June 2013

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4th June

 

In a nice sequel to Chris Skidmore's Bosworth talk on 27th May, last night we enjoyed a lecture by one of Towton Battlefield Society's most high-profile members: historian, author, broadcaster and Battlefields Trust Development Officer, Julian Humphrys. Julian spoke on the last gasp of the Wars of the Roses: the Battle of Stoke Field in 1487, when John, Earl of Lincoln, (Richard III's nephew and heir), and the late king's great friend and supporter Viscount Lovell challenged Henry VII's crown on behalf of the so-called 'Earl of Warwick', the pretender Lambert Simnel. He drew some fascinating parallels with Bosworth - less than two years after that fateful encounter, another highly unlikely contender emerging to try and take the crown, backed by a mostly foreign army (in this case, Irish kerns and German mercenaries funded by Richard III's sister, Margaret of Burgundy)... and marching to meet a much bigger royal force.

 

The parallels were probably not lost upon Henry Tudor, although this time the positions were reversed: he was the king with the large army of Englishmen under the command of the redoubtable John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, his challengers the under-dogs with the foreign troops. The result was reversed, too; in a sharp clash between the royal vanguard and the rebel army near the village of East Stoke, Lincoln and the mercenary commander Martin Schwartz were killed and their army routed; Lovell escaped across the River Trent and disappeared into obscurity; and the hapless Lambert Simnel was captured and set to work in the royal kitchens. He subsequently enjoyed a far better career than he might have done otherwise - as Julian observed, had Lincoln won the day and killed Henry VII, it seems unlikely that he would have allowed this nonentity to occupy the throne in his stead!

Julian enjoying a tea-break cuppa!

And with that, the Wars of the Roses effectively ended, even as my own interest in the Battle of Stoke Field starts... so I hope we'll be visiting the site before long. Altogether, another great TBS evening - with the added pleasure for me that Julian has agreed to write the jacket blurb for Lay of Angor Book 3! All I need to do now is finish writing it...

 

 

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10th June

 

Howzat for a camp! Yes, the Frei Compagnie really was out in force on Saturday, with 18 members turning out to support Wistow Village's second Scarecrow Festival. A lovely day we had, too, in every respect: 'Flaming June' lived up to its name with glorious sunshine, little fluffy clouds and a nice breath of cool breeze, and a steady stream of interested visitors coming to enjoy the living history camp, gunnery and combat shows and have-a-go archery.

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We were honoured to have some 'lordly ones' with us... on the left, our trio of 'tin men', aka (from left to right) Stuart, Kevin and Wayne; and on the right, Lady Frances in her posh velvet gown, demonstrating medieval calligraphy from the comfort of her pavilion. And as you can see below, there was plenty more going on, from Dave Moss's bow-making and knights in armour clashing, to our usual feast in the company kitchen, presided over by Alex (who contributed home-churned butter and two sorts of soft cheese to the table). We also had cuteness overload in the shape of our youngest recruit, 20-month-old Jake Atkin, below with daddy Rob and proud grandpa Howard in the background - and hubcap's nettle ale and home-brew cider went down pretty well, too.

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Altogether a great day, and an honour to take part in an event to raise money for the restoration of All Saints Church at Wistow. (The appeal for £100,000 has passed the half-way mark, so if you're feeling generous, do send a donation!). All Saints has just celebrated its 800th birthday, although the site the present building stands on is even older - a chapel to St Hilda stood there in the Anglo-Saxon period; and my only disappointment was that we were too busy all day to go and  have a look round. Ah well - it gives us a good excuse to go back sometime!

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17th June

 

Today I'm celebrating some beautiful, gentle, real English-feeling summer weather with a gardening post.

 

Moved by the plight of British bees, Hubcap and I decided to turn Helmickton into a 'bee garden' this year by planting some more flowers (like the lovely Nicotiana on the left). And now, after weeks of mildness, sunny periods and soft refreshing rain, it's really paying off. To our great pleasure and relief, the garden's humming with bumbles of all sorts, some honey-bees too; and they're particularly enjoying our raspberries (right), so we should get a bumper crop of fruit! It's so reassuring to see them back in such numbers after the wash-out summer of 2012 followed by a long hard winter, then that atrocious spring... the only problem now is trying to stop Henry Wowler playing 'bee volleyball' with them (currently his favourite sport).

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We're not being so friendly to the slugs and snails, though... Having had drier weather so far, luckily there aren't as many around as last year - and Mick's ruthlessly slaughtering those we have, on the basis that the more you kill early in the season, the fewer there are to breed later on. And now we're trying an interesting organic repellent that (touch wood) seems to work: Slug Gone Wool Pellets. Yes, wool - from rare breed sheep to be precise; you can see them on the left, scattered round our freshly-planted Salvias. Yesterday we watched a slug rear back from it in horror, then beat a hasty retreat (or as hasty as a slug can manage). I'm not surprised, really - they absolutely stink, an eye-watering, dungy reek of ammonia and lanolin - and when they get damp, the pellets break down into a carpet of short, prickly hairs that gastropods don't like crawling on. So we're hoping that for once, our salad beds, hostas and new bedding plants won't get eaten to shreds - because unlike chemical slug-pellets, this product doesn't leave your garden grotesquely littered with deliquescent slime. Being a biodegradable protein fibre, it also releases nutrients into the soil, acts as a mulch to reduce the need for watering, doesn't blow away, and is completely non-toxic and harmless. It may not be cheap at £5 a bag... but if it really does prove effective, we'll be using it from now on.

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I've also been amusing myself by starting a collection of herbs planted up in traditional earthenware pots to make up a 'medieval garden' display for re-enactment events - this pic shows sorrel on the left, a sharp-flavoured salad leaf also used to make a sauce for fried fish; and on the right, tansy, a bitter herb used in tansy cakes (a sort of thin pancake) and also for strewing on the floor, because it releases a beautiful aromatic fragrance when crushed. I've got a pot of parsley (widely used in salads and sauces) on the go too, and plan to build up my stock as soon as I find some more authentic pots to put things in!

 

Then to round off our weekend, we went for a stroll in the woods and round Kettlethorpe lake. It's a joy doing nature walks with Hubcap because he knows so much, and spots everything - like the clutch of fledgling wrens beetling about in the trees by the beck, and the great shoal of chub ('the fearfulest of fishes', according to Elizabethan angler Izaak Walton) in a dark cleft in the bank. So we had lots of fun feeding them - and managed to save some bread for the mallard families on the lake, too. Ah, summer... don't you just love it when it's like this?

 

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25th June

 

This is being a good month for Towton Battlefield Society. Chairman Mark Taylor reports that hits on our website and Facebook pages have risen significantly since late May. Sales are up from our online shop, too (check it out if you're looking for battlefield maps, publications, DVDs, postcards, T-shirts, mugs and other Towton-related souvenirs). We may have BBC 1's The White Queen to thank for this in part - despite its dreadful script, wooden acting and plethora of hilarious historical faux-pas (naff costumes with visible zip-lines, modern concrete steps, road signs and double-glazing in shot, to name but a few) it has at least shown the mass viewing population that history did exist before the Tudors! However, I may be able to claim a little credit myself, since my article 'Remembering Towton' appeared in the June issue of Yorkshire Ridings Magazine, which has a circulation of over 25,000 - in fact I met someone at Wistow last week who'd read it. But whatever the reason, it's good news for the Society - and for the Frei Compagnie, which has just been out again flying the flag at Monk Fryston Gala (see left).

Mick and I set out for it on Sunday morning with some trepidation - having seen the weather forecast, we expected to spend the day hanging onto the kitchen awning to stop it taking off in gale-force winds, leaving our feast exposed to torrential rain! But luckily, apart from a few passing showers we had a fine day; and the site (a well-preserved field of ridge-and-furrow) was sheltered enough for the tents not to blow down. So we had our usual fun, as you can see below: on the left, Alex surveys the groaning board, thinking, 'Do we have enough food?', and on the right, Des's contribution of apple muse (spiced stewed apples and raisins) and Pies of Paris (an early type of mince pie featuring meat as well as fruit).

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As ever, we got plenty of public interest in the food table, along with the customary, 'Ooh, yucks' from younger visitors and one of their best questions ever: 'Why does that chicken look half-eaten?' My answer: 'Because we've eaten half of it.'

 

We also got a grand turnout for bill-drill by the 'Monk Fryston militia', presided over by Seargent Hubcap (see below left) - even if half his army did desert before the end to go and take part in the Morris dancing! And below right, you can see bill-man Alan Stringer posing in his smart new gambeson - a truly fearsome sight. But the highlight of my event was when Sir Wayne agreed, (after a day of relentless pressure and emotional blackmail), to let us shoot blunt arrows at his lovely new armour - on the pretext that it would make it look more convincingly battle-worn. We managed to direct most of our shots at a strategically-placed buckler; however, I caught him a good ding on the thigh... so am now expecting a bill from the armourer for beating out the dent on his cuisse. (What a great hobby, eh - where else but re-enactment do you get to shoot your mates?!)

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