Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Elizabeth Barton, Holy Maid of Kent -- Blessed, Mad or Cursed?

by Beth von Staats

In every historical era, including today's, we can look towards people of great celebrity, "superstars" for lack of a better term, who rose from poverty and common obscurity to the heights of fame, power or fortune. In today's world, most of these renowned "superstars" are royalty, entertainers and athletes, with occasionally a politician or major religious figure or two. They fill the traditional and social media, with the paparazzi chasing their every move. We just can't get away from these people, even if we want to.

Celebrity "superstars" influence our cultural mores to the very core, for the good and for the bad. Was it always this way?

During the reign of King Henry VIII, a few "superstars" who rose from the depths of poverty came center stage, most notably Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex. Remarkably, a woman joined Cromwell's ranks, eclipsing his popularity most undoubtedly, for in an age where religion reigned true and omens, portents, predictions, legends and ancient prophecies held huge significance, one of the Tudor Era's greatest and most cherished celebrity "superstars" stepped forward -- Elizabeth Barton, the Holy Maid of Kent.

Born in obscurity, Elizabeth Barton's life as a celebrated English woman began with what at the time was considered by all Roman Catholics an awe-inspiring trance and God sent miracle. While working as a servant in a Kent household, Barton became seriously ill -- some today might surmise epilepsy, while others might assume delirium or psychosis. Incredibly, she began to speak in rhyming prophecies.

After sharing her vision of a nearby chapel, Elizabeth Barton was taken there and lain before a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As astounding as this sounds, the woman remained there in a trance for a week. Upon awakening, Elizabeth Barton began prophesying again, predicting the death of a child living in her household, and as detailed by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in a letter to Archdeacon Hawkins, "speaking of many high and godly things, telling also wondrously, by the power of the Holy Ghost as it was thought, things done and said in other places, whereas neither she was herself, nor yet heard no report thereof."

Soon afterward, she was questioned by a special commission established by then Archbishop William Warham. They determined her trances, visions and prophecies genuine, and a "star was born". At least a thousand people took to the road, processing to the little chapel, and like Jim Morrison's grave, the Ford Theater, the town of Bethlehem, and the shrine of St. Thomas Beckett, it became a place of pilgrimage.

Elizabeth Barton's illustrious or infamous career, depending on one's point of view, then began in earnest. Admitted to St. Sepulcre's nunnery in Canterbury, she professed her vows, and her trances, prophecies and clairvoyance continued and increased unabated.

Sister Elizabeth’s messages of warning and predictions of the future were reported to the world outside her cloistered community by a group of priests close to the convent, and her fame and celebrity rose to the highest zenith of Tudor society. Legitimized as filled with the Holy Spirit by the likes of Archbishop William Warham and Bishop John Fisher, who both met with the "Holy Maid of Kent", Sister Elizabeth Barton became exceptionally acclaimed throughout the realm, respected for her piety and marveled for her Godly giftedness.

At the height of her celebrity and positive regard, Sister Elizabeth held audience with Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Sir Thomas More and King Henry VIII -- her popularity rivaling the King himself. With this type of fame and notoriety, why did this remarkable woman become merely a footnote in history? Well, her visions and prophecies took an ominous turn, focusing on the King's desire to annul his marriage to the great Roman Catholic Queen Catalina de Aragón in favor of the Reformist "usurper" Lady Anne Boleyn.

Antique Large Folio Copper Plate
Published 1793-1806 by R. Bowyer, London,
for "The History of England..." by David Hume

Sister Elizabeth Barton, whether truly filled with the Holy Spirit, arrogant, self-righteous, courageous, bold, stupid or insane -- take your pick -- wrote directly to His Holy Father and spoke frankly to both Cardinal Wolsey and the King. To Wolsey Sister Elizabeth warned that if King Henry abandoned his wife the realm would be left in peril. Then Sister Elizabeth frankly warned the King that if he chose to marry the Lady Anne Boleyn, he would reign a mere seven months thereafter, with the Princess Mary eventually ruling the realm. Now chew on that for a minute. This nun told King Henry VIII TO HIS FACE that his death loomed if he carried forward with his plans. What was she thinking?

Well, amazingly the King chose to ignore her, and Elizabeth Barton, Holy Maid of Kent, went about her way, holding several meetings with Queen Catherine's closest courtiers and others taking on her cause. Still, King Henry VIII showed considerable and uncharacteristic restraint, even after as this potentially apocryphal story goes: Sister Elizabeth Barton gained access to the King and the then Marquess of Pembroke in a walled up garden at the abbot of St Augustine's, Canterbury. There she told them both that should they marry, within one month he would no longer be the reigning monarch, dying a villain's death. Though Sister Elizabeth was yet again spared the King's wrath, his patience was beginning to wear thin.

As King Henry proceeded with his plans to marry Anne Boleyn secretly, Thomas Cranmer was named Archbishop of Canterbury after William Warham's death. Soon after his consecration, Cranmer declared the King's marriage to Catalina de Aragón null and void, and his marriage to Anne Boleyn legitimate.

Obviously, seven months later, King Henry still reigned supreme -- at least two major prophecies easily proven invalid. Still, the "Holy Maid" maintained her prestige within the kingdom, revered by the majority of English subjects.

Sister Elizabeth met secretly with the papal envoy in Canterbury, going so far as to proclaim a prophecy for His Holy Father, declaring that should he ever approve an annulment for King Henry, that God would plague him.

Still able to hold her credibility with high ranking Roman Catholics a month after Anne Boleyn became Queen of England, Sir Thomas More paid "the Holy Maid of Kent" a visit at Syon Abbey. What they discussed is lost to history, as they met alone and neither wisely chose to tell the tale. Cautious as always, More told those who inquired, namely Thomas Cromwell, that he merely sought her prayers. Per Thomas More in a letter to Cromwell, "We talked no worde of the Kinges Grace or anye great personage ells, no in effecte, of anye man or woman but of her selfe, and my selfe".

When later supporters of Sister Elizabeth fell like dominoes all around her, More was able to wiggle free, namely because in an age before of photocopying and copy/paste features, he had the presence of mind to keep a copy of a letter sent her way, one that conveniently advised her to stay out of the King's affairs.

Finally, in the summer of 1533, Thomas Cromwell "expressed his concerns" about Sister Elizabeth Barton to King Henry, who finally commanded that Cromwell, assisted by the Archbishop, investigate the "Holy Maid". With that, and most likely long before, Sister Elizabeth Barton came into the view of the men who would be her ultimate undoing, the highly placed and reformist courtiers of the King, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and the King's Secretary, Thomas Cromwell.

Make no mistake about it. Cranmer and Cromwell viewed the popular and nearly universally acclaimed Elizabeth Barton, the "Holy Maid", as a major threat to their reformation efforts. Per Cranmer, "Truly, I think she did marvelously stop the going forward of the King's marriage by reason of her visions."

More practically, Cromwell likely saw what for him was a wonderful opportunity, the chance to bring down the entire Roman Catholic leadership Cranmer had no ability to manage, because with her fall would come theirs -- starting with the most troublesome and problematic of them all, Bishop John Fisher. Like a episode of Cagney and Lacey or a scene from Bad Boys' Mike and Marcus, Cranmer and Cromwell, affectionately sometimes labeled quite appropriately "The Tudor Odd Couple", used their customary "good cop/ bad cop" interrogation style to wear down Sister Elizabeth.

Call me skeptical. With only reformist leaning hostile sources to work with, it's impossible to know with any accuracy what went down, but after seemingly sympathetically listening to Sister Elizabeth fill with the Holy Spirit for several meetings, witnessing trances and visions unfold, and unable to sway her views, the Archbishop handed over the reigns to the King's Secretary.

Suddenly, under the watchful eye of Cromwell and his agents, Sister Elizabeth "confessed" that she was a fraud. As the Archbishop writes Archdeacon Hawkins, "And now she hath confessed all, and uttered the very truth, which is this: that she never had vision in all her life, but all that ever she said was feigned of her own imagination, only to satisfy the minds of them the which resorted unto her, and to obtain worldly praise: by reason of the which her confession, many and divers, both religious men and other, be now in trouble, forasmuch as they consented to her mischievous and feigned visions, which contained much perilous sedition and also treason, and would not utter it, but rather further the same to their power."

Cromwell, not satisfied that she fall alone, interrogated several of her followers. Subsequently, the "Maid of Kent" and her supporters were made to do public penance at St. Paul's Cathedral and Star Chamber, further writing most likely forced confessions detailing their deceptions and fraudulent actions.

Star Chamber, from a British Gazette drawing in 1836

After passing a conveniently timed Parliamentary Act forbidding the foretelling of a monarch's death, a ploy Cromwell and King Henry would use again to trap those opposed to the King's supremacy, in January 1534, a bill of attainder for treason was filed against Elizabeth Barton, Holy Maid of Kent and thirteen of her supporters, among them Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas More.

With the exception of More, all others were condemned to imprisonment and forfeiture of all they owned to the Crown. After all, from a legal standpoint anyone arrested via attainder was guilty without trial and legally dead. Who needs worldly goods?

Elizabeth Barton, Holy Maid of Kent, and five priests who supported her paid the ultimate price on April 20, 1534. Taken from the Tower, they were all lashed tightly onto wooden planks, their wrists tied together as if praying. These wooden hurdles, hitched onto horses, were dragged five miles across London's streets to Tyburn.

The once acclaimed and universally beloved "superstar" Elizabeth Barton, Holy Maid of Kent, was the most fortunate of the group. After confessing to be a "poor wench without learning", she was hanged.

The five priests were then murdered in turn, the remaining men witnessing the death's of those killed before them. Condemned to a traitor's death, they were hanged until half-dead, revived and then their penises chopped off and stuffed in their mouths, their stomachs then cut open and their intestines tossed in a cauldron of boiling water. This not sufficient, their hearts were cut out and waved in their faces. Long dead by now, their heads were chopped off, parboiled and stuck on poles lining London Bridge.

Such was the cruelty of the 16th century, and such were the lengths the ruling regime would go to silence and force English Roman Catholicism's capitulation and bring down the Tudor Era's most revered "superstar" celebrity.

Ackroyd, Peter, The Life of Thomas More.
New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, Elizabeth Barton, http://www.newadvent.org
Cranmer, Thomas, Letter of Archbishop Cranmer to Archdeacon Hawkyns Regarding the Nun of Kent, Luminarium: Anthology of English Literature, http://www.luminarium.org
MacCulloch, Diarmaid, Thomas Cranmer.
Monti, James, The King's Good Servant but God's First: The Life and Writings of Saint Thomas More.

Beth von Staats is a short story historical fiction writer and administrator of 


Monday, December 30, 2013

The Heroes of the Royal Charter

by Gillian E Hamer, Author of The Charter

The legend of the 1859 shipwreck of the Royal Charter off the coast of the island of Anglesey, North Wales, is a story I have grown up with from a young age. One of my earliest memories of holidays on the island was using a family friend’s metal detector on the beach at Red Wharf Bay. My enthusiastic screams of delight as I found penny after penny in the sand – all washed-up buried treasure of course – may have been more muted had I realised the pennies had been buried for me to find.

But that summer’s day must have lit a spark somewhere deep inside. My family now have a cottage on Anglesey, and I’ve spent many days visiting the old church at Llanallgo which features heavily in the story, and walking the cliff paths at Point Lynas, the spot where the ship sank. All of these memories came together in a decision many years ago that the shipwreck had to feature in one of my crime novels. The voices carried on the winds that I imagine in my head as I walk the rugged coastline seem to need to be heard. And, as I watch white water break over jagged rocks, it’s too easy to imagine the terror of the women and children who died there.

There were many rumours of local families who stole gold from the bodies of victims washed-up along the shoreline, turning those who helped on the fateful day from heroes to villains overnight. Despite the accusations, those same twenty-eight men are honoured to this day in the church where the graves many of the victims and a memorial to the ship are still visited every year by hundreds of travellers captivated by the story. Through many hours of research, I’ve never found any truth in these stories of treachery, although I did use my own fictional interpretation of the rumours as the backdrop to some of the murder and mayhem in my novel, The Charter.

However, what I did find through my research were a number of heroic men--heroes in many different ways. Here in a series of eyewitness and media accounts from the day, I’ll try to recount a story that has captivated me for almost thirty years.

Letter from William Foster, ship’s Carpenter to his wife.
Moelfre, Red Wharf Bay,
October 26th 1859.

My Dear Wife – I am sorry to inform you that the ship is a complete wreck. She has gone to pieces this morning at about 5 o’clock. There are only 25 to 30 of us saved out of about 400 souls. Dear wife, give my love to the children and tell them I will be home as soon as this letter. Remember me to Mr & Mrs Rodgers, and all inquiring friends. I shall tell you about it when I come home. So no more at the present from your affectionate husband.
(letter courtesy Liverpool Records office)

As tragic as his tale, there’s no doubt William Foster was one of the luckiest crew members aboard the Royal Charter. He and the ships’ boatswain were the only two officers to survive when the ship hit rocks near the small beach of Porth Alerth, near Moelfre on the North East coast of Anglesey, on the morning of October 26th 1859.

It had been a very different story just four short years earlier when the ship was launched to much pride and celebration in its nearby hometown port, although the launch, too, was not without its own drama.

As reported by the Northern Daily Times – Wednesday Aug 1st 1855:

"The New Screw Steamer Royal Charter

"Yesterday was fixed for the launch of the magnificent screw steamer Royal Charter, built for Messers GIBBS BRIGHT & Co, of the Australian Steam Navigation No. The vessel was built at Sandicroft Works, on the Dee near Queens Gerry, Flintshire. The lines of the vessel were originally laid down for Messers CRAM and Co as a clipper ship.

"Much interest was felt in the launch of the vessel, great numbers travelled yesterday from Liverpool and Chester to be present. From 9am till 4pm rain poured down, yet despite this fact, both banks of the Dee were crowded with spectators, and boats gaily decked with flags passed up and down the river.

"Precisely at 1pm the great vessel moved in its place and the wine bottle, which consecrates its “christening” was flung by Mrs S BRIGHT, who performed the ceremony. The vessel glided on gracefully, amid cheers and waving, but, just after entering the water, met, with a sudden check, and rested motionless as she lay before. Every effort was made to free her by the tug boats, but without effect. She was propped up firmly to wait for the next tide.

"She is full rigged, with double yards and topsails. Her saloon will have 50 first class passengers, she has 28 state rooms, with double berths, each room, 10ft by 6ft 4 ins. When sailing she will spread as much canvas as the Great Britain. She carries trunk engines, with direct action, the latest patent by Messers PENN and Co of London, similar to those in the HIMALAYA. Mr William PATERSON of Bristol, builder of the GREAT BRITAIN, is the builder of the ROYAL CHARTER.

"She has six water tight compartments, and an immense box keelson running the full length of the vessel, and has the capacity to carry 5,500 gallons of water. She carries Messers TROTMAN and PORTERS patent anchors, which, along with the cables were manufactured at Messers WOOD Bros, Dee Iron Works."

It’s reported that the Royal Charter finally reached the water on 30th August, 1855.

So, what took this steam ship – modern and advanced for its time – to end its life just a few short years later in one of the biggest loss of lives the Welsh coast had ever seen? It was a tragedy that affected so many people in many different ways. Charles Dickens, for example, who visited the scene and described the aftermath of the event in his novel, The Uncommercial Traveller based on the tragedy. He wrote to the Meteorological Office and its leader at the time, Robert Fitzroy, who set up the first gale warning service:

“So tremendous had the force of the sea been when it broke the ship, that it had beaten one great ingot of gold, deep into a strong and heavy piece of her solid iron-work: in which several loose sovereigns that the ingot had swept in before it, had been found, as firmly embedded as though the iron had been liquid when they were forced there.”

So determined were the authorities never to see such a tragedy within sight of a shoreline again, the wreck was instrumental in the setting up of the Trinity House Lighthouses that are now such a fundamental part of sea safety around our coasts.

There seems to be have been something of a ‘Titanic mentality’ about the Royal Charter at the time. The ship was so big and grand, a flagship of its fleet, that inspired such national pride that no one could imagine how it could ever fall victim to the seas. The below articles from the Daily Post in April 1859 shows what a huge event it was for the locale when the Royal Charter arrived in port.

"Arrival of the Royal Charter, 6th April 1859.

April 7th.
"The splendid screw-steamer, the Royal Charter, Capt TAYLOR of the Black Ball of Australia Packets arrived in the Mersey yesterday evening after an exceedingly rapid passage of 65 days. She left Port Philip Heads on 21st January and was off Cork at 2am yesterday. She brings 149 passengers and 27,000 ounces of gold."

April 8th.
"The Royal Charter left Hobson’s Bay on 21st January, rounded the Horn on 21st February, 22 days, crossed the line 14th March, 42 days. With lights winds from the equator from 20th February – 7th March, she ran 4079 knots, her average per day being 300 miles, her greatest days run 396 miles. Addresses were presented to the Captain and his officers by the passengers."

Some say that it was this belief, the ‘unsinkability’ of the Royal Charter that led to her demise – and not just the treacherous storm. Passenger numbers were doubled; at the time of her sinking it was reported she was carrying around 371 passengers plus a crew of over one hundred plus other company employees. Exact figures were never confirmed as records were lost with the ship. Many of the passengers were gold miners, returning home after years spent at mines in Australia – these men were rumoured to be carrying large sums of gold around their person, as well as a huge consignment in the ship’s cargo. As sailing time records were broken, pressure was put on the ship’s Captains at the time to try for better times. All of these factors must be taken into account.

On her final journey, as the ship reached the north-western tip of Anglesey on 25th, October 1859 the barometer was dropping, and it was claimed later by some passengers, though not confirmed at later hearings, that the master, Captain Thomas Taylor, was advised to put into Holyhead harbour for shelter. He ignored any such advice and pushed on for Liverpool.

Off Point Lynas, near the fishing port of Moelfre, the Royal Charter tried to pick up the Liverpool pilot, but the wind had now risen to Storm force 10 on the Beaufort Scale and the rapidly rising sea made this impossible. Overnight, the wind rose to Hurricane force 12 in what became known as the ‘Royal Charter gale’ and the Captain sought shelter in Moelfre Bay.

As the wind rose it changed direction from E to NE and then NNE, driving the ship towards the shoreline. At 11pm she anchored, but at 1.30am on the 26th, the port anchor chain snapped, followed by the starboard chain an hour later. Despite frantic attempts to cut the masts to reduce drag, the ship was driven inshore, with the steam engines unable to make headway against the gale. The ship initially grounded on a sandbank, but in the early morning of the 26th, the rising tide drove her onto rocks at Porth Alerth. Battered against the rocks by huge waves whipped up by winds of over 100 mph, she quickly broke up.

At day break, about 5.30am, the wreck was seen from the shore by local men, Thomas Hughes and Mesech Williams who could do nothing but stand and watch the tempestuous sea and the helpless wreck.

“Every moment the horrified spectators expected to see the waves burying in their depths the wrecking vessel, and more intense became their terror and excitement, when they beheld a man let himself down from the decks by a rope into the midst of the breakers.”

The Royal Charter broke up on
these rocks near Moelfre
An eyewitness account from Councillor WAGSTAFF of Bangor, who arrived at the scene early on the morning of Wednesday 26th after confirming rumours of shipwreck with the Customs House, recalls the scene in detail.

“On the beach I saw people from the locality with some survivors. One passenger was rambling about the shore, more like a maniac. He had lost his wife and child. I also spoke to two Cornish miners, who had been long in Australia, they had returned home with their savings and had lost about ten sovereigns each.

"I spoke to a young man, William John FERRIS who said the vessel struck between 2 and 3 am, and they set the bay on fire with signals of distress, they set off blue lights, rockets and fired canons in the hope of getting assistance from shore. A man swam ashore with a hawser and by this means some had been saved.”

That man, also seen from the locals on the shore, was to become a hero, decorated in later years for his selfless actions that night. Crew member, Maltese-born, Guzi Ruggier (also known as Joseph Rogers) managed to struggle through the surf with a line, enabling a few people to be rescued. Many were drowned, weighed down by the belts of gold they carried around their persons, or by the actions of the officers who had herded the women and children below decks for safety during the storm. In total only 21 passengers and 18 crew, all men, survived.

Liverpool Mercury, April 7th 1860

"Jose Rogers, the Maltese sailor who behaved so nobly on the occasion on the wreck of the Royal Charter, arrived in Melbourne as crew of the Great Britain. For thanks from the town, a purse of 40 sovereign was presented to him by the Mayor of Melbourne and the manager of the Theatre Royal."

Liverpool Mercury, September 11th 1897

"Death of a Brave Man

"The death took place yesterday at the Liverpool Northern Hospital of Joseph Rogers, in his 68th year. In October 1859 on the occasion of the wreck of the Royal Charter, on the Anglesea coast, (he being a member of the crew) he performed an act of valour which secured him lasting fame.

"Carrying a rope, he swam through boiling surf to the rocks, and was the means of saving 35 persons by means of a canvas chair. He went twice from ship to shore with a line. His achievement was acknowledged by presentations from the Board of Trade and the Liverpool Sailor’s Homes. He received £200 collected for him from the Liverpool Exchange.

"For several years he kept a small public house in Prison Weint. Until a few years ago, the famous auxiliary screw steamer, Great Britain, lay in the upper reach of the Birkenhead Float, and Rogers, while the caretaker of that ship, used to recount his adventures to curious visitors. He continued to follow the sea and latterly had been skipper of a steam flat on the Mersey.

"He died of bronchitis."

A large quantity of gold was said to have been thrown up on the beach at Porth Alerth, with some families becoming rich overnight. This is recounted by Councillor WAGSTAFF’s eye witness account.

“I saw a number of people searching the beach, when asked what they were searching for, they said ‘Gold’. One man found a bag containing 100 sovereign, up to 300 were found in all, and I’m of the belief all were handed to the Custom House agent, who took names of the finders. There was 20 men employed in taking charge of property found on the beach.

I saw many bodies washed up, among these two children. Everywhere I saw nothing but distress.”

The gold bullion carried as cargo was insured for £322,000.00 but the total value would have been considerably higher due to passengers carrying it on their persons or in the ship’s strong room. After the disaster, there were rumours and allegations for many years of local residents that became rich from the spoils of the wreck or by exploiting grieving relatives, and the ‘Moelfre Twenty-Eight’ who had been involved in the rescue attempts were forced to send an open letter to The Times newspaper trying to set the record straight and refute the accusations.

Many of the bodies recovered from the sea and shore were buried at St Gallgo’s Church, Llanallgo, where the graves and a memorial can still be seen. There is also a memorial on the cliff path above the cliffs where the ship struck, which is now part of the Anglesey Coastal Path.

The other unlikely hero, who maybe became the Royal Charter’s final victim, was the Rector of the local parish churches of the area, which included St Gallgo’s, Reverend Stephen Roose Hughes.

As the bodies were recovered from the sea and shoreline and carried up to the village, St Gallgo’s Church became the local mortuary. Furniture was removed to make room for the bodies, and services were moved to the Church School opposite, where later the inquest for the shipwreck was held.

Reverend Roose Hughes features in Dicken’s account of the events. He records the care with which the reverend gentleman carefully recorded the physical details of each body, its clothing, the contents of the pockets and any detail which man enable and identification to be made. Each body was carefully examined by the stream of relatives which soon started to descend on the village and who came one by one to the Rector. In some cases bodies had to be exhumed and taken away after identification. Dickens records that Roose Hughes had written 1075 letters in reply to those which had written to him enquiring after loved ones.

The strain of the event led to the early death of the Rector. He lies amongst those who bodies were recovered from the sea. His gravestone bears the following inscription:

“His noble and disinterested exertions on the memorable occasion of the terrible Wreck of the ‘Royal Charter’ are well known throughout the World. The subsequent effects of those exertions proved too much for his constitution, and suddenly brought him to an early Grave.”

He died on February 4th, 1862, a date on which the life of Stephen Roose Hughes is celebrated annually in St Gallgo’s Church. The oak panelling of the chancel there is in his memory.

The remains of the shipwreck lay to this day in less than five metres of water, just off the rocks at the far end of Porth Alerth beach, now just a series of iron bulkheads, plates and ribs which become covered and uncovered by the shifting sands. Over the years, I’ve heard numerous reports of divers finding coins, sovereigns, pistols, spectacles and other personal items on the wreck site. One television news bulletin around a decade ago featured a diver who reported finding gold bullion half-buried in the sea bed. Running short of air, he failed to free the gold, and when he returned, days later, the sands had covered the area and it remains buried. Teams have air-lifted, water-dredged and metal-detected for other treasure as late as the summer of 2012.

I believe that the Royal Charter still holds treasure and will never give it up. But I also believe the story of her loss and the men that became heroes on that fateful day in October 1859 are just as important as all the buried treasure in the world.

And I hope now you’ve learned a little more about the story of the Royal Charter you believe that too.


If you’d like to purchase my contemporary novel based around the legend of the Royal Charter shipwreck, please click here. Or you can comment below to win a signed paperback (international). Please be sure to leave contact information if you are entering the giveaway.

My other two novels, Closure and Complicit, which also feature historical facts about the island of Anglesey can be found on my website.
You can follow me on Twitter @gillyhamer
And for more details of other books from Triskele, visit our website.

Twelfth Night at Longbourn by Maria Grace

Maria Grace is giving away two electronic copies (mobi, epub or pdf) of Twelfth Night at Longbourn. This giveaway ends at midnight, January 5, 2014. To see more about the book, please click HERE. Comment here to enter the drawing, and be sure to leave your contact information

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Lord Leicester's Love Child: Part Two

by Pauline Montagna

As we saw in Part One of this article, Sir Robert Dudley was the illegitimate son of the Earl of Leicester, born in 1574 of an affair with Douglas Howard, sister to Charles Howard, the Lord High Admiral. Although his father never married his mother, Leicester never denied his paternity and ensured Robert was raised as befits the son of an earl.

Robert attended Christ Church, Oxford, but after matriculating, unlike other sons of aristocrats, he aspired to a real profession and took up an apprenticeship as a naval architect, a profession at which he excelled and would one day stand him in very good stead. On his father's death in 1588, Robert inherited substantial property including Castle Kenilworth. Despite his illegitimacy, as a handsome and able young man Robert was destined to go far.

Robert's first wife was Mary Cavendish, the sister of the explorer Thomas Cavendish, and on his brother-in-law's death in 1593, Robert inherited two boats. Despite his youth Robert led an expedition to the West Indies where he harried Spanish shipping. He also led or financed further expeditions to Africa and the Far East. In 1597 he joined his step-brother, the Earl of Essex, and his uncle, the Lord High Admiral, in their successful attack on Cadiz and was knighted on the field. On a less successful note, he also followed the Earl of Essex into his Rebellion in 1601 and was briefly imprisoned.

Now married to his second wife Alice Leigh, and the father of five daughters, in 1603 Sir Robert initiated a lawsuit to establish his legitimacy, claiming that his parents had been secretly married before his birth. If the suit had succeeded he would have been able to claim his father's title of Earl of Leicester and also that of his uncle of Earl of Warwick as he, too, had died without an heir. His father's widow, Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester, immediately responded with a countersuit for defamation. The case was heard in the Star Chamber, was resolved in the Countess's favour, and Sir Robert was ordered to pay a fine of £100.

Distressed at losing the case, Sir Robert angrily repudiated England and his family and ran off to France, taking with him his cousin and mistress, Elizabeth Southwell, who travelled disguised as a pageboy. There he and Elizabeth converted to Catholicism and received a Papal dispensation to marry.

Sir Robert then sought work as a naval engineer for the Grand Duke of Tuscany where he undertook several major and successful projects including draining the swamp between Pisa and Livorno so that he could build a port there, designing several new classes of warships and publishing a major work on navigation and cartography. In the meantime he was involved in protracted negotiations with King James I for his return, but when James demanded that Sir Robert should abandon his new family in favour of his English family, he finally determined not to return and his English estates were forfeit.

However, in compensation, Ferdinand II, the Holy Roman Emperor revived the defunct Dudley titles of Earl of Warwick and Duke of Northumberland so that Sir Robert was able to claim these titles within the Holy Roman Empire. He was also given a villa in Florence as a reward for his services. Throughout his life, he was consulted by the Grand Duke on all his major building works, and he served as Grand Chamberlain to three successive Grand Duchesses.

All in all, the now Duke of Northumberland and his Duchess lived happily ever after with their thirteen children who were all married into the Italian nobility.


The Social Navigations of Sir Robert Dudley (1574-1649), a dissertation by Cory Miyuki Ota Hollis, University of California (2008) available online through Google Books.
The Tudor Place Website, biographies of the Earl of Leicester
Douglas Howard
Sir Robert Dudley


Pauline Montagna lives in Melbourne, Australia. She has published three books, The Slave, an historical romance set in fourteenth century Italy, Suburban Terrors, a short story collection, and Not Wisely but Too Well, a novel of the young Shakespeare and the first volume of a projected four volume series. You can find out more about her and her books on her website.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Money talks

by Anna Belfrage

Hands up all of those who think accounting is an absolutely riveting subject. No; I thought not. Accountants have the dubious honour of being labelled the oldest profession in the world together with prostitutes – for the obvious reason that what the prostitutes earned, the accountant had to tally up. For those of you that find accountants – and the art of accounting – rather boring, I would have you know that accounting is as much an art as writing is, and before the advent of the Italian invention, double entry book-keeping, it was even more creative than it is today. Inexact, one could say, which when one is describing accounting is a most unfortunate adjective to use.

When trying to conjure up an image of an accountant in historic time, it’s Mr Cratchit, the father of Tiny Tim in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, that comes to mind. There he is, leaning over his desk, with his shirt covered by protective half-sleeves in black. With a ruler he draws up nearly invisible lines in his ledger before using ink and pen to carefully enter each transaction. As Mr Cratchit was around long after the invention of double book-keeping, each entry is of course made twice (and so as not to risk losing my audience, I will not explain the intricacies of accounting in detail).

Back in the good old days – the Middle Ages – the accounting ledgers were often the responsibility of the lady of the house. She may have had a steward to handle her business and do the entries, but a well-educated woman of the times could definitely square her own accounts and do whatever audits she found necessary. Not that one needs double book-keeping to handle the household finances – my Mum used a lined pad and a pencil. The Chinese, who, if we’re going to be quite honest, were centuries ahead of Europe when it came to business and profit development, used an abacus. Many Chinese still do.

In Europe, medieval accounts were kept in rolls, long details of expenses. Unless the reader planned on ticking off every single item, line by line, it was relatively easy to sneak in a discrepancy or two. While I would argue most accountants – no matter the day and age they lived in – are honest, there are a few who aren’t, who go beyond making accounting creative to making it criminal. Such behaviour was easier to spot – and stop – once the Italians came up with their little invention: let’s enter all transactions TWICE,  which means it must sum not only vertically but horizontally (a simplification), and if it doesn’t, something is wrong.

It very often was – wrong, I mean. Even today, when most accounting is done through fancy ERP systems, things end up being incorrect, which is why one needs that age-old profession – the accountant – to begin with.

So why this Italian interest in accounting? Well, it all comes down to banks. Banking is another very ancient profession – already in Mesopotamia there were “lending houses”, well-run businesses that made money out of money – or rather, someone else’s lack of money. These banks became increasingly more sophisticated, the Greek did their banking thing, the Romans did theirs, and then along came the Christian Church and banking went belly-up, overnight, almost.

Christ driving out the usurers
The Christian Church considered usury a sin, and if you couldn’t make money out of money-lending, why would you do it? So, for several centuries, Europe muddled along without any type of banking system – at least not formally. Luckily for Europe, they had the Jews. In actual fact, Judaism also condemns usury, but only when dealing with other Jews. Therefore, the Jewish merchants could develop a lucrative little side-line, lending money to the Gentiles – at a cost, of course. This was yet another reason for the anti-Semitism that was as natural as drawing breath for most medieval Europeans. It was also the equivalent of playing with fire, because, as many Jewish moneylenders were to find out, some of their larger debtors showed great creativity – and cruelty – in devising ways to avoid repaying the money.

Medieval Jews had to wear these hats
Take for example the York Massacre in 1190 in which the entire Jewish community in York was wiped out, very much egged on by a handful of noblemen who owed the Jews considerable amounts of money. At the time, rich Jews had been lending money right, left and centre to all the eager wannabe Crusaders – including Richard I of England. The Jews supposedly had royal protection, but it availed them little when the York mob chased them through the city, forcing the Jewish community to seek protection in the castle. None of them made it out. Surrounded by the baying mob, they chose to commit mass suicide, as the alternative – to surrender to the enraged citizenry of York – was less than palatable. The ringleaders took the precaution of burning all Jewish records, thereby erasing all proof of their debt.

Some generations down the line, mighty Edward I financed his martial activity by taxing “his” Jews more or less to death. The Jews were the king’s personal property (!), and once he had wrung them dry of money, Edward used them for political purposes. Ultimately, in 1290 the Jews were expulsed from England – as was happening throughout northern Europe.

While monarchs everywhere could congratulate each other on having rid their countries of the Jews, they were also faced with a long-term financing issue. Yes, ousting the Jews did wonders for their balance sheets in the short term (they appropriated all the assets the Jews couldn’t take with them, which was often most of their estate), but as the prohibition against usury still stood, there was no one to fill the Jewish moneylenders’ shoes.

To this day, business ventures depend on risk capital to develop from mere ideas into viable enterprises. No cash, no company, no future wealth. (Which is why, as an aside, I would always urge you to study the cash-flow of any company you’re planning to invest in) Enter the Italian banks. Already back in the 12th century, Venice founded its first bank, but it wasn’t until the exiled Jews from the north made it to Italy, that banking as a business concept took off.
Originally, banking was a trade in grain futures. The farmer borrowed money on his growing crop, the lender thereby acquired the crop at a discounted (lower) value, and everyone was happy. Unless the crop failed – which it occasionally did. Hand in hand with lending, an insurance business arose. “If you want to borrow money, that’s fine, but I also want you to pay an insurance premium, you know, just in case you die of the plague, or the Po floods your fields, or…” A most elegant construction, whereby the lender charged no official interest. Instead, he covered his risk in the discounted value of the future crop and the cost of the insurance.

Banking at the time was an informal business, conducted at the market place. The money-lenders did their business on a bench (Italian banca, which is where the word bank comes from), and should the money-lenders default on their promises, or overextend themselves to the point of ending up in debt themselves, their bench was broken in two (Italian banca rotta, from which derives the word bankrupt).

The Italian banks became a force to be reckoned with throughout Europe. Kings, noblemen, merchants – they all lined up, cap in hand, eager to tap into this new source of money. Over time, the prohibition against usury was watered down – various Popes, eager for money, helped. Families such as the Bardi, the Mozzi, the Peruzzi and the Medici became synonym with banking, amassing not only wealth but power.

To add a British angle, there arose in England a banking system handled by the goldsmiths. Rich in ready cash, the goldsmiths acted as middle-men between those that had (depositing large amounts of gold and jewels with the goldsmiths for safekeeping) and those that wanted. A new-fangled financial instrument, the promissory note, saw the light of the day. These notes were to a fixed value and were signed by the debtor and the creditor. The note could be sold, passed on in lieu of payment, and so paper money was born.

Whether you were an Italian banker or an English goldsmith, you faced similar issues: if your livelihood depended on lending other people money, you needed a fail-safe way of keeping tabs on who owed you what, when repayment was due, and what interest – oops, sorry! Insurance premium – was valid. The financial relationships were complex – in some cases the banker was both a debtor and a creditor – and unless you knew down to the last florin just how much money you had, things could very quickly go very wrong. This challenging environment resulted in the rolls becoming obsolete, and instead the late 13th century saw the birth of the double-entry book keeping.

Today, eight hundred years later, this system is still in use. What those long dead Italians invented, is what rules the world of Finance today, testament to just how excellent the system is.  It has the further upside – from an accountant’s perspective – of being rather complex, ensuring that this, the oldest profession in the world, has a bright and lucrative future. But it is also that complexity which ensures most businesses adhere to the straight and narrow – being too creative in a double-entry book-keeping system has a nasty tendency to come back and bite you. Hard. Smart guys, those Italians…

And as to the Jews who brought their acumen to the nascent banking trade, many of them managed to hang on to an existence in Italy. In difference to other European states, the various Italian states never formally expelled their Jewish compatriots - at least not at the same time. Yet again: smart guys, those Italians...

Anna Belfrage is not only the CFO of a listed company (which explains her fascination with accounting),  she is also the author of four published books: A Rip in the Veil, Like Chaff in the Wind, The Prodigal Son and her latest release, A Newfound Land. Set in seventeenth century Scotland and Virginia/Maryland, the books tell the story of Matthew and Alex, two people who should never have met - not when she was born three hundred years after him.

For more information about Anna and her books, please visit her website or her blog.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Fugitive King

by Tim Carrington

Written by Edward Payne and originally published by myself under ‘Shropshire Promotions’.

As our school days recede, one of the few bits of history that sticks in the mind must be that of how King Charles II evaded the clutches of Cromwell and his troops by hiding up an oak tree. But where is this oak? And where did the events that led up to Charles taking this unusual means of concealment occur? Many people and counties make claims to having the actual tree that he hid in, but the truth is that most of the events took place in the County of Shropshire.

To set the scene for these events it is necessary to go back in time to the 17th century when the country was in a turmoil and still recovering from the effects of civil war. Charles I had been executed and Cromwell had declared the country a common-wealth.

The young Prince Charles sought refuge in France and then later in Holland. It was merely a matter of time, though, before he attempted to regain his father's throne, and shortly after his 20th birthday he set sail from Holland and landed in Scotland on the 23rd June. Together with his loyal Scottish troops he made his way south, reaching Worcester virtually unopposed where he was proclaimed 'King of Great Britain, France and Ireland'. Cromwell reached Worcester four days later and camped to the south-east of the city.

After preliminary skirmishing, a huge battle took place on the 3rd of September, 1651, and by the end of the day Charles had been soundly beaten. The dejection and confusion of this moment are best reflected in Charles' own account which he dictated to Samuel Pepys some thirty years later.

"After the battle was so absolutely lost as to be beyond hope of recovery, I began to think of the best way of saving myself, and the first thought that came into my head was that if I could possibly, I would get to London as soon as possible, if not sooner than the news of our defeat could get thither. And it being near dark I talked with some, especially my Lord Rochester who was then Wilmot, about their opinions of which would be the best way for me to escape, it being impossible as I thought to get back to Scotland. I found them mightily distracted and their opinions different of the possibility of getting into Scotland, but not agreeing with mine, for going to London, saving my Lord Wilmot, and the truth is I did not impart my design of going to London to any but my Lord Wilmot."

Even though Charles had decided to make for London, they were forced to flee northwards, and together with a guide, Charles Giffard, they made their way into what is now the Telford area, and this is where I decided to take up the trail and follow in the footsteps of His Royal Highness King Charles II.

Now, with me trying to retrace his path some 335 years later, things had obviously changed. Housing estates, developments, in fact a complete new town had sprouted up and consequently his exact route was hard to follow.

Charles and his group were heading for a house called Boscobel, as their guide was related to the owner. However, it was to a former Priory called White Ladies that Charles and his party were initially taken. It was explained in this way.

"Upon further consideration by His Majesty and council, and to the end of the company might not know whither His Majesty directly intended, Mr Giffard was required to conduct His Majesty to some house near Boscobel, the better to blind the design of going thither. Mr Giffard proposed White Ladies, lying about half a mile beyond Boscobel."

It was thought far too dangerous for a large number of people to know Charles' actual hiding place and so to White Ladies they went.

I made my way down a leafy, narrow and overgrown lane which was full of potholes, in turn full of water, and found the Priory of White Ladies, which is now in ruin.

In reality, the Priory was dissolved over a hundred years before Charles' arrival but the Priory buildings had been turned into houses. It had been an Augustinian Priory dedicated to St. Leonard. The name refers to the wearing of undyed habits which distinguished St. Leonards from a Benedictine nunnery in the area known as Black Ladies.

For a moment, as I stood by the gate looking across the lawns surrounding the ruins, I heard a light wind whispering through the trees behind me and I imagined I could hear horses hooves, the jingle of harness and the riders' anxious voices as the company approached the house.

Charles and his group were let into White Ladies by a servant called George Penderel. Penderel had four brothers and it was this family that would figure prominently in the events of the next few days. Here. Charles changed into 'a pair of ordinary grey cloth breeches, a leather doublet and green jerkin'. His hair was cut short and his face darkened with soot. The rest of the party then left, but, unknown to the others, Charles had sent Lord Wilmot on a secret mission and that was to see if a route to London was possible. One of the Penderel brothers, called Richard, soon arrived at White Ladies and together with the King they set out on foot and hid in a wood nearby known as Spring Coppice.

"In this wood I stayed all day without meat or drink and by great fortune it rained all the time which hindered them, as I believe, from coming into the wood to search for men that might be fled there."

Although Charles claims not to have had any food or water during the day it is now widely believed that he did. According to Thomas Blount, a chronicler of the period, Charles was brought a blanket and some food by the wife of Francis Yates, a relative of the Penderels. The blanket was used to keep the rain off the King. The pair then began to discuss possible routes of escape with Charles resigned to heading for London.

"As I was in the wood I talked to Richard Penderel about getting to London, and asking many questions, about what gentlemen he knew, I did not find he knew any man of quality in the way towards London. And the truth is, my mind changed as I lay in the wood, and I resolved of another way of making my escape, which was, to get over the Severn into Wales and so get either to Swansea or some other sea town that I knew had commerce with France. So that night, as soon as it was dark, Richard Penderel and I took our journey on foot towards the Severn, intending to pass over a ferry halfway between Bridgnorth and Shrewsbury."

With that, I also took my journey on foot with the goal of finding their next port of call, a small cottage called Hubbal Grange. I made my way past the village of Tong and began to trudge along a seemingly endless dirt track, eventually coming across a sign embedded deeply in a hedge, indicating Hubbal Grange. It was here that I had to leave the dirt track and fight my way through thick undergrowth, trying to evade the stinging tentacles of huge nettles with one hand and swat at the swarm of ravenous flies buzzing eagerly around my head with the other. What is left of Hubbal Grange at last came into view, just a few ruined walls. I felt saddened by the disrepair of the building but Charles and Penderel must have been cheered for here they rested and ate a little food, and Richard Penderel's mother improved the King's disguise.

They then set out again, with Charles assuming the name of William Jones. As they continued their nocturnal hike, they came to Evelith Mill, not far from Shifnal.

When I arrived at Evelith, roughly 300 years later, I encountered a fierce-looking golden Labrador charging straight at me, only stopping, thankfully, at the brook which separated us. The reception for Charles and Penderel was no better.

"Just as we came to the mill we could see the miller sitting at the mill door, he being in white clothes. It being a very dark night, he called out 'Who goes there?' Upon which Richard Penderel answered 'Neighbours going home', or some such words, whereupon the miller cried out, 'If you be neighbours stand, or else I will knock you down.' Upon which, we believing there was company in the house, Penderel bad me follow him close. So we fell to running, both of us, up a lane as long as we could run, it being very deep and very dirty, till at last I bad him leap over a hedge and lie still to hear if anyone followed us."

They were not followed, and I managed to pass Evelith Mill untouched, although the barking Labrador kept a watchful eye on my progress. But I did get a glimpse of the now idle mill hiding behind a mass of green. The trees in front of the mill are enormous, they simply towered above me like giant sentinels hiding an ancient secret of a miller who refused sanctuary to a Royal fugitive one dark, dark night so long ago I felt relieved to be well away from the mill, probably in much the same way that Charles and Penderel did after their encounter with the miller.

I continued in my desired direction, walking along the very same lanes that Charles had described earlier, although my pace was much more leisurely. I found my way into the old part of Madeley and to my next destination, Upper House. It dates from the 17th century and its appearance is typical of the period, with pointed gables and some of the original mullioned windows still in position. My fleeing predecessors arrived in the early hours of Friday, the 5th of September. The owner of the house was a Francis Woolfe. The King stayed in the background whilst Penderel went to ask Woolfe if he would receive 'a gentleman of quality' and hide him throughout the next day.

"Mr Woolfe, when the country fellow told him that it was one that had escaped from the battle of Worcester said that for his part it was so dangerous a thing to harbour anybody that was known, that he would not venture his neck for any man, unless it were the King himself. Upon which Richard Penderel very discreetly, and without any leave, told him that it was I.. Upon which Mr Woolfe replied that he should be very ready to venture all he had in the world to secure me."

There were a number of hiding places in the house but these were known to the Roundheads, so the King was only allowed to remain briefly, while he was given a meal of cold meat. He and Penderel were then taken to the barn that belonged to Upper House and were hidden behind the corn and hay. Here they stayed all day.

So far, the plan of getting to Wales was working well, and under the cover of night they would cross the river Severn and head towards the border. The pair must have been in extremely high spirits. But it was not to be. Later that day, Francis Yates' son arrived from Shrewsbury bearing bad news. All the river crossings were guarded by Cromwell's troops. The King was advised against making any attempts to cross the Severn.

"Upon this I took the resolution of going that night the very same way back again to Penderel's house where I knew I should hear some news of what had become of my Lord Wilmot, and resolved again upon going to London."

Before Charles and Penderel left for the return journey, the King's disguise was improved by Mrs Woolfe who is said to have used walnut juice to darken his skin so that he would look less like a nobleman. It was about eleven o'clock when they set out for Boscobel House. The King was concerned about having another encounter with the miller at Evelith so they made a slight detour and reached the river Worfe.

"And therefore asking Richard Penderel whether he could swim or no, and how deep the river was, he told me it was a scurvy river, not easy to be past in all places and that he could not swim. So I told him that the river being a little one, I would undertake to help him over. Upon which we went close to the river side, and I, entering the river first, to see whether I could myself go over, who knew how to swim, found it a little above my middle, and there upon taking Richard Penderel by the hand, I helped him over."

It certainly must have been an honour for a mere country man, without breeding, to have the future King of England help him across a river. When I arrived at the river Worfe there was no Royal hand to help me, not even a boat, and I did not really fancy the idea of wading through it. So I decided to take a somewhat drier route and bolted past the mill at Evelith hoping not to meet the ghost of the inhospitable miller, or worse, that ill-tempered golden Labrador!

It was about three o'clock on Saturday morning when the King arrived at Boscobel. At this point they proceeded with caution. The King concealed himself in a wood nearby while Penderel went on ahead to ensure the house was safe for Charles to enter. He found one of Charles' officers from Worcester hiding there, a Major William Careless. Careless was a local man known to the family and he and Penderel returned to the wood in which the King was hiding and brought him to the house.

I arrived about three o'clock in the afternoon, feeling excited because this was the highlight of my journey. It was here I would find out the truth about the Royal Oak. I could see the black and white of the house through the trees, but as I neared it I realised that the effect was artificial. Originally the timber was exposed, but, sadly, due to the 18th century fashion it was covered with stucco. Nevertheless, the building has a majestic air which seems to boast a history that many houses would be envious of.

"Careless told me that it would be very dangerous for me to either stay in that house or go into the wood, there being a great wood hand by Boscobel, and that he knew but one way how to pass the next day, and that was to get up into a great oak in a pretty plain place where we might see round about us, for the enemy would certainly search all the wood for people that had made their escape. Of which proposition I approving, we (that is to say Careless and I) went and carried with us some victuals for the whole day, viz, bread, cheese, small beer, and nothing else, and got up into a great oak that had been lopt some three or four years before, and being grown again, very bushy and thick, could not be seen through, and here we stayed all day."

Apparently it was an abysmal day, typical of an English summer, and the rain poured down unabated, pushing the King and Careless to the edge of their patience. They managed to stay up the tree for fourteen hours. On the Saturday evening Charles enjoyed a greater amount of comfort than he had since leaving Worcester, ravenously eating a dish of chickens and during the evening he was shaved and his hair trimmed. The oak tree now stands alone, a solitary monument to one of our more romantic pieces of history. But it is not the original oak, Not the oak that found fame by sheltering a King.

When the King was restored to the throne in 1660, the Penderels felt that it was safe to tell the world of the events that took place at Boscobel, and consequently a deluge of souvenir hunters descended on the poor tree and hacked it away piece by piece until there was nothing left. Possibly this could account for the many claims that people and counties have concerning the whereabouts of the Royal Oak. The present oak at Boscobel is believed to have been grown from an acorn of the original tree, planted in the exact same spot.

The king spent the Saturday night hiding in a priest-hole that can still be seen in the attic of the house.

Now, seeing that I was following in the footsteps of the King I just had to try it out for size. The priest-hole is just four feet square, but it seemed a great deal bigger than that to me, but then I'm only a small chap and the King was over six-feet tall. But I could still imagine the restless night, always on edge, that the King must have endured here. I certainly would not have liked it, for the open trap-door above me had been closed and nailed tight for nine long hours!

So this is where my trail ended. It had been an eventful few days for me just as it must have been for all those involved in helping the King avoid capture. But perhaps my story should not end just yet.

King Charles left Boscobel House on Sunday, 7th September, 1651, four days after the Battle of Worcester. With the King were the four Penderel brothers and Francis Yates. They crossed into Staffordshire and made for Moseley Old Hall, and it was here that Charles met up again with his loyal friend Lord Wilmot. It was an emotional meeting as the King had been concerned about Wilmot's safety. From Moseley they went to Bentley Hall and it was here that Charles took on the guise of a serving man and together with Jane Lane, the daughter of the owner of Bentley Hall, they weaved their way down the country to Brighton. On the 5th of October, forty-two days after the Battle of Worcester, Charles sailed away to France aboard a coal ship named Surprise.

One more thing. When Charles did regain the throne, he never forgot about the Shropshire folk who aided him in his time of need, as a result he began to pay them an annual sum of money. These annuities are still being paid to their descendants over three hundred and twenty seven years later.

Edward Payne


Edward wrote this for a local radio broadcast and then we worked together publishing it as a mini-guide on the history of Shropshire. We sent a copy to Prince Charles together with a letter reassuring that if such events happened again that there were still loyal subjects in Shropshire. We received a letter from his secretary saying that H.R.H. had enjoyed the booklet and was reassured that such loyalty still existed.

Tim Carrington

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Lord Leicester's Love Child

by Pauline Montagna

I thought I knew all there was to know about Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester. I knew, for instance, that he was Elizabeth I's dearest friend and the only man she might have married, but he was an impossible choice.

Not only had he been married at 18 to Amy Robsart, a Norfolk heiress, but he was a member of an able and powerful family who had a knack for making themselves unpopular with the people as well as their monarch. Though a loyal servant to Henry VII, in the early years of Henry VIII's reign Leicester's grandfather had been executed for treason, as had his father and brother for attempting to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne. It might have been Robert himself who was married off to Lady Jane and executed with her except for his early marriage. Fortunately, after a short stint in the Tower of London he was pardoned and released.

Matters were only made worse by the untimely death of Amy Robsart in circumstances that laid Leicester open to suspicions of having murdered her. If the Queen had married him at this point it would not only have brought on accusations of complicity, but together with Leicester's widespread unpopularity, may have even provoked open rebellion.

Years later, Leicester married Lettice Knollys, widow of the Earl of Essex and, as Mary Boleyn's grand-daughter, a cousin to the Queen. It is a testament to the strength of the Queen's friendship with Leicester that he remained in her favour despite her detesting her cousin who dared to come to court in gowns even more ornate than the Queen's. After an unsuccessful attempt to have the marriage annulled, Elizabeth had to content herself with banishing Lettice from court. The couple had one son who died in infancy, so that on his death in 1588, shortly after the defeat of the Spanish Armada, Leicester died without an heir.

Given how much I thought I knew, you can imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon a Sir Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester's son, of whose existence I was totally unaware.

A little digging revealed that he was illegitimate and that his mother was a very high born lady indeed. She was Douglas Howard, daughter of the Baron of Effingham, sister of Charles Howard, the Lord High Admiral, and widow of Baron Sheffield. Another cousin of the Queen's, she came to court as a Maid of Honour. We have no image of the young Douglas, but she was said to resemble her cousin, Queen Katherine Howard. If she shared her cousin's vivacious character, it is no wonder she came to the attention of Leicester's roving eye.

Their affair was the subject of general gossip at court and perhaps even amusement as reported in 1573 when a young courtier wrote to his father:

'... There are two sisters now in the court that are very far in love with him, as they have long been; my Lady Sheffield and Frances Howard. They (of like striving who shall love him better) are at great wars together and the queen thinketh not well of them, and not the better of him...'

Later, even more damaging scandal circulated, accusing Leicester and Douglas of conspiring to poison her husband, Baron Sheffield. (Not surprisingly, exactly the same rumours surfaced about Lettice's husband, the Earl of Essex, who died of dysentery in Ireland.)

Despite the birth of young Robert in August 1574, they both married elsewhere. A year after Leicester married Lettice Knollys in 1578, Douglas married Sir Edward Stafford who took her to Paris when he was made ambassador to the court of Henri III. Leicester never denied paternity of their son, had him raised in the best households, supervised his education and left him generously provided for in his will where, however, he continued to refer to him as his 'base son'. It is still rumoured that the couple were secretly married, but when, as a grown man, Sir Robert filed a case in an attempt to prove his legitimacy, it failed.

In 1936 an academic article was published which revealed the discovery of a letter from Leicester to an unnamed lady.

The long rambling letter reviews the couple's relationship. It states that it began soon after the lady was widowed and that from the beginning Leicester made it clear to her that he was in no position to marry. She accepted those terms but after a while became dissatisfied and pressed him to marry her.

This led to an estrangement of several months followed by a reconciliation, more recriminations from the lady and another estrangement. In the letter, Leicester maintains that he feels nothing but 'goodwill' towards the lady of whom he made a 'special choice'. However, he repeats many times that he has always been open and honest with her about the fact that he cannot marry her and that she has accepted these terms on more than one occasion.

He tells her he dare not marry anyone, even though he wants an heir more than anything, for fear of losing favour with the Queen which would be his 'utter overthrow'. He goes on to urge the lady to consider offers of marriage from other suitors which she might have otherwise rejected for his sake. In a postscript, Leicester insists on his fidelity to the lady. (Does this line of reasoning sound familiar ladies? The more things change... the more things stay the same… )

Internal evidence identifies the lady in question as Douglas Howard. As Baron Sheffield died in December 1568, the letter would have been written between 1569 when Douglas returned to court and early 1574 as there is no mention of the child. It was found amongst the papers of Sir Thomas Egerton who presided over the courts of Chancery and the Star Chamber when Sir Robert Dudley brought his case in 1603, and it may well have been tendered in evidence.

During the case, Douglas claimed in writing that Leicester had married her in 1573 before the birth of their son, but he had later offered her £700 per annum to disavow the marriage so he could marry Lettice Knollys. After passionately rejecting the offer she thought better of it and accepted. She claimed she later married Stafford bigamously for fear of being poisoned by Leicester.

However, soon after Leicester's marriage, when the Queen was trying to get it annulled, she had commanded Stafford to ask Douglas if she had been contracted to Leicester. Stafford testified that she had replied with 'great vows, grief and passion that she had trusted the said earl too much to have anything to show to constrain him to marry her.' Furthermore, Douglas could not remember the exact date of the wedding nor the name of the minister. She claimed Leicester had given her a ring and wrote letters addressing her as his wife, though she produced neither in evidence. It is no wonder the case failed.

The case was not only about establishing Robert's legitimacy, but an attempt to claim his father's titles and lands, as well as those of his uncle, the Earl of Warwick, who, like his brother, had also died without issue. With so much at stake, Douglas might well have lied for her son's sake, though she might also have wanted to take revenge on Lettice Knollys. One could understand if she harboured some bitterness towards the man who had strung her along for so many years and then married another woman.

Sir Robert Dudley took the failure of the case very hard, but that's a story for another day.


A Letter from Robert, Earl of Leicester to a Lady by Conyers Read, The Hungtindon Library Bulletin, No 9, April 1936 available online through JSTOR.
The Tudor Place Website, biographies of the Earl of Leicester
Douglas Howard
Sir Robert Dudley


Pauline Montagna lives in Melbourne, Australia. She has published three books, The Slave, an historical romance set in fourteenth century Italy, Suburban Terrors, a short story collection, and Not Wisely but Too Well, a novel of the young Shakespeare and the first volume of a projected four volume series. You can find out more about her and her books on her website.

Giveaway! Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors

Debra Brown will be giving away a signed, print copy of Castles, Customs, and Kings to a winner within the United States and an ecopy internationally. You can read about the book HERE. Comment below to enter the drawing leaving your contact information. Please indicate if you are in the US.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Newgate Prison

by Evelyn Tidman

Newgate prison, which stood on the site of or close to the Old Bailey in London, has to be the most notorious prison in the history of Britain.

From the twelfth to the twentieth century, thousands of people passed through its terrible portals: common thieves, highwaymen, murderers and political prisoners. A large number of convicted inmates were taken to Tyburn (now at Marble Arch, London) or Smithfield and executed, by hanging or by being hanged drawn and quartered. During the religious zeal of the Tudors some unfortunates were taken to nearby Smithfield and burnt at the stake. During the English Civil War (1642-48) royalists, or those whom Parliament decided were spies or traitors to their cause, were housed there before trial at the Guildhall and execution. Convicted criminals not executed would likely die in Newgate of prison fever, or typhus as we now know it.

But what was Newgate really like?

Historians differ as to the term ‘New Gate’. In Roman times there were six gates leading into London: Aldgate to the east giving access to the roads to Colchester, Bishopsgate to the north giving access to Ermine Street. Aldersgate also gave access north to Watling Street and Cripplegate also opened north. Ludgate (allegedly founded by the mythical King Lud) opened eastwards, while Newgate opened west to important towns such as Silchester, Cirencester and Bath, and also aligned with Watling Street. It is thought there was also a gate known as the postern gate north of the present tower of London, and southwards there was a gate onto London Bridge known as Bridgegate. Other gates were added during Saxon times, Dowgate, Billingsgate, and Moorgate.

The Old Original Gate
Gates into towns were more than just a gate in the sense that we think of a garden gate. Complete with portcullis, they were large buildings with rooms over the gate itself and also to the sides. Often felons were housed in the lower rooms, making them also prisons. Over the years, of course, Newgate prison became too small for this purpose, and extensions were added. At the end of the twelfth century, a gaol was built on Newgate’s site.

Soon the prison became notorious for filthy, depraved living conditions. Richard Whittington, Lord Mayor of London (of pantomime fame) was so concerned that in his will he left money to build a new prison on the site. Accordingly, in 1423 the new Whittington Gaol or ‘The Whit’ as it became popularly known, measuring 85ft by 50 ft and five storeys high opened for business. A statue of Whittington and his famous cat adorned the façade of the new gaol, commemorating Whittington’s generosity.

Old Newgate Prison

What was it like in Newgate prison or ‘the Whit?’

Surprisingly one entered Newgate through the gate itself. Outside it had had an impression of dirty faded grandeur, with walls and mullioned windows embellished with sculpted ornamentation. It even had a permanently raised portcullis.

An new inmate would be taken immediately to the Lodge which was the general clearing house for new inmates, where the ‘gaolers’ were other inmates of both sexes, some under the sentence of death who had managed to put off the day of their execution by working as gaolers. The place reeked like a privy, and added to it the perfume of mouldy straw and unwashed humanity, vomit and damp.

‘A drink to your health, sir,’ meant that a prisoner who had any money was to buy everyone in the Lodge a drink. Alcohol was plentiful to those with money, and extorted from them by those without. If a newcomer did not pay up, he would be stripped of his clothing and his money stolen. They called it ‘chummage’.

Leg-irons were fastened on before the hapless new prisoner was conducted to the Condemned Hold, the source of the ever-present stench. Every rich newcomer spent the night there. Situated between the top and the bottom of the arch in the gate, it was a dark room, only a small glassless window letting in light or air. Wooden benches against the damp walls had to serve as beds and seats and tables. An open sewer ran down the middle of the room and emptied outside somewhere. There was no fire. Staples embedded in the stone floor chained down some unruly prisoners so that they could not move.

Half-demented by terror and the conditions, diseased, and dying, the thirty or more people of both sexes occupying this room waited for their turn to be hanged. Here in the Condemned Hold the new inmates were initiated into the terrors that awaited them.

While there, however, a person of means could purchase damp straw to lie on, which might insulate him from the cold stone floor, and he could purchase a candle. But the rats would eat the candle before he could actually benefit from the light. No food was provided in the Condemned Hold. After a night there the hapless newcomer would do anything to get out.

A Cell Door
When the new prisoner had spent a no doubt sleepless night in the Condemned Hold, he would be told that a great mistake had happened, that he should never have been put in there, and then he would be taken back to the Lodge where he again funded the gaolers to drink and could also purchase food. Here he would be offered different, private accommodation, for which he must pay twenty guineas (or twenty-one pounds), an extortionate amount of money, the price of a modest house in the city, and eleven shillings a week thereafter. Probably no-one refused!

Now, well-heeled persons could live in relative luxury with his chains removed, either in a shared cell or in a private room with a bed with blankets and sheets and a flock mattress, table and chair, and a fire. Of course the firewood came at a price as did everything else. There was even a taproom, where prisoners in that wing could buy drink and food. During the civil war, political prisoners would be held in a wing all to themselves until their trial.

If a person were condemned to death, a chaplain or ‘ordinary’ would preach a ‘condemned sermon’ the night before in the chapel, the condemned attending, an open coffin in place for the occasion. The chaplain would then write an account, preferably with a last-minute confession from the condemned—even better if it were on the scaffold—which would be included in the Newgate Calendar and sold to the people on the execution route to Tyburn.

In 1783 executions were transferred to Newgate itself, a scaffold being erected outside the gaol’s debtor’s door. Later executions were moved inside the gaol.

In 1666 the prison was destroyed by the Great Fire of London, and was rebuilt. The new one fell into disrepair and was in the process of being rebuilt again when during the Gordon Riots of 1780 it was destroyed again.

George Dance the younger built a new one in 1785 but in 1902 it was demolished and the Central Criminal Court also known as the Old Bailey was built on the site.


Evelyn Tidman's new book For the King, to be released in the spring, is about the English Civil War, and the main character spends time in Newgate prison.

Her other books include Gentleman of Fortune, a swashbuckling adventure about the eighteenth century pirate Bartholomew Roberts, and One Small Candle, the story of William Bradford and the Pilgrim Fathers.

Her books are available on Amazon, both in print and for Kindle at http://amzn.to/ZhCAE3 for the UK and http://amzn.to/ZWygLn for the US.