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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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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MOVE OVER KING RICHARD III, MAKE WAY FOR THE BONES OF KING ALFRED OF WESSEX

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Gaye's England, Scotland & Wales, Writer's Work 2 Comments

 Last week archaeological authorities in England’s north announced that indeed, the skeleton found last summer underneath a municipal car park in Leicester is that of the notorious King Richard III.  Now on the heels of this discovery, a team of archaeologists from the University of Winchester down in England’s southern Hampshire are hoping to discover the bones of Saxon England’s 9th century King, Alfred of Wessex believed to be buried in St. Bartholomew church in Hyde, located a little north of Winchester. 

The saga of Alfred’s tomb is a complex one with enough twists and turns of which medieval mystery writers dream.  According to various resources, Alfred was originally although temporarily, buried in Winchester’s old minster upon his death on October 26, 899 AD.  However, about 903 AD, a new minster was built and consecrated next door and at that point, Alfred’s remains were moved to the New Minster; but this move  proved to be another temporary one.

Roughly about 1109 AD, King Henry I ordered the New Mister to be moved north of the city to the suburb of Hyde Mead.  When the new ‘abbey church’ of Hyde was consecrated in 1110 AD, the bodies of Alfred, his wife Ealhswith and his son Edward the Edler, were interred before the high altar…until Henry VIII’s rampage against the monasteries and abbeys in 1539. 

Amazingly, although the abbey church was demolished by Henry’s enforcers, the graves of several royals were left intact only to be accidentally discovered in 1788 during the construction of a prison on the old abbey site.  As often happened in such instances, the tombs were robbed, the bones scattered.  One of the stories that continues to persist is that a vicar ‘bought’ Alfred’s bones, although from an ‘unreliable’ source, and moved them to St. Bartholomew.  Anything is possible of course; the bones could be Alfred’s, although the sale of suspect ‘relics and artifacts’ is a practice that dates back thousands of years and remains so today…often under the guise of ‘lost’ art that turns out to be expertly forged!

If permission for the excavation is given, radio carbon dating will be used to determine the bones authenticity and if it’s proven that they are the bones of England’s greatest king, experts agree that this would be one of the most significant archaeological discoveries ever made.  Stay tuned! 

 

saxon list

Photography©Gaye F. Mack, Inc.

PARTIAL LIST OF BONES BELONGING TO ENGLAND’S SAXON KINGS AND BISHOPS BELIEVED TO BE CONTAINED IN THE MORTUARY CHESTS AT WINCHESTER CATHEDRAL

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THE BEGINNING OF THE END FOR HENRY II & THOMAS BECKET~JANUARY 30, 1164

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Gaye's England, Scotland & Wales, Writer's Work 2 Comments

By January 30 1164, King Henry II of England  had evidently had enough of the ecclesiastical hierarchy protecting its own in criminal matters.  In an effort to curb the power of the Church’s courts, Henry laid down a document of sixteen articles known as the Constitutions of Clarendon.  Initially Henry’s Archbishop, Thomas Beckett and the bishops of the realm reluctantly agreed to observe the guidelines of Henry’s document including the article stating that if a member of the church committed a crime, they would be tried in the state court in addition to an ecclesiastical court.  This was particularly relevant to the exposure of priests charged with serious felonies having to answer to a secular court and punishment.

 So restrictive were Henry’s articles through the eyes of the clergy, particularly in matters of such crimes as well as  property and excommunication, that although Becket agreed to the articles as we might say today, ‘in principle’, he refused to sign the order.   On October 8, 1164 Henry ordered Becket to appear before a great council at Northampton Castle to answer charges of ‘contempt of royal authority and malfeasance in the Chancellor’s office’ of which Becket was convicted.

 Becket bolted, fleeing to the continent where he was protected by King Louis VII of France.  For six years Henry attempted to bring his archbishop to heel through various power plays of repercussion countered by Becket’s threats of excommunication against the king, bishops and the kingdom.    Finally in 1170 Pope Alexander III brokered a diplomatic compromise that allowed Becket to return from England; however, the peace between Archbishop and King did not last and on December 29, 1170 Becket was assassinated by four of Henry’s knights who misunderstood (or did they?) the King’s cry, “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest!”

 A selection of the articles making up the Constitutions of Clarendon is as follows, noting that article three was particularly grievous to Becket and his fellow clergymen.

 1. If a controversy arises between laymen, or between laymen and clerks, or between clerks concerning patronage and presentation of churches, it shall be treated or concluded in the court of the lord king.

3. Clerks charged and accused of any matter, summoned by the king’s justice, shall come into his court to answer there to whatever it shall seem to the king’s court should be answered there; and in the church court to what it seems should be answered there; however the king’s justice shall send into the court of holy Church for the purpose of seeing how the matter shall be treated there. And if the clerk be convicted or confess, the church ought not to protect him further.

4. It is not permitted the archbishops, bishops, and priests of the kingdom to leave the kingdom without the lord king’s permission. And if they do leave they are to give security, if the lord king pleases, that they will seek no evil or damage to king or kingdom in going, in making their stay, or in returning.

6. Laymen ought not to be accused save by dependable and lawful accusers and witnesses in the presence of the bishop, yet so that the archdeacon lose not his right or anything which he ought to have thence. And if there should be those who are deemed culpable, but whom no one wishes or dares to accuse, the sheriff, upon the bishop’s request, shall cause twelve lawful men of the neighborhood or the vill to take oath before the bishop that they will show the truth of the matter according to their conscience.

8. As to appeals which may arise, they should pass from the archdeacon to the bishop, and from the bishop to the archbishop. And if the archbishop fail in furnishing justice, the matter should come to the lord king at the last, that at his command the litigation be concluded in the archbishop’s court; and so because it should not pass further without the lord king’s consent.

14. Chattels which have been forfeited to the king are not to be held in churches or cemeteries against the king’s justice, because they belong to the king whether they be found inside churches or outside.

 

Window Depicting Assassination of Thomas Becket~Canterbury Cathedral

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