Museum Of Musings

Heritage, history, books, and a plethora of opinions.

Category: History Notes (Page 1 of 4)

The tale of a Medieval heiress, a lawless knight, and the Black Death.

I can’t confess to taking an active interest in Medieval history. Much of what I read about today is rooted in some serious academia, and sometimes it can feel emotionally disconnected with our world. Yet, this is not always the case. I would like to present to you the tragic (and very ‘Game of Thrones’) story of Margery de la Beche, a 14th century heiress, owner of castles, three times a wife, all in a time of Black Death, corruption, and violent outlaws.

Lady de la Beche was born into the ‘de Poynings’ family in Poynings, West Sussex, around 1310. Her father, Sir Michael, owned a considerable amount of land in this area, hence it’s name. As well as a landlord, Sir Michael was also a knight and ultimately ended his days during the Battle of Bannockburn¹ in Scotland when Margery was just a child. Not the best start.

As many young and wealthy Medieval women did, Margery married as a girl between 13-16 years of age. Her first husband was Edmund Bacon, who owned the Manor of Hatfield Peverall, and by which she had two children, Margery and Nicholas. Edmund had died by the time Margery met and wed her second husband, Sir Nicholas de la Beche, in 1339. It was during her second marriage that she found herself laden with more castles, land, and fancy chattels (goods). Sir Nicholas held vast amounts of land throughout England; Very fitting for the man who would later be appointed Governor to Edward, ‘The Black Prince’, the first born son of King Edward III.

The Black Death killed 30-60% of the population of Europe within a decade. It took two centuries for the population numbers to recover.

Nicholas then died in 1345. The catastrophic second plague epidemic hadn’t quite hit yet, but given that Nicolas was aged around 55 at the time of his death, it is quite likely he died of relatively healthy ‘old age’. Margery was thus left with vast amounts of land, as can be seen from her inquisition post mortem (a sort of Medieval list of assets used when establishing heirs)². A number of sources report that Margery may have had another two husbands in quick succession, and there is the suggestion that they in turn succumbed to the plague³.

This made Margery a sitting duck. A very rich, widowed, landowner was an attractive prospect for a deviant Medieval nobleman. Enter Sir John de Dalton, a knight with some very alarming friends. Very early on Good Friday in 1347, Sir John and his fellow scoundrels entered the manor in which Margery and her household were staying and began to wreak havoc. They may not have realised that also residing with them was Lionel of Antwerp, the third son of the king.

The gang proceeded to swipe expensive goods and chattels, totalling somewhere between  £500 – £1000, an extraordinary amount in today’s money. But they didn’t stop there, Sir John later forcibly abducted Margery. There is one account that implies that she was sexually assaulted³. The goal was to leave Margery with no other choice than to marry Sir John by instilling terror. He murdered her paternal uncle, along with anyone else who got in his way. He even frightened the chaplain to death (probably a heart attack).

Sir John de Dalton, a knight with some very alarming friends.

The law at this time barely protected women, especially when it came to sexual politics. So, rather than than condemn their actions on the grounds of horrifying  violence, royal officials deemed it treason. Not only had Sir John stolen items that ultimately belonged to the King, trespass on land and property ultimately owned by the King, he had by default threatened the king’s son.

Knights rarely had the same social standing as nobles, and their behaviour often caused more problems for the King.

The crown demanded the return of Margery, and warned the kingdom against harbouring the fugitives. Yet, due to poor legal advice and the need to save face, months went past and no one turned Sir John in. Margery was also nowhere to be found. It is the depressing truth that it appears they did indeed marry, and Lady de la Beche died two years after the traumatic event. One of her inquisition post mortems records her place of death as Calais – it is unknown why she died here. However, it is quite plausible, probably even likely, that she contracted the plague during it’s peak and she died in her late thirties having endured the extremes of a Medieval existence.

 

 

¹. The Battle of Bannockburn, June 1314, was the first battle of independence for Scotland, and they won.

². Inquisitions Post Mortem, Edward III, File 99, www.british-history.ac.uk

³. The Law of Treason in England in the Later Middle Ages By J. G. Bellamy

Luna 2 and a mid-century space obsession

Luna 2, 1959.

On this day 59 years ago, the Soviet Union successfully landed (i.e. crashed and didn’t miss) the Luna 2, a sputnik-esque probe, on the moon for the first time in history and subsequently launched decades of sci-fi madness. I’ve always been fascinated by the visual depictions of life in space generated by the Cold War era space race. I love that it permeated everyday mid-century life through adverts, film, literature, and design. Who didn’t want a spherical telly with unnecessary antenna? I’ve reignited this interest in recent times. I believe we’re seeing a bit of a revival of mid-century design, its nostalgic and exciting, but it is also reflecting modern advancements in space tourism. After all, Elon Musk did launch Falcon Heavy to the sound of 1960’s David Bowie.

The global tension in which the Luna 2 was propelled into space stemmed from capitalism versus communism, to put it simplistically. America and the USSR had already fought over their nuclear weapons capability, and now the Cold War was fuelling the race against time to fund, design, and send man-made objects (and eventually man) to the moon. Yet, the two countries had very visually different ideas of what man on the moon would look like.

1950’s design aesthetic became sleeker and more technology focused

1950’s America. The country’s GDP was growing healthily, rising to the best it had been in several decades. Many Americans were enjoying the benefits of larger incomes, spending their cash on cars, kitchens, gadgets, and re-decorating. The government need not have looked further than the new advertising agencies to help them convince the population of the national benefits of space exploration. Much like Don Draper does in AMC’s Mad Men, 1950’s and 60’s ad-men were harnessing the fervour surrounding new technologies and using it to sell products to fantasising Americans.

Once you integrate a revolutionary idea in consumerism, it becomes a little less daunting and rather more thrilling. American society was somewhat more preoccupied with the designing of space-worthy items than the existential impact, as can be seen in contemporary advertising campaigns. Basic design ideas were reinvented and the minute details of what life would be like in space such as the sensations (note the floating biscuits above) and the look of everyday items captivated the imaginations of the American public. Arguably, this is what we still really think about on an everyday basis, even today… how would I use the toilet on Mars?

1961. V. Volikov. Long live Soviet science. Long live the Soviet man–the first astronaut!

Meanwhile, in the USSR, the Soviet government took a different approach to the space race. Science was integral to the regime and they made advances beyond those of other superpowers, the success of Luna 2 was just the first of several. Their scientists, engineers, and eventually their astronauts were a source of intense national pride. Nevertheless, extra money was poured into creating and distributing punchy visual propaganda, selling the idea that space was the perfect place for communism; It was untouched by all other ideologies (such as capitalism) and, more importantly, it was Godless. Donald W. Cox, in his book The Space Race, adds that probes such as the Luna 2 “added inspiration for the earthbound followers of the communist way of life helping to take their mind off shortages of consumer goods.”

Soviet era posters often emphasised the human presence in space, with little made of machinery or material extras. The artwork is sometimes comically simplistic, almost always featuring slogans in bold print, and were often painted with vivid primary colours. They presented a dead simple, easy to get message – we don’t need to sell this idea too hard, it’s revolutionary. The idea was that you could too join the cosmonauts in deep space once day.

Glory to the Fatherland of Heroes!

When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans on the moon in 1969, the obsession with space travel didn’t end there. Today, we can lay on our memory foam mattresses and enjoy watching test flights for space tourism on our satellite telly with the same amazement. We have both countries to thank for those space-race-legacy inventions.

“Imagination is our window into the future. At NASA/JPL we strive to be bold in advancing the edge of possibility so that someday, with the help of new generations of innovators and explorers, these visions of the future can become a reality. As you look through these images of imaginative travel destinations, remember that you can be an architect of the future.”

NASA recently commissioned these very nostalgic space tourism posters:

https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/visions-of-the-future/

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