Sunday 23 September 2012

Omm Sety - The Mysterious Lady of Abydos

The Beginning of the Mystery
The mysterious Omm Sety started her life on 16th January 1904 as a very ordinary Edwardian little girl called Dorothy Louise Eady. Her father was a master tailor by profession and along with her mother they all lived in the prosperous London suburb of Blackheath.
The strange events that would eventually mark her out as a mystery person of history began in 1907, when aged three years old she tumbled down the stairs. Her panicked mother Caroline thought that her child was dead so summoned the doctor and ordered her husband to return home from his place of work. The doctor on examining Dorothy declared her to have died of severe concussion and left to procure a death certificate and a nurse to lay the child out. When he returned about an hour later he was shocked to find the child not only alive, but sitting up eating chocolate and playing with her toys.
It is safe to say, however, that from the moment of her accident Dorothy was not the same child as she had been before. She began to have recurring dreams about a large building. The building had many columns and there was a beautiful garden close by filled with trees, shrubs and flowers. The little girl told her parents about the dreams and they were very distressed when they frequently found her crying under the dining room table and saying ‘I want to go home!’ No amount of reassurance from her family could persuade her that she was already home.

Seti I Temple, Abydos - Wikimedia Commons Public Domain
Temple of Seti I at Abydos

Troubled Childhood

When she was four years old she was taken on a family outing to the British Museum. She was totally bored as she was dragged around the various rooms by her parents until they entered the Egyptian galleries. Then the young Dorothy suddenly came to life and started running around excitedly, kissing the feet of the statues. When she calmed down and was taken upstairs, she walked straight up to a mummy in a glass case and refused to move. Her exasperated parents left her there and continued on their tour of the museum. When they returned and tried to take her home she turned to her mother and said in a voice more like an old woman’s than her own ‘Leave me....these are my people.’ Needless to say her bewildered parent’s then had to face the embarrassment of forcibly carrying her from the museum, with Dorothy kicking and screaming for all she was worth.
When Dorothy was seven her father brought home a magazine that contained pictures of Seti I’s temple at Abydos in Egypt. Dorothy realised that she was looking at the building in her dreams. She informed her poor, bemused father that this was her home and asked him why it was all broken. Shortly afterwards she came across another photograph that depicted the mummy of Seti I, and was immediately convinced that she knew him.
She had a troubled childhood and managed to get expelled from both Sunday school and regular school for expounding her beliefs in the Ancient Egyptian religion. She would also play truant from school to haunt the Egyptian galleries at the British Museum. Whilst at the museum, she was befriended by Sir E A Wallis Budge, the Keeper of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities and inveigled him into teaching her hieroglyphics.

The Appearance of Pharaoh Seti I

When she was fourteen she woke up one night to the feeling of having hands pressing down on her chest and looked up to see a face looking down at her. It was the same face as in the photograph of the mummy of Seti I. Shortly afterwards she began to have another set of recurrent dreams, where she was a young Egyptian girl in a room full of other women, and then in an underground chamber where she was being questioned by an older man. She also started sleepwalking and her parents had her committed several times for short stays in a mental institution for observation.
Her parents moved to Plymouth, where her father opened a movie cinema, but Dorothy returned to London when she was twenty seven to work for an Egyptian public relations magazine. It was there that she met a young Egyptian man, called Imam Abdel Meguid, who was in England to study. When he returned to Egypt they wrote to each other, and eventually he proposed marriage. She arrived in Egypt in 1933 and married Imam. She swiftly became pregnant and gave birth to a son whom she called Sety, much to the distress of her parents who thought that the child should have been called George.

Mummy of Pharaoh Seti I - Wikimedia Commons Public Domain
Mummy of Pharaoh Seti I

Her Early Life in Egypt

Shortly after her arrival in Egypt the Pharaoh Seti I began appearing to her again in the night, and was witnessed by several other people including her father-in-law and mother. Her husband, who was by this time rather confused and embarrassed by her behaviour, was even more bewildered when she started to get out of her bed in the middle of the night and write down messages in hieroglyphics. After about a year it became clear that the messages, which Dorothy believed were being passed to her by an Ancient Egyptian called Hor-Ra, were actually the story of a previous life that she had lived in nineteenth dynasty Egypt.
According to the messages she had been a young girl of humble origins who had been given to the temple at Abydos to serve the goddess Isis. Her name back then had been Bentreshyt which means ‘Harp of Joy’. She took vows that she would remain chaste and was trained by the High Priest Antef in her role in the dramatisation of the story of Osiris and Isis. One day she met the pharaoh Seti I in the garden, when he was on a tour inspecting the progress of the building of the temple, and they fell in love. They met secretly, as even the Pharaoh was not permitted to romance a priestess vowed to the temple. In time Bentreshyt became pregnant and their secret was out. She was questioned severely by Antef, and she eventually told him who the father of her child was. The punishment for her crime was death, so Bentreshyt decided to commit suicide rather than drag her royal lover into a great scandal.

Her Arrival at Abydos

Dorothy’s husband divorced her, but she stayed on in Egypt and moved to the Giza plateau, where she could live in sight of the pyramids. She got a job as a draughtsman working in the fourth dynasty cemetery at Giza and was also the first woman ever to work for the Egyptian Department of Antiquities. Her husband reclaimed their son when he was five years old, and Dorothy began to build up a menagerie of dogs, cats, donkeys, snakes, geese and other birds.
It was not until 1952 that Dorothy Eady eventually managed to visit Abydos and but it was only for a couple of days. She returned for a couple of weeks in 1954, but was finally offered a job as a draughtsman at Abydos in 1956. During her time in Egypt, Dorothy had continued to receive nocturnal visits from her royal lover and by her account they had a full and passionate physical relationship. When she returned to live at Abydos, she believed that she was once more dedicated to the temple and must return to her vows of chastity. She promised Pharaoh Seti that she would honour the feast days of the temple and perform the rituals of the old religion.

Strange Occurrences at Abydos

Being familiar with the temple at Abydos from her previous existence, she astounded the chief inspector from the Department of Antiquities when he tested her knowledge. He told her to go to various parts of the temple in the dark and each time she found her way without any problems. It was at this time that she started to be called Omm Sety, which in Arabic means Mother of Sety. It was deemed impolite by the local Egyptians to refer to a married woman by her given name, so they instead called them by the name of their eldest child. She bought a house for seventy-five dollars and acquired a donkey.
She also got the chance to prove that the garden that she had always said was attached to the Abydos temple did in fact exist when the excavators found the remains of a garden exactly where she said they would be. They found tree roots, vine roots, water channels and the well, which even still had some water in it. One of the more fascinating experiences that happened to her in the temple occurred in 1958. Omm Sety was suffering from the flu and as she was walking across the roof she slipped and fell. She slid down a long slope and found herself in a passageway. This passage was filled with articles from ancient times, including bales of linen, offering tables, boxes and statues, most of which were covered in gold. She found her way out somehow, and told the Chief Inspector, but could never again find the exact spot where she had fallen or a way into the passage.
Omm Sety was able to live among the villagers in safety as they believed that she had magical powers, and being very superstitious they were afraid of her. She was, however, also admired for her healing powers and she would spend hours talking with the women and learning all their folk remedies, customs and superstitions. In the late 1960s Omm Sety began writing a series of reports and articles for the American Research Centre in Egypt that spoke about the ancient folk traditions still practised in the villages.

Old Age and the Mystery of Omm Sety

She was retired from the Antiquities service in 1969 and had to try to survive on a small pension. She took up needle-point embroidery and created scenes from the temple to sell to visiting tourists and she also did some part-time tour guiding for the Antiquities Department. She became very frail in her later years and suffered a heart attack, a broken knee, chronic appendicitis, phlebitis, dysentery and eye problems. She built a tomb for herself in her garden, but when she died in April 1981 the local health department refused to allow her to be buried there. She was interred on the very edge of the Coptic cemetery instead, but there is still no gravestone to mark her burial.
So what do you make of this Mystery Person of History? Omm Sety was a remarkable woman anyway in that she became a fine draughtsman, Egyptologist, expert in hieroglyphics and folk lore and medicine. She also showed great courage and determination in pursuing her dreams and ambitions. But do you believe that she had lived before in Ancient Egypt and was visited in this life by her royal lover, the pharaoh Seti I? The thing that we can be sure of is that Omm Sety herself sincerely believed it to be true. She followed the old Egyptian religion and never wavered from her beliefs. She was also reticent about talking about her experiences, only confiding in trusted friends and colleagues. The answer is that we will probably never know. The truth is lost in the swirling sands of Egypt and in the dark passages and long shadows of the temple at Abydos.

Thursday 13 September 2012

Have They Found the Lost Burial of King Richard III?

You would expect to find a medieval king of England buried in an elaborate marble tomb in an important ecclesiastical building such as Westminster Abbey or St George’s Chapel in Windsor. But for the last Plantagenet King of England, Richard III, there was no such impressive memorial to commemorate his life and reign and the location of his grave was an unsolved mystery for hundreds of years.  So you can imagine the excitement when a team from the University of Leicester started to search for the grave of the lost king, especially as the king in question was the notorious and controversial Richard III.  For he is the infamous English monarch who was accused of murdering his own nephews to gain his crown and was portrayed by the famous bard William Shakespeare as an evil, deformed hunchback with a withered arm.

King Richard III - Wikimedia Commons Public Domain
King Richard III

However, it must be remembered that history is written by the victors and descriptions of Richard’s appearance penned by the likes of Shakespeare, Thomas Moore and Raphael Holinshed were Tudor propaganda designed to shore up the legitimacy and power of the new royal dynasty and smear the Yorkist king’s reputation in order to justify leading a rebellion against him and usurping his throne. Inconveniently for Henry Tudor’s supporters, until the unexpected death of his elder brother King Edward IV, Richard’s reputation had been blameless.  Unusually in the chaos that was the War of the Roses, Richard had remained totally loyal to his older brother, even when his other brother George, Duke of Clarence sided with the Earl of Warwick and joined with the Lancastrian forces headed by Margaret of Anjou.  He was richly rewarded by a grateful Edward IV, who gave him the title of Duke of Gloucester and allowed his marriage to the traitorous Warwick’s daughter Anne Neville.  Richard spent little time at the court in London, and based himself mainly in the north, where he led several successful campaigns against the Scots and recaptured Berwick-upon-Tweed in 1482.

After Edward’s unexpected death in 1483, Richard was named Lord Protector and marched down from Yorkshire to meet up with his nephew the twelve year old new King Edward V.  Edward V was travelling to London in the company of his maternal uncle, Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, who Richard arrested and subsequently executed along with Richard Grey and Thomas Vaughan in Pontefract Castle. Once he arrived in London with the new King, Richard lodged him in the Tower of London, which was the traditional place where English monarchs stayed before their coronation and persuaded Edward’s mother, Elizabeth Woodville, to allow his younger brother Richard, Duke of York to join him.  The arrangements for Edward’s coronation were going ahead when Richard suddenly changed tack and seized the crown for himself, citing as the reason that his nephews were illegitimate because his brother Edward IV has already made a contract to marry another woman, Lady Eleanor Butler, before he secretly married Elizabeth Woodville.

After Richard’s coronation sightings of the two young princes playing in the grounds of the Tower of London dwindled and rumours started to fly that the boys had been murdered by their uncle. However, there is still no real evidence that King Richard murdered his nephews and what really happened to the Princes in the Tower is still just conjecture.  His short reign held much personal tragedy for the new English king, as his only son and heir Edward of Middleham died tragically in 1484 and his wife Anne Neville also died of tuberculosis a few short months later in March 1485.  But during his reign Richard proved to be a popular monarch with his people and he introduced laws that allowed poorer people to have their grievances heard and he also stopped restrictions being placed on the printing and sale of books.

Richard III was the last English king to be killed in battle, and he was slain at the Battle of Bosworth on 22nd August 1485 defending his kingdom against the forces of Henry Tudor.  This decisive battle brought the War of the Roses into its final stages, placing the Lancastrian Henry Tudor onto the throne of England as King Henry VII and bringing to an end the rule of the Yorkist dynasty and the Plantagenets.  We don’t really know the details of how King Richard was killed during the battle, but legend has it that after he was slain his mangled corpse was ignominiously slung over the back of a horse and taken into the nearby town of Leicester and left on display for the public to come and view for three days.  However distasteful this may seem to our modern minds, it was a politically astute move from the new King Henry VII, as it would stop any rumours being put around that Richard hadn’t really been killed during the battle and thus preventing a potential focus for rebellion against the new dynasty . The king’s body was then said to have been thrown into the River Soar that runs through the town and one of the bridges is known as ‘King Richard’s Bridge’.

However, a contemporary chronicler Sir Thomas Frowyk made a reference to King Richard being buried in the church of the Newarke in Leicester and chroniclers later in the reign of Henry VII spoke of money being set aside by the new Tudor king to build a tomb for him and of Richard’s burial being in the Greyfriars Church which was part of the Franciscan Friary. Greyfriars was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries instigated by HenryVIII in 1536, and it would seem that it was at this time that the location of the royal burial became uncertain, as the bones could either have been removed from the tomb when the building was razed and either moved or discarded, or the royal skeleton was buried under the ground and was undisturbed but covered by more recent building work.  The Mayor of Leicester, Robert Herrick, constructed a mansion over the remains of the friary church and when Christopher Wren visited him in 1612 he reported seeing a stone pillar inscribed as a memorial to Richard III in the garden.  Around the same time in 1611, a map maker called John Speedie was recording local landmarks in Leicester and it is thought that he may have been the one who started the story that Richard III’s body had been thrown in the river. It is said that he did this to cover up his embarrassment at not being able to find the King’s grave, and that he had not searched in the right place, as he had been looking at Blackfriars rather than Greyfriars.

The archaeologists from Leicester University located the site of the lost Greyfriars church by examining historical maps and comparing them to modern ones. They started their excavations on 25th August 2012 in a car park belonging to the local council.  The mansion built by Robert Herrick had been demolished in the 1870s and replaced with public buildings, although the gardens were not paved over until the middle of the 20th century, and the excavations soon uncovered paving stones that are thought to be from the mansion’s gardens. Medieval finds included inlaid floor tiles, fragments of tracery from the church windows, and part of a stone frieze believed to be from the choir stalls and the locations of the eastern cloister walk and the chapter house were established.  But the most exciting find of all was the discovery of an intact skeleton of an adult male buried in the Choir area of the Friary Church.  The remains had not been interred in a coffin, but seemed to have been laid to rest in a shroud that has subsequently disintegrated, and there was nothing buried with the body to indicate the skeleton’s identity. So what clues are there that this could be the body of King Richard III?

The skeleton is that of an adult male who had been strong and in good health when he had died.  The remains also display injuries that could have been sustained during a medieval battle as there is a blade wound to the back of the head and an iron barbed arrowhead was found lodged between the vertebrae of the upper back.  The skeleton also has a curvature of the spine, known as scoliosis, that would have meant that during life the man’s right shoulder would have seemed to have been higher than his left.  This fits in with contemporary description’s of Richard’s appearance which speak of a raised shoulder and could have been the basis of Shakespeare’s exaggerated depiction of the monarch as an ugly, short hunchback who had a withered arm.  The experts are hoping to extract DNA samples for analysis from a few of the teeth and femur of the skeleton, which they are hoping will match with that of Michael Ibsen, a Canadian descendant of Richard III’s elder sister Anne of York to prove the identity of the remains.

This DNA testing will take about twelve weeks and during this time it will have to be decided where the remains will be reinterred if the testing proves that the skeleton is that of the King.  There are no plans for the excavation to be kept open for the public, so it is unlikely that the body will be returned to its original grave. A memorial stone already lies in Leicester Cathedral, so perhaps this could be Richard’s final resting place? Or could he be buried in York Minster as he himself had planned? Whatever eventually happens to the remains our last Plantagenet King, if it is proved that this really is Richard’s body it will offer historians and archaeologists much valuable evidence that will help them piece together what really happened to him at the Battle of Bosworth and how he was killed.

Thursday 15 March 2012

Lord Stanley – A Man for All Allegiances

One of the most difficult choices that any 15th century English nobleman had to make was where his loyalties lay.  In theory it should be a simple matter of pledging his loyalty to the King, but in the troubled times of the War of the Roses the political terrain was a great deal more complicated, and there were tangled family ties and loyalties to consider as well as a duty to crown and country.  In this conflict some men would lose their lives for their loyalty, some would be executed for their disloyalty, but there was one nobleman who managed with great dexterity to play on both sides at once and keep his head very firmly on his shoulders.  This politically adroit baron was Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby, who throughout his long career would seamlessly slip between support for the Lancastrian cause and the Yorkist cause, and then found that he could just as happily embrace the new Tudor monarchy, just so long as he was well rewarded and retained his titles, estates and fortune.

Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby

He was born in 1435 and was the eldest son and heir of Thomas Stanley, 1st Baron Stanley and his wife Joan Goushill.  Through his mother he was related to the royal family, as she was a descendant of the great warrior King Edward I.  The Stanley family wielded great influence in the North West of England and during his life Lord Stanley would own great estates, such as Lathom House and Tatton Park, in Cheshire and Lancashire.  He was introduced to public life at the royal court early and in his youth he acted as one of King Henry VI’s squires.  He seemed at this stage of his career to be a loyal and staunch follower of the King, but the political scene in England was just about to get a whole lot more complicated and Stanley was to produce a master class in how to navigate your way successfully through tricky, dangerous situations with your skin in one piece and adding to your power and possessions along the way. In 1457 he married Eleanor Neville who was the daughter of the powerful baron Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury.  Her brother was Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick and at this time the Neville family were strongly promoting the cause of the Duke of York.

In 1459 Stanley’s father died and he inherited his titles and great estates, including the title of King of Mann.  He was now a very important and influential baron, and one that England’s monarch needed to keep on side if at all possible. King Henry had been in Yorkist hands since the first Battle of St Albans in 1455, but the discontent between the two factions rumbled on and came to a head in 1459, when Richard of Salisbury put his forces into the field of battle against the King’s men at the Battle of Blore Heath.  Henry VI’s French wife, Queen Margaret of Anjou, was the real power behind the throne, as her royal husband was a feeble and ineffectual monarch, and had at one time slipped into a catatonic state that lasted many months. In the male dominated, warrior climate of the late Middle Ages, the barons respected power, leadership and skills in battle, and as far as many of them were concerned a simpleton like Henry, whose only interest seemed to be religion, just did not cut the mustard, and his closest supporter were thought by the Yorkist faction to be corrupt and avaricious.

Margaret of Anjou wanted her husband back as he was an important part of her power base, and gave orders that Stanley was to raise an army to stop Salisbury, who was marching through the Midlands, from linking up with the main Yorkist forces in Ludlow. But although he had 2,000 men-at-arms at his disposal, he chose to sit the battle out.  His brother, Sir William Stanley, threw his hat into the ring and fought on the side of the Yorkists and got attainted for his troubles.  That Lord Stanley was secretly supporting the Duke of York and his faction, is borne out by allegations that he had managed to prevent a number of Cheshire levies from fighting on the Lancastrian side and had also managed to covertly help the Yorkists.  Blore Heath was a savagely fought and bloody battle that was won by Salisbury and cost the life of the Lancastrian battler commander Lord Audley.  However, just to make sure that he was covered on both sides, after the battle Lord Stanley sent his congratulations on the victory to the Earl of Salisbury and wrote to the Queen to offer his apologies and excuses for why he had not seen fit to commit his men to the battle. Margaret of Anjou cannot have been too convinced or impressed by his explanations, but nevertheless when Parliament petitioned for his attainder later that year they were not successful; in the fluctuations of the Wars of the Roses she needed all the friends and support that she could get, even those as unreliable as the slippery Lord Stanley.

Lord Stanley joined the Yorkist Council soon after the Battle of Blore Heath, when Richard, Duke of York dropped his bomb shell that he wanted to claim the crown of England himself, rather than just be the most influential baron guiding Henry VI’s royal career. This naturally did not go down well with Margaret of Anjou, who wanted the English throne for her young son Edward of Lancaster. She managed to eliminate her nemesis the Duke of York and his key supporter the Earl of Salisbury at the Battle of Wakefield in December 1460, and had their heads put on public show on the Micklegate Bar in York, along with those of York’s son Edmund, Earl of Rutland and Richard Hanson. The Queen’s forces defeated the Earl of Warwick at the second Battle of St Albans early in 1461 and regained possession of the King, but were then decisively defeated in March of the same year by an army led by Edward Earl of March, the Duke of York’s eldest son.  Edward had himself crowned as King Edward IV and Margaret, having once more lost possession of her husband, fled to France via Wales and Scotland. Lord Stanley had demonstrated his usual survival skills and had not fought at either Wakefield or Towton, though he had aided the Earl of Warwick in besieging some northern castles that held for Lancaster.  The Earl of Warwick was now one of the most powerful men in England, as well as being Stanley’s brother-in-law and it seemed that at this time the two powerful barons enjoyed cordial relations.  However, as history was to show, family loyalty would not be enough to ensure Stanley’s support, as this was a man who always liked to come out on the winning side.

The honeymoon period for the new Yorkist monarch was not destined to last for very long, as fractures in the relationship between Edward IV and Warwick soon began to show.  Warwick was known as the ‘Kingmaker’ and expected to be well rewarded by the new monarch as well as to be the key influence on royal policy. But although he was young, and grateful for Warwick’s aid in putting him on the throne, Edward IV had a mind of his own and liked to make his own choices.  While Warwick was trying to secure a diplomatically useful match for him with a French princess, Edward was dallying with a Lancastrian widow behind his back.  He married this widow, Elizabeth Woodville, in secret and when Warwick found out he was furious.  Further salt was rubbed in his wounds when Edward IV started arranging very favourable matches for her very large family, some of which were detrimental to Warwick’s own family. Lord Stanley was married to Warwick’s sister Eleanor Neville, but when Warwick, aided and abetted by Edward IV’s own brother the Duke of Clarence, rebelled in March 1470, Lord Stanley did not step in to help him. Stanley then did an about turn when Warwick, having fled to France and allied himself with Margaret of Anjou, returned in 1471 to England to place the hapless Henry VI once more on the throne. To all outward appearances it seemed as though Lord Stanley had thrown his lot in with the Lancastrian cause, but as usual looks were deceiving.  His brother William hastened to Edward IV’s side when he landed at Ravenspur to reclaim his throne, but as usual big brother Thomas hung back and took no part in the Battle of Tewkesbury which saw Margaret’s forces decisively defeated and the young Edward of Lancaster killed.

The newly restored King Edward IV decided to give the powerful magnate the benefit of the doubt, and rewarded Stanley’s non-participation in the conflict by appointing him steward of the king’s household and inviting him to sit on the royal council.  Very conveniently for him, his ties to the dead and discredited Earl of Warwick were severed when his Neville wife Eleanor died in 1472.  He promptly married Margaret Beaufort, the dowager Countess of Richmond.  This was not an obvious match for a supposedly fervent supporter of the Yorkist monarchy, as her son Henry Tudor was the last surviving Lancastrian claimant to the throne and was living in exile in Brittany. However, throughout Edward IV’s reign he played the part of a loyal subject, accompanying his King to France on campaign in 1475 and being awarded a pension by the French king Louis XI at the treaty of Picquiny, and he also fought in Scotland with the king’s brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester in 1482, and helped him capture the key town of Berwick-upon-Tweed.

It was the unexpected death of Edward IV in 1483 that once more upset the political apple cart. The King’s heir was his eldest son, who became Edward V.  His uncle, Richard of Gloucester, had been appointed Lord Protector and arranged to meet the delegation, including several of the new king’s Woodville relatives, who were accompanying Edward V to London at Stony Stratford. A fracas broke out, and the Duke of Gloucester secured possession of the new monarch and took him to reside in the Tower of London.  This was not the odd choice that it may seem, as the old Norman fortress was where monarchs traditionally lived in the days before their coronation.  Elizabeth Woodville had fled into sanctuary at Westminster with the rest of her family, and there were repeated rumours of plots and conspiracies.  One of these erupted in June 1483 when Richard stormed a royal council meeting being held at the Tower and arrested several of the noblemen in attendance.  Lord Stanley was injured in the ensuing scuffle and briefly imprisoned, but Lord Hastings was condemned on the spot and summarily beheaded.

Richard seized the throne for himself and was crowned King Richard III. Lord Stanley had obviously been fully forgiven, although maybe not entirely trusted as his eldest son Lord Strange was married to a niece of Elizabeth Woodville, as he was allowed to carry the mace at Richard’s coronation and his wife, Margaret Beaufort, carried Queen Anne’s train.  He was also allowed to carry on in his role as the steward of the king’s household and joined the Order of the Garter, taking over the executed Lord Hasting’s vacant stall.  This was an age which did not allow for sentiment, and Lord Stanley was not a nobleman who would have worried overly much about sitting in a dead friend’s chair.  His survival skills were once more called upon late in 1483, when King Richard’s closest advisor, the Duke of Buckingham rebelled.  Despite the fact that his own wife, Margaret Beaufort, and her crony Morton were deeply implicated in the plot as they were brokering a marriage between Elizabeth of York and Henry Tudor, Stanley and his brother William helped the King suppress the rebellion.  The Duke of Buckingham lost his head, Margaret Beaufort was formally placed in her husband’s custody to keep her out of trouble, Morton had to make himself scarce and once more Lord Stanley was lavishly rewarded with estates forfeited by the rebels and Buckingham’s position of High Constable of England.  It was perhaps the biggest mistake that Richard III ever made that he did not execute Margaret Beaufort and put an end to her intrigues and plotting on behalf of her son Henry Tudor, but although retribution for men was often swift and savage during the Wars of the Roses, executing nobly born women would not become the rage until Tudor times.

Richard III endured the death of his only son and heir and then his wife Anne Neville during his short reign, and then in 1485 he had to face an invasion by the forces of Henry Tudor. Lord Stanley asked permission to leave court at this time, but Richard evidently did not trust him as he made him leave his oldest son Lord Strange in custody as a pledge for his continued good behaviour.  Both he and his brother William were, however, in contact with Henry Tudor when he landed in Wales and without Sir William’s lack of intervention his forces would never have been able to progress into England as they did.  Both the Stanley brothers were ordered by King Richard to raise an army to support him, and when the King discovered that Sir William had effectively cleared the path for Henry Tudor, he ordered his older brother to join him immediately.  Lord Stanley suddenly discovered that he was too unwell to answer his King’s summons and when his son, Lord Strange,  was caught trying to escape from Richard’s clutches, he admitted that both he and Sir William had been plotting with Henry Tudor. It has been said that Richard III gave orders that Lord Strange be executed during the Battle of Bosworth, to which Stanley’s response was reputedly ‘Sire, I have other sons’.  Fortunately for Lord Strange, the orders were never carried out.

So there were four armies headed towards Bosworth on that fateful day in August 1485, Richard III’s, Henry Tudor’s, Sir William Stanley’s and Lord Stanley’s. Take a guess as to whose army once again didn’t take an active part in the battle? As had happened several times before, Lord Stanley kept his fighting men out of the proceedings, although it is thought that he may have met with Henry Tudor on the eve of the battle. Sir William was once again a little bolder and intervened in the fighting and helped win the day for Henry Tudor. King Richard III was slain in the fighting, and Lord Stanley, despite his earlier absence, was conveniently on hand to pick up Richard’s fallen crown and place it on the head of the new king, Henry VII.  In a move that perhaps signalled the future ruthless nature of the new Tudor dynasty, Henry VII conveniently dated the start of his new reign to the day before the Battle of Bosworth, declaring all those who had fought against him traitors. So Lord Stanley’s stepson was the new King of England and as usual he reaped the rewards, becoming Earl of Derby in October 1485 and in the following year he was confirmed as the High Constable of England and appointed High Steward of the Duchy of Lancaster.  When Henry VII’s first son was born in 1486, he was chosen as godfather for the infant Prince Arthur, and it looked as though from that point on life would be relatively plain sailing for the all powerful baron.

However, the Yorkists had not quite yet run out of steam and in 1487 a rebellion was raised in support of a pretender called Lambert Simnel, who was supposedly Richard, Duke of York, one of the Princes in the Tower.  Henry Tudor must have been quite relieved when Lord Stanley did actively participate in putting this rebellion down, and did not stand aside hedging his bets as usual.  After the Battle of Stoke, he once again reaped great rewards for his assistance and was given lands forfeited by the rebels, which included the estates of Francis Viscount Lovell, Sir Thomas Broughton and Sir Thomas Pilkington. He once again in 1489 helped the Tudor monarch to suppress a rebellion in Yorkshire, but his brother Sir William Stanley eventually slipped up by backing the wrong side when he fought for the pretender Perkin Warbeck and was executed for his treason.

Lord Stanley died at his estate of Lathom House in Lancashire on 20th July 1504, and was buried among his ancestors in the family chapel of Burscough Priory.  His eldest son Lord Strange had already died, so he was succeeded by his grandson Thomas, who became the 2nd Earl of Derby.  For a nobleman who had played such a prominent political role throughout the Wars of the Roses, he was very fortunate to have died naturally at home, instead of on a battlefield or on the scaffold.  It had taken great skill to not only have stayed alive, but to have enriched himself and his family in the process, even though no monarch, however powerful, could ever completely rely on his loyalty or support.  Expediency was his watchword and Lord Stanley’s allegiances would shift in the winds of change, always ready to altered and adjusted if the situation demanded it.

Thomas Stanley image Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Ancient Egyptian Queens – The Mystery of Kiya

Canopic Jar of Kiya - Metropolitan Museum of Art

Have you heard of an Egyptian queen called Kiya? Many of us know the names and a little bit about the lives of the most famous of the ancient Egyptian queens, such as Cleopatra, Hatshepsut and the beautiful Nefertiti, but how much do we know about the scores of other women who once wore the crown of Egypt?  An Egyptian pharaoh could have more than one wife, and he would usually have one senior queen who was called his ‘Great Royal Wife’, as well as several secondary wives and ladies of the harem, or ‘royal ornaments’. In order to consolidate his claim to the throne and carry on the royal blood line, a pharaoh would usually marry a royal princess who was quite often also his sister or half-sister.  

There are also instances where a pharaoh married his own daughters, but whether these were merely political unions undertaken for reasons of State or real marriages is still open to debate. Also, sometimes foreign princesses were sent to Egypt as a wife for pharaoh, in order to cement alliances and strengthen international relations. We do not even know the names of many of these shadowy women who lived out their lives within the walls of pharaoh’s palaces, but sometimes history does reveal fragmentary details and scraps of evidence that give us some tantalising hints and a glimpse into the life of one of these more obscure Egyptian queens, such as the mysterious Kiya who was a secondary wife of the heretic pharaoh Akhenaten.

Akhenaten was a pharaoh who reigned towards the end of the 18th dynasty during Egypt’s New Kingdom.  He is infamous for breaking away from the traditional Egyptian gods and promoting a new religion that contained only one deity, the Aten or the sun disc.  Akhenaten tried to erase all traces of the old religion, shutting the temples, getting rid of the priests and erasing inscriptions and images of the gods.  Initially he built new temples dedicated to the Aten in traditional centres like Thebes, but after ruling for several years he uprooted the whole administration of Egypt and relocated to a new city he had built on the banks of the Nile.  

He called this new city Akhetaten or ‘Horizon of the Aten’, now known as Amarna. This new capital city was lavishly decorated with images of Akhenaten, his Great Royal Wife Nefertiti and their growing family of six daughters worshipping the Aten and also with many relaxed, informal scenes of daily life within the royal family.  These depictions of the royal couple being affectionate with each other and the young princesses were rendered in a completely new, natural manner that had never been seen in Egypt before, as all art had previously been very formal and based on tradition.

However, although Amarna had been explored and excavated by many Egyptologists the existence of another important wife of Akhenaten was not even suspected until around 1959 when William C Hayes made note of an inscription on a small cosmetic container housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York that gave the name and titles of a royal favourite called Kiya.  It is believed that it had been purchased from Howard Carter, the famous discoverer of the tomb of Tutankhamun, about thirty years before then, but it had no provenance so it could not be verified where it had been discovered.  The short inscription reads:
‘The wife and greatly beloved of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Living in Truth, Lord of the Two Lands, Neferkheperure Waenre, the Goodly Child of the Living Aten, who shall be living forever and ever Kiya’.

She was also often referred to as ‘the Favourite’ and these were the titles that, with some minor variations, would always be used on monuments and artefacts dedicated to Kiya, and they seem to show that she had not been born an Egyptian princess or a member of the royal family. She was never referred to as ‘Heiress’, ‘King’s Daughter’ or ‘Great Royal Wife’ on monuments which she would have been if she had had royal blood. In addition, her name was also never written enclosed in a cartouche and she was never depicted wearing a royal uraeus. 

So if Kiya was not royal then who was she and where did she come from?  Kiya is not a common Egyptian name which has led to some Egyptologists speculating that she may have been a foreign princess sent to live at the court of Akhenaten as one of his minor wives.  In 1887 some 300 baked clay tablets inscribed in cuneiform were discovered by a peasant woman at Amarna, who had been digging for ‘sebakh’ or ancient, decayed mud brick to use as fertiliser.  These proved to be the diplomatic archives of Akhenaten’s administration, written mainly in Akkadian, and were the correspondence between Egypt and foreign courts.  

Some of this correspondence related to a daughter of King Tushratta of Mittani, who had been sent as a wife to Pharaoh Amenophis III during the latter part of his reign and on his death was inherited by his son Akhenaten.  This Mittanian princess was called Tadukhipa, and it has been suggested that Kiya was a shortened version of this foreign name.  However, this remains just a theory as there is no hard archaeological evidence that links these two royal ladies.

Talatat - Kiya and her Daughter

Kiya may well have been an Egyptian and Cyril Aldred in his book ‘Akhenaten’ suggests that her name could have been derived from the Egyptian word for a monkey ‘Ky’. In fact, the only archaeological evidence of Kiya’s life comes from Amarna during the middle years of Akhenaten’s reign, and from some articles of usurped funerary equipment found in the mysterious tomb KV55 in the Valley of the Kings.  

These funerary articles from KV55 included a badly damaged, but elaborately decorated gilded coffin in the ‘rishi’ or feathered style that had originally been inscribed for an Amarnan royal woman and also an exquisite set of alabaster canopic jars carved with the head of a beautiful Egyptian woman wearing a Nubian style wig that was very fashionable during the latter years of Akhenaten’s reign.  The inscriptions on the canopic jars had also been altered, but there is enough evidence to show that they had originally been inscribed for Kiya and had been made for her for use in her own tomb.

Her name has also been discovered on several carved blocks from Amarna, and there are also a few vases and pieces of kohl-tubes that bear her inscriptions.  Aside from the carved faces on the canopic jars, it is also thought that some of the sculptor’s studies found in the remains of the house of the sculptor Thutmose when it was excavated at Amarna bear Kiya’s likeness.  However, the existing evidence also points to Kiya having mysteriously disappeared from the royal court a few years before the death of Akhenaten.  

A wine docket from one of Kiya’s estates has been found that is inscribed with Year 11 of Akhenaten’s reign, but there is no other evidence of her after this date.  It is not known what happened to Kiya; whether she died naturally or whether a darker fate overtook this beautiful queen.  There have been several theories put forward as to what could have happened to Kiya, and there is some evidence that she could have fallen into disgrace, which might have led to her being sent from the Court or even killed.  Was Akhenaten’s Great Royal Wife Nefertiti jealous of the love and attention that her husband showered on Kiya, and so plotted to get rid of her beautiful rival?

One location at Amarna where Kiya’s name and titles had been prominent was at the temple known as the Maru-Aten that once stood in the southern part of Akhenaten’s glittering new city.  However, in the last years of the heretic pharaoh’s reign her inscriptions and images were usurped and re-carved with the names and titles of the Princess Meritaten, who was the eldest daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti.  Elsewhere in the city, a small ‘sunshade’ temple at the Per-Aten the largest temple in the city that had been dedicated to Kiya was re-inscribed for Meritaten and her younger sister Ankhesenpaaten.

Some Egyptologists believe that Kiya may have died in childbirth.  She had been shown in one carved image with a daughter, and there is also a decorated wall in the royal tomb at Amarna depicting the death of an Amarnan royal woman, where there is a nurse shown carrying away a newly born infant, that indicates that she may have died giving birth.  We do not know the name of this infant princess, but some experts think that Kiya’s daughter might have been Princess Baketaten even though this little known royal child is usually thought of as a daughter of Amenophis III and Queen Tiye.  

Kiya was also once thought to have been the mother of the boy king Tutankhamun and her ability to produce a son and heir was thought to be one of the possible triggers for Nefertiti’s jealousy and fury, as she had only produced six daughters. However, in recent years Dr Zahi Hawass and Carsten Pusch have undertaken genetic studies on the Egyptian royal mummies.  These studies have shown that Tutankhamun’s natural mother was someone only known as the ‘Younger Lady’, as her unidentified mummy was found in the cache of royal mummies discovered in KV35, the tomb of Amenophis II in the Valley of the Kings.  

However, the DNA evidence also showed that the ‘Younger Lady’ was a daughter of Amenophis III and Queen Tiye and therefore a sister of Akhenaten.  This would tend to eliminate the possibility of Kiya being the mother of Tutankhamun, as she is never referred to in inscriptions as being a ‘King’s Daughter’ or a ‘King’s Sister’.  However, there is also no archaeological evidence that has yet come to light to show that Akhenaten ever married one of his sisters, so the sands of Egypt still has many secrets to reveal from the Amarna period.  The ‘Younger Lady’ could potentially be Sitamen, Henuttaneb, Isis or Nebetah or a royal daughter of Amenophis III and Tiye that is still unknown to history.

Valley of the Kings

So if the mummy of the ‘Younger Lady’ is not that of Kiya, then where was she buried and where is her mummy now?  There is some evidence that she was initially buried in the royal tomb at Amarna, and while it was thought that she was Tutankhamun’s mother there was a theory that after he moved the royal court back to Thebes that he brought his mother’s mummy and funerary equipment back to the Valley of the Kings for a secret burial close to his own tomb.  Before it was proved that the newly discovered tomb KV63 was a cache used for storing the linen and equipment used during mummification, Dr Zahi Hawass stated in a press release that it was his belief that KV63 was the tomb of Kiya, as it is situated just across from Tutankhamun’s tomb, KV62, in the Valley of the Kings.  

However, there were no artefacts or inscriptions found in KV63 to link the tomb to Kiya, and her final resting place still remains a mystery.  As her usurped coffin and canopic jars were found in KV55, having being used for another burial, does this mean that her mummy was destroyed in antiquity?  If it was, this would support the theory that she had been disgraced at some stage, and that her superb funerary equipment was taken and reused as an act of revenge.

So will we ever unravel the mystery of Kiya?  Hopefully, future excavations in Egypt will bring more evidence to light that gives us further information about this fascinating period of history.  There is still so much to learn, and maybe one day the tomb and mummy of Kiya will be discovered and her secrets revealed.

Saturday 28 January 2012

The Cathars and the Start of the Inquisition

For many of us the Inquisition brings up frightening images of black robed men questioning terrified prisoners, torturing them and then having them burned at the stake. Most of us also associate the Inquisition with the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th and 16th centuries, which was set up to guarantee the orthodoxy of people who had converted to Catholicism from Islam and Judaism. So you may be surprised to learn that the Inquisition had actually been set up much earlier in the 13th century by the Papacy, in response to a heresy that had swept the Languedoc region of south west France. This heresy that so alarmed the Church, was Catharism, a dualist sect that believed that the material world was intrinsically evil and ruled by a dark deity that was sometimes called Rex Mundi or King of the World and that the god of light and goodness, whom they worshipped, existed entirely in the spiritual realms. The Catholic Church dominated most of Europe during the Middle Ages, and this Church, headed by the Pope in Rome, demanded that the beliefs and rituals that they espoused were adhered to rigidly and uniformly across the continent. Even powerful rulers could not escape the controlling hand of the Church, as the Pope routinely punished Kings who stepped out of line by excommunicating them or putting their lands under interdict, which punished the whole populace by closing churches and not allowing sacraments such as marriage, baptism or anointing of the sick to take place.

Cathars Being Expelled From Carcassone 1209

Although many heretical sects sprung up during the Middle Ages, it was the Cathars who seemed to be especially loathed by the Church of Rome. The Languedoc in medieval times was a vibrant, prosperous region that was culturally diverse and unusually tolerant of other religions. The Catholic Church also enjoyed an incredibly bad reputation in the region, as the local clergy were regarded as lazy, ignorant, grasping and dissolute. They were so venal and corrupt that they had become figures of fun, and increasingly the local populace was failing to pay their tithes and even laughed off the excommunications that the hapless clergy handed out as punishments. Practise what you preach certainly was not one of their mottoes and even Pope Innocent III scathingly referred to the clergy of Narbonne as ‘dumb dogs who can no longer bark’. In sharp contrast, the Cathar holy men and women, who were known as Perfect, led stringently ascetic lives of prayer, self denial, fasting and preaching.  Not only that, the Cathar Perfect were also supremely indifferent to what their followers, known as credentes, did in their material lives, as everything concerned with matter was tainted by evil. So activities that horrified the Catholic Church, such as not paying taxes, not attending church services, drinking too much, or having sex before marriage were not judged, and until a soul chose to follow the hard path of a Perfect and free themselves from the endless cycle of reincarnation, regarded as irrelevant. The Cathar Perfect preached a litany of peace, light and tolerance and even believed in the spiritual and material equality of women, much to the horror of the medieval Catholic Church.

At first the Papacy tried to stem the tide of heresy by debate and persuasion. Pope Innocent III sent three papal legates, Arnold Amaury, Peter of Castelnau and Brother Raoul into the Languedoc to bring the heretics back into the fold of the true faith. Although Innocent III’s instincts would have been to toss the Cathars straight onto the nearest bonfire, they had powerful protectors in the local nobility. These nobles, men such as Count Raymond VI of Toulouse, Count Raymond Roger of Foix and Viscount Raymond Roger Trencavel, were themselves in the main Cathar sympathisers, who had relatives and friends who were Cathar Perfect. These local noblemen provided the venues for these debates, which attracted huge crowds of spectators, between the papal legates and the Cathars, and provided security for the heretics. These intense, theological debates could last as long as a week, with the Cathars airing their extensive knowledge of the New Testament and using the example of their blameless and holy lives against the Catholic’s arguments of orthodoxy and submission to an all powerful Church.  The three papal legates travelled the length of the Languedoc, trying to cajole and argue the heretics back to orthodoxy, in great style, with a large retinue and all the pomp due to the Pope’s representatives. However, they were rarely welcomed in a town or village and were treated with derision and even death threats. By 1206 the three papal legates were exhausted and admitting defeat in Montpellier, when they were approached by two Spanish friars, one of whom was the future St Dominic and founder of the Dominican order. The two Spaniards suggested a different approach and persuaded the weary legates to resume their journeying, but this time to travel on foot, begging alms and living the simple, ascetic lives of their Cathar Perfect opponents. So they took to the road again, accompanied by two Spaniards, but their level of conversions back to the ‘truth faith’ was still pitiful.

Innocent III’s patience was beginning to wear thin and in 1200 he issued a decree that allowed for the property of a convicted heretic to be seized by their persecutor, and also ensure that their family was disinherited.  Moreover, the decree stated that any Catholic who refused to ferret out and hunt down heretics was also liable to lose all their property and possessions. A major thorn in the flesh of the Pope, was Raymond VI of Toulouse, who had made a career out of being excommunicated, and would routinely promise to hunt down the heretic Cathars and then never quite get around to it. As the debates were not producing converts in any great numbers, Innocent III had come to the conclusion that a military campaign would have to be undertaken against the Languedoc to bring it back into submission to the Church. He tried to interest the rulers and nobility of Europe in this undertaking, but unfortunately for him Raymond VI of Toulouse was in theory a vassal of King Philippe Auguste of France, and these feudal loyalties kept the French ruler from the fray. However, in 1208 the spark that Innocent III needed to fuel his war plans was ignited, when one of the papal legates, Peter of Castelnau, was murdered on the road, after having spent time negotiating with Raymond VI on the subject of his latest excommunication and set of punishments. Raymond, who had been heard threatening Peter of Castelnau, was the prime suspect and voluntarily submitted himself to the humiliation of a public scourging before fleeing north to join the Crusade that was now massing against the Languedoc.

For the next few decades the Languedoc was torn apart by invading armies, who besieged towns, destroyed crops, and held mass burnings of any Cathars and their sympathisers that they could get their hands on.  The Cathar Perfect themselves did not fight or take part in any of the violence, but their credentes and many of the local Catholics fought valiantly to defend them. One of the most famous quotes of the conflict reputedly uttered by Arnold Amaury just before the massacre at Béziers in 1209 was ‘Kill them all, God will know his own’, showing that the Crusaders were at least equal opportunity killers. However, for the Catholic Church, even after all the bloody years of warfare, they still had not totally eradicated the Cathars and their followers.  They needed a new way to mop up the remnants of the heresy and to ensure that it could never flourish again. The bishops had always had the option of calling a diocesan court to interrogate and condemn heretics, before they were ‘relaxed to the secular arm’ for a swift and fatal trip to the bonfire. However, many bishops did not show the rigour and enthusiasm for pursuing heretics that the papacy would have liked, and so when Gregory IX ascended the papal throne in 1227 he appointed special papal legates, gave them wide sweeping prosecutorial powers and sent them into the Languedoc to deal with the Cathars once and for all. These papal attack dogs offered cash bounties to anyone who was willing to denounce a Cathar, with the added bonus that the heretic’s property would also be seized and split between the informer, the Church and the Crown.  But even with these cash incentives, the local population showed no real enthusiasm for betraying their neighbours, and the numbers of Cathars betrayed remained small.  So in 1233 the Pope put together a task force, recruited from the Dominicans, dedicated to the total suppression of Catharism and installed these papal inquisitors in Albi, Toulouse and Carcassonne.

St Dominic Presiding Over a Cathar Burning by Pedro Berruguete

These inquisitors were experts in breeding an atmosphere of terror and suspicion, were excellent administrators and record keepers, and were not prone to showing any mercy. They were, unsurprisingly, despised by the Cathars and their sympathisers, and also by the local clergy, as they were backed directly by the Pope, so could ride roughshod with impunity over the local religious administration. The way it worked was that the inquisitor would arrive in a town or village with his clerks and armed guard and set up shop. After a swift consultation with the local churchmen, the inquisitor would then summon all men over the age of fourteen and women over the age of 12 to make a profession of orthodox faith. Any person who did not comply was put first in the queue for questioning. Any Cathar Perfect caught up in the proceedings would always the first to be winkled out, as the swearing of oaths was against their beliefs. The rest of the population was then read a sermon that exhorted them to examine their lives for any potentially heretical activities and gave them a seven day period of grace in which to denounce themselves or their neighbours. The inquisitors had a wide range of offenses in their armoury to prosecute people with, including being a Cathar Perfect, an offence which always attracted the death penalty, protecting a Perfect, giving the melioramentum when meeting a Perfect, being a witness the Cathar ritual of the consolamentum, or simply not being prepared to grass on your friends. The only way to prove decisively to the Inquisition that you had forsaken your heretical activities and associates was to name names, the more names the better, as the Inquisition was putting together an exhaustive register of all the Cathars and their sympathisers who had managed to survive in the Languedoc.

If you were unlucky enough to have been interrogated by the Inquisition you would have been subjected to hours of repetitive questioning that was designed to unsettle you, and make you wonder who exactly it was that denounced you and what they had told the inquisition about you and your family. You probably would have not been told what the charges were against you, as that would have given you the right to know who had accused you. If you wanted a lawyer to speak for you, the unfortunate lawyer would swiftly find themselves condemned also for supporting heresy.  Appeals were not allowed, and like modern referees in sport, the inquisitors’ decision was final. Over the years, the inquisitors began to introduce torture, and by 1252 the use of torture had been officially sanctioned by Pope Innocent IV in his papal bull ad extirpanda.  Supposedly, only one session of torture was allowed in order to obtain a confession, but the resourceful inquisitors found many ways to get around this inconvenient ruling, as well as other rulings such as not torturing underage children, not shedding blood or killing prisoners under torture.  However, technically the inquisitor could not even get the ball rolling unless people were prepared to denounce their neighbours or even their own family members, as to secure a conviction the inquisitor had to get two witnesses.

Unfortunately, human nature being what it is, there were always people who were ready to take this opportunity to rid themselves of a few enemies, and then as the list of names grew larger, the net of the inquisition was able to be cast ever wider throughout the community. The craftier locals when they were called for questioning gave out the names of members of the community who were already dead. The inquisition called their bluff in a manner that horrified the locals, as they then went to the local cemetery, disinterred the corpses of the accused deceased, marched the rotting corpses through the streets and then flung them into the flames of a hastily lit bonfire. The inquisitor would then move on to the surviving family members of the deceased heretics, seizing their property, imposing tough penances on them, throwing them in prison or making them wear garments that had a yellow crosses sewn on them to mark them out as being associated with heresy.

Not surprisingly, the Dominican inquisitors were hugely unpopular and feared throughout the Languedoc, and there were incidents where the inquisitors were abused, thrown down wells or severely beaten. By 1243 the Catholic authorities were seriously unamused at this harassment of their chosen representatives, which had been exacerbated by the massacre of two inquisitors and their retinue at Avignonet in 1242. The decision was taken that the last Cathar refuge, the fortress at Montségur, would be besieged and the Cathar Perfect and credentes sheltering behind its walls would be wiped out. After months of siege Montségur fell and around 200 Cathars were burned, although, in a rare fit of clemency, the garrison of the fortress were free to go if they abjured their support for heresy. The back of the Cathar heresy had been broken, but the Inquisition machine was implacable and relentless in its need to destroy every last trace of the heresy that so revolted them, and so they continued to terrorise the Languedoc for a hundred years after the end of the Albigensian Crusade, until the very last Cathar Perfect, Guillaume Bélibaste was burned at the stake in 1321.

Unfortunately, the inquisition would go on to grow and develop for the next six hundred years and bring terror and suspicion to many countries in Europe and Latin America, and thousands of innocent souls would lose their lives so that the Catholic Church could maintain its iron grip on the hearts and minds of Christendom. The Languedoc before the ravages of the Albigensian Crusade and the ensuing persecutions of the Inquisition had been a vibrant, tolerant, prosperous land, full of culture, learning and joy, but by the time that the inquisitors had left, the region was a ravaged, empty shell. The Languedoc was now just a poor, backwater region that had been assimilated into the kingdom of France and even these days it could be said that it has not fully recovered economically from these tragic events.

Cathar image Wikimedia Commons Public Domain
St Dominic Presiding Over a Cathar Burning by Pedro Berruguete Image Wikimedia Commons Public Domain