Henry V – March 2013

Illustration of Henry V
Illustration of Henry V from History of the battle of Agincourt: and the expedition of Henry the Fifth into France, in 1415 by Sir Nicholas, Harris, London, 1833 (White (Robert) Collection, 942.042 NIC)

21st March 2013 marks the 600th anniversary of Henry V’s accession to the English throne. Widely considered to have been an excellent King, Henry is renowned for winning the Battle of Agincourt against the French and his immortalisation in Shakespeare’s play of his life.

Henry V, the eldest son of Henry of Bolingbroke and Mary de Bohun, was born in 1387. In 1399 his father deposed Richard II of England and claimed the throne for himself after the King disinherited him. Richard died soon afterwards (he was very probably murdered in captivity) and Henry was created Prince of Wales at his father’s coronation. Henry and his father were of the House of Lancaster and this seizure of the throne was one of the first acts in the Wars of the Roses, which were to continue until 1485.

Henry showed his military abilities as a teenager, commanding his father’s forces in the Battle of Shrewsbury against Harry Hotspur in 1403. He also spent five years fighting against Owen Glendower’s rebellion in Wales. He was keen to have a role in government and ruled effectively as regent for eighteen months from 1410 when his father was ill. However, once recovered, Henry IV dismissed the prince from his council and reversed most of his policies.

Henry became king in 1413. In 1415,he successfully crushed a conspiracy to put Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, on the throne. Shortly afterwards he sailed for France, which was to be the focus of his attention for the rest of his reign. Henry was determined to regain the lands in France held by his ancestors and laid claim to the French throne. He offered to fight the French Dauphin for the throne in personal combat but was refused. He defeated the French at the Battle of Agincourt on 25th October 1415. The battle was notable for the fact that the English army of no more than 6,000 men defeated the supposedly far superior French army numbering around 20,000.

Between 1417 and 1419 Henry followed up this success with the conquest of Normandy. The French were forced to agree to the Treaty of Troyes in May 142. Henry was recognised as heir to the French throne and married Catherine, the daughter of the French king. Unfortunately, Henry died two months too early to be crowned King of France. He died suddenly, probably of dysentery, on 31st August 1422 at the Château de Vincennes. He was only 35 years old. His nine-month-old son, whom he had never met, succeeded him as Henry VI. It was a dangerous period for a child to be King with rival claimants to the throne everywhere. The following 50 years saw the throne change hands several times and Henry VI’s eventual murder in the Tower of London, reputedly by the princes of the House of York.

Henry V’s reputation is one of a chivalrous warrior but he had another side. Described as a man of conviction, Henry was a well-educated and pious man. He was a lover of art and literature and had a particular interest in liturgical music. He gave pensions to well-known composers of his time, and he ordered a hymn of praise to God, which was sung after Agincourt. From 1417, Henry promoted the use of the English language in government, and was the first king to use English in his personal correspondence since the Norman Conquest.

We have William Shakespeare to thank for forming most people’s opinions of Henry. Henry V is one of Shakespeare’s historical plays. It forms the fourth part of a tetralogy dealing with the historical rise of the English royal House of Lancaster. Written in approximately 1599, it tells the story of King Henry V, focusing on events immediately before and after the Battle of Agincourt. Readers have interpreted the play’s attitude to warfare in several different ways. On one hand, it celebrates Henry’s invasion of France, but it also speaks of anti-war sentiment. Henry is portrayed as a hero but he has invaded a non-aggressive country and killed thousands of people. When Shakespeare wrote the play in the late sixteenth century, Henry was considered to be a hero. Henry VIII aspired to be like him and as a Lancastrian he was idolised by the Tudors. He was a warrior King who could not rule today but in his time he restored national pride to England and became a hero the people admired.

Battle scene illustration from Shakespere's Historical play of Henry the Fifth by William Shakespeare, Manchester
Image from Shakespere’s Historical play of Henry the Fifth by William Shakespeare, Manchester, 1872 (19th Century Collection, 19th C. Coll. 822.33 SHA(Cal)

Richard III (from Several Sovereigns for a Shilling by Joseph Crawhall) – February 2013

Print of Edward V and Richard III, by Joseph Crawhall II,
Print of Edward V and Richard III, by Joseph Crawhall II, from Several Sovereigns for a Shilling! Adorned by Joseph Crawhall (London: Hamilton, Adams; Newcastle upon Tyne: Mawson, Swan & Morgan, 1886) (Crawhall (Joseph II) Collection, Crawhall 45)

Joseph Crawhall II (1821-1896) revived the chapbook tradition. Several Sovereigns for a Shilling (1886) is a collection of lithographed portraits of monarchs, alongside irreverent rhymes – quite typical of Crawhall’s humour.

On 4th February 2013 archaeological experts from the University of Leicester announced to the world that “beyond reasonable doubt” they had uncovered the bones of Richard III. Richard was 32 years old when he was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 by the forces of Henry VII. As this verse from Joseph Crawhall describes, Richard was “knock’t on the head” and the skeleton bears evidence of eight injuries to the skull. He was the last English king to die in battle and with his death came the end of the Plantagenet dynasty, giving rise to the House of Tudor.

The skeleton also provides evidence of scoliosis – a curvature of the spine – but no hunched back or withered arm as William Shakespeare and Tudor historians like Thomas More would have you believe.

Richard was born at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire but spent many of his formative years at Middleham Castle in Wensleydale and it was in the North of England, as President of the Council of the North, that he earned respect as a protector against the Scottish raids and as a just keeper of the peace.
On the death of their father in 1461, Richard’s brother became Edward IV and created Richard Duke of Gloucester. When Richard’s brother, Edward IV died, Richard was made protector of his two young nephews: Edward and Richard. Accusations of illegitimacy mounted against the boys and Richard III was crowned King in July 1483 whilst the boys, who had been lodged in the Tower of London, mysteriously vanished. Rumour would have us believe that Richard murdered the princes: “Poor Edward the fifth was, young, kill’d in bed, By his Uncle, Third Richard”, as Crawhall puts it.

Richard was said to have been buried under the choir of Greyfriar’s Church in Leicester but the building had been demolished in the 16th Century. It was by analysing maps that the location of the church was identified, where a car park stands today. Descendants of Richard, who provided DNA samples for comparison, were traced using historic records and documents. This demonstrates the continued relevance of primary sources and other historic materials.

Whether you admire Richard as a brave military leader (he remained on the battlefield while several of his men defected) and the person who introduced an early form of legal aid (the Court of Requests), or whether you believe the Tudor propaganda, it must be remembered that the period of the Wars of the Roses was particularly brutal and that people were governed by a different moral code. Richard’s Council of the North improved economic conditions in the North and he also banned restrictions on the printing and sale of books.

Richard will be reinterred in Leicester Cathedral.

If you are interested in reading contemporary accounts of Richard and this period, you might refer to the Paston Letters (White (Robert) Collection, W942.04 PAS) and to the account by Robert Fabyan, both of which are held in Newcastle University Library’s Special Collections.

Diamond Jubilee – Diamond Jubilee 2012

Page from An account of the rejoicings, illuminations, &c. &c. that have taken place in Newcastle and Gateshead on the following occasions: the peace of Amiens, in 1801, the jubilee of His Majesty George III, 1809, the general peace, in 1814, the abandonment of the bill against Queen Caroline, 1820, coronation of George III, and Queen Charlotte, 1761, coronation of His Majesty George IV, 1821 by J. Sykes, 1821 (Clarke (Edwin) local Collection, Clarke 1502)

To celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, we bring you a special Treasure of the Month.

2012 sees the 60th year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. It is astounding to think that no-one under the age of 60 has ever known any other monarch. It is unlikely that future generations will see a monarch of Britain on the throne for so long; however the Queen is not the first long-reigning monarch. Many of our former Kings and Queens have ruled for many decades, having ascended to the throne at a young age.

Elizabeth I was twenty-five when she became queen in 1558 and ruled for almost 45 years until her death in 1603. Edward III ruled for just over 50 years from the age of thirteen in 1327 to his death in 1377. Henry III ruled England for just over 56 years from 1216 to 1272. James VI of Scotland (who later became James I of England after the union of the English and Scottish crowns upon Queen Elizabeth I’s death in 1603) ruled Scotland for nearly 58 years from 1567 to 1625. However, both Henry and James came to the throne as infants, which rather increased their chances of having a long reign!

George III set a new record for the longest-serving monarch when he died in 1820, having ruled for almost 60 years. However, his son the Prince of Wales (later George IV) ruled as Regent from 1811 after George III’s descent into ‘madness’ reportedly brought on by the death of his youngest daughter and then as King from 1820 to 1830. Finally, the only monarch to have reigned longer than our current queen is Queen Victoria. Aged just 18 upon her ascension to the throne in 1837, she celebrated a Golden and Diamond jubilee before her death aged 81 in 1901, after 63 years and 216 days as queen.

Jubilees have, unsurprisingly, always been celebrated with much pomp and ceremony. Celebrations have taken place all over the country, memorabilia has been mass-produced and purchased by millions, and street parties have been held. George III’s golden jubilee was celebrated in 1809, as he entered his 50th year as King. Below is an extract from an account of the celebrations that took place in Newcastle. It states:

“The day was ushered in with ringing of bells; the flag was hoisted on the castle, on some of the churches, and by the ships in the river”.

The rest of the day was made-up of several acts of charity including meals of beef and plum pudding for the poor, the liberation of prisoners and a collection for the foundation of a public school. There were also church services throughout the day.

Not exactly the barbeque and pop concert from Buckingham Palace that we’ll be enjoying this year, but jubilant all the same!

Queen Victoria’s Golden and Diamond jubilees involved public processions, banquets and thanksgiving services. Below is a memento from her Golden jubilee entitled Our Gracious Queen by Mrs O. F. Walton. It is a collection of images and stories of Queen Victoria’s life from 1887. There were great outpourings of affection for Victoria, who was hugely popular again in the late nineteenth century. Mrs Walton reminds us all to:

‘…thank God that He has spared her to us so long, and let us pray that He may spare her for many years to come…God grant, then, that each of us may be a true loyal subject of our dear Queen, always eager to stand up for her, always willing to obey her…’

Times and traditions may have changed over the years, but in 2012 with the monarchy undergoing a new surge in popularity, this jubilee is sure to bring as much celebration as those of George and Victoria did.

Oh and just in case you are wondering, Queen Elizabeth II will have to rule until 10th September 2015 to beat Queen Victoria’s record and become our longest-reigning monarch!

Front cover from Our Gracious Queen showing Queen Elizabeth II
Front cover from Our Gracious Queen by Mrs. O. F. Walton., 1887 (19th century collection, 942.081 WAL)

King George V – May 2010

The ascension of King George V with King George V on the throne receiving the crown
The ascension of King George V from Royal Silver Jubilee of their majesties King George V and Queen Mary: 6th May, 1935 (Clarke (Edwin) Local Collection, Clarke 1936)

I cannot understand it, after all I am only a very ordinary sort of fellow.

King George V in response to the cheering crowds at his Silver Jubilee in 1935.

The 6th May 2010 marks the 100th anniversary of the ascension to the British throne of King George V. The image shows his coronation in 1911. It is taken from a souvenir booklet that was produced by Newcastle City Council for the King’s Silver Jubilee in 1935.

George was never meant to be King. However, his reign increased the popularity of the monarchy. The British people saw him as a down-to-earth man who sympathised with the hardships faced by the working classes. He was a sailor at heart – he spoke bluntly, talked loudly and enjoyed swearing! He was more common man than Royal and a liberal at heart. During the General Strike of 1926 the King disagreed with suggestions that the strikers were revolutionaries saying, ‘Try living on their wages before you judge them’. The British people felt that he was on their side and it was his very ordinariness that they loved.

George was born on 3rd June 1865. From the age of twelve he served in the Royal Navy. In 1891 his brother, Albert, died of pneumonia shortly after becoming became engaged to Princess Victoria Mary of Teck, who was known as May to her family. This left George second in line to the throne and ended his career in the Navy, as he took on more political duties. His grandmother, Queen Victoria, persuaded George to propose to May and they married in 1893.

Although George and May toured the British Empire, George preferred home life where he enjoyed hunting and collecting stamps. They lived in York Cottage at Sandringham, which was small enough so that George could avoid having to entertain! He preferred a quiet life and despised pomp and ceremony.

On 6th May 1910 his father, King Edward VII died, and George ascended to the throne. George’s reign bore witness to a period of upheaval and change, including the First World War, the formation of the first Labour government, strikes and the Depression. During the war, due to anti-German feelings in Britain, George changed the name of the Royal family from Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to Windsor.

George was disappointed in his heir Prince Edward’s failure to marry and his many love affairs. He prophetically said, ‘After I am dead, the boy will ruin himself within 12 months’. He was however, very fond of his son Albert and doted on his granddaughter, Princess Elizabeth whom he nicknamed Lilibet. He said, ‘I pray to God my eldest son will never marry and have children, and that nothing will come between Bertie and Lilibet and the throne’.

George died on 20th January 1936. A lifetime of heavy smoking had taken its toll. When he was near death his doctor, Lord Dawson, issued a statement announcing, ‘The King’s life is drawing peacefully to a close’. Dawson’s diary later revealed that he aided the King’s death by giving him a lethal injection of cocaine and morphine.

During the lying in state procession part of the Imperial State Crown fell from the coffin. Many saw this as an omen of the coming disastrous reign of Edward VIII, who abdicated before the end of the year, leaving his brother to ascend to the throne as George VI and eventually little Lilibet who became Queen Elizabeth II in 1952, just as George V had hoped.