Thursday, 13 January 2011

Conjecture in black and woite (3)

Margaret of Anjou, hot-blooded, proud and wilful, went on to become a major figure in the Wars of the Roses, taking a leading role from her unwarlike and unstable Lancastrian husband, King Henry VI. She became a target for the opposing Yorkist forces, who slung every dollop of mud that came to hand. One of the slanders concerned the night before her wedding, spent in St Margaret's, the house I was privileged to live in for a few years when I was quite small. She was not alone, apparently. Fingers were pointed at William de la Pole, later Duke of Suffolk, an influential figure who had arranged Henry's marriage with Margaret, had stood in for Henry at the betrothal ceremony in France which preceded the actual marriage in Titchfield in 1445. It was he who had escorted Margaret from France to Titchfield. The most you can say about such allegations is 'well, they would say that, wouldn't they?'

5 years later, as the full fury of the Wars of the Roses was about to burst, William de la Pole was captured by Yorkists at sea, off Ipswich. His possibly headless body was left on the beach at Dover, where Queen Margaret had it recovered and taken care of. He had long been her favourite. She gave him a decent burial at Wingfield, in Suffolk.

What stands out for me in this account is the association of St Margaret's with a passionate young girl of noble family, on the edge of adulthood, being forced into an arranged marriage. I'm not quite certain what 'passionate' means in this context: a hapless martyr to her emotions, maybe.


Almost a century later Henry VIII broke with Rome, not so much over matters of doctrine as of authority, principally the authority to enable his divorce from Anne Boleyn. Short of money, it was also an expedient time for him to close down, annex or sell off the great religious houses, a 1536-9 movement known as the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Seeing which way the wind was blowing, an astute courtier and able servant of both Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell, a Londoner called Thomas Wriothesley (pronounced 'Risley') bought out the Abbot of Titchfield before his Abbey and its estates could be suppressed.

In due course, for services to Henry VIII, Thomas Wriothesley was created Earl of Southampton. He transformed Titchfield Abbey into a palace, which he called Place House, I don't know why. It's a ruin now, pictured above. Other estate houses were upgraded and enlarged. Maybe St Margaret's was among them. Thomas Wriothesley's grandson Henry, 3rd Earl of Southampton, was a favourite at the court of Queen Elizabeth I. In the early 1590s, in the course of court activities he met an up-and-coming poet and playwright, rising 30, attractive and intelligent, witty, educated and companionable, drawn to London from his native Warwickshire. His name was William Shakespeare.

Southampton and Shakespeare got on very well. In 1593 Shakespeare dedicated his long and sexually palpitating poem Venus and Adonis to Southampton, which maybe says more about the dedicatee than the poet. In the summer of that year the London theatres were closed because of the plague. It's a possibility that Shakespeare first came to Titchfield then, partly to escape the plague and partly to pursue his friendship with Henry Southampton.

I suppose it's also a possibility that, in riding together about Place House, Shakespeare asked his host - by now his patron - how Anjou Bridge, a bridge over the Meon close by the former Titchfield Abbey, had got the name it still has today. If he knew the story, Southampton would have been in a position to tell him about the passionate 15-year-old French princess, her overnight stay at St Margaret's and the marriage that had been arranged for her. Maybe those House Detectives, exploring the connection between St Margaret's and Romeo and Juliet in that BBC TV programme didn't look quite far enough outside the frame.

And for the multitude of serious historians whom come here, I did entitle this mini-series 'Conjecture....'

(to be continued or even concluded, who knows?)

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