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Friday, 12 January 2018

A rare Richard III half angel coin found and auctioned

A rare half angel coin dating from Richard III’s reign was located recently by a metal detectorist in a farmer’s field a few miles from the battlefield of Bosworth. This has given rise to speculation that it may have been lost by a soldier who fought at the battle.

Only a few examples of half angels survive from the king’s reign.  They were a gold coin first minted by Edward IV, and were worth 6s 8d, that is half a mark. In size they were about 2cms or just over ¾ inch.

The half angel was not a coin likely to be seen or used by most of the population.  The average skilled labourer might get 4d to 6d per day in this period, about 2 shillings per week or a maximum of £5 per year if he worked every possible day. The cost of his staple food and drink, that is bread and ale, would take most of this if he had to feed a family from his wages. Ale could be bought for about 1d per gallon, (or two pints for a farthing) and a loaf of medium quality for a 1d. The size of the loaf varied according to the price of grain. It has been calculated that these figures would allow a family to buy enough food to sustain themselves but even so at these prices a labourer could only feed his family without (usually) having money left over.

This coin thus represents a significant amount of money. Whoever dropped it and however they had come by it they would have been seriously upset to have lost it.

The coin was auctioned in London on the 13th December 2017 by Dix Noonan Webb, the international coins, medals and jewellery specialists, and was expected to fetch up to £15,000.  In the event it was sold for £40,800 to a private collector based in the United States. 



Images courtesy of and copyright to Dix Noonan Webb

1. The face of the coin has an image of the Archangel Saint Michael slaying a dragon, the legend inscribed with ‘RICARD:DI:GRΛ:REX ANGL.’  (Richard, by the Grace of God, King of England)

2.The reverse shows an image of an English galley with the monogram 'R’ and a rose set below the main topmast, the ship surmounted by a shield bearing  the king’s arms, the legend inscribed  ‘O CRUX AVE SPES UNICA'    (Hail the cross our only hope)

Both sides have the boar mint mark just past the 12 o'clock point.  

________________________________

John Saunders and Peter Hammond

Friday, 1 December 2017

Itineraries



John Ashdown-Hill has now finished updating his itinerary of Edward IV and this can be found at

https://www.amberley-books.com/community-john-ashdown-hill

Meanwhile, the Research Committee are looking to develop an itinerary for Richard III for the period 1452-1483, building on work by the late Lesley Boatwright, a much-missed former member of the Research Committee and a former editor of the Bulletin. The first draft of this will soon be on the Society's website. We would be grateful if you could send any additions to that version to the committee via research.officer@richardiii.net with as much detail as possible about the original source of your information.




(Belles Heures du duc de Berry f.223v, Wikimedia Commons)

Saturday, 23 September 2017

The Ultimate Nuncupative Will


(Death bed scene from Richard III's copy of The Chronicles of France BL Royal 20 C VII f. 11)

A group of Society members are currently transcribing (and translating where necessary) the wills in the ‘Milles’ Probate Register from the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC).  The ‘Milles’ wills were granted probate during the years 1487 to 1491. The register includes a handful of nuncupative wills, that is, wills that were dictated by the testator on their deathbed in front of witnesses and written down afterwards.  One of them is what you might call the ultimate nuncupative will: the testator was barely able to speak and simply muttered ‘Ye’ (‘yes’/’yea’) to a series of questions.
In early July 1488 the unfortunate Nicholas Goldwyn suddenly fell ill and lost the power of clear speech.  His wife Margery called in their parish priest, Sir John Haynes,[1] the parson of Woolwich, so that Nicholas could be enabled to make his will in case he should die soon. Presumably Margery did this with her husband’s prior consent. On 8 July his will was drawn up, following a meeting during which Sir John asked Nicholas five questions with which a basic will and testament could be framed, and to each question Nicholas answered ‘Ye’.  The resultant will is a record of this interrogation; if any questions were asked that got ‘no’ for an answer, they were not recorded. The essence of the will is its brevity.[2]
            The Goldwyns had three children, William, Johanne and Katheryn, with another child on the way, so Margery’s anxiety to have Nicholas put his affairs in order is understandable. Question 1 concerned the settlement of the goods and lands of Nicholas.  Would Nicholas have his lands shared evenly between his son William and the baby, if it were a boy, after the death of Margery? Question 2 concerned the daughters.  Were they each to have £40? Question 3 concerned the unborn baby.  If this baby were a girl, should she have £40 too? Question 4 concerned Nicholas’s brother-in-law, John Cowper, who owed Nicholas money.  Would Nicholas remit half of this debt, for charity’s sake? Question 5 identified executors.  Was Margery to be his executrix?  Nicholas agreed to all five questions.  There was a sixth question, raised by Margery.  She wanted Nicholas to agree that Sir John should be her co-executor, and Nicholas duly concurred.
             Unlike many wills, there is no elaboration regarding the form of the funeral service or where Nicholas should be buried; no indication of where his lands lay or what goods he owned; nor when the daughters were to receive their money.  There were four witnesses present: John Cowper (the brother-in-law), James Clerk, Agnes Giles and someone called Ason (perhaps Alison) Fox. 
When the will was proved in the PCC, Sir John expressly refused to act as co-executor.  Perhaps he felt that if he did so he would run the risk of being charged with abusing his office, given the incapacity of his parishioner at the time, even though there were witnesses.  One can only guess what Margery thought of his refusal after she had particularly asked her husband to make Sir John her co-executor.  Nevertheless, on 28 July 1488 she was granted the administration of the will.  One hopes she bore the baby successfully and that her friends and relations supported her during that bleak time.
            What killed Nicholas?  Lockjaw, alias tetanus, is a strong candidate for his killer.  If the bacteria that cause tetanus (Clostridium tetani) enter the body through a wound, they can quickly multiply and release a toxin that affects the nerves, causing symptoms such as muscle stiffness and spasms, including lockjaw. [3]  Nowadays people are immunized against tetanus with a series of injections during childhood; in 1488 Nicholas Goldywn would have had little chance of survival.
Heather Falvey and Jan Mulrenan




[1] ‘Sir’ was a courtesy title given to a parish priest.
[2] TNA, PROB 11/8/229.
[3] http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Tetanus/Pages/Introduction.aspx

Sunday, 4 June 2017

The Context of the Kirby Muxloe Brooch

May 2017 proved a good month for news of rediscovered fifteenth-century treasures. Shortly after the emergence of the Caxton leaf, reports appeared about a treasure from Kirby Muxloe Castle that is due to be auctioned this August. It’s a gold, heart-shaped brooch that was discovered by a metal detectorist near the castle moat last year. It is inlaid with white enamel but what has caught the attention of reporters is the engraving inside of tiny flowers and the words ‘honor et joie’. It is being presented as a romantic gift from the castle’s most famous inhabitant, William Lord Hastings, to his wife Katherine Neville, who was one of Warwick the Kingmaker’s sisters.

Of course, determining the context of a piece of jewellery is no easy task. In 1866, as a railway was being cut through the outskirts of Clare Castle in Suffolk, an exquisite gold reliquary crucifix, set with pearls, was discovered. At first it was believed to be of fourteenth-century origin and attempts were made to identify it with members of Edward III’s family. Only later did experts decide it was really an early fifteenth century treasure. Similarly, the more famous Middleham Jewel, discovered in 1985, has been associated with various dates from 1425 to 1499.

It is even more difficult to suggest who might really have owned such treasures. The Clare Reliquary is widely associated with Richard III’s mother, Cecily duchess of York, who was the lady of Clare Castle for most of the fifteenth century. Yet her sister-in-law, Isabel Bourchier, famously held a Twelfth Night party at the castle in 1445 and any number of wealthy noblewomen must have walked through the castle’s tranquil riverside grounds during the fifteenth century. The Middleham Jewel is also often associated with Cecily (despite her minimal connections with Middleham) or, more plausibly, with Richard III’s wife, Anne Neville. Yet it is large enough to have belonged to a man and might just as easily have belonged to Anne’s mother or grandmother. Indeed, a case could be made that its first owner was Anne’s great grandmother (Cecily’s mother), Joan Beaufort, countess of Westmorland who bequeathed a great jewel called ‘the Trinity’ to Richard, earl of Salisbury (and lord of Middleham).[1]

So what of the owner of the Kirby Muxloe Brooch? The press releases offer it as a romantic ‘sweetheart brooch’ from Lord Hastings to his wife. Yet few men in the fifteenth-century have such a licentious reputation as Hastings: Mancini recorded that he was ‘an accomplice and a partner’ in Edward IV’s ‘privy pleasures’, and he located the origin of Hastings’s feud with the marquis of Dorset in squabbles over their shared mistresses.  The Great Chronicle of London numbers Elizabeth (Jane) Shore among his lovers. If the brooch really was a gift from Hastings to Katherine it is hard to imagine it as the product of a charming love story in turbulent times. Hastings had surely chosen his bride for her political connections rather than for love and David Baldwin referred to her as a ‘reward’ from Edward IV for Hastings’s loyalty in 1461.[2]

Could the brooch have been for a mistress? The secret motto seems rather inappropriate for that, although Hastings’s confidence in his own position might just have led him to imagine a mistress felt honoured by his attentions. There must of course have been many other ladies who visited the castle, or the previous manor house on the same site. Nonetheless, the very short history of the castle as a residence does mean that Katherine Neville remains the brooch's most likely owner.

Neither the design nor the motto on the brooch are any guide to help with identification since the same motto appears on a number of late medieval rings that have been found across the country over the years. Interestingly several of these seem to have been religious rather than secular tokens: one of them was found in in the tomb of Archbishop Bowet of York (d 1423) and two have engravings of saints including the Virgin Mary on their bezels.[3] Brooches engraved with or shaped as hearts look to have been very common in the later middle ages. Perhaps the most famous is the blue and gold enamelled heart from the Fishpool Hoard (probably buried 1463-4) but around 50 have apparently been found along the Thames foreshore alone.[4] 

File:Medieval , Finger ring (FindID 230884).jpgPortable Antiquities Scheme logo.jpg

Fifteenth century gold ring engraved with the words 'honur et joie'  (more details here)



It is striking that the auctioneers have set the guide price for the Kirby Muxloe brooch at just £6,000-£8,000. That is a tiny fraction of the value of that one leaf of paper from the book that Caxton had sold ‘good chepe’ at about the same time that the brooch must have adorned a noblewoman’s gown.

J L Laynesmith


[1] For more on the Clare Reliquary Cross and Joan Beaufort’s jewellery, see J L Laynesmith, Cecily duchess of York (2017), 141-2.
[2] For more on Katherine Neville see David Baldwin, The Kingmaker’s Sisters (2009)
[3] Lincolnshire History and Archaeology 16 (1981), 83
[4] Roberta Gilchrist, Medieval Life: Archaeology and the Life Course (2013), 110

Invitation to Contribute to John Ashdown-Hill's Itinerary of Edward IV


In his book The Private Life of Edward IV John Ashdown-Hill recently published a simplified (monthly) version of his research on that king’s itinerary. However, the detailed (daily) version has been put up online by his publishers and can be downloaded as a pdf file.


OR  The latest version of this with up dates can be found on


Help with the identification of some medieval place names has already been received (and added to the text), and further updates to the itinerary can be emailed to John, and would be very welcome.


From John Ashdown-Hill

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Caxton Print Discovered at the University of Reading

On Tuesday, I received an email from the Ricardian Bulletin editor, John Saunders, drawing my attention to news reports about a fifteenth-century leaf of paper that was about to go on display at the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading, just round the corner from my home. 

Why had one ancient piece of paper just hit the news? Because it is part of one of the first books printed by William Caxton in England and no other copy of this page has survived.

Later that morning I cycled over to the museum, only to learn that they had been so inundated with interested phone calls that they had not actually had time to put it on display. It is rather lovely that the discovery of a single fragment of an old book can excite so much attention. On Thursday morning, I found the museum an altogether calmer place and was able to examine the page (in its glass case) and some related exhibits in tranquility.

I’ve been asked to write a short piece on it for the next edition of the Bulletin, but it is only on display at the museum until 30 May. So, for anyone thinking of heading over to take a look, here are the headline details:

It’s not much bigger than a page of a modern paperback. The print is beautifully crafted to look like fine fifteenth-century handwriting. Red initials have been added in by hand after it was printed which makes it look very much like a manuscript.

It was found among the 20,000 items illustrating the history of printing and graphic design that make up the John and Griselda Lewis Collection in the University of Reading’s Special Collections. It is a page from the Sarum Ordinal (a priest’s handbook) that was printed by William Caxton in 1476 or 1477. Most copies were discarded at the Reformation so this fragment only survived because it was re-used to reinforce the spine of another book.

Although only one other fragment of Caxton’s version of the Ordinal seems to have survived, the volume is famous because it is the subject of the earliest known printed advertisement in England. That advertisement is in the Bodleian library and it invites buyers to come to Caxton’s shop, the ’reed pale’ at the almonry in Westminster, where they could buy the ordinal ‘good chepe’. Now the single leaf on display has been valued at up to £100,000.

J L Laynesmith
File:Caxton device.png
Caxton's Device, from Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

The myth of “Joan of York” or “Joan Plantagenet”

Any internet search for the family of Richard III will swiftly turn up sites that claim that his eldest sister was called Joan, born in 1438, but died young. At the time of writing this includes Richard duke of York’s Wikipedia page; geni.com (which locates Joan’s birth in York); and ‘the genealogy nut’ (claiming she was born and died in Yorkshire). Joan also appears in countless online family trees. Amy Licence recently argued that Richard’s mother, Cecily duchess of York, must have accompanied her husband to France in 1436 because Joan would have been conceived while Richard duke of York was there. Earlier this year, a Richard III Society branch newsletter speculated that Joan was born in Howden where Cecily’s mother (Joan Beaufort) is known to have lived.

Yet there is not a single record of Joan of York’s existence before the later twentieth century.

Richard III had four sisters - Anne, Elizabeth, Margaret and Ursula - as well as seven brothers. All of these (but not Joan) are named in two key fifteenth-century documents: the Clare Roll and the Bede Roll of the Fraternity of St Nicholas. Some of them also appear with their places and dates of birth in the Annales attributed to William Worcester, and in a fragment published by J A Giles in his compilation of sources: The Chronicles of the White Rose of York. The twelve names also appear in royal genealogies such as that in Harley Roll C 9 (produced 1472-3 and illustrated here) as well as the sixteenth-century genealogy that I mentioned in my last post. None of these documents mention Joan. Moreover, the Clare Roll specifically states (in both its Latin and English versions) that Richard III’s eldest sister, Anne duchess of Exeter, was born after a time of 'longe bareynesse'. Anne was born in 1439. All of this indicates that there was no such person as Joan of York, sister of Richard III.

Where did all these references to Joan come from then? It appears that she was created by a slip of the pen. After some searching I discovered a website that gave a source for Joan – Alison Weir’s Britain’s Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy. I had not read this book but had been impressed by the breadth of the author's research for her biographies of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Katherine Swynford, so I contacted her to ask if she could tell me her source for Joan. She explained that it was a genealogy written in the 1960s, but she had since concluded that no such child existed and Joan would not be appearing in her new edition of the Genealogy. Perhaps the compiler of that first genealogy had the family trees of Richard III’s mother, Cecily Neville, to hand as they were writing – most of these give Cecily’s eldest sister as Joan. It would have been an easy slip to transfer this name to another line. Among the multitude of tiny details each historian juggles, some such slips creep into every work. Unfortunately, it takes far longer to correct the historical record than it does to introduce one error, especially if that error has excited the interest of website writers.

J L Laynesmith



Image: detail from British Library Harley Roll C 9 membrane 19 (source: British Library, made available to the public domain). Genealogy showing Edward IV’s descent. The branch next to Edward IV (the final crowned circle) shows the king’s place as the third child in a list of all twelve of his parents' children, beginning with Anne duchess of Exeter on the left.


(For further details of manuscripts and books mentioned in this piece see J L Laynesmith, Cecily duchess of York, published July 2017)