The Lost Fort
My Travel and History Blog, Focussing mostly on Roman and Mediaeval Times
A Cursed Count and a Fallen Stone - The Meteorite of Loket
Once upon a time there was an evil burgrave, Puta of Illburk, who resided in Loket Castle (1). He was a harsh man who demanded socage far beyond his rights and collected taxes without any concern about the peasants being ill or the crops having failed. One day, a widow with a wee bairn approached him. She had lost her husband to disease and was shaking with a fever herself, clutching the little underfed boy to her breast. But the burgrave who stood on a parapet outside his hall watching the crowd that had come with her, would not listen to her pleas and tears. "Pay me the tax your late husband is due, or I will throw you into the dungeon."
When the poor woman realised that no tears and pleas would move the burgrave, she cursed him. "A heart of stone you have, and may God turn you to stone for it."
At that moment, despite the weather being fair and the sky blue, a lightning struck the parapet and a bright light soared skyward. The crowd fell to their knees in fear and covered their eyes against the light. When they dared to look up again, a wall in the burgrave's hall had disappeared, and a large black stone lay inside the room.
The real story is less colourful, of course. The meteorite was found in a nearby field by farmers who'd ploughed it up, and brought to the castle. Due to the connection of the legend with the burgrave Illburk, the time of the find is dated to some time between 1350-1430 since that was the only time when burgraves resided in Loket. The unusual look of the stone gave rise to legends and superstitions. It was chained in the cellars of the castle so that the soul of the burgrave would not cause any evil (2).
It is said that the stone was thrown into the castle well during the Thirty Years War and rediscovered in the late 17th century. It was hidden from the French troops the same way in 1774. Obviously, the stone at that time was considered some sort of charm for the town and castle of Loket at which should not be taken away by foreign troops.
The Loket meteorite
The meteorite originally weighted 107 kilograms and had an octahedrite structure of about 50x30x20 cm. Unfortunately, it has been cut in two parts in the 19th century, and several smaller chips are missing as well. One of those obviously has been made into a knife, but I could find no confirmation.
The stone must have been heated at some point, since it shows no traces of the original fusion crusts the iron develops when heating up while cutting into the earth atmosphere. One legend has it that the peasants who found the stone gave it to the smith who found the alloy so different from what he was used to that he thought it must have been the work of the devil.
Loket Castle, the burgrave's hall in the inner bailey
The archives of Loket have been destroyed, therefore we only have the legends and some vague information of the fate of the meteorite from its discovery to the time when K. A. Neumann, a professor of chemistry in Prague, analysed the stone in 1811 and recognised it as a meteorite of an iron-nickel alloy. This was confirmed by Heinrich Klaproth and Ernst Chladni, two other leading natural scientists.
The polished surface of the cut shows a pattern named after Count Alois Widmanstätten, the director of the Imperial Porcelain works in Vienna. A Widmanstätten pattern consists of long nickel-iron crystals in a fine interleaving of kamacite and taenite bands. Those are two different nicke-iron alloys; kamacite with a lover Ni-content and taenite with a higher Ni-content. They develop at temperatures below 900-600°C under slow cooling. (It is difficult to discern on the photos, though.) The Loket meteorite is classified as the member of the IID group, a relatively rare group of meteorites.
Replica of both parts of the meteorite
Later, the main chunk of the meteorite (79 kilograms) got chopped of and taken to Vienna where it is displayed in the Natural History Museum. The rest (down to 14 kg by now) remained in the town hall of Loket. Today, the larger chunk is still in Vienna, the smaller one in the county town Sokolov. The display in Loket Castle is a replica.
The meteorite became something of a tourist attraction in the 19th century. Among the visitors of town and castle of Loket was the German writer and polymath Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who had taken an interest in geology during his travels in the Harz mountains. He visited Loket in 1823 and got a statue in the town for his troubles. 'Goethe Was Here As Well' is obviously still a tourist magnet.
The meteorite from a different angle
1) Today Loket is in the Czech Republic, but it belonged to Germany and later the Austro-Hungarian Empire in former times, then known by its German name Elbogen.
2) We don't know what really happened to the burgrave Puta of Illburk. It is possible that he was recalled by the king for overstepping his rights.
To Drink the Waters since the Middle Ages - The Spa Town Karlovy Vary / Karlsbad
I only took a brief walk through the centre of Karlovy Vary (Czechia). The town has a lot of pretty, and even splendid, buildings of the Neo-Classicist, Art Déco and Art Nouveau styles that have been lovingly restored. Nevertheless, the overcast sky and lack of green (except for some willows in the park) early in the year made it look a bit grey. I'm sure Karlovy Vary will be lovely when the sun sparkles in the water, the trees are green, and the façades of the houses shine in their bright colours. You'll have to deal with the less colourful photos, I'm afraid.
Karlovy Vary, square at the Teplá river
Karlovy Vary is situated at the confluence of the river Ohře and the warm water river Teplá; site of 13 main springs and about 300 smaller ones. The healing properties of the waters have long been known; traces of settlements in the area date to the Bronze Age. The first mention of the place in the Middle Ages is the Breve testatum, a charte dating to 1325, signed by King John 'the not yet Blind' of Bohemia, which mentions hunting grounds at the 'horké lázně u Lokte' (= the hot springs near Loket).
The date of the charte disproves the legend according to which it was King Charles of Bohemia (1), John's son, who found the well during a hunt when he watched a hind drinking from the waters. Charles was in the Loket area a few months after the battle of Crécy (August 1346) where his father died, but he did not discover the warm springs which were already known. He might have made use of their healing properties, though, since it seems he still suffered from a leg wound he received during his retreat from the Crécy battlefield (2).
Pretty houses along the Teplá river
Charles built a hunting lodge near the springs which developed into a settlement. He granted the place the privileges of a town in 1370. The town was then called Karlovy Vary (= the warm baths of Charles); Karlsbad in German. No buildings or ruins of the Mediaeval town remain.
At first, the waters would only be used for baths; the internal use by drinking the waters only started in the 16th century. One doctor Wenceslas Payer from Loket wrote a "Disquisition about the Thermal springs of the Emperor Charles IV Situated near Elbogen and St. John's Valley, Issued by Doctor Wenceslas Payer from Elbogen, Devoted to the Venerated and gracious Count and Lord Stefan Schlick" (3) in 1522, in which he suggests drinking the water in addition to taking baths.
View from the Teplá river to the houses uphill
The town was hit badly by a flood in May 1582 - the houses were mostly along the valley at the time and not up the slopes of the surrounding hills - and again damanged by fire in 1604. Karlovy Vary recovered slowly, but in 1707, it got its privileges a royal free city confirmed by the emperor Joseph I. Bohemia at the time was a consituent part of the Habsburg Empire. Sojourns by the Russian tsar Peter the Great in 1711 and 1712 increased interest in the healing properties of the waters, and more people of standing visited the town.
Empress Maria Theresa commissioned the Mill Colonnade in 1762. A special spa tax was introduced in 1795; the money was used for the upkeep of the public buildings. There were also hospitals for the poor who else could not have afforeded a stay in the spa.
Mill Colonnade, interior
An important figure in 18th century Karlovy Vary was the physician and balneologist David Becher (1725-1792) who established a 'modern' use of the waters. He was born in Karlovy Vary, studied Medicine and Chemistry in Prague, then traveled to Italy and Austria to further improve his knowledge. Later, he became dean of the Medical Faculty in Prague, but returned to Karlovy Vary in 1758.
At the time, baths and drinking waters were applied according to the principle 'the more the better' (drinking several litres of the lukewarm stuff while lying in bed, fe.). Becher changed that to 'less is more'. He also recommended walks in the fresh air and diets, and thus started a use of spas not so different from today. One of his more famous patients was the German writer and historian Friedrich von Schiller who suffered from indigestive problems.
Becher analysed the properties of the waters and noticed that one important component was carbon dioxide, in addition to several minerals. The waters were - and still are - used for all sorts of indigestive, gyneological and metabolic problems (drinking) and afflictions of muscles and joints (baths).
View from the Mill Colonnade
Visiting Karlovy Vary became popular in the 19th century. Among the visitors were the emperor Francis Joseph I, the composers Ludwig van Beethoven and Frédéric Chopin, the German writer and polymath Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the Russian writer Nikolaj Gogol, the psychologist Sigmund Freud and others. Taking the waters was not only a medical process, but a society event (and half of those visiting were not really ill). Spas became fashionable.
They still are: Nowadays, Karlovy Vary hosts a film festival which has been attended by stars like Antonio Banderas, Robert de Niro, John Malkovic, Renée Zellweger and others.
Mill Colonnade interior, different angle with a well in the foreground
I got a British connection for you as well. *grin* One of the more popular, and definitely more generous, visitors of Karlovy Vary was the Scottish Lord James Ogilvy, 7th Earl of Findlater and Peer of Scotland (1750 - 1811). He studied at Oxford, then went to Brussels where he married Cristina Teresa Murray, though they only lived together for a short time. It is assumed that he spent so much time out of Scotland in some sort of self-imposed exile due to his homosexual orientation.
Findlater spent a lot of time in Karlovy Vary, called Carlsbad in English, since 1794. He gave large sums of money to local charities and improved the surroundings of the town - he was an amateur landscape architect of considerable skill and taste who worked in other places as well, for example in Dresden where he settled for good. He built a palace overlooking the Elbe river and lived there with his personal secretary Johann Georg Fischer (4).
View from one of the bridges across the Teplá river
The spa became even more popular with the construction of railway lines from Cheb and Prague in 1870. Another building boom followed suit. Most of the prior buildings followed the Neoclassical style, but the new houses followed the Art Nouveau style. Many fine examples can still be seen today. They were financed by donations, the sale of the Carlsbad Salt (an extract of the minerals from the wells), and the spa tax.
The number of visitors reached 70,000 plus in 1911, but the outbreak of WW1 disrupted the tourism.
A large number of the west-Bohemian population was German-speaking, and Karlovy Vary mostly known as Karlsbad. But after WW1, Bohemia was incorporated into the new state of Czechoslovakia, and suddenly speaking the Czech language was required. Many German inhabitants of Karlovy Vary protested.
Unsurprisingly, most of the German-speaking population of Czechoslovakia welcomed the return of the newly named 'Sudentenland' to Germany in 1938. The controversial Munich Agreement between Germany, Great Britain, France and Italy allowed the annexation of the border lands of Bohemia and Moravia. So Karlovy Vary became Karlsbad again.
Karlsbad was an internationally acknowledged hospital town during the war. The town was nevertheless bombed in April 1945. The railway station, together with two Red Cross trains, was destroyed, but the spa quarter escaped damage. The town was conquered by the Americans in May 1945 and handed over to the Red Army a few days later.
The Park Colonnade from the inside
After the war, the German-Bohemian population was expelled and expropriated in accordance with with the Potsdam Agreement and the Beneš Decrees. Karlsbad was again named Karlovy Vary.
All wells and sanatoriums in Karlovy Vary were nationalised in 1948. Afterwards, visitors mostly came from the countries of the former Soviet Union. Tourists from western countries returned after the 'velvet revolution' in 1989 and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991; their number is steadily increasing.
View from the bridge, other side
Russian business and presence is strong in Karlovy Vary - the town is basically bilingual. It is the only place during my visit in central Europe where I felt OK speaking - a rather rudimentary - Russian. The language else isn't so popular in the countries of the former Soviet Union.
Like most other towns in the Czech Repbulic (and the other ex-Soviet states), Karlovy Vary has been restored to its former splendour, and its wells are still used. A specially shaped cup with an elongated hollow handle to drink the waters is sold everywhere, but there are 'no photographing' signs which I respected. Though I didn't feel like spending an extra tourist sum on buying one of the rather kitchy things just for a photo and a sip, and used the cup of my water bottle instead. *grin*
View from the Park Colonnade
1) Charles (May 1316 - Nov. 1378) had been elected King of the Romans in July 1346, though he did not hold the title undisputed. He became King of Bohemia upon the death of his father, and Holy Roman Emperor - as Charles IV - in 1355.
2) Maybe the wound led to cramps and muscle problems; that would be something to improve by baths in warm mineral water. I could not find any details about the injury, though.
3) The original title is "Tractatus de Termis Caroli Quarti Imperatoris, sitis ppe Elbogen & Vallem S. Ioachimi, editus a Doctore Vuenceslao Payer de Cubito, alias Elbogen ad Generosum & magnificum Comitem & D. Dominum Steffanum Schlick". Elbogen is the German name of the Czech town and castle Loket. The Count of Schlick was the lord of Loket castle at the time.
4) He bequeathed the Dresden palace to Fischer, but his Scottish family protested at court, arguing that Fischer had been given the palace for 'immoral consideration'. Judging by the one geneaological site where I could trace him, Fischer kept the heritage. Both men were buried together in a parish church near Dresden after Fischer died in 1860.
Adventures of a Future King - Henry Bolingbroke and the Siege of Vilnius 1390
When I was researching the Teutonic Knights and the forging of the union between Władysław Jagiełło of Poland and Vytautas of Lithuania (see this post), I came across a paragraph mentioning that one of the participants in the siege of Vilnius in 1390 was Henry Bolingbroke, the future King Henry IV of England, who had joined the Teutonic Knights with a number of household knights and archers. That intrigued me and I hunted down more information about Henry's adventures in Lithuania. I'm sure my British readers will be interested in that probably little known piece of history.
Małbork Castle, column capital with carved knights
A short biography of King Henry IV will suffice here (1). Henry IV, also known as Henry Bolingbroke after his place of birth, and Henry of Derby (he held the honorary title Earl of Derby since 1374), was born on April 15, 1367. His father was John of Gaunt, a younger son of King Edward III; his mother was Blanche, heiress of Lancaster (and in turn descended from Henry III; 2). In 1380, Henry married Mary de Bohun, daughter of Humphrey de Bohun, 7th Earl of Hereford.
Henry's relationship with his cousin, King Richard II, was a troubled one. John auf Gaunt, who had always supported Richard, went to in Span 1386, trying to claim the throne of Castile by jure uxoris of his second wife, Constance of Castile. At the same time Henry joined the Lords Appellant, a group of barons who wanted to curtail King Richard's power and get rid of some royal favourites. But Henry, together with some others, soon disagreed with the rest of the Lords Appellant. Moreover, his father returned from Spain in 1389, without a crown, but a fat purse full of gold as recompensation, and John slowly worked to restore Richard to power.
Small wonder that Henry didn't feel particularly at home at court and in England at that time. He went on traveling and jousting, and in 1390, he partook in a crusade in Lithuania, which I will detail below.
King Richard II finally was in a position - with the help of John of Gaunt - to reclaim power and deal with the Lords Appellant. At that time, Henry and the influential Thomas of Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk stood with the king rather than the Appellants, but nevertheless managed to fall out with each other and with Richard. Henry and Mowbray were condemned to exile where Mowbray later died.
In Feburary 1399, John of Gaunt died. Richard extended Henry's exile sentence for life and snatched his heritage, including the rich Lancaster lands. Well, if he thought Henry would meekly dangle his legs in Paris, he was much mistaken. Henry made contact with other exiles and disgruntled lords in England and gathered an army. When Richard was off in Ireland, they landed in Yorkshire, gaining still more support on their way. Richard returned, but half of his army deserted to Henry, he himself was captured, forced to abdicate and brought to Pontefract Castle where he joined the club of Important Captives Who Mysteriously Died in Prison (3). Henry was crowned King of England on October 13, 1399.
But Henry had to face his share of rebellions in turn. Only a few months after his ascension to the throne, he had to deal with a group of followers of the deposed Richard II in the so-called Epiphany Rising which he successfully subdued. The Welsh rose under Owain Glyn Dŵr, and the Percys of Northumberland, long time his supporters, felt slighted on promises made and turned against Henry. Their famed scion Henry Percy, nicknamed Harry Hotspur, died at the battle of Shrewsbury in July 1403. Two years later, the Percys joined the rebellion of Archbishop Richard Scrope.
Henry IV managed to deal with those rebellions, both internal and external. But his health detoriated; he suffered from a severe skin condition many of his contemporaries thought to have been leprosy, and acute bouts of another, rather mysterious, illness (4). Henry died on March 20, 1413.
The Keep of Warkworth Castle -
a Percy stronghold besieged by King Henry IV in 1405
Nowadays, Lithuania seems to be a more exotic travel destination than Thailand, but it was different in the high Middle Ages. Ever since the war against a group of Slavic pagan tribes east of the Elbe river was acknowleged as full fledged 'Wendish Crusade' with all the spiritual benefits in 1147, crusades against the tribes along the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea became popular. Henry Bolingbroke was not the only English knight to join in a so-called reyse. Henry's maternal grandfather, Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster, had fought in Prussia in 1352, his father-in-law Humphrey de Bohun in 1351 and 1362, and Henry 'Hotspur' Percy in 1383 (to name just some examples). Chaucer mentions those crusades in his Canterbury Tales.
After the fall of Acre in 1291, which marked the end of the crusades in the Holy Land, the northern crusades increased in attraction. The Teutonic Knights, founded in 1128 along the establishment of other orders like the Templars and Knights Hospitaller to protect pilgrims in the Holy Land, expanded their interest north-east already in the 1230ies. Their northern branch soon merged with the Brothers of the Sword. In 1309, the Teutonic Knights established their main base at Małbork Castle and continued to expand their power. One of the main targets were the still pagan Baltic tribes in Lithuania, Samogitia, and Livonia.
When the Lithuanian princes Jogaila (who became King of Poland as Władysław Jagiełło) and Vytautas were baptised in 1386, the people of Lithuania were to follow the conversion; therefore the war against Lithuania could not really be called a crusade any longer. But the cousins fought each other, and the Teutonic Knights, who supported Vytautas, proclaimed that most of the people were still pagan and the war could indeed be called a crusade, thank you very much.
I doubt that the young men who joined the call to arms in 1390 understood all the intricacies of Lithuanian and Polish politics, the shifting alliances and convoluted family relations, and thus were unaware that they basically fought in an internecine war against the ruler - Jogaila / Jagiełło - who had incited the conversion of Lithuania.
Mediaeval transport - the reconstructed cog Wissemara
Originally, Henry wanted to join in a military expedition against the Barbary pirates in Tunisia (5), but King Charles IV of France refused to grant him a safe conduct. So Henry chartered two ships (6) under the captains Hermann and Hankyn of Gdańsk and got them equipped with all sorts of foodstuffs for a cruise, including exotic spices like ginger, nutmeg, saffron and pepper, and fruits like dried dates, raisins and figs. He also took live chickens with him and a cow, plus large quantities of ale and wine (7). And his fine silver cutlery. Well, his father provided a generous amount of money for the expedition and the sea journey would take about three weeks, so why go nibble on hardtack if you could get spiced pastries instead.
Henry's entourage included two dozen knights and squires, his Derby herald, his standard-bearer, his chamberlain, his chaplain, his chief falconer, six minstrels, and a troop of longbow archers as well as a few gunners. His household consisted of 70 to 80 men and about two dozen horses. He also would recruit more men on his way from Gdańsk to Vilnius (8).
The ships left the harbour of Boston (the one in the UK) on July 19 and arrived at Rixhöft near Gdańsk on August 8 where Henry sent a messenger to the marshal of the Teutonic Knights, Engelhard Rabe. While waiting for the messenger's return in Gdańsk, Henry organised an impromptu jousting bout, one of his favourite pastimes.
Upon learning that the marshal was already on the way to Vilnius, Henry and his men chased after him along the coast, through Elbląng (Elbing) and Kaliningrad (Königsberg). From there they turned into the forests and swamps of Samogitia, refered to as 'le Wyldrenesse' in some Medieaval chronicles. Henry had to acquire additional draft horses for the wagons which got stuck in the boggy ground.
Coast of the Curonian Spit -
likely the way Henry took to reach Kaliningrad
He finally met with Marshal Rabe and Prince Vytautas at Ragnit at the Nemunas (Memel) river on August 22. They learned that the army of Skirgaila (Jogaila's regent in Lithuania) camped a few miles off Kaunas on the other side of the river, so the the Teutonic Knights, together with Henry's knights and archers, rode off to meet them. It is not entirely clear how the battle proceeded, except that Henry's archers covered the knights with their arrows as they attacked Skirgaila's host. The question is whether they crossed the river first, likely out of sight of Skirgaila, and continued on the other shore of the Nemunas, or whether they crossed the river under cover of the archers.
The fight was a severe one, it seems. One of Henry's knights, Sir John Loudham, was killed, but the host consisting of Teutonic Knights, Vytautas' warriors, and Henry with his men managed to capture several of the inimical leaders - three Russian 'dukes', the sources say, and a dozen other lords (boyars). Three or four more 'dukes' were killed, together with some 300 men. It was a victory, for sure, though the accounts that made it to England via the story of an eyewitness may likely have been exaggerated. Nevertheless, Henry of Bolingbroke, celebrated champion of tournaments, will have fought bravely, and his longbowmen were a decisive factor in the outcome of the battle.
Lakes and forests, a Baltic landscape
Skirgaila fled to Vilnius. Henry sent Loudham's body back to Kaliningrad for burial, and the army slogged through the mud in pursuit of Skirgaila. At Vilnius, they were joined by a company from the Livonian branch of the Teutonic Order.
Vilnius at the time was a town of timber buildings surrounded by earthen walls, but protected by a strong castle (9) and some outlying forts. In May 1390, Jagiełło gave the position of starosta and the command of the Vilnius garrison to his Polish vice-chancellor Clemens Moskorzew. That act was not intended to replace Skirgaila as regent, but it seemed to have caused bad blood nevertheless. The starosts of the Polish provinces held considerable power, and some Lithuanian nobles thought that Jagiełło tried to incorporate their country into the Polish realm.
The first attack on the outer fort, the Crooked Castle, took place on September 4. The valiant attacks of the English knights and archers decided the capture of the castle, and it was an English squire who planted a flag bearing the cross of St.George - symbol of Henry and the Teutonic Order alike - on the parapet (10). The fight must have been a fierce one: Jagiełło's brother Karigaila fell, as did one of Vytautas' brothers, Tautvilas
But the other two castles that protected the town withstood the siege. The besiegers probably couldn't bring heavy engines like trebuchets through the mud and had to work with attacks by the longbowmen and gunners, and scaling ladders. There were several more attempts to break the walls. During one of those, two of Henry's men, Thomas Rempston and John Clifton, were captured, while the besiegers captured some Lithuanian and Russian nobles and citizens of Vilnius in turn.
But autumn came and with it heavy rains that turned the muddy ground even muddier. Henry and his entourage had eaten all the fancy foods - maybe they should better have brought some hardtack - and had to rely on Vytautas for supplies. Diseases broke out. The gunpowder got wet. After a month the once splendid, but now rather bedraggled host had enough. The siege of Vilnius was lifted on October 7; two weeks later the army was back in Kaliningrad.
Clemens Morkorzew resigned his position as starosta as soon as he saw the back end of the army. He too, had enough of the rain and of the constant quarrels with Skirgaila. Jagiełło would find it difficult to replace him with another of his reliable Polish officials; the job was not high on anyone's wish list. In 1392, Jagiełło would make his final peace with Vytautas. The unpopular Skirgaila was foisted off to govern some Ruthenian duchy.
Gdańsk, closeup of the gate to the Artus Court -
the facade is from a later time, but the court itself existed when Henry stayed in Gdańsk
Henry stayed at Kaliningrad (Königsberg) until the beginning of February 1391. For one, the autumn gales would have made the journey back home difficult. Second, he needed time to negotiate the freedom of his captured men. He sent the Derby herald to Jagiełło in Krakow and had his father John of Gaunt write to the Polish king as well. And third, he may have hoped for a winter reyse to Vilnius once the swamps got frozen and could be crossed.
Meanwhile Henry spent his time partying with the Prussian and pro-Vytautas Lithuanian nobility and the citizens of the town - he threw an extra one when he learned that he had become father for the fourth time (in November). He listened to the music of his six minstrels. He went hunting with Marshal Rabe. He wrote letters back home. He gave alms to the poor. He gambled and lost. He ate lots of fine food and drank good wine. He spent a fair amount of money on fur cloaks and other finery. In short, he had a pretty good time far away from daddy, King Richard II, and court intrigues.
Henry had captured some women and boys during the crusade whom he now had baptized. He provided the women with new clothes and found places for them to stay. The boys were educated in his own household. Two of them - John Ralph and Ingelard of Prussia - would accompany him back to England. At some point his captured men got released, but there would not be any winter crusade, so Henry moved to Gdańsk in early Feburary.
Gdańsk, St.Mary's Church, interior - Henry attended services there
Henry lived pretty much in the same style of parties and hunting in Gdańsk as he had in Kaliningrad. He lodged at the house of one Klaus Gottesknecht (meaning 'God's Servant') while some of his retinue stayed at the bishop's house in town. Besides having parties and going on the hunt, Henry gave more alms to the poor and provided his servants with warm cloaks. He also made a minor pilgrimage to some important Polish churches during the Holy Week.
There was only one setback during those months: Henry fell gravely ill in February and was tended by the grand master's own physician. The illness is not specified in the sources and even the exact date is unclear.
At the end of March 1391, Henry left Gdańsk with a lot of presents, among them a fine hawk and three young bears he got from Conrad of Wallenrode, the grand master of the Teutonic Order. Four weeks later, the ships arrived at Kingston-upon-Hull, and on May 13, Henry was back with his family in Bolingbroke. There is no account about the fate of the bears, but the minstrels brought some new songs with them. :-)
On the military side, the expedition was a moderate success at best, but it increased Henry's reputation as warrior and crusader. Not only did all that show with heralds and gold-embroidered clothes, the parties and largesse, serve to present a representative of England in the best possible way, including the supremacy of the longbow archers; Henry's victories at the Nemunas and the conquest of the Crooked Castle were considered English victories at home. Richard II, himself not much of a warrior, was probably not happy about his young cousin's fame.
Henry spent the next fifteen months in England, mostly jousting and showing off. His wardrobe would make any Influencer girl jealous, and got his tailors and cloth merchants rich. But this was an important aspect of the life of a Mediaeval nobleman of wealth, and wealth Henry surely had (or rather, his father did). He stayed away from court, but one can imagine that his traveling around in England, jousting and hunting, included a number of meetings with like-minded young noblemen; a sort of networking.
The Royal Palace in the Hradčany in Prague -
where Henry stayed as guest of King Wenceslas on his way to Jerusalem
In summer 1392, Henry wanted to go on another reyse in Lithuania. He set off for Gdańsk and Kaliningrad with some 250 men. But in Kaliningrad - which he reached on September 2 - he learned that peace negotiations were going on between Vytautas and Jagiełło and that there would be no crusade this year.
So Henry sent the archers back home and changed his plans for a pilgrimage to Jerusalem instead. He asked his father to send some money to a bank in Venice, and set off with an entourage of about fifty men. They traveled via Prague, where they were guests of King Wenceslas of Bohemia for several days, and Hungary to Venice. The group then continued across the Mediterranean to Rhodes and Jaffa, and arrived in Jerusalem in January 1393. Henry spent ten days in the Holy City, visiting the Holy Sepulchre and the Mount of Olives. They were back in Jaffa on February 6. They contined to Venice and from there to Milan, across the Julian Alpes and Savoy, through Burgundy to Paris and on to Calais (looks like Henry got a safe conduct this time). Henry and his entourage crossed the Channel to Dover on July 5, 1993.
That dry itinerary does not show the grand way Henry and his entourage traveled. He was preceeded by a herald and a trumpeter, announcing his arrival in every city and town. Henry rode his favourite white courser, accompagnied by his standard-bearer, a score of mounted knights and squires, his chamberlain and his chaplain, his falconer, minstrels ... The baggage waggons trundled in tow. The men were resplendent with expensive brocades, silks and furs, sparkling with gold embroideries and jewels - it must have been quite the sight. Despite the show, the cortège managed to cover an average of 15 to 20 miles per day.
Wherever Henry stayed longer than a night, he had his arms painted on his lodgings (he already did that in Gdańsk). Of course, he met with a number of rulers, like King Wenceslas of Bohemia, King Sigismund of Hungaria, Albrecht of Hapsburg Duke of Austria, the Duke of Milan, the Duke of Burgundy, the grand master of the Knights Hospitaller, members of the Senate of Venice (to name just a few) as well as important merchants and bankers in Venice and Lombardy.
Henry also received gifts, including exotic animals like a leopard (who got his own cabin on the way back to Venice). But more important was the formation of a tight-knit circle of loyal knights who would stand with Henry in the years to come. Moreover, he added the image of a pious pilgrim to that of a warrior and crusader - a Mediaeval public campaign.
Sunset on the Baltic Sea - Henry may have seen some of those
1) His taking the throne from Richard II is a complicated topic that deserves a more detailed post.
2) His father was Henry Grosmont, son of Henry, 3rd earl of Lancaster. Henry in turn was the son of Thomas of Lancaster who is best known for his opposition against King Edward II. Thomas was a son of Edmund 'Crouchback', first earl of Lancaster, who was the second son of King Henry III and Eleanor of Provence. Got it sorted? *grin*
3) He died, it is said, of starvation. The discussion about 'was it suicide, or murder, and what did Henry know?' still goes on. After the Epiphany Rising, Henry would have had a reason to prefer Richard dead instead of a rallying figure for another set of disgruntled barons.
4) The skin condition may have been psoriasis or a side effect of syphilis. The other illness is likely cardiac related or - less likely, imho - a form of epilepsy due to a head trauma or encephalitis (neither of that is confirmed in the sources, though).
5) A Franco-Genoese expedition led by Duke Louis II of Bourbon, with the aim to capture the harbour town of Mahdia in Tunisia, a stronghold of the pirates. The siege ended in an armistice, some recompensation money paid, and a few less pirate attacks on Genoese trade ships.
6) Mortimer mentions one ship, while Given-Wilson mentions two and their captains. I think two ships is more realistic considering the size of Henry's entourage (I've been on a cog myself and can sort of judge how many horses and men would fit in).
7) Ian Mortimer gives a detailed list of the items loaded, which he collected from household rolls and other sources (which makes it the more surprising he only mentions one ship).
8) The 300 archers Frost mentions are an exaggeration made by Henry himself in a conversation many years after the event about his 'gadling days'.
9) I couldn't find out anything about the structure of the castle at the time. Vytautas built a brick tower in 1409, so maybe the castle was a brick construction as well. A timber building might not have withstood a four weeks siege so well.
10) They conquered the castle, not the town of Vilnius, as Mortimer has it. The reports that reached England sounded as if the town had been conquered, though.
Almut Bues: Die Jagiellonen. Herrscher zwischen Ostsee und Adria; Kohlhammer-Urban, Stuttgart 2010
Robert Frost: The Oxford History of Poland-Lithuania, vol. 1, The Making of the Polish-Lithuanian Union 1385-1569; Oxford 2015, paperback ed. 2018
Christ Given-Wilson: Henry IV (Yale English Monarchs); London 2016
Ian Mortimer: The Fears of Henry IV. The Life of England's Self-Made King; London 2008
William Urban: The Teutonic Knights. A Military History, 2003; reprint by Frontline Publ. 2018
The Lost Fort is a travel and history blog based on my journeys in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, the Baltic Countries, and central Europe. It includes virtual town and castle tours with a focus on history, museum visits, hiking tours, and essays on Roman and Mediaeval history, illustrated with my own photos.
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All texts and photos (if no other copyright is noted) are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.
- Name: Gabriele Campbell
- Location: Goettingen, Germany
I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History which doesn't pay my bills, so I use it to research blogposts instead. I'm interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who still hasn't got an Instagram account.
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