Sunday, March 7, 2010

07.07.07 - A Medieval King's Passing

Our last blog post was about King Edward I of England ... a man whose true life story is incredibly compelling and, in many ways, inspiring. In recent years he has not received the best of 'press' thanks to movies such as 'Braveheart' but many of his deeds showed him to be a man of courage, strong principles and, ironically, courtesy. He was for the most part loved and respected by the people he ruled and, thereby, a truly great king.

So it was with the inspiring aspects of his life in mind that we recently decided to visit the place where Edward I died. The trip we made was to Burgh by Sands in Cumbria, England. It is a small, country village close to the marshlands of the Solway Firth. We drove through the village and came to a signpost for the Edward I Monument. Following the narrow country lane for a mile or so there was another signpost leading down a small turn-off. In the distance we could see for many miles, out across fields to the Solway Firth with Scotland in the distance. About half a mile in front of us, in the middle of a grassy expanse, we could see a stone monument about 20 feet tall with a cross on top. We parked our car ... reaching the monument could only be done on foot. Here is a video clip of the view from the footpath with the monument in the distance ....


The sky was blue, the sun shining, the wind biting and the ground hard with frost as we walked down the footpath, up and over a wooden stile and then across a wide expanse of open ground that seemed to extend as far as the eye could see. The Monument was just a few hundred yards in front of us. There was no-one else around, just a few sheep grazing and birds flying overhead towards the river and marshlands. It was a rare kind of experience ... we were surrounded by the beauty of nature and a landscape that had not changed in centuries yet we were also standing at the place where, 700 years before, one of the greatest kings of England had passed away.

Edward had been on his way to confront the Scots (yet again) when he was taken ill at Lanercost Priory just east of Carlisle. There he stayed for several months until well enough to travel again but he only managed another 15 or 20 miles before he was forced to stop and make camp just outside Burgh by Sands. There he died on 7 July 1307. The 7th day of the 7th month of the 7th year of the century in which he lived.

It's impossible to convey how special our visit was but perhaps this short video clip will impart a little of what I am sure will become one of my most special history-related memories ....


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Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Medieval King's Place In History

There's a wonderful book entitled "A Great And Terrible King" which portrays the life of King Edward I of England in great detail, especially his relationships with people around him from his father to his brother, his wife and many others. One interesting thing that came out of the book, however, was just how close he came to death when still relatively young. It was in 1272 during his crusade to 'the Holy Land' (Edward was 33 years of age) that he was attacked by a supposed messenger who turned out to be an assassin. Edward was stabbed in the arm with what was believed to be a poison dagger and how he survived, particularly so far away from home, is quite amazing.

How different history would have played out if he had died at that time. It was well before his encounters with William Wallace and Robert The Bruce so there might never have been the Battle of Stirling Bridge or the ransacking of York and he would have never been known by the nickname 'Hammer Of The Scots'.

Then there are the wonderful medieval castles that Edward had built - some of the finest medieval castles in the world. Perhaps none of those would have ever come into existence if he had died earlier. Another of Edward's significant achievements in later years - the reforms of the institution of the English Parliament - would also never have taken place so the British parliamentary and judiciary process might well have evolved into something other than what we know today.

The most significant thing of all is that, if Edward had died on the crusade then his son who became King Edward II would never have been born and the royal line of accession would have been entirely different as a result. It goes to show how world history can change with just one event.

Read more about the medieval crusades and medieval kings and queens

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Local Timeline Over 2 Millenia

On a visit to Lanercost Priory, a wonderful medieval church in a tiny Cumbrian village, I was intrigued to see a modern, sand blasted toughened glass panel on one of the inside walls. Called Lanercost 2000 it is a timeline of significant events related to local history from the birth of Christ right up to the present day.

The key period for many significant events appeared to be the Middle Ages and featured some of medieval Britains' key figures. It makes for fascinating reading!

1066 AD - Norman Conquest of Britain begins. This in turn led to the arrival in Cumbria of the de Vaux family who founded Lanercost Priory

1169 AD - Foundation of Lanercost Priory

1214 AD - Consecration of the Lanercost Cross (pictured)

1296 AD - William Wallace ransacked Lanercost

1306 AD - King Edward I arrived at Lanercost and stayed the winter, leaving in 1307

1311 AD - Robert The Bruce ransacked Lanercost

1346 AD - King David II of Scotland visited Lanercost

Read more about medieval churches in England.

Have you ever seen orbs in churches? Take a look at this photo taken at St Etheldreda's Church in London. Here is another of orbs in St Paul's Cathedral.

A series of short video clips of Lanercost Priory will follow in our next blog posts.

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Monday, December 7, 2009

Carlisle Castle & Naworth Castle

Carlisle Castle
900 years of history in one building - that's a piece of architecture with a past!

Regarded by many as one of the most important fortresses in Britain, second only to the Tower Of London. Like the Tower of London it is reputed to be haunted.

The portcullis as you enter the castle takes your breath away!

Crenalated in 1335, this is a small privately owned medieval castle of great character. Tucked away in the Border region close to Hadrian's Wall and not from from both the Scottish and Northumberland borders, this is a 'chocolate box' country castle. Close to the historic Lanercost Priory which received visits from King Edward I, William Wallace and Robert the Bruce - no less!.

Not to be missed if you are travellling through Cumbria (though not open to the public other than for special events).

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Monday, July 20, 2009

The Divine Right of Kings

When exactly did kings start to become divine and give rise to the well known phrase about "royal blood"? Looking back across history including medieval history it doesn't appear to make any sense ... so how did this come about?

We turn to Alison Weir's book on the medieval queen Eleanor of Aquitaine for the answer. To quote an extract ....

"The ceremony of crowning was established in the reign of Edgar during the 10th century and was based on the rituals used by the Pope to crown the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne back in 800 AD."

This conferred sanctity and a form of priesthood on the king. Prior to this the king was styled merely as a lord. This coronation gave him divine authority. Prior to Edward I the regnal years were always dated from the year of the coronation.

The early medieval kings held ceremonial crown wearings at Easter, Whitsuntide and Christmas. The Litany was recited and there would have been feasting and prayer. All this to reinforce the idea of royalty being sacred.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Medieval Court In Cumbria

Lanercost Priory is a fascinating place. Dating back to the late 12th century (1169 is the generally accepted year of construction of the Augustinian priory built by Robert de Vaux), it is a fine example of early medieval monastic architecture. Although the monks have long since left, it is still a place of worship today.

The Priory was visited no less than 3 times by King Edward I of England. During one stay which lasted for more than 5 months in 1306-1307, it became a 'royal palace' - something few monasteries could ever lay claim to. Edward brought the Seal with him to Lanercost and thus, for the duration of his stay, technically made this tiny Cumbrian village the centre of government for the whole of Britain. With the king came a large retinue of servants and although it benefited the local community by way of an increased demand for food, game, wine and fuel, it also brought great pressure to bear on the monks and others who were expected to serve without excuse or hesitation. One thing the king's stay did achieve, however, was to halt the previously commonplace attacks by the Scots raiding from across the border.

In 7 July 1307, after leaving the Priory and heading North towards Scotland, King Edward I took ill and died near Burgh by Sands in Cumbria (a large stone cross marking the spot can be seen there today).

His son became King Edward II but paid little attention to the North of his kingdom and, as a result, Scottish raids on the area around Lanercost became more frequent. This culminated in the attack on Lanercost Priory by Robert Bruce in 1311 and then later in 1346 by a large Scottish army which crossed the border and plundered the Priory. Although some rebuilding took place including a new roof over the Nave with further renovations continuing over the centuries, the Presbytery of Lanercost Priory still has no roof even today and remains open to the elements.


For those interested in medieval castles, King Edward I also owned Skipton Castle (built in 1090) and visited both Norham Castle (built 1160) and Chillingham Castle (en route to do battle with William Wallace).

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