Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Anne Beauchamp's Gold Tablet

Recently I picked up a collection of essays titled Much Heaving and Shoving: Late-Medieval Gentry and Their Concerns, Essays for Colin Richmond, edited by Margaret Aston and Rosemary Horrox. It contains a good deal of interest in relation to Richard III, and I found one article, "The Smethon Letter, St Penket and the Tablet of Gold" by Tony Pollard, to be of particular interest.

In the article, Pollard quotes a letter by William Smethon, a chaplain in the service of Richard Clervaux, a landowner near Middleham. The letter, which Pollard dates between February and the summer of 1478, was found behind a grant of free warren from Edward IV on February 26, 1478, that had been framed and kept at Croft Hall. Smethon not only mentions the death of George, the Duke of Clarence ("dead in a vat for hys bathying") but also refers to Anne Beauchamp, Countess of Warwick, Richard III's mother-in-law. Having informed Clervaux that the lord of Gloucester (i.e., Richard III) had told him that the free warren matter was making "good spede," Smethon adds that the countess has made a great table of gold of St. Pen, Our Lady, and the Holy Trinity, "with which it is seid my lord is not plesed withahll." He adds, "And yit my lady shall be at rob' ho' this seson."

This letter is fascinating for several reasons. For one, as Pollard points out, it seems to confirm that Anne Beauchamp was indeed residing at Middleham in Richard III's household at the time, as opposed to some other residence. For another, it suggests that Anne enjoyed a certain freedom of movement and action while at Middleham, contradicting Rous's claim that Richard III shut her up for life. It also indicates that Anne, though she had been stripped of her lands by her sons-in-law, had enough spending money to commission this gold tablet.

What was this tablet? Pollard suggests that it might be none other than the Middleham Jewel, a gold tablet that does indeed depict Our Lady and the Trinity. As for "St. Pen," Pollard notes that the Middleham Jewel frames the Nativity scene on its back with 15 saints, one of whom he suggests may be St. Penket, "an obscure whirling, or ecstatic dancing, saint."

So what was Gloucester not pleased about? Had the Countess of Warwick been overspending her allowance in having this tablet made? Or, as Pollard suggests, had she become a devotee of the cult of St. Penket, thereby incurring the disapproval of her more religiously orthodox son-in-law?

What was this mysterious "rob' ho'"? Sadly, its meaning is obscure, but Pollard suggests that it might refer to a building on the Middleham High Moor known as the Rubbing House, in which St. Penket followers might have held dances.

As is often the case with Richard III, this letter raises many more questions than it answers. But they're interesting questions, and I'll be searching out Colin Richmond's The Penket Papers to read more for myself about this obscure saint.


Dorothy said...

at last! I always knew Clarence didn't die in the butt of malmsey wine, but in his bath, that he was drowned quietly and efficiently! Another source indicates this, one PM Kendall picked up, but so many want to believe the Shakespearean slander (again - heaven knows how much I despise that man's work!) Now I have to be 'nice' to AJ Pollard, a historian who normally |(allegedly, according to someone who worked with him) said 'I look to Shakespeare for my facts, he was nearer the time than I am.' I hope it isn't true. But I do have to say I do not like Mr Pollard's research or his books and dispose of them immediately after reading. His bias is all too evident. OK, mine will be when the Rivers biography gets out there, I think he is overlooked, under rated, ignored wrongly but still ... I am prepared to say maybe he did do this or that and was wrong here and there, if that occurs in the telling. I am prepared to say Clarence should not have turned traitor on his family but give the reasons why in 'his' book - look beyond the stereotype, look beyond the 'false, fleeting, perjur'd Clarence' (Shakespeare again) and see the real man just for once. It is quite a surprise.
And yes, Anne's mother was given sanctuary at Middleham on a free basis, not as a prisoner. I thought everyone believed that!

Dorothy said...

PS: I am reliably informed that the Middleham Jewel predates Anne Beauchamp.

I would also like to draw people's attention to another Richard III organisation, the Richard III Foundation, based in Las Vegas. This has as its motto 'Loyal to the Truth' and is battling to put Richard III's story right before the world. They hold conferences at which influential speakers lecture on various aspects of the 15th century, they produce a academic magazine three times a year and have some excellent books for sale. The most recent one is on that other overlooked person from that time, Francis, Viscount Lovel.
If Susan will permit, it would be good to see a link to this organisation too, not have the world think there is only the Richard III Society.