Tuesday 4 September 2018

Tudor Chamber Books

A fantastic new resource for research into the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries has just been launched: Tudor Chamber Books. It is an opportunity to browse or search the detailed records of weekly expenditure and income for the royal chamber in surviving receipt and expenditure books for 1485-1521. It also includes the privy purse expenses of Elizabeth of York, re-transcribed with additional material not included in the previously published version. The website is not yet finished – the project organisers describe the current site as a ‘draft’ – it will eventually be more searchable, and the formatting needs work, especially for the modern English version. Nonetheless, what we can now access from the comfort of our homes are over 4,000 pages from The National Archives and the British Library that will provide an invaluable resource for historical research, especially into statecraft, court life and material culture.

Two members of the research committee attended the launch of the database at a fascinating conference at the University of Winchester, where the project has been based. Papers were delivered both by members of the research project and external scholars. Many of these will eventually be published in a special edition of the journal History. Delegates learned that although no accounts survive for the Yorkist kings, it was Edward IV who was the first to use it extensively. Henry VII initially reverted to the Lancastrian reliance on the exchequer but found that system inefficiently slow. The chamber books reveal the intricacies of the accounting system, the king’s regular oversight and his sometimes clumsy penmanship. The breadth of topics that will benefit from this resource was indicated in papers that ranged from the queen’s household and her ladies or the crown’s relationship with Londoners or major nobles, to the Field of the Cloth of Gold, iconography in royal palaces, literary culture at court and the royal librarian, Quentyn Poulet.

In the course of the final roundtable, we were encouraged not just to search for the people or objects that intrigue us, but to spend time browsing through the pages, getting a sense of the rhythms of court life and coming by chance upon intriguing details that searches would never have brought us to. It is slightly addictive, drifting through the payments, wondering who those monks were spying on or what sort of 'dragon' Lord Grey of Wilton gave the king on the anniversary of Bosworth 1507. I feel it will be a wonderful resource not only for academics, students and enthusiastic amateur historians but novelists too.

Tuesday 17 July 2018

The DNA of the Missing Princes

A recent newspaper report announced that newly discovered DNA could prove whether Richard III murdered the princes in the Tower. What is the real significance of this discovery?

The research was undertaken by Society member, Glen Moran, after hearing a talk by John Ashdown-Hill. He revealed that, contrary to previous assumptions, an all female line had survived on the princes' mother's side. This means that mitochondrial DNA that would match the princes could be identified.

If it were possible to examine the DNA of any of the various bones speculatively identified as those of the ‘Princes in the Tower’, this new discovery would help to establish for certain whether they really are those of the missing princes. The DNA already obtained from Richard III would also be key.

If the bones did include Richard III’s male line DNA, then it would be certain that they were closely related. However, technically, they might still be another relative, such as otherwise unknown royal bastards. This is, of course, highly unlikely, but only with the female line DNA as well could scientists be absolutely certain.

The other scenario in which the female line DNA could prove significant is if either Cecily duchess of York (the princes’ grandmother), or Elizabeth Woodville (their mother) had been unfaithful so that their offspring did not actually share the male line DNA of Richard III. Again, this is highly unlikely, although some historians and writers have argued that we should believe contemporary rumours that Edward IV was illegitimate. (For a recent refutation of ‘evidence’ for this, see Livia Visser-Fuchs’ article in the most recent edition of The Ricardian).

Could this impact on our understanding of whether Richard III killed the princes? This would depend on finding bones that could positively be identified as those of the princes. If the evidence of the bones indicated that the boys were clearly too old to have died in Richard III’s reign, then we would know that he could not have ordered their deaths. There are of course various sites rumoured to hold the remains of one or other of the princes, but whether the right body can be found and access granted for testing is of course another challenge. Unfortunately, if the boys merely fell sick or were killed by someone else during Richard’s reign, or shortly afterwards, the mystery would remain even if the bones could be found.

Thursday 29 March 2018

Duchy of Cornwall accounts sold at auction

On 21 March this year an important and interesting manuscript was sold in Exeter for £20,000, well over the original estimate of £4000 - £6000. This is a Compotus or Receiver's Rolls for Cornwall and Devon drawn up under the aegis of Richard III, comprising the account of one year's receipts from the manors, burghs and stannaries (tin mining districts) of the Duchy of Cornwall; together with receipts for Devon. It covers from Michaelmas, 22nd year of Edward IV to Michaelmas 1st year Richard III (29 September 1482 to 29 September 1483). It thus covers the end of the reign of Edward IV, the brief reign of Edward V and the first few months of that of Richard III. The Dukedom of Cornwall had been created by Edward III for the maintenance of his eldest son, and can only be held by the oldest living son of the monarch. The period of this account therefore covers the rule as Duke of Edward IV’s eldest son Edward and Richard III’ only son Edward of Middleham who became Duke as soon as his father became King.

By the end of fifteenth century, profits from the Duchy amounted to some £500 per annum and its administration was sophisticated and efficient, the annual receiver's rolls, of which this is a fine example, being the summation of a host of preliminary local records and accounts. The present rolls record the final accounts of annual receipts from many of the Duchy manors in Cornwall as well as some in Devon. The profits from the Duchy came to about £500 per year.

The roll is divided into sub-accounts, totals for rents, sales and court receipts are given and the bailiff's name provided. In most cases the receipts are noted as delivered into the hands of Sir Robert Willoughby and Sir Thomas Arundell. Though abbreviated in this final account, the entries for each manor usually contain several personal names (the bailiff or reeve, in particular) and other local placenames, which makes it useful for local historians. The final receipt for the manorial income is usually between about £12 to £30.. Both the hundred court and stannary receipts are given in the same way. The receipts from the stannary courts of the tin mines were especially valuable components of Duchy income.

Two main series of manorial records from the Duchy of Cornwall exist, one in the National Archives and the other in the Duchy of Cornwall Office. This roll is a rare survivor outside these archives.

Peter Hammond
Image courtesy of Bonhams

Monday 26 February 2018

The Canterbury Roll

An article in The Times on Monday 29 January 2018 gave details of a medieval scroll known as the Canterbury Roll. While this is not a new discovery, what is new is that it has been digitised and is available for everyone to see at the Canterbury University, NZ website. Originally called ‘The Maude Roll’ after its nineteenth century owners, it was purchased by Canterbury College - now Canterbury University - Christchurch, New Zealand early in 1918. Arnold Wall, a professor at the college published a transcription of the roll in 1919 and this too has been made available on the website and can be downloaded as a pdf.
When the Maude family moved to New Zealand in the nineteenth century they took the roll with them, the story was that it had always been in the family, and Wall attempted to trace the family back to the fifteenth century, when the roll was first written. Subsequent research suggests that ownership by the Maude family may not go back any further than the nineteenth century. Who commissioned the roll in the fifteenth century therefore remains something of a mystery.
With its digitisation it is possible to explore the roll in detail. It is a genealogy of the kings of England, created early in the fifteenth century. Beginning with the founding myth of English kings, from the Trojan refugee Brutus travelling to Albion and renaming the island Britannia, through the mythical kings of Britain including Arthur, to the Saxon kings, in continuous succession to Henry VI when the roll was created. Since 1429-33, when it was first written, the roll has undergone a number of amendments. 
It is thought that it was originally drawn up to demonstrate the Lancastrians’ legitimate claim to the throne. Richard II’s deposition is passed over, as is the claim of the Mortimers. Legitimate descent is shown in a straight line from Edward III. It does not reflect Henry IV’s early dalliance with the idea that Edmund Crouchback was the eldest son of Henry III; that was a notion too far, it was much easier to simply overlook a claim through a woman.
With the accession of Edward IV the roll then undergoes an amendment. The new scribe has made notes to ensure there is no mistake about who is the true king. He adds a note to show that Richard II was deposed and Henry IV usurped the throne. Red lines are then added to show the true line of descent from Edward III that is, via Lionel of Clarence and his daughter Philippa. Added to the descent through Edmund Duke of York, the legitimacy of the house of York is undisputed. ‘Edward, son and heir of the above named Richard, recently duke of York, true heir of the kingdoms of England and France, ... on the fourth day of March, through the greater and more sensible [part] of the people, was elected as king of England by the grace of God and the voice of those [people], rising and receiving the kingdom of England in London for himself, by law so much as by inheritance, in the year of the Lord 1460.’
As well as Edward IV, the new scribe includes his brothers, Edmund, George and Richard and his sisters Anne, Elizabeth and Margaret. Margaret is named as duchess of Burgundy so this amendment must have been made after her marriage in 1468. Sadly no further amendments were made to the roll.
The roll is seen as a piece of propaganda, originally for Henry VI and then Edward IV. Who commissioned the roll is a mystery. Did it remain in the same hands throughout the fifteenth century?  Was the owner someone who changed sides and wished to demonstrate his new allegiance to the house York, or was it someone who was simply reflecting the ‘reality’ of the day.
It is a pity that it ends with Edward IV, it would have been interesting to see how the owner reflected the changes of 1483 and 1485. Was it too dangerous or too uncertain? Or had the owner died or lost interest?
What the role does show is that genealogy was important, and that something seemingly so straight forward could be disputed. Genealogy as propaganda was not limited to this roll, a number exist. A splendid example should already be known to members, it can be partially viewed here  (a digital copy is available on CDRom, entitled Leaves of Gold, through the society shop). Held by the Free Library of Philadelphia, this is a beautifully illustrated roll. Edward IV appears at the top in full military glory, there is no mistaking that ‘this sun of York’ was responsible for its production. The Canterbury Roll looks more like a working copy beside it, having little in the way of illustration. It is easy to imagine Edward’s roll on display, but it is hard to imagine that many people actually saw the Canterbury Roll. The value of either as propaganda is therefore hard to see. Those seeing Edward’s roll may have been visitors to his court, in many ways it was therefore preaching to the converted or the already loyal.
The Canterbury Roll perhaps lay amongst other records and chronicles, but someone thought it worth updating, just as Chronicles were continually added to and updated. For the modern reader it adds another mystery to the fifteenth century; who owned the roll and what was it they did or did not want to say about the occupier of the throne and any potential claimants?

Lynda Pidgeon

Medieval genealogies could take many forms - this tree from British Library MS Harley 7353 takes a much more image-based approach than the Canterbury Roll. It shows Henry IV literally cutting through the branch on which Richard II sat and has Henry VI and Edward IV facing each other at the top, swords at the ready.

Sunday 18 February 2018

The Calais Letterbook of William Lord Hastings

A couple of weeks ago I attended a fascinating seminar at the IHR presented by Ed Meek on the topic of his recent book: The Calais Letterbook of William Lord Hastings (1477) and Late Medieval Crisis Diplomacy 1477-83. Some of the research as well as the publication of this exciting contribution to our understanding of Richard III’s age was funded by the Richard III and Yorkist History Trust (which was founded by the Richard III Society in 1984).

The letterbook of the title is a severely damaged manuscript that is now housed in the Huntingdon Library, California. It is a record of William Lord Hastings’s French correspondence between April and September 1477, a crucial period in England’s relations with the continent in the aftermath of Charles the Bold’s death. Meek has provided both a transcription and translation as well as a detailed introduction interpreting the significance of the letters.

He explained that the manuscript has occasionally been used by other historians. However, he argued that its importance for our understanding of English policy has not been fully realised. For one thing, we should not accept Cora Scofield’s influential interpretation that Edward IV and Hastings were at odds at this time. On the contrary what comes through most strongly about Lord Hastings from these letters is his very deep loyalty to Edward IV. I came away fully persuaded that the manuscript provides both a vivid glimpse into a crucial moment in English politics and intriguing insight into the perennially controversial Lord Hastings. The book has been published by the Richard III and Yorkist History Trust and is available from Amazon or on ebay at £35. There will be a special discount for members of the Richard III Society: see the March 2018 edition of The Ricardian Bulletin for further details.

J L Laynesmith

Friday 12 January 2018

A rare Richard III half angel coin found and auctioned

A rare half angel coin dating from Richard III’s reign was located recently by a metal detectorist in a farmer’s field a few miles from the battlefield of Bosworth. This has given rise to speculation that it may have been lost by a soldier who fought at the battle.

Only a few examples of half angels survive from the king’s reign.  They were a gold coin first minted by Edward IV, and were worth 6s 8d, that is half a mark. In size they were about 2cms or just over ¾ inch.

The half angel was not a coin likely to be seen or used by most of the population.  The average skilled labourer might get 4d to 6d per day in this period, about 2 shillings per week or a maximum of £5 per year if he worked every possible day. The cost of his staple food and drink, that is bread and ale, would take most of this if he had to feed a family from his wages. Ale could be bought for about 1d per gallon, (or two pints for a farthing) and a loaf of medium quality for a 1d. The size of the loaf varied according to the price of grain. It has been calculated that these figures would allow a family to buy enough food to sustain themselves but even so at these prices a labourer could only feed his family without (usually) having money left over.

This coin thus represents a significant amount of money. Whoever dropped it and however they had come by it they would have been seriously upset to have lost it.

The coin was auctioned in London on the 13th December 2017 by Dix Noonan Webb, the international coins, medals and jewellery specialists, and was expected to fetch up to £15,000.  In the event it was sold for £40,800 to a private collector based in the United States. 

Images courtesy of and copyright to Dix Noonan Webb

1. The face of the coin has an image of the Archangel Saint Michael slaying a dragon, the legend inscribed with ‘RICARD:DI:GRΛ:REX ANGL.’  (Richard, by the Grace of God, King of England)

2.The reverse shows an image of an English galley with the monogram 'R’ and a rose set below the main topmast, the ship surmounted by a shield bearing  the king’s arms, the legend inscribed  ‘O CRUX AVE SPES UNICA'    (Hail the cross our only hope)

Both sides have the boar mint mark just past the 12 o'clock point.  


John Saunders and Peter Hammond