Monday, 26 February 2018

The Canterbury Roll

An article in The Times on Monday 29 January 2018 gave details of a medieval scroll known as the Canterbury Roll. While this is not a new discovery, what is new is that it has been digitised and is available for everyone to see at the Canterbury University, NZ website. Originally called ‘The Maude Roll’ after its nineteenth century owners, it was purchased by Canterbury College - now Canterbury University - Christchurch, New Zealand early in 1918. Arnold Wall, a professor at the college published a transcription of the roll in 1919 and this too has been made available on the website and can be downloaded as a pdf.
When the Maude family moved to New Zealand in the nineteenth century they took the roll with them, the story was that it had always been in the family, and Wall attempted to trace the family back to the fifteenth century, when the roll was first written. Subsequent research suggests that ownership by the Maude family may not go back any further than the nineteenth century. Who commissioned the roll in the fifteenth century therefore remains something of a mystery.
With its digitisation it is possible to explore the roll in detail. It is a genealogy of the kings of England, created early in the fifteenth century. Beginning with the founding myth of English kings, from the Trojan refugee Brutus travelling to Albion and renaming the island Britannia, through the mythical kings of Britain including Arthur, to the Saxon kings, in continuous succession to Henry VI when the roll was created. Since 1429-33, when it was first written, the roll has undergone a number of amendments. 
It is thought that it was originally drawn up to demonstrate the Lancastrians’ legitimate claim to the throne. Richard II’s deposition is passed over, as is the claim of the Mortimers. Legitimate descent is shown in a straight line from Edward III. It does not reflect Henry IV’s early dalliance with the idea that Edmund Crouchback was the eldest son of Henry III; that was a notion too far, it was much easier to simply overlook a claim through a woman.
With the accession of Edward IV the roll then undergoes an amendment. The new scribe has made notes to ensure there is no mistake about who is the true king. He adds a note to show that Richard II was deposed and Henry IV usurped the throne. Red lines are then added to show the true line of descent from Edward III that is, via Lionel of Clarence and his daughter Philippa. Added to the descent through Edmund Duke of York, the legitimacy of the house of York is undisputed. ‘Edward, son and heir of the above named Richard, recently duke of York, true heir of the kingdoms of England and France, ... on the fourth day of March, through the greater and more sensible [part] of the people, was elected as king of England by the grace of God and the voice of those [people], rising and receiving the kingdom of England in London for himself, by law so much as by inheritance, in the year of the Lord 1460.’
As well as Edward IV, the new scribe includes his brothers, Edmund, George and Richard and his sisters Anne, Elizabeth and Margaret. Margaret is named as duchess of Burgundy so this amendment must have been made after her marriage in 1468. Sadly no further amendments were made to the roll.
The roll is seen as a piece of propaganda, originally for Henry VI and then Edward IV. Who commissioned the roll is a mystery. Did it remain in the same hands throughout the fifteenth century?  Was the owner someone who changed sides and wished to demonstrate his new allegiance to the house York, or was it someone who was simply reflecting the ‘reality’ of the day.
It is a pity that it ends with Edward IV, it would have been interesting to see how the owner reflected the changes of 1483 and 1485. Was it too dangerous or too uncertain? Or had the owner died or lost interest?
What the role does show is that genealogy was important, and that something seemingly so straight forward could be disputed. Genealogy as propaganda was not limited to this roll, a number exist. A splendid example should already be known to members, it can be partially viewed here  (a digital copy is available on CDRom, entitled Leaves of Gold, through the society shop). Held by the Free Library of Philadelphia, this is a beautifully illustrated roll. Edward IV appears at the top in full military glory, there is no mistaking that ‘this sun of York’ was responsible for its production. The Canterbury Roll looks more like a working copy beside it, having little in the way of illustration. It is easy to imagine Edward’s roll on display, but it is hard to imagine that many people actually saw the Canterbury Roll. The value of either as propaganda is therefore hard to see. Those seeing Edward’s roll may have been visitors to his court, in many ways it was therefore preaching to the converted or the already loyal.
The Canterbury Roll perhaps lay amongst other records and chronicles, but someone thought it worth updating, just as Chronicles were continually added to and updated. For the modern reader it adds another mystery to the fifteenth century; who owned the roll and what was it they did or did not want to say about the occupier of the throne and any potential claimants?

Lynda Pidgeon

Medieval genealogies could take many forms - this tree from British Library MS Harley 7353 takes a much more image-based approach than the Canterbury Roll. It shows Henry IV literally cutting through the branch on which Richard II sat and has Henry VI and Edward IV facing each other at the top, swords at the ready.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

The Calais Letterbook of William Lord Hastings

A couple of weeks ago I attended a fascinating seminar at the IHR presented by Ed Meek on the topic of his recent book: The Calais Letterbook of William Lord Hastings (1477) and Late Medieval Crisis Diplomacy 1477-83. Some of the research as well as the publication of this exciting contribution to our understanding of Richard III’s age was funded by the Richard III and Yorkist History Trust (which was founded by the Richard III Society in 1984).

The letterbook of the title is a severely damaged manuscript that is now housed in the Huntingdon Library, California. It is a record of William Lord Hastings’s French correspondence between April and September 1477, a crucial period in England’s relations with the continent in the aftermath of Charles the Bold’s death. Meek has provided both a transcription and translation as well as a detailed introduction interpreting the significance of the letters.

He explained that the manuscript has occasionally been used by other historians. However, he argued that its importance for our understanding of English policy has not been fully realised. For one thing, we should not accept Cora Scofield’s influential interpretation that Edward IV and Hastings were at odds at this time. On the contrary what comes through most strongly about Lord Hastings from these letters is his very deep loyalty to Edward IV. I came away fully persuaded that the manuscript provides both a vivid glimpse into a crucial moment in English politics and intriguing insight into the perennially controversial Lord Hastings. The book has been published by the Richard III and Yorkist History Trust and is available from Amazon or on ebay at £35. There will be a special discount for members of the Richard III Society: see the March 2018 edition of The Ricardian Bulletin for further details.

J L Laynesmith

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


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

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 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.

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