Sandal Castle Visitor Centre on Saturday, 26  March, when she will be speaking alongside popular author Keith Souter on ‘Sandal Castle in Fact and Fiction’.

And for all those who cannot be there, we can order this publication from YPD Books.

Watch this space for more news after the launch!

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