The medieval glory of… Southampton

Poor Southampton – the south coast English port was once a fine medieval city with many pretty buildings but then along came World War II and post-war redevelopment.  The Luftwaffe in particular devastated the town centre and it’s amazing that anything is left of its Middle Ages splendor.  And yet it is!

Winding through car parks, over a main road and through a housing estate is the remains – impressive in parts – of the city’s medieval walls.  I took some photos while I was there the other day and they’ve been well maintained.  Worth a look if you’re ever in that part of the world.


Medieval murder mystery – the answer

Richard the Lionheart, , being anointed during...

Richard the Lionheart, , being anointed during his coronation in . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I posted a photo of a medieval fort over the weekend and asked if any of you knew what terrible deed was committed there.  Opus Anglicanum was quick off the draw and said, correctly, that a great number of Jews were killed there.  And I’m afraid to say it’s true.

Clifford’s Tower sits atop an impressive man-made hill and overlooked the city of York – allowing its Norman overlords to maintain control.  In the year 1190, a new king – Richard the Lionheart – was the ruler of England. His accession to the throne was marked by a wave of anti-Semitic riots that culminated in the massacre of 150 Jews within Clifford’s Tower.

They had taken refuge there as a mob sought to drag them out – men, women and children – to be killed on the spot.  So what on earth was going on?  Basically, the crusades had unleashed a frenzy of hatred against perceived heretics – Muslims in the east and Jews closer to home.  The Jewish community had also been protected by the Norman kings and their position as bankers to the nobility was deemed useful. But money lending has never been an endearing profession and Jewish communities in Norwich, Stamford and Lincoln came under sustained attack.

King Richard, for his part, had not allowed prominent and wealthy Jews to attend his coronation banquet – an ominous sign.  And York’s leading Jewish merchant, Benedict, had been mortally wounded during riots in Westminster.  His own house in York was looted.

Those behind these actions tended to be clients of Jewish money lenders who saw a murderous opportunity to cancel their debts. We know the names of the nobles in York who goaded the mob on: Richard Malebisse, William Percy, Marmeduke Darrel and Phillip de Fauconberg. They no doubt delighted as the Jews were trapped in Clifford’s Tower and then, in a grisly turn of events, began to commit mass suicide – fathers killing their children and wives first. Those Jews who did not take their own lives were slaughtered by the mob.

In response to all this, King Richard the Lionheart felt obliged to fine the city of York but no individuals were punished and frankly, many probably joined the monarch on his long crusades to the Holy Land.  Here are my photos of Clifford’s Tower.

Clifford's Tower Clifford's Tower Clifford's Tower Clifford's Tower Clifford's Tower Clifford's Tower

From a Roman to a medieval tower

In the Middle Ages, the ruins of old Roman forts were often built on top of to create medieval castles. One great example of this is the so-called Multangular Tower in York, constructed when the city was called Eboracum by the Romans and visited by emperors as distinguished as Septimius Severus and Constantine.  The latter was particularly known in York as his father had been governor of the province.

If you look at the photos I took on my visit below – you’ll notice that the bottom half of the tower has smaller stones and lines of red bricks one associates with Roman forts.  Then above you have the addition of arrow slits from the medieval period.  The walls would probably have fallen into a certain degree of decay in the centuries immediately after the Romans left but wars with Scotland in particular, meant that the medieval city had to re-fortify later on.

Multangular Tower Multangular Tower Multangular Tower Multangular Tower Multangular Tower

Battle wounds in the Middle Ages

Viking skull

A concerted attempt to decapitate this chap

A sword or axe has sliced into this head - he didn't survive!

A sword or axe has sliced into this head – he didn’t survive!

Viking skull

Trauma to the side of the skull

An almight blow to the back of the head here

An almighty blow to the back of the head here

Injuries to the pelvis crop up a lot from stab wounds

Injuries to the pelvis crop up a lot from stab wounds

Viking warrior

This soldier was lightly armed and injured just about everywhere – no head protection!

I’ve just returned from a trip to the northern English city of York – a place absolutely dripping in medieval history and I will be sharing some of the wonderful things I saw with you in upcoming blog posts.

Today – I’m going to share some gruesome evidence of battles fought in the 11th century between Vikings and Saxons and later on, Vikings and Normans. Strange to say that most of the leaders involved on all sides were related to each other – basically part of the northern European aristocracy.  But in those violent times, that didn’t stop them sticking axes in each others’ heads.

Back in the 1970s, archaeologists started to find the remains of the Viking city of York – dating back to the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries.  If you know your English history, then you’ll be aware that after the Romans left in the early 400s, there were various waves of invaders including the Angles, Saxons and Jutes. The Saxons eventually established kingdoms like Mercia and Wessex only to see the whole eastern half of England gobbled up by fiersome Vikings from Scandanavia.

I went underground to look at the remains of the Viking city – well below today’s modern street level – and snapped some skulls of those who fell in battle.





Lost castles of London

Baynard’s Castle.  Montfichet Tower.  Savoy Palace.  Even to most Londoners, the names of these buildings would mean little today.  Ask a citizen of this great city, how many castles there are within London, they’d more than likely point at the Tower of London and say – one.  And that’s certainly true today.  Because other castles that once existed in the British capital have either been demolished or burnt down. They’re certainly not there anymore.

If you had been wandering round London a few years after the Norman Conquest in 1066 – let’s say in the Templar era between 1118 and 1307 – you’d have seen an impressive structure near to where the river Fleet flowed into the Thames.  The Fleet, by the way, now runs through a sewer – channeled  out of sight by the Victorians.  Baynard’s Castle dominated this spot in London marking the westernmost point of the old Roman city.

The castle was built by a Norman called Ralph Baynard but there appears to have been a structure there under the Viking king Canute – because it’s recorded that he had somebody executed in the castle in 1017.  Baynard came over with William the Conqueror and was Sherriff of Essex. The family seems to have run into problems with William’s son king Henry I and the castle was demolished in 1213 by king John.

Though it rose up again, it suffered another fire in the 15th century, was restored by the Tudors and then finally incinerated during the Great Fire of 1666 – never to re-emerge.

Nearby – on Ludgate Hill – a Templar knight would have seen Montfichet’s Tower, another Norman construction to keep a close eye on the unruly citizens of London. While Baynard’s gave added protection where the old Roman wall met the river (and the Tower of London was situated where the wall met the river in the east), Montfichet guarded a key road over the river Fleet that would one day become Fleet Street.

Montfichet didn’t last so long – being demolished by….king John!  Clearly an avid demolisher of castles. There are said to be tunnels relating to the tower under an office block called Montfichet House at 29 Ludgate Hill and the public has been barred from seeing them.

Finally – on the road out of the medieval city of London – there were great palaces built along the Strand leading to Westminster, the seat of government and the great abbey. One of these was the Savoy Palace owned by John of Gaunt, one of the most powerful men in the Middle Ages. However, his power did not stop him falling foul of the ordinary people who hated him for introducing a poll tax. During the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, his palace was burned to the ground by a mob.

Today – the Savoy hotel is on the site of that now disappeared palace.

Savoy Hotel

Hard to believe a medieval palace once stood here

Savoy Palace

The Savoy Palace continued in various forms till it was demolished in the 19th century