A Blackmailer at Frogmore

Today’s virtual outing was with the National Archives again. James Travers, Cultural Property Manager, was promoting his new book on the “ghost” of Caroline of Brunswick, Queen of George IV.

The centrepiece of the book, and the lecture, was Thomas Ashe, whom the injured consort had commissioned to write her memoirs. His book The Claustral Palace was suppressed from publication, for it would have revealed the intimate life stories of her sisters-in-law who were confined at Frogmore House.

How much of the novel was true is unclear, but it put Ashe in conflict with the government as well as George IV’s brother the Duke of Cumberland (later Ernest Augustus I of Hanover).

Travers’s lecture was quite convoluted in its story, which combined with his soft way of speaking and some technical glitches at my end meant it wasn’t always easy to follow the plot, so reading the book itself is probably necessary to get a full understanding.

Link

Today’s virtual lecture was by the York Festival of Ideas, starring Eleanor Parker.

I asked her at what point in English history the Saxons and Normans were no longer considered different races/nations. She replied that the Normans quickly came to call themselves English, but that twelfth century sources still indicate a cultural and linguistic split, with non-Francophones held back in life.

EXTERNAL LINKS

Power and pageantry: The coronation of King Richard III and Queen Anne

Another date with the National Archives, this time featuring Dr Sean Cunningham,the head of Medieval Records.

I was faintly amused when he brought up a still from The White Queen (2013) featuring Aneurin Barnard and Faye Marsay, if only so he could point out the inaccuracies. Then again, this coronation does not have many other televisual depictions to my knowledge.

Accessions and Assumptions

Today was another virtual double-helping. The first was a Teams presentation from The National Archives in which Dr Tracy Borman, Joint Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces, plugged her new book Crown & Sceptre: a new history of the British Monarchy.

Borman gave a synopsis of her publication, which essentially amounted to a summary of English and then British royal history since 1066. That part I will not type out again. She called Elizabeth I a brilliant propagandist and “the greatest monarch of all time”. She thought less of Victoria, who spent so much time in retirement after Albert’s death that the institution of the crown was nearly disbanded. She also called Edward VIII’s abdication a lucky escape, noting the callous attitude he had both to the institution and his family members. She spotted a theme that the best monarchs were those never originally supposed to reign – including the present one. Another important point was that after the Civil War and the Glorious Revolution, Britain’s monarchs were reduced to ceremonial figureheads, focusing their efforts on charity and patronage instead of direct political power. This earned them mockery from other still-absolute monarchs at the time, but seems in the long term to have greatly contributed to outlasting them.

In the Q&A, I asked how much the present day royal family was influenced by the Scottish half of their pre-C17 ancestry, since her book was focused on the English side. Borman said that the constitutional model which Britain still has today (and has exported around the world) largely resulted from the absolutist attitudes of the House of Stuart clashing with the English parliamentary system, without which its seminal conflicts would likely never have happened.

While I enjoyed the presentation I am not sure that I will end up buying the book. While Borman claimed to be “inspired” by the Platinum Jubilee giving the opportunity to look back over the last millennium, I suspect it was more a matter of judging the point in the media cycle when such a book would get most sales. I am reminded of J. P. Nettl’s preface to his 1967 book The Soviet Achievement, beginning with “Anyone should have serious doubts before adding to the mountain of literature on the Soviet Union. The fiftieth anniversary of the October revolution provides an occasion, perhaps, but no automatic excuse.”, a sentiment that could apply equally well here.

The second event was a Zoom lecture by the Heraldry Society. Marcus Meer‘s talk “And No Recently Assumed Arms…” was about the display of, and attitudes around, heraldry in medieval German cities, and something of a sequel to his “Lest They Pass to the Peasants” lecture to the Scottish society in March.

Urban centres in the Middle Ages were festooned with heraldic marks of the municipalities themselves as well as the guilds, corporations and individuals resident within. They would be set in stained glass, carved into stone walls or moulded on cutlery. The use of such images was a shared focal point for citizens’ attention, helping to maintain communal stability. They were also used to demarcate sections of the urban space, and to claim control of said sections on behalf of their owners. Delegated authority was rendered visible as government officials wore the state or city’s badge, and armorial marks would be painted on items produced in the city as a sign of quality control. Heraldry was also a mark of power struggles – guilds would fight for precedence in civic processions and conquerors of a town would displace existing shields with their own.

Meer spoke of a departure in scholarship from analysis of heraldry as a fixed symbol of meaning, towards a study of medieval perspectives.

The Gossembrot Armorial of 1469 was an attempt by the author to shore up his family’s status against the threat from social climbers. It collected the arms of all the families into whom Gossembrots had married, but it omitted arms which had come into use too recently in favour of those long-established. Others would embellish their own heritage beyond plausibility, such as Ulman Stramer who, in his Book of my Lineage and Adventure (1360-1400), claimed that his ancestor Gerhart of Reichenbach was granted arms by King Conrad, even though Conrad reigned in an age before it became customary to have arms formally granted by a sovereign. In the fifteenth century there was a social distinction between arms officially sanctioned and arms privately assumed. Urban grantees, much like their contemporaries in England, sought to consolidate their status. Also similar to England, “confirmations” of supposedly-old arms were preferred to grants of clearly-new ones, for armigers wanted proof that they and their agnates had always belonged to the gentry instead of recently joining it. Sometimes grants were sought from foreign rulers, such as Henry VIII of England to Lorenz Stauber of Nuremberg in 1521.

There were accounts of legal disputes over heraldic ownership, such as unrelated armigers bearing the same shield, and the city authorities deciding that they must be long-lost family. A case study was the Church of St Anne in Augsburg, where Ulrich, Georg and Jakob Fugger had endowed a family chapel. When the male-line of the dynasty died out the female-line descendants were allowed to inherit the chapel but not the Fugger arms.

I asked Dr Meer what was the lowest social rank at which one could get away with assuming arms. He replied that there were no hard rules, and that at Nuremberg there is evidence of armigerous peasants, albeit probably the wealthier peasants. Emperors were known to complain of non-nobles assuming arms, but there wishes were not enforced.

10th June is International Heraldry Day (though as little recognised as all the other National Whatever Days) and the society was proud to unveil its new logo, courtesy of Quentin Peacock. Also today it was announced that Her Majesty had appointed two new members of the Order of the Thistle – former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini and former Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament Sir George Reid. Their arms, if yet they have them, will at some point be displayed at the High Kirk. Meanwhile, with just three days to go until the Garter service, I am still none the wiser as to the arms of Amos and Blair.

Women in Medieval London

This afternoon I attended a virtual lecture by the Guildhall Library entitled Women in Medieval London. The speaker was Caroline Barron, Professor Emerita at Royal Holloway and President of the British Association For Local History.

She began by saying that it made a difference to be able to physically meet again, though she still welcomed those watching on Zoom. She showed two maps of London produced by the Historic Towns Trust – one for 1300, the other for 1520. She said that it is much more difficult to map medieval London compared to other English towns such as Norwich or York due to the extreme scale of change that has taken place over the centuries. One cannot simply work backwards from a 1970s Ordnance Survey, but must instead work from the ground up with surviving deeds and wills.

The Black Death killed half of London’s population. As in the Second World War, this resulted in a lot of women filling vacancies left by the slain men. London had over a hundred county churches in 1300, but pre-Reformation records only survive for thirty of them. Records survive from local governments and the Livery Companies. There are plenty of wills left by widows, but very few from wives or maidens. There are very few private papers, letters or diaries from which to glean intimate personal information. Women never served as sheriffs, aldermen or mayors, but exercised public authority in other ways. Barron cited the example of a 1372 dispute between dyers, leather sellers and pouch makers, the eventual agreement for which cited John & Agnes Blackthorn, John & Lucy Whiting, and Richard & Catherine Weston. Another example was Alice Holford serving as bailiff of London Bridge for over twenty years. Very little record survives of medieval attitudes towards female authority. Accounts from ward moots of Queenhithe show complaints about John of Ely, assayer of oysters, delegating his functions to women, who then allowed good and bad oysters to be mixed.

Outside of nunneries it appeared that very few women remained unmarried. City custom allowed married women to trade as femme sole, and allowed girls to be apprenticed (meaning that the husband was not involved). A proclamation in 1404 required every apprentice to be enrolled at the Guildhall, explicitly referring to both male and female.

Chattel was more important in London than elsewhere, for the rural gentry tended to have most of their wealth tied up in land. When a man of the city died, custom dictated that one third each went to his widow, his children, and a charitable cause. A London widow was also entitled to dower until death or remarriage, and could remain in her husband’s residence indefinitely unlike elsewhere. On 12th January 1465 the Court of Aldermen declared every woman married to a freeman and living with him at his death (important because divorce was very difficult prior to the reformation, so failed coupled would often resort to simply living apart) inherited his freedom to trade for as long as she lived in London and did not remarry. Barron mentioned Stephanie Hovland’s thesis on apprenticeships in medieval London, and showed the indenture of Katharine Nougle from 1392. Hovland found that only thirty such documents survived (partly because the Chamberlain of London’s records were destroyed in a fire), of which nine were for women. There are references to female apprentices in cases at the Mayor’s Court, and in provisions of men’s wills, such as the cutler Philip Waltham (d. 1426) who specified that his three apprentice girls should receive 6s8d if they behaved well towards his wife Ellen. About three quarters of men appointed their widows as executors.

A fascinating document is the original (not copied) will of Emma the Smerewyf from 1260. It was A5 in size and held four seals. It is kept in the Bodleian Library despite her living in London. She left property in the parish of St. Sepulchre to her husband, who in turn left it to a clerk, who in 1278 gifted it to Osney Abbey, which was then absorbed by Christ Church College in 1545. Emma gave a house and all her utensils to her husband with the condition that after his death they went to the poor. She distributed over £40 in alms to the poor, to various nunneries and to St Mary’s Hospital in Bishopsgate. She had a second house in St. Sepulchre, which she used to set up a chantry. Apparently childless, she named her nephew Alan as an executor and gave him five marks of silver. In the thirteenth century the custom against will-making by married women had not yet been established.

Widows were the most powerful women in medieval London. Barron found Johanna Hill particularly interesting: She was a Bell Founder, the foundry in Aldgate run by her husband Richard (d. May 1440). He had four apprentices. Johanna was his executor and took over the foundry. On 28th March 1441 she made a contract with Faversham Church to make them five new bells and repair any defective ones. Barron showed some examples of fifteenth century bell founders’ marks, including Richard Hill’s shield of arms which Joanna differenced by a lozenge. Her own will mentioned a bell maker, apprentices, servants, and a scrivener. She left everything to her namesake daughter, who passed the foundry to John Sturdy and his wife (a third Johanna), who made another contract with the same church.

John Minse, an imager, died in the plague of 1348-9 leaving his tenements in St Mildred, Poultry to his widow Matilda with remainder to his daughters Alice and Isabella, and then in default of the heirs of their bodies to a chantry in the parish. Matilda was to be Isabella’s guardian and co-executor with two men: Gilbert de Wendover (ironmonger) and Roger Oathkin (grocer). All three met their own death the next year. Matilda’s will gave her best instruments and a chest to William her apprentice. She transferred him to the service of Br Thomas Hailsham of Bermondsey Priory for the rest of his training. Her house was sold to buy a chantry for herself, her husband and – unusually – her siblings. Her daughters are not mentioned, but in June 1353 there is a mention of Isabella’s guardianship. The orphans of citizens were in those days assigned guardians by the aldermen. She was committed to Thomas de Straundon, a cofferer, with four sureties. In 1355 he rendered account for her inheritance and in April 1362 she came of age, acknowledging her inheritance with satisfaction. It is hard to track her after that, as if she married she would have changed her name.

Barron concluded that women in medieval London were not valued solely for breeding as in the aristocracy, and though lacking governing power could still exercise considerable economic power, especially as the Black Death increased their necessity. The population of England as a whole declined until 1400 and did not pick up again until 1500. One result was a high rate of immigration Flanders to find work.

There followed a question session, the first queries coming from the room:

I thought the husband took all his wife’s property.

Mostly true, but some husbands gave permission for the wife to will separately. Many of the examples were from before that custom solidified.

If women remarried override their wills?

The old husband’s will would not be overridden, but the new husband took take the widow’s inheritance. Wealthy widows were highly sought for this reason, but often they were reluctant to give up their autonomy. Many became vowesses to escape the pressure, and sometimes husbands made this a condition of a larger inheritance.

Why did these female economic freedoms later fall away. Was it simply a matter of there being more men around?

Once the population rose again there was a lot of poverty in England due to unemployment, inflation and pasteurisation of arable land. There was a feeling that women shouldn’t take jobs from men, as in the twentieth century.

What proportion of the later population was middle class (the one for whom we have records)?

Strictly speaking everyone was supposed to draw up a will. We have some from very poor people. Among merchants in the late fourteenth century the wills are full of bequests to the poor.

How literate were the women of this time?

They had a lot of “pragmatic literacy”. There were opportunities to be educated by chantry priests. Women signed their names in documents. Common profit books were passed to both men and women.

The next few questions were through Zoom.

Liz Duchovni: Do indentures survive in other cities so we can compare the gender balance to London?

Some freedom registers survive in York, not necessarily apprenticeship registers. In general the opportunities in London were greater than in other towns. London was exceptional, but then as a London historian I would say that.

Jonathan Wober: To what extent were the privileges for women in London different to other cities?

Legitim was only practised in London and York, where it was abolished in the eighteenth century. My colleague Dr Clive Burgess has not found the same in Bristol. London was the best place for an ambitious woman. That may still be true.

Deborah Stock: What did lower class women do? Were they home based, or doing other work? Within a city context they couldn’t have been agricultural labourers.

There are a lot of bequests in wills to female domestic servants, including dowries so they could marry.

Liz Galaxy: Did women need their husbands’ permission to work?

There were no regulations. I think it would be a strategic decision. It would be in a man’s interest to let his wife trade as a femme sole, since then he was not liable for her debts.

Gillian: What was the average marriage age for women?

Aristocratic girls married as soon as they could physically have children. Apprenticed girls did not marry until course was finished. This could explain why the London population rose at a slower pace than elsewhere.

Gillian: Statue of Licoricia, Jewish moneylender, at Winchester?

I wonder if Emma the Smerewyf was also a moneylender, though if she was setting up chantries she clearly wasn’t Jewish.

Alison Parry: Endowments to poor widows are still going in St Bartholemew’s. Now paid as 20p, only one claims per year. Are there any others?

A lot of charities are still going, mostly those which set up schools. Dick Whittington set up almshouses to be run by the Mercers’ Company. These charities have survived better than chantries, which were often lost in the reformation.

Rachael Holter: Would widows automatically lose their freedoms if they remarried?

Widows were known to be very wealthy. When the Guildhall was rebuilt in the late fifteenth century they kept a register of widows from whom to find funds. Not all women wanted to be independent.

Alison Turner: Did male apprentices also need permission to marry?

On the whole male apprentices were not supposed to marry until they completed their courses, whereas it was anticipated that females might do so.

FURTHER READING

State of Change

May I see the wine list?

Late last night it was announced that, due to episodic mobility issues, Queen Elizabeth would not be personally present for the state opening of Parliament today. While the shortness of notice is unusual, it is far from unprecedented for a parliamentary session to begin without the monarch. The present queen missed the openings of 1959 and 1963 due to pregnancy. Victoria loathed to visit Parliament at all during her forty years of mourning. On those occasions the standard procedure was to open the session by commission, with the Lord Chancellor reading the speech. This time, perhaps in consequence of the shortness of notice, the full state ceremony went ahead but with the Prince of Wales reading the speech instead of his mother.

The last time an heir apparent opened Parliament in this way was 23rd November 1819, when the Prince Regent opened the second session of the sixth Parliament on behalf of George III, a mere nine weeks before actually ascending to the throne. Charles, of course, is not full regent, and performed today’s ceremony in his capacity as counsellor of state. Such counsellors are required to act in pairs, hence the first appearance of the Duke of Cambridge at the event.

It was reported in the BBC coverage that Charles was sitting on the consort’s throne, with the monarch’s throne being removed from the chamber completely. The Imperial State Crown was displayed on a small table to his right where the monarch’s throne would normally be, while his wife and son sat on the smaller chairs in the alcoves either side.

Convention has long been for the peer reading the speech to do so in first person, as the sovereign herself would have done, but Charles opted to switch to third person, repeatedly describing the government and its ministers as “Her Majesty’s” instead of “my”*. I do not know if he was making the substitution mentally or if the speech was actually printed again with altered wording – which would require a downgrade in materials.

Also last night it was announced that Professor Anne Curry had been appointed Arundel Herald Extraordinary. This did not make her a member of the College of Arms, but did allow her to take part in the procession with the other heralds.

This afternoon the House of Lords Flickr account published twenty photographs of the ceremony, taken by Annabel Moeller and licensed as CC BY 2.0, enabling me to quickly absorb them into Wikimedia Commons. It is unusual for us to have such number and quality of images for events like these. The trend towards releasing photographs in this way is encouraging, even if it is intermittent.

Given that this if the first time counsellors of state have been used to open a legislative session, and that the decision was not known until thirteen hours prior, one has to wonder how much improvisation was employed in today’s ceremony, for example:

  • Their Royal Highnesses travelled entirely by motorcar. Had there previously been plans to use the horse-drawn carriages?
  • The Prince of Wales was in full military uniform as for most state openings, but his wife and son were in morning suits as for the “dress down” occasions in June 2017 and December 2019. The inconsistency is inexplicable.
  • There was no mention of the Union Flag over the Victoria Tower being swapped for the royal standard. Was a banner of the heir apparent’s arms available?
  • The limousine carrying Charles had his own shield of arms mounted on the roof, but that carrying William used the generic red shield with a crown. Has a shield of William’s arms been made for this purpose?
  • The carpet on the lowest step to the throne was plain red, whereas previously the pattern of lions and roses continued all the way.
  • Sir Lindsay Hoyle is wigless for the third consecutive state opening, despite promising to wear it before his election. It can’t still be missing, can it?

When the ceremony is over, both houses debate a response to the address. Tradition dictates that the motion be introduced by a long-serving older member and seconded by a younger, recently-elected one. The role of the “old duffer” was this time fulfilled by my own MP, the “shy and retiring” Graham Stuart. He said of his constituency:

Beverley and Holderness comprises four towns—Beverley, Hornsea, Withernsea and Hedon—and many other hamlets and villages that are dotted across east Yorkshire. It is a beautiful part of the world and has history as well as charm. Beverley has contributed more than most places to the improvement of our democratic system over the years—admittedly chiefly by running elections in such a corrupt manner that the law had to be changed afterwards. After the unseating of the victorious candidate in 1727 by a petition, his agents were imprisoned and Parliament passed a whole new bribery Act. But Beverley’s notorious freemen were not to be put off so easily. Beverley continued to be a byword for electoral malpractice. The novelist Anthony Trollope stood in the Liberal interest, unsuccessfully, in 1868, and such was the level of wrongdoing that a royal commission was established especially and a new law passed disenfranchising the town and barring it from ever returning a Member of Parliament again. Obviously the law did change. Free beer and cash inducements were the electoral controversies then, rather than, say, beer and curry today. Never in the history of human conflict has so much karma come from a korma.

FURTHER READING

*The version used on the Hansard website for both the Commons and the Lords is in third person as Charles delivered it, while that on the government’s site is in first person, as well as annotated with the names of the bills being described.

Churchill the Activist: His Dedication to Human Rights

Another presentation by the International Churchill Society, featuring Ankit Malhotra and Zareer Masani.

I asked the final question: “Both sides of the EU referendum were keen to claim Churchill’s legacy. What is known of his views on the optimal level of European political integration?

Justin Reash, the host, joked that “keen” was an understatement.

Masani said that his references to a United States of Europe would not go down well with today’s Brexiteers who constantly go on about how the EU is trying to create just that against everyone’s national interest. He thought that Churchill would not be a typical Brexiteer – he was in favour of European unity, but would have liked to see it include the east of Europe and not just the west as actually transpired.

Malhotra added that the idea of a United States of Europe was provocative at its time and not unique to Churchill – even Gaddafi imagined a United States of Africa – but that the British have always been wary of a larger system of uniform governance which perhaps explains their attitude towards the EU. If they championed an idea they obviously believed in it wholeheartedly, which is why the Council of Europe lives on, perhaps more strongly than the European Union.

Reash said that one of the many reasons for Churchill’s initial interest in the United States of Europe was the sense of collective security, which was shown not to have been achieved at Versailles. Being able to prevent another world war is something we all really want, that legacy now of course bearing fruit in Ukraine.

Churchill’s Reputation Today

Today I attended a virtual presentation by Dominic Sandbrook to the International Churchill Society, the whole of which has been posted on their YouTube channel.

My question was “Other than Thatcher, is any later prime minister likely to receive a state or ceremonial funeral?”, and Dr. Sandbrook’s reply was “No, Tony Blair might be an obvious contender but I don’t think he would want one. It’s really interesting, the contrast between Blair and Thatcher: Thatcher was tremendously controversial in her lifetime and afterwards. People who voted for Thatcher continue to adore her whereas those who didn’t absolutely despised her. In Blair’s case it’s actually a lot of the people who voted for him who now regard him as the devil incarnate, so I don’t know who the constituency would be to support a Blair funeral – the small constituency of “centrist dads” as I believe they’re called on social media? Most prime ministers end up kind of regressing into obscurity. Harold Wilson won lots of elections and bestrode British politics in the 1960s-70s but basically was a forgotten man by the time he died.” which somehow segued into a discussion of The Crown.