Gaye Mack’s Blog

AUTHOR NANCY BILYEAU REVEALS HOW DARTFORD PRIORY ESCAPED HENRY VIII’S RAMPAGE

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Worth the Read, Writer's Work 1 Comment

While I’m  drawn more to England’s 12th & 13th centuries, it’s nearly impossible to ignore King Henry VIII’s murderous assault on  his kingdom’s religious houses.  His rampage was so vile and its impact on the course of history so indelible, it boggles the mind to remember that Henry’s zeal was sparked by the love for a scheming woman and let’s be frank, his greed for the booty held in the monastic treasuries!  One particularly brutal example is found in my post detailing  the brutal murder of wealthy Glastonbury Abbey’s last abbot, Richard Whiting in 1539.  

However this said, admittedly I’ve never given much thought about what happened to the Tudor nunneries!  Were the women as brutally treated?  Fortunately , Nancy Bilyeau, historical fiction author of The Crown and  newly released sequel, The Chalice, has.  In a recent article,  Nancy discusses how she came to create her books with particular attention to the historical fate of  Dartford Priory, England’s only Dominican house which was located in the county of Kent.  Thus, I’m happy to welcome Nancy as my guest by posting a portion of her fascinating article which can be read in its entirety as it appears in the Catholic Herald

I chose the sole house of Dominican Sisters in England, Dartford Priory, as the home of my protagonist, the fictional Sister Joanna Stafford. A priory of “strict discipline and plain living,” it was founded with great care by Edward III in the 1350s. The women who took vows at Dartford were from the gentry or nobility. There was even one princess: Bridget of York, the youngest daughter of Edward IV. Daily life was spent praying, singing, studying, gardening, sewing and teaching local girls to read. Twice a week the Sisters distributed alms to the local poor. The prioresses were learned and formidable women. Elizabeth Cressner, who died in 1537, oversaw her house of nuns with tremendous vigor for 50 years.

When the king’s commissioners visited Dartford Priory they did not find a house in decay. In 1535, the Valor Ecclesiasticus put the net annual revenue of the monastery at a robust £380 9s ½d. The number of nuns had not declined over the last century, but held at a steady number. I have not been able to find any contemporary reports finding fault with Dartford.

Yet in 1539 Prioress Joan Vane “surrendered” the priory to the king and it was demolished. Why? Most likely because closure was inevitable – by that time almost every other abbey had been dissolved – and those who resisted faced royal savagery. Abbot Richard Whiting, 81, refused to surrender Glastonbury in 1539. He was arrested, imprisoned in the Tower of London, convicted of treason and dragged on a hurdle to the top of Glastonbury Tor. There, he was hanged, drawn and quartered, his severed head nailed to the gate of the deserted abbey. You can certainly see why most of the monastics submitted to the will of the king.

After the nuns of Dartford were evicted from their home, they received small pensions. Although the stereotype of a medieval nun is someone who is pressured to take vows, some of the Dominican Sisters continued to live together in groups because they did not want to abandon their vocations.

When Henry VIII’s oldest daughter, Mary, took the throne, she granted the Dominican nuns’ request to re-establish their order in Dartford and seven nuns moved back in. But this restoration only lasted as long as Mary lived. Elizabeth’s officials ordered the nuns to leave. They did so, joining some of the last remaining Sisters of Syon Abbey. Mary’s widower, King Philip, quietly paid for the group to leave England for the Netherlands. They went from convent to convent, suffering poverty and ill health. In Paul Lee’s book, Nunneries, Learning and Spirituality in Late Medieval English Society, a letter from someone who saw the Dartford nuns in 1561 in a convent on the island of Zeeland says: “These are the most elderly of all the religious and the most infirm, and it seems that they are more than half dead.” But they hung on for quite a bit longer. The last of the Dartford nuns died in Bruges in 1585.

st. michaels

St. Michael’s Tower where Glastonbury’s last abbot, Richard Whiting, was murdered by Henry VIII’s Men  in 1539

Photography©Gaye F. Mack

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ARCHAEOLOGISTS REVEAL RICHARD III’S BRUTAL DEATH

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Gaye's England, Scotland & Wales, Writer's Work Leave a comment

While final DNA testing on a skeleton believed to be England’s maligned king, Richard III is concluded, speculation as to how this king met his brutal death paints a grisly picture.  In a recent interview with the BBC, Dr Jo Appleby, an osteo-archaeologist from  Leicester University’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History, states that the skeleton had suffered ten  injuries, including eight to the skull, at around the time of death. Two of the skull wounds were potentially fatal.

According to Appleby, one wound was a “slice” removing a flap of bone, the other was caused by bladed weapon which went through and hit the opposite side of the skull – a depth of more than 10cm (4ins).  “Both of these injuries would have caused an almost instant loss of consciousness and death would have followed quickly afterwards.   In the case of the larger wound, if the blade had penetrated 7cm into the brain, which we cannot determine from the bones, death would have been instantaneous.”

Other wounds included slashes or stabs to the face and the side of the head. There was also evidence of “humiliation” injuries, including a pelvic wound likely to have been caused by an upward thrust of a weapon, through the buttock.

Dr Appleby added,  “The analysis of the skeleton proved that it was an adult male but was an unusually slender, almost feminine, build for a man.  Taken as a whole, the skeletal evidence provides a highly convincing case for identification as Richard III.”

Richard was killed at Bosworth in 1485 after only two years on the throne when challenged by Henry Tudor who became England’s King Henry VII.  Evidently the defeated monarch was given a rushed and clumsy burial beneath the church of Greyfriars in the center of Leicester. Excavation of the site has revealed no evidence of a coffin or shroud which would have left the bones in a more compact position than they were found.  Additionally, the arms of the skeleton were crossed which archaeologists believe could be an indication that the body was buried with the wrists still tied.

While initial DNA testing indicates that the  remains are  Richard’s, the drama isn’t over yet. In an interview with NBC news,Turi King, Leicester University geneticist who conducted the initial testing stated that mitochondrial DNA is not as precise an indicator as a paternity test. However, she also noted regarding the DNA found,  “It’s quite a rare type, so that adds to the weight of the evidence,” further adding that the mitochondrial DNA signature found with the skeleton is shared by only a few percent of Europeans.

The next step will be to analyze the skeleton’s Y-chromosome DNA and the more complicated reconstruction of the skeleton’s Y-chromosome DNA signature which is passed down from father to son.  Amazingly, four paternal-line descendants of Richard III’s family have already been identified and tested, awaiting further analysis.

black prince

KING RICHARD III OF ENGLAND

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DR. BACH’S ELM CALLS FOR TAKING A BREAK FROM OVERWHELMED

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Balance, Karmic and Self-Discovery Astrology, Writer's Work Leave a comment

Greetings everyone!

Reluctantly,  I’ve decided to take a small break from blogging as somehow I’ve maneuvered myself into Dr. Bach’s ‘Elm’ state ‘conjunct’ with the movement of the Sun, Venus, Mars, Uranus and soon Mercury(!) into the fiery ‘initiating’ energy of Aries!  Bottom line, like so many of you who fall into the same trap, I’ve suddenly  found myself ‘overwhelmed’.  So  besides taking  Bach’s  flower remedy Elm, (Elm for ‘overwhelmed’) I’m stepping back to take a breath,  reorganize myself and projects.  This ‘interval'(such a British term) won’t last long and I hope to resume before the end of the month with new pieces on ‘history’s mysteries’, planetary movements affecting us and the integration of Dr. Bach’s flower remedies to help us weather the ‘winds of change.’

In the meantime, a peek at what I have my fingers into:  a complete redesign of my traditional website and this blog which will be integrated when finished.  I’m working with the terrific team at Beyond Indigo who are creating the redesign as I write new and edit existing copy.  Another project is my possible fall trip to Cathar country in southern France.  The Cathars’ story (their persecution by the Catholic Church otherwise known as the ‘Inquisition’)  has long been a subject of fascination for me and will  provide the foundation for my next historical fiction book.  Depending on how this ‘film’ develops, I hope to be blogging more on this intriguing piece of history.  Also in the mix is my work on the sequel to Igniting Soul Fire, Spiritual Dimensions of the Bach Flower Remedies, which explores Dr. Bach’s Twelve Healers and the Karmic story in our birth charts!  

In any case, I intend to be back before the month is out and look forward to it(along with Spring which hopefully will finally have arrived in Chicago by then!)

Elm

 

Dr. Bach’s Elm for ‘Overwhelmed’

Photography©Dr. Edward Bach Centre

 Aries                                                                                                                                                                                                  

The Fire of Aries Ushers in this Spring with Lighting Initiatory Action

 

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EXCAVATIONS AT BRITAIN’S 12THC FURNESS ABBEY REVEALS PHENOMENAL REMAINS OF ABBOT

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Writer's Work Leave a comment

     Approximately a year ago, archeological researchers from Oxford discovered remains of one of Furness Abbey’s medieval abbots. Furness, founded in 1124 by King Stephen.  Located in northern Cumbria, it was the second largest, wealthiest and obviously influential, abbey in the country prior to the dissolution rampage of King Henry VIII.  The following is an excerpt of a report of the find filed by Fatima Manji with Britain’s Channel 4 News:

    The skeleton was found by Oxford Archaeology North who were carrying out excavations during emergency repairs at the Cumbrian site.  The rare find could date as far back as the 12th century. The abbot’s body was buried with a very rare medieval gilded crosier and jeweled ring.  [According to] English Heritage curator Susan Harrison, “This is really significant because it’s the first time under modern conditions that an abbatial or abbot burial has been discovered intact with so much detail and information – from the skeleton to the mark of his office, his crosier, his ring, but also fragments of textile in there.”

     Oxford Archaeology North’s Stephen Rowland[stated],  “It’s extremely rare to find such a burial. Nationally he’s an important person; he’s a member of the Cistercian order which was the most powerful monastic order in England. He would have had estates across the Furness Peninsula, into Cambria, Lancashire and Yorkshire, control over large amounts of resources. He was a bit like a feudal overlord.”

     The archaeologists are now carrying out carbon 14 dating to find out when the abbot actually died. The results of this could give them a 25 year window, which may help to identify which abbot he was. However, the window could be as much as 100 years either side of his actual death.  Ms Harrison explained how the burial was found: “It was noted that the walls of the east end of the church were cracking and subsiding. A major investigation was set up by English Heritage to work out what was happening with these walls and then to try and reduce any impact on the ground. Archaeological work was undertaken to enable us to find out what was significant in the area that we were going to do further works on to stabilise the abbey ruins.”

     Mr Rowland explained what they already know about the abbot. He said: “We think he’s about 40 to 50-years-old which we can tell from the wear on his teeth, the way the bones are fused together and the sutures on the skull and the aspects on the pelvis. He’s about 5’7 tall by measuring his leg bones and he would have been a very important person in the abbey.”  He said the abbot probably suffered from arthritis and was most likely a portly man. He said: “He’s got a bony growth going down his vertebrae. It’s a condition called DISH, which is associated with obesity and middle-aged onset type-2 diabetes. So it’s quite probable that he was having a fairly rich diet.  The abbot’s knees were also worn.” Mr Rowland added: “He could have been praying quite a bit on his knees. We’ve got arthritis around his platella on his knee cap – again this signifies more bony growth.  He could have spent a bit of time on his knees writing and reading quite a lot, but he wasn’t hugely active like other medieval people of lower status really.”

    Ms Harrison said the ring was probably a reminder of piety: “It tells us he was a man of status to wear a ring. It was found on one of the fingers of his right hand and what’s really interesting is that it’s a copper alloy but it’s been gilded and it’s got a point behind – can you imagine how uncomfortable it would have been to wear that? It’s possibly as a reminder of his piety, a reminder of his position and his oaths to god.”

    The head of the crosier is made of gilded copper and decorated with gilded silver medallions showing the Archangel Michael defeating a dragon. The crosier’s crook or end is decorated with a serpent’s head.  Ms Harrison added: “This abbot was obviously of high status because he was buried with a very nice crosier, rather than a wooden or a lead replica of that. It’s in good condition. The only damage is caused by corrosion in the ground.”

 

mortuary chest

Mortuary Chests Such As This One in Winchester’s Cathedral Were Often Used To Hold Ecclesiastical Remains

Photography ©Gaye F. Mack, Inc. 

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IS ST. PATRICK BURIED AT GLASTONBURY ABBEY?

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Writer's Work 1 Comment

Was St. Patrick ever at Glastonbury Abbey in the early 5th Century?  Legend says he was but then, as is the case of many of ancient stories, we’ll never know for sure.  There is however, a document known as the Charter of St. Patrick believed to have been written by Glastonbury monks in the late 13th century.  The exact purpose isn’t clear, but it does purportedly narrate in his own words,  the account of Patrick’s arrival at Glastonbury in 430 A.D.  Clearly the gap in time makes the authenticity of the Charter’s narrative  suspect and begs the question, why would the  monks produce such a document 900 years after the fact?  One explanation could be that it was a PR stunt.

Leading up to the catastrophic fire of 1184 which took Britain’s wealthiest abbey to ground, Glastonbury was in a state of political chaos, the circumstances which I write about in my historical mystery, A Conspiracy of Ravens(represented by Peter Miller-unpublished).  However, despite King Henry II’s support in the abbey’s rebuilding immediately following the fire, down the road the monks needed to sustain pilgrim traffic in order to keep the coffers topped up.

Along with the Arthurian legends which include the re-internment of Arthur and Guinevere at the foot of a black marble high altar during the state visit of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile in 1278,  it didn’t hurt to add St. Patrick into the mix.  Nevertheless, whether legend, myth or fact, allegedly St. Patrick’s bones are believed to have been buried under the floor of the small chapel shrine that bears his name and stands among Glastonbury’s remains–a claim the Irish understandably, strongly contest.

The Charter of St. Patrick(excerpt)

In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I Patrick, the humble servant of God, in the year of His Incarnation 430, was sent into Ireland by the most holy Pope Celestine, and by God’s grace converted the Irish to the way of truth; and, when I had established them in the Catholic faith, at length I returned to Britain, and, as I believe, by the guidance of God, who is the life and the way, I chanced upon the isle of Ynsgytrin, wherein I found a place holy and ancient, chosen and sanctified by God in honour of Mary the pure Virgin, the Mother of God: and there I found certain brethren imbued with the rudiments of the Catholic faith, and of pious conversation, who were successors of the disciples of St Phagan and St Deruvian, whose names for the merit of their lives I verily believe are written in heaven: and because the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance, since tenderly I loved those brethren, I have thought good to record their names in this my writing.

And they are these: Brumban, Hyregaan, Brenwal, Wencreth, Bamtonmeweng, Adelwalred, Lothor, Wellias, Breden, Swelwes, Hin Loernius, and another Hin. These men, being of noble birth and wishing to crown their nobleness with deeds of faith, had chosen to lead a bermit’s life ; and when I found them meek and gentle, I chose to be in low estate with them, rather than to dwell in kings’ palaces. And since we were all of one heart and one mind, we chose to dwell together, and eat and drink in common, and sleep in the same house.

And so they set me, though unwilling, at their head: for indeed I was not worthy to unloose the latchet of their shoes. And, when we were thus leading the monastic life according to the pattern of the approved fathers, the brothers showed me writings of St Phagan and St Deruvian, wherein it was contained that twelve disciples of St Philip and St James had built that Old Church in honour of our Patroness aforesaid, instructed thereto by the blessed archangel Gabriel.

glastonbury

Remains of one of the giant piers of Glastonbury’s Majorum Ecclesia 

Photography©Gaye F. Mack, Inc.

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