Friday, September 22, 2017

Yeavering – Anglo-Saxon Royal Palace

by Annie Whitehead
“So great is said to have been the fervour of the faith of the Northumbrians and their longing for the washing of salvation, that once when Paulinus came to the king and queen in their royal palace at Yeavering, he spent thirty-six days there occupied in the task of catechizing and baptising.” (HE II 14*)
The king in question is Edwin, seventh-century king of Northumbria, and the queen is his second wife, Æthelburg of Kent, known, according to Bede, by the nickname ‘Tate’.

Paulinus is said to have baptised people in the river Glen, which runs alongside the site of the palace. Visitors to the site will still be able to see the river, but of the palace, there is not a trace.

The view across the site towards the river

Archaeology has revealed that Yeavering at the time of Edwin’s reign was a magnificent royal vill. But Edwin didn’t build it. Rather, he rebuilt it.

What were Edwin, his wife, and the holy man Paulinus doing there? After all, it’s a forbidding place, surrounded by the towering Cheviot hills, windswept and desolate.

Edwin was technically the brother-in-law of the previous king of Northumbria, Æthelfrith, whose son, Oswald, was born to him by Edwin’s sister. Although in those days Northumbria was two distinct kingdoms, Deira (centred around York) and Bernicia (centred around Bamburgh), dynastic squabbles and bloody feuds meant that, periodically, one man ruled over both kingdoms.

The English kingdoms c. 600 (Public Domain)

In the seventh century, kings were gradually converting to Christianity.  It was no quick decision, and usually had some political element to it. Edwin was not about to make a spur of the moment conversion. The site of Yeavering was significant because it was in an area previously ruled over by Edwin's nemesis, Æthelfrith. Would conversion bring more power?

Edwin procrastinated, so much so that Pope Boniface wrote to him, and also to Edwin’s wife. Æthelburg was the daughter of Æthelberht, the Kentish king whom Augustine had converted, and a sister of Eadbald, the reigning king of Kent. When he wrote to her, Boniface urged her to bear in mind her Christian duty to evangelise, and included with his letter a gift of a silver mirror and a gold and ivory comb. To Edwin, he hinted that he would, by converting, put himself on an equal footing with the powerful king of Kent. This must have been quite an inducement.

Edwin evidently grasped what was expected of him, and offered a compromise – he expressed his willingness to convert if his advisers agreed, and undertook to place no obstacles in the way of missionary endeavour. He also offered a promise that took account of the position of Æthelburg, for he gave assurance that she and her retinue would be free to practice their own religion.

Paulinus, who travelled with ‘Tate’ from Kent, ‘bagged’ Edwin’s all-important royal soul, thus, according to Bede: when Edwin had been in exile in the court of Rædwald of East Anglia, an apparition came to him, promising him a kingdom, and salvation, if he would but remember by whose word this promise would be fulfilled. Paulinus now revealed himself now as the apparition by whose power Edwin had gained his kingdom. (HE II 12)

When the king and queen had produced a daughter, Eanflæd, Edwin was persuaded to allow Paulinus to baptise her in thanksgiving for his wife’s safe delivery.

Yeavering lies in what was the kingdom of Bernicia, forty miles north of Hadrian’s Wall, and about twenty miles inland from the great fortress of Bamburgh. It is a desolate and often a very cold place. Bede describes it as a royal vill, (town) and talks about the work of Paulinus there, but he also tells us that at some time later it was abandoned. Perhaps the archaeology and the history can be linked?

The site, showing the modern wall at the roadside

In 1949 an aerial photograph showed the marks of extensive buildings there, and the site was then excavated by Dr Hope Taylor.

He found that as a place of burial, Yeavering had a long prehistoric past. A big and seemingly elaborately defended cattle corral is likely to have gone back to the days when the area was ruled by British, not English, kings. Hope Taylor also discovered a series of buildings dating from the end of the sixth century to somewhat later than the middle of the seventh, corresponding to the reigns of Æthelfrith, Edwin, and Oswald.

Among the most important were a succession of halls. The largest, which he concluded was probably Edwin’s, was over 80 feet long and nearly 40 feet wide. Its walls were likely made of planks, 5 ½ inches thick. The fact that the post holes showed that timber were set up to eight feet into the ground, suggests that the walls must have been very high. There may have been a clerestory (a high section of wall that contains windows above eye level, with the purpose of letting in light, and/or fresh air). Its successor, probably dating to the reign of Oswald, Edwin’s nephew and successor, was equally grand.

Yeavering - digital 'fair use' image. (Attribution)

More remarkable still was a kind of grandstand, (top left of above image) shaped like a segment of a Roman amphitheatre, which stood facing a platform. When first built, possibly under Æthelfrith, it had accommodated about 150 people; later, perhaps under Edwin, it was enlarged to hold about 320.

It has been agreed that its only purpose can have been for meetings; and of a kind where one man on the platform, presumably the king, faced many. Perhaps it was here that Edwin consulted his amici, principes and consiliarii on the adoption of Christianity (though this debate more probably took place in York, where Edwin finally received his baptism.)

Yeavering in its heyday would have stood as a symbol of the might and power of Edwin, who, as one of the named ‘bretwaldas’ (overkings) in Bede’s list, wielded considerable power. A prince of Deira, he would have known the importance of establishing his authority across Bernicia, and building over the remnants of his predecessor’s hall.

And yet, the royal buildings at Yeavering were not fortified. Perhaps they should have been; there is evidence that the palace was destroyed by fire, not once, but twice, and the dates coincide with Bede’s records of Mercian incursions into Northumbria.

Additional finds included what may have been a pagan temple later converted to Christian use, and a building which might have been a small Christian church.

Yeavering, though a major centre for Bernicia, was by no means the only such centre these kings possessed. There was another, much more important, at Bamburgh, and other royal vills scattered through their kingdom, many of which may have had halls as grand. But the wonderful thing, for historians, is that we have the evidence for this one, even though there is now no trace of these once impressive and imposing buildings. To stand in this enormous field, (and it is a huge site) gazing out over the waters of the river Glen, and know that here stood the people whose lives I have studied, and written about, for years was, even on that very cold and blustery day, really quite moving. So little of Anglo-Saxon architecture remains, but thanks to Dr Hope Taylor, and to Bede, at least we know what once was here.

As to why it was, as Bede tells us, abandoned, well that remains a mystery, and one which neither the archaeology (which suggests 655, a time of Northumbrian supremacy) nor the history seem able to solve.

[*Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People]


Annie Whitehead is an author and member of The Royal Historical Society. Her novels are all set in Anglo-Saxon Mercia and her latest, Cometh the Hour, includes the character of King Edwin, who was at turns related to, and then at war with the mighty pagan king, Penda.

Cometh the Hour
Amazon Author Page

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

St. Germanus: A Reluctant Bishop

by Kim Rendfeld

Germanus would have a great influence on Christianity in 5th century Britain, but in his early life, he did not believe God called him to the priesthood.

Born around 380 in Auxerre to a noble family, Germanus was well educated in the liberal arts. He went to Rome to study law and was a brilliant lawyer. He married a high-ranking woman named Eustachia. The emperor was impressed with Germanus and eventually appoint him dux (duke to oversimplify) commanding the soldiers in the province with his hometown.

Back in Auxerre, Germanus was a faithful husband and a capable administrator who acted with integrity. But he had not learned humility and prayer, and he still liked worldly things. Too much.

One particular vice irritated Saint Amator, then bishop of Auxerre. Like many men of his era, Germanus loved to hunt. The problem for the bishop was how Germanus showed off his prowess. The duke hung the heads of his kills on a tree in the middle of the city, an action that strongly resembled an offering to a pagan god. I suspect Germanus had seen this ritual since he was child and might have not seen the religious contradiction. This was not the first time a pagan ritual lingered long after the population had accepted baptism.

But Christianity had been mainstream for only a few decades, after the Roman emperor had accepted baptism shortly before his death in 337. Amator might have feared a Germanus’s actions encouraged a false religion and endangered the souls he was trying to save. The bishop tried to persuade Germanus to stop.

Germanus refused. Alban Butler’s 1799 book attributes it to vanity, and Germanus likely was proud. He was high born and privileged, after all. But his first priority as duke was keeping order. He might have seen respecting a pagan ritual as a way to keep the peace.

One day while Germanus was away, Amator had the tree chopped down—a practice emulated by missionaries centuries later.

This engraving by Bernhard Rode depicts
St. Boniface, but you get the idea
(public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

We don’t know how the populace responded, but Germanus was furious. Amator fled to Autun. There, Amator had a revelation: God wanted Germanus to be the bishop’s successor. Incredibly, Amator greeted the news with joy. His faith in God’s judgment must have been quite strong.

Amator secretly asked the prefect, Julius, if he could tonsure Germanus and thus release the duke from his office. Julius consented.

Amator returned to Auxerre. When Germanus entered the church, Amator had the doors barred gave him the clerical haircut, whether Germanus wanted it or not. Amator named Germanus a deacon and the successor to the bishopric.

A dramatic story, but is it true? Maybe part of it. A hagiography written by Constantius about 30 years after Germanus’s death provides a different account. Constantius makes no mention of the hunting or the tree full of trophies or the threat against Amator. Instead, the people—aristocrats, clergy, and commoners—demanded Germanus serve as their bishop. They must have been impressed with his abilities as an administrator and his moral character. Constantius describes Germanus’s entry into the priesthood as “under compulsion, as a conscript.”

Regardless of how Germanus became a priest, he was pushed, or rather shoved, into the clergy. Remarkably, he dared not protest. He believed his forced ordination was God’s will and feared opposing it.

His life changed, including his relationship with his wife, Eustachia. A married man could be ordained into the priesthood. In fact, the wife’s good conduct might play a role, and she was often given a title to reflect her status. However, husband and wife were supposed to live as brother and sister. Germanus and Eustachia complied (and were one of the few couples that did). My guess is that she became a bishopress.

Neither Butler nor Constantius say how Eustachia or her noble family reacted to Germanus’s ordination. Butler describes her as “a lady of great quality”; Constantius says her “birth, wealth, and character were all of the highest.” And that’s it.

We might find a clue in an omission: neither author mentions children by the couple. If Germanus and Eustachia were childless, might they have taken that as a sign of God’s intentions for them? It is possible Eustachia supported her husband’s ordination for reasons besides faith. As a bishopress, she did not need a son for her high-ranking position to be secure.

Photo by GFreihalter (CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

For his part, Germanus gave his possessions to the poor and embraced an austere lifestyle. If we are to believe Constantius, he had one meal in the evening and he first took a mouthful of ash, then ate barley bread with flour he ground himself—the humblest of foods. He rejected oil, salt, vinegar, pulses, wheaten bread, and wine (except a diluted drink on Christmas Day and Easter). He wore a hair-shirt underneath his tunic and cloak. He had a leather strap around his neck with a box of relics (relics could be as tiny as a pebble from a saint’s tomb). He slept on planks with ashes in between them and did not use a pillow.

The combination of piety, nobility, and knowledge made Germanus the best spiritual warrior the Church could send to Britain in 429 to squelch the Pelagian heresy, which rejected original sin and argued for redemption through strength of will rather than divine grace. (If we are to believe Nennius’s 9th century account, Germanus also played a key role in Vortigern’s downfall, but Nennius seems to be the type to not let facts get in the way of his story.)

To the Church, the Pelagian heresy was more dangerous than paganism. It was a threat from within, and if left unchecked, might splinter the institution into factions. Church officials could not tolerate heresy, and they knew they were in for a tough fight. We’ll have more on that battle next month.


“The Life of Saint Germanus of Auxerre,” by Constantius of Lyon, translated by F.R. Hoare,
Soldiers of Christ: Saints and Saints' Lives from Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, by Thomas F.X. Noble, Thomas Head

The Lives of the Primitive Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints: Compiled from Original Monuments and Other Authentic Records, Volume 7, Alban Butler

The Text of 'Nennius': Historia Brittonum, chapters 31-49, 66, Vortigern Studies

"St. Germain,"by Andrew MacErlean, The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 6



Kim Rendfeld’s work in progress—“Betrothed to the Red Dragon,” a short story about Guinevere’s decision to marry Arthur—is set in early medieval Britain. If you’d like to get an email when it’s published, email Kim at kim [at] kimrendfeld [dot] com.

If you want read what Kim has already written, check out her two novels set in 8th century Europe.

Kim's first novel, The Cross and the Dragon, in which a Frankish noblewoman must contend with a jilted suitor and the fear of losing her husband, is available at AmazonKoboiTunesBarnes & NobleSmashwordsCreateSpace, and other vendors.You can order The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar, about a Saxon peasant who will fight for her children after losing everything else, at AmazonKoboBarnes & Noble, and iTunes.

Connect with Kim at on her website, her blog, Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at, on Facebook at, or follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Dangers of the Victorian Pleasure Garden

by Mimi Matthews

The Dancing Platform at Cremorne Gardens by Phoebus Levin, 1864.

When thinking of nineteenth century pleasure gardens, most of us instantly conjure up images of Vauxhall. But those in the Georgian era weren’t the only ones to enjoy a pleasure garden in London. In 1830 Cremorne Gardens was opened in Chelsea. Over the decades that followed, it offered concerts, circuses, dancing, and fireworks. It also offered military exhibitions and feats of dangerous daring, including high-wire acts and balloon ascents. Though many of these feats were successful, earning acclaim for various wire-walkers and aeronauts, still others ended in tragedy. Gruesome injuries and even fatalities occurred with some regularity—in full view of the Victorian public.

The Collapsed Platform

In 1855, during a military fete at Cremorne Gardens, a platform collapsed under the weight of sixty soldiers carrying their muskets and bayonets. According to an 18 August 1855 edition of the Huddersfield Chronicle, the soldiers were comprised mostly of Grenadier Guards who were enacting “the capture of the Mamelon and rifle pits by the allied troops before Sebastapol.” The performance had received the patronage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, as well as of “the highest military authorities.” Both the Household Troops and Royal Artillery were in attendance.

Banqueting halls at Cremorne Gardens, mid-19th century.

To enact the mock siege, stages of various heights had been constructed. As the Huddersfield Chronicle reports:
“Just as the spectacle was reaching its close, when the defenders of the Mamelon and the rifle-pits had been drive to the highest part of the staging by the assaulting columns below, the gallery on which they stood gave way, bringing some 60 men, with bayonets fixed on their muskets, crashing to the ground through a fall of at least 20 feet.”
During the fall, some of the men were bayoneted on their own weapons. Others broke their legs or fractured their ribs and limbs. No soldiers died at the scene, but one is reported to have suffered serious internal injuries.

The Broken Wire

An even more frightful accident occurred at Cremorne Gardens in June of 1863. The public had gathered to watch a show put on by the acclaimed acrobat Carlo Valerio. For the past two months, the twenty-five year old Valerio had been performing a high-wire act at the Gardens during which he walked along a wire cable that measured 600 feet across. The 27 June 1863 edition of The London Daily News reports that, on the night in question:
“He had advanced nearly to the point from which he usually returned backwards, when the wire rope suddenly gave way, and he fell heavily to the grassplat, a distance of upwards of sixty feet.”
Valerio’s injuries were severe. He suffered a fractured skull, a broken collar-bone, and many other injuries. According to a graphic first-hand account published in the 30 June 1863 edition of the Dundee, Perth, and Cupar Advertiser:
“When the wire slackened the unfortunate man staggered, and was precipitated violently to the ground on the back of his head, the blood pouring profusely from the wound and from his ears. Numbers of persons, particularly the females, were dreadfully shocked and affected, many of the corps de ballet being afterwards scarcely able to go through their performance. He was immediately removed, and the dance and music proceeded.”

The Ashburnham Pavilion at Cremorne Gardens, Illustrated London News, 1858.

The London Daily News states that Valerio was taken to Chelsea Hospital where he “lingered in great pain” until three o’clock in the morning, at which point “he expired” from his injuries. His death prompted an outcry against dangerous exhibitions. It was reasoned that, since acrobats would continue to test their skills in ever increasing feats and since the public would continue to arrive in droves to see such performances, it was up to the proprietors of places like Cremorne Gardens to prohibit exhibitions which put performers’ lives at risk.

In fact, Valerio’s death prompted Mr. E. T. Smith, then the proprietor of Cremorne Gardens, to write to the editor of The Era declaring just that. His letter, printed in the 28 June 1863 edition of The Era, reads in part:
“The sad accident that occurred at these Gardens on Thursday evening to the unfortunate Carlo Valerio during his performance on the wire rope, and which no person can more deeply regret than myself, induces me, with your permission, to seek the earliest moment of announcing, through your columns, that no such exhibition will ever again be permitted to take place here as long as I remain the Proprietor.”

The Flying Man's Shroud

Unfortunately, Valerio’s death was not the last fatality to occur as a result of an exhibition at Cremorne Gardens. In 1874, crowds again gathered to watch a death-defying feat. This time, the stunt was performed by M. Vincent de Groof, a thirty-five-year-old performer known as the Flying Man. According to the 11 July 1874 edition of the Belfast News-Letter, M. de Groof promised to:
“Fly a distance of 5,000 feet through the air by means of a pair of wings shaped like a bat’s, which were fixed to his shoulders and worked by his arms.”

Balloon Ascent at Cremorne Gardens, Walter Greaves, 1872.

M. de Groof ascended into the air by means of a balloon, from which he was suspended by a rope “about twenty feet below the car.” As the balloon rose to a height of approximately 1000 feet, M. de Groof flapped his wings, making for a churchyard some fifty years away. When he hit a favourable current of wind, he cut the rope, fully expecting to fly free of the balloon by virtue of the wings attached to his arms. Instead, as the Belfast News-Letter grimly relates:
“He came crashing through the air; the wing closed around him like a living shroud, and narrowly escaping the outer parapet, he fell with fearful violence on his head and right side in the road, immediately opposite the front entrance of St. Luke’s Church. Hundreds of persons immediately rushed to his assistance, and found him bleeding violently from the nose and ears, and without any sign of life.” 

In Conclusion

As the decade progressed, Cremorne Gardens’ reputation as a popular venue for wholesome entertainment began to sink. After the sun had set and Victorian families had departed, it transformed into what one Baptist minister of the 1870s referred to as “a nursery of vice.” Robberies and assaults were regularly reported, as were the goings on of prostitutes and their clients. In the end, it was this less gruesome but rather more unsavoury aspect of Cremorne Gardens which led to its closure in 1877. An increasingly prudish Victorian public objected to the goings on there, especially after dark.


Belfast News-Letter (Antrim, Northern Ireland), 11 July 1874.
Dundee, Perth, and Cupar Advertiser (Angus, Scotland), 30 June, 1863.
Elgin Courier (Moray, Scotland), 17 August 1855.
The Era (London, England), 28 June 1863.
Guard, Richard. Lost London. London: Michael O’Mara Books, Ltd., 2012.
Huddersfield Chronicle (West Yorkshire, England), 18 August 1855.
Illustrated London News (London, England). 5 June 1847.
London Daily News (London, England), Saturday 27 June 1863.
Thomas, Donald. The Victorian Underworld. London: Orion Publishing Group, 2014.

Mimi Matthews writes both historical non-fiction and traditional historical romances set in Victorian England. She is the author of The Pug Who Bit Napoleon: Animal Tales of the 18th and 19th Centuries (November 2017) and A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty (July 2018).

Her debut Victorian romance novel The Lost Letter will be released on September 19 and is currently available for pre-order.

In her other life, Mimi is an attorney with both a Juris Doctor and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature. She resides in California with her family, which includes an Andalusian dressage horse, two Shelties, and two Siamese cats.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Editors' Weekly Round-up, September 17, 2017

by the EHFA Editors

Join us every week for quality articles on all aspects of British history.

by Maria Grace

by Judith Arnopp

by Mark Patton

by J.G. Harlond

Find us on Facebook where readers and authors share these and many other posts on English historical fiction. Follow us on Twitter where we also point to wonderful articles from our EHFA Archives - almost 2,200 articles strong.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Henrietta Maria and the English Crown Jewels

By J.G. Harlond

Queen Henrietta Maria (1638) by
Sir Anthony Van Dyck (in Windsor Castle)  

Who owns the British Crown Jewels? If asked, what would you say: the monarchy; the reigning monarch of the time; the State or the people of Great Britain?

The question itself represents just about everything in dispute in the United Kingdom during the period leading up to the English Civil War (1642-1646), a time when ‘ordinary people’ were trying to limit the power of a monarchy that considered it reigned through ‘divine right’. Charles 1st believed he could rule without Parliament and had the right to raise taxes as he saw fit to cover his expenses. That is an over-simplification, but it is how many commoners in towns and villages interpreted his actions. Ongoing disputes finally led to a vicious war between Parliamentarians, known as Roundheads because of their short hair, and Royalists, who fought to keep Charles 1st on the throne. 

Charles I & Henrietta Maria by Anthony Van Dyck

As a means of raising funds for the Royalist cause and her husband in particular, King Charles I’s French-born Catholic queen, Henrietta Maria (1609-1669), tried to pawn and sell a large part of the Crown Jewels during the early 1640s. Her attitude was that they were the property of the reigning monarch, not the State. When considering Henrietta Maria’s attitude one must bear in mind that she was the youngest daughter of Henry IV of France and the much loathed Marie de Medici, and that she was married to a Stuart, who, as mentioned above, believed entirely in the divine right of kings. Other factors that may have led Henrietta Maria to take financial matters into her own hands were the knowledge that her husband was not ‘good with money’ and her Medici ancestry. Needless to say, her actions met with major opposition from the British Parliament. But it became more than a question of ethics as Parliament actively tried to thwart Henrietta Maria’s attempts to finance the Royalists.

In July 1641, a year prior to the actual start of the war, the House of Commons drew the attention of King Charles to the fact: 
That the House of Commons have received Information of great Quantities of Treasure, in Jewels, Plate, and ready Money, packed up, to be conveyed away with the Queen, not only in such a Proportion as the present Occasions, with due respects to Her Majesty's Honour, may seem to require; but a far greater Quantity; and that divers Papists, and others, under the Pretence of Her Majesty's Goods, are like to convey great Sums of Money, and other Treasure, beyond the Seas; which will not only impoverish the State, but may be employed to the Fomenting some mischievous Attempts, to the Trouble of the publick Peace. (JHC 2: 15 July 1641)
It was already evident to Parliamentarians that Henrietta Maria was in the process of obtaining money or credit with the aim of acquiring guns, ammunition and mercenary support for the Royalists. The view of the Commons was that all gemstones, regalia and plate in the possession of a monarch were part of the Crown Jewels, ‘owned’ not by the monarchy but by the State.

This was just the beginning. On 11 March, 1642, Henrietta Maria arrived in The Hague and set about selling and pawning precious objects she had brought with her from England. One contemporary report placed a total value of 1,265,300 guilders on the various items. (To get a perspective on this sum, an artisan and his family could live reasonably well for a year on the 300 guilders). The jewels, silver and gold came from three interlinked sources: items belonging to King Charles, jewels belonging to Henrietta Maria, and items forming part of the State collection known as the Crown Jewels. But while being astute in money matters Henrietta Maria had overlooked one important fact – her ardent Catholicism. As David Humphreys says in ‘To Sell the Crown Jewels’ (see below)
The sale of precious objects by an English Catholic (albeit not an English Catholic of average status) in Protestant Holland, under circumstances clearly motivated by political needs, was a task of enormous difficulty at best. That fact was brought home to Henrietta Maria when the first formal viewing of the items for would-be buyers was conducted at the New Palace in The Hague’s Staedt Straat in mid-March 1642. Many of those who attended were pro-Parliament in sympathy and questioned the queen’s right to sell any of the items on show—particularly those items considered to be specifically from the Crown Jewels collection. The queen insisted she had rights of ownership and could prove them with a document signed by King Charles and, therefore, had the right to sell. Those present baulked at the enormous sums expected for the most magnificent of the items on show: two collars, one of which was described as the ‘ruby collar’. Their response grew even more negative when it was made clear that payment for items was expected in specie. 
The Queen did manage to pawn a number of items while in The Hague, but the most valuable remained unsold. In the end she was only able to raise funds on that which was clearly in her personal possession. Unwilling to accept defeat, she then tried to pawn items on the Antwerp and Amsterdam markets, then either sell or pawn the larger of two hugely valuable ruby and pearl collars to the King of Denmark.

A letter dated 2 June, 1642, sent from Amsterdam, was read to the House of Commons on the 11 June by Sir Walter Erle:
That there were Jewels brought to Amsterdam, certain Collars of Pearl; which were sold; and the Product of them is the Sixteen thousand Pounds sent over hither; and the Residue is kept there, to pay for the Arms and Ammunition bespoken there. One great Collar of Rubies. The Jewels called the Three Brethren; Four or Five great Diamonds; with divers other Parcels; but no Money got upon them yet. … (JHC 2: 11 June 1642).
Another letter from an unnamed correspondent but someone close to the Queen was later read to the House of Lords.
 I cannot learn that any Jewels more are pawned than I have formerly expressed, neither of the Sale of any jewels, save divers Collars of Pearls. (…) In writing hereof I understand, by an eyewitness, that all the jewels are brought here again to be pawned and amongst them the great collar fetched from Hamb. Also the three Brethren, four or five great diamonds, with divers more; but no money to be had thereupon in this place, as the party imployed therin doth tell me (JHL 5: 11 June 1642).
Henrietta Maria did succeed in raising some finance, though. In Amsterdam a man named Webster advanced 140,000 guilders on her rubies and pendant pearls, the Burgomaster of Rotterdam offered 40,000 guilders on unnamed items and Fletchers of The Hague 126,000 guilders. Compared to what the Dutch had been spending on tulip bulbs between 1635 and 1637 these were not vast sums. By January 1643, Henrietta Maria eventually disposed of or pledged most if not all of the items considered to be her own, but when she set sail from Holland a month later she still had many of the items taken out of England, including the famed Three Brethren jewel.

The Three Brethren Jewel (detail from the 'Ermine Portrait')

The Three Brethren comprised of a massive pyramid-cut wine-yellow diamond surrounded by three square-cut spinel rubies and three large pearls set in pronged brackets rather than in elaborate goldwork. The centre diamond, of a most unusual cut, weighed approximately 30 carats. In the early 15th century it had been described as the largest faceted diamond in Europe. The jewel was said to have been commissioned as a shoulder-clasp for John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy from 1404 to his assassination in 1419. His grandson, Charles the Bold, owned it in 1467 when his inventory describes it as “Un Gros Dyamant Pointé a Fass”. It was then possibly sold to or via a banker called Fugger, and came into the possession of Henry VIII in England circa 1546. In 1551 it belonged to Henry’s only son, Edward VI. On Edward’s death, the magnificent Three Brethren passed into the hands of his elder sister Mary, then became a favourite jewel of Elizabeth I. It features in several of her portraits including the famous ‘ermine portrait’. Subsequent portraits of James 1st of England, VI of Scotland show him wearing the Three Brethren as well.

Elizabeth I - The 'Ermine Portrait' by Nicholas Hilliard
(In Hatfield House)

What happened to the Three Brethren during the Civil War is uncertain. Various theories suggest it was sold, or pawned but not retrieved, in Amsterdam or Antwerp; that three more diamonds were added to it and it was renamed the Three Sisters; that Cardinal Mazarin, who collected valuable gemstones, acquired it along with the debts he purchased from Henrietta Maria. One theory says the jewel was adapted and offered for sale through Henrietta Maria’s agent, a ‘Monsieur Cletstex’ of the Bank of Lombardy in Rotterdam. What really happened to the Three Brethren is open for speculation . . . and this is where the third story in the Ludo da Portovenere trilogy begins.

In 1644, Henrietta Maria gave birth to her last child in England then, gravely ill, returned to her homeland of France. Despite ill-health and lack of a permanent home (she was not welcome in Paris at the time and moved between various towns until finally allotted a suite in St Germaine) she continued to pawn and/or sell items considered to be the Crown Jewels to raise funds for the floundering Royalist army in England. Parliament maintained watchful spies but Henrietta succeeded in raising money and credit in various European markets until her husband was imprisoned.

The remaining items of royal regalia left in England were broken up to finance the Roundheads, or melted down to be made into more useful items. The very last of the valuables kept in the Tower of London were then nearly lost forever in 1671 when the infamous Colonel Blood made a daring attempt to steal them, only to be captured at the east gate with the crown, sceptre and orb in a sack.

Numerous authors have incorporated these deeds into historical fiction, not least because somewhere there are antique, now priceless gemstones that once belonged to the English monarchy – or ‘the people’ – in private hands.

[For a more detailed analysis of Henrietta Maria’s attempts to raise money for Charles 1st see: To Sell England’s Jewels: Queen Henrietta Maria’s visits to the Continent, 1642 and 1644 by David HUMPHREY:]


Author of The Empress Emerald and The Chosen Man trilogy (work-in-progress), and World War II murder mystery Local Resistance, Jane G. Harlond writes historical crime fiction that weaves fictional characters into real events. She is particularly interested in aspects of power and skulduggery so international intrigue and domestic politics are significant elements of her adult fiction. Her latest book for younger (and not-so-younger) readers is The Doomsong Sword, a fantasy story based on part of the ancient Norse Volsung Saga. Originally from the English West Country, Jane has travelled widely and is now settled in rural Andalucía, Spain.
Facebook author page:
For more about the Dutch financial scandal ‘tulip mania’ see The Chosen Man

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

London in 1800: A Stranger's Arrival

By Mark Patton.

Between 1801 and 1841, the population of London increased by an average of 22,500 people per year, or 1875 per month. The overwhelming majority of the new arrivals came, like the fictional David Copperfield; Nicholas Nickleby and his sister, Kate; from other parts of England, Scotland, and Wales (the most significant waves of Irish and Jewish immigration came later). Many had been uprooted from the communities of their birth by changes in their family circumstances: David's journey begins with the death of his mother; that of Nicholas and Kate with the loss of their father; Charles Dickens's own parents had moved to London in a forlorn attempt to escape a looming mountain of personal debts.

The Mail Coach, as taken by David Copperfield and Mr Quinion, was the fastest means of getting to London from the countryside, but was also among the most expensive (image is in the Public Domain). 

Private stage-wagons offered a cheaper, but less comfortable, means of transport (image is in the Public Domain).

In an age before the coming of the railways, almost all of the new arrivals, like their Medieval predecessors, would have made their way to London by road, and many of them on foot. Most of the road along which they had traveled were Roman in origin, but had been improved by the Eighteenth Century Turnpike Trusts, and the threat formerly posed by highwaymen removed almost entirely.

The Roman and Medieval walls and gates of the City had, for the most part, been demolished, and the newly broadened roads were lined with coaching inns, where the better heeled among the new arrivals may have spent their first London nights, and held their first conversations with their new urban neighbours. There were doubtless offers of employment to be had, and business propositions to be negotiated, but there would also have been con-men, all to ready to relieve a naive country lad or lass of what little money he or she had in wallet or purse.

A young man or woman arriving in London from Kent might pause at Blackheath. His or her first impression of the capital, seen from afar, might well have matched David Copperfield's:

"What an amazing place London was to me when I saw it in the distance, and how I believed all the adventures of my favourite heroes to be constantly enacting and re-enacting there ... I made it out in my own mind to be fuller of wonders and wickedness than all the cities of the earth ... "

Lodging at Southwark's Queen's Head, he or she might have strolled across London Bridge the following morning, along the main thoroughfares of the City, and on into the West End. The prosperity of London's maritime commerce, obvious enough from the forest of ships' masts in the Pool of London, to the east of London Bridge, was reflected both in the grandeur of the public buildings (the Mansion House, the Bank of England, Saint Paul's Cathedral), and in the elegant dress and comportment of those passing between them. One did not have to search far, however, to find another side to London life.

The Queen's Head, Borough High Street (image is in the Public Domain).

"Imports from France," by Louis Peter Boitard, 1757 (image is in the Public Domain).

London's Mansion House (image is in the Public Domain).

Apsley House ("No.1, London"), home of the Duke of Wellington. The Duke encouraged his fellow aristocrats to spend part of the year in London, rather than on their country estates: this facilitated both the growth of the retail trade in the West End, and increasing demand for domestic servants.

In the shadow of the grandest buildings could be found men, women, and children eking out the most precarious of livings. In 1856, the campaigning journalist, Henry Mayhew, observed from the balcony beneath the dome of Saint Paul's Cathedral, the "sauntering forth" of the "unwashed poor:"

" ... some with greasy wallets on their backs to hunt over each dust-heap, and eke out life by seeking refuse bones, or stray rags and pieces of old iron; others, whilst on their way to work, are gathered at the corner of some street round the early breakfast stall, and blowing sauces of steaming coffee, drawn in tall tin cans that have the red-hot charcoal shining crimson through the holes in the fire-pan beneath them; whilst already the little slattern girl, with her basket slung before her, screams 'water-creases!' through the sleeping streets ... "  

Dust-sifters (image is in the Public Domain).

A watercress seller (image is in the Public Domain).

The fortunes of any man or woman, newly arrived in London in the opening decades of the Nineteenth Century, hung very much in the balance. Those who could call upon the support of a relative, or family friend, already established in the capital, were far more likely to find work (whether as City clerks, West End retail workers, or as domestic servants) than those who could not. Those who did not find a "position" had to create their own opportunities: selling watercress, coffee, or sandwiches on the streets; scavenging on dust-heaps; or, as a last resort, prostitution or crime. Social mobility was real, but it operated in both directions.


Mark Patton blogs regularly on aspects of history and historical fiction at He is a published author, whose books may be purchased from Amazon.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Henry Tudor at Raglan Castle

by Judith Arnopp

Raglan Castle

At the start of the wars of the roses Margaret Beaufort was a relatively insignificant member of the house of Lancaster but after years of struggle she and her son, Henry became the ultimate victors. During her years of struggle for her son’s rights she can have had no inkling that he would one day become King of England.

Margaret was a wealthy heiress, heir to the Duke of Somerset. Her great grandfather was the eldest son of John of Gaunt and his then mistress, Katherine Swynford. Although the Beauforts were later legitimised they were excluded from the succession and never to inherit the throne.

Edmund Tudor
She was married to the king’s half-brother, Edmund Tudor and travelled with him to Wales where he upheld the authority of the king. Shortly after impregnating his teenage bride, he died, either of wounds sustained in a skirmish with the adherents of York, or from plague, or possibly a combination of both. Margaret, widowed and pregnant, was left vulnerable and turned to her brother in law, Jasper Tudor, for support. He offered her shelter at his stronghold in Pembroke where her son was born a few months later. She named him Henry, after her cousin the king.

To avoid another marriage arranged by the king, Margaret quickly married Henry Stafford, a younger son of the Duke of Buckingham. While she moved with her husband to Bourne in Lincolnshire and later Woking, her son remained at Pembroke in the care of his uncle, Jasper, Earl of Pembroke.

Margaret would have seen nothing unusual in her son being brought up in the household of a powerful lord. The couple visited and wrote to young Henry regularly until the trouble between York and Lancaster flared again. Jasper did not take part in the battle of Towton but remained at Pembroke defending the castle against Yorkist forces. After a few weeks of siege, Pembroke and its inhabitants were eventually surrendered into the hands of William Herbert. Jasper managed to escape but he left behind a valuable prize - the four year old Earl of Richmond, Henry Tudor.

Pembroke Castle

Sir William Herbert took Henry into his custody at Raglan and in 1462 paid the king an enormous sum for his wardship. It is not documented how Margaret or Henry felt about this but there was long standing rivalry between the Herbert and Tudor families and, together with the high probability that William Herbert was responsible in some degree for the death of Edmund Tudor, it is quite likely she did not see it as pleasing.

Henry’s time at Raglan is often viewed as one of imprisonment but there is no doubt he was well treated: chronicler Polydore Vergil recorded that Henry was “kept as prisoner, but honourably brought up with the wife of William Herbert”.  As I mentioned earlier, it was not unusual for the sons of noblemen to be sent from home to be raised in the household of a great lord, to learn warfare and sword skill. The Herberts treated Henry with great civility but even so his movements were restricted and although he kept his title Richmond, his properties were in the hands of the Yorkists. He was, you might say, a lucrative guest. Henry and Herbert’s son were the offspring of opposing houses – Henry was from the House of Lancaster, Walter and William Herbert (the younger) were loyal to their father and to York. But ties of friendship formed at this time in the nursery at Raglan proved beneficial to Henry in the years to come.

Raglan Castle

It is interesting to consider that the ruins we see today at Raglan were once the rooms frequented by the young Henry Tudor. When Herbert inherited the castle from his father it was already a magnificent fortress with an impressive tower but William transformed it into a palace with huge glazed windows, a magnificent Fountain Court, the Pitched Stone Court and Great Gatehouse.

Henry spent the next seven years at Raglan, treated as a member of the Herbert family, educated by ‘the best and most upright instructors’ and mingling with the Herbert children. It seems he was happy there and developed strong connections to the family. Testimony of his affection or gratitude to the family, after he became king Henry invited Herbert’s widow, Lady Anne Devereux, to court. Herbert harboured plans to unite his family with the Tudors by marrying his daughter, Maud, to Henry. He left orders for the betrothal in his will but the arrangements were prevented by the readeption of Henry VI. Maud later married another of Herbert’s wards, Henry Percy, 4th Earl of Northumberland. Margaret Beaufort and Henry Stafford continued to visit and correspond with Henry until 1469, when Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick betrayed King Edward IV and joined the Lancastrians.

Raglan Castle

Taking Henry and probably his two sons, William and Walter, with him, Herbert rode off to battle at Edgecote Moor; not to fight but to observe and learn. It may seem incredible to us that an eleven year old should be exposed to the dangers of battle but things were different then. Young boys had to be educated in warfare, exposed to the violence of the battlefield to ensure that when their time came to fight, they’d be prepared. Possibly Herbert saw it as an opportunity for education. Possibly he desired to keep his valuable asset close to hand. Unfortunately for Herbert the battle did not go well for York.
Herbert was captured during fighting and executed by Warwick. It is often recorded that Henry was abandoned on the side lines and later rescued from the field and taken to safety at Weobley, the family seat of Herbert’s wife, Anne Deveraux.

Raglan Castle

For a while, Lancaster was in ascendance in England. The former king, Henry VI, was placed once more on the throne, to be ruled like a puppet by Warwick. At last, Jasper Tudor was able to return from exile, at which time he presented Henry to the Henry VI. 

The supporters of Lancaster emerged once more and everything seemed settled in Lancaster’s favour; King Edward was beaten and Margaret and Jasper would have been confident that the Richmond holdings would now be restored to Henry. Margaret attended court, bringing her son to the attention of the king and queen but it was not to last. In 1471, Edward IV came back with a vengeance and regained the throne with a decisive battle at Tewkesbury which saw the death of the Lancastrian heir, Edward of Lancaster and the fall of his mother, Margaret of Anjou. Edward IV crushed the Lancastrian hopes by the murder of the mentally unstable king, Henry VI, leaving just one possible claimant to the Lancastrian crown - Henry Tudor.

Henry Tudor

Jasper, taking the boy with him, fled to Brittany where Henry spent most of the next fourteen years until August 1485 when he returned with his mother’s financial support, with a mercenary army to face Richard III on the field at Bosworth. During the battle several Welshman ostensibly loyal to Richard, turned their coats and fought for Henry instead; Rhys ap Thomas is believed to have dealt the Yorkist King’s killing blow and Walter Herbert of Raglan is believed to have fought alongside his old friend of the schoolroom.


Margaret's battle for her son's rights and Henry's time at Raglan is featured in the trilogy The Beaufort Chronicles.

Judith Arnopp is the author of nine historical fiction novels set in the medieval and Tudor period. You can find more information by following the links below:

Picture credits
Edmund Tudor
Henry Tudor -
Castle Photographs - Judith Arnopp

Monday, September 11, 2017

Rights and responsibilities of land ownership

by Maria Grace

By the time of the 1801 census, England had a population of just over eight million living in a country of some thirty two million acres - and eighty to ninety percent of this land was owned by the aristocracy or landed gentry, (Adkins, 2013) nearly half in the hands of about 5,000 families in total. (Lane, 2005) The remainder belonged to institutions like the church or colleges or to attorneys, shopkeepers and bankers of the market towns. (Davidoff, 2002) These families enjoyed considerable status and power associated with land ownership, but with the rights, came a number of social responsibilities.

Land owner rights & power

Voting rights

Landowners had the right to vote, which non-land owners did not. Thus, Parliament was controlled by those whose wealth came from the land rather than trade until the early 1830's. Moreover, the landed classes also controlled government at the local, shire level through service as local magistrates and participation in other local political roles
John Harriott (1745–1817),
English mariner and magistrate.

Justice of the peace/magistrate

In rural areas, a magistrate or justice of the peace served as the principal legal authority of the area. The primary qualification for the post of magistrate was to own an estate worth more than a hundred pounds a year. Few with estates that small held the position, though. Since the post was unpaid and involved substantial duties, it typically fell to the larger landowners of the region.

In this capacity, the magistrate would judge all ordinary (non-felony) legal cases. He would often appoint constables, surveyors of the highways, overseers of the poor and churchwardens. Frequently, he would work together with the clergyman of the region to manage its affairs. The extent of the magistrate’s influence could be quite broad, particularly when considering the roles of the men he might appoint to official offices that would work with him.

Constables were the precursor to an official police force. Chosen from among local householders (usually the wealthiest), the constable was responsible for keeping the local peace. Duties included collecting certain taxes, catching and confining suspected criminals, managing vagrants and beggars, and maintaining records of all of the above.

Surveyors of the highways acted to maintain the highways in a parish, particularly those which ran to market towns. They removed nuisances from highways and identified needed repairs. In order to see those repairs completed, they could levy a rate on landowners and require landowners to provide labor and equipment to accomplish the repairs.

Overseers of the poor administered poor relief, including food, money and clothing, in accordance with the Poor Law system. They were to estimate how much poor relief money was needed and set the poor rate accordingly. It was also their purview to collect the funds from their fellows in the parish. Subsequently they would distribute the relief as they saw fit both as ‘indoor’ relief within the walls of the poor house and ‘outdoor’ relief offered in the homes of the poor. They kept careful accounting records of their activities which were then audited and signed off at the end of each accounting year (Easter) by two justices.

Finally church wardens were responsible for the property and moveable goods of a parish church, maintaining and inventorying them. They also kept accounts of church funds and ensure that the rector receives the tithes to which he is entitled. (Sullivan 2007) They also maintained order and peace in the church and churchyard at all times, and especially during services.

Through the exercise of these roles, the estate owner could exercise considerable power and authority among those in his parish and shire.

Land owner responsibilities

Though landowners often enjoyed rights and powers that others did not, land ownership also demanded added social responsibilities from estate owners. 


Patriarchal ideology still prevalent during the era contributed to the notion than a landowner owed a stewardship duty to those tied to his estate. Though they worked for him, he had a responsibility to see they were adequately fed, clothed, and housed. These duties went above and beyond paying the required poor rate and required personal attention and interaction with tenants and villagers who lived nearby.

Typically, the mistress of the estate and the local clergy would also be involved in providing relief to those who had come upon hard times. A landowner regularly supplied gifts of food, clothing, even money to the needy at regular intervals; usually at Christmas, during instances of bad harvest or weather, sickness, bereavement and unemployment. 


Traditional festivals and celebrations also provided a chance to demonstrate charity as well as hospitality—another basic social duty of the era. Entertainments that included tenants, laborers, school children, local townspeople and small farmers often took place on an enormous scale. Parties would celebrate the completion of key seasonal activities like sheep-shearing in the spring. At midsummer, haymaking parties would follow mowing the fields. Autumn brought harvest suppers and the possibility of harvest ball to go with it. November heralded celebrations of Guy Fawkes Night. Christmas and Twelfth Night parties rounded out the year’s celebrations.

At its best, entertaining the lower orders expressed a genuine concern for the poor and a desire to improve the relations between the classes; at its worst it showed a rather odious condescension. (LeFaye, 2002) Sometimes these fesitvals even offered the potential for violence and disorder. Poorer members of the community sometimes demanded money, beer and meals as a right from landowners, not a gift that many gave grudgingly out of fear of reprisals. (Wilson 2007)

Such festivals were but one example of the hospitality a wealthy landowner was expected to demonstrate. Often this meant large groups of houseguests who might say for months at a time. Parties and annual celebrations which brought in the entire neighborhood, rich and poor, to the grounds and for food and entertainment were also regularly expected. While taxing, hospitality did offer the opportunity to display one's wealth and importance.

These varied rights, roles and responsibilities illustrate how an estate holder was more than a simple farmer, he was required by custom (and in some ways by law) to be a community leader, tax assessor and collector, law enforcer, and social support network. Probably not the roles you might have seen any of Austen’s leading men playing.


Adkins, Roy, and Lesley Adkins. Jane Austen's England. Viking, 2013.

Austen, Jane, and David M. Shapard. The Annotated Pride and Prejudice. New York: Anchor Books, 2003.

Austen, Jane, and David M. Shapard. The Annotated Sense and Sensibility. New York: Anchor Books, 2011.

Austen, Jane, and Edward Copeland. The Cambridge Edition of Sense and Sensibility. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Bennetts, M.M., “At the heart of a great estate is… .“ M.M.Bennetts. April 11,2012. Accessed May 20, 2014.

Collins, Irene. Jane Austen and the Clergy. London: Hambledon and London, 2001.

Davidoff, Leonore, and Catherine Hall. Family fortunes: men and women of the English middle class, 1780-1850. London: Routledge, 2002.

Day, Malcom. Voices from the World of Jane Austen. David and Charles, 2006.

Ellis, Markman "Trade." In Jane Austen in Context , 269-77. Cambridge: University Press, 2005.

Girouard, Mark. Life in the English Country House: A Social and Architectural History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978.

Gornall, J.F.G. "Marriage and Property in Jane Austen’s Novels." History Today 17, no. 12 (December 1967). Accessed May 22, 2017.

Hitchcock, Tim, Sharon Howard and Robert Shoemaker, " Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor Account Books ", London Lives, 1690-1800 (, version, 1.1 17 June 2012).

Laudermilk, Sharon H., and Teresa L. Hamlin. The Regency Companion. New York: Garland, 1989.

LeFaye, Deirdre. Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels. New York: Abrams, 2002.

Martin, Joanna. Wives and Daughters: Women and Children in the Georgian Country House. London: Hambledon and London, 2004.

Morris, Diane H. “Mr. Darcy was a Second-Class Citizen.” Moorgate Books. August 10th, 2014. Accessed May 22, 2017.

Ray, Joan Klingel. Jane Austen for Dummies. Chichester: John Wiley, 2006.

Selwyn, David. Jane Austen and Leisure. London: Hambledon Press, 1999.

Seven Trees Farm, “Norfolk four course.” Seven Trees Farm. April 30, 2012. Accessed May 29, 2017.

Sullivan, Margaret C., and Kathryn Rathke. The Jane Austen Handbook: Proper Life Skills from Regency England. Philadelphia, PA: Quirk Books, 2007.

Swift, Deborah. “Law & Order - Duties of the Constable in 17th Century England.” English Historical Fiction Authors. May 24, 2017. Accessed May 29, 2017.

Trevelyan, George Macaulay. Illustrated English Social History. New York: D. McKay, 1949.

Vickery, Amanda. The Gentleman's Daughter: Women's Lives in Georgian England. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998.

Watkins, Susan. Jane Austen's Town and Country Style. New York: Rizzoli, 1990.

Wilson, Ben. The Making of Victorian Values: Decency and Dissent in Britain, 1789-1837. New York: Penguin Press, 2007.


Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. 

After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.

Click here to find her books on Amazon. For more on her writing and other Random Bits of Fascination, visit her website. You can also like her on Facebook, or follow on Twitter.