Anyone who has delved into Shakespearean studies probably learned that Falstaff was originally written as Sir John Oldcastle, Protestant martyr who was burned at the stake in Henry V’s reign. But Oldcastle had descendants who took exception to this unsavory depiction, and the great bard rewrote the part for the fat, cowardly, drunken braggart called Falstaff. Whether he intentionally named his character after the historical knight is up to interpretation, but the author has gone to great length to clear the name of Sir John Fastolf and demonstrate that he, too, has been misrepresented. Although there are similarities between the two:
“They were both captains in the king’s wars, much involved in recruiting and mustering soldiers, including drunken soldiers. They were both associated with a Boar’s Head tavern (though Falstaff’s was at Eastcheap, Fastolf’s in Southwark). They may both have been pages to Thomas Mowbray, Earl (and later Duke) of Norfolk. Each man used forceful and colourful language (Fastolf in writing, Falstaff in speech); and each attracted devoted servants. Most importantly in terms of reputation, Shakespeare portrays both men as cowards. We shall see that, in the case of Fastolf, this was most unjust; but Falstaff does not for a moment hide his cowardice.”
Sounds convincing, doesn’t it? But once the first chapter is finished, the comparisons cease and Shakespeare is not mentioned again. This book is a full-bodied biography of Fastolf, who was a major player in the conquest of Normandy, especially after Henry V’s death. He was an important commander under the Duke of Bedford, regent of France (and brother of Henry V). Not only did he spend much of his life in service during the war, he acquired great wealth which he spent judiciously back in England. After Bedford’s death, his career spiraled downwards, and he was to live the rest of his long life a disappointed man in England. But he continued to serve Henry VI’s interests, though the king’s advisors rarely listened to his advice. He lost many of his French acquisitions during the fiasco under Somerset’s incompetent command. An unfortunate episode during the battle of Patay, where he left the field with his men when all was lost, cast a shadow over his reputation and dogged him until the end. This is undoubtedly one of the main reasons his name has been linked to Falstaff, and the author hopes to give us a more balanced portrayal. Although this is not the most exciting period of history to read about, the book moves right along and gives us a lot of good information.
We can fill volumes with what we don’t know about what people ate in the Anglo-Saxon period. Forget about recipe books; we have to wait until Richard II’s reign for the first cookbook. Of course the Romans were way ahead of the game, and Apicius wrote several volumes about soups and sauces and the art of cookery. The oldest surviving manuscripts date back to the eighth and ninth centuries, though I suspect they were probably hidden away in some dusty monastery.
We must remember that the Norman Conquest marked a substantial change in customs, habits, and even access to provisions. By access, I mean the forest laws, imposed by William the Conqueror to protect his hunting animals and vegetation that supported those animals. This had to have come as quite a shock to the natives, who were not used to being prohibited from catching their own game.
The Anglo-Saxon aristocrats hunted, of course, and even practiced falconry. King Edward the Confessor was said to have loved the hunt and indulged himself at every opportunity. So we know that wild birds found their way to the table (often roasted), as well as boar, deer, and fox. As far as domestic meat goes, the pig was the only farm animal that was used exclusively for food; they bore large litters and grew fast, and it is believed they were slaughtered as needed rather than certain times of year. Beef was mostly only eaten by the wealthy, and herds consisted mostly of cows for the milk. They were usually slaughtered in November and salted or smoked to last the winter; their hides were tanned for leather goods. Goats were kept for milk, chickens for eggs, and sheep for wool. These animals were usually slaughtered only when they were old or unproductive, or possibly for holiday meals. So the average Saxon was more likely to have a vegetarian diet, with rare exceptions.
Fruits were a big part of every diet; pears, apples, plums, cherries and berries were plentiful in season and were also used in cooking. Honey was used for sweetener, and all these items could be made into alcoholic beverages. As for vegetables, peas and beans were widely used, as well as mushrooms, onions, garlic, turnips, cabbage, parsnips, and even carrots (not orange—they were white or purple). These ingredients were often brewed in stews and pottages. In fact, I would say the pottage was the primary food for many Anglo-Saxons, along with bread made from grains such as barley, oats, and rye and mixed with ground beans and peas. Wheat bread was reserved for the upper classes. In the medieval period they called the grains corn, which was not to be confused with maize, an American “modern” crop.
Steward pouring drinks, Cotton MS Tiberius B V, f. 4v, British Library
Fish was an important staple on the Anglo-Saxon table, especially on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, feast days, Lent and most of Advent. Inland folk would have to purchase salted, pickled, or smoked fish which could last for months. Shell fish was very popular, like oysters, cockles, eel, crab, and lobster.
The Anglo-Saxon feast would have seemed quite boring to later medievalists. All the food was served at once on wooden platters. Guests were expected to bring their own knives, spoons, wooden bowls, and drinking vessels. The roasted meats would be placed on platters before the guests, and stews would be spooned into their bowls. Cheeses, breads, and fruits would be served in bowls or platters. The local bard would provide songs and story-telling—an important part of the feast. Meanwhile, mead and ale would be consumed in great quantities, and cider in the autumn. Most everything was dependent on the season, and autumn provided the greatest abundance of choices.
Henry V was fortunate in that he had three brothers to assist him—especially considering he spent most of his reign in France. His relationship with his next brother Thomas, Duke of Clarence, was a bit rocky, but he had to put his personal feelings aside. After all, Thomas was his heir. Once Henry became king, they put their youthful hostilities behind them and Thomas proved to be a strong and forceful leader of men—albeit a little rash at times. When we take a closer look, we see that Henry seems to have wanted to keep him under his direct control; for instance, rarely was Clarence given the opportunity to be regent in the king’s absence (like his other two brothers).
At Harfleur, Clarence led a contingent to the other side of the town from the king; he distinguished himself at the siege to Henry’s satisfaction. In fact, when it came to the time for Harfleur to surrender, they sent representatives to Clarence rather than Henry, hoping to get better treatment. Afterwards, however, when deciding whether to return to England or continue overland to Calais, he argued so aggressively against Henry that the king sent him home. It was said that Clarence was incapacitated by dysentery, but many historians think this was a cover for him to save face, since he went to Calais instead of England. Obviously he wasn’t at Agincourt! When Henry returned to France in 1417, Clarence was prominent in many of the king’s operations, but it was always under the king’s orders.
Thomas was finally given sole command in France the year Henry went back to England with his bride. Finally, he would have the chance to make a name for himself! Unfortunately, at Baugé, he imprudently led an undermanned attack against a Franco-Scottish army, not bothering to wait for his archers. The battle was a crushing defeat that ended in his own death—and advertised to the French that the English were not unbeatable. Henry cut short his progress in England and returned to France so he could reverse the damage done. Did he mourn his brother? There doesn’t seem to be much evidence of this.
John, the next in line, has come down to us as very capable, solid, steadfast, a good warrior and a great leader. On Henry V’s ascension, John was created Duke of Bedford, the name he has been known to posterity. His eleven-year stint as Warden of the East Marches of Scotland gave him solid training to take over as regent when Henry went on his Agincourt campaign, and again in 1417. In late 1416, John was put in command of a fleet to take provisions to Harfleur, already under siege by a combined Franco-Genoese navy. Attacking the besiegers, Bedford fought for seven hours against the formidable Genoese carracks which towered over the English ships. Ultimately, the English were victorious and decisively lifted the siege, and the conflict, known as the Battle of the Seine, once again demonstrated their vaunted invincibility (this was before Baugé).
Humphrey, the youngest brother, was made Duke of Gloucester at Henry’s coronation. He was still unproven at the time of the Agincourt campaign, so he pretty much operated under the watchful eye of the king. He was eager to prove himself and showed quite a knack for managing the artillery, and Henry gave him plenty of opportunity to hone his skills as commander. Although he was seriously injured at the Battle of Agincourt, the king straddled his prone body and defended him until he was dragged to safety. This was to be the only pitched battle Humphrey ever fought in, but he otherwise proved himself a clever and able commander during the subsequent sieges while the king strived to conquer Normandy. On Henry’s last campaign, Bedford fought in France and Gloucester served as regent in England, so he must have demonstrated enough competence to be trusted.
When Henry died in 1422, he appointed Bedford as regent of France and also of England—when he was there. Gloucester’s role was more ambiguous. He was assigned as protector of the baby Henry VI, but the child’s upbringing and education were given to Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter (and Henry’s half-uncle). Gloucester insisted that he should be governor of the realm by right of his birth and his interpretation of Henry’s will. However, the lords in Parliament had other ideas and he had to be satisfied with Protector and Defender of the realm and head of the Council. Humphrey was already demonstrating unsettling tendencies toward self-aggrandisement which would later prove his downfall.
There’s a whole lot more to this story, needless to say, and I intend to devote a whole book to this…probably two novels from now. More research is required!
Swegn was the eldest son of a prolific family. His father, Godwine of Wessex, worked his way up from relative obscurity to the most powerful Earl in the country. Swegn’s future could have been assured if only he had behaved himself and not acted like a rogue and an outlaw. He was the only one of his brood who seemed totally evil from the first. What happened?
We know very little aside from the basic events which look very bad indeed. Initially Swegn held an important earldom which included Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, and Somerset. In 1046, as he was returning from a successful expedition into Wales, he is said to have abducted the abbess of Leominster, had his way with her then sent her back in disgrace. For this deed he was exiled and lost his earldom.
Swegn eventually submitted to the King and asked to be restored his lands. At first Edward agreed, but his brother Harold and cousin Beorn, who were given parts of Swegn’s divided earldom, refused to turn over their possessions. King Edward decided to accept their refusal and gave Swegn four days safe conduct back to his ships, anchored at Bosham.
At the same time, England was threatened by a Danish fleet; there was a lot of back and forth as Godwine and sons moved their ships to defend the Kentish coast. Threatened by severe weather, Godwine anchored off Pevensey and Beorn apparently searched him out there (to defend his actions?). Swegn did as well, and I assume there was some heated discussion before Beorn agreed to accompany his cousin back to the king and make amends. Reluctant to leave his own ships unsupervised any longer, Swegn persuaded Beorn to return to his home base at Bosham, from whence they would continue to King Edward at Sandwich.
Poor Beorn never made it to Sandwich. Once at Bosham, he was allegedly seized, bound, and thrown into a ship, where he was murdered by Swegn and his body dumped off at Dartmouth. Or possibly, Beorn and Swegn quarreled before the killing, which undoubtedly happened no matter what the cause. This time, Swegn had gone too far. Declared nithing (or worthless) by king and countrymen, Swegn was deserted by his own men and took refuge in Flanders.
Amazingly, the next year he was reinstated in his old earldom with the help of Bishop Ealdred, known as the peacemaker. But trouble was on the horizon (nothing to do with Swegn this time). In 1051 Eustace of Bologne created a huge ruckus in Dover then fled to the king complaining that he lost 21 men to the vicious townspeople. Taking advantage of the opportunity to assert himself, King Edward ordered Godwine to punish the offenders. The earl refused, putting himself on the wrong side of the law. The crisis escalated into an armed confrontation, with Godwine and Swegn cast as rebels. But no one wanted civil war, so Godwine backed down and was eventually driven into exile along with his family. Swegn accompanied his father to Flanders once again, but, overcome with remorse, continued to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage from which he never returned.
It’s easy to dismiss Swegn as the black sheep of the family. But perhaps his story goes a little deeper than that. First of all, consider the circumstances of Godwine and Gytha’s marriage. King Canute gave Godwine—a commoner—in marriage to this high-ranking Danish woman whose brother had recently been killed by Canute’s orders. This doesn’t sound like an auspicious beginning, and I wonder if the early years of their marriage weren’t a bit tempestuous. Perhaps their first son was born in the midst of bitter recriminations? This might explain Godwine’s stubborn defense of his wayward son in face of almost universal disapproval. It was reported that during his second banishment, Swegn put it about that King Canute was his real father, which caused Gytha to strenuously and very publicly object. What was the motivation behind this outrage?
The abbess of Leominster story has a possible explanation. There is circumstantial evidence Eadgifu may have been related to the late Earl Hakon, nephew of King Canute. She may possibly have been childhood friends with Swegn, and perhaps more; it doesn’t make sense for him to have kidnapped a high-profile total stranger. The Worcester tradition states that he kept her for one year and wanted to marry her, but was forbidden by the church and commanded to return her to Leominster, which caused him to leave the country.
As for Beorn, there seems little defense. It has been said that it was Harold rather than Beorn that stubbornly refused to release the territory to Swegn, and this is why Swegn was able to persuade Beorn to accompany him to the king in Sandwich. Perhaps Beorn wanted to please Godwine, his uncle-by-marriage, and agreed to negotiate. Regardless, Beorn must have been the victim of Swegn’s bad temper (at best) or revenge (at worst). Swegn’s decision to go on pilgrimage seems to have been the last attempt to redeem himself.
It is said that Swegn died on his way back from Jerusalem exactly fourteen days after Godwine’s successful return to England. By all reports, Swegn was mourned by no one except his father. No one was to know it yet, but this was the beginning of the end for Earl Godwine; he fell into decline and didn’t last out the year.
You can read more about this in my novel, GODWINE KINGMAKER.
This book is a very solid overview of not only the battle but events leading up to it, from the beginning of Henry V’s reign, the coup attempt at Southampton, the siege of Harfleur, and the long detour the army had to make to find a crossing of the Somme. It’s not until about halfway through that we get to the battle. I’m not complaining, mind you. You can’t tell the story without the background. It’s just that I found the book description a little misleading, as was (in my opinion) the statement on the back cover that we see the battle “through the eyes of key participants”. I’m very deep into my research by now, and I bought this book hoping I would get some really specific stuff, about individual archers, some of Henry’s captains, etc. I should have known better. Agincourt has been gone over meticulously; there’s only so much stuff that’s ever going to come to the surface unless some researcher gets really lucky. With that said, this is a very good book for anyone getting started on their research. The narrative is solid and we get some good historical background. For instance:
His (Henry V) deep piety has been much remarked on and his knowledge of Biblical precedent had featured in the campaign before, such as when he suggested to the townsfolk of Harfleur that he would use the powers allocated by God to a king chastising his subjects as outlined in the Book of Deuteronomy. The whole expedition has been given the impression of something approaching a Crusade by the king, as an act sanctioned and approved by God.
Henry V and his motivations were reasonably discussed, though I really didn’t get the impression I was seeing the battle through his eyes or anyone else’s. But that didn’t matter too much; I came away with a substantial understanding about how the army dealt with their hardships along the way, and even got a good overview of the French side. I thought the Harfleur siege was explained in good detail as well. Unfortunately for me, there wasn’t anything I hadn’t already read before, which made sense once I looked at the bibliography; all the sources used were secondary works. Regardless, the book was interesting, well written, and flowed very smoothly.
Henry of Monmouth (so named because he was born at Monmouth Castle in Wales) was not his father’s favorite. That honor went to the next son Thomas, probably a year younger than him. It was said that young Henry was a bit aloof, and I suspect this had a lot to do with his father’s absence through much of his youth; Henry Bolingbroke spent many years galivanting around Europe and going on crusade. It’s kind of amazing he had any opportunity to beget so many children! Between 1386 and 1394 poor Mary de Bohun bore six children, dying while giving birth to her second daughter Philippa. The children were then raised by relatives.
When Bolingbroke was exiled in 1398, young Henry was surrendered as a hostage to King Richard II. Second son Thomas accompanied his father to Paris where—let’s face it—he had his sire all to himself. I suspect this accounted for Bolingbroke’s preference for him; could it be the first time he paid any real attention to his child?
Maybe I’m not being fair. Judging from the medications that were purchased for him, young Henry may have been a bit sickly. Thomas, on the other hand, was reportedly gregarious, good looking, and martially inclined. Very little was said in these early days about John, the next son born in 1389 and Humphrey, 1390. Their little sisters, Blanche (1392) and Philippa (1394) were married to foreign princes and don’t figure much in Henry’s story.
When young Henry was taken in by King Richard, his fortunes actually took a turn for the better. The childless king took a fancy to him, and it was even said that Richard saw future greatness in the boy. In many ways he treated Henry like the son he never had, took him to Ireland with him, and famously knighted him in the field. However, when word came to Ireland about Bolingbroke’s invasion, Henry was confined to Trim castle along with the heir of Buckingham for safekeeping. Apparently he didn’t resent the necessity, for the next time he saw Richard—after the king had been apprehended and imprisoned—Henry attempted to alleviate Richard’s discomfort. He was distressed by the usurpation, though not enough to refuse his elevation to Prince of Wales.
King Henry IV expected his sons to follow in his footsteps—at least as far as military and leadership training was concerned. Bolingbroke was a champion jouster as a young man, and took over governing the duchy of Lancaster when John of Gaunt campaigned in Spain and Aquitaine from 1386-89. Bolingbroke would have been 19 years old at the time. So after his new reign began, he had high expectations for his heir. The Welsh rose in rebellion during the first year after Bolingbroke took the crown, and Henry was put under the tutelage of Sir Henry “Hotspur” Percy at Conwy Castle. Unfortunately, Hotspur abandoned the cause after a couple of years in favor of his own rebellion. Within the year, Henry was given the lieutenancy of Wales, a major command and a lot of responsibility for a sixteen year-old. He would play a role in the Battle of Shrewsbury (1403) against his former mentor, taking an arrow in the face that nearly ended his life. That put him out of commission for about a year.
Meanwhile, his younger brother Thomas was sent to Ireland as lieutenant in 1402, an office he was to perform on and off—mostly off—for the next ten years. His salary was constantly in arrears and he hated the job, preferring something closer to home. His father preferred having him around, too, and didn’t object when he turned his responsibilities over to a second in command and came back to London. Although he was given the somewhat empty position of steward of England, he had no titles until the year before his father died, when he was made Duke of Clarence. This gave him the necessary prestige to command an invasion of France planned in conjunction with the Armagnacs against the Duke of Burgundy. Although this whole episode was a fiasco, since the French made peace and bought him off, Thomas got his first experience at least by heading a chevauché, the closest thing so far to actual combat.
John was next in line after Thomas, and Henry IV had plans for him as well. The young prince was sent to Northumberland under the tutelage of the Earl of Westmorland, whose rivalry with the Percies had reached a climax. Although Earl Henry Percy (Hotspur’s father) had survived the fallout from the Battle of Shrewsbury, his prestige and authority had greatly diminished in the region. John was appointed Warden of the East Marches toward Scotland—Hotspur’s former command. Westmorland was created Warden of the West Marches. This galled Percy to no end, and three years after Hotspur’s death, Percy launched an aborted rebellion against Henry IV. John accompanied Westmorland as they pursued and dealt with the rebels. John was destined to stay in the North all the way through the end of his father’s life; the experience would hold him in good stead when he would take over as regent during his brother’s reign.
This left Humphrey, who was only nine years old when Henry IV took the throne. Either his father ran out of jobs for him, or perhaps the king wanted to keep a son nearby, for Humphrey was stuck in the unenviable position of having nothing to occupy his talents. He was dragged along as the king moved about the country. Both Humphrey and John were young enough to benefit from the presence of Henry’s queen Joan of Navarre, who he married in 1403. Joan was obliged to leave her sons behind when she came to England, so she was ready to take the motherless boys under her wing. Now that Humphrey was the only son left at home, so to speak, he spent quite a lot of time with her. He wasn’t to make any major contribution to history until his brother became king.
Henry, as Prince of Wales, took his responsibilities very seriously—in contradiction to Shakespeare, who portrayed him as a good-for-nothing layabout, hanging around with drunks and thieves and causing trouble. The Welsh rebellion lasted nine years and Henry was in the thick of the fighting. He had no leisure to play around, and I don’t think he even spent much time in London. In 1410, as a result of his father’s failing health, Henry headed the Council in charge of the government. Unfortunately, he disagreed with the king on some fundamental political issues and he was dismissed a year later (there’s some question that he and his uncle Cardinal Beaufort may have tried to persuade King Henry to retire. If so, this backfired terribly.) His dismissal could have freed him up to go drinking with his buddies, but it wasn’t to last very long. King Henry IV died in March of 1413, and Henry V mounted the throne a changed man—allegedly.
Some Norwood online trees trace their genealogy directly back to Jordanus de Sheppey, and then to Harold Godwineson as his father, basing this on Marion Norwood Callum’s researches – that cannot be true. The chronology does not hold; court documents for Jordan’s wife and children make it clear that he had to have been born long after Harold Godwinson was dead at Hastings, indeed in 1135.
All of the uncertainty surrounding the descendants of King Harold could be removed if, like Richard III, his body could be found. In the case of Richard, apart from the physical description of the body and its location close to the battlefield etc., proof was found through the DNA of modern supposed descendants. There are many branches of the Norwood family who would be very happy to offer their DNA as proof, including our own! There is controversy however over its location. He had been a benefactor of Waltham Abbey where they claim that a body which was originally under the chancel and was moved later to outside of the Church is Harold II. He has a marked grave in the church yard and the town celebrates his presence; there is at least one society that champions him. But academic opinion is not convinced.
The most detailed medieval account of his location comes from the Waltham Chronicle. The author describes how two canons from Waltham, Osgod Cnoppe and Aethelric Childemaister, accompanied Harold from Waltham to Hastings. After the battle, they asked permission to recover Harold’s body, which could only be identified by his “concubine”, (their pejorative term as clergymen- she was his “hand fast” wife, a recognised Anglo- Scandinavian status) Edith Swans Neck, who recognised “secret marks” on it (only known from their intimate relations.) From Hastings the body was brought to Waltham and buried under the floor of the church. This story was related to the author of the Chronicle when he was a boy, by the Sacristan Turketil, who claimed to have himself been a boy at Waltham when Harold arrived en route from Stamford Bridge, and later witnessed the interment of the king. The author himself claims to have seen Harold’s body being disinterred and moved twice during the rebuilding work which started in 1090.
After the defeat at Hastings, Edith was said to have retreated to Minster on Sheppey where she joined, according to some accounts a nunnery. This too has been challenged, as there was no scope for giving sanctuary as a nun to a prominent figure like Edith, and neither was there an existing community of nuns as the Church had been ruined during the actions by Earl Godwine against Edward the Confessor and therefore it was not in a fit state to serve either as a refuge, or a home for nuns who had already moved on by 1050. The site had a very sad history right through the Anglo Saxon period from the location of a monastery there in 664 through to the 11th century as a result of raids by Vikings. The payment of Danegeld did little to alleviate its suffering. As buildings were made of wattle and daub, they had little resistance to pillage, so by the time of Edward the Confessor in 1042, there was little of the Priory left, probably just a rough settlement around the remains of the Church, and even less after Godwine had done his worst. It is the case however that much later the Abbey was restored and became a priory accommodating wealthy “brides of Christ”.
Moreover, although Edith had some land in Sheppey, according to Domesday, and Thanet her major holdings were in Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and East Anglia which was a more natural retreat – she has been linked for example to the foundation to our Lady of Walsingham in Norfolk. But nothing is known for sure and some have speculated that she joined her sons and her husband’s second wife in the abortive attempts to resist Williams rule at Exeter and Bristol. Harold’s wife Aeditha ended her days in St Omer. Edith is said to have died in 1087 but there is no proof that this was in Sheppey.
The family dispersed after the Conquest. Only two members of the family were allowed to live undisturbed in England under Norman rule. Edward the Confessor’s widow Edith, daughter of Godwin, lived in retirement, remaining in possession of all her private lands, until her death in 1075. She was buried near her husband in Westminster Abbey. Her niece Gunnhild, daughter of Harold Godwinson, was an inmate of the nunnery in Wilton until 1093, when she was abducted by Alan the Red, a Breton who held the lordship of Richmond. She lived with him, and then with his successor Alan the Black, after which she disappears from history. The Alans’ goal was evidently to consolidate their hold on land taken from Edith Swans Neck by marrying her daughter.
In the aftermath of the battle of Hastings Godwin’s widow, Gytha, (mother of Harold II) by then in her sixties, withdrew to the south-west of England, where she held vast estates and where resistance to the Conquest was mounting. William the Conqueror turned his attention to crushing this resistance at the beginning of 1068, and laid siege to the city of Exeter, but Gytha had already fled, probably with her daughter Gunhild and Harold’s daughter Gytha, and taken refuge first on an island in the Bristol Channel, probably Flat Holm, and then at Saint-Omer in Flanders.
The young sons of Harold, Godwine and Edmund, and possibly also their brother Magnus, may have been at the siege of Exeter; certainly they made their way to the court of King Diarmalt of Leinster in Ireland, from where they launched two unsuccessful raids against south-west England. Two of the sons, probably Godwin and Edmund, survived to join their relatives in Saint-Omer. From there the whole party seems to have proceeded to Denmark in the hope that its king, Sweyn II, would help them regain their position in England. Sweyn failed them in this, but after a few years he arranged an advantageous marriage for the younger Gytha with Vladimir Monomakh, Prince of Smolensk and later Grand Prince of Kiev. Their descendants intermarried with royal houses across Europe, and transmitted the blood of the Godwins to, among many others, the present Queens of Great Britain and Denmark.
Harold, the youngest and probably posthumous son of Harold Godwinson, was taken by his mother to Dublin, and later went to Norway, where he was welcomed by the king. In 1098 he was one of the men Magnus III Barelegs took with him on an expedition to Orkney, the Isle of Man and Anglesey; the target of this operation, Dublin, was left untouched as the Norwegians retreated home. No further mention of Harold appears in any source. Before passing to the Jordanus connection, it is worth noting that one historian suggests that Alnod/Ulf stayed on in Normandy after being knighted by Robert and changed his name to Loup Fitz Heraut (Wulf, son of Harold) whose signatures have been found in attestations in late 11C charters. Little is known about this knight.
Assertions have been made that Alnod/Ulf lays buried in the Minster Abbey, Isle of Sheppey. There is no proof of this. There are however many other Norwood burials in the Abbey, beginning with Jordanus’ s grandson, Roger de Northwode, which are less contentious. Roger’s father, Sir Stephen de Norwood (Northwood) born c. 1165 built two manor houses, the manor on the Isle of Sheppey was known as “Norwood Manor” within Sheppey and a manor in the Parish of Milton was known as “Norwood without Sheppey” and also known as “Norwood Chasteners.” Stephen is recorded as a son of Jordan de Sheppey, and lived during the reigns of Richard I and King John, (1189 – 1216). His Isle of Sheppey manor was granted by the crown, his mansion was moated around and encompassed within a park, it was well wooded, and said to be stored with an abundance of deer and wild boars. Hence, he assumed the name of Northwood, which was borne by all his descendants.
There is of course a mysterious tomb in the Minster church which was attributed in the Daly book on Sheppey to Jordanus. According to Daly “ In the reign of Henry 1 about AD 1126, the paramount Lord of Sheppey appears to be one Jordanus de Sheppey, or, as it was spelt then “ Sceapiege”. He resided at Northwood Manor, that is to say, the northern Manor immediately adjoining Minster. He died there and was buried, according to Hasted the historian at the Abbey Church of Sexbugha, where his tomb still remains without any inscription or character, though it once had the coat armour, which this family afterwards bore on it. A life size effigy, however, which is now ascribed to him, has been discovered since Hasted wrote (1776); it is deserving of particular attention and is believed to be unique. Of Purbeck marble, it represents a recumbent knight, and was dug up in the churchyard if Minster Abbey in 1833, from about 5 feet below the surface. The hands of the knight are upraised as if in prayer, clasping within them the unique sculptured figure of a soul in prayer also enclosed in a mysterious oval. The Vicar of Minster, the Rev Bramston, is of the opinion that this memorial was probably buried in the churchyard in the troublesome times of the 16th Century.”
In more recent times, the church is more reluctant to ascribe this figure to Jordanus, suggesting that it could belong to the Cheyne family who intermarried with the Norwoods. Close examination of the “soul” also suggests that it is more likely to represent a sheep, the source of wealth in Sheppey at the time. Interestingly, the figure exhibits none of the usual characteristics testifying to participation in the Crusades, such as crossed feet or appropriate weaponry.
When Jordanus died he left an only son Stephen, who assumed the name of Northwood and who succeeded to his father’s estates in Sheppey. He liked like his father in a manor house on the site of the existing more modern house called Norwood manor.
The first time the surname Norwood occurs, is in a court case in the year 1206. At this time, Stephen is also recorded as Stephen, son of Jordan of Sheppey or Stephen son of Cecily. The earliest dated occurrence of Stephen is in the tax rolls for the years 1198-1202 still existing in the public record office in Chancery Lane, London. He occurs with his mother, Cecily, and his brother William. Since Jordanus is not mentioned, he is assumed to be dead by this time.” Stephen’s approximate birthdate of 1165 is based on the fact that he paid to have King John re-confirm his grants that he received from King Richard I around the year 1185. He would have had to be of age at that time so his birthdate is guessed to be the near 1165 figure. [James Dempsey, “Norwood – Northwood families of Kent Warwickshire and Gloucestershire”, 1987]
Stephen’s name can be found in a variety of ways because before the year 1200, the use of surnames or spelling had not been rigidly adopted. In tax rolls for the years 1214 and 1219, Northwood Manor has become well-known enough for Stephen to identify himself as “Stephen of Norwood”.
By far the best short description of the Northwode/Norwood line out of Sheppey is contained in Chapter V11 of Sheila Judge’s book “The Isle of Sheppey” first published in 1983. Sheila details the line from Sir Stephen de Northwode, son of Jordanus, through to John de Northwode who was Constable of the Queensborough Castle in the reign of Edward IV. He was the last male of that line and the Norwood manor was sold and lost its importance. But according to Sheila “The Norwoods were a noble family with a long history. One of the first was a Crusader with Richard I and over the years different members were Sheriffs of Kent; Knights were sent to Westminster, and all of them undertook willingly the commissions that would be expected of a family of their standing. They were a large prolific family, owning large estates in different parts of Kent, where they continued to live for many years after they left Sheppey .”
In her excellent book “Conquered”, sub titled “The Last Children of Anglo Saxon England”, Eleanor Parker of Brasenose traces the lives of the generation of children from the ruling elite born on the eve of the Conquest whose adult lives would be shaped by the new forces. They were entering adulthood, some might choose to play an active part in rebellion against Norman rule, others chose to leave the country or were forced into submission, some did little but watch. They were the last generation of Anglo-Saxon England but they were also the fathers and mothers of the country England was to become.
It is clear that the raids from Ireland with the support of Diarmait, King of Leinster on Bristol, Devon and Cornwall were the last throw of the dice for Harold’s oldest children, Godwine, Edmund and Magnus. Gytha their sister left Flat Holm in the Bristol channel after her effort at Exeter failed and the three eldest of Harold’s children were eventually reunited at the Danish Court. It is possible that Magnus returned to England at some point because there is a medieval monument at Lewes which commemorates Magnus “of Denmark’s royal race” who became an anchorite there. It is clear that by the end of 1066 the English leaders unwilling to accept William had turned to Edgar Aetheling, not the sons of Harold.
Although as written before, Ulf is mentioned in the records as having come into the power of Robert Curthose who also held Duncan, the son of Malcolm of Scotland, according to Parker the Anglo-Norman records are then silent on Ulf’s subsequent fate. Her book goes extensively into the contemporary myth making that produced the English hero Hereward the Wake and the sanctification of Margaret of Scotland, the granddaughter of Edmund Ironside, whose daughter Matilda married Henry 1. She observes that the almost complete disappearance of the grandchildren of Gytha and Godwine from English history after the Conquest is remarkable – although Harold and his brothers were written about in the run up to the 13th century. These stories propagated the myth that Harold had survived Hastings and had come to terms with Norman rule, thereby showing an interest in a King who had lost his kingdom, strength and status but had acquired spiritual power over his conquerors. But no stories were written about his children.
Parker observes that this is more than a simple lack of information. No one is interested in telling stories because for historians in Anglo-Norman England the question of what happened to these children was an awkward subject. To consider their fates worth of investigation might seem tantamount to recognising Harold’s legitimacy as King which was impossible to reconcile with the dominant Norman narrative that “Harold was a grasping usurper who unjustly seized the throne” To address the issue of Harold’s sons and daughters was a more complicated issue and it was perhaps easier and more comfortable to forget the grandchildren of Godwine and Gytha rather than to acknowledge all that they had lost.
This explains why our knowledge of Ulf derives from the various records that I have cited and not from any broader narrative. It would of course have suited Alnod/Ulf well in his process of normanisation if his Anglo- Saxon heritage was not a subject of myth making; Roger Curthose had set him on a new course that lead to the creation of a new generation of Norman knights in Kent.
We know so much about the history of the Norwoods because their genealogy was recorded between 1385 and 1405 with further additions some years later. It was contained in a roll considered to be the work of Thomas Brumpston working for the family and is a very rare chronicle in the Surrenden collection now in the National Archives. However as Sheila Judge says in her book, it omits the perplexing Jordanus of Sheppey entirely. It is probable that unless some hitherto undisclosed documents are found in a forgotten archive, or the body of King Harold is disinterred and DNA tested, the missing link between the Norwoods and the Anglo Saxon King through Alnod/Ulf will never be established. In the meantime, perhaps members of the extended Norwood family should be content that they have an ancestor who fought alongside King Edward 1 at Caerlaverock, another ancestor who accompanied Richard I, Coeur de Lion in the Third Crusade and participated in the battle of Acre, leading to an eventual agreement with Saladin and yet a third fought alongside Henry V at Agincourt, one of the most famous victories in British History.
Whilst on the subject of DNA, if it is the case that Queen Elizabeth II was descended from Harold through Gytha’s marriage to Vladimir Monomakh, Prince of Smolensk and later Grand Prince of Kiev, then her DNA would provide some kind of verification of the Norwood link to Harold. Or, to put it another way, the absence of any common characteristics in the DNA of the Norwoods and the House of Windsor would suggest that the story of a connection with Alnod/Ulf is regrettably not true. I leave it to more intrepid members of the Norwood Clan to take up the matter with Buckingham Palace. Who knows, King Charles might be more amenable to making his DNA available?
Interested in more about the ancestry of John Norwood?
It has long been the case that members of the Norwood family in its many manifestations, claim descent from King Harold Godwineson, otherwise known as Harold II who was killed at Hastings in 1066, through his son Alnod or Ulf. I followed the convention in my book on John Norwood VC by citing the researches of Marian Callum Norwood, the noted genealogist and family historian who did much to develop the histories of the various branches of the family. I met her in the 1990s when she was already quite old but still full of enthusiasm. In the many years since Marion’s death however, others who have followed her work more critically have taken issue with the absence of a credible connection between Jordanus of Sheppey, the 12th century patriarch of the family from whom the Norwood clan indubitably descended and Alnod or Ulf, the son of Harold.
Marion goes wrong early in Volume Two of the Norwood books by referring to Alnod as the eldest son of Harold and Edith; he was not. The title of eldest son belongs to Godwine who fled to the continent after various attempts post-Conquest to achieve power. That said, her formidable research into heraldry and the translation of the Domesday Book for Kent by Lambert Blackwell Larking which she used, revealed that Alnod had very significant holdings indeed around Kent which after the Conquest fell into the hands either of Odo of Bayeux, or William himself or the Canterbury Archdiocese. We verified these findings ourselves by examining the same document at the Kent Archives in Maidstone in both translations of Domesday. Larking uses “Alnod Cilt” as his translation, but the modern interpretation in a Domesday translation edited by John Morris is “the young Alnod”. He will therefore be identical to Ulf who was a young teenager at the Conquest but who was endowed with significant land.
Also featuring large in the Domesday record is Wulfnoth, born circa 1035, the youngest brother of Harold. He was captured after Hastings, held in Normandy, transferred to Winchester Castle by William Rufus on his release in 1087 by William on his deathbed and then allowed to join a monastery where he died around 1094 in his late fifties – early sixties. His place in the family is often confused with the children of Harold.
According to the book “Harold, the Last Anglo Saxon King” by Ian Walker, the descendants of Harold and his hand fast wife Edith in terms of seniority were; Godwine, Edmund, Magnus, Gytha, Ulf and Gunnhild. He had a son Harold from his conventional second marriage to Aeditha, who was too young to play any role in the Conquest and indeed is thought to have been born after Harold’s death. However, he may well be the son involved years later in the abortive Norwegian attacks on Dublin and Anglesey and must be presumed to have settled in Scandinavia.
Alnod or Ulf was also seized after Hasting (where he was too young to fight) and confined in Normandy. But later, like Wulfnoth, he was released by William on his deathbed, reportedly at the urging of the church, as an act of mercy. There is evidence that William’s estranged son, Robert Curthose, the next Duke of Normandy, took a shine to Ulf and knighted him not long after.
Robert Curthose has been ill served by historians who have failed to look behind tainted contemporary sources all of whom have their own reasons for a critical view. A recent book about him by William Aird, a lecturer in medieval history at Cardiff is more even handed. Aird brings out in particular that his leading role in the First Crusade (1095-99) made him one of the most famous warriors of his time, returning to Western Europe in 1100 as a chivalric hero with a reputation that extended from Palestine to Scotland.
Aird writes that in the 11th century the dubbing ceremony was the granting of weapons to a new Knight who was deemed capable of holding land and bearing arms to defend it; this honour was usually awarded to young men and had connotations of social status partly derived from personal ancestry but also by association with the Lord making the grant. It seems clear that Ulf’s privileged retention in Normandy after Hastings led to a close relationship with Robert which could only be recognised on the death of the Conqueror who evidently harboured a strong antipathy to the Godwins.
It is inconceivable that Ulf would not have remained close to his benefactor and fought with him during the many actions that troubled Normandy from the rivalry between Robert and his siblings, William Rufus and Henry. It is equally improbable that Ulf did not accompany him as a mature warrior when he went on the Crusade. This service would have been the most evident route towards reacquiring and retaining his ancestral lands, the defence of which was an inherent element in the knight’s role.
Ulf’s aspirations to land were associated with Kent, so after his formal release in 1087, and after his belting as a knight, he is likely to have sought restoration. By this time, his Anglo-Saxon identity would have been transformed by 20 years of Norman tutelage. It is clear that Alnod or Ulf once had major manorial holdings in Kent which overlap with the later location of the Jordanus/Norwood family, thereby consolidating the supposed connection. Alnod’s former lands are well laid out from Domesday in Marion’s third book and cover widespread manors in Alnod’s name from Rochester to Dover, embracing Canterbury, Whitstable, Sheppey, Thanet, Norwood, Chart Sutton and many more. These had been held by Alnod /Ulf from King Edward, presumably from childhood, but were subordinated to the feudal over-lordship of Odo of Bayeux, William’s half-brother and the Church after the Conquest. Marian asserts that Alnod recovered some of these and that they continued in the possession of Jordanus of Sheppey and the Norwoods for 300 years.
Aird states that there is no complete record of the knights who served Robert and who participated in the First Crusade which was known to be hazardous but Pope Urban had said that “by the will of God, he absolved all penitents from their sins from the moment that they took the cross of Christ”, which produced a surge of participants. Around 60,000 soldiers took part in the Crusade of which around 6,000 were knights and a further 30,000 provided support. This is not the moment to detail the history of the Crusade but the crowning moment for Robert was in August 1099 when after victory in Jerusalem, the crusaders were confronted by an Egyptian Fatimid army at Ascalon, southwest of Jerusalem. Robert commanded the centre division of the Crusader Army and charging at the heart of the Egyptian camp, personally captured the Viziers banner and his tent. The Emir was lucky to escape leading to a great victory for which Robert’s part was much celebrated. After the battle and before beginning the return home, Robert completed his pilgrimage by immersing himself in the River Jordan. It was this act which encouraged crusaders to give themselves the soubriquet “Jordanus”.
Alnod/Ulf appears to disappear from history after 1087 but the change of name to either Jordanus and/or John of Northwoode may contribute to this apparent obscurity. If Robert was his master, the latter’s continuous attempts to challenge at first William Rufus and later Henry 1 for the throne of England, in between battling with his neighbours in France, eventually lead to ignominy. He was bamboozled by Henry I into taking a very large pension in lieu of his claim, which was soon in arrears leading to conflict in which Robert ended as the loser. Henry invaded Normandy in 1106, defeating Robert at the battle of Tinchebray, he then imprisoned his brother in Devizes Castle for 20 years and later moved him to Cardiff where he ended his life in 1134; he is buried in St Peter’s in Gloucester. Tinchebray is in the Orne region of lower Normandy, the scene of much fighting after the D Day landings.
The obvious conclusions that one draw from this story is that Alnod/Ulf after his release from nominal confinement in Normandy, receiving his knighthood and giving service to Robert, was able to claim back at least some his lands. His 20 or so years in Normandy had “normanized“ him. He would have been required of course to offer continued service to Robert – after all, his knighthood involved obligations, but this did not mean that he had to stay in Normandy. It was timely to pursue land claims in the late 80s in Kent because the Church under Archbishop Lanfranc had initiated proceedings, with William’s blessing to strip Odo of Bayeux of lands that he had misappropriated after the Conquest, especially from the Church but also from previous holders such as Alnod/Ulf.
The Trial of Penenden Heath may well have had a role in restoring Alnod/Ulf’s fortunes, although this occurred when he was still in Normandy, as its effects were far reaching. The Trial occurred in the decade after the Conquest probably in 1076, and involved a dispute between Odo of Bayeux , the half-brother of William and Lanfranc, the Archbishop of Canterbury and others. Odo de Bayeux was previously Earl of Kent and the primary landowner of the region subsequent to his half-brother William the Conqueror’s victory in 1066. In 1070, Archbishop Lanfranc succeeded to Canterbury and requested an inquiry into the activities of Odo (and Lanfranc’s predecessor, Stigand) who had allegedly defrauded the Church (and possibly the Crown) during his tenure as Earl of Kent.
It has subsequently been argued that most of the lands had been lost not to Odo, but to Earl Godwine (Harold II’s father) and his family during Edward’s reign and perhaps even earlier and that Odo had simply succeeded to these encroachments. Therefore the conflict between Archbishop and Earl was to a large extent a reprise of that between Robert of Jumièges and Godwine in 1051-2, the suggestion being that Lanfranc, despite being the Prior of a Norman monastery was attempting to restore the pre-conquest landholdings for the Church of Canterbury.
William I determined that the matter should be settled by the nobles of Kent and ordered that an assembly be formed on the heath at Penenden (near present-day Maidstone) for the purpose. William I ordered that the findings of the inquiry or ‘trial’ of Odo de Bayeux were to be final. Various prominent figures in the country at the time were called, which included Geoffrey de Montbray, Bishop of Coutances (who represented the King), Lanfranc (for the Church), Odo de Bayeux (defending himself), Arnost, Rochester Bishop, Athelric II (former Bishop of Selsey), Richard de Tunbridge, Hugh de Montfort, William de Arsic, Hamo Vicecomes and many others.
Athelric II in particular had been compelled by William I to attend as the authority on pre-Norman law. Described as: “A very old man, very learned in the laws of the land “he was brought by chariot or other carriage to Penenden Heath “in order to discuss and expound these same old legal customs”.
The presence of a contingent of English (or Saxon) witnesses as experts in ancient laws and customs as well as the French-born representation is regarded as a significant indication of the basis of the Church’s claims being grounded in the ancient laws of the land. However it is unclear from the sources which of those laws were cited. Precisely when the inquiry was held is also unclear although many historians have determined it took place between 1075 and 1077. Similarly a number of varying transcripts or records of the trial exist and it is unclear which may be regarded as the definitive version of events. The trial of Odo de Bayeux lasted three days and ended in the partial recovery of properties for the church from Odo and others. Odo of Bayeux was later to be stripped of his properties entirely and imprisoned for five years following further challenges to his wealth and powers in 1082.
By all accounts the Penenden trial occurred prior to the Domesday survey and was an early attempt by the church to reclaim rights and interests from the Crown and its agents. Since the assessments of property and rights which followed the trial were of significance, Domesday Book has come to be seen as a response to a need to have a definitive record of the ownership and administration of Crown property.
The Domesday Book was commissioned in December 1085 by William the Conqueror. The first draft was completed in August 1086 and contained records for 13,418 settlements in the English counties
Alnod/Ulf would have been at least around 40 and possibly older when he challenged for the return of his land. His most likely date of birth is around 1050 and possibly later. As Harold’s older sons, starting with Godwine were of an age to contest the throne, post Conquest, it must be assumed that the hand fast marriage with Edith took place in the 1040s with children appearing at regular intervals. This would have made Ulf a young teenager at the Conquest, in his thirties upon his release by William in 1087 and in his late forties during the First Crusade. What appears to be clear and is suggested by a number of references in Domesday is that Alnod/Ulf successfully reclaimed land that we know is associated with the subsequent Northwode holdings. Marion says that Alnod/Ulf had held 20 manors but at the Domesday Survey, none, as almost half had been conveyed to Odo of Bayeux. At Penenden Heath, Alnod’s name is cited as a recent subtenant of Manors which Odo had assumed. The thesis is that on his release and rehabilitation by Robert Curthose, Ulf seized back two parts of Kings Wood on Sheppey which he was allowed to keep not by feudal but by costumal tenure, which effectively recognized the earlier status of his ownership. The source for this is Henry Bracton (c.1210–c.1268) an English cleric and jurist. These properties were also held by gavelkind, which means that they were sellable and not just held in fealty to an Earl.
Notwithstanding these credible assertions, it stretches probability that Alnod/Ulf was the father of Jordanus of Sheppey, as the latter was born in 1135 making Ulf around 80 at the time of his conception. Not impossible but improbable. However, there is a possibility of a link between Ulf and Jordanus – the honorific title passing through a third person. As some commentators have suggested, Jordanus could be the grandson of Alnod/Ulf through an illegitimate or unrecognised son.
The Second World War was a defining moment in British history, and the impact of the war on the daily lives of those who lived through it was profound. Virtually nothing was the same in 1945 as it had been in 1940. Not only had the British Empire’s place in the world been irreparably damaged, but the social fabric of Britain was starting to tear. Respect for authority had deteriorated, acceptance of the class-system undermined, and the role of women transformed. Furthermore, the material substance of Britain was battered, run-down and partially shattered.
The two most important factors contributing to these changes were: 1) the total mobilization of society necessary to continue the fight, something that entailed near universal conscription (industrial as well as military) and an economy characterized by shortages, and 2) the damage, threat and cost in lives of the air war.
With the wisdom of hindsight, it is easy to dismiss the impact of Hitler’s air war against Britain as paltry. Yet when the Germans opened their assault on London on 7 September 1940 with a raid involving nearly 1,000 aircraft, it represented a scale of aerial warfare no one had previously encountered anywhere in the world.
The all-out assault on London and other urban centers lasted unremittingly for roughly nine months, costing enormous damage, and sporadic conventional air attacks continued throughout the war. Nor was London alone the Luftwaffe’s target. Liverpool was bombed 60 times, Southampton 37, Birmingham 36, Coventry 21 times, while many other cities were bombed lesser numbers of times. Nearly every raid left thousands of casualties and tens of thousands of homes and shops destroyed, scores of factories, dockyards and other installations damaged.
After the Allied landings in Normandy, Britain was subjected to a new terror from the skies when Hitler unleased his “vengeance weapons,” the V1 and the V2. The V1s were essentially drones, while V2s were rockets which fell from 60 to 70 miles high at speeds of 3,600 mph — faster than the speed of sound. They came in too fast to set off air raid warnings or to be intercepted by fighters. The destruction they caused was unprecedented — an entire block or row of houses could be turned into rubble in an instant, while causing collateral damage in a quarter-mile radius.
Altogether, Hitler’s air offensive killed 60,447 people in the British Isles. Of those, 51,509 had fallen victims to conventional bombing, and nearly 9,000 (8,938) to Hitler’s “vengeance” weapons. In London alone, every sixth person had been made homeless during the Blitz which damaged nearly 1.1 million homes. After much had been repaired, the V1s and V2s damaged fully half of the housing in the British capital in 1944/1945.
It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the British public demanded and expected their government and armed forces to respond. One Air Marshal watching a night attack on London in 1940 was reminded of a phrase from the Old Testament (Hosea 8:7), and predicted: “They have sowed the wind,” he said, “and they will reap the whirlwind.” Truer words were rarely spoken — but the road was long and cost high.
It was not until 1942 that the RAF could launch its first “thousand plane” raid against Germany. The casualty rates among bomber crews were also appalling. Although chances of survival varied over time depending on a number of factors (the type of aircraft, the targets, the timing of attacks, i.e. daylight or nighttime, the availability of fighter escorts, technological innovations in radar and counter-radar etc.), by the end of the war a total of 57,205 aircrew or 46% of all men who flew with Bomber Command had been killed in action. In addition, 8,403 had been invalided and 9,838 taken prisoner. The effective casualty rate was thus 60%. During the height of the bombing offensive, 1943 – 1944, casualty rates hovered around 5% per raid and each crew was required to fly 30 operational flights before they were eligible for a rest.
Yet all the men who flew with the RAF in whatever capacity were volunteers, and only one in ten of the men who served in the RAF during WWII actually flew. In other words, it took nine men on the ground to support (recruit, train, equip, house, feed, and maintain the equipment of) each man who flew. “Aircrew,” the men who flew in whatever capacity (i.e as pilots, navigators, bomb aimers, wireless operators, flight engineers or air gunners), were all viewed as an elite. They were given status and privileges above those of their non-flying comrades and enjoyed gestures of appreciation and admiration from civilians — particularly by the opposite sex.
Winning the coveted “aircrew brevet” was not easy, however. Many candidates “washed out” before qualifying. Pilot, navigator and wireless operator training took as much as two and a half years, and it was dangerous. Over 8,000 men training for Bomber Command alone were killed in training accidents and an additional 4,200 were seriously injured.
Sobering as this must have been for the participants, it had no apparent impact on the willingness of young men to volunteer. The RAF always had more volunteers than they could absorb and to the end could afford to be choosy. (The image below shows one of the many “Wings Parade” at which cadets received the coveted cloth wings symbolizing their qualification as a pilot in the RAF. This particular picture shows the graduation at an airfield in the U.S. Throughout the war, the RAF sent tens of thousands of trainee aircrew overseas for their training — including to the U.S. until the U.S. entered the war the USAAF required all training facilities for itself.)
And yet! The realities of combat, brushes with death, the loss of friends inevitably took their toll on those on active service. “Shell-shock” and “PTSD” are familiar concepts nowadays. Yet the RAF leadership was shocked when increasing numbers of their carefully selected and meticulously trained volunteer aircrew refused to fly. The refusal to volunteer was hardly a breach of the military code, so the RAF needed another procedure for handling these cases since they otherwise threatened to undermine overall morale.
The term “Lack of Moral Fibre” (LMF) was invented, and any man who refused to fly without a valid medical reason or “lost the confidence of his commanding officer” could be immediately posted off a squadron and subjected to disciplinary measures for “LMF.” During the war itself, it was widely believed that aircrew found LMF were humiliated, demoted, court-martialled, and dishonourably discharged. There were rumours of former aircrew being transferred to the infantry, sent to work in the mines, or forced to do demeaning tasks. Although historical analysis of the records show almost no evidence of widespread humiliation, the rumours of draconian punishment served as a deterrent. Tragically, the threat of public humiliation may also have pushed some men to keep flying when they had already passed their breaking point, leading to errors, accidents, and loss of life. Yet we should not forget that behind the notion of LMF was the deeply embedded belief that courage is the ultimate manly virtue and that a man who lacks courage is inferior to the man who has it.
(Below a Lancaster crew immediately following an operation. It belongs to a collection of photographs concerning Sergeant William Frederick Burkitt (1922-1944). Burkitt flew as a flight engineer with No 9 Squadron.)
Moral Fibre takes you into the world of the RAF in 1944. While the themes — the many faces of courage, the cost of love, the scars left by grief — are universal and timeless, the book is firmly grounded in the period in which it was set. The hero, Kit Moran, has been posted for LMF in the past, but when the book opens, he is returning to operations. As the pilot of a Lancaster, he is responsible for the lives of six other men — and he is prepared to die for them. Yet his desire for life is kindled by his love for Georgina, a trainee teacher who has already lost her fiancé in the air war against Hitler and is afraid of giving her heart again.
Riding the icy, moonlit sky, they took the war to Hitler. Their chances of survival were less than 50%. Their average age was 21. This is the story of just one Lancaster skipper, his crew and the woman he loved. It is intended as a tribute to them all.
Flying Officer Kit Moran has earned his pilot’s wings, but the greatest challenges still lie ahead: crewing up and returning to operations. Things aren’t made easier by the fact that while still a flight engineer, he was posted LMF (Lacking in Moral Fibre) for refusing to fly after a raid on Berlin that killed his best friend and skipper. Nor does it help that he is in love with his dead friend’s fiance, who is not yet ready to become romantically involved again.
Helena P. Schrader is an established aviation author and expert on the Second World War. She earned a PhD in History (cum Laude) from the University of Hamburg with a ground-breaking dissertation on a leading member of the German Resistance to Hitler, which received widespread praise on publication in Germany. Her non-fiction publications include Sisters in Arms: The Women who Flew in WWII, The Blockade Breakers: The Berlin Airlift, and Codename Valkyrie: General Friederich Olbricht and the Plot against Hitler, an English-language adaptation of her dissertation. Helena has published nineteen historical novels and won numerous literary awards, including “Best Biography 2017” from Book Excellence Awards and “Best Historical Fiction 2020” from Feathered Quill Book Awards. For more on her publications, works-in-progress, reviews and awards visit: http://helenapschrader.com
Henry IV’s relationship with the Percys went sour pretty soon after his coronation. He knew that he owed his crown to his northern earl; he also knew that an overly-powerful magnate was a recipe for trouble. So it wasn’t long before the king attempted to mitigate their dominance by promoting their rival, the Earl of Westmorland, who happened to be his brother in-law.
Matters came to a head after their decisive victory at Homildon Hill, where they decimated the Scottish aristocracy. Many were killed, even more were taken hostage—among them the powerful Earl Douglas. Stung by their prowess—in contrast to the humiliating failure he had just experienced in Wales—King Henry demanded they turn over their hostages. It was his right as king, but he couldn’t have made a worse miscalculation. Although Percy senior complied, his son Hotspur adamantly opposed him. King Henry had refused to pay a ransom for Hotspur’s brother in-law Edmund Mortimer—held hostage by the Welsh—and Hotspur saw this as double treachery. He and the king nearly came to blows, and if the chroniclers can be believed, Hotspur stormed out of the room, declaring “Not here, but in the field!” This was the last time they saw each other alive.
Although Henry tried to make amends by awarding lands in Scotland to the Percys—most of which happened to belong to Douglas. It was truly an empty gesture because they had to conquer those territories first. But, as they were acquisitive souls, the Percys decided to give it a try. Hotspur soon laid siege to Cocklaw Tower in Teviotdale, deep into Douglas territory, thinking this would be an easy target. It wasn’t. He was soon frustrated and negotiated a six-week truce, coming back to England with another idea in his mind. Why not take advantage of the truce and launch an offensive against the king?
I believe Hotspur caught his father by surprise. He must have been harboring resentment against the king that wouldn’t go away. Leaving his father to guard the border, Hotspur went to Chester and started raising an army against King Henry; the men of Chester were among King Richard’s most favored subjects and they were hostile to the usurper. They responded enthusiastically, especially as Hotspur promised that Richard would return from exile in Scotland and lead them into battle. Even when Hotspur later reneged on his promise, they agreed to fight anyway. With the help of Hotspur’s uncle Thomas, who left Prince Henry’s service with all of his troops, the rebels made for Shrewsbury, where the Prince was understaffed and vulnerable. They might have gotten young Henry into their hands, too, except for the unexpected arrival of the king, who forced them to battle.
The Battle of Shrewsbury was the most serious threat to King Henry’s reign, and it was a very close call. This was the first time English archers faced each other across the battlefield. Only Hotspur’s death turned the tide; up until that point no one knew who was winning. Would the presence of Earl Henry Percy have made a difference? Almost certainly. Historians debate the reason why he was absent. Some thought his presence was never planned, although he did belatedly start south to support his son. Some thought it was Hotspur’s fight. Others blame Hotspur’s impetuousness and claim he “jumped the gun” so to speak, and screwed up the timing. Shakespeare said Percy was ill and couldn’t make it. Whatever the reason, Henry Percy was devastated by his son’s death; he was never the same man afterwards, and was pretty much driven by the need for revenge.
King Henry was set on punishing Percy, but because the earl wasn’t directly involved he was obliged to wait until the next Parliament. Unfortunately for the king, the lords were on Percy’s side and their response was merely to charge him with “trespass”—in other words, distributing his badge illegally. Percy was restored most of his lands, but the king refused to reinstate his wardenship or the constableship. The earl was in disgrace.
This unfortunate state of affairs lasted another two years. The king appointed his son John as Warden of the East March toward Scotland and Westmorland became Warden of the West March. Percy licked his wounds for a while before coming up with a new plan. In conjunction with Owain Glyndwr, the wily Prince of Wales, and Edmund Mortimer, uncle of the “true” heir to the throne (the child Earl of March), he concocted a new rebellion, this time originating in the North. Most of his supporters were in Yorkshire; as far as the Northumbrians were concerned, they weren’t quite as interested in rebelling against the king and didn’t respond enthusiastically to his overtures. No matter; Percy was on a mission.
Richard Scrope, Archbishop of York added his voice to this uprising. Once again, historians are divided as to whether Scrope went along with Percy, or did he devise a disturbance on his own that happened to correspond with Percy’s rebellion? The timing certainly favored the former explanation. Working the citizens of York into a righteous frenzy, Scrope led a large assembly to Shipton Moor, a few miles from the city. They were protesting high taxes and intolerable burdens on the clergy. The rebels were not a fighting force; they were local citizens. Nor did they possess cannons or instruments of war. The archbishop insisted that their intentions were peaceful. Some historians suggest that their purpose was to add legitimacy to Percy’s rebellion, which was to swing south and supplement its numbers with Scrope’s insurgents. But unfortunately for the archbishop, the expected rebel army never materialized and he was caught holding the proverbial bag.
The lynchpin of Percy’s rebellion was capturing Westmorland in advance, thus removing the only man capable of stopping him. But someone warned the Earl in time and he got away, foiling Percy’s plot. There was no “Plan B”. Had the Earl of Northumberland lost his nerve? He told his followers he was going to Scotland for help and bolted, leaving all of his co-conspirators to their own devices. Scrope wasn’t even warned about the change of plans. So when the Earl of Westmorland mopped up after the aborted rebellion, his ruse was to convince the archbishop he would present their reasonable manifesto to the king, and that the Yorkist citizens should just go home. Naively, Scrope agreed, only to find himself arrested along with his confederate, the doomed Thomas Mowbray, son of King Henry’s old enemy.
Who would have thought that the king would execute an archbishop? Scrope and Mowbray didn’t stand a chance. Once he arrived at York, the king rushed his judges through a trial and condemned the leaders, deaf to pleas from the Archbishop of Canterbury that he should refer the case to the Pope. Henry was not to be reasoned with, especially since Percy had slipped through his fingers once again. This time, there would be no Parliament to get in his way. He brought his cannons with him and besieged Percy’s castles all the way up to Berwick, ensuring that the traitorous earl would find no further refuge in England.
For the next three years, Henry Percy wandered through Wales and France, looking for support against the usurper king. But it was to no avail. The great earl had lost all credibility. When he was finally lured back into England with a new offer of support, he snatched at the opportunity, campaigning into Northumberland in the midst of the most bitter winter in living memory. Gathering a motley crew of country folk and local knights, Percy was confronted with a local detachment led by the very man who invited him south. He had nothing to lose and chose to risk everything on a last battle, meeting his pitiful end at Branham Moor, about ten miles from York, on 19 February, 1408. His head was delivered in a basket to King Henry and his body was quartered as befitted any traitor. Eventually his parts were collected and the great earl was reunited with his son, laid to rest near the great altar at York Minster.
But the Percy line was not extinct by any means. When Henry Percy took refuge the first time in Scotland, he brought with him Hotspur’s young son Henry, who spent the next ten years a virtual hostage. Henry V decided that a Percy in the North would suit his purposes, and the king arranged Henry’s return, creating him 2nd Earl of Northumberland in 1416. Part of the deal was young Henry’s marriage to Eleanor, the daughter of Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland. And so they came full circle. But never would they achieve the fame of the first earl, their doomed ancestor.