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British Heritage: FEBRUARY/MARCH 1999 Letters

Originally published by British Heritage magazine. Published Online: September 23, 2000 
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THE VIEW FROM CAMELOT

This past September, 18 readers joined me in the West Country on the BRITISH HERITAGE 'In Quest of Camelot' tour of King Arthur's England. The lingering effects of Hurricane Danielle followed us across the Atlantic, blowing in overcast skies and rain that supplied our adventure with a Dark Age ambience and dampened our shoes and trousers, but not our spirits. Led by Dana Huntley of Lord Addison Travel, we discovered a land of legend, populated by ruined abbeys, medieval fortifications, and tall tales.

Our first destination was the Arthurian shrine of Tintagel on the rugged Cornish coast. An Intercity train carried us from London to Plymouth, where a quick detour brought us to the Mayflower Steps, from which the Pilgrim Fathers set sail for America. We struck out in a different direction, heading inland by coach and arriving at Tintagel following an overnight stay at the Moorland Links Hotel, on the edges of moody Dartmoor.

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In the legends, it took the magic of Merlin to get Uther Pendragon into Tintagel Castle. BRITISH HERITAGE readers may be hardier, because not even gale-force winds kept several of them from making the climb to the top and lying down for a short rest in a ruined stone enclosure that, by common agreement, was identified as 'Ygrain's bedchamber', where Arthur was conceived. Nor did most of the group shrink from making the 'Dozemary dash' through a driving rain to catch a glimpse of the pool where some folks say Excaliber was cast following the Battle of Camlann. Sadly, the Lady of the Lake kept her hands to herself, so our visit lacked some of the drama that Sir Bedevere experienced during his own trip to the waterside.

The following day, the weather proved less challenging, but the still-muddy slopes of South Cadbury hillfort made for an adventuresome trek to the crest of Arthur's supposed headquarters. The sloppy and determined band that reached the top walked the hillfort's innermost rampart as the skies cleared to throw bright sunlight on spectacular views of the surrounding Somerset countryside.

We brought ample samples of the local soil back down with us on our shoes, necessitating an apology or two for our appearance when we rendezvoused with Mr. Geoffrey Ashe, the respected Arthurian scholar, who treated us to a private tour of Glastonbury Abbey, the fabled 'Isle of Avalon'. ('Don't worry,' his charming wife reassured us, 'Somerset mud washes out very easily.')

Appropriately enough, our Quest continued on to Bath, the most likely site of the decisive Battle of Badon, and then on into Wales and Caerleon, the 'City of the Legion' where Arthur battled against barbarian invaders and held court, and finally to Wroxeter Roman City, which the latest research suggests could be the real-life Camelot, from where Arthur ruled Britain in the 6th century. Maybe so. But we refused to let rigid historical research limit our fun. 'I believe all of the legends,' Dana Huntley decided. 'Even the ones that contradict each other.' And we all heartily agreed.

At the same time, we were by no means single-minded in our pursuit of Arthurian fact and fantasy. Our comfortably paced itinerary allowed some of our group to make side-trips to several of London's premier museums, including the Victoria & Albert, the Tate Gallery, and the British Museum. A number of us also took advantage of an opportunity that might well have appealed to the pagan-smashing Christian soldier Arthur himself–attending Sunday morning services in Westminster Abbey, as well as choral Evensong in magnificent Wells Cathedral. These living churches with their golden-voiced choirs contrasted markedly with the evocative ruins at Glastonbury and Valle Crucis Abbey in Wales, where rain once again sprinkled us while we strolled along the roofless nave of what must once have been a building of comparable beauty.

Also in London, the West End theatre beckoned and a lavishly staged production of Beauty and the Beast overwhelmed our modest expectations. Shopping sprees in London, Plymouth, Hay-on-Wye (the used-book capital of the world) and medieval Shrewsbury turned up teddy bears, commemorative coronation teacups, treasured first editions, antique prints, and even an elusive, rare (and ultimately unaffordable) Beanie Baby. Others returned to the States with signed editions of Geoffrey Ashe's books, sure to become treasured keepsakes in their own right.

Although the weather might have been better, warm, inviting hotels never failed to provide a comfortable welcome at the end of each day of discovery. (And, on one occasion, a rousing send-off by the entire staff at the conclusion of our stay.) Lavish meals quickly replenished our tired bodies, and at times our 'Quest for Camelot' nearly took a back seat to an ongoing quest for the perfect clotted cream. Dinners featured such difficult and tempting choices as hand-carved roast beef or smoked haddock, and made an elegant complement to our typically simpler traditional lunches of fish and chips, meat pies, or Welsh rarebit.

I want to thank all of the participants for their pleasant company on this enjoyable journey: Don and Gail Kittle, Bill and Geneva Cleary, Jim and Nancy Hoy, John and Pamela Scott, Pat Troyer, Kathryn Naylor, Jim Snelling, Clayton Stein, Marion Gordon, Tad Berkowitz, Owen 'Ddantgwyn' Bassett, Sandra Regelbrugge, Fay Hummel, and Gayle Meier, our BRITISH HERITAGE photo contest winner. I hope that, with the capable help of Lord Addison Travel, BRITISH HERITAGE was able to make Arthur's England a very real and memorable land for all of you.

Bruce Heydt,
Managing Editor

 

IN DEFENCE OF RICHARD

I was glad that Peter Kilby began his article on 'The Princes in the Tower' (October/November 1998, page 5) by acknowledging the long-standing debate over whether Richard III really killed his nephews. His piece, however, strongly implies Richard's guilt. In the interest of fairness or accuracy, some of his points need to be put into fuller context, as they then take on a different light and illustrate why there has been such an impassioned debate on this question.

Mr. Kilby writes that Richard ascended the throne 'after declaring that Richard IV's marriage had been invalid and that his two sons were therefore illegitimate'. It should be mentioned, however, that this allegation was first made by a high-ranking clergyman, Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells–and Chancellor of England under Edward IV. Stillington said he had been witness to Edward's marriage pre-contract to an earl's daughter some years prior to his marrying Elizabeth Woodville. The matter was put before Parliament, and it was Parliament which declared Edward's marriage to be illegitimate.

The article also cites Dr. Argentine, young Prince Edward's physician, as having reported Edward's fear of impending death while he was in the Tower of London prior to his scheduled coronation. This should be identified as being a second-hand account contained in the writings of the Italian cleric Mancini, whom Mr. Kilby mentions elsewhere in the article. While that dosen't necessarily invalidate the information, it is less reliable than had it been a first-hand account written by the doctor himself.

More seriously misleading is the quotation from Sir Thomas More describing Prince Edward's despairing words, his 'fear and misery', and his resulting inability to 'perform even basic tasks, such as dressing himself properly', on the day of Richard's coronation as though it were an eyewitness account. More was in fact only five years old in 1483 and his account was not written until some 30 years later. It was therefore based on second-hand sources at best, and is acknowledged to be full of errors, distortions, and contradictions.

Andrea de Castano
Kew Gardens, New York

 

TUDOR MYTHOLOGY

I really must object to the portrayal of King Richard III in the October/November issue. Historians invented the Tudor myth and succeeded in immortalizing the myth of King Richard III. The so-called murder of the Princes has never been proven. Richard had nothing to gain by their deaths and everything to gain by their preservation. After the death of Richard III, Henry VII sought for information to destroy the validity of Richard's claim to the throne. During Tudor's first parliament, he never accused Richard of the murder of his nephews when he had the opportunity to do so. Perhaps this is the first clue to the identity of the true murderer.

For those who want to learn about King Richard III without the biased views of the Tudor myth should contact the Richard III Foundation, 47 Summit Avenue, Garfield, New Jersey 07026, or visit our website at www.richard111.com.

Joe Ann Riocca, CEO/President
Garfield, New Jersey

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION…

Regarding the Richard III controversy, recently 'raging' in your pages, I'd like those of your readers who might be interested in even more information about the defamed monarch to know that, in addition to the Richard III Society of New Orleans, there are two more Plantagenet societies in the United States.

Every 22nd August, in the New York Times obituary page, under 'in Memoriam', tributes are paid to Richard III by the following societies, as well as by the Richard III Society.

The Richard III Foundation
47 Summit Avenue
Garfield, New Jersey 07026

and

NY-CA Black Adder Society
(no address available)

Edith Finke
East Quogue, New York

 

Editor's note: Can any readers supply the address for the Black Adder Society?

 

EDWARD AT MORTIMER'S CROSS

In your August/September issue, the article on the little-recorded battle of Mortimer's Cross (page 46) is riddled with factual errors. Edward, Earl of March and later Edward IV, was never referred to as Edward Mortimer. His family's legitimate claim to the throne came through their distaff side, the Plantagenets. He did not 'cut his teeth' at Mortimer's Cross, having effectively won the battle of Northampton eight months earlier.

Edward was not 'giving priority to stopping [Tudor's] advance' when he moved to meet him. In fact, he intended to prevent the Welsh from blocking the path of his own force on its march to reinforce Warwick in London. The River Lugg did not protect Edward's flank, because he fought with his back to it and Pembroke's army came from the west, not the south. The triple suns phenomenon occurred on the day of the battle and not before it. The customary battle formation of the day was for the army to wheel right from file into line when they reached the field, making the vanguard the right wing. The thought of armies engaging 'each battle in turn' is ludicrous.

Geoffrey Richardson, MBE
Shipley, West Yorkshire

 

 

A WORD FROM THE AUTHOR

My publishers, M. Evans & Co. of New York, sent me a copy of the review that you wrote of my book, Down the Common (August/September 1998, page 60).

I want to let you know how much I appreciate your careful reading and your deep understanding of my efforts. I am neither a historian nor a writer. I was 82 when my book was published in England in 1996. I had, in a way, been thinking about it privately for some 50 years. The idea for it dates from a time soon after the War, when my mother, moving into and old house and having electric lights put in upstairs, said 'How awful to have to attend to a sick child in the night and not even be able to strike a match.'

I thought about this–in detail. Years later in my stepson's school history book was a chapter called 'A Day in the Life of a Medieval Peasant'. I read it. The peasant was a man (rather easier lives), middle-aged (no children about), the day was in June (the best weather in England), it was a Sunday (no work for men), and I thought, 'How false, how stupidly false was the impression thus given of medieval life. It should be done, I thought, from a woman's point of view, and throughout a whole year.

This was the germ of my book. I knew it should be done without rose-tinted glasses, including all the s0rdid details and all the events likely to occur among a group of ordinary, plausible characters.

It was not until years later, in the silence of widowhood, that I came to realize that there could be a book in all my imaginative research, and that it might actually be me who wrote it.

Ann Baer,
Richmond upon Thames, England

 

CORRECTIONS

Several photographs appearing in recent issues of BRITISH HERITAGE were miscredited, or had the credit inadvertantly omitted. In the October/November issue, the feature on Sir Winston Churchill's paintings (page 26) failed to credit the photograph of the Sir Winston's painting Gate at Marrakech to The Churchill Heritage, Ltd. Also, the quote on the opening spread was extracted from Painting as a Pastime, copyrighted to the Estate of Sir Winston Churchill.

In the December/January issue, the photograph of Ironbridge on pages 40 and 41, and pages 44-45 should have been credited to Gene Parulis. The portrait of Sir Christopher Wren was provided courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery. Finally, the photos of Wren's London (pages 50-55) should have been credited to Alan Copson.



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