Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Friday, 7 May 2021

Our Lady of Willesden

The Shrine of Our Lady of Willesden is the best known of the three in the wooded hills of medieval Middlesex - the others being Islington and Muswell - which attracted, and still attract, pilgrims.

The parish church of St Mary Willesden, home of the original Shrine and of the modern Anglican one.
The north aisle is a nineteenth century extension of the original church

Image: Wikipedia

There are accounts of history of the devotion from Wikipedia at Our Lady of Willesdenfrom andrew pink.org at Piecing together Our Lady of Willesdenfrom prayer4reparation at A SHORT HISTORY OF OUR LADY OF WILLESDEN (SHRINE), from interfaithmary.net at pagefrom ukgardenfiend at churches – Over the UnderGround and from the Archdiocese of Westminster at Our Lady of Willesden | Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Willesden

The following account is drawn from these six sources, to which I refer readers for their sources and further details. 

King Athelstan gave the manor of Willesden-cum-Neasden to St Paul’s cathedral as an act of thanksgiving for his great victory at Brunanburh in 937 before his death in 939. It went on to become an endowment for one of the prebends of the capitulation body.

An inventory of 1249 records two statues of Our Lady in the parish church at Willesden, one of which must be assumed to be the object of pilgrimage. It appears to have been situated the chancel of the church.

Devotion appears to have increased in the later Middle Ages, but it is only from the early sixteenth century that we have any details. The statue was a Black Madonna. A description of the it by a Richard Mores in the sixteenth century described it as 

robed in sarcenet [ a fine silk twill ] and with stones, with a vale withal of lace embroidered with pearles and other precious jewelles and golde and silver’ surrounded by a metal grille, and a canopy with hangings

Pewter pilgrim badge of Our Lady of Willesden. Design of the Virgin and Child within a crescent moon, 1466-1500. Museum of London 001349

Pewter pilgrim badge, 
Our Lady of Willesden; the Virgin and Child within a crescent moon, 1466-1500. Museum of London 001349
This distinctive badge has often been found in the London area, although not in Willesden itself, and has been attributed to the Shrine

Andrew Pink has collected together references to the Shrine in the early sixteenth century, which I have adapted:

The earliest reliable mention of devotions to Our Lady of Willesden dates from 1502 when Queen Elizabeth (1466–1503), wife of King Henry VII sent money to Willesden and other Marian shrines across England, presumably to solicit prayers for the impending birth of her seventh child. Also, in February 1503, shortly after the Queen’s death, an allowance of money was paid:

to a man that went on pilgremage to our lady of Willesden by the quenes commaundement.

Hostility to the Shrine was also being recorded. In 1509 Elizabeth Sampson of Aldermanbury in London was accused of insulting the statue of Our Lady of Willesden and in 1521William Dorset of King’s Langley in Hertfordshire was accused of stopping his wife from making a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Willesden on the grounds that it was a waste of money.

In 1517 William Litchfield (var. Lychfeld, Lichfield &c), Vicar of Willesden and Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral died and was buried in the chancel of Willesden church before the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Litchfield also gave to the church a gilt chalice, ‘the same to remain to the use of the said Church and the honour of the Blessed Virgin for ever’ and this chalice is still in regular use. Litchfield’s memorial brass can be seen in the floor of the chancel.

In 1525 the two youngest daughters of St Thomas More (1478–1535) – Elizabeth and  Cecily – were married at Willesden, in a chapel (‘oratorio’) at the house of the MP Sir Giles Alington (1499-1586). He was the second husband (m.1524) of More’s step-daughter Alice Elrington (nee Middleton, d. before 1564). The house and chapel were two and a half miles from Willesden church at West Twyford;  property that came to Alington on his martiage to Alice, it having been the property of Alice’s first husband Thomas Elrington (d.1523).

Thomas More made reference to the shrine at Willesden in his Dialogue concerning heresies (1528/9). Later, in An Answer to Thomas More’s Dialogue (1531), the avowedly Protestant William Tyndale (c. 1494–1536) complained of those who endlessly repeat:

Our lady of Walsingham pray for me; Our Lady of Ipswich, pray for me; Our Lady of Wilsdon, pray for me

During 1527 the reform-minded priest Thomas Bilney (c.1495–1531), noted for his hostility to relics and pilgrimages in the 1520s, was arraigned for his preaching against pilgrimages, even doing so in Willesden church itself in Whitsun week that year saying  

You do not well to goo on pilgremage to our Lady of Walsinghan, Ipswiche, or Wyllesdon, or to any other place and there to offer for they be nothing but stocke and stones, therefore it were better to tary at home and pray to God there.

Thomas More later stated that the character of his Protestant interlocutor in the Dialogue concerning heresies was actually based on Thomas Bilney.

More’s biographer Thomas Stapleton (1535-98) says that More regularly made pilgrimages on foot to shrines up to seven miles from London, thus encompassing Willesden. One such pilgrimage to Willesden was during the first week of April 1534, with More staying at the home of Giles and Alice Alington just days before his final arrest and eventual martyrdom. 

In 1537 the Virgin is said to have appeared to a Dr Crewkehorne and said she wished to be honoured at Willesden as in time past, but he was unable to achieve that. 

In 1538 the statue - the ladie of Wilsdon - was one of those burned on the infamous bonfire at Chelsea on the orders of Cromwell.

The memory of the pilgrimage lingered - in 1563 in the Second Book of Homilies the Elizabethan Church still warned against idolatrous invocations of our Lady of Walsingham, our Lady of  Ipswich, our Lady of Wilsdon and such other

Notwithstanding that there is once again a shrine in the historic Anglican Church. This owes its revival to the appointment in 1902 of Rev James Dixon as Vicar. He installed a gilded statue but it is suggested that this did not attract as much interest because it was not dark like the long list original. This deficiency was remedied in 1972 when the future Msgr Graham Leonard, then as assistant in the diocese of London as  Bishop of Willesden stranded for the carving of a new ebonies for statue by Catharine Stern which was placed in St Catherine’s chapel. The older statue was retained so once again, as in 1249 the church has two statues of Our Lady. 

The Anglican statue of Our Lady of Willesden
Image: Wikipedia

In 1998 the original spring and well at the church were rediscovered and returned to the use of pilgrims. As at Walsingham there is a Chapter of Priest Associates and a lay companionate.

Meanwhile a Catholic parish had been initiated in 1885 and in 1892 Cardinal Vaughan blessed a nee statue of Our Lady of Willesden. A new church, containing on the north east a shrine chapel was built in 1931. In 1954 Cardinal Griffin solemnly crowned the statue at an open air Mass at Wembley and in 1958 St Josemaria Escriva, who visited on several occasions consecrated Opus Dei to the Name of Mary at the Shrine on the Feast of the Assumption. A Guild of Our Lady of Willesden was established in 2002 and the diocesan feast is on October 3rd. 

The two shrines cooperate as at Walsingham as an ecumenical endeavour

Our Lady of Willesden Pray for us

After Tewkesbury - the capture of Queen Margaret

The Tewkesbury Battlefield Society posts about the events of 1471 continue today with the capture of Queen Margaret and her conpanions and King Edward continuing to process prisoners and plan ahead - the reference to the abbey at Worcester is, I assume, to the cathedral priory:

Little Malvern Priory

Little Malvern Priory

The King was still writing to Sir Henry Vernon in Derbyshire. He hadn’t yet put in an appearance to aid the cause. Edward had heard rumours of further uprisings, though, in the North of England and in Kent, where the Bastard of Fauconberg was causing problems. He was yet again faced with needing an army. He wrote to Henry Vernon:

Trusty and well-beloved we greet you well and letting you wite that we Purpose to be at our cite of Coventry on Monday next willing and charging you therefor to meet with us with xx persons defensibly arrayed in our coming thither, and that ye may accompany us with the same; not failing thereof as our trust is in you.

 Given under our signet at Tewkesbury the viith day of May.

Edward left for Worcester, where he arrived by the evening and lodged in the Abbey.

After the battle, Queen Margaret and her entourage had fled. Local tradition has it that they were shown how to ford the River Severn on horseback by a monk. It is likely that they were making for Wales and Jasper Tudor, then maybe to escape to France. Whilst on the way to Worcester, Edward had news that Queen Margaret had been captured at ‘a poor religious place’. Though not said in any chronicle, Little Malvern Priory is probably that place. 

Warkworth’s Chronicle names her entourage of ladies:

And afterward these ladies were taken, - Queen Margaret, Prince Edward’s wife, the second daughter of the Earl of Warwick’s, the Countesses of Devonshire, Dame Katherine Vaux. 

Warkworth also lists some of the men who were not slain, and comments on the victor’s booty. There are rumours that the troops, having scavenged the battlefield, engaged in looting in the town.

And these were taken, and not slain; Sir John Fortescue, Sir John Saintlo, Sir Henry Roos, Thomas Ormond, Doctor Mackerel, Edward Fulford, John Parker, John Bassett, John Wallys, John Thromere Throckmoreton [sic], and diverse other men. And there was taken great goods, and many good horse that were brought from beyond the sea

Conflict in the Channel

Yesterday a friend sent me this piece from his Twitter feed:

A member of the Jersey Militia reenactment group was seen firing on the French boats with a musket from Elizabeth Castle this morning. It's after the flotilla of French fishermen who blockaded Jersey's main harbour returned to open water. itv.com/news/channel/2
Embedded video

My initial reaction was to wonder if the Prime Minister thinks (sic) that Jersey could be his Falkland Islands moment .... so convenient on an election day....

However, and especially as I see that there is talk of French fisherman attempting to blockade Calais, my thoughts flew back to times in which I feel more comfortable. 

Now is not this action in respect of the electricity supply from the current French regime - one cannot call it a government as France has not had a lawful one since July 1830 - and from its protesting fisherfolk a threat to Her Majesty’s Duchy of Normandy? Are the froggies planning a rerun of their unsuccessful attempt 240 years ago as set out in Battle of Jersey

It must be galling for them that what they failed to do on their doorstep the Germans managed to do as well as clobbering them in 1940. Of course one does not want to rub sea salt into fresh wounds .... much.

I however am not a specialist in the eighteenth century. No, my thoughts reach further back, to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Are not these French actions a provocation that invites a response, a robust response, to liberate the mainland of the Duchy of Normandy, and, while we are about it, the County of Pontieu and the town and Pale of Calais, from alien rule from Paris?

Anchor one of our new aircraft carriers in the Bay of the Seine, seize Harfleur, have a re-run of 1415 and 1417, and 1944 ...., wipe out the shame of Formigny and the loss of Calais....

We could encourage ( if they need it ) the Bretons to restore their independence as a sovereign Grand Duchy and then look to liberating Acquitaine and avenging Châtillon.

Thursday, 6 May 2021

More from Tewkesbury

The Tewkesbury Battlefield Society has another post today about retribution after the battle. I am copying and posting it here as it quotes a contemporary source and had another Graham Turner illustration which I had not been able to successfully copy when preparing my previous post.

The Consequences of Defeat   (Graham Turner:  Studio 88 )    

The Consequences of Defeat

 (Graham Turner: Studio 88)


Before Edward left Tewkesbury, there was one more thing to do to secure his crown. He has to eliminate his chief opponents. It was not at all unusual to execute leaders of the losing side after a battle, but Tewkesbury was notable for the number involved. There was a kangaroo court; both judges had fought with the winning army and the verdict was a foregone conclusion. These men had fought against the King, and in many cases had contravened the terms of pardons previously granted. 

This Battle thus done and archived, and the King’s grace thus largely shown it was so that, in the abbey, and other places of the town, were found Edmond, called Duke of Somerset, the prior of Saint Johns, called Sir John Langstrother, Sir Thomas Tresham, Sir Gervais of Clifton, knights, squires, and other notable persons diverse, which all, diverse times, were brought afore the King's brother the Duke of Gloucester and Constable of England, and the Duke of Norfolk, Marshall of England, their judges; and so were judged to death, in the midst of the town, Edmond Duke of Somerset, and the said Prior of Saint Johns, with many other gentils that there were taken, and that of long time had provoked and continued the great rebellion that so long had endured in the land against the King, and country to the wele of the Realm. The said Duke, and other thus judged, were executed in the midst of the town, upon a scaffold therefore made, beheaded every each one, and without any other dismembering, or setting up, licensed to be buried. 

Fourteen men were condemned to death, taken to a scaffold in the area of Tewkesbury Cross and beheaded. One, William Grimsby, the Ghent Manuscript says, was pardoned. All these men were granted the same mercies as those enemies of the King killed in battle.

Most were buried in the Abbey Church or churchyard but Sir John Langstrother, Prior of the Order of St John, was taken to London in a sealed lead coffin to be interred at his order’s chapel in Clerkenwell


Tewkesbury - the aftermath

Today is the anniversary of the trials and executions of the defeated Lancastrian leaders on Monday May 6th after the battle fought the previous Saturday on the outskirts of Tewkesbury. 

The Tewkesbury Battlefield Society has a post about what ensued in the abbey after the battle in 1471, which I am copying and sharing.  

It includes another painting by Graham Turner which is new to me. It is striking, but I do have a couple of quibbles. The tomb of Sir Guy Brien in the abbey would surely have had some colour and gilding in 1471 and secondly the pose of the knight does look ever so slightly like a figure from the Romantic era contemplating an item of Classical antiquity rather than a man, physically and emotionally exhausted, who has just fought in a battle and, seeing the death of companions and defeat for his cause, run for dear life to sanctuary in the abbey. If captured his prospects will not be good. One historical novel I once perused - I am no enthusiast for the overwhelming majority of such works - did capture well the crushed despair of the Lancastrian sanctuary seekers. However it is a striking image and maybe I am underestimating the sang froid of the combatants.

Sanctuary  (Graham Turner:  Studio 88 )    


(Graham Turner: Studio 88)


There are varying accounts of what happened after the battle, putting very different slants on events, depending upon the loyalties of the author. This account follows what is said in the ‘Arrivall’, which is the most contemporary but was written by one of King Edward’s followers. For balance, the Chronicle of Tewkesbury Abbey’ says that Edward entered the Abbey with sword drawn and that the spilling of blood there meant that the church had to be re-consecrated.

The ‘Arrivall’, though, says that King Edward went to the Abbey to give thanks for his victory. Already there were Lancastrian soldiers sheltering, under the Church’s protection. They were all given a free pardon, despite, the author asserted, the Abbey having no power to give sanctuary to the King’s traitors. 

Edward also granted that the bodies of those slain in the battle, including Prince Edward, could be buried in the church or where their family wanted. The bodies would not be put on display or subjected to the gruesome butchery which was so common at the time.  This magnanimity to the dead, or condemned to death, was a theme in Edward’s victories. At a time when a burial in consecrated ground was considered so important for the after-life it was a gesture which must have helped ease tensions. He was harder on living enemies, though.

Thus this done, and with God's might achieved, the King took the right way to the abbey there, to give unto Almighty God laud and thank for the victory, that, of his mercy, he had that day granted and given unto him; where he was received with procession, and so conveyed through the church, and the quire, to the high alter, with great devotion praising God, and yielding unto him convenient laud. 

And, where there were fled into the said church many of his rebels, in great number, hoping there to have been relieved and saved from bodily harm, he gave them all his free pardon, albeit there ne was, ne had not at any time been granted, any franchise to that place for any offenders against their prince having recourse thither, if so had bene his pleasure; but, at the reverence of the blessed Trinity, the most holy virgin Mary, and the holy martyr Saint George, by whose grace and help he had that day attained so noble a victory; and, at the same reverence, he granted the corpses of the said Edward, and other so slain in the field, or elsewhere, to be buried there, in church, or elsewhere it pleased the servants, friends, or neighbours, without any quartering, or defouling their bodies, by setting up at any open place. 

The image of the victorious Yorkist king entering in state to give thanks as defeated Lancastrians cowered in the church is a striking one, a tense situation somehow managed by the monks seeking to avoid bloodshed and trying to keep the two sides apart in the confusion and chaos that must have prevailed.

To this I will add this extract from John Warkworth’s Chronicle which gives this account of events in the abbey, which is similar to that recorded by the monks own chronicle:

and these were taken and behedede afterwarde, where the Kynge hade pardoned them in the abbey cherche of Teukesbury, by a prest that turnyd oute at his messe and the sacrament in his handys, whanne Kynge Edwarde came with his swerde into the chirche, requyrede hyme by the vertu of the sacrament that he schulde pardone alle tho whos names here folowe ; the Duke of Somersett, the Lorde of Seynt Jhones, Sere Humfrey Audeley, Sere Gervis of Clyftone, 

Sere William Gremyby, Sere William Gary, Sere Thomas Tresham, Sere William Newbrugh, knyghtes, Herry Tresham, Walter Curtenay, Jhon Florey, Lowes Myles, Robart Jacksone, James Gowere, James Delvis, sonne and heire to Sere Jhon Delvis; whiche, uppone trust of the Kynges pardone yevene in the same 

chirche the Saturday, abode ther stille, where thei myght have gone and savyd ther lyves; whiche one monday aftere were behedede, notwhitstondynge the Kynges pardone.

There is a list of combatants from both sides at 1471 BATTLE of TEWKESBURYAs this shows there were families split by the conflict - there were members of the extended Courtenay family from Devon on both sides. For the victorious Yorkists there was a generous bestowal of knighthoods and banneretcies. For the defeated Lancastrians some received pardons sooner or later, including for Dr John Morton, who was rapidly to rise to the Bishopric of Ely, and, after another lucky escape in 1483, under King Henry VII to the Chancellorship, the Archbishopric of Canterbury and the Cardinalate. His life and career are described at John Morton Another to receive a pardon was the elderly Sir John Fortescue, former Lord Chief Justice and tutor to Prince Edward, author of De Laudibus Legum Anglie and what is now known as The Governance of England. There is more about his life and thought at John Fortescue (judge) and at Sir John Fortescue: Securing Liberty Through Law

For other Lancastrians there awaited trial in the Court of Chivalry before the Lord High Constable - the 18 year old Richard Duke of Gloucester - and the Earl Marshal - the 26 year old John Duke of Norfolk. The inevitable death sentences were carried out soon after on a scaffold erected at the market cross. 

Of the others beheaded with Somerset Sir John Langstrother was Prior of the Hospitalers and had served as Treasurer in the Readeption government of King Henry VI. Ninety years earlier another Hospitaller Prior who was also Treasurer, Sir Robert Hales, had suffered a similar fate in the Peasant’s Revolt. Both men were perhaps what we today might term ‘technocrats’, brought into for their expertise and for who the personal cost was to be high. Langsthrother was buried in the Clerkenwell priory of his Order. 

Two others perhaps deserve a comment. John Florey had been the Duke of Somerset’s standard bearer and this fact, of carrying the ducal standard into battle, could be seen as an act of treason. Similarly John Gower had been sword bearer to Prince Edward, a ceremonial position with its symbolic assertion of sovereignty that could again be seen as especially smacking of treason.

Queen Margaret, captured probably at Little Malvern Priory was left to mourn her son - Prince Edward had probably been slain in the fighting rather than murdered afterwards as in Shakespeare, although killing him ensured the end of the direct house of Lancaster. The account which records him calling on the aid if his brother-in-law, the “false fleeting perjured” (to quote Shakespeare) Duke of Clarence may hint at a determination to eliminate him. His teenage widow Anne might have faced a forlorn future. Might have, but her half share of the estates of her father Warwick the Kingmaker attracted the attention of Richard of Gloucester....

For King Edward IV, his brothers and their supporters the situation must have looked secure. A few mopping up operations and the defeat and execution of the Bastard of Fauconberg from the Neville family after his failed attack on London, the capture of Queen Margaret and her daughter-in-law the Princess of Wales, and dealing with the problem of the continuing survival of King Henry VI ... once those were accomplished there could surely be little doubt but that the House of York was now firmly ensconced. What we call the Wars of the Roses were surely ended. 

For those who were killed in battle or executed afterwards and for their families there was indeed an ending. For some like Morton and Fortescue there was to be come careful repositioning to adapt to the new dispensation. 
Nevertheless the future course of things must have seemed (relatively) predictable after two decades of strife and violence, of coup and counter coup, of bloodshed and death.

Events were to prove different. 

A little over fourteen years later the three York brothers were dead, their family split asunder, and the throne taken by the Earl of Richmond, the son of a female Beaufort, that family whose very existence seemed to have been ended at Tewkesbury. Surviving Yorkist claimants and pretenders failed to unseat King Henry VII and his successors. Against seemingly all odds it was the Beauforts and their descendants who captured the Crown and survived, both as the Royal House and also, through an illegitimate son, as the Dukes of Beaufort.

Our Lady of Islington

Last year, before I became aware of the Stevenson Marian Pilgrimage, I was researching for an article which appeared in the Catholic Herald last summer about Medieval English shrines of Our Lady which have been re-established. A friend mentioned to me the hopes of restoring a pilgrimage to Our Lady at the Oak in Islington and gave me the link to it from Independent Catholic News at London: Campaign to restore Islington's lost Marian Shrine

There is a later article about that project at My Journey to Our Lady of the Oak, Islington - Faith Movement with something about the proposal for a garden in front of the church and which also gives two prayers.

Our Lady of the Oak is one of those smaller shrines that has left little in the historical record. It appears to have been in existence by 1130. It was located just west of the parish church, and I rather imagine it must initially at least have been in an oak tree. 

The church itself has been rebuilt. The old building was certainly of fifteenth century date and included at least one earlier fragment of masonry. However it was dilapidated by 1750 and, under an Act of Parliament was rebuilt and the new church opened in 1754.

This rather attractive church was bombed in 1940, when the tower and spire survived largely unscathed. In the 1950s it was rebuilt much as before. It is a noted Evangelicsl parish and two curates have gone on to become Archbishops of Canterbury - Donald Coggan  and George Carey. There is an account of the church at St Mary's Church, Islington

For the old church there are a few pictures which show a rather typical Home Counties style.

Jean Baptiste Claude Chatelain, Old St. Mary's Church, Islington
Old St Mary’s Islington
Jean Baptiste Claude Chatelain (c.1710-1758)

IImage: royal academy.org.uk

The Church in 1750
The building attached to the west end was a schoolhouse
Image: Amazon

St Mary Islington Old Church, "Merry Islington". Illustration for The Every-Day Book and Table Book or Everlasting Calendar of Popular Amusements by William Hone (Thomas Tegg, 1838).
A print from a book published in 1838

Image: Look and Learn
There are histories of the parish and church in the article about establishing a garden shrine given above and also in a piece at St Mary's Church Islington Report
Other evidence may lie in later medieval testamentary bequests, but I do not know if they have been published for the diocese of London for the period. There is a reference to “Or Ladye of the Oke” as a boundary indicator in a proclamation from the earlier part of the reign of King Henry VIII which was intended to protect game for the royal household.
In 1538 the statue was one of those singled out to be burned at Chelsea at Cromwell’s house. This was together with those from Walsingham, Worcester, Ipswich and Doncaster and the one from Pen Rhys from Wales.
Not far away the Anglican Church of St Silas in Pentonville does celebrate Our Lady of Islington in its 1994 mosaic reredos. The following text and pictures are from their parish website:
The High Altar with mosaic glass reredos
The High Altar with mosaic glass reredos
Our Lady of The Oak, Islington

There was an ancient Shrine to Our Lady on Upper Street, Islington, at St Mary's Church. The image of Our Lady (which may have been placed in an oak tree) was destroyed at the time of the Reformation. The Shrine of Our Lady of Islington was very popular, especially with pilgrims heading north from the City of London.
Our Lady of the Oak of Islington Pray for us