The Medieval Housewife- Toni Mount

Amberley Publishing, 96 Pages

25379136Have you ever wondered what life was like for the ordinary housewife in the Middle Ages? Or how much power a medieval lady really had? Find out all about medieval housewives, peasant women, grand ladies, women in trade and women in the church in this fascinating book. More has been written about medieval women in the last twenty years than in the two whole centuries before that.

Female authors of the medieval period have been rediscovered and translated; queens are no longer thought of as merely decorative brood mares for their royal husbands and have merited their own biographies.

In the past, historians have tended to look at what women could not do. In this book we will look at the lives of medieval women in a more positive light, finding out what rights and opportunities they enjoyed and attempting to uncover the real women beneath the layers of dust accumulated over the centuries.

This little book started out as a series of Lecture notes for a course the author was teaching, and was later developed into a book for general consumption. Unlike a lot of short books on this subject, it combines academic content with a readable style, examining legal and other contemporary records.

I don’t agree with all the author’s conclusion towards the end regarding clerical mysogyny (theologians have largely debunked the idea that the writings of St Paul are mysogynisic for instance, as this is based on a few isolated passages taken out of context), especially and domestic violence. There were cases of women taking abusive spouses to court, and even forms of communal punishment for them. However its a useful work overall.

Recommened for anyone who wants a complimentary work on Medieval Englishwomen.

Daughter of the Wolf- Victoria Whitworth

Head of Zeus, April 21st 2016, 466 Pages

Print, Kindle and Audio editions available

29861208DAUGHTER OF THE WOLF is set during the Dark Ages in an England ruled by rival kings. Among the lords who serve them is Radmer of Donmouth, the King’s Wolf, guardian of the estuary gateway to Northumbria.

When the king sends Radmer on a mission to Rome, Donmouth is left in the safekeeping of his only daughter, Elfrun, whose formidable grandmother wants her to take the veil, while treacherous Tilmon of Illingham covets her for his son.

This is the story of daughters in a man’s world. Wynn, determined to take over from her father, the smith; Saethryth, wilful daughter of the village steward, whose longing for passion will set off a tragic sequence of events; and Auli, whose merchant venturer father plies his trade up and down the coast, spying for the Danes. Above all, it is the story of Elfrun of Donmouth, uncertain of her father’s fate, no knowing whom she can trust, or whom she can love.

859 AD, the lives of four young women converge in a small estate on the edge of the sea in the Great Kingdom of Northumbria. Daughter of the Wolf is a magnificent tale of love, intrigue, life and loss in ninth century England, explored through the lives of four young women, their friends and their families in a Kingdom wracked by war and faced with a looming threat from across the sea.

Everyone treats Elfrun, daughter of the nobleman Radmer, as if she is still a little girl, but at 16, she is determined to prove that she is capable of managing her father’s estate and its people. When he is sent to Rome, she has her chance. Buffered by local dramas, challenges and unfortunate circumstances, Elfrun is ready to give up, until greater danger and treachery rears its head.

Wynn is the capable and intelligent daughter the blacksmith barely notices and rarely tolerates. Her dream is to produce the beautiful and intricate metalwork like that sold by a mysterious merchant who came from over the sea. Bitterness, family rivalry and tragedy define the life of the quiet girl who has more courage and strength than she believes, but harbours a terrible secret that could consume her very soul.

Seathryth is the flirtatious and vivacious daughter of the local steward-a man of ambition and few scruples. Determined to escape her family situation in an ill-judged marriage, her pursuit of passion and yearning for fulfilment has terrible consequences.

Auli is a Finnish Merchant’s daughter, whose father owns many slaves, including the enigmatic Finn, who one day meets a lonely and frightened girl named Elfrun on the beach.
Finn, the only man who sees her beauty and strength, and always seems to appear at fortuitous times, yet remains remains mysterious and reluctant to make himself known to the rest of Donmouth, because of the shady dealing of his masters.

With a cast of well-drawn secondary characters such as the guilt-ridden but compassionate priest Fredegar, the flawed Abbott Ingeld, the overbearing Grandmother the jealous younger cousin Athulf, and the dashing unwanted suitor Daughter of Wolf proves to be an epic and vivid tale peopled by memorable, real and sympathetic characters which brings to life a neglected part of England in a little known era of history. As the blurb suggests, it is a tale of women struggling to survive in a man’s world, and how the choices of ordinary men and women can impact the destiny of many.

I throughly enjoyed and recommend this book, although I confess I still prefer the Wulfgar stories by the same author.
I received an ebook of this title free from the publisher from Netgalley for the purposes of giving a review. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own.


The Southampton Plot- Books, DNA Revelations and Implications


A plot to overthrow Henry V was betrayed on July 31st, 1415, just as the invasion of France was about to begin

The leader of the plot, Richard, Earl of Cambridge, and his co-conspirators, were tried condemned and beheaded before Southampton’s Bargate on August 2nd and August 5th. Richard’s head and body were buried in the Chapel of St Julien on Winkle Street (Southampton) and were last seen in 1861.

Henry V was able to set sail for France on August 11th and the expedition culminated in the glorious victory at Agincourt on October 25th.

Through odd twists of fortune two of Richard’s grandchildren became kings of England, as Edward IV and Richard III.

In this book Bryan Dunleavy describes the background to the plot, the assorted plotters and the convergence of people and events on Southampton in July and August 1415.

And there is a twist to the tale. Recent DNA evidence, coupled with historical information, suggests that Richard, Earl of Cambridge may not have been a Plantagenet after all!

I just finished reading the above title, an independently published study of The Southampton Plot of 1415 by local author Bryan Dunleavy. Entitled as it really only could be 1415:The Plot, The Events in Southampton on the Eve of Agincourt Mr Dunleavy’s book is a comprehensive new study on the figures, events, issues and historical context that bought three noblemen together in the region around Southampton in a plot against the King.

The nature of the evidence being as it is, there is not a lot that is new. Most of the material can also be found in what is still the seminal academic study Henry V and the Southampton Plot of 1415 by T.B.Pugh. Sadly, that book is now out of print, and copies are few and far between. The author does have one she procured several years ago, and she’s keeping it.

Published, of course, for the Agincourt commemorations last year The Plot does cut through some of the silliness that has been bandied about by dramatists, playwrights, and even some historians. No, Richard of Conisbrough, Earl of Cambridge the ringleader of the plot  was not homosexual as a recent play dedicated to the plot strongly implied. In fact, he had a son, and was the grandfather of Richard III.

That said, I did not agree with everything the author stated, but one does not have to in every book one reads. In one passage, surprise was expressed that Henry Tudor did not go after the heirs of John Holland Duke of Exeter- well the reasons for that are pretty simple. Holland was eventually married to Henry IV’s sister, Elizabeth, and so his heirs were scions of the House of Lancaster. Contrary to popular opinion, the wicked Tudors did not have it in for anyone with a drop of Plantagenet blood (as my previous post shows, they had a fair amount of it themselves). 

Nor was the charge that the plotters were trying to kill King Henry V ‘trumped up’. I do wish writers would stop quoting the historian who first made that charge verbatim. It makes logical sense to assume that to put Edmund Mortimer on the throne, and secure his position, Henry and his brothers would have had to die. The plotters probably knew this, Henry certainly realized it, and like is not, this part of the plan simply was not confessed because the plotters wanted to get away with a lesser punishment. Aside from a few other problems with typos and repetition of certain content, the book is useful and helpful, with chapters on the buildings relevant to the narrative, family trees, and ancestry as well as the social and economic connections between Medieval noble families. It is a useful guide-book for anyone interested in the subject, and early 15th century English history in general.

Richard of Conisbrough, 3rd Earl of Cambridge: Son of York or Son of Holland?  

The most interesting aspect, however, was to be found in the conclusion and appendix regarding the so-called Richard III DNA gap. It has been suggested by historians in the last century that Richard Earl of Cambridge, the paternal grandfather of Edward IV and Richard III was not the biological son of Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York the fourth and longest surviving son of Edward III (d.1402 ). This is based on a rumour, and various pieces of circumstantial evidence from the late 14th century which suggest his mother had a number of affairs, the most prominent with John Holland, Duke of Exeter and Earl of Huntingdon (d. January 1400) the son of King Richard II’s mother by her first marriage. If true, Holland remains the most likely candidate for Richard of Conisbrough’s biological father.

Hitherto, this intriguing theory had to remain in the realm of speculation (no matter how likely). Until the discovery of the remains of Richard III, when the DNA was tested to identify them, and a scientific publication mentioned a “false paternity break” had been discovered “between Richard III and Edward III. In other words, Richard III did not share the Y chromosome of his supposed ancestor Edward III”. Ricardians and others have asserted that the gap was probably in the male line of the Beauforts, because the DNA was identified was taken from distant relatives of Richard in the Beaufort line. Yet others have remembered the rumours about the paternity of Richard of Conisbrough, and have rightly asserted that this could account for the gap.

The latter theory is not well-known, and the fact that it has not been mentioned, let alone considered, in certain circles and in the media is somewhat revealing. Why ignore a proposal, known for decades and supported by some contemporary evidence, and look for some illegitimate offspring in tangled lines of the Beaufort family? Besides of which, we already know that Charles Somerset (b.c1460) the last direct male descendant of Edmund Beaufort Duke of Somerset (d.1455) was born to his son Henry by a mistress, Joan Hill. He was acknowledged as illegitimate anyway, and he never claimed the throne. I believe that the reluctance to consider theory about Richard of Conisbrough might be because of the implications. If his dubious paternity did account for the gap, it could potentially overturn much of what we know about the ancestry of the Yorkist Kings and their claims to royal pedigree. 

1: It would mean they were not descended from Edward III in the male line at all. Only in the female line, through their mother Cecily Neville, and two Grandmothers, Joan Beaufort and Anne Mortimer. Considering the parentage of the former two, it would also mean that the Yorkist Kings were more closely related to John of Gaunt than any of the other sons of Edward III. That they were, in essence, more Lancastrians than anything else, and had no blood link to Edward’s fourth son, Edmund of Langley 1st Duke, through whom they derived their ancestral title to the Dukedom.

2: Considering how the Tudor claim to the throne is so often discounted for being the female line, and marred by the illegitimate birth of his distant ancestor, John Beaufort, (and the possible birth of Edmund Tudor before his parents’ marriage), it would mean the Yorkist Kings also had illegitimate ancestors on both sides. Of course, the supposed illegitimacy of Tudor’s Beaufort ancestors is something of a misnomer, considering that they were in fact declared legitimate after the marriage of John of Gaunt and his long-term mistress Katherine Swynford.

Yet if the above were true, it would mean that the only legitimately born royal ancestor of the Yorkists would have been Anne Mortimer, the great-great-grandaughter of Edward III. Of course, it was through her that they claimed the throne, but a claim through two female ancestors (Anne and her grandmother, Philippa the daughter King Edward’s second son) does not seem so strong when the claims of others are discounted on the same basis.

3: As is mentioned by the author, it would mean that the last King descended from Edward III and his illustrious male forbears in direct and legitimate male line was in fact Henry VI- not Richard III. Richard’s grandfather, if the rumours are true, would have been little more than an illegitimate descendant of Joan of Kent, the daughter of Edward I’s younger son, Thomas of Woodstock- and as stated, above, not a descendant of the first man in England to carry the title of the Duke of York.

Considering the potentially radical implications, that could shake up everything we know about the ancestry of the Plantagenet Kings after 1461, it’s not surprising that some would wish to ignore it. Some today like to level accusations of illegitimacy at various members of the Lancastrian royal family and their relatives in the hope of discrediting the Tudors, but these can just as easily apply to the other side. They should not be ignored. 

Of course, the only way to be certain would be to test the remains of Richard of Conisbrough, which as far as we know, are still interred beneath St Julien’s Chapel in Southampton, where he was originally buried shortly  after his execution in 1415. Somehow, I doubt Philippa Langley and Co. will be adding that to their project list anytime soon.

Further Reading and References

Bryan Dunleavy, 1415: The Plot: The Events in Southampton on the Eve of Agincourt, Magic Flute Publications (Southampton), 2015.  This book is available on Amazon, but can also be purchased directly from the author via the form available on the publisher’s website.

T.B.Pugh, Henry V and the Southampton Plot of 1415, Southampton Records Office (Southampton), 1988. This is by far the most comprehensive study, and contains transcripts of the plotters’ original confessions. Available on Amazon, used book retailers, and some good libraries.

G. L. Harriss, ‘Richard , earl of Cambridge (1385–1415)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2012 [] Website requires Login.

See also:

Juliet Barker, Agincourt: The King, The Campaign, The Battle, Abacus (London), 2006. Chapter Five ‘Scots and Plots’ contains an account of the Plot.

Anne Curry, Agincourt: A New History, The History Press (Stroud), 2006. Chapters 2 and 3 are the most relevant.

Ian Mortimer, 1415: Henry V’s Year of Glory, Vintage (London), 2009. Mortimer’s book contains a detailed account of the plot, although it is highly speculative and questionable, reporting the intimate thoughts and feelings of the plotters, which cannot be known today. It is also rather biased, so should be treated with caution.

Brain Wainwright, Frustrated Falcons: The Three Children of Edmund of Langley, First Duke of York, 2013. A useful little Kindle book with a short chapter devoted to the Earl of Cambridge, discussing, among other things, his first marriage to Anne Mortimer.







Ricardian Tropes 1: ‘The only true Lancastrians’ (or a Tale of Two Ladies named Blanche…..

I’ve been having some – interesting debates with Ricardians recently on social media and blogs. Bless them, they’re so dogmatic, and so utterly convinced that everything they say is correct. Beyond that though, there are certain common ‘facts’ that I keep hearing from them in diverse places. When one hears the same thing repeated over and over again by people who are not connected to each other, one gets the impression that there is something fishy going on. Either they’re copying each other, or they’re all getting it from the same source, and repeating what they have read or heard elsewhere.

One of these claims is that Henry Tudor was not a ‘true Lancastrian’, because the term can only be applied to the descendants of one particular individual. Not John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, but his wife, Blanche.  Apparently, the only ‘true Lancastrians’ are  those descended in this approved bloodline. What qualifies these persons to determine the ancestral ‘right’ of distant Plantagenets is left unsaid.

Why the emphasis on the Great Lady? Allegedly because  after 1471 there was only one specific line of ‘true Lancastrians’ left, which was conveniently represented in Juana, a Portuguese Princess distantly descended from Blanche who was ‘going to marry’ Richard III.  Even though they weren’t formally betrothed, and the plans for marriage don’t seem to have got beyond the negotiation stage, Ricardians speak about Juana as if she and Richard were already husband and wife.

This selective cherry-picking of ancestry is problematic for two reasons. The first being that it is just plain wrong. Juana was not the last descendant of Blanche of Lancaster left alive after 1471. The sons and King Henry IV,  and his grandson Henry VI were all gone, but Henry IV had a full-sister named Elizabeth, and she had descendants who were very much alive after that date. The most prominent of them were the Holland Dukes of Exeter, of which the male line died out with Henry Holland the 2nd Duke in 1475. However, the descendants of Elizabeth’s other children and grand-children lived well into the sixteenth century and beyond. They included  the Grey Earls of Kent, and a junior branch of the famous Neville family who sprang from her daughter’s marriage to John, 1st Lord Neville. So there were actually a lot of Lancastrian descendants around in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century.

More troublesome, however, is the insistence that only descendants of Duchess Blanche ‘count’. Why? The estates, title and royal blood of Dukes of Lancaster did not originate with her. They actually came from her great-grandfather  Edmund ‘Crouchback’ first Earl of Lancaster, younger brother of Edward I. Earl Edmund was married to another Blanche, Blanche of Artois, the first Blanche of Lancaster. Their other descendants were many and, as we shall see, attained high rank and prominence.

 Lancaster Family Tree

Their grandson, Henry de Grosmont, who was raised to the title of 1st Duke of Lancaster passed on his title to his son-in-law John of Gaunt, but Henry had six sisters. One was Eleanor, born in 1318, and married to one of the many Fitzalan Earls of Arundel. She had seven children with him, including two daughters called Joan and Alice. Joan, the elder, married Humphrey de Bohun 7th Earl of Hereford, and their daughter was none other than Mary be Bohun, the mother of King Henry V and his brothers. The redoubtable Lady Joan outlived her daughter by many years surviving until 1419, the sixth year of the reign of her grandson.

Joan’s younger sister Alice FitzAlan also made a good marriage, to Thomas Holland the half-brother of King Richard II. One of her daughters, Margaret Holland married John Beaufort. Yes Beaufort, as in the son of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford. John and Margaret’s grand-daughter was one other than Margaret Beaufort the mother of Henry Tudor. So Henry Tudor was in fact a descendant of the original Earls of Lancaster (the title they hed before Henry de Grosmont was promoted to Duke) , just not in senior male line. Yet this ancestry still made him a descendant of Henry III. His aforementioned great-grandmother Margaret Holland was also a descendant of Joan of Kent, the daughter of Edward I’s younger son, Thomas of Woodstock. So it turns out that Tudor was so much more than ‘just a Beaufort’ or ‘the son of a servant’. He was actually descended from no fewer then three Plantagenet Kings.

Is a pity this branch of his family line is not well-known or publicized. Some of course will still assert that it ‘does not count’. Yet it does reveal how a little digging can sink the assumptions of popular wisdom favoured by certain interest groups.


All geneaological information from which uses various respected and recognized geneological sources, including Burke’s Peerage and the Royal Geneaologies Website.


The Return of ‘The Hollow Crown’- Henry VI Part 1(and a bit)

Ever since the original BBC adaptation the first four in Shakespeare’s series of eight Plantagenet History plays, I have been hoping that one day they might move onto the Henry VI trilogy and Richard III. His aptly known ‘Wars of the Roses’ sequence. Yeah, I confess, these little known works of the bard are among my favourites, even though at more than 6 hours in length making it through all three parts of Henry VI requires some concentration and commitment.

In a way I was delighted to see that this series was finally on the way, although I had reservations when I heard about casting choices and the content. I still don’t think they should have cut the three parts of Henry VI down to only two. I watched the premiere of the much-anticipated new series last night (yeah we know, cashing in the massive resurgence of interest in the Wars of the Roses and all that)- and all in all, I was left rather disappointed. 

To me the whole thing seemed disjointed,hollow-crown-large_trans++pVlberWd9EgFPZtcLiMQf98oAmGZYX8Vqbq2hlobTFc rather rushed and just not put together well. Cutting out over a third of the material from the original plays is pretty savage, and I think a lot has been ‘lost in translation’ so to speak. Take the curious decision to start the second scene with Richard of York visiting his dying Uncle Edmund Mortimer- who lays out his claim to the throne with a family tree ready to hand and then York hastily explaining it to Warwick and Salisbury. They basically spliced together two scenes from two separate parts of the plays, and put them right at the beginning. 

Okay, so it might be argued this scene was necessary to put York’s later actions and the Wars into context. Yes, but here’s the thing.  It misses out the background and context of these scenes themselves which was important in itself. The thing about York in the plays is that he does not show his hand hand and openly claim the throne until the very last-minute, when things are getting heated and he’s sure of the loyalty and support  of his comrades. Which pretty much follows the historical reality that York did not press his claim until the year of his death.

...and that scene with Mortimer in the Tower. Well its all about context too. It from Act II Scene V of Henry VI Part One, following the famous garden scene when the characters pluck white and red roses from the bush. In the original play it has nothing to do with claims to the throne. Rather if follows Somerset and York who had been embroiled in a legal dispute, and ask their fellows to decide between them. It was an argument that got out of hand because Somerset called Richard of York a ‘yeoman’. Basically, saying that because his father was executed for treason, his blood was corrupted and he was no better than a commoner. York got a bit upset, the swords came out, and the others had to intervene to prevent things getting really nasty. 

Its only after that York goes to see Uncle Mortimer- and then asks him about the events surrounding his father’s execution. Yeah, fair enough people are throwing it in his face and he wanted to know- and that’s when the whole matter starts to come out. From that point on, pretty much, York thinks himself wronged, has it in for the House of Lancaster, and comes to fancy himself as the heir to the throne.  Now this is all very much after all the action in France, and the rise of Joan of Arc- not before. In fact, in this version the war in France is relegated to little more than a few minutes Joan of Arc, Margaret of Anjou- Talbot gets killed- and then its back to England. John Duke of Bedford is not even in it. That is what I call a travesty. Totally ignoring the role and career of Henry V’s other brother. 

But that was not my only problem.  It’s not just context and basis of the character’s actions that is lost with the BBC’s editing. It’s also much of the sense, tension, conflict and interactions between characters of the original play. The bitter rivalry between the

Good Duke Humphrey of Gloucester

Bishop of Winchester and Gloucester is not there. Nor is much of the early action with Suffolk. Suffolk is present, but he does not do much. Instead his character is curiously amalgamated with that of Somerset to the point that in one place Somerset was called William. Yeah, that might sound pedantic, making a big deal about getting a name wrong but it shows how the two characters are confused. Suffolk’s name was William de la Pole- Somerset was Edmund Beaufort. Two very different characters who have very different roles. Somerset was really just York’s foil in the original play, but it was Suffolk that stole much of the show, and drove on most of the action.

Then there was the downfall of Gloucester. That’s all from Part II and its depicted as a pretty complicated affair involving all the major characters scheming and conniving to bring about Good Duke Humphrey’s demise. Suffolk is the main player, the one who actually has him ‘bumped off’, not Somerset and he’s not in bed with Margaret of Anjou in the meantime. Yeah, that totally unnecessary bedroom scene was not in the original play. It was thrown in for er,  ‘good measure’ by the Beeb to show how ‘corrupt’ Somerset and Margaret supposedly were. Not that there’s a shred of evidence Margaret ever had an affair with Somerset, or anyone for that matter. That was Yorkist gossip from much later spread to destroy her reputation.

Which brings us to the final point. For some undiscernible reason York is removed from
much of the intrigue and scheming in the BBC adaptation. He is not involved in Gloucester’s demise, and is positively horrified by the whole thing. Not so in the original play.  There he’s very much in the centre. He’s every inch the Machiavellian schemer,  pretending loyalty whilst planning to bring down the whole regime and conniving with the others against Gloucester.  His ambitions and intents are spelled out in masterful soliloquies. None of that is present in this version. I for one have a nasty feeling that this is all done with the intention of exonerating York- making him out to be a sort of righteous and moral hero in the making. He is almost the innocent on the sidelines, who is driven to rebellion only by the injustice and corruption around him.

York the Innocent? Second from Right

Its seems too much like the overly simplified ‘Yorkists good, Lancastrians bad’ idea which is becoming rather too prevalent in the popular view of the Wars of the Roses. That is not something this historian is comfortable with because the whole thing was a lot more complicated and messy then that. There was greed, ambition, selfish intentions, bad blood and violent misdeeds on both sides. Neither was Lily white but neither was entirely evil either….and that was part of the genius of Shakespeare. He often did a great job of portraying the complexity of history, and the subtleties of its human agents.

All the characters have their own intentions,  motivations and ambitions. They weren’t cardboard but outs who went around doing this that and the other simply because they were bad (unless one counts Richard III in the later parts but that’s a different story). One could feel sympathy even for the antagonists like York. Sadly, the makers of the latest version have lost sight of this, at the expense of audiences unfamiliar with the original plays.