Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Lady and the Unicorn

"The Lady and the Unicorn" (French: La Dame à la licorne), also called the Tapestry Cycle, is the title of a series of six Flemish tapestries depicting the senses. They are estimated to have been woven in the late 15th century in the style of mille-fleurs.

The lady depicted in the tapestry called Taste, is conjectured to have been Blanche of Lancaster (1345-1369), 1st wife of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. Blanche was the daughter of Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster and his wife, Isabel de Beaumont. Her paternal great-great-grandfather was Henry III of England. Dying of the plague in 1369, Blanche was said to have had blue eyes, fair hair and skin, and a calm and serene demeanor. She was living in Bolingbroke Castle at the time of her death, while her husband was away. Her funeral at St. Paul's Cathedral in London was preceded with a magnificent cortege attended by most of the nobility and clergy. John of Gaunt held annual commemorations of her death for some years thereafter.

Though some scholars disagree, it is widely held that Gaunt's grief over the death of his duchess was immortalized by Chaucer in his work, The Booke of the Duchess.  See:

In the tapestry, the lion and the unicorn frame the Lady who, eyes turned towards a parrot in her right hand, is taking a sweet from the candy dish offered to her by her servant. Her little dog follows her every move; at her feet a leering monkey, eating a berry or a candy, highlights the significance of the scene.

Blanche's daughter, Elizabeth (wife of John Holand, 1st Duke of Exeter), is an ancestor of my "gateway" forebear, Capt. Philip Nelson of Rowley, Massachusetts.

Source: Musee de Nationale de Moyen Age,

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Richard II, Dining with the Dukes of York, Gloucester and Ireland. Circa 1386


Edmund of Langley, uncle of the King, created 1st Duke of York in 1385

Thomas of Woodstock, another uncle of the King, created Duke of Gloucester about that same time

Richard II

Robert de Vere, court favorite of Richard and hugely unpopular with the nobles, created Duke of Ireland in 1386.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Body of a Prince: Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York, 1341-1402

By his will, dated 25th November 1400, Edmund of Langley directed his interment in the Church of the Friary of Langley, near the remains of Isabel, his first consort, who had died in 1392.  The tomb of alabaster and black marble, richly sculptured and adorned with shields of arms, was, at the dissolution of the Friary, removed into the north-east corner of the chancel of the parish church of Langley, where it is still extant.


"Shakespeare found Edmund in the chronicles in the shape of a man who loved hunting and good cheer and avoided the council chamber--just the kind of person, in fact, to provide a contrast in temperament with Richard II and in ability with Bolingbroke. York has no refinement of understanding and no political ambition. He is a sturdy, honest, well-meaning man, prompt with sensible advice but easily flustered, shrewd enough to see what's coming but not clever or resolute enough to prevent it. Normally he makes the best of a bad business--which is usually not so bad after all, either for himself or for the nation." -- J. L. Palmer, Political Characters of Shakespeare (1945), p. 552.

Edmund's Wife

Isabel of Castile-Leon (1355-1392), was a Spanish princess, the daughter of Pedro I ("the Cruel," or "el Justiciero," depending on whose side you are on) and his mistress, Maria Diaz de Padilla.

Isabel lies entombed with her husband in King's Langley. By the terms of her will, dated December 6, 1392, she asked that a hundred trentals and a hundred sauters were to be said for her soul, and four priests, or one at least, were to sing for her by the space of four years. Upon the day of her burial her best horse was to be delivered for her mortuary. She bequeathed to the King her heart of pearls; to the Duke of Lancaster, a tablet of jasper, given her by the King of Armenia; to her son Edward, her crown, to remain to his heirs; to Constance le Despencer, her daughter, a fret of pearls; to the Duchess of Gloucester, her tablet of gold with images, and also her sauter with the arms of Northampton; and to the King the residue of her goods, in trust that he should allow his godson Richard, her younger son, an annuity of 500 marks for life, a trust which the King, out of the great respect he bore to her, accepted. -- Dugdale, Baronage (1676), 2:155.

The Couple Exhumed, With a Surprise Guest

Originally interred in the Church of the Friary at Langley, the remains of the Duke and his wife were brought to All Saint's, King's Langley, about the year 1574.

The couple were destined for a second exhumation. On November 22, 1877, Professor George Rolleston, M.D., examined *three* skeletons removed from the Duke of York's tomb at All Saint's.

"I examined three skeletons at King's Langley. Of these one was the skeleton of a powerful man, considerably past the middle period of life; a second was the skeleton of a woman, as far as I could judge, between thirty-five and forty years of age; the third had belonged to a younger woman, whose age, however, could not have been very far from thirty. The bones of the first two had got somewhat intermingled; those of the third had been kept safely apart from intermixture in a leaden coffin.

"The skull belonging to the male skeleton had a sloping forehead. The chin and lower jaw were powerfully developed. The front teeth were small in size and crammed together, and many of the back teeth lost. Still the retention of the front teeth and the good development of the lower jaw and chin, coupled with the length and breadth of the facial region, must have given a commanding expression to the old man who owned this skull.

"The age was somewhere between fifty-eight and sixty-five. The crippled condition of his later years must have formed a touching contrast to the strength and vigor which he certainly possessed. In the lower jaw, three molars had been lost during life, two on one side and one on the other, and one pre-molar was carious. In the upper jaw the molars had been lost during life, and two pre-molars were carious. A piece of coarse textile fabric, with some hair of a greyish-red color adhering to it, was found with the skull. He was from 5' 5" to 5' 7" in height.

"The second skeleton, which was more or less mixed up with the first, belonged to a woman from 4 feet 6 inches to 4 feet 8 inches in stature, and between thirty-five and forty-five years of age. The wisdom teeth were all present; of those in the upper jaw, the one on the right side was apparently only just through the socket; whilst that on the other (left) side had a large cavity. The two lower jaw wisdom teeth were little worn. The right lower jaw canine presented the rare anomaly of a bifid root.

"In a leaden coffin was the skeleton of a woman about thirty years of age, a little over, probably, rather than under that age, with some auburn hair still remaining, though detached from the skull. The wisdom tooth was absent in the lower jaw on the left, and one pre-molar was absent on the right side. She was between 5 foot 3 and 5 foot 5 in height.

Concerning the identity of these bones, John Evans says that the powerful male is most certainly the Duke Edmund; the female intermixed with his bones is probably that of his first wife, Isabel of Castile-Leon.

And who is the young woman who was buried in the Duke and Duchess' tomb, alone in the leaden coffin? "In the tomb at Langley it is still uncertain who was the lady whose body was thus protected."

"It has struck me as possible that these remains may be those of Anne Mortimer, daughter of Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, first wife of Richard of Coningsburgh. This is, however, mere conjecture." -- John Evans, "Edmund of Langley and His Tomb," Archaelogia, v. 46 pt. 2 (1878), pp. 319-25; Society of Antiquaries of London.

Contemporary historians and genealogists agree with Evans' view that the skeleton in the leaden coffin is Anne Mortimer's. She was the heir general in her issue of the Crown of England, and transmitted the right to the Crown to her grandson, Edward IV.