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.

Easy to Evil Medieval History Quiz.

This month’s post is going to be a quiz, I haven’t done one for a while so I thought it’d be a nice change. The rules are straight forward: Read the question, look at the picture (it will be some type of extra information) and scroll down below the picture for the answer. Keep track of your score-including bonus points- and find out how you did at the end. There are four sections: Easy, Medium, Hard, Evil. Five questions to a section. All of the answers can be found somewhere on this blog, or in posts that will be written soon.

Enjoy.

Easy

Question 1: Which King of England was known as the Coeur de Lion?

Answer: Richard I: The photo is of his effigy in Fontevraud Abbey

Question 2: What was sealed in Runnymede in June 1215?

Answer: The Magna Carta. The photo is Runnymede

Question 3: What city is home to the medieval cathedral in the photo below? (sadly it doesn’t look like this now)

Answer: Paris: The Cathedral is Notre Dame (taken in 2012 so well before the fire)

Question 4: What is the name of the medieval illuminated manuscript written by monks in a small town in Ireland in the 9th century and now housed in Trinity College Dublin?

Answer: The Book of Kells.

Question 5: What abbey are a significant number of the Kings and Queens of England buried in?

Answer: Westminster Abbey.

Medium

Question 1: Where was Richard III buried? (the name of the town but you get a bonus point for being more specfic)

Answer: Leicester. Bonus point if you said either under a car park, Leicester Cathedral or Greyfriars)

Question 2: Which English queen (arguably) was known as an Empress and bonus point for why?

Answer: Matilda or Maud and because she had been married to Henry the Holy Roman Emperor. The photo is her burial plaque in Rouen Cathedral.

Question 3: Which Irish saint baptised the grandsons of the King at the Rock of Cashel?

Answer: Saint Patrick

Question 4: What embroidery depicts the events leading up the Battle of Hastings in 1066 as well as the battle itself?

Answer: The Bayeux Tapestry.

Question 5: Which Granddaughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine ruled France as the regent for her son Louis IX

Blanche of Castile. The picture is Angers castle which she was instrumental in building.

Hard

Question 1: Which Irish King was responsible for bringing the English to Ireland in the 1170s?

King Diarmuid MacMurrough of Leinster. The photo is his grave in Ferns Ireland.

Question 2: Which welshman wrote The Topography of Ireland and The Conquest of Ireland in the 1180s?

Answer: Gerald of Wales (also acceptable Giraldus Cambrensis). The photo is his birthplace Manorbier Castle.

Question 3: Which Icelandic Lawman and writer from the 13th century is responsible for much of what we know about Norse Mythology- as he was one of the first to write down the sagas?

Answer: Snorri Sturlson. The photo is of his hot spring at his home in Reykholt in Iceland.

Question 4: What former capital of Norway is home to the castle known as Haakon’s Hall?

Answer: Bergen.

Question 5: Where was Iceland’s Alpingi (a sort of early parliament) held?

 Answer: Þingvellir

Evil

Question 1: What is the name of the oldest stave church in Norway? Bonus point for the decade it was built in.

Answer: Urnes. It was built in 1150. The photo is of some of the remarkable carvings.

Question 2: Which French king built Sainte Chapel and for what purpose? You need both to get the point.

Answer: Louis IX and to house his holy relics- including the crown of thorns.

Question 3: What date did William the Conqueror die? And where is he buried?

Answer: 1087 and Abbaye-aux-Hommes in Caen.

Question 4: Where is the lighthouse built under William Marshal’s direction?

Answer: Hook Head in Ireland.

Question 5: What castle Henry I imprison his cousin Robert Curthoes in?

Answer: Cardiff Castle

So that’s it. How did you do?

1-5: Ok you know some medieval stuff

6-10: Impressive ish, nearly half way there

11-15: Excellent well done, you might actually have read a lot of this blog.

16-20: Stupendous, well done. Long time follower of Historical Ragbag- or a really impressive knowledge of random medieval history.

21-22 (remember those bonus point): Inconceivable!

23: Sure you didn’t write the quiz?

The 800th Anniversary of William Marshal’s Death

Today 800 years ago, one of the greatest knights of his age died. William Marshal was in his early 70s when he died on the 14th of May 1219 (his birthdate was probably 1147 but it is not known for certain). This was a remarkable age for his era and in his lifetime he had ten children, was a knight errant, a commander, an Earl, went to the Holy Land, served five kings and rose from the fourth son of a non hierarchically important baron to be Regent of England at his death. He is remembered because of a remarkable contemporary biography commissioned by his son after his death. The History of William Marshal is the earliest non classical biography of a lay person, and it is a fascinating window into the 12th century.

I wrote my thesis on William Marshal in 2011, and I have written about him, and his equally remarkable wife Isabel de Clare, on this blog before so I am not going to recap his life story. There are lot of celebrations of Marshal’s life happening in the UK and Ireland at the various castles he was involved in the construction of. Sadly as I’m Australian I can’t attend any of them, so I thought I’d write this post as a recap of everything I’ve written about Marshal in the nearly five years since I began this blog.

Marshal’s effigy (probably) in the Temple Church in London

You can read about Marshal in more detail here

https://historicalragbag.com/william-marshal-and-isabel-de-clare/

Tintern Abbey in Wales where Isabel de Clare was probably buried.

And about Isabel de Clare here

https://historicalragbag.com/2014/11/27/marriage-alliances-1180-1250-part-4-isabel-de-clare/

I have also written about several structures that he was involved in building:

Tintern Parva in Ireland

https://historicalragbag.com/2017/12/11/advent-calendar-of-medieval-religious-institutions-december-11th-tintern-parva/

Hook Lighthouse in Ireland

https://historicalragbag.com/2015/08/16/hook-lighthouse/

Ferns Castle in Ireland

https://historicalragbag.com/2016/12/20/advent-calendar-of-castles-december-20th-ferns-castle/

Chepstow Castle in Wales

https://historicalragbag.com/2016/12/18/advent-calendar-of-castles-december-18th-chepstow-castle/

Pembroke Castle in Wales

https://historicalragbag.com/2015/11/15/pembroke-castle/

And you’ll find many Marshal sites discussed in my post From Page to Place about places I’ve visited because of books I’ve read. This post specifically features the book that introduced me to Marshal in the first place: Elizabeth Chadwick’s The Greatest Knight

https://historicalragbag.com/2017/09/29/from-page-to-place/

Finally you’ll also find Marshal and Isabel as the key figures in the only fictional part of Historical Ragbag.

https://historicalragbag.com/accidental-love-a-medieval-love-story/

You’ll find Marshal scattered through all of Historical Ragbag, not just in the posts actually about him. In many ways Marshal is the heart of this blog. He certainly encapsulates his time, which happens to be the 70 odd years that I’m most interested in.

Marshal’s effigy in the Temple Church in London

Seeing as this is the 800th anniversary of his death I thought it was appropriate to conclude with the archbishop’s words as Marshal’s body was interred in the Temple Church, as recorded by History of William Marshal.

Temple Church in London

All the writings in the History have to have taken with a lot of grains of salt, because it is a biography commissioned by his son, and it is perfectly possible these words were not actually said, but the sentiment most likely holds true.

See my lord, how it is with this life: when each and everyone of us comes to his end, there is no sense be found in us, for we are nothing but so much earth. Look there, see the best knight to be found in the world in our times. And, in God’s name what will you say then? All of us must come to this, it is an inescapable fact that each of us must die when his day comes. Just look at this exemplar here, ours as well as yours. Let each man say the Lord’s prayer, entreating God to receive this Christian soul into his realm in heaven, to sit in glory beside his own, for we believe this man to have been a good man.

For me the final line says it all, Marshal was good man.

References: History of William Marshal, Volume II, p. 457

The photos are all mine.

Hammershus

Hammershus is the largest castle in Northern Europe and stands on a cliff 74 metres above sea level on Bornholm, a small but important island in the Baltic Sea.

Bornholm (you can see it and some of the common landscapes above) is off the coast of Sweden, but belongs to Denmark. It stands on important trade routes and there have been Iron Age, Roman, early Christian and Viking artefacts found on the island. It was a Viking centre, but it remained independent until the 10th century when it was controlled by Sweden. It then went back and forth between a few different powers (including Denmark) over the following centuries. It ultimately came to Denmark permanently in 1660. It’s a popular summer destination for Copenhageners and has significant medieval remains, including some astounding round churches and the topic of today’s post; Hammershus Castle.

While there were other structures on the site before, the Hammershus you see today was finished in the late 13th century and has been a site of domination and strife almost since its beginning. It commands an almost unassailable position, standing on a 74 metre high escarpment facing directly into the sea. The land route is steep and winding, making attack very difficult. The inner castle was also protected by a ring wall and three walled defence areas. Two more towers were added in the 16th century and north and south of the castle two lakes were damned to create even more defences.

Hammershus was most likely built by Jens Grand who was Archbishop of Lund. In the late 13th century there was a power struggle between Danish Royalty and The Church and it was probably as a statement of Church power that Jens Grand built Hammershus. The castle went back and forward between the Church and the nobility, mainly being used to impose authority on the island and its people and protect the control of the trade routes. The castle came into the hands of Hanseatic League- a powerful alliance of market towns- in the early 16th century. They expanded Hammershus, using local forced labor and financing it with high taxes, leading to ultimately unsuccessful rebellion. Hammershus remained an active fortress until the end of the 17th century, when most of the island’s defences were moved to Ronne (the capital). The castle was abandoned in 1743 and the locals were allowed to claim stone from it for their own uses, until Hammershus was put on the National Historic register in 1882.

The castle itself has some really interesting features as well. My favourite is probably the bridge

The bridge spans a 6 metre ravine and is supported by two stone piers. It is one of the best preserved medieval fortified bridges in Denmark, certainly one of the best I’ve seen anywhere. In the 15th century there would have been a wooden drawbridge spanning the final section of the ravine, which would have been guarded from the bridge guard house.

Another interesting feature is the main castle gate. This provided entry into the grounds of the castle. Originally it would have been a square tower, but a rampart wall was added in the 17th century

Just through the main gate is the remains of the storage house. It would have been used to hold the material collected as tax. This wouldn’t usually have been money, it was two stories so that grain and the like could be stored in the upper levels and the underneath could be used for live tribute, like oxen.

The key component of the oldest section of the castle is the Manteltarnet (Martel Tower), what in an English castle would have been known as the keep. When it was built Hammershus would have consisted of this keep and a ring wall. The gate to the entrance of the keep would originally have had a portcullis and the tower would have had three stories. You can see where the floors would have been from the holes in the walls. You can also see what is most likely some of the original ring wall in the photos. The keep was eventually replaced with a private residence for the lord of the castle.

It was also in this keep that Leonora Christina, the daughter of King Christian IV of Denmark, was imprisoned in 1660 with her husband Corfitz Ulfeldt for his collaboration with Sweden. They attempted to escape in the middle of the night by tying bed sheets together, or using a rope depending on what account you believe, and climbing down the tower, Ulfeldt was so unwell that he had to lowered. Unfortunately the escape was short lived as they were recaptured almost immediately. The eventually ransomed themselves by handing over most of their property, but were later changed with treason again. Ulfeldt managed to evade capture but Leonora Christina was captured in Dover when she was seeking help from Charles II. She was held without charge in the Blue Tower of Copenhagen castle for 22 years. While she was imprisoned she wrote her autobiography which was published posthumously.

Escapes aside, Hammershus is very much an amalgam, it was added to extensively in the 16th century, and you can see the marks of the years on the stone, the oldest parts are built of granite and the newer of the smaller style tile bricks.

Hammershus is a fascinating castle with a chequered past. This post was not intended to cover all of its complex history, but to underscore the highlights and give some insight into the largest castle in Northern Europe. It stands as a brutal testament to the extent of church authority in its heyday and the importance of Bornholm as an essential point in the Baltic trade routes. It is certainly worth visiting, as is Bornholm: I hope to cover Bornholm’s other magnificent medieval feature the round churches in a later post.

References:

Site visit 2018

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

https://bornholm.info/en/hammershus/

https://nordicwomensliterature.net/writers/leonora-christina-ulfeldt/

The photos are all mine.