Henry The Young King: Part One.

When asked about the sons of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, the two that are most often remembered are Richard the Lionheart and John, the two that lived to be kings after their father’s death. Henry and Eleanor had five sons though. The first William, died in infancy and the third Geoffrey was Duke of Brittany and died in a tournament in 1186. It was his son, Arthur, who was King John’s rival claimant to the throne of England. There was another son though, one who too often is forgotten in the annals of history. Henry was their second son, he was heir to the Plantagenet empire that Henry II and Eleanor had built and he was crowned during his father’s lifetime, a continental custom, so he was a king in his own right. He died, however, in 1183 at the age of 28 and as time went on his story was eclipsed by his younger brothers.

I first came upon Henry the Young King, as he came to be known, when I was researching William Marshal, as Marshal began his career in the royal household as Young Henry’s tutor in arms and effectively the captain of his knights (Marshal will be elucidated later in this post). The post is not going to uncover anything new about the life of Henry, there was an excellent biography written about Henry in 2016 by Matthew Strickland if you would like more information. However, as this is a blog of the odds and ends of history and for better or for worse Henry’s story has fallen a little into the cracks, I thought it was worth telling.

There aren’t really any contemporary images of Henry. His effigy in Rouen Cathedral is not contemporary, and most examples of his great seal are damaged.

Even on his effigy he is described in terms of others- the latin inscription says he was the brother of the lionheart- the inscription is not contemporary.

He was described by one of his chaplains Gervase of Tilbury as

He was tall in stature, and distinguished in appearance; his face expressed merriment and mature judgment in due measure; fair among the children of men, he was courteous and cheerful. Gracious to all, he was loved by all; amiable to all, he was incapable of making an enemy. He was matchless in warfare, and as he surpassed all others in the grace of his person, so he outstripped them all in valour, cordiality, and the outstanding graciousness of his manner, in his generosity and in his true integrity. In short, in this man, God assembled every kind of goodness and virtue, and the gifts which fortune usually bestows on single individuals of special distinction, she exerted herself to give all together and in richer measure to this man, so as to make him worthy of all commendation.

This description obviously has to be taken with a bucketful of salt as Gervase was definitely biased. Depending on which chroniclers you read Young Henry was either the hard done by heart of chivalry- though chivalry is not a contemporary term – or an ungrateful spendthrift who rose up in rebellion against his father unnecessarily, and incited incendiary war. As with most things in history the truth is probably somewhere in between. This post can not possibly cover his entire life, so I am going to focus on the key moments, in a series of vignettes. This is part one of two and will cover Young Henry up to his rebellion against Henry II. Part two will cover the last ten years of his life, his time on the tournament circuit and his death- which is an interesting story in and of itself.

Young Henry was born in 1155 in London, not long after his father was crowned King of England. It was a time of hope and relative peace after the bitter years of civil war known as the Period of Anarchy. He was baptised by the Bishop of London, and when Henry II had his barons swear fealty to his oldest son William in April 1155, he also had them swear to Young Henry if William died prematurely. Henry II had come to the throne at the end of a brutal dynastic war, so he was shoring up his succession. William died in 1156 and was buried with his great grandfather Henry I in Reading Abby, he was only 3. So Young Henry became the heir to the Plantagenet Empire.

The next key vignette was Young Henry’s marriage. This might feel like I’m jumping a bit far into his lifetime, but in fact we’re only looking at 1158. In 1158 discussions began about betrothing Young Henry, now three, to Margaret the one year old daughter of Louis VII the King of France. Betrothing children this young wasn’t that unusual. It actually had little to do with the children themselves and more to do with agreements over land and alliances. In this case it was stipulated that if Young Henry died, one of his brothers could be substituted. The two children were betrothed in c. 1160. The agreement was only intended to be a betrothal, as far as Louis VII was concerned, but Henry II wanted the land that came as part of Margaret’s dowry as well as being concerned with Louis’ new marriage (in case he produced a son), so he had the two children married in November 1160. Roger of Hoveden described the marriage as Henry, king of England, caused his son Henry to be married to Margaret, the daughter of the king of France, although they were as yet but little children, crying in the cradle. Roger of Hoveden goes on to say that Louis was indignant. There was little he could do about it though and peace was eventually restored by 1161.

Being married this young was actually very unusual, as marriage was somewhat of a rite of passage, but nevertheless Young Henry was a husband by the time he was five. Margaret was raised in Henry II’s court, though not necessarily with Young Henry. The children would still have known each-other growing up.

Young Henry’s childhood is interesting, though there is not a great deal of detail known. It is worth noting that in 1162 he was placed in the household of Thomas Becket, who would later become Archbishop of Canterbury. This was a sign of high favour to Becket, and Young Henry would have grown up in Becket’s household, which was well known for its pomp, ceremony and extravagance with Beckett at its centre. Henry II on the other hand was known to be careless of his appearance and the quality of his food and wine, though he was conscious of the importance of ceremony and symbolism. This early environment, may have had an effect on Young Henry’s behaviour in later life. Becket would later infamously fall out with Henry II and was martyred in 1170.

The site of Thomas Becket’s martyrdom in Canterbury Cathedral.

I’m now going to jump forward to Young Henry’s coronation, also in 1170. It wasn’t an English custom to crown the heir in the father’s lifetime, but Henry II wanted to be very sure to shore up his succession. Young Henry was no longer a child, he was fifteen, and would have had his own household by this point. By now Thomas Becket and Henry II were at odds, this is pre Becket’s martyrdom, so he wouldn’t crown Young Henry as he’d exiled himself from England. This was an issue because the Archbishop of Canterbury crowning the King was an important part of the conferment of sovereignty, and the legitimacy of the coronation. After much back and forth and strife between Henry II and Thomas Becket in the end Roger the Archbishop of York crowned Young Henry in Westminster in July 1170. The Pope forbade the coronation in a letter to the bishops and archbishops of England saying We forbid you all by our apostolic authority , from crowning the new king, if the case shall occur without the consent of the archbishop and the church of Canterbury, nor shall any of you put forth his hand, contrary to the ancient customs and dignity of the church, or in any way forward the coronation aforesaid. The letter was too late as Young Henry had already been crowned. There isn’t a contemporary description of the detail of the coronation, but from descriptions of other coronations such as Richard I’s, it would have been full of ritual and ceremony. Roger of Hovden described it as He himself caused the above-named Henry, his son, to be crowned and consecrated king at Westminster, by Roger, Archbishop of York, who was assisted in this duty by Hugh bishop of Durham, Walter, bishop of Rochester, Gilbert, bishop of London, and Jocelyn, bishop of Salisbury ; no mention whatever being made of the blessed Thomas, archbishop of Canterbury, to whom by right of his see the coronation and consecration belonged. You can see Westminster Abbey in the photo below.

After the coronation a grand banquet was held in the next door Westminster Hall- it had been built by Henry II’s great uncle William Rufus and was one of the largest freestanding halls in Europe. You can see it in the photos below.

There is a story from the coronation banquet, which may or may not be true but is interesting regardless. The story is that Henry II served his son personally at table to honour him (even though it could have been seen as demeaning of his kingship), Young Henry is then said to have commented that it was quite normal for the son of a count to serve the son of a king. This would have been seen as an enormous slight on Henry II’s authority as the King. It’s probable that Young Henry never said this, it is also possible that Henry II never served him directly, as most of the accounts are from later sources seeking to denigrate Henry II. What’s interesting though is that the story survived, and you can see how it is building a narrative of the diminished authority of Henry II and the flippancy of Young Henry. You can see an early 13th century depiction of the scene and the coronation in the image below. It comes from a life of Thomas Becket.

Once Henry had been crowned he was, in theory, invested with the same authority as his father. Henry II went on to have most of his barons swear to Henry Roger of Hoveden described it as The day after this coronation, the king, his father, made William, king of the Scots, and David, his brother, and the earls and barons of the kingdom, pay homage to the new king, and swear ‘fealty to him against all men, saving their fealty to himself.

The History of William Marshal described this decision as once the deed that been done, many a day afterwards that he would have readily undone it.

The problem from here on in, was the theory and the practice of the authority of a king. Henry II may have given Young Henry a crown in his lifetime, but he didn’t give him any actual authority. The Plantagenet Empire stretched across England and a lot of what is now France, and while Henry II had made his son a king, the crown didn’t result in any lands to rule or administer independently. You can see a map of the Plantagenet Empire at its height in c.1188 in the image below.

The Welsh Chronicle the Brut y tywysogion encapsulated the problem perfectly when it said In that interval, when king Henry the eldest was beyond the sea, his son Henry the younger, the new king, came to him to enquire what he ought to do; for since he was a king he had many knights, and he had no means of rewarding those knights with presents and gifts, unless he received a loan from his father; and this was in the time of Lent. And his father said to him that he would give him twenty pounds a day, of the money of that country, for expenditure and that he should not have more. And he said that he had never heard of a king being a man on pay, or under wages and that neither would he be. After the son has taken advice, he went to the city of Tours, to obtain money on loan from the burgesses of the city; and when the king heard that, he sent messengers to the burgesses to forbid them under the pain of losing all their property, to lend anything to his son. And without delay he sent trust men to watch his son lest he go anywhere without notice.

So essentially Young Henry was a king without a kingdom. This was the core of the reasons that led to my next vignette; Young Henry’s rebellion against his father.

In 1173 Young Henry rose up against his father Henry II. He escaped from his father’s watch at Chinon and rode for Chartres when he knew his father in law Louis VII was in residence. You can see Chartres Cathedral in the photo below.

His flight had been somewhat precipitous though, as it took his allies, including his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine, his brothers Richard and Geoffrey, Louis VII, and various French and English barons by surprise. It was none the less a formidable coalition facing Henry II. There was one very unusual factor about this rebellion, Eleanor of Aquitaine. While sons rebelling against their fathers was not unheard of in this period and there had been other rebellions by Henry II’s barons already, a rebellion partly instigated by a queen was almost unheard of. But then Eleanor of Aquitaine was definitely a woman who stood outside the norm for her time. She’s one of my favourite historical figures but I won’t go into detail about her here. I have written about her before and you can see that post here. You can see Eleanor’s effigy from Fontevraud Abbey in the photo below.

Henry II’s other sons rebelled for similar reasons to Young Henry, he wouldn’t share authority. They were given then trappings of power rather than any actual ability to exercise it, and in many ways were supplicants to their father the same way Young Henry was.

So at the age of 18 Young Henry was a king and undertaking a rebellion against his father. As a rebellion it began promisingly enough with Roger of Hoveden hyperbolically stating:

The whole of the kingdom of France, and the king, the son of the king of England, Richard his brother, earl of Poitou, and Geoffrey, earl of Bretagne, and nearly all the earls and barons of England, Normandy, Aquitaine, Anjou, and Brittany, arose against the king of England the father, and laid waste his lands on every side with fire, sword, and rapine : they also laid siege to his castles, and took them by storm, and there was no one to relieve them.

Hoveden continued on to compare the rebellion to a prophecy of Merlin’s

The cubs shall awake and shall roar aloud, and, leaving the woods, shall seek their prey within the walls of the cities ; among those who shall be in their way they shall make great carnage, and shall tear out the tongues of bulls. The necks of them as they roar aloud they shall load with chains, and shall thus renew the times of their forefathers

Henry II was beset on all sides and Young Henry was in the middle of it all.

The beginning of Young Henry’s rebellion, marked another milestone, his knighthood. Ordinarily Young Henry would have been knighted before his coronation, and although there is no record of it occurring, normally we would assume that he would have been knighted as a key part of his transition to manhood. In this case though, we have a relatively contemporary source which tells a different story. The History of William Marshal is a near contemporary biography of William Marshal, (who I mentioned at the beginning of this post). Marshal was one of the key figures throughout this period. He was born the fourth son of a not hierarchically important baron, and rose to become Regent of England by his death in 1219. He served five kings, but he began his career in Young Henry’s household. You can see Marshal’s effigy in the photos below.

So the History records Marshal knighting Young Henry in 1173 as he is about to take up arms against his father at the head of a large force. “But there is this, my dear lord,” they said: “you have still not been knighted, and that is not to everyone’s liking, we feel. We would all be a more effective force if you had a sword girded on; that would make the whole of your company, more valorous and more respected, and would increase the joy in their hearts.” The young King replied: “I will willingly do that, and I can tell you that the best knight who ever was or will be, or has done more or who is to do more, will gird on my sword, if God please.” At this the sword was brought before the King, and, once he had it in his hand, he went straight up to the Marshal, brave man that he was, and said to him: “From God and from yourself, My lord, I wish to receive this honour.” The Marshal had no wish to refuse him; he gladly girded on his sword and kissed him, whereupon he became a knight, and he asked that God keep him most valerous, honoured and exalted, as indeed he did.”

Now the History is very biased towards Marshal, but it is unlikely that it would put this story front and centre, if it was completely untrue. Therefore it is most likely that Marshal knighted Young Henry, an important step on Young Henry road to manhood and military leader.

Young Henry’s rebellion started promisingly, and the fighting continued, with neither side really gaining the upper hand. Henry II sued for peace at the end of 1173 offering his sons lands. Roger of Hoveden records that he offered Young Henry: a moiety of the revenues of his demesnes in England, and four fitting castles in the same territory ; or, if his son should prefer to remain in Normandy, the king, the father, offered a moiety of the revenues of Normandy, and all the revenues of the lands that were his father’s, the earl of Anjou, and three convenient castles in Normandy, and one fitting castle in Anjou, one fitting castle in Maine, and one fitting castle in Touraine

It could be argued if Henry II had made this offer before the rebellion Young Henry may have rebelled. It was not enough however, Henry II’s offer was spurned and the fighting continued. It looked like the rebels might have been successful, but Henry II was a formidable military commander and with some luck and, according to the church, intercession from Thomas Becket who was a saint by this point, Henry II prevailed by late 1174.

The History was written in the early 1200s under the reign of Henry III, Henry II’s grandson, so it does not dress up the rebellion as desirable. The spin it put on it however, is that Young Henry was badly advised saying “Dear lord, you should not show your anger to your son or those in his company, but to those who advised him to act as he did. The ones to suffer for it should be those who advised him to turn traitor, and they should be considered more base for what they did.” This is the picture that is often painted of Young Henry, easily led. It seems that Henry II took this advice as he forgave his sons and most of the rebels eventually. The exception was his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, who remained his prisoner (in reasonably salubrious circumstances) for 16 years until his death in 1189.

To return to Young Henry though. After his rebellion failed in 1174, he stayed with his father in England for more than a year. The History records when he got sick of this saying So, the young King Henry, who did not find it the slightest bit amusing to be so long confined in England, acted upon the advice and counsel of his companion and approached his father, a man who loved him very dearly. He said “if it did not incur your displeasure, it would be most welcome and pleased to me to go over the Channel for my sport, for it could be a source of much harm to me to stay idle for so long, and I am extremely vexed by it. I am no bird to be mewed up; a young man who does not travel around could never aspire to any worthwhile thing, and he should be regarded as of no account.”

So Young Henry, with his father’s permission, travelled with his knights, including William Marshal, to the continent where he commenced his time on the tournament circuit. This brings me to my next vignette; the young king’s career on the tournament field. And that is where I will begin part two of this post, which will deal with the last ten years of Henry’s life, his time on the tournament field and his death at the age of only 28. I’ll leave part one with an image from Matthew Paris’ Historia Anglorum from the mid 13th century that depicts Henry the Young King in a little archway between Henry II and Richard I. You can see the close up of Henry in the first image, then the whole page in the second. See you soon for part 2.

This is the link to explore the whole book http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=royal_ms_14_c_vii_f008v

References:

Anonymous. History of William Marshal. (ed.) AJ. Holden. (trans.) S. Gregory & (notes.) David Crouch, Volumes I, II & III. London: Anglo-Norman Text Society. 2002.

Aurell, Martin. The Plantagenet Empire 1154-1224. (trans.) David Crouch. Harlow: Pearson Education. 2007.

Strickland, Matthew. Henry The Young King 1155-1183. New Haven: Yale University Press. 2016

https://archive.org/details/flowershistorye03parigoog/page/n75/mode/2up

https://historicalragbag.com/2014/11/14/marriage-alliances-of-noble-women-1180-1250-part-2-eleanor-of-aquitiane/

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:The_Becket_Leaves_(c.1220-1240)_-_BL_Loan_MS_88#/media/File:Coronation_of_Henry_the_Young_King_-_Becket_Leaves_(c.1220-1240),_f._3r_-_BL_Loan_MS_88.jpg

http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Royal_MS_14_c_vii

https://archive.org/details/brutytywysogiono00cara/page/220/mode/2up

The photos that aren’t medieval manuscripts are all mine.

The Basilica of Saint Denis and the Kings and Queens of France

My post on the burial places of the kings and queens of England has been the most popular post I have ever written. This is despite the fact that, although I visited all the sites, I was not allowed to take photos in either St Georges Chapel in Windsor or Westminster Abbey where the majority of them are buried. With this in mind and from a desire to write about something that has absolutely nothing to do with COVID, I thought I’d have a look at the Basilica of Saint Denis- the burial place of most of the Kings of France. Now unfortunately I don’t have all my research material with me at the moment, so rather than an examination of each monarch, I’m going to look at the church itself and highlight some of the more interesting monuments. Saint Denis gets overlooked for the more popular Notre Dame by most people visiting Paris, but for my money it is the more interesting church, even before Notre Dame burnt down. It is pretty spectacular; inside and out:

I wanted to start by looking at what makes the church a basilica rather than just a church. The title of basilica is granted by the Vatican, but it can also be the style of the church. In the case of Saint Denis it is old enough that the designation of basilica dates back to 5th century, when it was given the label because it had a floor plan that was the same as a Roman civic building, that is three naves that were used for administration of justice. Although the church was significantly rebuilt by Abbot Suger in the 12th century the designation remained. Typically of a basilica Saint Denis is built on the bones of a saint, was a key site for pilgrimage and became the centre of a town. Saint Denis might now be in Paris, but it definitely wasn’t when it was built and the town of Saint Denis sprang up around it. In 1966 the church was given cathedral status as the seat of the diocese of Saint Denis.

So, regardless of whether you call it a church, a basilica or a cathedral, Saint Denis is very old. The first church on the site built in the 5th century would have been part of a wider abbey and is thought to have been built on a Roman church yard, where the bones of Saint Denis were buried. It was extensively rebuilt under the Norman rule and in the 12th century Abbot Suger remodelled it to the gothic masterpiece you see today. However, not all of it is original. While it was added to over the centuries, especially under Louis IX in the 13th century, over the years in began to fall into disrepair. By the French Revolution, it became a symbol of the power of kings, and was thus badly damaged. The lead from the roof was melted down and some of the royal tombs were destroyed. The remains of the kings and queens were removed and mixed with lime and thrown in a mass grave, but many of the monuments on the royal tombs were preserved for the new national museum. The church was then used as a warehouse. French writer François-René de Chateaubriand in his work Génie du Christianisme, described this ruin: “Saint-Denis is deserted. Birds fly in and out, grass grows on its smashed altars and all one can hear is the dripping of water through its open roof”. Restoration began under Napoleon who thought about being buried there and restoring a line of emperors, and then when the monarchy was restored, for a short period of time anyway, restoration continued. The royal tombs were resorted to the church in the 19th century, in what was at least close to their original positions. Over the 19th century Saint Denis became a trialing ground for conservation and restoration, a process that has in some ways continued to the present day. The most recent restoration was the facade which took place between 2012 and 2015. Although not all that you see is original, this is a building that is at the heart of the history of France and its patchwork reflects the chequered history of its country. You can see what it would have looked like as an abbey in the photo below.

That is a bit of a background to the church itself. I would now like to turn to some of the kings and queens who were buried there. This post is not going to go into immense detail about every monarch interred in Saint Denis, but I will have a look at some of them. To begin though, how did Saint Denis become the burial place for the Kings and Queens of France? It wasn’t until the 10th century that it became the key site for royal burial. Up until this point Saint Denis was competing with several other cemeteries. Royal burials were popular because they attracted visitors and in some cases pilgrims, which brought in revenue for the religious institutions where the member of the royal family was buried. They were also more likely to receive largess for other members of the family. When the Capetians ascended the throne at the end of the 10th century, they made Saint Denis their royal necropolis, and from then on most kings and queens were buried there until the 19th century- though there were of course exceptions.

There’s simply too many royal burials at Saint Denis to examine each of them. During the period of time it was used as the royal necropolis 42 kings, 32 queens, 63 princes and princesses and 10 men of the kingdom were interred there. Today there are just over 70 effigies and monumental tombs in Saint Denis. One day I might revisit this, and look at the burial places of the all the Kings and Queens of France. But at the moment I’m going to explore a few.

I want to begin with the end. Louis XVIII was the last king to be interred in Saint Denis. Starting at the end might seem like an odd way to tell this story, but in many ways he exemplifies Saint Denis as a royal necropolis as he worked to restore it as a symbol of the monarchy. Louis XVIII was Louis XVI’s younger brother and once Louis XVI was executed, he declared himself regent to his nephew and then when his nephew died he declared himself Louis XVIII in 1795. Now as this was in the middle of the French Revolution-the declaration was somewhat of a moot point. Louis wandered around Europe for a bit, but he did eventually manage to become King of France (actually residing in the country) in 1814 and was the last monarch to be interred in Saint Denis. You can see his grave in the image below.

I want to continue with the king and queen who are, arguably, the best known of the French monarchy, and are inextricably linked to Louis XVIII. Louis XVI and Marie Antionette. There are two monuments to them in the church. You can see both in the photos below.

Neither of the effigies are contemporary. The black graves are where the remains of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were reinterred by Louis XVIII. The other statue was completed in c.1830 at the behest of Louis XVIII. It shows Louis XVI and Marie Antionette in prayer- most likely as a way of rehabilitating the monarchy and tracing Louis XVIII back to them- legitimising his claim to the throne. As people and monarchs in their own rights hundreds of books have been written, movies have been made and the story of French Revolution told and told again. I’m not intending to retell their stories in this post (it would make it incredibly long for one thing). I will say one thing. Marie Antionette does receive a fair amount of flack in popular culture for being a Queen so completely divorced from the fate of her people that when they ran out of bread she famously said “let them eat cake.” Like most famous sayings, it didn’t happen. There is absolutely no evidence that she ever said it. It wasn’t attributed to her until 50 years after her death; and was applied tongue in cheek more generally for out of touch monarchs. I will leave my discussion of Marie Antionette and Louis XVI there, except to say that Louis was executed first on the 21st of January 1793 and Marie Antionette on the 16th of October 1793. They probably weren’t the worst monarchs France had ever had, but their idea of monarchy could not stand up against the changing times.

So I started at the end, now I’m going to go back to the start Saint Denis and Dagobert.

In the crypt of Saint Denis are remains of the structures that would have been below the site of the church- this is roughly where the tomb of Saint Denis would have been. Saint Denis was possibly the first Bishop of Paris, he was martyred in c.285 CE and is the patron saint of France. You can see the archaeological tombs in the photo below.

The other beginning at Saint Denis is Dagobert- the first French King to be interred in the church. You can see the monument to him in the photo below

It’s not contemporary and was constructed in the 13th century, but it depicts the king’s soul making its way through the afterlife. Due to his transgressions towards the church, he appropriated quite a lot of church property, he is first sent to hell but in the top panel you can see Saint Denis, Saint Martin and Saint Maurice seizing his soul from the hands of the demons and taking it off to paradise. His recumbent effigy is facing where the relics of Saint Denis would have been, showing Saint Denis as the protector of the monarchy. Dagobert himself, was an interesting figure. He was buried in Saint Denis in 639 CE and actually technically wasn’t a King of France, mainly because France as we know it today didn’t exist. The Kingdom of the Franks was a loosely held together group of smaller territories most of which are included in what we would now consider to be France. Dagobert inherited a partly held together kingdom from his father Chlotar II, Chlotar had pulled together Burgundy and Austrasia (Austrasia covered what we would now see as north eastern France, Belgium and parts of Western and Central Germany). Dagobert managed to hold this together and called himself King of the Franks from 629 until his death in 639, he pre dates Charlemagne who was the first king to hold the majority of what is now France. For our purposes the most interesting thing Dagobert did was be the first king to decide to be buried at Saint Denis. The church was already sacred, because it held the relics of Saint Denis, but Dagobert’s decision put the church on the path to becoming the necropolis of the French monarchy and Saint Denis on the path to being the protector of the royal family.

So those are our book ends. The first and the last kings to be interred in Saint Denis. I thought I would include a king somewhere in the middle- who was also responsible for much of the 13th century work on Saint Denis that you see today. Louis IX is someone I’ve written about before- in passing mainly in relation of Angers, but I want to discuss him briefly here. His effigy has not survived in Saint Denis, though the effigies of two of his children who died in infancy have, and they’re very rare examples of metal tombs. You can see them in the photo below.

Louis IX actually died in Tunis on crusade in 1270 and the flesh was boiled from his bones so they could be sent back to be interred in Saint Denis (this was not an unusual occurrence) his relics didn’t arrive back in Paris until 1271. Louis IX didn’t only refashion Saint Denis, he also collected holy relics including (apparently) a piece of the crown of thorns and a piece of the true cross and his personal chapel Sainte-Chappelle in Paris is a true jewel-box of medieval architecture (you can see it in the photo below)

Louis IX came to the throne at the age of 11, and his mother Blanche of Castille ruled as regent for his minority, she was the grand daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine. He married Margaret of Provence, whose sister Eleanor of Provence was married to Henry III of England so there was a close relationship between the two royal families. Louis was a pious, but strong king and France held an important place on the European stage during his reign. He led two crusades, somewhat successfully, and expanded the inquisition, so as far as the church was concerned he was an excellent king, he was supported by the people of France as well and they canonised him unofficially after his death in 1270. He was officially canonised by Pope Boniface in 1297 in the reign of his grandson Philip IV, partly in attempt to appease Philip in the ongoing conflict between the papacy and the French king. Philip IV was interred in Saint Denis, and his son Charles IV had his effigy constructed in c. 1327. You can see it on the far left in the photo below.

So that brings me to the end of my discussion of Saint Denis and some of the kings interred within. One day I might come back and write a post more specifically about the Kings and Queens of France, but for now I hope this post has given you some insight into a magnificent church and its funeral monuments. I’m going to conclude with some final photos of some of the monuments I haven’t discussed but will hopefully one day return to.

References:

Site visit 2012

Saint Denis Basilica Cathedral booklet

France in the Middle Ages 987-1460 by Georges Duby

http://www.saint-denis-basilique.fr/en/Explore/History-of-the-monument

https://uk.tourisme93.com/basilica/recumbent-statues.html

https://uk.tourisme93.com/basilica/tomb-of-dagobert.html

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Denis

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Merovingian-dynasty

https://www.britannica.com/place/France/The-failure-of-reunification-613-714#ref237300

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Dagobert-I

https://www.britannica.com/place/Austrasia

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Louis-IX

https://uk.tourisme93.com/basilica/philippe-iv-le-bel.html

https://study.com/academy/lesson/basilica-of-st-denis-architecture-history.html

http://www.gcatholic.org/churches/data/basFR.htm

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Louis-XVIII

https://www.britannica.com/story/did-marie-antoinette-really-say-let-them-eat-cake

The photos are all mine

Glendalough

Glendalough, is a name to conjure with. Standing in County Wicklow, it is an amazingly intact example of a scholastic form of Christianity that grew in Ireland, centred around remote communities, where a simple life was lived and learning was at its core. It is by no means the only such site remaining. The bigger, showier Clonmacnoise sometimes gets more of the attention, but in its remote and quiet beauty, Glendalough has to be my favourite.

I have written about Glendalough before, as part of an advent calendar of medieval religious institutions in 2017, but this post will go into more detail about the history of the site itself and the buildings that can be found on it.

The first place to start with Glendalough is its name. It comes from the Irish; Gleann de Loch which translates as a valley of two lakes. The name really exemplifies the quiet, isolated beauty of the place.

St Kevin founded Glendalough in the second half of the 6th century CE, it wouldn’t have been on the site where the main monastic settlement now stands. When he originally came into the area it wasn’t to begin a monastic settlement, he wanted to live as a hermit. St Kevin was probably born in the first half of the 6th century CE and would have grown up with the development of Celtic christianity, which was rooted in holy men seeking isolated places to live an ascetic lifestyle and be closer to God. So this is probably what Kevin was intending when he first moved into the Glendalough region. It was said that he lived alone for seven years, possibly in the site now known as St Kevin’s cell.

You can see the remains of what would have probably been a beehive cell, like those you see on Skellig Michael- you can see them in the photo below. You can learn more about Skelling Michael here

The spot has a spectacular view over the nearby lough, which is one of the loughs of Glendalough’s name

When students began to arrive to learn from St Kevin, he moved the settlement possibly across the lake, but also possibly to the site it now stands on. Essentially, either way, he needed more space.

The site you see today is a combination of a number of eras and was occupied as a monastic settlement from roughly 600 CE to 1500 CE. Glendalough, might have begun with one man but it became a monastic school, a place of scholarly learning. Monastic schools, like Glendalough, trained young men as scholars, often fostering the children of the Irish kings. They also produced manuscripts, sometimes copying them, sometimes creating a completely new manuscripts and shared them with other scholastic institutions. In the case of Glendalough, there were close ties with Clonmacnoise in County Offaly, you can see it in the photos below.

Life at Glendalough was not always a peaceful one though. There were viking raids in 790 CE, 894 CE, 889 CE and 938 CE. These would have been swift raids and would have resulted in the theft of precious objects and possibly monks, as well as destruction of property, but they would not have stopped the overall growth of Glendalough itself. By the early 1100s the diocese of Glendalough covered over 50 000 acres. This was now far beyond what St Kevin began, and the community of monks and scholars would have been supported by a broader community of farmers, craftsmen, and labourers. It was effectively a town. Pilgrims would also have come to Glendalough, seeking absolution from a variety of sins, up to and including murder. This was a thriving self sufficient community. The future of Glendalough, indeed the future of Ireland, changed when the Anglo-Normans invaded in 1169 CE. I’m not going to go into a great deal of detail here regarding the Anglo-Norman invasion, but a basic run down is that King Dermot MacMurrough invited some of them to help him reclaim his Kingdom of Leinster. Essentially they never left. It allowed Henry II to establish an Anglo-Norman toe hold in Ireland that expanded as the years and centuries passed. This influence was seen in Glendalough in some of the later buildings, which reflect more Norman style architecture. It was also under Norman influence that Glendalough was incorporated into the Dublin diocese in 1214 CE. Glendalough survived through wars between the local Irish tribes and English forces from Dublin. It was actually ransacked by the English in 1398 and it was partly ruined. Over the succeeding centuries Glendalough slowly declined and gradually fell into disuse by the start of the 16th century. When the last of the Irish chieftains fled in 1601 CE- an event known as the Flight of the Earls- any hope of re-establishing the community (which had been a Gaelic symbol) vanished. The buildings were left to become ruins, you can see what it looked like in the late 18th century in the engraving below.

Glendalough remained unprotected until the 1870s CE when it was taken over by the Board of Works. Thankfully, quite a lot still survives and you can really immerse yourself in the world of Glendalough.

I’m now going to go through some of the buildings you can see in Glendalough, I’m not going to cover all of them, but hopefully I’ll give you a good overview. As I said earlier it is made up of a number of structures from different eras.

I wanted to begin with the gates.

Glendalough would have originally had a wall surrounding the main settlement, and a gated main entrance with a watchtower. The gates you see today would have originally had a second story, but nothing remains of it today, the stones you can see in the ground are actually part of the original road into the settlement. These gates are the last remaining gateway to a monastic site in Ireland.

There are a number of buildings surviving in the Glendalough settlement itself. The two that stand out the most are St Kevin’s Church and the round tower. I’m going to start with St Kevin’s Church. It is a truly remarkable building, and is both largely intact and original.

St. Kevin’s Church is dedicated to St Kevin and most likely replaced a wooden church that stood on the site. The belfry looks a bit like a chimney, so it is also known as Kevin’s Kitchen. The church most likely dates from the 1100s CE, though the tower was probably added later. There would have been a second story within the church, which would have acted as living quarters. You aren’t allowed into the church, but if you are wondering how I have included a photo of the interior, you can see my method in the image below.

The other building which features most in all depictions of Glendalough is the round tower.

The purpose of round towers is very much up for debate, and I’ve written about the round towers of Ireland before. So you can discover more about them here. This particular round tower dates most likely from the early 1100s CE. The round tower at Glendalough is just over 100ft tall (30.5m), the cone on the top is not original, as it collapsed in a storm and was replaced in 1876. The tower tapers as it climbs, at its base the diameter is 4.9 m and 4.2m by the time you reach the top. It also extends about .9 m below the surface to rest on a gravel subsoil. I love round towers, for their idiosyncrasies and the Glendalough Round Tower is one of the best examples I’ve seen.

The other key building in the settlement is the cathedral. The oldest parts of the cathedral date to 900-1000 CE, with some additions from 1100-1200 CE

It was only designated as a cathedral until 1214 CE when the Glendalough Diocese was combined into the Dublin Diocese. The exterior stonework is rough, but would most likely have been plastered originally. The building is a bit of an amalgam, with the chancel definitely being added later and being of rougher construction than the rest of the building. There is still some lovely carving that you can see in the images above. The other interesting feature of the cathedral is an embrasure in one wall. It would have had a door for storing precious objects and the small basin in it is the piscina, and would have been using for pouring away holy water so it couldn’t be used for unauthorised purposes.

The final building I’m going to discuss is actually a short walk from the main settlement of Glendalough. St Saviour’s Priory was probably the last of the major buildings at Glendalough. It stands alone in a landscape that can’t have changed much since it was built in the mid 12th century CE. It is also the most elaborate of the Glendalough buildings, with a clear Norman Romanesque construction. It was restored in 1875. It is an unusually wide building, but what is most memorable for me, and most interesting, is the amount of carvings that have survived. You can see them and the church itself in the photos below.

So that brings me to the end of my journey through Glendalough. I haven’t covered every building surviving in the settlement, but I hope I’ve given you a good idea of its history, importance and beauty. If you take nothing else from this post, I hope you’ve had the chance to appreciate how striking Glendalough truly is. I’ll leave you with one more picture of the round tower.

References:

Site visit 2015

Glendalough: A guide ISBN: 9181905487462

The Antiquities of Ireland, Volume II Grosse

Early Medieval Ireland 400-1200 Daibhi O Croinin

The Daily Telegraph: Castles and Ancient Monuments of Ireland

The photos are all mine, apart from the first photo of St Kevin’s, the photo of me leaning into St Kevin’s and the photo of the exterior of the Cathedral. These were taken by Penny Woodward.

King John, his treasure and the Wash.

The story of King John and the loss of his treasure in The Wash, is one for the ages. It might look like a damp paddock, but there is a real possibility that some of King John’s crown jewels, and in some ways even more important written records, are buried somewhere in the wide expanse.

The Wash is a large tidal inlet in Norfolk in the UK. You can see it in the image below.

The story of King John and The Wash has to begin with John and the last few years of his reign. He was an unpopular king, for a number of reasons. I have looked at John’s reign in the light of the Magna Carta before, but I will cover the salient points here, as it is important to understanding how John ended up in Norfolk in 1216, sending his baggage train across The Wash.

John was not a popular king with his barons. He wasn’t the first king to have disputes with his barons, both his father (Henry II) and his older brother (Richard I) had dealt with baronial rebellion, but the situation came to a head under John. Most of John’s failings in kingship were personal, he was inconsistent and could be very vindictive if he perceived himself wronged. He also inherited a country that was in debt, due to his brother’s crusade and the ransom that had had to be paid for Richard’s release when he was captured on the way home. It also didn’t help that John lost most of the Plantagenet lands in what is now France. This, not only put some of his barons in a difficult position of owing homage to the French King for their lands in France, but also gave John more time to focus on England. This is only the briefest of snapshots of the problems of King John’s reign. Suffice it to say that by the time our story begins, John had been forced to seal the Magna Carta (which actually had very little affect at the time) and was in retreat, because the barons had nominated Prince Louis of France as their choice of King and Louis was on English soil fighting for the kingship.

runneymede2
Runneymede, the water meadow where the Magna Carta was sealed.

In October 1216, while Louis was laying siege to Dover Castle with not that much success, John was ravaging his way through Suffolk and Norfolk. The situation for King John had been dire. The only prominent lords left on his side were William Marshal who was Earl of Pembroke and the Earls of Chester, Derby and Warwick. Even John’s half-brother William Earl of Salisbury, who had been unflinchingly loyal in the past, had gone over to Prince Louis and the rebellious barons. Prince Louis held London. There was little money left and the situation was described in History of William Marshal as “the King has scarcely any resources.” There was a glimmer of hope towards the end of 1216 as some of the lords looked like they were coming back into the fold, and there was tension between the French Barons in the opposing camp and the English Barons who had sided with Louis, with the English Barons thinking (rightly) that the French were in the war to claim more land in England, even at the expense of their English allies. We will never know what the fate of the war would have been if John had remained king though, because on the 11th of October John departed Kings Lynn, after being welcomed by the townsfolk, for Swineshead Abbey. He sent his baggage train on the more direct across the Wellstream Estuary, the Wash. This was a recognised route that was four and half miles long and there would have been guides as the sands were treacherous. It was a reasonable time for crossing as it was spring tide so the water should have been a long way out. It is probable though that they started out late, as October was a month for heavy fogs, and they would have fanned out across The Wash to get across as quickly as possible. It is also worth noting that the shape of the estuary was very different in 1216, they would have actually had to ford some streams that ran into the estuary and the sands surrounding the safe path were incredibly treacherous. You can see what the Wash looked like in 1216 in the image below

Whatever the reason, the baggage train seems to have become bogged down and as contemporary chronicler Roger of Wendover described it “he lost all his carts, wagons, and baggage horses, together with his money, costly vessels, and everything which he had a particular regard for ; for the land opened in the middle of the water and caused whirlpools which sucked in every thing, as well as men and horses, so that no one escaped to tell the king of the misfortune.”

Wendover then goes on to add that John narrowly escaped, which might imply that he’d reached the other end of the Wash and came back to help, in time to see his entire baggage train go under the waves. It is possible that it was simply the incoming tide and the quagmire of the sands that took out King John’s train, but there has been discussion of an offshore earth quake, which would be the ultimate irony for an unlucky king.

John was not well though. His illness, which he may have contracted at Kings Lynn when they feasted him, was worsening he travelled on but by the time he reached Newark he couldn’t go any further. He died of dysentery on the 18th of October, leaving his kingdom to his nine year old son Henry and the Regency in the hands of William Marshal- who I have written a lot about before and you can see it here.

King John
A copy of King John’s effigy, the original is in Worcester Cathedral.
marshal2
Effigy of William Marshal in the Temple Church in London.

Ironically for John, his death ended the civil war, as most of the Barons who had taken up arms against him, had nothing against Henry III. There was a handful more battles (including a sea battle) and ultimately the French were bribed, but Prince Louis did leave the country and by the time Marshal died in 1219 the country was relatively peaceful.

But the story of the King John and The Wash does not end with John’s death. The question remains what was in the carts, and why hasn’t it every been found?

My story with The Wash began in second year university, when I wrote a fictional story about the demise of the baggage train, so when I went to the UK in 2012, I had to see it. I admittedly got a little lost trying to find an estuary that is actually very large. I went into a local post office and was given the map you can see below.

We followed it as best we could and eventually I found a track that seemed to lead out to The Wash.

You can see me trudging out as a tiny figure on top of the embankment in the photo below, I got very wet feet walking out.

The view from the end is partly The Wash but also partly farmland, as large parts of what would have been sands in the medieval period have been reclaimed. The atmosphere was perfect though, with a cold drizzle and low hanging mist. You could almost imagine the baggage train wending its way in front of you.

And that brings me back to the baggage train, its contents and why it has never been found. I’ll start with the latter. There have been many attempts over the years to locate the remains of the baggage train, largely because of the treasure it was supposed to have been carrying. Even using modern technology nothing has been found conclusively. There are a number of reasons for this, firstly it is entirely possible the extensiveness and the complete demise of the baggage train was exaggerated by medieval chroniclers. It is also possible, however, that the disaster really was as described and in the intervening 800 years so much has moved in The Wash, with reclaimed farm land and re-routed rivers, that anything buried beneath the sands in the vast estuary is still there. Nothing substantial has ever been found, yet…

But what is there to find? It’s the stories of treasure that have made the tale of King John’s baggage train’s damp demise so interesting. So was there actual treasure?

The answer is, possibly. There would definitely have been valuables, and as a historian I feel for the demise of the extensive paper records that probably would have been with the train too, but treasure? Honestly, it’s arguable. The argument starts with a line from Roger of Wendover, who we met earlier, he describes John (after he learns of the loss of the baggage train) that “he felt such anguish of mind about his property which was swallowed up by the- waters, that he was seized with a violent fever and became ill”

So if Wendover is to be believed then there was material in the train that was very personal to John. The remainder of the argument is based on work done by A.V Jenkinson in the early 1900s in looking back over the records of what ‘treasure’ John had. What Jenkinson is establishing is what John might have had in the baggage train when it met its watery fate. On the 24th of June 1215 John issued a writ to no less than 16 abbots and priors to send him their valuables for safe keeping- what was sent was all meticulously recorded and it numbered:

143 cups and 14 goblets, 14 dishes, 8 flagons, 5 pairs of basins,
40 belts, 6 clasps, 16 staffs, 52 rings and 2 pendants; besides
4 shrines, 2 gold crosses, 3 gold combs, a gold vessel ornamented
with pearls (a present from the Pope), 2 candelabra, 2 thuribles
and 3 golden phylacteries.

These were high quality items, with several studded with precious stones and made of gold. He made some other gains from excommunicated monks as well, but the key to the possible treasure is royal regalia. There was his own regalia and coronation robes and the royal regalia of Empress Maud (John’s Grandmother). They were usually held by the Templars and the Hospitallers, but John seems to have wanted them with him, in the upheaval following the Magna Carta in 1215, as he reclaimed both sets. The regalia of Empress Maud was said to contain:

A great crown which came from Germany, a tunic of purple, sandals of the same cloth, a
belt of embroidery (orfrasio) with stones, a pair of shoes with frets of embroidery, a pair of gloves, dalmatic of dark purple, a royal pallium of purple with morse and brooch of gold, a silk
cloth for bearing above the king in his coronation, a great sceptre of the same ” regale,” a golden wand with a dove at the top, two swords, to wit the sword of Tristram and another sword of the same ” regale,” the golden spur of the same ” regale,” a cup of gold of 8 marks 2 oz. weight, and a cross of gold of 3 marks 7£ oz. weight

The other regalia held:

one wand of gold with a cross, ” to wit a sceptre ” ;
a red belt with precious stones which belonged to the ” regalia” another belt of black skin, padded within (furratum) with red sendal, with precious stones, cut, set in a chase ; another belt of leather padded with red sendal with great stones set in a chase ; another belt of red leather padded with white leather with great cut stones set in a chase; another belt of black leather with roses and bars of gold without stones; a necklace or collar (monile) set in the middle with diamonds surrounded by rubies
and emeralds ; nine great necklaces with many precious stones ; a crown with precious stones with a cross and seven flowers ; a royal tunic of red samite with embroideries with precious stones in orles ; a pair of gloves with stones and another pair with flowers of gold ; a white tunic of diaper banded with embroidery ; a ” regale ” of red samite orled and marked all over with the cross in embroidery, with stones ” great, divers and precious,” with two brooches for attaching the said pall ; a pair of sandals
of samite with embroidery; two pairs of samite shoes; and eleven pairs of basins weighing 62 marks.

If this isn’t treasure then I don’t know what is.

The question though remains, was all this fantastical booty actually in the baggage train when it drowned in The Wash? the answer we can never be sure. However, as John had specifically collected it together to keep it safe in troubled times, it is unlikely that he would have dispersed it again. Additionally, none of it is mentioned again in later lists of royal regalia, such as Henry III. Henry was crowed with a simple gold circlet that probably belonged to his mother, but that was because he was nine and his Barons needed him crowned quickly, to help stem the civil war. However, if you look at a list of royal regalia of Henry III from 1220, it is clear that almost none of John’s items appear and some of it is cobbled together of old things of John’s, possibly in an attempt to re-create a lost regalia.

So is all this gold and belts and crowns and basins and fabled swords under the sand in The Wash?

It’s certainly possible and they haven’t show up anywhere else, so unless they were melted down and it wasn’t recorded (which isn’t impossible) the likelihood is that they were on that baggage train. Whether bits and pieces have been found quietly over the last 800 years (remember it would be scattered this wouldn’t be hoard) and how much would survive those conditions is anyones guess. But it does make what looks like a damp paddock, suddenly a lot more interesting.

References:

Site visit 2012

King John by W.L Warren

TAGG, G. F. “KING JOHN’S TREASURE: AN INVESTIGATION INTO ITS LOSS AND POSSIBLE LOCATION.” Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, vol. 120, no. 5192, 1972, pp. 508–523. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41370897. Accessed 22 June 2020.

Jenkinson, A. V. “THE JEWELS LOST IN THE WASH.” History, vol. 8, no. 31, 1923, pp. 161–168. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/24399528. Accessed 22 June 2020.

https://historicalragbag.com/2018/07/22/the-magna-carta-2/

Roger of Wendover. Roger of Wendover’s Flowers of History from the Descent of the Saxons to A.D 1235. (trans.) J.A Giles, Volume II. London: Henry G. Bohn. 1849.

William Marshal

Anonymous. History of William Marshal. (ed.) AJ. Holden. (trans.) S. Gregory & (notes.) David Crouch, Volumes I, II & III. London: Anglo-Norman Text Society. 2002.

Blood Cries Afar: The forgotten invasion of England 1216 by Sean McGlynn ISBN: 9780752488318

The photos are all mine- apart from the photo of me in the distance (which was taken by Penny Woodward), the map of the Wash in 1216 which comes from the Tagg article and of course the Google Maps image.

The Apocalypse Tapestry

Angers in Western France, is a place I ended up almost accidentally. I was staying nearby in Saumur, due to its proximity to Fontevraud Abbey, which I’ve written about in detail here. I was looking for places in visit in the vicinity to which I could do day trips by train. I came across Angers, and some quick research revealed that not only did it have a castle that had been home to the Dukes of Anjou, it also had a cathedral with a surviving 12th century nave. You can see both below

I have written in more detail about Angers Castle before, and you can find that post here.

A little more digging and I discovered the Apocalypse Tapestry, which will be the feature of this post.

The Tapestry is surprisingly not that well known, and in the current climate it felt like an appropriate topic to write about.

The Tapestry was commissioned by Louis I Duke of Anjou in 1375. It was woven in the workshops of Nicholas Bataille, a famous Paris weaver, from drawings undertaken by Hennequin of Bruges, who was a court painter for Charles V of France. Charles V of France was Louis’ older brother. The Tapestry depicts the story of the apocalypse from the Book of Revelation by Saint John. Though it is most likely that the images were taken from traditional apocalypse iconography, they still narrate the main points of the narrative of the Book of the Revelation.

It is the largest medieval tapestry known to exist, measuring 140 m when completed and consisting of 90 individual panels (not all have survived). Its subject was an indication of the volatile world of late 14th century France. The Hundred Years War was ravaging the country, in fact parts of the Tapestry can be read as depictions of the physical brutality of The Hundred Years War, which saw mercenary bands as well as organised armies swarming across France. The black death was also rampant, killing millions across Europe. It was a time of immense change and upheaval, which might be why Louis decided on the unusual subject of the Book of Revelation for his commissioned piece. There are a number ways it could be read, either as a concept of the end of the world, or because, although it is bleak, ultimately the Book of Revelation depicts a black and white certainty, and in an odd way it has a happy ending with the faithful rising to Heaven. Essentially it provides certainty in unpredictable times.

The Tapestry certainly depicts the apocalypse in visceral detail. I didn’t photograph the entirety of the Tapestry, but you can get an idea of the intricacy of the work and just how evocative the images are.

The Fourth Horseman: Death

The Tapestry was also about promoting Louis’ family. Anjou heraldry can be seen throughout as well as the fleur-de-lis of France. This tapestry was definitely a status symbol as well as an attempt to bring some meaning to an uncertain world.

The Tapestry was probably completed in 1382, meaning it took 7 years to create. It’s completely woven from wool. With a tapestry this complex one master weaver working dawn to dusk everyday (except for Sunday of course) could weave just under a square metre a month. The Tapestry had six sections measuring almost 24 metres by 6 metres. The width comes from the width of the looms on which they were woven. Each section depicted 14 scenes with a final section finishing off with 6 scenes. This gives you an idea of the immensity of the Tapestry.

No one is entirely sure how the Tapestry was meant to be displayed, but it was probably made to be viewed from both sides and may have been hung from moveable panels, placing the viewer in the centre.

Regardless of how it was supposed to be hung originally it is likely that it didn’t see much use for Duke Louis because he died in 1384, only two years after the Tapestry was most likely finished. It stayed in the Anjou family, coming out for special occasions, such as the wedding of Louis’ son Louis II to Yolande of Aragon at Arles in 1400, but most likely it was not generally on display. It was given to Angers Cathedral at the end of the 15th century.

Today the surviving tapestry is displayed in a gallery that was purpose built in 1954 in the grounds of Angers Castle. The fact that any of it survives at all is somewhat of a miracle, as during the French Revolution the panels were cut up and used for floor mats and blankets for horses. This wasn’t uncommon as during this period medieval tapestries were even sometimes melted down for any gold thread they contained. The Bayeux Tapestry came close to a similarly ignominious fate, you can find out more about the Bayeux Tapestry here.

Thankfully canons rescued the pieces and 75 panels were able to restored.

The Tapestry is a truly remarkable survival from the medieval period and is a really interesting insight into a time of incredible, fear, uncertainty and upheaval, as well as the medieval mindset a bit more generally. If nothing else it is a beautiful artefact that tells a fascinating story.

It was also the inspiration for another tapestry held in Angers. This one is displayed in the Hospital of Saint- Jean which is a well preserved 12th century hospital, about a half hour walk from the Castle, (which I know because I did it too fast, in hot weather, because I had a train to catch, and ended up with blisters and heatstroke)

I will probably write more about the hospital at a later date, but for now I wanted to touch on the Tapestry displayed here. It is the work of artist Jean Lurcat. The work was conceived as a modern version of the Apocalypse Tapestry, depicting a modern version of the apocalypse. Work began in 1957 and after the artist died in the late 1960s Angers acquired the tapestries from his wife. The photos I have give an overall view, but not of the individual ten panels. For not photographing the individual panels, I blame a mad rush to make the last train of the day, blisters and the beginning of heat stroke.

The panels depict:

The Grand Threat (the atomic bomb), The Man of Hiroshima, The Mass Grave, The End of Everything, Man in Glory and Peace, Water and Fire, Champagne and the Conquest of Space. You can see the panels in more detail here.

So that is the story of the Apocalypse Tapestry and its modern cousin both held in Angers, a city it is absolutely worth visiting. I want to finish this post with the souvenir I acquired from my visit. It’s a cushion from the Apocalypse Tapestry with the eternal fires of hell.

References

Site vist 2012

Angers Castle Brochures

Angers Cathedral Brochures

Le Chant du Monde Brochure

The Family Trees of the Kings of France- Jean-Paul Gisserot

Parks and Chateaux of France

http://www.chateau-angers.fr/en/Explore/History-of-the-monument

http://www.mheu.org/en/timeline/apocalypse-tapestry.htm

https://www.briottieres.com/en/activities/apocalypse-tapestry/

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/apr/17/the-forgotten-french-tapestry-with-lessons-for-our-apocalyptic-times

http://lotoisdumonde.fr/documents/lurcat/lurcat.html

The Bible

All the photos are mine

Lindisfarne Castle

Lindisfarne, also known as the Holy Island, is off the coast of Northumberland and can only be reached by a very tidal causeway. You can see it in the photo below.

Lindisfarne is probably best known for its Priory, which was founded in CE 635. It was famed as the home of St Cuthbert, and it was here that the spectacular Lindisfarne Gospels were created in around 700 CE, in honour of St Cuthbert. You can see one of the opening pages of the Gospels below

The Gospels are held in the British Library and you can find out more about them here

https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/lindisfarne-gospels

They Priory itself is truly beautiful and its other claim to fame is as the site of a devastating Viking raid in 793 CE. You can see the Priory ruins in the photos below

I have written about the Priory before in a short post for my medieval advent calendar- you can see it here. https://historicalragbag.com/2017/12/05/advent-calendar-of-medieval-religious-institutions-december-5th-lindisfarne/

This post, however, is not about the Priory. This post is about Lindisfarne Castle.

The castle began its life as an Elizabethan fort. It was built to protect the Lindisfarne Harbour, which was the last deep water port before the Scottish border. Building began in 1570 CE and some of the stone came from the Priory, which had been dissolved in the Dissolution of the Monasteries. It took about two years to build and was garrisoned from the nearby Berwick. For the next 300 years it remained garrisoned as a sentinel, but saw pretty much no action. The guns and garrison were removed in 1893, and the castle was effectively left alone until it was ‘discovered’ by Edward Hudson, the founder of Country Life, in 1901. He had it converted into a holiday home, though as you can see, it remained very much a fort from the outside.

Hudson commissioned architect Edwin Luytens to convert it for his family. Despite its forbidding external appearance it actually became quite a cosy, if eccentric, holiday house. You can still see pieces of the old fort poking through, though a lot of the original features were lost in the renovations. The best example of all the periods of the castle is the dining room

Lutyens put in a new fireplace and laid the herringbone floor, but he left the salt hole and bread oven from the garrison’s time and the low walls with the vaulted ceiling, which were installed in the 18th century, to hold the weight of the guns above.

In looking at the rooms that Lutyens created, you can see how a family would have lived here.

The castle was sold to Oswald Falk in 1921 and then to Edward de Stein in 1929. de Stein gave the castle to the National Trust in 1944 and by 1970, after de Stein died, the castle was opened to the public.

There is also some interesting garden history at Lindisfarne Castle. In 1911 Gertrude Jekyll designed a layout for a summer flower garden. Jekyll was renowned garden designer and had worked with Lutyens before, in fact Lutyens had a portrait commissioned of her in 1920 that is now in the Tate Gallery. You can see it below

The garden Jekyll designed was to the north of the fort, where the soldiers had previously grown vegetables, it is an area protected from the strong sea winds by a wall. In 2002 a plan to restore the garden was undertaken, trying to match the original plants. When I visited in 2012, the garden had sadly fallen a little by the wayside again, but it is still possible to get an idea of what was intended.

So Lindisfarne castle has lived an interesting life. Built from the stones of the far more famous Priory, 300 years as a military fort that saw little to no action, 70 years as a beloved holiday house and up until the present where hundreds of visitors a year come to view its patchwork of history. If nothing else it still commands an imposing position on the landscape, and from the top there’s an incredible view – you can just see Bamburgh Castle in the distance.

References:

Site visit 2012

National Trust Welcome to Lindisfarne brochure

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lindisfarne-castle/features/the-castle-peeling-back-the-layers

The photos are all mine, apart from the image of Gertrude Jekyll which can be found at https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/1/1c/Gertrude_Jekyll_by_William_Nicholson.jpg

And the image of the Lindisfarne Gospels which can be found here

https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/lindisfarne-gospels

Nicola de la Haye

I’d like to start this post by saying that there are a couple different spellings of Nicola’s name, but I’ve gone with least complex. Lady Nicola de la Haye was castellan of Lincoln Castle in her own right, and was actually appointed as sherif for the region which is very unusual. This post is not going to cover the entirety of Nicola’s life, it is more intended as an introduction to a remarkable woman. I have a list of references at the end for more information.

Lincoln castle is actually quite hard to take photographs of, as the majority of the medieval remains are the walls and towers which means you can’t quite get the scale of the structure. But the walls are significant and command a spectacular view over Lincoln itself and the cathedral.

Nicola de la Haye’s birthdate is uncertain but it was most likely in the 1150s. She died in 1230 and in her lifetime saw the reigns of three or four kings, depending on when in the 1150s she was born. She inherited the right to be castellan of Lincoln and other land in Lincolnshire on the death of her father Richard de la Haye in 1169 making her an important heiress. I’ve written about the role heiresses played in the medieval hierarchy before and you can see the post here

Nicola de la Haye married twice, firstly to William FitzErneis and secondly to Gerard de Camville. While married to de Camville, she had two children, but was very much involved in running her inheritance. In 1191, while Richard I was on crusade, de Camville undertook homage to Prince John for Lincoln. The chronicler Richard of Devizes, makes the note that de Camville only had custody of the castle by right of Nichola. He goes on to say that when the chancellor gave orders to besiege Lincoln that Nicola “proposing to herself nothing effeminate, defended the castle like a man.”

Nicola comes most to the fore, after de Camville’s death in 1215. She secures control of all her inheritance in her own right. She held for King John, even in the face of civil war, and Lincoln and Nicola would go on the have a key role in the minority of Henry III. In 1216 Nicola held Lincoln for John in the face of a siege from rebel barons, who were attempting to oust John from the throne in favour of Prince Louis of France. In mid 1216 John marched to relieve the siege of Lincoln. Nicola met him and offered John the keys to the castle telling him “that she was a woman of great age and had endured many labours and anxieties in the said castle and was not able to endure such [burdens] any longer” John apparently, replied sweetly that Nicola should keep the castle. In one of his last acts before he died John appointed Nicola sheriff of Lincolnshire in her own right, she held the position with Philip Mark. This was not a token appointment, it held real responsibilities and power. She took control of local affairs, including confiscating land from rebels. She was a viable candidate for the role due to her experience, and the lands she held personally in Lincoln. The volatile political situation was another reason for the unprecedented step, most of the men who could have been appointed were either actively in rebellion against the king, or had been recently.

During her time as sherif she was forced to defend Lincoln castle again. She held Lincoln for the young King Henry III. In May 1217 Lincoln was under siege by Prince Louis’ forces, Louis had gone back to London. They had occupied the town and were besieging the castle. The French who were trying to get into Lincoln Castle referred to her as a very cunning bad hearted and vigorous old woman. Where as the relief force described her as a good dame whom God preserve in both in body and soul.

The Battle of Lincoln was a key turning point in British history and Nicola was right at the heart of it. On the 20th of May the Regent William Marshal led a force to relieve Lincoln. There are several contemporary accounts of the battle, some more hyperbolic than others. Nicola is not mentioned in all of them. History of William Marshal, a near contemporary account of the life of Regent William Marshal, described Marshal’s nephew John going to the castle’s western gate and meeting Geoffrey de Serland on the way there who had been sent by Lady Nicola to find him and show him the castle postern gate where troops could be brought in. This account seems to be accepted by other contemporary chroniclers. The History also mentions Peter de Roches Bishop of Winchester sneaking into the castle to meet with Nicola de la Haye, this is much less likely as the castle was under bombardment and there was no real purpose for de Roches to sneak in. Regardless of how true the second story is, it does make clear that Nicola was considered in charge of the castle. The battle itself was a decisive victory for the King’s forces and the beginning of the end for Louis who would be back in France by the end of the year.

It wasn’t the end for Nicola though. She was removed as sheriff only four days after the Battle of Lincoln and the office went to the Earl of Salisbury who was Henry III’s uncle. Her grand daughter, who was also her heir, was married to the Earl’s son and Salisbury tried to claim the castle from Nicola. She held on and outlived the earl by four years dying peacefully in 1230 at her manor in Swaton.

There is only one surviving visual representation of Nicola. It’s an oval seal that was attached to one of her original charters (unfortunately I don’t have a photo) but you can apparently make out the outline of a woman who has her right hand on her hip and a hawk on her left hand, symbolising her role as a woman of power. The evidence in the charters illustrates this clearly with religious benefaction that would have been expected of a lord of Lincoln. Nicola was a remarkable woman who used the turbulent circumstances to carve a position of authority for herself in medieval society.

References:

Women In Thirteenth Century Lincolnshire / Louise J. Wilkinson

https://magnacarta800th.com/schools/biographies/women-of-magna-carta/lady-nicholaa-de-la-haye/#_ednref3

Blood Cries Afar: The forgotten invasion of England 1216 / Sean McGlynn

The Lady in Medieval England 1000-1500 / Peter Coss

The Struggle For Mastery: The Penguin history of Britain 1066-1284 / David Carpenter

https://archive.org/details/chronicleofricha00rich/page/28/mode/2up

https://archive.org/details/rogeridewendover03roge/page/10/mode/2up

The photos are all mine

Ely Cathedral

In times like these, I think it is important to have beautiful things to read about. So I thought I’d put together a post on Ely cathedral. I’m not religious, but it is a truly beautiful building with a fascinating history. I have written about it before in my tour round medieval cathedrals post a couple of years ago, but I decided it deserved its own post.

Ely is a largely Romanesque Cathedral, which is unusual in the UK. Most UK cathedrals are gothic or later, with the occasional romanesque element remaining. But Ely retains many of its Romanesque features, especially on the exterior. You can see the curved and solid shapes rather than the more common gothic pointed and etherial shapes in the photos above and below. The building you see on the site today is an amalgam of centuries of development, the Romanesque style is largely Norman and in the case of Ely was mainly completed by 1189.

Ely is known as the ‘ship of the fens’ as it dominates what is pretty much the only high point in surrounding areas. In the medieval period it would have been surrounded by fenlands. Even now that a large amount of the fens have been drained you can see how it commands the landscape. The images below are taken from the roof of the cathedral.

Ely’s origins trace back further even than the Normans, back to the 7th century CE when it was founded as a monastery by St Etheldreda. Etheldreda was a Saxon Queen and when she died in c. 680 her shrine at Ely became a pilgrimage site. It was destroyed in 1541, but there is a slate in the cathedral in front of the high altar (I unfortunately don’t have a photo of it) to commemorate where it stood.

This original building was destroyed by the Danes in 870 but was re-founded as a Benedictine monastery in c.970 The buildings you see today were begun in the reign of William the Conquerer under the direction of Abbott Simeon. Ely was partly built as a mark of Norman authority in the aftermath of rebellions in the area such as Hereward the Wake’s against the still reasonably new Norman authority. Originally Ely church was the church for the monastery, but Ely became a cathedral in c.1109 when the Diocese of Ely was carved out of the Diocese of Lincoln. It still retained its place as a Benedictine foundation. You can see some of the remains of the monastic buildings in the photo below.

Ely was dissolved as a monastery in the dissolution of the monasteries in the mid 16th century though it continued as bishopric and ultimately a college of priests was run from the old monastic buildings. Remains of the cathedral’s time as a monastic site still remain in the cathedral itself, such as the prior’s door you can see in the photo below

Although the name is contemporary this intricately decorated door is one of three 12th century doors that led from the monastic buildings and the cloister into the cathedral. The other doors lead into the choir and the south transept (see below).

The prior’s door led straight onto the nave, which was serving as the parish church until the 1360s. The nave itself is one of the most spectacular parts of the cathedral.

One of the key remaining parts of the original Norman church, the nave itself is 75m long and the ceiling is 32m high. The roof is not original. There is a ledge that runs along the top of the Romanesque columns where the original roof would have rested. In 1240 the roof was reconstructed when the cathedral was extended. You can see some the extended areas in the photos below, they are noticeable more gothic than the Norman parts of the cathedral.

The basic interior structure of this secondary roof largely survives today, but it would have been open.

In the 1850s, however, the Dean of the Cathedral Dean Peacock was one of many who thought the open roof detracted from the overall beauty of the cathedral. As part of the restoration of the cathedral by architect Sir George Gilbert Scott he had a boarded ceiling inserted that followed the lines of the open roof. The painting you can see below, was also undertaken at this time.

Henry Styleman Le Strange was the artist. Originally he was painting other smaller areas of the cathedral, but by 1856 he’d agreed to Dean Peacock’s suggestion that he paint the entire ceiling, he began in 1858. The immense work was undertaken by tracing the drawings onto the ceiling. You can see local figures including Dean Peacock and the artist himself in the ceiling panels which depict biblical scenes. Sadly Le Strange was unable to complete his work as he died in 1862 and it was completed by Thomas Parry. To find out more about the ceiling, see the article I’ve listed in the references. Much of stain glass work in the cathedral dates from the Victorian era as well.

Even though the nave is spectacular, the highlight of the cathedral interior is, arguably of course, the octagon

The octagon is not original to the cathedral either, but its construction came about for a very different reason. In 1322 the original Norman crossing tower collapsed. It was said that the noise was so loud that the monks though there had been an earthquake. The sacrist Alan de Walsingham was given the job of rebuilding. He could have rebuilt the tower conventionally, but instead the master mason whose name we don’t know he had an octagonal lantern built of 23 m across. It was a truly mammoth task of engineering, the lantern itself is 12 m high. You can see some of the beams the hold the lantern below.

The view from the lantern down to the cathedral floor is dizzying.

Ely Cathedral has stood as the ‘ship of the fens’ for hundreds of years, and although it is built for the glory of god, I like to look at it as building that is beautiful in its own right regardless of if you believe in God or not. And I think beautiful things are what we need right now.

References

Site visit 2012

https://www.elycathedral.org/history-heritage/a-descriptive-tour-of-ely-cathedral

https://www.elycathedral.org/history-heritage/the-monastic-buildings

elycathedral.org/files/pdf/the_nave_ceiling.pdf

The Companion to Cathedrals and Abbeys by Stephen Friar

Cathedral, Forge and Waterwheel: Technology and invention in the Middle Ages by Frances and Joseph Gies

The Cathedral Builders of the Middle Ages.

The English Cathedral Through The Centuries by GH Cook

A Book of Medieval Outlaws: Ten tales in modern English edited by Thomas H. Ohlgren

Click to access the_nave_ceiling.pdf

Castle Rising

Castle rising was my first castle. I’m Australian, where castles are few and far between sadly. I’d been studying medieval history for years when I finally made it to the UK in 2012 and, after Cambridge, Ely and Bury St Edmonds (all castleless), we arrived at Castle Rising. It’s a curiously domestic little castle, compared to some of the behemoths that I was to see over the coming months, but it has a fascinating history and I’ll always have a soft spot for it as my first real medieval castle. I’ve actually written about it before as part of my advent calendar of medieval castles. You can see it here, but this post is going to have more detail and a lot more photos.

Castle Rising is in the village of Castle Rising, in Norfolk just out of King’s Lynn. It was built for William d’Albini the Earl of Arundel in c.1140. It was built in the reign of King Stephen, but may not have been a reaction to the Period of Anarchy as many of its contemporaries were. Castle Rising was definitely a castle built for defence, the massive earthworks you can see in the image below attest to this.

However, it was as much a symbol and an expression of d’Albini’s wealth and status. It is also possible it was built for his new wife Adeliza of Louvain who was the widow of Henry I and as a former queen would have been used to luxury. It was in Castle Rising that d’Albini would have entertained his friends and followers and held his honourial court for the region. The elaborate surviving decoration (especially the external decoration) in the keep shows how seriously he took this. Castle Rising was never intended primarily for defence and conquest as many of the earlier Norman Castles, and arguably Henry II’s later simple stone keeps were.

The keep itself is also unusually shaped, it’s almost cube like rather than the more stark straight military towers you see with other keeps. The keep is 15 m high and almost 21 m across on the narrower side. It would have probably been taller originally when the towers were complete.

Much of the structure of the keep is intact so you can have a reasonable idea of how it would have been used. You would have approached over a guarded bridge and the entrance to the keep is on the second story, which you would would have reached by climbing well defended stairs.

You would have then reached the great hall. The pictures below give you an idea of the great hall. In the first you can see the post holes where floor would have been. The final picture shows what it would have looked like from this floor level. The area below this absent floor would have been the basement, used primarily for storage.

Unusually the kitchens were also on the second floor.

You could also access the lord’s chamber

And the private chapel, which you can see me sitting in below (looking very pleased at my first ever castle)

The keep is not the only building on the site, with the remains of an 11th century church that actually predates the castle. It is partly buried by the earthworks.

The d’ Albini family died out in the 13th century and Castle Rising passed into the Montalt family. The Montalt family died out in the 14th century and Castle Rising came into royal hands. It was after this that the castle entered what is probably its best known phase when it became the residence of Queen Isabella, known as the she wolf of England. She was the Queen of Edward II and many argue she had a role in his murder. It has been argued that Castle Rising was her prison, ordered there by her son Edward III, but it is also just as possible that it was the residence she chose in exile. There were certainly buildings erected for her in the grounds of the castle. There are little in evidence today, but excavations have shown; general lodgings, a chapel, hall and kitchen. You can see what is most likely the remains of the chapel below.

Castle Rising ultimately came into the hands of the Howard family who still own and manage it today. Castle Rising might not have played a grand role on any political stage in its history, but it is a truly lovely castle to explore and the detail that remains gives you a sense of a real place that was actually lived in.

Bibliography

Site visit 2012

One of the fun things about writing this post was that it gave me the chance to dig out several of my castle books, and some of them are rather lovely so I thought I’d include a visual bibliography.

All the photos are mine.