Monday, 31 March 2014

It’s an invasion Medieval Style! Here Come the Vikings!

Rape, pillage, loot, burn the place to the ground. Yes, this was an invasion to state it simply. Did the Vikings raid a lot during the Middle Ages? Yes and no. I am not a total expert nor do I state myself as one, but many of the Viking raids were quite often in very early medieval history (pre 1066), at least the ones that affected the island of the Anglo-Saxons or England. There were still periodic raids throughout the time period as well, that even stretched as far west as Ireland and north as Scotland. Once the Vikings went west, they liked it.

The last few months I have been spending many hours on cracking my personal genealogy nightmare, riddled with so far three lines making me a cousin or niece of most all the Plantagenet family, majority of England and France’s royalty, with three different lines going back to the same house.  I looked further and found the Viking warrior, Rollo.  Jackpot!
Rollo lived from c. 846 – c. 931 AD. His was one of two brothers of a Danish nobleman, or at that time Norseman. His brother was Gurim. Their father is historically unknown due to conflicting accounts. A quick search on wiki of Rollo has the following:

“Norwegian and Icelandic historians identified Rollo instead with Ganger Hrolf (Hrolf, the Walker), a son of Rognvald Eysteinsson, Earl of Møre, in Western Norway, based on medieval Norwegian and Icelandic sagas. The oldest source of this version is the Latin Historia Norvegiae, written in Norway at the end of the 12th century. This Hrolf fell foul of the Norwegian king, Harald Fairhair, and became a Jarl in Normandy. The nickname "the Walker", "Ganger" in Norse, came from being so big that no horse could carry him.”

In watching The History Channel’s TV show “Vikings,” Rollo does a lot of running away. But he is a great warrior, nonetheless. Being a man of questionable origin, he according to historical accounts was quite the raider. It is known that he had two wives. The first was more of a concubine, more than a wife, Poppa the daughter of Count Berenger. His second wife, Giselda, whom is discussed below. He raided and helped in a siege of Paris, down the river Siene in France. He is also the founder and first ruler of the Viking settlement what later became known as Normandy. He is also an ancestor of William the Conquer, and many of the kings of England and France.

In 911, Rollo pledged fidelity to Prince Charles, while he inhabited the lands in the region.  He changed his name to a Frankish version, and converted to Christianity. It is noted that his name became Robert. In the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte, drafted in 911 as well, Rollo was granted lands between Epte, the sea and parts of Brittany as apart of his allegiance to Charles.  Also, sources state he also was given Giselda, the King’s daughter in marriage.  Seemingly, this record of marriage is practically unknown to many Frankish sources. Rollo it is also argued among historians wither he was a duke as well, a position that would have been similar to Charles being a count at the time, yet had sworn allegiance too.
Charles the Simple giving his daughter to Rollo

In 922, Charles was deposed by Robert I. Rollo took this change as a reason to break his allegiance and decided to move westward with more raids.  With his raids came negotiations with French barons, which seemed to favor Rollo.  With Rollo was granted lands of Le Mans and Bayeux.  He then traveled on ward and continued with the seizure of Bessin in 924. The following year Rollo and his chieftains attacked Picardy.  Rollo’s fellow Norseman stayed in the area and intermarried with the local people of the lands. Later they became known as “Normans” also having settled into the French Catholic culture of the land.

Rollo even though he had converted to Christianity under Charles, in the end succumbed to his roots of the beliefs of his homeland.  Rollo died around 927, when it is noted that his fief in Normandy was passed to his son.  Questioning, he might have lived a few years after that.  Rollo’s grave is in the Cathedral at Rouen. It can be seen today.

Rollo on History channel’s “Vikings” is seen as a bit of a cowardly character. But the real Rollo was used just as a base. He didn’t have a brother named Rangar Lodbrok. Rangar if he actually lived, he is more of a legend if anything, but lived earlier than Rollo. His historical significance is difficult to pinpoint, as sources from this time are slim and limited. The real Rollo was defiantly a warrior and a very large contributor to some of the greatest medieval achievements and conquests that occurred in later centuries. He also is an ancestor of some of the most famous houses in England and France, particularly the houses of Bois, and Plantagenet. Perhaps the successes of these houses were because of Rollo’s seemingly impeccable warrior genes.

Monday, 24 March 2014

How Kingdoms Were Won: Women of History and Fiction

Anne Neville and Margery Tyrell
Behind every great king is his queen. This was a very important element during both the War of the Roses, and also surprisingly the novels of Songs of Fire and Ice (Game of Thrones Saga), by George R. R. Martin. Also many of the characters in contrast to their historical counterparts, all had surprisingly short life spans. Whether Martin, planned his characters to be similar to those who were the real players of the War of the Roses, they defiantly were an influence in his writings. We see this when we look at Margery Tyrell.  Surprisingly, some of the events of her character’s past, as well as events that she goes through throughout the stories are quite similar to Richard III’s queen, Anne Neville. 

Anne’s early life is one not known to many. She surprisingly escaped most of the paper trails of the Middle Ages, as we are left with barely a footprint of her existence. But we know she did have quite a role to play in the orchestrating of power moves to help her family gain power and finally access to the throne. Whether she was secretly coveting the throne and the power behind it, we really do not know. But we know about her family the most, especially through her father Earl of Warwick, Richard Neville. Anne more than likely learned quiet a bit even though one may think she was just a pawn to her father’s power moves, but she was gaining power and lands for her family. Thus leading them to become one of the most powerful families in England during the 15th century and the War of the Roses.
If we take a look at Margery Tyrell, she doesn’t have a powerful father but a very powerful, and sharp grandmother who helps her achieve her moves to power.  A similarity to take note.  We also do not really know much about her once she is introduced in to the story line, but her ambitions are very clear.  Margery knows, even after Renly dies, she wants to be the queen of the seven kingdoms and to sit on the iron throne. We see her impressing the people of Kings Landing, we also see her befriending people who can help her achieve her desires i.e. Sansa.  In an almost charming way, she goes to the poor people of King’s Landing to give and pass out food, earning their trust in return, and earning the trust of the Lannisters.  Anne did this with her husband with gifts to the church and by supporting her husband during his affairs in the city York.  It was noted by the recorders that they were well loved in the city because of this.
Another similarity between the two, both had husbands die early in their lives.  Their first husbands to be spot on.  Noted, Margery Tyrell in the HBO series "Game of Thrones" is portrayed a bit older than what she is in the books, but both queens where quite young when they lost their significant other, and both being in battle. 

Because we really do not have much to go off of as far as character for Anne, one can only suspect that she was very knowledgeable of affiars of state, to be in the station she was in. Margery, as well shows the tenacity and intelligence even at times more sinister than her future husband, Joffrey Baratheon, with her power moves and plays to get what she wants.  Perhaps Anne also had motives as well.  As far as who was devoted to their kings, Anne would win this card. She was loved and renowned to many, even when she died. For her husband it was noted, grieved this loss. Margery is a bit more spiteful and eager and honestly is like a roster in a hen house to get to the iron throne.  In the end, both were players of the game of power that in the end cause many a demise that we wish didn’t always have the outcome that it did.  

Like I have stated before, “Game of Thrones” is like the “War of Roses,” everybody you end up loving, dies.  The York and Lannister houses, knew this all too well, especially during the year 1485.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

6 feet under… in the Middle Ages

The fascination of afterlife, and where our souls travel to, once we pass on is a complex yet colorful visit in the Middle Ages. The society and culture of the medieval person, both of upper class and peasant were a far stretch from our secular society of today.  Superstition ran rapid, as well as a belief system that was very intertwined within the Catholic faith of the period. This directly impacted how and the traditions behind preparation for death of a loved one, and the ritual of letting them pass on, such as a funeral. Death was very much apart of medieval life, much more than today because of this general attitudes towards life and death were both equally important to the medieval person.

Preparation as well as how elaborate the celebration of ones life varied from peasant noble as one would expect. This also changed as time went on as far as what was and how the events were recorded down. During the 15th Century, documentation of medieval traditions became widely recorded including funerals of past kings. The medieval image of death is very well illustrated when looking at the literature created in the time. Illuminations of vivid and descriptive scenes of death or dying, ones deathbed, funeral rites all support the fascination of death and predation to be received by God. Emphasis was also placed in prayers placed in prayer books such as “Office of the Dead” that the owner would recite to shorten their time in purgatory. It is not an uncommon assumption to think that the average medieval man feared death. He feared for the salvation for his soul, hence the preparation with prayer, and other religious preparations were an important staple in many lives during this time, and especially in the end. The last thing any medieval individual wanted was to be stuck in Purgatory, or end up in Hell. For that fear was a very real one for many and something everyone worked to avoid during their lives.

We have a pretty good description of Edward IV’s funeral. His death was unexpected but it was after an illness of 10 days or so. Some preparations might have taken place earlier. It’s hard to tell. Edward died April 9th. Before he was delivered to God’s hands, tradition of a priest was called to the bedside to read last rights. He was then repented of all his sins, and made a request for all debts to be paid, and in turn all sacraments were given from the church.
Edward IV

The description of Edward’s funeral we have, is a pretty good description gathering from Sir Thomas More, whose description is backed up by Mancini’s account of the event. Both descriptions give very detailed accounts of funeral preparations of the body, as well as the décor added to the procession, all showing a lavish display of wealth and royalty. His body was noted to have lain naked on a board in Westminster Palace, so that both lords both spiritual and temporal could see. Displaying of the body was done to dispel any rumors that his death did not really happen. Next, he was embalmed and wrapped in “cerements” of waxed linen cloth with a cap of estate on his head and his feet were adorned in red leather shoes. He next “lay in state” for eight days at St. Stephens Cathedral. While he was there, royal, as well as servants of the community performed requiem masses and watched him. April 17, his body was placed on a bier, covered with a large rich golden cloth and carried to Westminster Abbey. In his procession, 15 knights, and esquires accompanied him. Above him was a canopy of clothe fringed in gold and blue silk, and flanked at the corners by the four banners; Trinity, Our Lady (Mary?) St. George, and St. Edward, whom he was named after. Mass was held and he was placed in his resting place.
Richard’s funeral 1485

Despite what we have seen through popular media; Richard did more than likely, have some sort of funeral.  Also in preparation for unexpected death, the mass that was said that Monday morning before his last battle was to cleanse his soul in case of preparation of death while in battle. It is important to remember that during this time, England was in a state of war this was always a possibility. Richard was unfortunately was not the popular king in the battle. His body was looted, striped naked and paraded to town draped across the back of a horse like sac of grain. The time frame between when he was brought to town and actually noticed, I am not sure of but one of the main reasons why he was rescued by the Grey Friars was because they were the order in the church that took care of executed and people whom died in battle. 

Looking at the skeletal remains, we know he was tied at the hands. Reason for the friars not to undo this, might have been one of convenience. His grave was dug in a central location of their friary chapel and he was laid to rest more than likely in a sense of urgency. I am sure the though came to someone’s mind that they had to bury the body quickly due to the display that was prior to the retrieval of the body.  Naked, with out even a shroud, his body was placed haphazardly in his grave.  A pillar was later placed near his tomb in the chapel, but its existence is long gone due to the monastery being destroyed under the rule of Henry VIII. In stark contrast, Sir Simon de Montfort whom also died in battle never received a funeral or a proper burial. He was quartered and various body parts tossed in a river. Richard got lucky that someone acted quickly enough to save his body from a similar fate. 
Burial rituals for peasants did happen, but were not as lavish as Edwards. More than likely close to what Richard experienced. But the bodies after the wake were placed in the parish’s cemetery and the bodies were wrapped in a shroud. Circumstances and when and how someone died, definitely impacted how one was brought to St. Peter’s gates. But the contrast of Edward’s funeral and then Richards’ show the how easily a basic ritual or custom can be changed to suit the need of the time, especially in the time of war.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Books of Art and of Prayer

"R. Gloucester" before king.
“Lord Jesus Christ, deign to free my, your servant King Richard, from every tribulation, sorrow and trouble in which I am placed…hear me, in the name of all your goodness, for which I give thanks, and for all the gifts granted to me, because you made me from nothing and redeemed me out of your bounteous love and pity from eternal damnation to promising eternal life.” ~ From Richard III personal Book of Hours
Coat of Arms with boars of Richard III
A book can be a window to one’s soul. This is one of the reasons for the popularity of prayer books during the Middle Ages.  Prayer was always supposed to being you closer to God, especially in the Medieval Christian faith. During the 1400’s manuscripts started to become more available to the general public, not just the nobility.  Because of this, we have more historical evidence of what was read and circulated during this time, than we do from previous reigns.

These prayer books of the Middle Ages were also known as “Book of Hours.” Their use as a devotional item is this main reason for their prevalence and preservation today. There are many famous prayer books that have survived for example: Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, the Visconti Hours, Hours of Catherine of Cleves, and even the personal prayer book of King Richard III, which has a story of its own. What were these books for? And why where they so important to the medieval owner?
A page from Richard III's Book of Hours
To understand the importance of these books of prayer, it is important to understand the impact of religion on society at this time. Life during the 15th century was nowhere near as secular as it is today.  Daily life revolved for both the nobility and common folk around the church; the Catholic Church. Prayer was said daily, and many frequented church at least once a day, at times more especially during Lent.  Before a day of battle during war; mass was said before engaging the enemies, on the battlefield.  Because of this, many would being the books with them to battle or with them on their campaigns to make sure their souls were cleansed or prepped incase they ended up in Gods hands.

These books were known as “primers.” They provided the readers or owners a range of personal prayer to recite as apart of their own daily meditation. Important prayers included passages from psalms, and collections of the Old Testament. These texts were grouped together in the books, which we know as the “Hours.” Examples of some of these included “Office of the Virgin” and “Office of the Dead” (Source: notes: “Book of Hours” Lecture from England in the Time of Richard III, Future Learn class)

The structure of the books yet even though many commissioned for the individual, personally did have a similar structure or layout.

A Calendar of Church feasts
An excerpt from each of the four gospels
The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The fifteen Psalms of Degrees
The seven Penitential Psalms
A Litany of Saints
An Office for the Dead
The Hours of the Cross
Various other prayers

These books because of the period they were produced have paintings inside them, which are very useful in understanding 15th and 16th century life.  It is this reason why they are very popular with scholars when studying the period. They also are very important in understanding medieval Christianity. The books were tailored to their owners such as a man, or lady, and at times their names incorporated into some of the text and prayers to make it more personal. Also heralds or coat of arms were incorporated into the book to identify its original owner.
The rosary held by Anne, was also an important religious item.
Today hundreds survive in England alone.  Mainly because there were a large portion made, and they were produced in large numbers. Being that they were personal possessions of many, this aided their survival during the Reformation, yet still a fraction where subject to being discarded and destroyed with the destruction of the monasteries.  They were originally created as original manuscripts, but later were manufactured in commercial workshops with the personal details or inserts put in to give personalization for the owner.  With the introduction of printing, the books were printed via woodcut on vellum or parchment and parts were left not detailed for later imagery and colorization and personalization for the new owner.  Almost majority were composed in Latin yet some in French and Latin.

“At day-break on the Monday following there were no chaplains present to perform Divine service on behalf of king Richard, nor any breakfast prepared to refresh the flagging spirits of the king; besides which, as it generally stated, in the morning he declared that during the night he had seen dreadful visions, and had imagined himself surrounded by a multitude of dæmons. He consequently presented a countenance which, always attenuated, was on this occasion more livid and ghastly than usual…” Croyland Chronicle (

It is interesting to note one of the prayer books that has survived today; was one of King Richard III.  It is believed that 11-13 books survived today that were form his personal collection.  It is not surprising to find that he owned one, being a devote Catholic it was a common item to have, and to accompanied him on his travels and battles.  His book as noted above, has an interesting story.  The book is actually a second hand book, which is to have believed to been made around 1415 in London.  A close examination of the prayers included n the book; tell us that it was made for a priest.  Sometime after Richard acquired it, the long prayer at the end was added.  This prayer added holds an important significance. Not only does it ask for protection and relief from grief and sickness, but it also asks for protection from the hatred and the plots of his enemies and for reconciliation or forgiveness from them.  This prayer he added is actually a variant of a standard prayer that was included in similar versions of Book of Hours.  The prayer was widely circulated and even used by some of Richard’s contemporaries such as Alexander, Prince of Poland.  It later became important in the post-Tridentine Roman-primer that was printed and became standard staple in the Counter-Reformation of lay piety. 
One last prayer (Richard III portrayed by Aneurin Barnard)
When examining Richard as a person and his connection to his religion; catholcisum, this prayer it demonstrates an individual who is devoted, pious, but also isolated in his individualism.  This shows the importance of prayer in lay people of the later Middle Ages.  It also shows us how his individual enemies, and their intent and actions affected him as a person.  His concience in turmoil is directly shown through his need for personal prayer symbolizing his closeness to his religion and reasons behind his own personal for forgiveness.  This book of Richards’ and its meaning, offers both insight to the hostility and turmoil of medieval life during the War of the Roses and the impact of faith on the individual.  The prayers against harm from thyne enemies and need for protection show how unstable English society was at this time. 

After his untimely death at Bosworth, it was said that Henry Tudor found Richard’s prayer book in his tent, and gave it to his mother, Margaret Beaufort. She apparently altered it and wrote her name in it.  The prayer he wrote “praying for deliverance from various forms of affliction, sickness and danger” was left intact.  Unfortunately, the prayer’s intent and his closeness to his faith that he hoped would keep him out of harms way, didn’t quite work out that way.  It is noted though his faith and hope in God, did give him the courage to fight until his death.

Duffy, Eamon. Marking the Hours: English People and Their Prayers 1240-1570 Published by Library of Congress/Eamon Duffy c. 2006 pp. 100-102 (google ebooks)
Personal notes from “England in the Time of Richard III” course by Future Learn Nov. 2013.