Wednesday 6 December 2017

Christmas in the time of Edward III #history #Christmas @anne_obrien

Christmas in the time of Edward III
By Anne O'Brien 

Come to the Celebration at the Court of Richard of Bordeaux ...

It is the year 1377 and the life of the old King, Edward III, is drawing to a close.  The heir to his throne is Richard of Bordeaux, ten years old, the only son of Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales, sadly dead last year.  It is January, but festivities continue at young Richard's court.  Come and join them in the festivity.  Take a peek into the life of the child-prince who will be king before you are a year older.

Here in the streets of London a great entertainment is gathering, a true carnival, and all to honour the young prince.  The Londoners are already filling the streets, together with a vast body of mummers, more than a hundred of them, all gaudy in masks and costumes. 

Watch as they go by, the shabbiness of their antique garb hidden as dusk approaches and they ride past two by two in red velvet and tawdry damask, faces hidden by masks.  And that is not all.  There are the feathered false-knights with their squires on horseback.  Here comes an Emperor in velvet and fake jewels.  And look!  A Pope with his retinue of red-clad cardinals followed by the papal legates, the villains with their frightening black masks. 

The streets ripple with excitement.  The night sky is ablaze with wax torches as the townsfolk make their way along Newgate, through Cheapside and on to London Bridge where they will cross over the Thames.

Follow them.  Where are they going?  To Kennington, one of the favourite palaces of Prince Richard and his mother the Princess Joan.  It is a magnificent palace, built to impress.  We will join the throng.  But will the gates be open for us?  Or perhaps the all-powerful magnates, his royal uncles, will shut us out because we are common folk beneath the disguises, unworthy of their company.  Let us in.  We have gifts to give the young prince.

We dismount and wait, our torches filling the night air with smoke.  The gates open.  And there he stands, so small a child but marvellously clad, and so handsome, as his father was handsome.  At his shoulder Princess Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent, still beautiful although no longer a young woman.  And behind him the three royal brothers, Dukes of Lancaster and York and Gloucester.

To our joy, we are beckoned in.  We are made welcome.  The Emperor kneels before the royal child and offers him a package which the boy unwraps with glee.  It contains two golden dice.  We press forward to watch when the Emperor holds out a golden bowl.  Silence falls.  Prince Richard casts the dice onto a cloth spread on the floor.  Will he win the bowl?  The prince claps his hands when he does.  The Emperor wagers a golden cup.  The Prince rolls the dice again.  Behold he wins!  And now the Emperor wagers a golden ring.  When Richard roles the dice he wins again.  Of course he does.  The dice are loaded in the child's favour.  Prince Richard must win on this auspicious occasion. 

Why not join in the applause when the Prince laughs with delight.  If you are fortunate you will receive one of the gold rings that the mummers pass around the crowd. Will Richard, so generous in his victory, not make a superb king?  Now he raises his hand and, at a nod from his mother, servants come with cups of wine for all and we drink liberally, making toast after toast.  There is food to eat; fine bread and meat and spiced fruit tarts.  Eat your fill, for Princess Joan wishes you to make merry.

Feasting over, it is then that the minstrels begin, their music loud with trumpets and nakers, shawms and sackbuts and pipes.  What a clamour!  We dance. and so will you.  And then to our delight, Prince Richard and the lords join in and dance with us.  It is a great celebration, more successful than we could ever have imagined.  And so we return to London, exhausted but satisfied.

But do not be mistaken.  This was no ordinary merry-making on either side.  We, the Londoners are bidding for the favour of our future monarch.  We wish to show him our support and respect, our loyalty, our pride in the handsome lad, looking forward to the day when we have a young king again to lead the country to greatness.  We wish him to smile upon us when he is old enough to make his own laws. 

As for Princess Joan, she has her own way to make when her son is King of England.  It is hard for a woman to wield power, even as a shadow behind the throne.  A woman alone is a weak thing.  The wily princess is intent on winning us over to her son's support. 

And then of course there is John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, royal uncle, dancing with the rest of us as if never a harsh word had been exchanged between us.  He has been less than popular but the princess may have had a word in his royal ear.  It would be good policy for him to reconcile himself to the Londoners over a cup of ale and a hectic round-dance. 

Remember this lesson in the politics hidden behind the celebrations, when you wake tomorrow with a headache and sore feet.  Nothing is as it seems, even the winning of gold fairings by a handsome boy.

Anne O’Brien
Anne O’Brien was born in West Yorkshire. After gaining a BA Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Master’s in Education at Hull, she lived in East Yorkshire for many years as a teacher of history.

She now lives with her husband in an eighteenth-century timber-framed cottage in the depths of the Welsh Marches in Herefordshire, on the borders between England and Wales, where she writes historical novels. The perfect place in which to bring medieval women back to life.

The Shadow Queen

  This the story of Joan of Kent, a tale of treachery, power-hungry families and legal subterfuges, in which Joan, a woman of considerable charm and beauty, played a central role at the Plantagenet Court.
The Shadow Queen

‘What would enhance the pattern of my life further? One word slid into my
mind. A seductive word. A dangerous word, perhaps, for a woman. Power.’

From her first clandestine marriage Joan of Kent’s reputation was one of scandal and rumour.  Her royal blood made her a desirable bride, but her ambition and passion could become a threat to the stability of the Plantagenet dynasty.

Joan knew what she must do to survive, the political games to play, the alliances she must make, even if one man will always own her heart.  But would her ambitions bring her happiness?

A dramatic story of love and loyalty and of the cost of personal ambition, this is the story  of the woman who would ultimately seek power as the mother to the ten year old King Richard II, from the shadows of the throne.


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you so much Mary Anne. I enjoyed the opportunity to write about this splendid occasion in 1377. Obviously enjoyed by all.

  2. What a beautiful idea for a post. Thank you!

  3. Love the thought of waking with sore feet as well as a sore head! Great post!

    1. Thank you Jackie. And happy dancing over Christmas.

  4. Fabulous! I'm not well versed with the life of Joan, however, this post has prompted me to find out a little more about her, Anne, through your exciting book. Mary, I thank you also, for providing this awesome celebration of authors and Christmas.

    1. Thank you Paula. Joan was a clever woman with more than a scandal to her name.

  5. Wow! You had me right there, Anne. I can still hear the crowds and the music. Wonderful post.

  6. Fantastic! Great work! Diana Rubino

  7. I am so glad I found this blog. I am really enjoying the Christmas theme. What a wonderful story!!

  8. Thank you! Was Lancaster married with the Spanish Princess Catalina at that time? He had rejected the liaison with Katherine Swynford if I remember well...

  9. John of Gaunt was married to Constanza of Castile at this time - Catalina was their daughter. The Castilian marriage continued from 1371 until Constanza's death in 1394. His adulterous affair with Katherine Swynford continued throughout this time of his marriage to Constanza, with only a short break during the months after the Peasants' Revolt 1381 when his name was dragged in the mud by the church and the chroniclers. Katherine was not rejected for long and then Gaunt married her when he was free to do so in 1396.

  10. I love your approach in writing this piece about the Christmas of 1377, namely first-person POV! Wishing you the best on this Christmas season of 2019 :)

  11. It probably doesn't matter, but the URL of this post ends with "christmas-in-time-of-richard-iii" instead of richard-ii.


See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx