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Archive for May, 2009

v and a marriage

edge2Victoria & Adam are getting married.

An unusual post for Tudor Stuff today – just for once this blog is featuring a modern event. Victoria Taylor – co-writer of Tudor Stuff is to be married to Adam Skerrett on Friday 30th May in Kings Heath, Birmingham.

This post is dedicated with love and great respect to Victoria and Adam. I hope you have a great day & I wish you happiness for the future.

If anyone reading this feels like passing on a message then you are more than welcome to do so!

Shakespeare: Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
admit impediments.
Love is not love Which alters
when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose Worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom:
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

admit impediments.

Love is not love Which alters

when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove:

O no! it is an ever-fixed mark

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That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wandering bark,

Whose Worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle’s compass come;

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom:

If this be error and upon me proved,

I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

PS Normal Tudor Stuff Service will be resumed with the next post

PPS Victoria & Adam – sorry for the slightly dodgy pictures – I didn’t have a lot to work with.

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Robert Catesby - leader of the Gunpowder plot, son of Anne Throckmorton of Coughton Courthis mother was

Robert Catesby - leader of the Gunpowder plot, son of Anne Throckmorton of Coughton Court.

Members of the Throckmorton family from Coughton Court (See our earlier post) were involved in the Gunpowder plot, along with other Catholic families in the Midlands.  The ‘Powder Treason’, or Gunpowder Plot, of 1605 was a failed assassination attempt by a group of English Catholics belonging to the gentry, against King James I of England and VI of Scotland.

James I

James I

A single blow

The plot was intended to kill the king and his family, and most of the Protestant aristocracy in a single blow, by blowing up the Houses of Parliament during the State Opening on 5 November 1605. The conspirators had also planned to kidnap the royal children, and lead a popular revolt in the Midlands – before installing Princess Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of King James, a child at the time, on the throne.  She was to be Queen Elizabeth II, a Catholic Queen – having been converted by her guardians.  This was not to be – however our current Queen Elizabeth II is directly descended from this Princess Elizabeth rather than her brother Charles I who took the throne after James I.

Coughton – A cold November morning in 1605

Early in the morning of the 6th November In the cold early hours of November 6th, Thomas Bates, servant to Robert Catesby, who had been overseeing the plot from May 1604, rode over the moat bridge of Coughton Court.  He climbed the stairs to the Drawing Room where a group of people, all closely involved in the then illegal Catholic community, were waiting for news.

Fr Henry Garnet

Fr Henry Garnet

There were two Jesuit priests – Father Henry Garnet, who had celebrated a clandestine mass for the Feast of All Saints in the house just a few days before, and Father Oswald Tesimond, the confessor to Robert Catesby.  Nicholas Owen, the priest-hide builder, was also present.  Thomas Bates told them that the plot had failed, and that the conspirators were now running for their lives.

A warning ignored

Father Garnet had warned against the plot from the beginning on a matter of principle, and had said that the failure of the plan could only mean extreme hardship for the already beleaguered Catholic community.  Despite his opposition Father Garnet was implicated in the Plot and later captured at Hindlip House along with Nicholas Owen.  Father Garnet was executed, whilst Nicholas Owen died under torture in the Tower – without ever revealing the secrets of the hides he had built at Coughton, Harvington and elsewhere.

Coughton Court (Duncan Walker on Flickr: Click image)
Coughton Court (Duncan Walker on Flickr: Click image)

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This post takes a look at the main staircase at Harvington Hall. Like a lot of things at Harvington it has a bit of a story to tell – some of which can be told in this post, and some of it not!middle stairs smaller

A grand entrance

The original staircase dates from about 1600. This would have provided important visitors with a suitably grand entrance.

Harvington Hall was built by Humphrey Packington around 1578. After he died the Hall passed to his daughter Mary Yate. After Mary died, the Hall passed by marriage to the Throckmorton family from nearby  Coughton Court.

A replacement staircase

The Hall was not regularly lived in for over 200 years and a great many of the fixtures and fittings at Harvington were taken out.  If you want to see the original Harvington Hall staircase you have to travel to Coughton to see it. The staircase that we see today is an exact copy built between 1936 and 1947. The only things remaining at Harvington from the original construction are some candlesticks made from the bannisters and the shadow painting of the staircase seen on the walls in the pictures on this page.

half way down the stairs

A hidden purpose?

The original staircase was built around 1600 and was a substantial improvement to the Hall. However, there is a theory that this development may have served another more secret purpose.

Of the seven hiding places at Harvington, four are to be found close to the staircase. These are the most ingenious hides and the ones thought to be the work of Nicholas Owen – the famous hide builder.

In a house such as Harvington which was being used to hide Catholic Priests an attempt was made to employ servants (often Catholic themselves) who could be trusted to keep quiet about what was going on in the house. Despite this, there was always the possibility of the authorities being tipped off. Hide building and the location of such hides would have been a secret known only to a few people.

In order to make a secret hide it would have been necessary to cut through plaster, bricks, and wooden beams. As with any building project this would have involved a lot of mess and noise.  It is thought likely that the staircase construction also served to hide the activity of the hide builder.

A secret –  hidden somewhere on this page!

The entrance to one of the most ingenious hides left anywhere is hidden somewhere on this staircase. The actual hide is quite a large one, over 5ft by 5ft wide and 6ft high, when it was found it contained the remains of a  rush mat that had been left there. There is also a story that it was once possible to spy on people in the great hall from this hide.

The entrance to this hide can clearly be seen in one the pictures on this page – exactly where is it? – well, that is a secret!

stairs side

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Coughton Court has an impressive west front which is shown at its best in the warm evening light. (Photo by Kate & Drew on Flickr: Click image)

Coughton Court has an impressive west front which is shown at its best in the warm evening light. (Photo by Kate & Drew on Flickr: Click image)

On Saturday I paid a visit to Coughton Court in Warwickshire.  I have often driven past it on my way out of Birmingham into the countryside, but had never stopped before to have a look round.  I have to admit it has always distracted me from driving as I should, as it looks spectacular from the road.

The Throckmortons

Like Harvington Hall Coughton (pronounced Coe-ton) was home to a Catholic family who refused to renounce their faith and practice during the reformation.  The Throckmorton family were very highly connected.  henry8england-50pc-smallerSir George Throckmorton (d. 1553) was a knight at the court of Henry VIII, and was in charge of the royal Forest of Arden.  He spoke out vociferously against the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and was imprisoned several times without trial for his outspoken views – being released once Henry believed he had calmed down – only to end up back in prison again!

George’s aunt, Elizabeth, the abbess of Denny, came to live at Coughton when her convent was closed in 1537 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.  Another sister came with her, and together they lived a secluded life, continuing with the daily office in two rooms in the house.  The dole-gate from the convent is now at Coughton Court, having been found relatively recently.  You can see the hatch through which the sisters would have spoken to visitors, and given out alms.

Coughton Court (Kate & Drew on Flickr: Click image)

Coughton Court (Kate & Drew on Flickr: Click image)

Recusants

In the time of Sir Robert Throckmorton, and his son and heir Thomas (1533-1614), Coughton became a centre for Catholic recusants. It is believed that Mass was celebrated in the Tower Room from which you can see in all directions.  There is a priest hole there, built by Nicholas Owen who made many of the priest holes at Harvington Hall.  The hide at Coughton was so secret that members of the Throckmorton family did not know where it was even when it was in use.  Its location was so closely guarded that it was not discovered until work on the house in 1945.

The family were subjected to heavy fines for their non-attendance at the established Church of England, and Thomas spent 16 years in prison (on and off) for the same offence.  In the Tower Room you can see the Tabula Eliensis – rediscovered in the mid-twentieth century – which is a tapestry showing the names and portraits of Catholics imprisoned for their faith.  It is believed this was displayed during mass in the house.

Coughton Court Bluebell wood (Ruthsophe on Flickr: Click image)

Coughton Court Bluebell wood (Ruthsophe on Flickr: Click image)

Other Treasures

Coughton Court houses many other historical treasures including a chair reputed to be made of the wood of the bed where Richard III spent his last night before the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, a chemise which has stitched upon it ‘of the holy martyr, Mary, Queen of Scots’ (carbon dating tests prove that the linen was woven in the year of Mary’s death in 1587), a perfectly preserved and beautiful velvet cope embroidered in gold by Queen Catherine of Aragon and her ladies-in-waiting, and the original abdication letter of King Edward VIII in 1936.

NB See the second part of this post

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Rosemoor (By Kewlottie on Flickr - Click Image)

Rosemoor (By Kewlottie on Flickr - Click Image)

We are now well into the Month of May, Spring is at it’s height and England never looks better than at this time of year. This Madrigal which celebrates May was written by Thomas Morley  in 1595, the year that Shakespeares Romeo and Juliet was first performed and Robert Southwell was executed at Tyburn.

Now is the month of maying,

When merry lads are playing

Each with his bonny lass

Upon the greeny grass.

Spring (Wanderlust676 on Flickr : Click image)

Spring (Wanderlust676 on Flickr : Click image)

The Spring, clad all in gladness,

Doth laugh at Winters sadness,

And to the bagpipes sound

The nymphs tread out their ground.

maying-1

Fie then! why sit we musing,

Youth’s sweet delight refusing?

Say, dainty nymphs, and speak,

Shall we play barley- break?

Thomas Morley 1595

So that you can also hear the tune I have added this video fromYouTube.  I considered leaving it out because it is seriously naff. I eventually decided it was too funny to leave out. Someone on YouTube likened it to Monty Python and they do have a point! See if you can watch this without thinking of Terry Jones/Eric Idle & co.

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The Rack.

The rack in the Tower of London was used throughout the Tudor period in England. It was reserved for those identified as having committed the most serious of crimes against the state.

In theory there were rules about the use of torture. For example, people were not meant to be tortured to death or tortured repeatedly. People who were physically weak were not mean to be tortured because they might not survive the process. Attempts were made to start with ‘milder’ tortures before moving on to the rack if all else failed.

1984 Burg Bewartstein Torture Devices 02 (broken thoughts Flickr: Click image)

1984 Burg Bewartstein Torture Devices 02 (broken thoughts Flickr: Click image)

Terrible physical damage.

On the rack, a victims legs and arms were tied to bars at either end of the device, rollers were then used to stretch the body.  The tension was maintained and gradually increased by use of a ratchet.

This caused terrible pain for the victim as well as increasing physical damage as the torture continued. Tendons were ripped, joints separated and bones fractured. The sounds of muscles and tendons tearing and snapping provided audible signs of the damage being done. A victim of the rack was often left with permanent physical disability. For example, because of injuries suffered after being racked three times the Jesuit priest Edmund Campion was unable to raise his hand to swear at his trial.

The rack

The manacles.

Eventually, public disgust led to the Rack’s use being restricted. Richard Topcliffe, a notorious torturer, claimed to have invented the use of ‘gauntlets’ or manacles as a torture instrument. This was considered to be a lesser form of torture, however, this distinction may well have been lost upon people who experienced it. John Gerard, another Jesuit Priest described being hung by his wrists from a post in a torture chamber in the Tower of London.

manacles-tower

‘ such a gripping pain came over me. It was worst in my chest and belly, my hands and arms. All the blood in my body seemed to rush up into my arms and hands and I thought that blood was oozing out from the ends of my fingers and the pores of my skin. But it was only a sensation caused by my flesh swelling above the irons holding them. The pain was so intense that I thought I could not possibly endure it.’

Gerard remained hanging for several hours and was only taken down after fainting. As soon as he revived he was put back into the manacles and suspended again. This continued until after 5’oclock when he was eventually returned to his cell. Incredibly, Gerard never broke and maintained his refusal to answer the questions put to him.

A terrible death.

Official reluctance to use torture was abandoned in cases of those suspected of involvement in the Gunpowder plot. In an incident which became infamous, Nicholas Owen the builder of secret hiding places was racked to death in the Tower of London. Owen, who was starved out of a hide during a search in Worcestershire was taken to the Tower for examination. Because of his knowledge about the secret Catholic organisation, Owen was a potentially valuable source of information.

Unfortunately for the authorities however, he never revealed any secrets and died on the rack without saying anything of use. An embarassed Government tried to suggest that he had killed himself with a knife. The truth is that an earlier injury ruptured and according to John Gerard ‘his bowels gushed out together with his life’ .

Torture – a controversial practice.

Official use of torture continued in England until the 1640’s. Throughout it’s use in this country it caused controversy, both on moral grounds as well as it’s usefulness – obviously, evidence obtained under torture has very limited use.

Sadly, this subject has current relevance as we continue to  hear discussion around the rights and wrongs of torture. The rack is no longer employed, having perhaps been replaced by ‘waterboarding’ ? We are left to question whether we have really moved on all that much from our Tudor predecessors?

PS Since writing this post I came across this – things really haven’t moved on much from the 16th/17th Century!

I also found this blog which is worth a look.

See also this related post about John Gerards eventual escape from the Tower as well as more about Topcliffe here

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PS – anyone got a spare Google wave invite? You could become Tudor Stuff flavour of the month? (if you do just leave a comment somewhere on the blog for me – it will never appear in public btw)

See also:

Google books Torture & democracy

Human rights education association

Medieval torture

Middle ages torture

Wikipedia – Torture

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Harvington Hall, the Malt House

Until recently, the Malt House at Harvington Hall was closed to the public. In 2007 the Hall was awarded a Heritage Lottery Grant to enable restoration. The work was completed whilst the Hall was closed for the winter and is now open to visitors.

Inside the Malt House were many original features including an 18th Century kiln, the perforated tiles of the drying floor and a hoist for raising sacks of barley.   All of these have been incorporated into the restoration, along with information panels describing life at Harvington in the 18th Century.

Harvington Hall was once at the centre of a 6000 acre estate, the Malt House exhibition centre gives details about this as well as telling more about the lives of people who lived and worked here over the years.

The Malt House - before restoration. (Ruth Bourne on Flickr, Click image)

The Malt House - before restoration. (Ruth Bourne on Flickr, Click image)

There is a new audio-visual display, so that those who have difficulty accessing the upper floors of the Hall can learn all about it.   There is now room for a classroom, with interactive children’s games upstairs, and the top floor is an archive storage space.

Malting, an important task.

The Malt House was first built in Tudor times and was originally used as a stable or barn.  Whatever it’s original purpose,  it was being used for malting barley by the 18th century. This was a process which turned the locally grown barley into beer.

A skilled craftsman was required to oversee the malting process. In the 18th century this job was done at Harvington by a man called Randall Bagnall who would see that the following steps were completed.

Once threshed, the barley was taken by cart to the Malt House where it was steeped (soaked) on the ground floor for at least two days. After this the grains were spread out on the first floor where they were left to germinate. This part of the process which took between ten and twenty days required that a constant temperature be maintained.

The germinated barley was moved up another floor where it was left to dry for four days, during this time it was regularly turned.

Once dried, the barley was fed down a chute onto the curing floor – above the kiln. Here it was spread out on perforated tiles, a process which gave the grains a lovely aroma and flavour.

In the last part of the process the kilned grains were put into sacks and taken to the Hall. In the Brewhouse, hops and yeast were added to make beer.

Barley ( Photo by Earthwatcher on Flickr - click image)

Barley ( Photo by Earthwatcher on Flickr - click image)

Beer – an essential drink.

In the past, beer was an important drink for ordinary English people. We still talk about ‘small beer’ as being something which is of little importance but in the past, it was far from being unimportant. Small beer, which is produced from a second and third use of the barley was drunk by everyone from labourers in the fields to their children. This was because water was often unsafe to drink, unlike the beer which contained enough alcohol to kill harmful bacteria.

Come and see Harvington Hall for yourself!

As you may know, Tudor Stuff blog is a bit biased when it comes to Harvington Hall. However, in our opinion the Malt House restoration is another reason that a visit to the Hall is essential for anyone interested in the history of the Tudor period.

The Malt House

The Malt House by Hall volunteer David Parkes

See also post entitled ‘Drunken Bidford’

NB This post contains information reproduced from material originally written by Michael Hodgetts and Sherida Breeden at Harvington Hall.

Photo at top of post by Imagemakers Interpretive Design and Consulting

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