Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The Beauchamps

Well over a decade ago I took part in my one and only archaeological dig at my local abbey's ruin. After a few days washing industrial slag, they asked if I would mind helping to clean some skeletons as this was the last dig for a few years and they wanted to get quite a few up.
 I then spent a couple of weeks cleaning bones, including a number of skulls. From the context, they were believed to be 13th century - as it happens the same period that I now cover in this blog. The preservation varied according to the soil - the boundary between two types passes through the site so in some cases half of the bones were very well preserved while the other half instantly crumbled.
 I think I dealt with about half a dozen skulls and some were so well preserved that even the ear bones survived, washing out as I swilled the skulls round like some kind of macabre Tom-Cruise-in-Cocktail. One particular skeleton stays in my memory. It was a man and going by his long bones he was probably around 6 feet tall. He had marks on his bones showing that he'd had a lot of muscles - the on-site experts said that they showed he had probably been a rider and likely a knight which would explain his presence in a high status part of the abbey. A number of bones had broken at some stage in his life, including a leg, some ribs and one arm I think. They had all healed very well.
 The most impressive injuries were to his head. There were two cuts in the skull, probably from a blade. One went from front to back along the top left of his skull and the other went from side to side across the upper back of his head. Although some healing had begun, the experts thought they were serious enough to have led to his death. A possible victim of Kenilworth or Evesham perhaps - the abbey lies within easy reach of both. Of course, it may have been some kind of accident or a local brawl, but I can daydream!

 What does this have to do with the Beauchamps? When I was helping there, a couple of people mentioned that the Black Dog of Arden was buried there. I knew nothing of the period then and only recently found out that he was one of the Beauchamp Earls of Warwick, dubbed with that name as an insult by a favourite of Edward II. His grave had been discovered years ago, but it was nice to know that one of the great magnates had apparently chosen to be buried in my hometown.

 The Beauchamps made their mark under Edward I, acquiring the Warwick title by marriage. Various branches gained land in the area, including at Alcester. It seems that the Beauchamp arms were originally a simmple gules, a fesse or but cross crosslets or martlets were adopted as differences - the crosses being taken from the traditional arms of the Earls of Warwick.

In the photo, Beauchamps are second, fifth and seventh from the left. I haven't worried too much about whether the arms are suitable for the Barons' War. Others in the line up include Hastings and Mortimer. Mortimer was an especially major player in the war.
One of the branches of the d'Abitot family is to the extreme left. I haven't found out much about them except that they had various branches holding lands in my area of the country and that they had some nice looking coats of arms!

Incidentally, my output of Medieval figures is on hold for a while as I'm working through a backlog of Classical period stuff (Simon de Montfort sits on my painting table half-finished!). I may set up a different blog to cover some of this stuff but continue to update Dante's Wars in my current lacksdaisical manner.


neldoreth said...

I vote that you expand this blog into a general mini gaming blog, and include the classical stuff! We can always sort it out using bloggers content tags if we like! Your stuff is great and I'd like to see it all in one place :)

Good stuff,

Swampster said...

I might well do that n.
OTOH, having a blog with just 13th century links and another with ones covering roughly Xenophon to Trajan might be more manageable (I thought of calling it Plutarch's Wars or something similar).
I'll think on it.

Rune said...

Love the knights. What technique do you use to get the martlets and crosses so crisp. Yellow ink on white?

A side question regarding the skeleton (the 6 foot rider) Do you have any idea if his musculature was similar to a modern day 100 m runner or more like a bodybuilder?

Swampster said...

Hi Rune,
Just a thin brush. I did them roughly in a darker shade first and then in a lighter yellow - Foundry lemon I think.
I don't know about the type of musculature though I should think an overall tone rather than necessarily big bulging biceps.