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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) 

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Buried Treasures

Occasionally new discoveries in historical research are not unlike coming upon a buried treasure hoard (and sometimes of course that is exactly what they are). One of my personal favourites is the long-neglected manuscript in Sir Walter Scott’s library that turned out to be a translation by Osbern Bokenham of Jacobus de Voraigne’s Golden Legend. Bokenham scholars had always known such a translation had been made, but they thought that every manuscript had been lost. Yet more remarkably, the medievalist Simon Horobin has made a very persuasive case that this was the very manuscript that Richard III’s mother, Cecily duchess of York, owned and eventually bequeathed to one of her granddaughters. This beautiful manuscript is now available for anyone to view online at the Faculty of Advocates’ website.

More often discoveries are much less spectacular, albeit still valuable pieces of the jigsaw of our understanding of the past. Many of these jigsaw pieces of knowledge emerge from parchment pages in the archives. Others have been sat, ignored, on academic library shelves for generations without making their way into more accessible history books. This was the case with the inspiration for a brief article I have written for the forthcoming Ricardian Bulletin. I had ordered up volume 144 of the publications of the Surtees Society, which our university library keeps hidden in a great store. I knew it was a transcription of a couple of sixteenth-century heraldic manuscripts that had been copied from earlier pedigrees and I was hoping to learn more about the Neville family whose genealogy it included. When I flipped open the pages to the royal family, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it included every one of Richard III’s brothers and sisters.

The most widely circulated lists of Richard III’s siblings (associated with William Worcester) are incomplete. Hitherto I had only found mention of Richard III’s brother Thomas in the Clare Roll and the Bede Roll of the London Parish Clerks’ fraternity. What excited me about finding all of the children’s names here was that, for those who had died before 1483, in most cases their place of burial (and sometimes their place of death) had been included in the genealogy. It has to be confessed that this is not a wholly accurate genealogy. However, the mistakes in it can easily be explained by careless copying (an Edward has become Thomas like his son; Tewkesbury has been rendered Fotheringhay, perhaps because of so many other mentions of Fotheringhay). It seems unlikely that someone had simply invented the references to these children’s burials, especially since places of burial are not given for all of them. No one will be surprised to learn that Henry, Thomas, William and Ursula were all buried at Fotheringhay. Their father, Richard duke of York, clearly intended this church to be the family mausoleum. Yet I am not sure that any recent historian has previously pondered where these children’s bones might lie.

They may have been no more than days old when they died, or perhaps a few years. As individuals they made no impact on our island’s history as their longer-lived siblings did. Nonetheless, the knowledge of their funerals and burials at Fotheringhay is another fragment of the fifteenth-century to illuminate our understanding of Richard III’s world.

J. L. Laynesmith









Fotheringhay church, east end. The bones of Richard's siblings most likely lie here where the choir once stood. The remains of their parents, Richard duke of York and Cecily Neville, were moved from here in Elizabeth I's reign.













Photo copyright Alamy
supplied by John Saunders