Thursday 1 November 2012

Lovell our dog by Mary Hoffman

Minster Lovell Hall ruins photo by John Salmon

"The Catte, the Ratte and Lovell our dogge rulyth all England under a hogge"

So ran the lampoon pinned to the door of St. Paul's cathedral in July 1484. It was a dangerous time for political satire. Little over a year had elapsed since the Duke of Gloucester had ascended the throne as Richard the Third, after the death of his older brothers, Edward the Fourth and George Duke of Clarence, and while his nephews, Edward and Richard, were still alive.

Whether or not you believe that Richard ordered the murder of the Princes in the Tower - and History Girl Laurie Graham doesn't - there was already a strong opposition to him. And one of its number was William Collingbourne, who wrote the squib above.

It's always stuck with me as a little prose earworm but more so since we moved to Oxfordshire twelve years ago. The Catte was William Catesby, at that time Chancellor of the Exchequer and Speaker of the House of Commons (George Osborne and John Bercow in one - the mind boggles). His family crest was a white cat. The Ratte was Sir Richard Ratcliffe, a Knight of the Garter and High Sheriff of Westmorland.

And Lovell our dogge? Well he was Francis, Viscount Lovell, whose family emblem was a silver wolf and whose family home was just down the road from where I live now. That's it above: Minster Lovell Hall, now a picturesque ruin by the river, where I last went for a picnic on the one hot day of summer, when it looked like The Grande Jatte. It was built around 1440.

The "hogge" was of course King Richard  himself, whose coat of arms showed two white boars.

The three men were all close associates of the King, who definitely visited Minster Lovell Hall (there is a room in the Swan Inn opposite where it is claimed he also stayed).

William Collingbourne, a Commissioner of the Peace, was a supporter of Henry Tudor, who was wisely living in France while building up a following in England. Collingbourne, unwisely for him as it turns out, wrote to Henry encouraging him to land in England. By the autumn of 1484 Collingbourne had been arrested and he was tried and convicted of High Treason in early December. His sentence was hanging, drawing and quartering.

I recently had a brisk exchange of views with a friend on Facebook about what "drawing" meant in the context of such a sentence. You can read about the various theories.  Ian Mortimer, who will be a guest here next year, believes that it did not always mean disembowelling, but being "drawn" to the place of execution on a hurdle.

Still, there was no doubt about what it meant in Collingbourne's case; a Tudor historian John Stow tells us:

"After having been hanged, he was cut down immediately and his entrails were then extracted and thrown into the fire, and all this was so speedily done that when the executioners pulled out his heart
he spoke and said, 'Oh Lord Jesus, yet more trouble!'"

The execution of Hugh Despenser the Younger 1470s

A severe punishment for a little lampoon, maybe, but it was much more likely to have been the contact with Henry that condemned him. (And the following year his great enemy, King Richard was dead too)

The fate of Francis Lovell is more mysterious and romantic. For a long time it was believed that he had died at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, fighting alongside his friend King Richard. Then there were stories that he had fled the field and fought in another battle in the north in 1487 in support of Lambert Simnel. But in 1708 the skeleton of an adult male was found in a secret chamber at Minster Lovell Hall and the legend grew up that Francis had died in hiding.

The novelist in me would love to believe it and the ruins at the Hall certainly cry out to be featured in such a story but it has been pointed out that, since the mansion was given to Jasper Tudor, Henry's uncle after the victory at Bosworth,  it is most unlikely that the Viscount would have had any loyal servant still there to give him a hiding place.

If the bones recently found in a Leicester car park turn out to be those of Richard the Third, after DNA testing for a match with a descendant via his sister Anne of York, they won't tell us anything about his life, other than that he died in battle, still less anything about his three boon companions.

And alas  the skeleton of 1708 crumbled to dust as soon as it was brought to light, long before DNA testing existed. It isn't known if there are any descendants whose DNA could have been used to check it.

So Lovell our dogge lives on only in the ruins and my earworm but at least he is not entirely forgotten.


Susan Price said...

Enjoyed the post, Mary - if that's the right term for a post about executions! Rather suspicious of the mysterious skeleton which instantly crumbled to dust in 1708. A lot of interesting historical objects seemed to pop into existence and then vanish around that date. But a good story!
I can't take the suggestion that 'drawn' simply meant 'drawn on a hurdle' seriously. That seems to me to be modern historians thinking, 'they can't possibly have really done that!' But there are plenty of eye-witness accounts testifying that executions really were that savage.
It would be 'drawn, hung and quartered' if it had merely meant a hurdle.
I came across an interesting theory that proposed that the gradual decrease in savagery of such punishments was not due to any greater compassion in later centuries, but to vast improvements in communication, which meant that government was more easily able to control distant parts of the country. The less control, the more savage the punishments - a sort of, 'You may think you can get away with it, but if we do catch you, you'll be sorry!'

Katherine Langrish said...

Grim stuff - and I agree with Sue, you'd expect the drawing to come first if it 'merely' meant being pulled on a hurdle. I remember that rhyme, though - probably from some book by Margaret Irwin.

I'd like to think Richard didn't murder the Princes - but as a Yorkshirewoman, perhaps that's just wishful thinking.

Laurie said...

Great post, Mary. The skeleton in the closet caused me a shudder and, ardent Yorkist though I am, I do feel for poor Collingbourne. Those were terrible times, nota bene Private Eye contributors.

Sarah said...

What an interesting post!
I'm particularly interested because Minster Lovell Hall is one of the several places claimed as the scene of the events described in 'The Mistletoe Bough' - the Young Lovell whose bride disappears during the Christmas and Wedding party is supposed to be one of the family.
I'm just now practicing the song to sing at a Victorian Christmas evening on December 9th at Olive's in Norwich. The song, of course, tells of the discovery of a skeleton mouldering in an old oak chest in the Hall, though it's the remains of the missing bride rather than of a retainer of Richard III.
It's a popular Christmas song in Yorkshire (another Richard connection) but my mother, a Yorkshire woman (whose own mother Annie Blackburn was born in Monk Bar, on the city walls in York, which is now the Richard III museum!) used to tell it to us, sitting on a large oak chest made by her grandfather John Blackburn at the age of 14 as his apprentice piece (he later gave up carpentry to become a police officer, which is why he was housed in Monk Bar when his daughter was born).
An awful lot of coincidences there.

adele said...

Coming late to this but most gruesome and interesting. Thanks!

Leslie Wilson said...

Yes, I was thinking about the Lost Bride of Monster Lovell, too, Sarah. So there was a male smelling ton too! But maybe local legend has conflated the male skeleton and the bride in the song. Fascinating post. I agree with Sue that the other explanation for 'drawing' sounds unlikely. How horrible humans can be to each other...

Leslie Wilson said...

Dratted iPad, I typed SKELLINGTON and it autocorrected to smelling ton and I didn't notice. And what did the ****Artificial not very intelligence think THAT meant?

Mary Hoffman said...

And what about "Monster" Lovell?

Ant said...

I have just discovered your blog and very interesting it is. My name is Anthony Collingbourne, so I have a personal interest in this story which has been circulating in our family for many years. Thanks for putting flesh on the bones of what I already knew.

Unknown said...

Um - if you use the old-fashioned term and 'draw' a chicken, then you take out its entrails. Looks like the traditional interpretation of this method of execution stands.