Archive for January, 2022

Vikings in Oxford: What Led to the Attack of 1009 AD

January 27, 2022
Viking ships at sea with warriors on board. Hand-colored woodcut of a 19th-century illustration

“We all need earnestly to strive that we might gain God’s mercy and compassion, and that with his help we might resist our enemies. Now it is our will that all the people perform a general penance for three days on bread and herbs and water… and cry out urgently to Christ from their innermost heart.” Bishop Wulfstan’s law code composed for King Aethelred in 1009 AD

Even at the distance of 1000 years, you can feel the palpable sense of panic behind these words. The end of the world had not transpired as many had predicted with dread as the year 1000 approached yet England was scourged by continued Viking attacks which seemed unstoppable. The presence of the Antichrist hung like a malevolent cloud over the land and the people lived in a constant state of anxiety and nervous anticipation. No amount of penance, prayer or pleading seemed to do any good. No amount of money or valuables handed over by the king would make the raiders disappear across the sea.

Wulfstan’s law codes and sermons must have done little for morale and seemed to reinforce the idea that the English had brought their woes upon themselves by sinful behaviour and crimes against God’s laws which could only be redeemed by humble penitence, fasting and devotion to a Christian lifestyle. In an age where belief in divine favour was so crucially important, this relentless criticism of morality must have hit at the heart of Aethelred’s administration and further demoralised his forces. An army that feels they have lost before the first blow is struck is already set up to fail.

Wulfstan’s sermons echo the earlier writings of Alcuin of York who wrote to Athelred of Northumbria in 793 AD after the Viking raid on Lindisfarne

‘What may I say about avarice, robbery, violent judgments? – when it is clearer than day how much these crimes have increased everywhere and a despoiled people testifies to it. Whoever reads the Holy Scriptures and ponders ancient histories and considers the fortune of the world will find that for sins of this kind kings lost kingdoms and peoples their country; and while the strong unjustly seized the goods of others, they justly lost their own.’ (Somerville & McDonald, 186).

The underlying moral argument remained the same despite the distance between the two writers; the country was lawless and weak, society was corrupted and in need of firm governance and the people were suffering as a result of crime and lax morality. The heathen attacks were a punishment from God for wickedness, rather than the consequence of external factors such a land hunger or greed.

King Aethelred

King Aethelred had tried appeasement; offering 10,000 pounds in danegeld after his defeat at the Battle of Malden in 991 AD to see off one threat and another 22,000 pounds in gold and silver after further defeats in 993 AD and 994 AD. He encouraged conversion to Christianity in the hopes that the raiders might be persuaded against attacking a fellow Christian kingdom yet more attacks ensued as many Vikings only paid lip-service to their new religion or had been forcibly converted by leaders who had embraced a new religion for political reasons.

The Norman dukes, descending from the Norwegian Rollo who had become the first Norman ruler of the region after the Siege of Chartres in 911 AD with their shared Scandinavian ancestry facilitated raids on England; offering shelter and a convenient launch pad for successive Viking parties from their shoreline despite being Christian themselves. Athelred had married Emma of Normandy who was the daughter of Duke Richard I of Normandy and Gunnor, his Danish wife in order to create an alliance and prevent further Viking attacks from Normandy but even this strategic move with the promise of Anglo-Norman heirs failed to prevent further violence.

Emma of Normandy receiving the ‘Encomium Emmae Reginae’ from its author, with her sons Harthacanute and Edward the Confessor in the background

Athelred also tried recruiting Viking mercenaries to counter-act other raiders but this policy also failed to prevent further sorties while the people continued to suffer at the hands of lawless men who took what they wanted and were never satisfied.

Things turned ugly in 1002 AD when Aethelred sanctioned the St Brice’s Day massacre on 13th November. A mass grave found in Oxford attests to the brutality of the attacks on Norse communities; whether they were mercenaries or merchants, strangers or neighbours who had been settled in the community for some years in an area not far from the border of the Danelaw established in the reign of King Alfred generations before. Excavations under St John’s College in Oxford found the remains of 36 victims; young men aged around 16-25 who had been murdered. The pattern of wounds on their skeletal remains suggests they were attacked from behind.

20 of the skeletons showed evidence of punctures in their vertebrae and pelvic bones, and 27 skulls were broken or cracked, indicating traumatic head injuries. From markings on the ribs, experts were able to ascertain that at least a dozen of the victims had been stabbed in the back, and attempts were made on 5 others. Some victims had suffered serious burns to their heads, backs, pelvic regions and arms. They were most likely taken out of the city and thrown into a mass pit in unconsecrated ground which had been on the site of an earlier pagan henge.

Excavation of a grave pit

Some had sought sanctuary in the church of Saxon St Frideswide but had been locked up inside and the church torched. A restoration of the church and re-dedication was required two years later by the king ‘with God’s aid’ but even this drastic action failed to prevent further attacks from the Norsemen. Some historians argue that the St Brice’s Day attacks were a state-sanctioned response to intelligence that the Danes in England planned to attack the king and his council and overthrow the monarch. The day was carefully selected as St Brice had been a penitential bishop who redeemed himself in the eyes of God. Aethelred was seeking to win back divine favour as well as rid himself of the Viking presence in the country to prove to his people that he could be a decisive and successful ruler favoured by the almighty who was capable of protecting his people and striking hard at their oppressors.

A similar mass grave pit has been excavated near Weymouth though the dating remains open to interpretation but does provide evidence of retribution attacks against Viking raiding parties by local communities during this period.

There have been recent reassessments of Aethelred’s effectiveness as a king with renewed focus on his attempts to divide the Viking forces and peel off individual leaders and turn them to Christianity, as seen in the case of King Olaf Trygvasson who did return to Norway and convert his people to Christianity. Although the traditional view of Aethelred as ‘ill-advised’, weak and a poor military tactician still tends to dominate assessments of his reign, it could be argued that he tried every means possible to prevent the attacks but it was virtually impossible to defend the whole coastline of the British Isles or to prevent successive waves of attack by different groups of Vikings.

One tactical error that would fan the flames higher however did result from the St Brice’s Day massacre. Gunhild was the daughter of Harald Bluetooth and Tove and sister of Svein Forkbeard. She was married to Palling Tokesen, Jarl of Devonshire and both were victims of the massacre which gave Svein the perfect excuse for retribution against the English in 1004 AD.

Was Oxford targeted in particular as retribution for the St Brice’s Day massacre or was it just in the path of successive raiding parties and therefore fair game? It’s strategic position was probably also a factor in the raids which followed. Oxford had already been burned by Viking attackers in 979 AD. There must have been visible evidence of the recent attack of 1004 around the city and recent memories of the violence that had been unleashed when the townspeople braced themselves for yet another attack in 1009 AD.

Wulfstan’s Sermon of the Wolf to the People, written around 1009 AD details God’s punishment for sinful behaviour

“Beloved men, know the truth. This world is in haste, and approaches its end. And so it is the worse in this world the longer it goes on, and because of the people’s sins it must needs worsen from day to day, until the coming of Antichrist.”

These great sins have overrun the country, Wulfstan said, and so the Danish raiders and invaders will never be defeated: “The English are now long victory-less, terribly demoralised through God’s anger.”

In this climate of fear, judgement and perceived sin, the English faced a great attack in the year 1009 AD.

Thorkell the Tall was leader of the legendary JomsVikings, a particularly feared group among the Viking raiders who operated under a strict military code and refused to retreat or show fear. He landed in Kent and attacked Canterbury, which managed to raise 3000 to pay him off, then turned south and swept across the country, pillaging and burning as he went and attacked Oxford in August 1009.

There is much debate about whether the JomsVikings were an actual raiding band or a semi-mythical invention by later Scandinavian sources to add weight to the terror of their Viking ancestry. The Gesta Danorum written in the C12th by Saxo Grammaticus recounts some of their history and exploits as mercenaries who were staunch believers in the old Norse gods but would fight for any lord who paid them sufficiently, even for Christians. The JomsViking Saga written in C13th Iceland further adds to their reputation as fierce warriors. There has even been a suggestion that the mass grave pit found near Weymouth could contain the bodies of JomsVikings based on incisions in the teeth of the victims and the manner of their death. The bodies show evidence that the men faced their executioners in the manner of the brotherhood who refused to show fear in the face of certain death but rather stare it in the face.

Gesta Danorum (Angers fragment)

Whoever Thorkell’s men were, they overcame the defences of Oxford and exacted a heavy toll on the inhabitants of the town. We can only imagine the violence and destruction that they inflicted and the resulting trauma to those who were in their path. Oxford’s Saxon Tower by St Michael at the North Gate was constructed between 1000 -1050 AD, in response to the Viking attacks. Along with the Saxon foundations of St George’s Tower at Oxford Castle which is thought to date to around 1025 AD, these two ancient towers are the earliest remaining structures to the period of the Viking threat in the city.

The Saxon Tower at Oxford

Click to access oxford.pdf


The Unfortunate Death of Lady Katherine Grey

January 27, 2022

So many secret marriages during this period despite the inevitable consequences for defying the queen. The Seymours had risen to great heights of influence at court and wanted to ensure they remained the power behind the throne, if not the person sitting on it. This undoubtedly played a part in Elizabeth’s reaction to this marriage but she probably would have had a problem with many potential suitors for Lady Katherine too as she was so close to the succession. Marrying for love wasn’t an option for Elizabeth and she could be harsh in her treatment of other women who indulged their passions – she never forgave Lettice Knollys for marrying Dudley. The stakes were extremely high for all concerned.

The Freelance History Writer


I have just read the most heartbreaking description of the death of Lady Katherine Grey. She was the sister of Lady Jane Grey, the “Nine Days Queen” and a descendant of Mary Tudor, sister of King Henry VIII. Katherine’s death at the age of twenty-seven was most unfortunate.

What makes her story so sad? In many ways, her life mirrors that of her cousin Arbella Stuart who was born six years after Katherine’s death. Arbella was a descendant of Margaret Tudor, eldest sister of King Henry VIII. Both women were potential heirs to Queen Elizabeth I. Both women married Seymour men without the permission of the Queen. Both women were imprisoned for their foolish behavior and both died probably of starvation in captivity. The only difference was Katherine had two children while Arbella had none.

In Tudor times, being a potential successor to the monarch was…

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Isabelle d’Angoulême: A Complicated Queen

January 23, 2022

Fascinating post on one of our less well-known or regarded medieval queen consorts. I think anyone who was married to King John was going to have a rough deal and Isabelle has been unfairly judged for events beyond her own control.

History... the interesting bits!

Why Isabelle d’Angoulême is hard to love?

Seal of Isabelle d’Angoulême

At first sight, it is easy to have sympathy for Isabelle of Angoulême. When I started researching her forLadies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England, I was expecting to be able to go some way to redeeming her reputation. She was married at a very young age – she was no more than 12 and may have been as young as 10 – to ‘Bad’ King John, the man who would later be accused of murdering his own nephew and left awoman to starve in his dungeons.

Isabelle d’Angoulême was the only child of Audemar, Count of Angoulême and Alice de Courtenay. Her mother was the daughter Peter de Courtenay, lord of Montargis and Chateaurenard, and a cousin of king Philip II Augustus of France. Through her Courtenay family connections, Isabelle was related…

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Geoffrey of Monmouth, Oxford Castle and King Arthur

January 19, 2022

King Arthur at the beginning of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain BnF, Latin 8501A, f. 108v

Geoffrey of Monmouth is thought to have been born between 1090 -1100 in Wales; possibly at Monmouth but no written evidence remains to verify this. Geoffrey also signed himself as Geoffrey Arthur in an earlier phase and some historians have linked these names to the Breton community living in this area of Wales after the Norman Conquest and suggest that he had Breton ancestors who were most probably part of William of Normandy’s Breton forces at Hastings in 1066 and later settled in the Welsh marches.

Geoffrey may have been educated abroad at a monastic centre such as Paris or Bec but there are six surviving charter signatures which place him in the Oxford area from 1129 -1151. The charters were drawn up under the instruction of Robert D’Oylly who’s family had held Oxford Castle since the reign of William the Conqueror and had set up the collegiate foundation of St George which was housed at Oxford Castle. The first Robert D’Oylly had begun new construction work on the pre-existing Saxon defensive site in 1074 under the orders of the Conqueror, to subdue the local area and provide a strong defensive stronghold at a strategically important location.

Oxford Castle and site of St George’s College of priests where Geoffrey was secular canon and teacher

Geoffrey’s signature as Geoffrey Arthur was accompanied by the word ‘magister’ which suggests he was a teacher as well as a secular canon at St George’s College and that he wrote his famous History of the Kings of Britain (Historia Regum Britanniae) whilst at Oxford around 1135-1139. This is further strengthened by Geoffrey’s claim that the book was actually a translation from an ancient British text which was given to him by Walter, Archdeacon of Oxford, presumably when he was resident at the college.

200 copies of Geoffrey’s History of the Kings of Britain survive which attests to their popularity

There is much debate over whether this is true or a literary invention on his part, perhaps in the hopes of securing patronage from Walter, early in his literary career or to add veracity to his somewhat dubious historical account. Most modern historians reject the idea of a lost British text and suggest that Geoffrey drew on the works of the Venerable Bede (the Ecclesiastical History of the English People or Historia Ecclesiastica written around AD730) and Nennius (British History or Historia Brittenum written around AD 830) adding various lists of ancient kings and a large helping of his own imagination when constructing his History of the Kings of Britain.

Although Oxford had no university when Geoffrey lived there, St George’s College may have encouraged the development of scholastic learning and drawn educated scholars and priests to form a community where learning and writing could thrive during the reign of Henry I.

The C12th Renaissance provided a cultural backdrop to Geoffrey’s writings with a renewed interest in the classical past, it’s institutions, politics and legacy and encouraged interest in the writing of histories and chronicles. This can be seen in the work of contemporary writers like William of Malmesbury who wrote the widely acclaimed Deeds of the English Kings or Gesta Regum Anglorum (a later version of which was also dedicated to Robert, Earl of Gloucester) and the Historia Novella concerning the Anarchy. Henry of Huntingdon wrote The History of the English or Historia Anglorum (dedicated to Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln) among other works and Gerald of Wales wrote A Description of Wales or Descriptio Cambriae which praises the Welsh people in a similar vein to Geoffrey’s own work. There were also heavily-weighted biographies of kings such as the Gesta Stephani which were openly partial to their patron at the expense of his enemies. These historical chronicles shifted the emphasis onto the nature of human achievement and the meanings and patterns within history and were very popular with contemporary audiences.

C12th Renaissance saw many contemporary writers tackling historical chronicles and recording the deeds of kings such as William of Malmesbury and Henry of Huntingdon

The importance of patronage for writers, whether secured from a monastic institution or an aristocratic court was vital as the writer needed someone who would feed, clothe and house him but also stand as a protector in case he offended or fell on the wrong side of contemporary political developments and this can be seen in the three dedications that Geoffrey made at the beginning of his work which suggest the tumultuous world in which he lived and the dangers of committing thoughts to the page.

It seems likely that Geoffrey began his writing towards the end of Henry I’s reign, long after the White Ship disaster of 1120 when the question of the royal succession dominated politics at court. Henry I was left reeling in shock when his son and heir, William the Atheling was drowned, along with several close family members and many high-ranking Anglo-Norman aristocrats. Henry determined to bind his barons to support his daughter Matilda’s claim to succeed but there was much uncertainty over his decision, with many barons uneasy at the prospect of a female ruler, supported by an unpopular husband in the form of Geoffrey, Court of Anjou, and who was the mother of small children. Matilda had left Britain many years previously to be married to Henry Vth, The Roman Emperor and retained the title of Empress from her first marriage. She had only returned to her father’s court after his death and was, therefore, not as well-known as her popular cousin, Stephen of Blois. Stephen seemed like an attractive alternative to many of the Norman aristocracy, being a adult male with proven military experience and son of Henry I’s sister Adela and thus a grandson of the Conqueror. He was charming and affable but lacked the ruthlessness required of a medieval king which prove a weakness in the forthcoming period of civil war.

Stephen of Blois – rival claimant for the throne

There are some indications within the text that Geoffrey supported Matilda’s claim and was perhaps seeking to add weight to it in his writings. The first dedication that Geoffrey wrote was to Matilda’s half-brother, most staunch ally and defender, Robert Earl of Gloucester.

Robert might have been a candidate for the succession himself as he was a powerful Earl with many holdings in the Welsh marches and West Country and was a well-respected member of the court. Despite his illegitimacy, he could have made a play for the throne but decided to support his half-sister’s claim and remain loyal to his father’s wishes. Robert held Monmouth as a fief and therefore, if Geoffrey had been raised in Monmouth, Robert would have been his feudal lord and natural choice to approach for patronage and protection.

Both the other two dedications which were probably appended later to the work name Robert and appeal to him directly for patronage too.

Empress Matilda

In addition, there are four different queens mentioned in the History who provide positive examples of female rule and imply a precedent for female authority within British history – Glendolena, Cordelia, Marcia and Helena. In the case of Helena, she is also the sole heir of her father and parallels have been drawn between her inclusion in the text and the contemporary situation with Henry I and Matilda’s claim to the throne.

Historians have suggested that Geoffrey’s history was written as a propaganda piece in support of the Norman regime, in order to promote the newly-established Norman system of government and that Geoffrey was more interested in gaining patronage from the Norman aristocracy than partial to Matilda’s cause. The second dedication may provide evidence of this as Geoffrey spreads the net wider and includes a co-dedication to Waleran, Count of Meulan, a supporter of Matilda’s cousin and rival claimant for the throne, Count Stephen of Blois.

Geoffrey was certainly heavily influence by his own world-view in his treatment of the five races he describes in the book. His own Breton ancestry and admiration for the Welsh may have led him to present the ancient British race as the noble descendants of the Trojan heroes of classical antiquity though the notion that Brutus founded Britain pre-dated Geoffrey’s account. The Britons were a superior race, according to his History, who fell into arrogance which lead to invasions by Picts and Saxons. They were subsumed into the Roman Empire in name only, having a superior culture and technology to their attackers and were liberated from the barbarian Saxons by their Norman cousins who shared a similar glorious link to a Trojan foundation.

It is clear that Geoffrey sought to vindicate the conquest and subsequent establishment of Norman rule and to suggest that it was a fortunate chapter in British history which would re-establish the glories of her mythical past and expunge the violent, pagan incursions of the Anglo-Saxon migrations after the fall of the her greatest kings.

Geoffrey was also keen to promote the idea of Britain as a unified kingdom, under one monarch and to suggest that it was part of British destiny, as prophesied by Merlin the seer who advises King Arthur, that Britain would once more become a whole nation and thrive as such, regaining the glories of the Arthurian ‘Golden Age’ of conquest beyond her shores too.

Geoffrey projected contemporary chivalric codes on to his account of King Arthur and his court (later medieval manuscript)

This vision also played to the Anglo-Norman ruling class who held lands in Normandy and sought to establish a wider Norman ’empire’ with eyes on expansion into other regions of France. Any such aspirations were dependent on a strong, centralised government with a stable ruler at the helm and whilst Matilda’s gender may have weighed against her, it was Matilda, not Stephen who had occupied the imperial throne and proven herself to be a capable regent for her first husband, ruling over vast domains on the continent. Why couldn’t Britain regain the glories of Geoffrey’s Arthurian past when, according to Geoffrey’s account, he conquered Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Brittany and Gaul? There is almost a glimpse of what we know as the ‘Angevin Empire’ that Matilda’s son, Henry FitzEmpress would briefly establish in Geoffrey’s vision.

Geoffrey’s quasi re-invention of King Arthur, from the earliest mentions of him in Nennius’s C9th writings as a ‘dux bellorum’, a post-Roman Christian war lord to a legendary king presiding over a splendid court with a mythical sword (referred to as Caliburn rather than Excalibur at this point) may well have been partly his own invention and partly an exercise in flattery towards Henry I’s own style of kingship. Henry was a cultured king who encouraged poets and writers and was considered to be well-educated by contemporary standards. He may have been destined for the church as a younger son of the Conqueror and thus educated for high office as much as for warfare.

Geoffrey’s writings link Arthur’s court with the developing concept of chivalry and strong, centralised kingship, military success and expansion and Christian piety; all of which might have been held as a mirror to Henry I’s court but Geoffrey also introduces a mystical element to his history of Arthur in the form of the seer Merlin and his prophesies. Here the history takes a detour which Geoffrey asserted was due to the urgings of Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln, who Geoffrey also approached as a potential patron for his work, to include a long stream of Nostradamus style prophesies by Merlin about the future destiny of the British Isles.

Geoffrey would create a separate book, The Prophetie Merlini based on these writings which reinforce the idea of divine destiny and purpose running through the course of British history and may owe something to his Welsh roots and folk legends that he absorbed as a child growing up on the Welsh marshes.

Merlin and Vortigern

Some historians have suggested that Geoffrey never intended his work to be viewed as a serious history but rather a romance and history combined together with folk lore and prophesy. He may not have recognised the distinction between a historical account, based on source evidence, and his work certainly came under criticism from contemporary writers for it’s imaginative liberties.

Gerald of Wales suggested that, whilst the Bible would drive away demons, Geoffrey’s history was likely to draw more devils to it! William of Malmesbury was praised for his insistence on gathering eye witness sources for his writings as the same time as Geoffrey was inventing lost manuscripts and embellishing the legends of Arthur and Geoffrey seems to take a swipe at William and Henry of Huntingdon at the end of his book by warning them both not to attempt to write a similar history of the ancient kings of Britain as they lacked access to his unique source material. How much of that was the natural rivalry between scholastic writers and how much was tongue-in-cheek remains open to interpretation. They were all certainly vying with each other for patronage so there was clearly an element of professional one-upmanship going on too.

Whatever Geoffrey’s writings may lack in historical accuracy or gain from his attempts to weave a safe passage through the turbulent times in which he lived, his history was an instant hit and soon copies were being made across Europe. Henry of Huntingdon was amazed to find a copy at the Monastery of Bec in 1139, only shortly after it was first published and 200 copies of his work have survived to the modern day which is a testament to its popularity.

Geoffrey created a vision of the British Isles which left a lasting impression on readers; suggesting glorious mythical roots and a destiny that would see Britain become one of the most powerful nations in Europe. In a way, his writings predict what would become known as the Angevin Empire that would be established in the next generation and which grew out of the disruption and stalemate of the Anarchy which he lived through. He may have even been present at Oxford Castle during the fateful siege of 1142 and seen the Empress Matilda in the flesh during her time there but he would certainly have lived through the uncertainties and violence of the Anarchy when ‘God and his angels slept’ and no doubt experienced his fair share of fear and deprivation caused by the clash between the rival claimants to the throne.

Geoffrey’s signature is recorded on the Treaty of Westminster in his capacity as Bishop of St Asaph which concluded the terms at the end of the civil war and so he lived just long enough to see Matilda’s son become King of England which, I imagine, he was pleased to see come to fruition as it promised to usher in a period of stable government and peace for his country and the hope of expansion abroad through the marriage of Henry to Eleanor of Aquitaine and her vast holdings in the South of France.

His burial is unrecorded but I like to believe that Geoffrey’s remains may still be somewhere in Oxford, perhaps close to the site where he wrote his history and to all those later scholars who drew inspiration from his colourful writings.

List of useful links:

Did Geoffrey even exist?


January 18, 2022

Interesting article which raises many questions about the motives behind the marriage and Henry’s careful balancing of conflicting opportunities and threats in the early period of his reign.

I think that Henry remained very insecure about his legitimacy and it was important for him to establish himself as the ‘rightful’ monarch without having to look to a marriage to secure his right to rule. Also in the early stages of his kingship he may have found it politic to leave the position of queen vacant in order to boost his international appeal. Elizabeth’s illegitimacy was a stain on her which he may have worried would cause problems down the line and could have caused him to delay any sudden move towards marriage – Edward IV had a fairly shady track record on secret marriages after all! Henry was probably also cautious of re-introducing the Woodville affiliation into any position of influence, knowing how unpopular this had proved to be during the reign of Edward IV and wanting to leave lucrative offices free to reward his own affiliation. The way in which he dealt with the Titulus Regius suggests that he was deeply concerned about the potential harm it could still do to his authority and at great pains to obliterate it completely. Personally I think it is telling that Henry took 3 weeks to get to London after Bosworth and he knew the princes were out of the equation. He couldn’t reveal this because it implied his association with their killer so he pretended to have no knowledge of their fate beyond the general rumour that Richard had shed innocent blood. He calculated that the majority would want stability and the return to ‘normal’ government after a generation of civil war and perhaps he used parliament to urge his marriage to Elizabeth of York so that he could be seen to assent to their advice, thus appearing benevolent and have their mandate to proceed with the marriage. He was certainly an astute political operator and may have judged that he stood a better chance of retaining Yorkist support by legitimising and marrying Elizabeth than in trying to negotiate a foreign marriage when the question of pretenders and rival claimants still hung over him – the same factors would cause him to execute Warwick years later in order for the Spanish marriage to go ahead between Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon after all.



Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Their effigies in Westminster Abbey. Artist Pietro Torrigiano. Photo

I was recently reading an excellent article in the Ricardian discussing Henry Tudor’s enthusiasm, or lack of it, for his marriage to Elizabeth of York by David Johnson entitled Ardent Suitor or Reluctant Groom?It’s pretty much an eye opener and is in two parts – part 1Ardent Suitorcovers the positives, if you can call them that - that is to try to understand why Henry, who in Rennes Cathedral on Christmas Day 1483 had vowed to marry Elizabeth of York, seemingly developed a serious case of cold feet in 1485 after his success at Bosworth. This seems a major volte-face from a man who was reported by Vergil as being ‘pinched by the very stomach’when rumours had reached him that Richard III was‘amynded’, having been recently widowed, to

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The HANDSOME Duke of Burgundy….?

January 16, 2022


Philip of Habsburg (called the Handsome or the Fair) was Duke of Burgundy from 1482 to 1506

At the moment I’m trawling around medieval rulers in Europe. And lo! I’ve come upon this gentleman:

from Wikepedia

His contemporary likenesses aren’t much better, so why was he called Philip the Fair/Handsome? Was it tongue-in cheek? If you look through the various recreations of him in this link below, if they’re even halfway accurate you can be certain he was NOT handsome. Unless what was considered handsome then certainly isn’t what we’d call handsome now. It seems he was called “the Handsome” because of his fair hair and attractive grey-blue eyes. Well, if his hair was notably fair, his modern likeness certainly isn’t. But yes, his eyes are indeed blue-grey.

Now the Habsburgs weren’t renowned for their physical beauty, and this chap seems to confirm it. He was not only Duke of…

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