Today, it is only me, sheep and cows at Haughmond Abbey. However, in Medieval times this was a flourishing house of Augustian monks. It started life as a small religious community in the thick forests between the Upper Severn and the Roden rivers.
From the early 12th century it was under the patronage of wealthy local families, including a Norman nobleman William Fitzalan, who later became Earl of Arundel. The abbey enjoyed the good life of a medieval monastery until Henry VIII’s dissolution in 1539.
The monastic buildings were arranged around a cloister (a covered walk). The elaborately carved arches are all that remains of it.
Built around 1180, the refectory (dining hall) was on two levels, with the upper one used for eating in, and the lower one for storage.
The chapter house was where the monks met in the morning and listened to a reading of a chapter from the rule book of the monastery. The font comes from the destroyed church.
In the 14th century the Abbot moved into new comfortable lodgings, which included a big hall to entertain himself and important guests in.
The church is likely to be destroyed at the time, but the rest of the complex passed into the ownership of the Barker family, who turned it into a mansion.
This was destroyed during the Civil Was in the 17th century. The remains were a farm, later becoming a park of a picturesque landscaped park. It is now looked after by English Heritage, – free to visit (free car park, but no toilets!)
A famous savage battle took place on these picturesque fields on 21 July 1403, – the Battle of Shrewsbury. The leaders of the rival armies were King Henry IV and Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy, the son of the Earl of Northumberland.
The Percys were an influential family of Northumberland nobles, who had supported Henry Bolingbroke, as he was known before he became king, in him deposing King Richard II and taking over the crown, and later in Henry’s conflicts with the Welsh and the Scots. Henry IV’s promise of land and favours for the Percys did not materialise, and the disgruntled nobles raised an army in revolt, headed by Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy.
Henry Percy was the eldest son of the Earl of Northumberland. By 1403 he was already a distinguished military commander, with experience of leading troops in England and abroad. He enrolled some Cheshire arches, who were knows as longbow specialists and an expert fighting force, and headed towards the Welsh borders, to meet his uncle, Thomas Percy, Earl of Westmorland, an expert military commander.
Meanwhile Henry IV, unaware of the Percy’s revolt, was marching his army towards Scotland, hoping for the support of this powerful family in the north of England. On 12 of July he found out about the real state of affairs and turned to meet the rebel army. By 20th July both parties reached Shrewsbury and camped on the opposite sides of the River Severn a short distance from the town.
King Henry’s army of around 14,000 was bigger than the Percys’, but he was prepared to negotiate the terms. The Percys refused, and the battled commenced a couple of hours before dusk, with King Henry raising his sword.
The battle site was a field of peas at the time, which probably did not make it easy for the armies to get through!
This was the first time that the longbow was used on English soil by two English rivals against each other, and the bloodiness of the battle confirmed how effective this weapon was, with 5,000 casualties.
Among the commanders of the king’s side was his 16 year old son, Prince Henry – future King Henry V. He was hit by an arrow, which pierced his face. John Bradmore, the doctor who treated him left a detailed account of how he used specially made instruments sanitised with rose honey to remove the arrowhead stuck in Prince Henry’s facial bones. He survived and had a big scar on his face for the rest of his life.
Shakespeare put the Battle of Shrewsbury as the culmination of the play Henry IV Part 1, the conflict of Prince Henry (Shakespeare called him Prince Hal) and Hotspur taking centre stage. Shakespeare made them the same age (in reality Hotspur was about 20 years older), and in the play it is Prince Hal who kills Hotspur. In reality, it is not known who shot the arrow which finished Hotspur off, when he lifted the visor of his helmet to get a better view of the battle. His death signalled the defeat of this side and the end of the battle.
His family buried him in Whitchurch in Shropshire, but when rumours spread that he was still alive, King Henry IV ordered him to be disinterred and his salted body displayed in Shrewsbury in the marketplace pillory, later quartered and sent to various places in England, including London, with the head displayed in York, implanted on the north gate, looking towards his own lands.
Hotspur’s legacy lives even beyond Shakespeare – the name Tottenham Hotspur Football Club pays homage to this warrior, whose descendants owned land at Tottenham Marshes, near the site of their first grounds.
His uncle Thomas Percy and some other noble leaders of the rebellion were hanged, drawn and quartered in Shrewsbury on 23 July, with Thomas Percy’s head making it as far as London Bridge!
Soon after the battle a church was built near the battlefield, by order of Henry IV and funded by him, for a college of priests to pray for the souls of the dead on both sides.
The battle took places on the eve of St.Mary Magdalene’s saints day, so the church is dedicated to her.
The church became derelict by the 18th century, but was restored in the Victorian times, now boasting an amazing Victorian tiled floor. The hammerbeam roof dates from the Victorian period too. It displays the shields of knights who fought in the battle.
The church is not operation, but the building is looked after by the Churches Conservation Trust and can be visited for free by obtaining the key from the Battlefield 1403 visitor centre at the farm shop. The Battlefield 1403 complex, entitled ‘Farm Shop, Butchery ad Café’, also features a small exhibition on the battle and the weaponry used.
The walk through the fields takes several routes (not signposted or labelled), which takes one to a car part on the opposite side and back, and present a great and relaxing site on fine summer day.
Going round stately homes on a fine holiday weekend you can come across Jousting – re-enactment of knights in colourful armour tackling each other on horseback. This has been a popular summer theatrical entertainment from 1970s.
During Middle Ages jousting had a practical purpose – preparing knights (and their horses) for warfare. This was also the opportunity for the noblemen to demonstrate their skills and courage.
The term comes from Old French joster, which in turn has a Latin origin iuxtare meaning ‘to approach or to meet’. Two knights gallop towards each other, aiming to strike the opponent’s shield with a long blunt lance, knocking their weapons off or unsettling them from a horse. The English nobility spoke Old French since William the Conqueror, but by the time of Henry VIII we have an English word for it – tilt, which originally meant a barrier to separate the knights charging towards each other, and the tilt-yard is where this competition took place.
The knights wore heraldic signs over their armour, and so did the horses, on capes called caparisons.
As the sport developed, in later Middle Ages, it became more chivalric, and more regulated. There was a series of competitions, some of them involving agility and horsemanship skills, like charging towards a quintain – a wooden figure with two ‘arms’, one to be hit with a lance, and the other one holding a spiky club, which, as the quintain swings round, would hit the knight on the back if he was not quick enough to avoid it.
Another skill was to pick up rings with the lance, and to pin an object from the floor.
It was a popular sport with English nobility right up until 17th century, gaining more the status of a pageant, rather than training for battle.
And this is what we have today – a staged show, with knights in bright regalia, covering armour and horses, performing equestrian tricks and engaging in mock battles. The Knebworth House event had four knights from two opposing camps battling each other for the ‘Excalibur’ – pulled from a stone, obviously, by a little boy from the audience.
We were sitting by the side of the Black Knight – the ‘baddie’ of the show.
Lilia was very taken with him, and so was I, for his superb control of his horse, effortlessly doing sideways walks, prancing and charging from the spot, without obvious effort from the rider.
He lost, however, being the ‘bad guy’… Lilia insisted on watching the second show of the day, hoping for a different outcome, – no such luck, the second performance was exactly the same as the first one.
The entertainment was excellent – watch out for jousting events throughout the country in summer. Lilia certainly wants to see it again (hoping for the Black Knight to win….)
Of Daffodils and Leeks – St.David’s Day, 1st March
This 1st March my front garden boasts 5 daffodils. Along with camellias and crocuses they are the first splashes of colour, after predominantly green British winter.
Daffodils are traditionally regarded to be the national symbol for Wales, along with leeks, dragons and St.David, whose day is also celebrated on 1st March.
St.David and leeks came together for Wales, according to legend, in 6th century, when the Welsh saint lived and performed miracles. This was the Dark Ages, when Anglo-Saxon ruled England. The term Dark Ages came about because Anglo-Saxons did not go for writing things down, and the majority of surviving written sources come from the latter part of Anglo-Saxon time, 9th-11th centuries. We know very little of what happened here after Romans left in 5th century, and for a long time the pagan Anglo-Saxons were regarded as uneducated savage lot, bent on wars and invasions. Through archaeological finds like Sutton Hoo we now know that they Ango-Saxon culture and trade were as sophisticated as in other time in history.
Back to St.David and Wales. David started a priest in a monastery in Henfynyw in Wales, where he was educated, later becoming a missionary and a bishop, then archbishop of Wales in 550. Starting from his early time in church he was performing miracles, like restoring the sight of St.Paulinus. He was a vegetarian and only drank water – his survival was a miracle in itself, as at this time in history water was the most dangerous drink of all, so full of bacteria that it was sure to kill you, unless coming straight from a clean spring. Legend has it that water springs appeared where St.David did anything of note (so he was OK with it, lucky chap!)
David founded 12 monasteries, showed examples of faith, like standing up to his neck in a cold lake while reciting scripture, revived people from the dead and travelled as far as Jerusalem on pilgrimage. He died, according to legend, at the age of 100, on 1st March, and was buried in St.David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire, in West Wales. In 12th century Catholic Church canonised David and declared him Patron Saint of Wales.
So, what about leeks – and daffodils? There is a story that during a battle between the Welsh Army (the Brits living in Wales at the time (6th century) were predominantly Christian, while invading Anglo-Saxons were pagans) and Anglo-Saxons, David (or it could be his spirit) advised the Welsh to wear leeks in their hats to distinguish themselves from the enemy. Leeks love growing in the Welsh climate and were plentiful in local monasteries, so the obvious plant of choice for a Christian!
William Shakespeare talks in Henry V about Welsh guards wearing leeks on St.David’s Day in memory of their saint.
The Welsh word for ‘leek’ is Cenhinen, and ‘daffodil’ is Cenhinen Pedr, literally meaning ‘Peter’s Leek’, so this is the popular explanation why daffodils came to be regarded as the national symbol of Wales,- they also must be more plentiful on the ground than leeks at this time of the year, and definitely look more jolly!
When I was doing my Blue Badge guide cause, one of the teachers told us that if a tour is interesting for children, it is more than suitable for adults – because it is interesting. One may quote dates and numbers, but it is the stories that bring history to life, and make it fun to go on a tour.
This is what I want to do – in my work, and now in this blog.
One of the best examples of exciting history story-telling that I ever came across is the British History Podcast. I came across is when researching Anglo-Saxons for the British Museum tour, and have been absolutely captivated by Jamie the presenter’s style.
The website says, ‘The BHP is a chronological retelling of the history of Britain with a particular focus upon the lives of the people.’
Actually, it is much more than that. It is just the right mixture of meticulously researched historical content and a captivating manner of presenting it. To me, it goes like a detective story, with a cliff-hanger at the end of the episode!
The best example is the first Sutton Hoo podcast – a must for everyone doing Anglo-Saxons as part of primary school history curriculum:
Lilia loved that one, and the first part of the following episode, which gives a vivid imagery of what it was like to be present at a cremation ceremony of a real life Anglo-Saxon, with sounds and smells of burning a body on a huge funeral pyre!
Well, some episodes are more exciting than others, but for me, every little detail of historic importance is worth knowing, and I am savouring every one of them, being only half way through Anglo-Saxons, and they are over 230 episodes, and only up to King Alfred!
It felt a bit weird at the start to listen to British History in an American accent, quite used to that after the first few episodes.
I became a member, not just because I can get special members only episodes and transcripts, but also I love supporting this great project. I met Jamie in person during last months’ BHP in London, and although I was there only briefly, it was a great pleasure to have a chat with the BHP team and other followers, hopefully, they will have more of those going in the future.
In the meantime, I will do my best to tell stories from history, from everywhere we go on our adventures.
I love all things British – British history, British culture, British art, British way of life. Having lived here for over 25 years, I never stop marvelling at how great everything is about this country! This blog with reflect my adventures in everything around me that I love – from the Royal Family to local history, that I want to share with my friends – old and new.