The Retirees go Abroad – France, Norway, UK and Ireland – Chinon and the Fortresse Royale

Next morning breakfast in our hotel room (porridge and a cuppa) and then travel onto Chinon and the Fortresse Royale. Amboise was like any village you see all over France – history in every house and town planning for donkey carts and pedestrians. I enjoyed the town but I am a 21st century boy and looking forward to an Ibis Hotel in Poitiers.

On the road again and we made good time down to Chinon. As seems usual in France our GPS “Tommy” has difficulty finding its way in the villages but this time it was the town of Chinon. “Turn right” it said and all I could see was a barely sealed road connecting houses with an uncertain end round a corner. So I missed the turn but my co-pilot insisted we go down that path. Within 50m we came to a round-about and on the third exit a bloody big sign “Chinon – medieval citie” and “Fortresses Royale – Parking”. Under co – pilot instructions I went back to the muddy lane and down we went until we shocked a french woman walking her dog who politely told us yes you can get to the fortress this way but it is better to go over there as there is parking for the car (at least that is what we determined as she was as good with English as we were with French – avoided running over the dog).

Got to the parking and then to the visitors centre then to the fortress. Sited on a rocky outcrop (as usual) it towers over the city. It is actually three forts in one. The oldest Coudray Tower is where the last of the Knights Templar were held after Louis Phillipe ordered the arrest of all members of the temple. The Middle Tower contains a very interesting display on the history of the fort (last used for military purposes in the 15th century) the visits by Joan of Arc to Charles VII and the archaeology discoveries. It also contains the bell tower (which we climbed after it rang 12noon) and this is an additional 5 stories above the fort and probably 100m above the city. (It is said that the bell has rung over Chinon since 1399 and this is where the “Plantagenets” started life when Geoffrey V Count of Anjou took the nickname “Plantagenet” after a sprig of broom he wore in his hat and his son Henri II became King of England through his mother). So Chinon remained a little bit of England through Richard the Lion Heart and then King John who lost the fortresse to Phillippe Auguste King of France and Chinon became part of France for the first time. As you can see I enjoyed this part.

Finally, there is the Tower of St Georges which was not really part of the military defences but the royal suites and administration centre for France under Charles VII. The emblem for the city is three towers. After the reign of Charles VII Chinon lost popularity and the last fortification work was in 1560. Thereafter it fell into disuse and comes close to destruction in 1854. In the intervening period many parts of the three towers and principally the third one is destroyed (the visitors centre is located where the third tower once stood). It is now a listed historic monument and as you can see some significant historical moments occurred here. Great fun for me not so much for Kerry who become angry and distressed (and rightly so) when I went exploring in the Coudray tower and the cells below ground.

It was in those cells that I learned the history of the Templars and their end at Chinon. In the royal palace at Chinon, Jacques de Molay the 23rd and last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, leading the Order from 20 April 1292 until it was dissolved by order of Pope Clement V in 1307, was questioned by the Pope’s cardinals, this time with agents of King Philip IV of France present. During forced interrogation by royal agents in Paris on 24/25 October, Molay confessed that the Templar initiation ritual included “denying Christ and trampling on the Cross”. He was also forced to write a letter asking every Templar to admit to these acts. Under pressure from Philip IV, Pope Clement V ordered the arrest of all the Templars throughout Christendom. He recanted the admissions but at Chinon he returned to his forced admissions made in Paris. In November 1309, the Papal Commission for the Kingdom of France began its own hearings, during which Molay again recanted, stating that he did not acknowledge the accusations brought against his order. Molay is the best known Templar, along with the Order’s founder and first Grand Master, Hugues de Payens (1070–1136). European support for the Crusades had dwindled, other forces were at work which sought to disband the Order and claim the wealth of the Templars as their own. King Philip IV of France, deeply in debt to the Templars, had Molay and many other French Templars arrested in 1307 and tortured into making false confessions. When Molay later retracted his confession, Philip had him burned upon a scaffold on an island in the River Seine in front of Notre Dame de Paris, in March 1314.

We notice there is an elevator on the side of the cliff about 50m from the visitors centre so we went in search of a hot chocolate in the town. Just like Amboise its design is from other eras and has a mixture of the oldest and the older throughout. Found the hot chocolate in a Tabac – not much open on a Sunday.

Had a sandwich in the car then off to Poitiers. We arrived about 2.00 booked in settled in and I had a nanna nap. After dinner in a very interesting pub called Au Bureau we strolled the streets and are keen to see it all in daylight.

The Retirees go Abroad – Greg’s Visit to Nottingham – Lincoln Castle and the Magna Carta.

We walked across Castle Square to the castle. I caught a conspiratorial conversation between Kerry and Greg in a photo. Plotting more shopping I thought. Not before we see the castle says I. Outside the eastern gate is another Baron.

2015 is the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta. Only four original copies of Magna Carta remain from when it was sealed by King John in 1215. Copies of the charter were spread to religious houses in England – Hugh of Wells, later canonised to become St Hugh, the then Bishop of Lincoln, was present at the sealing and made sure a copy was brought back to Lincoln Cathedral.

Lincoln is also the only place in the world where you can find an original copy of Magna Carta together with the Charter of the Forest, issued in 1217 to amplify the document and one of only two surviving copies. The two charters are housed in Lincoln Castle in a specially made vault.

– See more at: http://www.visitlincoln.com/magnacarta#sthash.J0ZtMrvi.dpuf

For those of you who have forgotten the importance of the Magna Carta here is a shortened extract from Wikipedia

“Magna Carta (Latin for “the Great Charter”), also called Magna Carta Libertatum (Latin for “the Great Charter of the Liberties”), is a charter agreed by King John of England at Runnymede, near Windsor, on 15 June 1215. It promised the protection of church rights, protection for the barons from illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, and limitations on feudal payments to the Crown, to be implemented through a council of 25 barons. Neither side stood behind their commitments. At King John’s request, the charter was annulled by Pope Innocent III, leading to the First Barons’ War. After John’s death, the regency government of his young son, Henry III, reissued the document in 1216, stripped of some of its more radical content, in an unsuccessful bid to build political support for their cause. At the end of the war in 1217, it formed part of the peace treaty agreed at Lambeth, where the document acquired the name Magna Carta, to distinguish it from the smaller Charter of the Forest which was issued at the same time. Short of funds, Henry reissued the charter again in 1225 in exchange for a grant of new taxes; his son, Edward I, repeated the exercise in 1297, this time confirming it as part of England’s statute law.

The charter became part of English political life. At the end of the 16th century there was an upsurge in interest in Magna Carta. Lawyers and historians at the time believed that there was an ancient English constitution, going back to the days of the Anglo-Saxons, which protected individual English freedoms. They argued that the Norman invasion of 1066 had overthrown these rights, and that Magna Carta had been a popular attempt to restore them, making the charter an essential foundation for the contemporary powers of Parliament and legal principles such as habeas corpus. Although this historical account was badly flawed, jurists such as Sir Edward Coke used Magna Carta extensively in the early 17th century, arguing against the divine right of kings propounded by the Stuart monarchs. Both James I and his son Charles I attempted to suppress the discussion of Magna Carta, until the issue was curtailed by the English Civil War of the 1640s and the execution of Charles.

The political myth of Magna Carta and its protection of ancient personal liberties persisted well into the 19th century. It influenced the early American colonists in the Thirteen Colonies and the formation of the American Constitution in 1787.

Research by Victorian historians showed that the original 1215 charter had concerned the medieval relationship between the monarch and the barons, rather than the rights of ordinary people, but the charter remained a powerful, iconic document, even after almost all of its content was repealed from the statute books in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Magna Carta still forms an important symbol of liberty today, often cited by politicians and campaigners, and is held in great respect by the British and American legal communities. The four original 1215 charters were displayed together at the British Library for one day, 3 February 2015, to mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.

 

Bishops Visit – Interval- De je vu – Southwell Minster

Between returning from Scotland and leaving for France, we had a window of opportunity which I have called “the Interval”.

During these few days we visited Southwell Minster north east of Nottingham, Haddon Hall north west of Nottingham and London (I presume you know where that is). This blog concerns Southwell (pronounced “Suthull” by Nottinghamites and “South Well” by its residents – work that out). Norwell (pronounced “Norrell”) approximately eight miles northwest may support the notion of there being “south” and “north” wells in the area.

Southwell is a town in Nottinghamshire, best known as the site of Southwell Minster, the seat of the Church of England diocese that covers Nottinghamshire. The town lies on the River Greet, approximately 14 miles (22 km) northeast of Nottingham.

The early history of this Minster as noted by Wikipedia: “Eadwy of England gifted land in Southwell to Oskytel the Archbishop of York, in 956. Eadwy’s charter is the first dated reference to Southwell. Evidence of a tessellated floor and the 11th-century tympanum over a doorway in the north transept are evidence of the construction of the minster after this time. The Domesday Book of 1086 has much detail of an Archbishop’s manor in Southwell. A custom known as the “Gate to Southwell” originated after 1109 when the Archbishop of York, Thomas I wrote to every parish in Nottinghamshire asking for contributions to the construction of a new mother church. Annually at Whitsuntide the contributions known as the “Southwell Pence” were taken to the minster in a procession that set off from Nottingham headed by the mayor followed by clergy and lay people making a pilgrimage to Southwell’s Whitsun Fair. The Southwell Pence was paid at the north porch of the minster to the Chapter Clerk. The name of this custom – the Southwell Gate – derives from the Scandinavian word “gata” meaning street or way to. In its original form it persisted well into the 16th century. In 1981 Dolphin Morrismen revived the tradition.

Geoffrey Plantagenet was ordained as a priest at Southwell in 1189. On 4 April 1194, Richard I and the King of Scots, William I, was in Southwell, having spent Palm Sunday in Clipstone. King John visited Southwell between 1207 and 1213, ostensibly for the hunting in Sherwood Forest, but also en route to an expedition to Wales in 1212. The Saracen’s Head was built in 1463 on land gifted in 1396 by the Archbishop of York, Thomas Arundel, to John and Margaret Fysher. When built, the first floor overhung the roadway in the vernacular of the time.

In 1603, James VI of Scotland passed through Southwell on his way to London to be crowned King James I. During the English Civil War, King Charles I spent his last night as a free man in May 1646 in the Saracen’s Head (then the King’s Head), before surrendering to the Scottish Army stationed at nearby Kelham. The fabric of the town, the minster and Archbishop’s Palace suffered at the hands of Oliver Cromwell’s troops, as they sequestered the palace as stabling for their horses, broke down monuments, and ransacked the graves for lead and other valuables. In 1793, iron rings fastened to the walls to secure the horses were still in situ. The end of the civil war left the Archbishop’s Palace in ruins apart from its Great Hall. It is reputed that Cromwell also stayed in the King’s Head.”

So you can see that this small town (around 7,000 people) has played a big part in bits of history of the UK. The Archbishop’s Palace was home to Cardinal Wolsey who was Henry VIII’s advisor and when unable to secure Henry’s divorce from Rome Wolsey hid out at Southwell until summons by Henry to London but fortunately for Wolsey he died on his trip back to a trial and execution planned by Henry.

The Saracen’s Head is still there. It changed its name from the King’s Head when Charles lost his head. So we visited the Minster and the pub. Whilst at the Pub we picked up this fascinating leaflet on the history of the hotel which told us more of the story of Charles I last meal than the dry facts given by Wikipedia. Remember that in 1642 Charles had raised his standard at Nottingham Castle to signal the beginning of the Civil War. By 1646 the Royalist Army had been all but defeated or surrendered. After the Battle of Naseby Charles realised he needed the Scots to help him defeat the Parliamentarians.

The leaflet told us that Charles escaped from London and went to the Inn disguised as a Clergyman with his clerk to meet with the Scottish commissioners then in Southwell Minster with a regiment of Scottish soldiers. You may recall in earlier blogs I have written about Cromwell’s son in law Henry Ireton and how he was negotiating with Charles around accepting a role as constitutional monarchy. Well the Scots were talking to Charles about supporting him if he accepted Presbyterianism as the religion of England and Ireland amongst other things.

So Charles revealed himself to the Scottish general and started negotiations to have the Scottish forces join his Royalist Army. However he prevaricated so much (as he was doing with Ireton) and refused to sign an agreement that the Scots who left Southwell and marched with Charles as their “prisoner” to Kelham outside Newcastle where they treated with Cromwell’s Parliamentary army and handed over Charles in exchange for 400,000 pounds. And, as they say the rest is history and Charles lost his head at Whitehall on January 30, 1649.

Whilst at the pub and we saw a copy of Charles I death warrant signed by Parliament and in particular Cromwell and Ireton. The leaflet says that as well as Charles I many other notable people stayed at the Inn, namely:

  • Lord Byron (who lived close by),
  • Cardinal Wolsey of course
  • Kings of England, Richard I, Richard II, John, Henry II, Edward I, Edward II, Edward III, and Edward IV
  • King of England and Scotland James I
  • Charles Dickens – he was a very wide travelled individual as he has popped up as a visitor in many places we have been; and
  • The Beatles

So well worth a visit to this village and see the Minster (there are displays of the remains of an old Roman villa under the Minster visible, Saxon “bread” pews and Norman and Gothic architecture), the ruins of the Archbishops Palace and the restored Great Dining Hall and the Saracen’s Head (so named as the sword used to behead Charles was a Saracen sword)