Gaye Mack’s Blog

DIGGING UP THE BONES-‘INTERESTING’ MEDIEVAL DISCOVERIES

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Gaye's England, Scotland & Wales, Worth the Read, Writer's Work 3 Comments

Several archaeological projects with the potential of revealing answers to some of England’s medieval mysteries have  been in the news and are worth mentioning here for my fellow medieval history buffs and writers. 

Earlier this fall I posted a piece on medieval mortuary chests and the project I witnessed that’s underway in Winchester Cathedral.  As I posted, this project is focusing on assigning  specific identities to the bones of Wessex’s early monarchs and bishops; remains that were carelessly ‘dumped’ into assorted chests by Oliver Cromwell’s troops. No easy feat for present day archaeological detectives!

 As this project proceeds, up north in Leicester a major ‘accidental’ discovery hit the news just as I was returning from England in mid September.  In late August, while working on a dig under a city car park, workers discovered skeletal remains with spinal abnormalities and a “cleaved-in skull.” Archaeological authorities called in from Leicester University ‘suggest’  these remains could be those of King Richard III, the last of the Plantagenet kings, who died in 1485 during the battle of Bosworth, England’s last of significance, in its ‘War of the Roses’. 

 Prior to his demise at Bosworth, Richard’s climb to the throne is a story full of complexities, family rivalries, evil doings and political maneuverings, not the least of which are suspicions that he ordered the murder of his two young nephews in the Tower, thus eliminating any rival claims to the throne.

 As a defeated enemy of Henry Tudor, founder of the Tudor dynasty, Richard was given a low-key burial in the Franciscan friary of Greyfriars.  Although demolished in the 1530’s, there’s evidence that his burial site survived.  If DNA testing against descendants of Richard’s family confirm the current archaeological theories, this would be a remarkable discovery.  Additional  controversy has also surfaced regarding a suitable burial place for the remains, should they be Richard’s.  Earlier this week after various news reports concerning this issue,  it was revealed that should speculations be confirmed, Richard’s remains would be interred in Leicester’s cathedral…but that was this week.  We shall see.

 And, although not as recent as the discoveries in Winchester and Leicester, there’s more.  In 2005 the London press reported that along with the discovery of  13th and 14th century royal tombs,  work using radar in London’s Westminster Cathedral, pinpointed the original tomb of King Edward the Confessor,  one of the most revered of British saints and one of the last Saxon kings, who died months before the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

Until this discovery it was assumed that Edward’s tomb was placed near Westminster’s current high altar as implied in medieval records.  However, further research revealed this was not the case.  In 1269, King Henry III had  a shrine built to honor and contain Edward’s remains.  He also had the altar moved and with it, Edward’s tomb which he had placed it under the shrine.  Today, the shrine rests approximately ten feet behind the  present high altar.   Edward as a king does not hold a high place in history as some of his more famous peers, but nevertheless, his presence has endured.  Although made long after his death, the main royal crown is called St. Edward’s Crown and the Coronation Chair is sometimes called St Edward’s chair.

 His family was of the Wessex dynasty and when his half brother, Hardecanute, died in 1042, Edward was named king. He was then succeeded by Harold, killed in the Battle of Hastings, which then ushered in the reign of William the Conqueror and the Normans.  After Hastings, Edward’s reputation for piety grew…Pope Alexander III canonized him in 1161 and for four hundred years he was considered the patron saint of England until 1415 when this status was replaced by St. George.

 Happily the advent of 21st century technology is allowing us fascinating peeps into the ancient past with the prospect of solving mysteries that have mystified many of us for years!

Inquiring minds want to know:  what is your favorite medieval legend that remains unsolved?  Is it Arthur, the ‘Princes in the Tower’ or perhaps…???

 

 Floor Plan of Westminster Abbey and Edward the Confessor’s Tomb and Shrine

 

Recommended historical fiction readings re:  War of the Roses

  • The Kingmaker’s Daughter-Phillipa Gregory
  • A Dangerous Inheritance-Alison Weir

 

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THE BRUTAL “EXECUTION” OF GLASTONBURY ABBEY’S LAST ABBOT, RICHARD WHITING UNDER “CROMWELL”

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Gaye's England, Scotland & Wales, Writer's Work 4 Comments

By the fall of 1539, Thomas Cromwell’s  methodical eradication of England’s  abbeys and monasteries  on behalf of King Henry VIII  had well been  underway for a few years.  Beginning with the smaller houses  in 1537, the campaign eventually  found it’s way to Glastonbury, one of the wealthiest abbeys in the country.  The zealous motivations behind this fierce onslaught were complex, no question.  Political posturing, Henry’s break with Rome, the need for a male heir and frankly his desperation to get his hands on cold, hard cash… all of these were at the root.

 Long before his marriage to Anne Boleyn and the brutal execution of Richard Whiting,  Henry’s ability to manage his money was out of control.  He was known to be a lavish spender so much so that by the time he married Anne he’d gone through all of the money left to him by his father, some £1,800,000!  Once he broke with Rome, Henry had all but alienated most of Europe, making his realm a target for wolves on his doorstep.  At the very least, he needed money to supply a military and to keep Anne in the manner to which she’d become accustomed.

 For its part,  the Church was rife with greed and a variety of non-spiritual improprieties that  ran rampant among the religious houses prior to the dissolution.  However, at the end of the day, Henry’s object was to get his hands on salable land and possessions. Since The Great Fire of 1184Glastonbury  had miraculously risen from its ashes like the mythical phoenix. Only the  shrines at Canterbury and Walsingham attracted more pilgrims.  This was a house that despite its own internal disorder between factions of monks, was rich in material goods and property.

 In September of 1539 Richard Layton along with two other of Cromwell’s commissioners made a ‘visit’ to Glastonbury for the purpose of interrogating its abbot, Richard Whiting.  Whiting was an old man by this time and by all accounts had so far gone to great lengths to stay out of trouble by not rocking the ecclesiastical boat regarding Henry’s petition to divorce Katherine of Aragon.   However, when Layton and his colleagues searched Whiting’s study, they discovered a book arguing against the divorce along with various papers considered to be traitorous.  Further interrogation of Whiting proved to be unfruitful as evidently the abbot was stubborn and uncooperative.  As a result he was removed to London’s Tower to await interrogation by Cromwell himself. 

Meanwhile back in Glastonbury, Layton, Thomas Moyle and Richard Pollard thoroughly discharged the abbey’s community and then proceeded with a systematic sweep that revealed hidden wealth in the form of plate, gold and ‘other articles.’  One can only imagine  details of the resulting inventory totaling (not including land and cattle holdings) 11,000 oz in plate plus gold, furniture and £1,100 in money.  Nevertheless, despite Layton and his associate’s discoveries, the myth remains alive to this day that ‘much of the Glastonbury treasure’ including the Holy Grail, escaped Cromwell’s commissioners. 

Whiting was arraigned on November 6th, 1539 resulting in the order,  ‘put to execution.’    At some point he was transferred back to Glastonbury according to Sir John Russell, who was  charged with the abbot’s ‘disposal.’  Details of Whiting’s gruesome execution are fairly well-known. Feeble and ill, the Abbot was dragged on a hurdle to Tor Hill where he was hung, (some resources claim from St. Michael’s tower) drawn, quartered and beheaded.  His four body parts were sent to Wells, Bath, Ilchester and Bridgewater for public display; his head was stuck on Glastonbury’s abbey gate. 

The question remains, was Whiting truly a traitor or was his execution simply vindictive retaliation for his obstinacy and Henry’s need to get his hands on the great abbey’s extensive wealth?  Unfortunately it’s doubtful we’ll ever know as the  records of Whiting’s trial along with Cromwell’s justification for execution have never been found.

 So, what do you think?  Was Whiting’s execution justified or simply an example of  bullying, power that ordered terminal  punishment for defiance?

 

St. Michael’s Tower-The Tor, Glastonbury

Photography©Gaye F. Mack, Inc.

Relevant books to explore:

  • The Tudors-G.J. Meyer
  • The Last Divine Office-Henry VIII and the Dissolution of the Monasteries-Geoffrey Moorhouse
  • Wolf Hall-Hilary Mantel
  • Bringing up the Bodies-Hilary Mantel

 You can follow me on: http://www.facebook.com/gayemackauthor


THE MYSTICAL WORLD OF DR. JOHN DEE AND OTHER DELIGHTS TO BE FOUND IN LONDON’S BRITISH MUSEUM

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

On my recent trip to the UK, I purposely planned to spend unimpeded time in the medieval halls of London’s British Museum.  While I’ve visited the museum on previous trips, I’ve always been with other people preventing the opportunity to ‘wander’ to my heart’s content.  This time I did and was in ‘hog heaven’ as we say in the Midwest.

 So many unexpected delights made up my afternoon that the time spent was even richer than I’d hoped.  For example, months ago I’d planned to take the train north for a day to visit ‘The Staffordshire Hoard’which is on display in Birmingham’s Museum of Art.  However, by the time I actually got to London, I’d changed my planned itinerary so many times that Birmingham was no longer possible.  Little did I realize that I really wasn’t going to miss out due to the fact that the BM houses many, many stunning artifacts from other ‘hoards’ including the famous one discovered at Sutton Hoo. 

 While I could blog pages on all of the wonderful things I saw in just four hours’ time, of particular interest regarding my 12th century historical mysteries, was the museum’s ‘Hands On’ exhibit hall.  In this hall which is extensive, patrons have the opportunity to get ‘up close and personal’ with artifacts covering a myriad of interests, time frames and cultures, with the assistance of museum personnel.  I couldn’t believe they actually allow photography as well!  All I could think was, if I tried to photograph something in Chicago’s Field Museum, I most likely would be severely cautioned to “cease and desist” at the very least!

 In any case, it was in this ‘hall’ that I came across some ‘tools of the trade’ belonging to Queen Elizabeth I’s famous conjurer, Dr. John Dee (1527-1608/09), which according to the museum’s information, were acquired by the ‘antiquary and collector’, Sir Robert Cotton.  Descriptions of those photos which I’ve posted here are as follows…

 “The large wax disc, called the ‘Seal of God’ is engraved with magical names and symbols.  Dee used it as a support for his ‘shew-stones’, in which his medium allegedly saw visions of divine beings unveiling the secrets of the universe.  The two smaller discs (not pictured) are said to have supported Dee’s ‘Table of Practice’.  The golden disc is engraved with the so-called ‘Vision of the Four Castles.’  The black obsidian mirror, originally a Mexican Aztec cult object, was used for conjuring up spirits.”

 Although these ‘wondrous things’ (to quote Lord Carnarvon when he first peeked into Tutankhamen’s tomb) are roughly 400 years after the time frame I write in, one can’t resist being be dazzled when standing in front of them!

Photography©Gaye F. Mack, Inc.


BLOODY MARY TUDOR…RICK SANTORUM’S IDOL OF WOMANHOOD AND LEADERSHIP-SERIOUSLY?

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

I had intended to blog about something entirely different this morning but have put it aside to post the following news article which actually appears on Susan Higginbotham’s blog.  Susan is an historical fiction author and if you like reading about the Tudor era, I recommend reading her works.

As for Rick Santorum’s remarks when interviewed in Madison…I’m a native of Wisconsin and quite familiar with the very liberal(at least it was when I was going to college) U of Wisconsin, which makes me wonder what the energy was like in the crowd…moreover, if Margaret George was home, I wonder what she thought about his very bizarre remarks regarding Mary…it boggles the mind.  This completely convinces me  the man needs serious therapy to work out his family of origin dysfunctions.

Madison, Wisconsin—She’s known to us today as “Bloody Mary.” But for Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, she is a woman to be esteemed.

Speaking at a campaign stop at the University of Wisconsin, Santorum, when asked by a student questioner whether there was a historical woman he particularly admired, cited the first reigning Tudor queen. “First, she had strong religious principles, and she wasn’t too politically correct to act upon them,” said Santorum. “Second, she got married, unlike her younger sister Elizabeth, who didn’t think she needed a man to help her rule. Mary understood the importance of faith and family in a way that Elizabeth never did.”

Asked his opinion of Mary’s policy of burning Protestants, Santorum said, “You could argue—and I will argue—that Mary’s strong moral convictions were preferable to this wishy-washy notion of tolerance that the left has, where Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, goddess-worship, paganism, and atheism are all of the same value, are all points of view to be allowed. Where has that led us? Into a moral cesspool.”

Santorum, who has said that the notion of separation of church and state makes him want to “throw up,” hastened to add, “That’s not to say that I believe Mary was one hundred percent correct in burning Protestants. There are certainly decent Protestants, then and now, though I can safely say that if Mary had seen the state of the Anglican Church today, and of mainline Protestantism in the United States, she would have probably burned more of them.”

The candidate looked thoughtful when asked by another student whether he would support burning nonbelievers and non-Christians in an effort to purify the condition of religion in the United States. “Besides the obvious spiritual benefits, burning these people at the stake would have the side effect of bringing down the unemployment rate, both by reducing the surplus population and by putting right-thinking Americans to work ferreting out heretics, but as it stands now, it’s probably illegal under the Eighth Amendment. Until we get that amendment and the First Amendment tweaked a bit, we might just have to settle for singeing people.”

 


The Brilliance of Margaret George’s ‘Elizabeth’

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Worth the Read Leave a comment

ELIZABETH-by Margaret George

Once again American author, Margaret George, has produced a stellar work of historical fiction in her newly released, Elizabeth.

As with George’s previous books, the story is skillfully written in the first person, this time through the eyes of Elizabeth Tudor, England’s first female monarch, the only child of Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn.

Despite its considerable size the story is a page turner that takes us behind the scenes of court machinations during Elizabeth’s 45 year reign coupled with her private struggle to find balance in a male dominated political world against the ordinary wants and needs of a 16th century woman.  For fans of exquisitely researched historical fiction, George opens a fascinating window into the inner world of the woman not “behind the throne”, but the woman on the throne.

Margaret George’s previously released works that are also on my ‘worth the read’ list include:

The Autobiography of Henry VIII,

Mary, Queen of Scotland and the Isles

The Memoirs of Cleopatra

Mary Called  Magdalene