Henry and the Trackside Trees

Euan Roger (left) John Varley (right)

This week I got a little carried away with Eventbrite, and consequently this afternoon I attended two virtual talks in rapid succession – both on Teams rather than Zoom.

The first was All aboard a railway for people and wildlife by Women in Sustainable Rail. The session began less than formally with John Varley (Estate Director of Clinton Devon Estates) and Dr Neil Strong (Biodiversity Strategy Manager for Network Rail) getting carried away in a conversation about beavers. Varley spoke about the review he had done in 2018 for the Department of Transport, commissioned by then-minister Jo Johnson.  Varley concluded that the review was about nature and not just trees. He stated that in the 1950s there were fewer trees immediately bordering Britain’s railways than today, yet there was greater overall biodiversity. He noted that people tend to have a spiritual relationship with trees that is not extended to other plants. He delightedly recalled one day being given his own train in the North of England to go around inspecting the ground and interviewing the locals. He urged Network Rail to treat nature as an asset equal with its man-made infrastructure. The next speaker was Jane Dodds, Portfolio Head of Project at the Rail Safety & Standards Board. She told of the negative public perception surrounding Network Rail’s approach to managing vegetation around the lines. Strong then recounted the story of the implementation of the review. He showed photographs of a pilot scheme in Kent where a large row of trees was cut down from the side of the line, with the intention to plant a meadow there instead. He presented a long list of organisations with which he liaised over the course of the scheme. There was a question & answer session at the end which concluded in a similarly awkward fashion with the host offering to send slides and asking anyone still listening to email further questions. I couldn’t think of anything to ask (and wasn’t sure if my microphone worked) to ask so logged off sheepishly.

The second was event Readeption and Revenge: The final years of Henry VI by the National Archives. This detailed the later life of the last monarch from the House of Lancaster, though the lecturer Euan Roger included a brief overview of his early life, when he inherited the throne at aged nine months and was ruled by regents until coming of age. He founded Eton College and King’s College Cambridge, and was said to be overly generous with petitions, even granting the same estate to two people on the same day, to the point where his ministers began screening documents before the King was allowed to see them. The people perceived that senior officials were enriching themselves at the crown’s expense and that profligate royal pardons were undermining the rule of law. Henry’s reign took a serious turn for the worse in 1453 when his mental illness first appeared. He was barely lucid for much of the time, so unable to carry out duties of state. When he recovered he dedicated his life to religious pursuits instead of administrative or military ones. Roger noted, though, that reports of infirmity could have been exaggerated by those seeking political advantage. Without wishing to tell the whole story of the Wars of the Roses again, Henry was deposed by Edward IV in 1461. The new king eventually captured the old, but his imprisonment was relatively comfortable by the standards of the time. Contemporary documents referred to him as “Henry of Windsor” or “late by fact but not by right King of England”. One calls him “Henry Beaufort”, which Rogers suggested could be an attempt by the Yorkists to reframe his ancestry. A fall-out within Edward IV’s court saw the Duke of Clarence and Earl of Warwick depose him, restoring Henry to the throne as a puppet under their joint protection. The readeption only lasted six months before Edward IV had taken the throne again, and weeks later Henry died, officially of natural illness but more probably through blunt head injuries. Henry was buried at Chertsey Abbey, but in 1484 was relocated to St George’s Chapel, Windsor. For this lecture questions were asked in the chat box, but I waited too long to ask mine and so the session ran out of time to answer it.

EXTERNAL LINKS

I had wished to know why the Yorkists had killed Henry in such an obviously violent manner rather than poisoning him or denying him food, so that it would have been more plausible to claim that his death had been peaceful. Even Philippa Gregory’s version of events had him suffocated with pillows instead of beaten.

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