Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Notorious Divorcee and her Abiding Legacy

by Anna Belfrage

Allow me to introduce you to Margaret, Countess of Norfolk and Earl Marshal of England. Not that I can offer you any pics, as this lady lived in an age where the committing of faces to oil and canvas was rarely done - and if it was, the depicted faces were usually male and royal. Mind you, Margaret was royal - in the sense that she was the granddaughter of Edward I. But seeing as her mother was a commoner, I'm thinking Margaret's claim to royalty would have been considered somewhat weak by her contemporaries.

Margaret's father was Thomas of Brotherton, the eldest son in Edward I's second marriage to Princess Margaret of France. As described in a previous post, Thomas is mostly remembered as being an unexceptional sort of man, and in many ways this is because his life is so eclipsed by that of his daughter. Truth be told, Thomas' life was pretty much eclipsed by most of his contemporaries - which in itself does not mean he was unexceptional, but there you are.

Margaret was named for her grandmother, a lady who must have been quite something else. Married to Edward I, a man well over 40 years her senior - and a man who by all accounts remained very devoted to his first wife, even after her death - she managed to create a happy home for her new husband and give him three children to brighten his old age.

Edward I died while the children of his second marriage were still very small, and Thomas grew to manhood in an England very much defined by the constant conflict between Edward II and his disgruntled barons. Without going into too much detail here about Edward II and the invasion that led to him losing his crown, let us say that Margaret's childhood saw just as exciting times. Her cousin, Edward III, was crowned in 1327 - a boy under the control of his mother and her lover, Lord Mortimer - and her father was probably a tad disgruntled at how high Mortimer was rising.

Medieval marriage

Margaret knew none of this. By the time she was old enough to understand, Mortimer was dead - as was her mother. Some years later, in 1338, Thomas Brotherton died as well, leaving his two daughters as his heiresses (his son had predeceased him). Margaret, who became the Countess of Norfolk and Earl Marshal upon her father's death, was by then already married, to  a man called John Segrave, and she was to have several children by him until one day, in 1350, she sought a divorce from him. Yup. A divorce.

Margaret was at the time around thirty, and she argued for a divorce based on the fact that she'd been too young to consent to the marriage when she was originally married. Seeing as that was fifteen years ago, and seeing as there'd been quite a few children, one can't help but wonder why she chose this moment in time to demand her marital freedom. Was there perhaps a sniff of illicit love in the air?

"What sort of nonsense is this? A divorce?"
"It's not you, honey. It's me." 
Her husband was understandably upset. So was the king, who forbade her from leaving England to plead her case directly with the Pope in Avignon. This did not stop Margaret. In disguise, she travelled over to France, where she was helped by the retainer of a certain Sir Walter de Mauney - who incidentally was to become her second husband. Love was definitely in the air, don't you think?

Edward III was incensed and set up an inquiry into the events of Margaret crossing the channel despite his prohibition. Meanwhile, the ecclesiastic courts took their time, Margaret tapped her foot, and poor John Segrave must have felt like an utter fool. It probably came as something of a relief for everyone but John when he died in 1353, thereby making the whole ongoing divorce procedure moot. No sooner was John cold in his grave, but Margaret hastened to marry her Walter, without consent from the king. Her royal cousin had a major fit, but there was little he could do after the fact, and Margaret seems to have been one of those people capable of charming the birds from the trees, so soon enough she was reconciled with dear cousin Edward and went on to have 18 happy years and three children with Walter.

While Margaret may have been fortunate in her second husband, she was less fortunate as a mother. Of the four children she bore her first husband, only one, a daughter, was alive at the time of her second marriage. And as to the children she bore Walter, the precious son drowned in a well at the age of ten, leaving two more daughter, one of whom was to die relatively young. So, all those children, and only two girls to marry and have issue - preferably a male heir who could inherit not only the earldom of Norfolk, but also the hereditary title of Earl Marshal.

Edward III and his equally martial son
Being the Earl Marshal was a martial job. It was the Earl Marshal's job to take part in battles and war, ensure the troops were disciplined as needed. As we all know, Edward III was quite the martial king - either he was up north giving the Scots a go, or he was on the continent, pushing his claims to the French crown. Reasonably, the Earl Marshal would have been expected to take part in these activities - Thomas of Brotherton most definitely did - but a female Earl Marshal raised a number of obvious issues, the main one being that Margaret was not trained to be a war leader.

The title of Earl Marshal, however, was one Margaret held on to. Not so much for herself, but for all those future heirs to whom it could be of value to have such an exalted office to claim as their own. (And as an aside, her tenaciousness paid off, as the present day Duke of Norfolk is not only her distant descendant but also Earl Marshal) Problem was, as Margaret grew older, all those future heirs took their time coming. Her surviving daughter from her first marriage married John Mowbray and died in 1368 leaving behind two very young sons. Her surviving daughter from her second marriage also had a son - who died before the age of eight. The hopes for a male heir now rested on little John and Thomas Mowbray.

Despite the loss of children and grandchildren - plus the death of Walter in 1372 - Margaret lived on, testament to those long-lived Plantagenet genes. In 1383, she was around to witness yet another death - that of John Mowbray junior - and now the number of male heirs was down to one. At the time, young Thomas Mowbray was seventeen or so, as yet without issue. This, one presumes, made Margaret a tad antsy.

Thomas Mowbray being created earl
Some years later, in 1385, Thomas Mowbray was created Earl Marshal, him being the last surviving tail male. I don't think Margaret minded - the title remained in the family, if you will. Besides, she had enough on her plate managing the extensive Norfolk holdings, bringing up her various wards and charges and in general living a full and exciting life. Plus, she had reason to relax regarding the future, as Thomas had recently fathered a son, thereby offering some hope of future generations.

In 1397, when she was well over seventy, Margaret was created Duchess of Norfolk for life - the first ever woman so honoured. And when she died, in 1399, her grandson, Thomas Mowbray, became the first Duke of Norfolk. Not that it helped him much, as at the time he was living in exile, this as a consequence of having quarrelled publicly with Henry of Bolingbroke as to which one of them was responsible for the murder of Thomas of Woodstock. He was to die of the plague in Venice, leaving his fourteen-year-old son to inherit his titles and lands.

By then, Margaret was no longer in a  position to care. Throughout her long life, she'd done what she could to safeguard the interests of her family, but now it was up to the living to do their bit. She deserved her rest, to lie undisturbed in her tomb and dream the dreams of the dead.

(all pictures in the public domain)


Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exist, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing. 

Presently, Anna is hard at work with The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. And yes, Hugh Despenser plays a central role.The first book, In The Shadow of the Storm was published in 2015, the second, Days of Sun and Glory, was published in July 2016.

When Anna is not stuck in the 14th century, she's probably visiting in the 17th century, specifically with Alex and Matthew Graham, the protagonists of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. This is the story of two people who should never have met – not when she was born three centuries after him.

More about Anna on her website or on her blog!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Setting the Pope on Fire – the Exclusion Crisis of 1678-1682

by Kate Braithwaite

At three in the morning on November 17th 1680, Londoners woke to the sound of bells ringing out across the City. It was an important day – a day to commemorate the ascension to the throne of Queen Elizabeth I – and it would be celebrated with a splendid pope-burning procession.

The participants gathered in Moorgate. When all were ready, a man ringing a large bell led them out through Aldgate. In a “loud and dolesom voice” he cried, “Remember Justice Godfrey” and was followed by a man riding a white horse and pretending to be the corpse of well-known magistrate, Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, who had been strangled in 1678.  Around him other men assumed the role of his murderers, prodding him with swords as he slumped on the horse.

Next came men carrying a huge banner depicting four bodies hanging from the gallows: Catholic priests who had been hanged for their part in the Popish Plot. After the banner holders came the first pageant, displayed on a cart, much like a modern day float. This pageant showed a meal tub and the figure of a woman, representing Mrs Cellier, a Catholic midwife accused of planting false evidence of Protestant treachery in her meal tub.

Next to Mrs Cellier came a man with a fiddle, sitting backwards on his horse with a sign decrying him as an enemy of Parliament. This was the writer, Roger L’Estrange, one of the few men in London publicly doubting the truth of the Popish Plot and opposing those seeking to exclude King Charles II’s brother - and heir to his throne - from his right to succeed, on the grounds that James, Duke of York, was a Catholic.

©Trustees of the British Museum

Other pageants followed.  The elaborate procession filed through Leadenhall and Fleet Street toward Temple Bar, watched by enormous crowds. Hundreds of young men were involved, some dressed as devils and some as priests. Some pageants reminded the watching crowds of the perceived greed of the Catholic Church. Others bore signs declaring that Catholic Jesuits were bent on burning the city and destroying the monarchy. The procession was opulently dressed. Sir William Waller, a Justice of the Peace, active in prosecuting the Popish Plot, provided Catholic relics, books and vestments from the stores of material he had seized during his investigations. The Green Ribbon Club, a group committed to excluding James from the succession, funded the event and provided free alcohol to those who took up the cry of “No Popery.”

The final pageant was the handiwork of a carpenter, Stephen College: an enormous effigy of the Pope who travelled in the company of the devil. All through the streets, and throughout the day the devil tweaked at the false Pope’s nose and when they arrived at last in Temple Bar, as late as eight o’clock that evening, a bonfire was lit. As the crowd roared, the effigy of the Pope was pushed head first into the flames.

In 1682, in his prologue to Southerne’s play The Loyal Brother, poet John Dryden gave this account of the pope-burning processions he had witnessed:
        Sir Edmondbury first, in woful wise,
        Leads up the show, and milks their maudlin eyes.
        There's not a butcher's wife but dribs her part,
        And pities the poor pageant from her heart;
        Who, to provoke revenge, rides round the fire,
        And, with a civil congé, does retire:
        But guiltless blood to ground must never fall;
        There's Antichrist behind, to pay for all.
        The punk of Babylon in pomp appears,
        A lewd old gentleman of seventy years:
        Whose age in vain our mercy would implore;
        For few take pity on an old cast whore.
        The Devil, who brought him to the shame, takes part;
        Sits cheek by jowl, in black, to cheer his heart;
        Like thief and parson in a Tyburn-cart.
        The word is given, and with a loud huzza
        The mitred puppet from his chair they draw:
        On the slain corpse contending nations fall:
        Alas! what's one poor Pope among them all!
        He burns; now all true hearts your triumphs ring:
        And, next, for fashion, cry, God save the king!

Demonstrations against Catholics in London and throughout the country were nothing new but at the end of the 1670’s, religious tension had reached a whole new level because of the Popish Plot and ensuing Exclusion Crisis.

In September 1678, Titus Oates came to prominence, shocking London with wild claims of a terrifying plot to assassinate King Charles II. His revelations were detailed and rang with authenticity. He named well-known Catholic priests and private citizens as traitors in what became known as the Popish Plot. Oates was asked to address Parliament. He claimed that Jesuit cells planned to stab King Charles as he walked in St James’ Park, that French troops were preparing to invade England and that secret uprisings had been planned in Ireland and Scotland.

The Murder of Edmund Berry Godfrey -
Public domain image via WikiCommons

Circumstantial evidence supported his story. Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, with whom Oates had lodged evidence, was found dead in ditch, apparently stabbed and strangled. One of the men Oates accused, Edward Coleman, a Catholic and close associate of the King’s brother James, was arrested and treasonous papers were found in his possession. Oates’ claims touched a raw nerve with the public. London, he declared, would be burned to the ground. The effect of this on a populace only twelve years away from the catastrophic fire of 1666, an event many firmly believed was an act of Catholic terror, was incendiary. 

The apparently real prospect of the assassination of Charles II caused immense concern. If the King remained childless, his Catholic brother would become King. Unrest against the Duke of York had been in evidence throughout the 1670’s – ever since James refused to sign the Test Act of 1673 that excluded from public office anyone who would not publicly renounce the Catholic Church. But with the advent of the Popish Plot, a new political impetus emerged. The whig party began to take shape, under the stewardship of the Earl of Shaftesbury, and actively sought to exclude James from the line of succession to the throne.

James II By Ann Killigrew - Royal Collection, Public Domain,

The resulting Exclusion Crisis marks an important development in the history of politics and propaganda. In 1670’s London, male literacy is estimated at 70%. The printing and pamphlet business was thriving, the newspaper industry about to be born. Coffee shops were in their hey-day: warm, welcoming spaces where men would meet, discuss the news of the day, read pamphlets and share opinions over coffee or beer at all hours of the day and night. Supporters of the exclusion cause exploited all these avenues to gain public support. Public sermons became quasi-political stump speeches. Familiar songs were given new, political lyrics. Polemical plays brought the perceived Catholic threat to life. Wild claims of Catholic violence against women and children were circulated and the memory of Elizabeth I was evoked wherever possible to underline the country’s hard-won Protestant heritage.

Watched by an estimated 200,000 people, the pope-burning processions, held in 1679,1680 and 1681, were without doubt the most effective propaganda tool of all. But by 1682, belief in the Popish Plot had fallen away. The push to exclude James from the succession failed. The time for pope-burning had passed.

London Crowds in the Reign of Charles II, Tim Harris, Cambridge UP 1987.
The Pope-Burning Processions of 1679, 1680 and 1681, Sheila Williams, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol 21 1958.


Kate Braithwaite grew up in Edinburgh but has lived in various parts of the UK, in Canada and the US. Winner of the University of Toronto Marina Nemat Award and Random House Student Writing Prize, she writes atmospheric historical fiction exploring dark secrets and unusual episodes from the past: the stories no one told you about in history class at school. Her debut novel, CHARLATAN, was long-listed for the Mslexia New Novel Award and the Historical Novel Society Novel Award in 2015. Kate and her family live in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Henry VI: Part One

by Derek Birks

In choosing a title for my first look at Henry VI, I found it convenient to take a leaf out of Shakespeare. Henry is, of course, the king in whose reign the Wars of the Roses began – a subject close to my heart. This post focuses on Henry before his illness and the crisis years after 1453.

Like many figures in history, Henry VI has become almost a caricature, so I think the place to start is: when you think of Henry VI, what thought first pops into your head?

By Unknown - National Portrait Gallery:
NPG 2457
[Public Domain] Wikimedia Commons
 Perhaps that he was a poor king? Or that he was a weak man? Or that he went mad? Or that he recovered from his illness? Or perhaps that he was a saintly figure? Or was a man of peace? Whatever your first impression of him, this king’s personality and policies had a profound impact on the nation’s history.

What difficulties did Henry face as king?

The greatest of Henry’s problems, the war with France, was not of his own making; he inherited it. But most kings inherited problems and a judgement of his kingship requires us to consider whether he made those problems easier to combat, or more difficult. The most obvious fact about his accession is that at the time of his father’s death, Henry VI was very young – scarcely nine months old. This meant that he would not actually be in control of his government for at least fifteen years, perhaps longer. We should not forget either that this infant had inherited the crown not only of England, but also of France.

His minority lasted until 1437, and during that time government policy was largely determined by his uncles or other leading noblemen and churchmen. A royal minority is expected to lead to factional differences, and Henry’s minority was no exception. Having said that, such disputes were generally settled within the council - by stark contrast with those that arose later in 1450s. 

By unknown scribe: [Public Domain]
Wikimedia Commons
Henry’s long minority is worthy of several posts on its own, but suffice to say here: when Henry actually began to rule, his government was already set on courses which he would find very difficult to change. 

Henry’s difficulties were twofold: there were the problems which arose from governing the kingdom of England and there were those associated with his own personality and attributes.

What sort of a person was Henry VI?

Henry was clearly not a martial figure like many kings. He provided a stark – and to the late medieval eye - an unfortunate contrast with his father, Henry V, whose military exploits were almost legendary. The son was not a warlike figure and his unwillingness, or inability, to play the role of war leader confused and disturbed his leading subjects.

Those closest to him were churchmen such as his chaplain, John Blackman. If we are to believe Blackman, then the young king was a very pious, chaste and honest man. Perhaps then, as Shakespeare put it, “fitter for heaven than earth.”

Blackman should have known Henry better than anyone and his description made him appear most respectful of God in his daily life and in his outlook. However, this account was written to support an application to make Henry a saint and thus it might be treated as rather suspect.

By contrast, some popular opinions expressed about the king in the 1440s and 1450s suggest that he was regarded as either a simpleton or a madman. Some of these statements were taken seriously enough to be contested in the courts. Clearly it was in the interests of Henry’s later political opponents, led by Richard, Duke of York, to convince people that Henry was so foolish that someone else needed to rule in his stead.

Both sides of the argument might therefore be treated as propaganda, but if we dismiss both then we are left with nothing! Only by considering what he actually did, can we make any sort of a judgement.

How far did Henry rule rather than simply reign?

This is an important question because if Henry was more concerned with his own spiritual wellbeing than matters of state, then we might draw the conclusion that his neglect allowed others to take control. On the other hand, if he did intervene in policy, and it proved disastrous, then it was not neglect but poor decision making that characterised his kingship. 

The marriage of Henry VI shown in an illustrated
manuscript of Vigilles de Charles VII
by Martial d'Auvergne
For a long time Henry was regarded by historians as merely a cipher who was unable to control some of his most influential advisers. Years of deferring to his councillors during the long minority had apparently made it hard for him to break free from them. It has become clear though, that there were times when Henry specifically intervened in policy. An early, and telling, example of this is his handling of peace negotiations with the French.

The leading councillor in Henry’s government during much of the 1440s was William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk. Rightly or wrongly, Suffolk was credited, or blamed, for what Henry’s government did during that time, but it seems that he disagreed with Henry over peace with France.

In 1445, England still held much of France and thus could negotiate to end the war from a position of strength. Suffolk believed that this strong position should make an honourable peace possible, though many of Henry’s leading subjects would actually have preferred to press the war effort harder rather than contemplate any sort of peace.

Henry, however, had his own agenda and it was completely at odds with both Suffolk and the rest of the ruling classes: he wanted peace because he believed that peace was always the best policy. He thought that he and the French king, Charles VII, being Christian kings who both desired peace, could settle affairs justly between them. No doubt encouraged – though not coerced - by his newly-acquired young French wife, Margaret of Anjou, Henry decided to extend the olive branch to Charles VII by means of a secret letter. The olive branch amounted to the surrender to France of two of the most important areas held in France by the English: Maine and Anjou.

The fact that Henry kept the contents of this letter secret for some time suggests that he was by no means a fool! He clearly knew very well that his councillors would be very hostile indeed to its contents. So it was, because in the wake of the revelation of the king’s intentions, English policy descended into a chaotic farce culminating in humiliation by the early 1450s. By that time France had gained, one way or another, vast swathes of territory which England had held in 1445. Henry was not solely to blame for all this, but his intervention had prompted it. You could say he was idealistic in seeking peace. He was not a simpleton, but one could argue that his policy was foolish since he was out of step with the views of many of his most powerful contemporaries. I suppose it depends where you draw the line between idealism and folly.

How can we assess the effectiveness of Henry’s policies up to 1450?

England in Henry’s reign up to 1450 was a relatively peaceful and wealthy kingdom. We are often presented with the view that the fifteenth century was a century of disorder and lawlessness – it wasn’t. There were, however, moments when an outbreak of violence occurred – as was the case in both the previous and following centuries. Such outbreaks were evidence not of a warlike society but simply that some elements of society were so outraged by the government’s policies that they resorted to violence.

By 1450, not only had the expensive French war been going on for some time, but worse than that, the English appeared to be losing it. The inevitable conclusion drawn by many folk was that a corrupt and incompetent government was to blame. In that year there was increasing unrest in Kent directed against the government. It reached such a point in February 1450 that Henry ordered that all his household servants should be equipped with bows and then he declared that no man was to carry arms anywhere in London and the south east. This of course was nonsense, but it showed the level of alarm that existed in the government.

In July 1450 a rebellion occurred in Kent led by Jack Cade and it touched a nerve with folk in other areas of the country: for example in Sussex, Wiltshire and Essex. If we consider that about 2000 people were pardoned for their involvement in the revolt, we can see that many more must have participated. King Henry fled to Kenilworth and Jack Cade actually entered London. By July 1450, several key members of Henry’s government, including Suffolk, had been brutally killed.

Yet, after it all, Henry’s government survived, though no doubt somewhat chastened by the experience. Henry had been given a warning – all his closest advisers had paid for their policies with their lives. The question was: would this gentle, peace-loving king learn from his mistakes?

This is the second in a series of posts, entitled: The Magnificent Seven… in the Wars of the Roses. In these posts I am examining the actions and fortunes of seven people without whom, in my view, the Wars of the Roses either would not have happened at all – or would not have lasted so long.

Will Henry learn from his mistakes? We’ll see in the next post of the series: Henry VI: Part 2.

You can see here the first post of the series, on Richard Duke of York, on my blog: Dodging Arrows.


Derek Birks was born in Hampshire, England, but spent his teenage years in Auckland, New Zealand, where he still has strong family ties.

For many years he taught history in a secondary school but took early retirement to concentrate on writing. Apart from his writing, he spends his time gardening, travelling, walking and taking part in archaeological digs at a Roman villa.

Derek is interested in a wide range of historical themes but his particular favourite is the late medieval period. He writes action-packed fiction which is rooted in accurate history.

His debut historical novel Feud is set in the period of the Wars of the Roses and is the first of a series entitled Rebels & Brothers which follows the fortunes of the fictional Elder family.

The fourth and final book of the series The Last Shroud was published in the summer of 2015.

The Elders will return in Scars from the Past, the first of a new series in December 2016.

Connect with Derek through his website (, blog (Dodging Arrows), and on Twitter (@Feud_writer).

Feud is available on Amazon and Amazon UK.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Giveaway - Alvar the Kingmaker by Annie Whitehead

October 1st is a pivotal date in the story of Alvar the Kingmaker, and to commemorate this date, and to celebrate the fact that the book has just been awarded an indieBRAG Gold Medallion, Annie is giving away a paperback copy.

Alvar the Kingmaker is a tale of politics, intrigue, deceit and murder set in tenth-century England. Nobleman Alvar knows that securing the throne for the young and worthy King Edgar will brand him as an oath-breaker. As a fighting man, he is indispensable to the new sovereign, but his success and power gain him deadly, murderous enemies amongst those who seek favour with the king, and point the finger of suspicion when Edgar’s brother, the previous king, dies in mysterious circumstances. Alvar must fight to protect his lands, and his position, and learn the subtle art of politics. He must also, as a man of principle, keep secret his love for the wife of his trusted deputy. Civil war erupts, and Alvar once again finds himself the only man capable of setting a new king upon the throne of England, an act which comes at great personal cost. His career began with a dishonourable deed to help a good king; now he must be loyal to a new king, Aethelred, whom he knows will be weak, and whose supporters have been accused of regicide. Can he bring about peace, reconcile with his enemies, and find personal happiness, whilst all the time doing his duty to his loved ones? And what of the fragile Queen, who not only depends upon him but has fallen in love with him?

This offer is open internationally, and will run from Monday 26th September to midnight Sunday 2nd October 2016. For a chance to win, leave a comment below - don't forget to leave your contact details!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Long-term Consequences of a Failed Scottish Marriage

by Anna Belfrage

These days we’ve grown quite accustomed to the fact that if a marriage doesn't work, we can simply get a divorce. No big deal, in this modern world of ours, and unhappy couples separate legally and are free to find happiness elsewhere. Happiness, of course, is just as elusive now as it always has been, but at least the modern man and woman can attempt to try anew.

Not so the people of the past – or so we believe. Once married, they were permanently tied to each other, their union impossible to break. But in reality, things weren't all that different in the past to how they are now: people with money and clout could always wiggle themselves out of uncomfortable situations – such as an unhappy marriage.

Back then, most of the people with money and clout were men, so it follows it was the wife who was put aside, either because her spouse discovered they were more closely related than he had known, thereby falling within the forbidden circle that required Papal dispensation (how convenient), or through assorted creative methods, one of which was forcing the wife to take the veil.
However, divorce before the 20th century was rare. Very rare. Consanguinity, pre-contract or lack of consent were essentially the only acceptable grounds. So most married couples did, in fact, live together until parted by death. Once again, quite often the wife was the one who did the departing, mainly due to the strains of childbirth.

A marriage that worked?
James V and Marie de Guise
From our advantage of hindsight, we can shake our heads and shudder at the barbarity of arranged marriages, and there is no doubt that now and then these marriages were horribly unhappy, but just as often they were not. One must remember that the men and women of the previous centuries (except for the latest one) did not necessarily expect to be happy. They aimed for content and safe, settled for someone who would help them raise their children, someone who somehow added to their families’ overall standing and fortune.

In England, acquiring a divorce remained a messy thing well into the 20th century. The accepted grounds for divorce were essentially adultery, but further to that, a spouse had to prove cruelty and abuse of some kind or another to be free of the philandering partner. In Scotland, however, things had been much, much easier since back in the 16th century. Personally, I think John Knox deserves a pat on the back for this – but then I am quite ambivalent to this fascinating man, on the one hand vilifying female rulers in his tract “First Blast of the Trumpet”, on the other a man who clearly enjoyed the company of women – and respected them.

So what did Scotland do back in the 16th century? Well, they decided to allow divorce, that’s what those savvy Scots did. Furthermore, the issue of divorce was transferred out of the ecclesiastic courts to be handled by lawmen rather than priests – which makes a lot of sense when one considers that most marriages at the time were contractual arrangements that involved property moving hands. (This is not to say the powerful Scottish Kirk did not keep a beady eye on proceedings – it most certainly did!) However, divorce was still a last remedy, and was essentially only granted for two reasons, one of which was adultery.

These Scots were progressive types, very much into gender equality (well…) How else to explain their decision that both men and women could demand a divorce on account of adultery – quite unheard of in a world where a man’s indiscretions were just that – indiscretions – while a woman’s adventures with another man than her husband were a sin, a grievous, grievous sin, very much in keeping with the female lack of morality and propensity for uncontrolled lust.

Interestingly enough, no law was ever passed confirming the right to divorce due to adultery. Instead, it was assumed that the prohibition against divorce on account of adultery went out of the window together with the allegiance to the Pope, and a decade or so later, divorce due to adultery was an established common law practise.

A rousing Reformation sermon with John Knox

Had the Scots left it at that – divorce on account of adultery – it would have been an improvement, but maybe not a major improvement. However, due to the antics of two people with that intoxicating combination of money and clout, Scottish divorce legislation came to recognise another reason for divorce, namely desertion by either party. This had the benefit of being much easier to arrange – and prove – plus it did not tar one of the parties as being an unfaithful git. But let me introduce you to the main protagonists in all this, namely the Earl of Argyll – Archibald Campbell – and Lady Jean Stewart, one of James V’s many by-blows.

Little Jean might have been born out of wedlock, but her royal father was well-practised in handling such sensitive issues and in general took good care of his offspring. On her mother’s side, she was related to the Beatons – a powerful family which counts among its more (in)famous members Cardinal David Beaton. He was the Archbishop of St Andrews who instigated the trial and execution by burning of religious reformer George Wishart, and who some time afterwards was assassinated by William Kirkcaldy and a couple of aggravated Leslies. Beaton’s body was hanged from the window of his castle for everyone to see, and in many ways his handling of Wishart was the fuel that led to the roaring bonfire that was the Scottish reformation.

Enough about David Beaton (a man who deserves his own post, what with his relaxed attitude to celibacy, his constant focus on Number One – this being Davie, not Our Lord – and his strong Catholic and political convictions). Suffice it to say that little Jean was of good lineage on both sides, no matter what side of the blanket she was born on.

Archibald was no royal bastard, but his family was wealthy and among the most powerful in Scotland. Very early on, our Archie became an ardent Protestant. During the long regency that followed James V’s death, he, together with James Stewart – yet another of James V’s bastards, later to be Earl of Moray – became a vociferous opponent to Marie de Guise and her pro-French policies, fearing that the little Queen’s mother had every intention of keeping Scotland a loyal member of the Holy Roman Church. Probably a correct assumption, but Argyll’s decision to seek help and support from the English was not to endear him overmuch to his countrymen.

Jean was very fond of Marie de Guise. The Queen Mother treated her husband’s bastards with kindness, and she was very protective of Jean, the young queen’s only sister. Jean was raised at court and became one of Marie’s most trusted maids, living in close familiarity with the beleaguered regent.

Marie de Guise
Archie and Jean were married in 1553. Maybe they disliked each other on sight. Maybe their differing opinions on matters religious drove an immediate wedge between the young spouses, at the time still in their teens. Whatever the case, the marriage very quickly deteriorated, with Archie living openly with various mistresses, fathering a number of illegitimate children while Jean remained childless. And things were definitely not helped when Archie became a prominent member of the Lords of Congregation, the Protestant faction that led the rebellion that resulted in the Scottish reformation in 1560. Jean couldn’t forgive her husband for siding against her beloved Marie de Guise.

Jean decided to get her own back by taking a lover. The Campbell clan roared in anger at this dishonour to their chief, and Jean was effectively held prisoner. Through the efforts of her – and Archie’s – extended family, the couple achieved some sort of reconciliation in 1561, very much at the hands of John Knox, who seems to have had quite the vested interest in this couple’s marriage.

A very young Mary, Queen of Scots
In 1561, Mary Queen of Scots returned to Scotland from France, and Jean quickly became a favoured lady-in-waiting while her husband was one of the Queen’s chief political advisors. This didn’t help the marriage. Things went from bad to worse, one could say, with Jean complaining to the Queen, who was quite torn between her loyalties to her sister, and her dependency on the Earl of Argyll to maintain peace in her realm.

John Knox and Queen Mary -
not seeing eye to eye
In 1563 the Queen decided to rope in some help in attempting to heal the breach between Archie and Jean. She contacted John Knox. Picture this scene for a moment: The devout Catholic queen turns to her foremost adversary when it comes to matters of faith and asks for a tete-a-tete. In a low, concerned voice, she expresses that something must be done to save the fragile thing that is Jean’s marriage. John Knox agreed, and in 1563, the Queen and the Reformer had a number of sessions with Jean and Archie - you know, a very early version of present day marriage counsellors. Ultimately, it didn't help – but it was nice that they tried!

Archie was becoming desperate. He needed an heir, and whether it was because Jean refused him access to her bed (in itself no mean feat in the 16th century) or because she was barren, so far there had been no reconciling patter of little feet. Plus, the two spouses obviously hated each other’s guts. So Archie offered Jean a settlement if she would agree to a divorce on the grounds of adultery, with him taking the blame. She refused – as the so called injured party she could.

The Queen was deposed, the realm was in upheaval, and in all this chaos Jean took the opportunity of fleeing for ever from her husband’s tender care. In 1567 she ran away from him, and the couple’s very public separation forced the Scottish Kirk to attempt to deal with it. Archie needed a full divorce, not a separation. He wanted to be free to wed again and beget children. Jean had no intention of making anything easy for him, and so the Kirk’s leaders – such as John Knox – sucked in their lips and mulled this little conundrum over.

Earl of Moray
In 1573, the Earl of Argyll succeeded in having the Scottish Parliament pass an Act that allowed divorce on the grounds of desertion. This time, when he pushed Jean for a divorce, she didn't protest. Her position was far too shaky at present with her sister imprisoned by the English and her brother, the powerful Earl of Moray, busy with other matters. And so, in August of 1573, Archibald Campbell became a free man again, hastening to re-marry. Unfortunately for him, six weeks later he was dead… Unfortunately for his hapless widow, Jean decided the time was ripe to protest the divorce, insisting she had been forced.

After endless squabbles, a final settlement was made some years later. Jean retained the title of Countess of Argyll (very important to her, apparently), received a generous lump sum and retired to live out the rest of her life at her Canongate residence in Edinburgh, busying herself with her famous button collection. I’m thinking she laughed all the way to the bank, our Jean – or maybe she didn't. Maybe now and then she felt genuine regret for what could have been a marriage and never rose above a constant bloody strife.

The legal outcome of all this was that in 1573, Scotland implemented an Act that allowed for spouses to be divorced, assuming they could prove desertion by the other. Suddenly, all those unhappy marriages had a “get out of jail” card. Not a bad thing, all in all, even if divorce continued to be rare in the following centuries. A failed marriage was a stigma – especially for the woman, who, as we all know, probably was to blame for its failure to begin with. After all, either she was a nag, or she was barren or, worst of all, she was a lewd and immoral creature, far too tempted by carnal sin, as demonstrated by Eve when she yanked that apple off the branch!

This is an Editor's Choice and originally published on September 24, 2014

Had Anna Belfrage been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exist, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing. 

Presently, Anna is hard at work with The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. And yes, Hugh Despenser plays a central role.The first book, In The Shadow of the Storm was published in 2015, the second, Days of Sun and Glory, was published in July 2016.

When Anna is not stuck in the 14th century, she's probably visiting in the 17th century, specifically with Alex and Matthew Graham, the protagonists of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. This is the story of two people who should never have met – not when she was born three centuries after him.

More about Anna on her website or on her blog!

Friday, September 23, 2016

#EHFA Celebrates Our Fifth Anniversary!

by Debra Brown

Thank you all for still being with us! The EHFA community is pleased to have posted five years of fascinating British history and introduced many historical fiction authors and historians (and their books) to time travelers everywhere.

There were changes afoot this year. I left off full time management of the blog and related work thanks to the assistance of a team of editors, Annie Whitehead, Anna Belfrage, EM Powell, Char Newcomb, and Cryssa Bazos. They have put many hours into keeping things going, for which the rest of us are most grateful. All but Annie and I met up at the HNS Conference in Oxford to deal with the stress....

Warrior in the woods
Copyright Matthew Harffy

Our most popular new post of 2016 was Swords, Seaxes and Saxons by Matthew Harffy. Do read it if you have not already, assuming you are intrigued by seventh century battle gear.

Our all time most popular post has not changed in three years. Seven Surprising Facts About Anne of Cleves by Nancy Bilyeau has had 51,950 views, far surpassing the second, Little Ease and the Tower of London, also by Ms. Bilyeau with 11,529. Other hot topics include Who Placed the Earliest Roman Footprint in Scotland? by Nancy Jardine, Stand And Deliver ... Your Tolls? The Rise and Fall of the Turnpikes by J.A. Beard, Victorian Violence: Repelling Ruffians by Terry Kroenung, and Tudor England's Most Infamous Villain: Richard Rich, 1st Baron Rich of Leez by Beth von Staats. Nancy Bilyeau has two more posts in the top ten, both Tudor tales. I'm seeing a definite lust, here, for Tudors and violence. And Nancy Bilyeau.

When I think back over the years, the post that stands out most in my mind is Old English - The Language of the Anglo Saxons by Richard Denning, mainly for the eerie video of the Lord's Prayer in Old English (yup, I just had to go play it again), but also because I learned something about the meaning of the names of English towns and locations. Fascinating!

Thank you to those who have bought Volumes One and/or Two of our anthology, Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors, published by Madison Street Publishing. Both volumes are now also available as lengthy audio books narrated by Ruth Golding. To quote Steven A. McKay, "Talk about value for money!" These are 25+ hours of fascinating listening while you do the laundry or commute.

Please join in the celebration of our five years by leaving a comment telling us what posts you remember, what authors you have discovered and loved, or anything. We'd like to hear from you and chat about your experiences with EHFA. And we are giving away two free audio books of Volume Two, names to be drawn in one week from those who comment below by a very disinterested party.

Thanks, and join us for another great year!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

St. Wigbert: A 2nd Chance to Spread the Gospel?

by Kim Rendfeld

As the pagan Continental Saxons burned their way through East Francia in 774, the residents of the Abbey of Fritzlar feared for their church and their lives. When they left, they took a cherished possession with them to the hilltop fortress of Büraburg: the relics of Saint Wigbert.

The fortress also attracted refugees from smaller settlements in the area. Help for the Franks was far away. Their king, Charles (Charlemagne) had taken the army to Italy last fall to save Rome from the Lombards and ensure his young nephews would not have a claim to the Frankish throne. The Franks who were left behind had known it was only a matter of time before Saxons sought to avenge their defeat in 772, the one that destroyed their sacred pillar.

As the Saxons attacked Büraburg and burned houses outside it, I can imagine the Christians praying to the saint for protection. The fortress withstood the attack, and the Saxons proceeded to Fritzlar and tried to destroy the church. If we are to believe the Royal Frankish Annals, the Christians in the fortress beheld a miracle: two young men on white horses appeared and struck terror into the invaders, who fled. Later, the Franks found a dead Saxon beside the church. He was squatting on the ground and looked like he was about to blow on fuel to set the church afire.

The martyred Saint Boniface, who had consecrated the church, had prophesied it would not be burned. He was the one to appoint Wigbert as the abbot of Fritzlar. The annals don’t say which saint the faithful credited with the miracle, but it’s possible they believed their act of faith in preserving Wigbert’s relics played a part.

The remains of the southeastern gate of the Büraburg (JGALoewi at the
German language Wikipedia, GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Today, we don’t know much about Wigbert, especially his early years. More than one churchman in this era had this name, and the variant spellings add to the confusion. His hagiography was written about 90 years after his death. With scant information, this post amounts to my best guess of who this saint was.

Wigbert likely was a native of the Saxon kingdom of Wessex, the same area as fellow missionaries Boniface and Lioba. Wigbert’s birth year is unclear; sometime between 655 and 665 is as good an estimate as any, if the missionary to Frisia and abbot of Fritzlar are the same person. He was older than Boniface, who might have been born between 676 and 679, and Wigbert was “venerable” when Saint Willibrord was in Ireland from 678-690.

Because Wigbert was later appointed abbot, we can surmise he likely came from a noble family. He embraced the monastic life at a young age and spent time in Ireland with Bishop Egbert. Both had forsaken homeland and family and lived cut off from the world but close to God. Wigbert had lived as a hermit and was a learned man. In the 680s, Egbert sent Wigbert to Frisia to convert pagans to Christianity.

Perhaps they had heard that the Frisian ruler, Aldgisl, had been a gracious host to Bishop Wilfrid and allowed missionaries to preach. When Wigbert arrived, Aldgisl might have been out of power, and this was not good news for Wigbert. Missionaries needed support from the people’s leaders, who would provide protection for someone telling the populace what they believe is all wrong. And if the ruler converted, his followers often did as well.

Instead, Wigbert had to deal with Radbod. We don’t know what transpired between the two men, but there is no doubt Radbod was hostile to Christianity. According to legend, Radbod once had his toe in the baptismal font and asked if he would see his pagan ancestors after he died. Told he would not, Radbod refused the rite, saying he’d rather be with his family in hell than his enemies in heaven. The details probably are a dramatization, shall we say, but the gist is accurate. After two fruitless years of preaching to the Frisians and to Radbod, Wigbert returned to Ireland.

What happened in the following decades is hazy. The Venerable Bede says Wigbert gave up missionary work altogether. If he couldn’t persuade strangers, he would benefit his own people by serving as an example and living a holy, quiet life.

Or maybe Wigbert thought that at first. Bede wrote his history in 731 and died four years later, about the same time as Wigbert’s next chapter. Or I should say his next known chapter.

Photo by Catatine (GFDL
or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0,
via Wikimedia Commons)

Enter Boniface, a disciple of Willibrord. Both men had missions to pagan lands. Boniface might have heard of Wigbert through his mentor or one of his relatives in Wessex. A letter from someone named Wigbert to monks in Glastonbury describes the warm welcome he received from Boniface upon his safe arrival in Germany, and the writer asks the monks to convey the news to Mother Tetta and her nuns at the double monastery of Wimbourne, also in Wessex. Tetta was an ally of Boniface’s and allowed nuns from her abbey to carry out Boniface’s mission on the Continent.

The year was 734, and Wigbert would have been an old man, even by our standards. The question that comes to my mind: is the missionary to Frisia and the abbot of Fritzlar the same person? The best answer I can give is: it’s possible, even though about 50 years had passed since his last mission. Age alone would not be a detriment, and he was still healthy enough to fast. Boniface needed a knowledgeable, learned man to lead the new monastery at Fritzlar, and a grandfatherly priest who had preached in foreign lands before might have filled the role well.

What went through Wigbert’s head? Did he yearn for that second chance? Did he worry about failing again? Or did he reason circumstances were different this time? Boniface’s mission, and by extension Wigbert’s, had the support of Charles Martel, the Frankish mayor of the palace and the most powerful man in the realm.

Apparently Wigbert did well at Fritzlar. Three years later, Boniface asked him to lead the monastery at Ortdorf as well.

Later, ill and sensing his end was near, he resigned his government of the abbeys. He died about 747 and was buried in the church at Fritzlar.

Six years after the scare in 774, Archbishop Lull had Wigbert’s relics translated to Hersfeld, and his shrine was adorned with silver and gold. A church was built there in 850 but burned in 1037. A new church was constructed, but a fire consumed it in 1761, taking the relics with it. A sad fate for the relics the monks in Fritzlar risked their lives to save. Sadder still is how little we know about the saint for whom they took that risk.


"St. Wigbert" by Klemens Löffler, The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912.

"St. Egbert" by George Phillips, The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909.

Letters of Saint Boniface

Lives of Saints, by Rev. Alban Butler

Alcuin’s The Life of Saint Willibrord

Bede's Ecclesiastical History of England: A Revised Translation with Introduction, Life, and Notes, translated by A. M. Sellar, G. Bell, 1907, pg. 319

St. Cuthbert, His Cult and His Community to AD 1200, by Gerald Bonner, David W. Rollason, Clare Stancliffe

Handbook of Dutch Church History, edited by Herman Selderhuis


Thanks to research on this blog post, Kim Rendfeld has new material for her work in progress, Queen of the Darkest Hour, a novel about Charlemagne’s fourth wife, Fastrada.

Kim's debut, The Cross and the Dragon, in which a Frankish noblewoman must contend with a jilted suitor and the fear of losing her husband, was rereleased August 3, 2016, in print and ebook formats. You can order the book at Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, CreateSpace, and other vendors. Until Sept. 25, 2016, you can enter the giveaway for The Cross and the Dragon.

Kim’s second book, The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar, about a mother who will fight for her children after losing everything else, will be rereleased in Nov. 2,  2016. Preorders for ebooks are available at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and iTunes.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Dangerous Duellist: Charles, Baron Mohun

by Margaret Porter

The 4th Baron Mohun
Charles Mohun, the 4th Baron Mohun, was born about 1675 to the 3rd Baron Mohun of Okehampton and his wife Lady Phillipa Annesley. Through the latter the infant was grandson of the 1st Earl of Angelsey, who served as Lord Privy Seal and produced political and religious treatises. Pepys referred to Anglesey as 'one of the greatest knaves in the world,' and during his life little Charles would exceed his grandsire's reputation.

His father had inherited substantial lands in Cornwall and Devon--as well as considerable debts. The marriage to Lady Phillipa was entirely mercenary, she was a termagant, and the union neither prospered nor lasted. Shortly after his heir's birth, the 3rd Baron served as Lord Cavendish's second in a duel with an Irish officer. At the conclusion of the contest Mohun insulted his friend's opponent, resulting in a second swordfight, and the brawling baron died from his severe wounds.
The infant 4th Baron and his two-year old sister Elizabeth were left to the care of a cruel, careless, and quarrelsome mother. His upbringing was hardly the sort to bestow virtue, patience, and manners. Unlike most young men of noble birth, he did not attend university. He married in 1691, aged just fifteen. His bride was Charlotte Orby, his guardian's daughter and the niece of his close friend Lord Macclesfield, and she had no dowry. In November of 1692 she bore a stillborn son.

Several weeks after this distressing event, the sixteen-year old baron fought his first duel. After a night of drinking he quarreled with Lord Kennedy, four years his senior. King William III, hearing of it, feared that a duel might ensue, and commanded both young gentlemen to remain at home. They chose not to obey their monarch's edict. In the course of their battle, each received a minor wound.

Two days later Mohun assisted his closest friend, the equally wild Captain Richard Hill, in the failed abduction of the actress Mrs Bracegirdle. Hill, who regarded actor William Mountfort as his rival for the lady's affection--quite mistakenly--ran him through with a sword late at night in the middle of a London residential street. Hill fled the country. Mohun was arrested. His response: 'Goddamme, I am glad he's not taken, but I am sorry he has no money about him, I wish he had some of mine. I do not care a farthing if I hang for him.'

The magistrates charged him with murder but after a single night in jail his bail was paid and he was released. Judged a flight risk by the House of Lords, he was confined to the Tower of London to await his fate.

In a sensational trial, the House of Lords tried the baron as an accessory to the crime, and in February 1693 he was acquitted and released. Either the weeks of his imprisonment impaired his health, or his celebrations after gaining his freedom, because by October that year it was reported that he 'lies very ill at Bath.' Mountford's outraged widow attempted to appeal what was, from her perspective, a most unjust verdict. Her father had recently been convicted of a capital crime--clipping coins--and by dropping her intended action she was able have her parent sentenced to transportation rather than execution.

Recovered from his ailment and back in London, Mohun returned to form. Drawing his sword against a hackney coachman, he was prevented from slaying the man by a member of Parliament, whom he then challenged to a duel which never actually took place.

Deciding to use his fighting instincts in the service of king and country, he joined the military. On March 10, 1694 the diarist Luttrell records, 'The Lord Mohun is made a captain of a troop of horse in Lord Macclesfield's [sic] regiment.' Three days later he noted, 'The Earl of Macclesfield goes with his majestie to Flanders, as a major general, and the Earl of Warwick and Lord Mohun as volunteers.' Warwick was one of Mohun's cronies, a partner in drinking and debauchery.

Whatever discipline the baron absorbed in the ranks, it didn't improve his behaviour. In spring 1695, he battered a member of the press in a London coffee house. Two years later his next duel took place in St James's Park. His opponent, Captain Bingham, survived the encounter--park keepers intervened--and Mohun sustained a wound to his hand.

In September of that same year, 1697, at the Rummer Tavern in Charing Cross, he engaged in a drunken quarrel with a Captain Hill. This was not the perpetrator of the Mountford murder, but another of that name and rank serving in the Coldstream Guards. Mohun stabbed him and fled; the captain later died. Mohun took refuge in the Earl of Warwick's house, where the constables seized him. At the coroner's inquest he was judged guilty of manslaughter.

According to a contemporary account, 'Yesterday [27th November] the lord Mohun appeared upon his recognizance at the King's Bench bar, and there being an indictment of murther found against him by the grand jury of Middlesex for killing Capt Hill, the court committed him to prison in order to be tryed for the same.' His place of confinement was not to his liking or  suitable to his status, and on the 13th of December 'the lord Mohun petitioned the house of peers to be removed from the King's Bench where he was committed last term for the murder of Captain Hill, to the Tower, which was granted.'

This time, however, he avoided trial--most likely because he'd reached his majority. Now twenty-one, he was entitled to take his seat in the House of Lords, and the King needed his support. At the 11th hour he received a royal pardon, which he duly presented to the House. Within days he was seated with his fellow peers as a Whig lord with good reason to approve all of His Majesty's demands for additional war funding.

Never one to learn from past crimes, Mohun committed another in late October of the very same year:

On Sunday about 3 in the morning a quarrel happened at Locket's [a tavern] near Charing Crosse between Captain Coot [sic] son to Sir Richard Coot, and Mr French of the Temple, who thereupon went and fought in Leicester Feilds. The Earl of Warwick and Lord Mohun were for the first, and Captain James and Ensign Dockwra for the 2d. Coot was killed upon the spott, and it's said French dangerously wounded but made his escape with the rest.

The House chose to try Mohun and Warwick separately, but it was uncertain which of the five men present at the altercation had struck the fatal blow. In January Mohun returned to the Tower to await trial and remained there for several months. On 28th March, 1699, 'the earl of Warwick and lord Mohun were brought by the lord Lucas from the Tower to Westminster the axe being carried before them they are now on their tryalls on account of the death of captain Coot [sic] which is like to last long.' On that day the earl was convicted of manslaughter and given the mildest of punishments: a cold branding iron in the shape of 'F' for 'felon' was applied to his hand, leaving no permanent mark upon it. The following day Mohun was unanimously acquitted but received a severe warning from Lord Chancellor Somers that he could not expect mercy in future if he continued on his disastrous path.

In 1701 the Act of Settlement designated the Protestant Sophia, Electress of Hanover, and her heirs as William III's successors to England's crown. Lord Macclesfield was the King's choice to deliver a ceremonial copy of the decree, and Lord Mohun accompanied him to Hanover. Within days of their return to London, Mohun stood at his gravely ill friend's bedside. The earl's death on 4th November was followed by the discovery that he'd disinherited his entire family in Mohun's favour.

James, 4th Duke of Hamilton
As possessor of a fortune between £40-100,000 and now a visible, active, and useful member of the House of Lords, Mohun's problems ought to have been behind him. Unfortunately, he had an enemy--James, the Scottish 4th Duke of Hamilton, husband of another of Lord Macclesfield's nieces. The duke, in desperate financial need, felt entitled to Macclesfield's estate, and legal battles ensued. Bills were filed. Chancery suits were begun. The King died. A Queen was crowned. Under the new regime, Hamilton's sometime support of the Catholic Pretender did not work in his favour. As for Mohun--he was a Whig, and Queen Anne a staunch Tory.

In 1711, Mohun, by then a widower, took his mistress as his second wife. She was Elizabeth Griffith, widow of a colonel and a daughter of Sir Thomas Lawrence, a physician to the Queen. He had hardly installed her in his residence, Macclesfield House, than he departed it to take up lodgings in Great Marlborough Street.

Not until 8th February, 1712, was his inheritance dispute with Hamilton heard by the Committee of Privileges in the House of Lords. A tie vote resulted--Mohun voting in his own interests, Hamilton absent. When proxies were counted, Mohun prevailed in a vote of 40 to 36. And still they waited for the ruling from Chancery.

But it wasn't the courts that put an end to a dispute. It was, of course, a duel. Not a polite, mannerly affair between a pair of nobleman who deemed honour at risk. What occurred in Hyde Park on the early morning of 15th November was a brutal and decisive battle between bitter adversaries.

When the Duke of Hamilton, Lord Mohun, and Macartney [Mohun's second] came to the place agreed on them to fight, the Duke and Lord Mohun had no sooner drawn their swords than Macartney drew his, as Colonel Hamilton did the same . . . he [the Colonel] striking down Macartney's sword...closed with Macartney and took his sword from him, by which time Lord Mohun was down on the ground and His Grace upon him. The Colonel, the better to help the Duke up, flung both swords upon the ground . . . Macartney came with a sword in his hand, and gave a thrust into the duke's left breast . . . the Duke at the same time saying, I am wounded, and whilst the said Colonel Hamilton was helping him Macartney escaped.

A representation of the doubly fatal duel in Hyde Park

The stab wound to the duke's chest was superfluous; one of Mohun's blows had severed the artery in his wrist. The two enemies lay dead, their blood seeping into the grass.

The Colonel stood trial, was convicted of manslaughter, branded with the cold iron, and went free. General Macartney fled England and tried to exonerate himself through pamphlets. While in Europe he gained an ally in the future George I and wished to follow the new King to England. He sought to have his outlawed status altered in order to belatedly stand trial for his role in the duel.

Two years later, when the case was finally heard, Hamilton said he couldn't swear that the accused had actually murdered the duke. Macartney likewise received a non-branding and went free--as the bad baron had done so many times in the course of his duelling career.


Margaret Porter is the award-winning and bestselling author of twelve period novels, whose other publication credits include nonfiction and poetry. One notorious incident in which Lord Mohun participated appears in A Pledge of Better Times, her highly acclaimed novel of 17th century courtiers Lady Diana de Vere and Charles Beauclerk, 1st Duke of St. Albans. Margaret studied British history in the UK and the US. As historian, her areas of speciality are social, theatrical, and garden history of the 17th and 18th centuries, royal courts, and portraiture. A former actress, she gave up the stage and screen to devote herself to fiction writing, travel, and her rose gardens.
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