On the Friday evening, the thought of visiting Bosworth Battlefield had not even entered my mind. Whilst it was on my list of things to do, a free weekend to complete it was only a distant dream. It had to be a weekend as the walks are only scheduled for Saturday or Sundays.
Then on Saturday morning a chink of light appeared. Sunday had suddenly become free. A quick check and weather forecast looked promising, the garden was up together…well almost. And the rest of the family had other plans. This was too good to let pass by and the bonus was that a Living Medieval Soldiers Camp re-enactment group were having a “in residence” weekend at the site. A ‘google’ on travel times came up with a suggested 1hr 50 as the fastest route and as the centre opened at 10 am, an 8 am departure was set, a little keen for a Sunday I know but I prefer a dawn approach and hopefully a quiet transition around the M42 would be the payback for an early start.
Sunday arrived as promised, blue sky and September sun. The M5 deserted, M42 quiet and as a consequence, when I heard the instructions leave the motorway, cross the roundabout and take the third exit…..It was still only 8.50 and 15 miles to destination and so a cheeky latte was called for at Tamworth Services
Refreshed, the last part of the journey was commenced. My navigator took me via the A5 onto a B road which was a delight to drive, crossing canals, through a still asleep village and cyclists out enjoying the autumn sunshine. I half wished I was out with them until the brown signs for “Battlefield Visitors Centre” appeared and reminded me of my mission. After a few more miles the navigator announced that I had reached my destination and true to her word the entrance to the centre was on the left. Initially it looked like the entrance to a farm situated on the hill above but the presence to two large banners recognisable as Plantagenet and Tudor were flying at the end of the ridge line which I know now to be Ambion Hill.
The car park was busier than I thought it would be with still 20 minutes to opening time but it soon became apparent that as well as the visitors centre it was also a popular stop for walking on the numerous paths that made their way through Ambion woods and by the time I had walked into the centre complex, nearly everyone had disappeared. The Soldiers camp was still deserted. The centre itself consisted of several red brick buildings which looked to be pre- WWII build around a central court yard. They housed the centre offices, centre exhibition and the gift shop. 10am soon came around and the centre opened promptly. Having bought a ticket for the car park, exhibition, battlefield tour and soldiers village (£15.50) I decided to make a tactical withdrawal to the restaurant for a belated breakfast in the Tithe barn.
Having surveyed the menu, the full Ricardian looked impressive but I erred on the side of a bacon sandwich and coffee and was not disappointed. Now ready for the day I returned to the exhibition. It was spread over several rooms and gave the choice of an audio tour with an interactive screen in each room where you could select a character from the lead up to the battle who would give you their take on the situation or, as I did, just read the information panels There was a short film running on a loop, which covered the battle itself and a few interactive displays e.g. draw the archers bow, guess the name for the piece of armour etc. I certainly felt, by the time I emerged into the gift shop, that I had a better understanding of the battle itself than I did from just reading books on the subject.
With 11.30 approaching I made my way back to the courtyard for the guided walk. Our guide arrived promptly and introduced herself as Pat. She had with her several flags and wooden swords for, I’m guessing, children, but as the 8 of us were all over 20 she kept them for herself. As a fellow guide it’s always interesting to see how each one approaches the background to the battle. As a member of the Guild of Battlefield Guides, their mantra is to have guide participants smelling the cordite, or in the case of Tewkesbury the swish of the arrow within the first 30 seconds of a tour beginning. However, I feel that to launch into the fighting without giving it some context can leave the audience a little uninformed as to why the battle even took place and I was glad to see Pat felt the same. I only cover the Wars of the Roses up to Tewkesbury 1471, she had another 14 Years’, a Welsh ‘Kingmaker’, a wannabe King and a current King to include in her scene setting, which she did quickly and succinctly, before moving on to our first stand point - the sundial under the banners on Ambion Hill.
From the view point beneath the banners we were made familiar with the landscape below and around us. Where we stood was the camp of Richard on the night before the battle and in the far distance was another ridge line where Henry Tudor and the Stanley’s drew up their armies before the day of the battle. From there we gently descended the ridge on a path and stopped at a further two stand/information points which described Henry Tudor and Lord Stanley. While the printed descriptions were still clear, the portraits were faded and if I was honest needed replacing, although each description had a QR scan code for smart devices which I guess would give more details than were just on the printed script.
On reaching the bottom of the hill and the restored railway station at Shelton, now part of the restored Heritage Battlefield Line (and open for tea and cake), we turned left onto the ‘arms trail’ which ran adjacent to the old railway line. It was punctuated by stands of armoured helmets, cannon balls and a rather spectacular carved relief of a war bow set in an upright railway sleeper, which I thought would look rather good as a centre piece in my garden. We then descended into a clearing where a diorama of the battle field was spread out in front of us. We could see Lord Stanley’s holding position, the site of the marsh which had to be negotiated and Stoke Golding Church where allegedly Stanley took the Crown to place upon Henry’s head following Richard’s death. From there we climbed a gentle slope back to the visitor’s centre arriving back as predicted 1 ½ hours and 2 Km after we started.
Was the journey worth it?....... yes, as it’s always better to speak to someone who knows the ground and the history. The paths were well maintained and even in the wet, a pair of stout shoes would be sufficient. The centre exhibition and film show provides a good interpretation of what may have happened and anyone with a bit of knowledge about the period could guide themselves round and not detract from the experience. Although a guide is always going to be better!!
From there I went back to the living camp to see if things had livened up since my arrival. As expected the village people were in full swing. Having spoken to a Fletcher and Archer who was intent on giving a graphic account of how to remove an arrow from yourself, I retired to the Tithe barn again to quench my thirst. The place was now full of visitors, cyclists, walkers and was obviously a destination stop, not merely a café for the centre. After a quick cup of tea, it was time to leave some 4 hours after arriving. Further options for the day would be a visit to Dadlington and Stoke Golding Church’s and Merevale Abbey, the site of Henry Tudor’s overnight camp. Leicester is also within easy reach with several Ricardian sites if you wanted to stretch the trip over a few days but as I was once told: Always leave wanting more, so… perhaps that will be for another day.
The journey back was unremarkable even the M42 behaved itself despite being busy and soon I was back on the driveway.
There was a manor of Sudeley in early times; Ethelred, the notably ‘Un- Redey’, held it and passed it to his daughter Goda as a wedding gift. In spite of the accession to the throne of England by Cnut, the Dane, Goda kept her manor, and the de Sudeley family began. They held the manor of Sudeley for three hundred years, taking part in the ‘Crusades’ and the battles between King Stephen and the ‘Empress’ Maud. During this time King Stephen seized the manor and established a garrison; however, by the end of the war this was a ruin. In 1367 John de Sudeley, who died fighting for the Black Prince, had no heirs and the Manor and castle passed to the Boteler family via his sister.
From 1369 until 1469 the Manor of Sudeley was held by the Boteler family; Ralph de Boteler built the castle, the remains of which we can see today including the Portmare Tower and the ruined Dungeon Tower.
Ralph Boteler campaigned in France with both Henry V and Henry VI, and rose to become Captain of Calais and also the King’s Butler (probably an honorary title), he also rose even higher, becoming High Treasurer of England. However he was penalized for his Lancastrian affinity, and Edward IV forced Boteler to sell his castle and Manor to the Crown. Edward then made these a gift to his youngest brother, Richard Duke of Gloucester. Richard swapped Sudeley for Richmond castle, in Yorkshire where his main interests lay. When he later became King, Sudeley again came into his hands, and he built a banqueting hall- the ruins, made by Oliver Cromwell’s men can still be seen. Poor Ralph Boteler died four years after the loss of Sudeley, never having seen his old home again.
Henry VII, and Jasper Tudor both held the castle and manor between 1485 and 1547 , and in 1535, just a year before he had her beheaded, Henry VIII brought Anne Boleyn to Sudeley. Thomas Cromwell was in their train; he stayed at Winchcombe Abbey. Thanks to him and his influence on the King, both Winchcombe Abbey (which was sited just behind the present Church) and nearby Hailes Abbey were dissolved and ruined.
Further ruination occurred during the Civil war, during which time of strife King Charles I and his nephew Prince Rupert stayed at the castle (in very small beds. Prince Rupert was six foot four inches tall, so he must have been less than comfortable!)
The most interesting matter for Ricardians is that King Edward IV secretly married the widow of Thomas Butler (Boteler) and, had he not died, Eleanor Butler would have been Lady Sudeley. However, Thomas did die, and Edward, struck by the aristocratic and beautiful Eleanor did marry her. And he stayed married to her, though it was a secret, from 1460 until 1465, when he again married, secretly, Elizabeth Woodville.
As Eleanor was still alive, his marriage to Elizabeth was deemed bigamous and their children thus illegitimate and Richard of Gloucester was offered the crown of England.
So a Gloucestershire Castle has a place in History, mainly through the women associated with it.
“BUCKINGHAM’S GREAT WATER”
West of Gloucester City today is an island called Alney, one of the largest islands in the U.K. It is a short walk from the city centre and a wonderful place to explore. It offers various delights for walkers on many footpaths and for cyclists on hard tracks, as well as being the home for many months of the year for the famous Gloucester Cattle.
The northern-most part is farmland and most of the southern area, (over 56 hectares) is in the care of Gloucester City Council. It is a nature reserve with wide areas of meadow, woodland, wetland, and inhabited by many varieties of flora and fauna. It is of course, an island and completely surrounded by the east and west channels of the River Severn. It is sometimes in flood.
Readers may wonder what has Alney Island at Gloucester got to do with King Richard the Third’s supporter-turned traitor, the Duke of Buckingham?
When Richard visited Gloucester on his royal progress in 1483, Gloucester was an impoverished city. King Richard would not take any money from Gloucester telling the people that he would prefer to have their love instead. Most probably he would have stayed at the Abbey of St Peter’s, now Gloucester Cathedral. It was August and the meadows outside the West Gate would have looked pleasant. His brother Edward IV had made him Duke of Gloucester and Richard was already known for his concerns of the rights of the common people.
Richard granted the town a charter of liberties in September 1483 which gave the burgesses the right to elect their mayor with provision for twelve alderman and other officers. The event is remembered today by a plaque on the eastern side of St. Michael’s Tower at Gloucester Cross.
Richard was joined at Gloucester by Henry Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham, who was making his way back to his castle at Brecon. Meanwhile Richard and those with him carried on north from Gloucester to Tewkesbury where his brother George was buried, and eventually he was reunited with his Queen at Warwick Castle.
In October, the Duke of Buckingham was returning to London, but this time with evil intentions towards Richard and with a great army behind him. They made their way via the Forest of Dean to the outskirts of Gloucester hoping to cross the River Severn and enter the town’s West Gate. What confronted them was a wide mass of raging water, the river having spread across the flat land making it impossible for anyone to cross it to enter the town. It was the end for the army which had to disperse, and it was the end too for Buckingham. Richard labelled him “the most untrue creature living” and had him killed for treason on 2nd November 1483.
It has been reported that men were drowned in their beds, their houses overturned by the violence of the flow of water, children were floating in their cradles and animals were drowned. For about ten days there had been continual rain and as the waters subsided, a new western river channel had formed and an island was formed. Research of Gloucester’s flood-plain (Rhodes 2006), shows that natural processes between 1447 and 1507 had slowly taken place where the western channel exists now and where Buckingham and his army came to an abrupt stop.
This story may have dispelled another one concerning Alney Island because in the year 1016, Canute and Edmund Ironside were in the district and anxious to end their feuding. It was agreed that they should meet on an island and thrash out their differences and make peace.
Rivers over time have changed their courses and new channels have been formed. At Gloucester for example, a branch of the main channel had cut off to form the “Old Severn” and entered the Great Severn under a medieval Foreign Bridge east of the West Gate crossing, running underneath Westgate Street and discharging itself at Gloucester Quay into the main stream.
At Deerhurst, a few miles north of Gloucester, there had once been an island in the middle of the Severn. It has long-since disappeared but, it is the likely meeting place of the two kings in the 11th century, rather than Alney Island at Gloucester.
Alney Island’s history since 1483 has been rich and varied. It has been a scene of conflict, a defence against invaders of Gloucester’s former Castle, arguments over the rights of the land, a place to hang convicted criminals, a place of leisure from hunting, fishing, archery, horse racing, cricket, to football and many other sports. It has been the site of industry from an electricity power station, basket making, brick-making, lime burning, boat and bridge building, and a railway crossing point. The waters around it have claimed many lives. In 2017, the area upstream of the Westgate Bridge is home to a small community and includes since about 1900, the winter quarters of showmen’s families and their equipment.
Motorists leave Gloucester city today, on a high causeway across Alney Island, and they may be unaware they are crossing King Richard’s Wood either side of them. It was planted in 1983 to commemorate the charter of 1483, which is still the basis of the city’s government today.
Reading:- The Severn Flood Plain at Gloucester in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods, by John Rhodes, March 2006. (Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, Vol 124, 2006). Available on-line.
The History of the Mayor of Gloucester, Gloucester City Council Online. 2008
King Richard’s Gloucester – Life in a Medieval Town, by Gwen Waters 1983
It really is a county that just keeps on giving and on a recent trip to give a presentation to the local R111 Society I was delighted to find more gems. Thanks be also to our Norwich based friend for giving us the reason to go in the first place!
The day started well with Binham Priory up in the north, a stone’s throw from Wells next the Sea and to the south west, the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham.
The Priory Church of St Mary and the Holy Monastery was part of a complex group of buildings that made up St Mary’s Priory at Binham and is among one of the most complete and impressive monastic ruins in Norfolk ( or indeed in many a county). This Benedictine Priory was founded by Peter de Valoines in 1091 and is under the care of English Heritage.
“Binham Priory was founded in about 1091 by the Norman baron Peter des Valoines, on land given by Peter’s uncle, William the Conqueror (r.1066–87). The construction of the church spanned close to 150 years, starting in the 1090s. The buildings were adapted and extended throughout the medieval period. Prior Richard de Parco (1227–44), one of Binham’s more diligent priors, was probably responsible for beginning the magnificent west front of the church.
The community at Binham was always small, with 14 monks at its peak in 1320, dropping to 11 in 1381 and just 6 in the 1530s. The priory suffered from a succession of mainly unscrupulous and irresponsible priors. William de Somerton, who was prior from 1317 until 1335, sold many of the priory's valuable items in order to finance his alchemical experiments, leaving the priory £600 in debt.
The monastery was closed in 1539 as part of the Suppression of the Monasteries under Henry VIII (r.1509–47). The priory was given to Sir Thomas Paston, a local man and an important royal servant, who dismantled most of the buildings in order to build a new house at Wells. Stone from the priory was sold and reused in many local houses, particularly around doors and windows.
Thomas Paston’s grandson, Edward, began to carry out further demolition works, with the intention of building a new house on the site. These plans were brought to an abrupt end when a workman was killed by falling masonry. This was considered a bad omen, and the project was abandoned.
The seven western bays of the nave were later sealed off from the rest and continued in use as Binham’s parish church, which with the support of the local community has survived to the present day.”
Modern day St Mary and the Holy Cross has been brilliantly presented to reflect its former place and glory – there are guides galore, (including young visitors information leaflets, see left) interactive quizzes, activities, pamphlets with clear illustrations of the remarkable tracery to be found throughout, cards, photos, etc Irresistible!
The West Window is a ‘Gothic Treasure of National importance,’ here left is my rather poor photograph and below, the 15thc benches with pierced tracery backs and large poppy heads are impressive. The word poppy is derived from the French Poupee or doll, and you can see the logic. Here is a Lion Poppy Head with a monkey armrest, you can just spot some of the backrest tracery.
Check out the ‘Cult of Sir John Schorne at Binham’ on www.binhampriory.org bet you’ve never heard of him! Also ‘An Agreement between Binham Priory and people of Binham 1432’ – another performance for Binham Priory on a national stage? See also www.english-heritage.org.uk for more.
It is undoubtedly popular with school parties and tourists from all over, is regularly used for concerts, picnics and plays a beautiful and vibrant part of the local community, loved and treasured indeed.
(The second part of Mickie’s article on Norfolk to be in Spring edition)
THE TOMB OF SIR THOMAS MARTYN OF ATHELHAMPTON
Early in September I took a short break in Weymouth. Most days were excellent weather wise but , being England in Summertime, one day it rained heavily without a break. This gave me an opportunity to inflict some indoor visits on my long-suffering wife. Having trailed her around the Tank Museum at Bovington (which, ironically, she very much enjoyed) ] I noticed we were fairly close to Puddletown where the church of St Mary the Virgin houses an impressive collection of medieval tombs including that of Sir Thomas Martyn. In pouring rain my wife agreed to a slight diversion to visit. Sir Thomas was born around 1430 but virtually nothing appears to be known about him. A visit to the nearby ancestral home, Athelhampton Hall, failed to elicit any information about his life. The altar tomb alabaster effigy is quite exceptional, the figure shown with hands in prayer, head on a helm and the feet resting on the Martyn crest of a crouching chained ape. The armour depicted is also detailed, fine and around the neck is a Yorkist livery collar of suns and roses and from which hangs a lion badge. The church guide to “The Monuments of the Athelhampton Chapel, Puddletown “ records the death of Sir Thomas as 14th September, 1485 and speculates his demise may have been the result of injuries received fighting for Richard III at Bosworth Field. Sadly, no evidence is cited for this assertion.
Intrigued by the combination of the Yorkist collar and the date of death I made a rudimentary check on the Internet which failed to find any direct reference to him. I also checked Bill Hampton’s “Memorials of the Wars of the Roses” which notes Sir Thomas was arrested in 1477 [ possibly in connection with the fall of Clarence ] . Strangely, only one year later, he was commissioned to enquire into the possessions of the executed duke. No further comment is made although a paragraph on Sir Thomas’s son, Sir William [ died 24th March, 1503 ] indicates he appears to have changed allegiance to Henry Tudor around the time of Bosworth – did he collude in the invasion plan ? Reverting to Sir Thomas, I have no record of his name appearing on the list of those attainted after Bosworth Field which according to Keith Dockray, includes no one residing south of a line drawn between the Severn Estuary and the Wash.
I’m mystified [ as usual ] , does anyone have any further information about Sir Thomas Martyn ?
Portrait of Henry Tudor
Late in November, Bronwyn and I went to see the original portrait of Henry VII which has been loaned to the Somerset Museum by the National Portrait Gallery. (I hope this won’t mean that we will be turned out of the Richard III Society!). This is supposed to be the first true likeness to be painted of a King of England. The portrait is quite small and we couldn’t decide whether he looked sneaky and mean or peaky and ill. Certainly he looks as if he is in need of a good meal!
To coincide with the exhibition of this portrait the Somerset Archives also had a display of documents featuring Somerset’s link to royals over the centuries including a nine metre roll showing the procession to Queen Elizabeth I’s funeral.
There was also a talk at the Museum about Perkin Warbeck which I think some of the Somerset Branch members attended, although I did not get the feeling they were very impressed. Having said that, I don’t think many Somerset people and Taunton people in particular know who Perkin Warbeck was. Our local Weatherspons is called “The Perkin Warbeck” and I was recently following two ladies up the main street and they were discussing where they would go for coffee. One said, “Let’s go to that ship place”. The other said, “Where’s that?” only for her friend to reply “The Perkin Warbeck”! And when I told my friend that there was a talk at the Museum about Perkin Warbeck, she said “I’ve never been in there”!
Finally, on behalf of us all, can I say a huge thank you to Mike and Monica for – once again – organising a great Christmas lunch on 2nd December.