Episode 148: PredictableLore
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- 3 Aug 2020
If history has shown us anything, it’s that humans are easily motivated by fear. Just what some of those fears have been, though, is more than a little frightening.
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The underground passageway led deep into the darkness, it had begun near a collection of small rooms, almost like dormitories, and then stretched out for over 50 feet into the earth. At the opposite end, a labyrinth awaited those who are brave enough to enter it. And beyond that, the cauldron. Don't think of those little black plastic things that kids carry with them on Halloween night. No, this cauldron was made of heavy bronze and it was enormous large enough to fit a grown adult in, in fact.
And when it was discovered in 1958 at the foot of a mountain in western Greece, archaeologists, Sotirios Dakar's knew what he was looking for. It was a temple known in the ancient times as the halls of Haiti's and Dread Persephone, a name that comes to us from Homer's Odyssey, where the adventurer Odysseus stopped to ask the prophet how to get home. And this cauldron was part of the temple's offerings, an enormous vessel that would contain water or oil with a mirror.
Smooth surface used to do one specific thing to peer into the future. It might be an ancient idea, but the human desire to know the future has never faded away. In fact, as our world becomes more and more complex, it might be fair to say that we are more interested than ever before in what the future holds. Whether you're browsing movie options or national bestseller lists, you're never too far from concepts like time travel or prophecies. The future, more than anything else, is what our eyes seem to be set on.
So, of course, it makes sense that thousands of years of human history have led to the development of systems and tools that make it possible, rituals and practices that are said to gift the user with a glimpse into the misty waters of the not yet in hopes of guiding them through the right now. But if history is any indication that pursuit of future knowledge hasn't always been acceptable, in fact, it's been seen by many over the centuries as a dark art with dangerous pitfalls, the play with a future is to play with fire, and the consequences could be tragic.
Fortunetelling, it seems. Might just get you killed. I'm Aaron Manque, and this is Laura. He never knew his father when he was born in December of 14, 21. That man was far away in France fighting a war he would never win. The child's father, King Henry the fifth, was one of England's most celebrated warrior kings. And this new birth was a sign of hope for him. The child boy was his first and only male heir.
Nine months later, Henry the fifth was still in France and had yet to return home to see his newborn son Henry, his young wife, 20 year old Catherine, was doing her best, but she was more than just the queen. She was also the daughter of the king of France, Charles the Sixth. So she wasn't trusted by anyone else in the courts around her. Then on the last day of August and 14 20 to King Henry died before ever returning home, and in that moment, that little infant became the youngest king in England's history, King Henry, the sixth.
Not only that, but two months later, when Katherine's father died, he also became the king of France, added up. It was a lot of power to rest on the tiny shoulders of a boy who hadn't even yet begun to walk. So as you might imagine, the events that followed were all mirrors of the worst parts of human nature. Relatives vied for position and various figures tried to take control of a kingdom that seemed up for grabs. But rather than do that by going to war with each other and thereby tearing the country to pieces, they did it by wrestling for control of the baby king.
The trouble was, his dead father had already settled that through his will. At the center of the family drama where the boy's two uncles, John, the older of the two and next in line for the throne after him was the Duke of Bedford while Humphrey was the Duke of Gloucester. These were two powerful men who until just days earlier had been brothers to the king, but they had never played nice with each other. And the new situation only made that worse.
Thankfully, the dead kings will was clear, John became the senior regions and effectively took control of the kingdom while the boy King grew up. But as the head of the kingdom, he was expected to travel to France and pick up where his brother Henry had left off, leaving Humphrey to care for the boy. And that's how things went. For a very long time, the nobles all swore loyalty to the young King Henry the Sixth, and his Uncle Humphrey provided him with everything a child needed to stay healthy and learn what it meant to be a king.
And Humphrey was good at that. He was probably one of the most education friendly nobles in all of England. So young Henry stood a good chance. But as he grew up, it became clear that he was different from his warrior father, the younger Henry was shy, timid and disinterested in war. And for a country that had been fighting with France for the better part of eight decades, that wasn't a good thing. So as you might imagine, his daily life was rather tense and confusing.
It didn't help that his two uncles, John and Humphrey, got along more like children than grown men whenever John was home from the war in France, he and Humphrey argued endlessly. And according to many historians, these fights often devolved into physical battles. And when they couldn't settle their disagreements themselves, these two experienced grown men would call upon their young nephew, King, to settle it for them. By painting this immense portrait of chaos and personal vendettas, my point is simply this it was very easy for young, sheltered King Henry the sixth, the feel out of his depth, surrounded by selfish advisers, bickering uncles and a royal court full of arcane traditions and rules.
It's honestly a miracle that he didn't just drop a rope out of one of the palace windows and try to run away. Instead, he recognized that he had a responsibility to at least try. So he went looking for help in a field that today might seem a bit more unusual, a realm that claim to offer answers when all he had were questions. The world. Of astrology. Astrology wasn't new, of course, even back in the 14 30s, it was already an ancient practice and yes, for a very long time, it was tied to the other stargazing practice of astronomy.
But only one of them is still considered a science today. Those who practiced astrology lived alongside a very fine line, though they have always been popular, but for the most part allowed to conduct their business peacefully. But anyone whose work involved secret rituals and tampering with the thin veil between this world and the next, well, they were risky, to say the least. The Renaissance, however, brought it back into the light between the 14th and 16th centuries, countless public figures became patrons of astrologers looking for answers and guidance.
Common folk, nobles, kings and even popes all placed their trust in the words of these fortune tellers. So please don't think of it as an illegal illicit practice. The historical context here says otherwise. But there was a fine line, of course, there was a small clause in a bit of English law from 13 51 that made it illegal to compass or imagine the death of a king and not just a crime, but treason. Essentially, astrology was totally fine so long as the practitioner did not offer specific details about the death of a king.
Maybe they believe that by putting those words out there, they would come true or perhaps even considering those notions was simply seen as disloyalty. I have a feeling it was a bit of both, regardless. That was the line. Make all the predictions you want. They said, believe the king out of it or else you're guilty of treason, which is what made Marjorie Jordan so controversial. She was a wise woman who performed a lot of the jobs we might associate with historic traditional witches.
She crafted charms, grew herbs, worked as a midwife and of course worked as a fortune teller. And locals gave her a nickname because of it. She was the witch of I. Now, among her many clients, rich and poor alike, was a young woman named Eleanor Cobham. She was the daughter of a noble family, but not a prominent one, which meant that she had a bit of means, but a lot of ambition. And with it, she managed to get herself taken on as lady in waiting to the wife of the king's younger Uncle Humphrey, the Duke of Gloucester.
From there, she continued her ambitious climb, she hired Marjorie, the witch of eye, to make her a love potion and then managed to slip it into Humphrey's drink. And while we could debate about how effective that might have been, whether love potions really work or if the act of using one simply gave her the courage she needed to grasp for more, that's not important here. What's important is that a short while later, she was Humphrey's mistress.
Eleanor had just moved up the ladder. Another step. Her next accomplishment took another three years, but in 14, 28, when the boy King was just seven, Humphrey had his own marriage annulled and married Eleanor instead. It did it make her popular, of course, but that's not what she was after. She was after power. And now after years of work, she was married to the man who was second in line to the throne. And she just kept climbing at 14, 30 once she was admitted to a fraternity that her new husband belonged to, a year later she was appointed as a lady of the garter, a companion in the highest order of knights in the kingdom.
Then in 14 35, Humphrey legally brought her fully into his finances, making her co-owner of his entire estate. And finally, in 14 36, she was officially granted the title of Duchess of Gloucester. And that's a lot to take in. I know. So take a breath and think of it all this way. Things were looking up for Eleanor from the daughter of a small time noble. She had clawed her way to the top. Motives aside, you have to admire her tenacity and vision.
But she wasn't quite finished just yet because in 14 35, something else happened. Humphrey's older brother John died, making him next in line to the throne. Should anything tragic happen to the young king, which prompted Eleanor to make her next move, providing her husband with an air of his own. And for that, she once again needed Marjorie Jordan's help in the form of more charms and potions. But Eleanor was doing the math. There was a good chance that this king could even get married and have his own heir before she managed to bear Humphrey, a son.
It was all starting to look hopeless for her, which is probably why she reached out to a group of her advisers for help in navigating her future. One of them, naturally, was Marjorie. Her beloved, which of I but there were two others, both men. Thomas Southwell was the cannon of St. Stephen's Chapel right there inside the old Palace of Westminster. The other was Roger Bolingbrook, who served as Eleanor's personal clerk. Both of these men, though, were known for something else, something darker.
They were infamous as astrologers and necromancers. And that's when she slipped up, because while potions and charms were fine and ambition was the currency of the royal courts, she crossed the line by asking these astrologers a very dangerous question, a question that would change her life forever. How long, she asked, will the King Live? They gave her a dangerous answer, both Roger Bolingbroke and Thomas Southwell appear to have delivered the same sort of prediction to Eleanor.
The young King Henry would become sick with an illness during the summer of 14 41, and he would never recover. Now, as we've already discussed, this was a bad thing, this prediction painted specific details of what was about to happen to the king and followed those details through all the way to death. If someone were to look up the meaning of the phrase Compazine and imagining the death of a king, woodcuts of Southwell in Bolingbrook would serve as adequate definitions.
And naturally, word about these predictions spread, they rumbled through the royal court like a low level earthquake and eventually reached King Henry's own ears, and his response was surprising. Rather than dismiss the rumors, he simply hired astrologers of his own, asking them to see if they could provide an alternative prediction. It was clear that he was shaken by the news of his eventual death and was looking for a bit of hope. As you might imagine, those new astrologers provided all the hope he needed, telling the young king that everything would be all right.
Emboldened by the news, he had the rumors chased to their source. And soon Bolingbrook and Southwell were in custody where they were interrogated. Both of the men fessed up to the predictions, which brought official charges crashing down on both of them, charges that sound like they were created at the intersection of folklore and the monarchy. They were guilty of treasonable necromancy, but Bolingbrook wasn't going down without a fight. He told the king's men that he had only made the prediction because he had been asked a very specific question by Eleanor, the Duchess of Gloucester.
At once, the investigation shifted into a higher gear and the authorities began to cast a net to track her down. But Eleanor wasn't on the run, as far as I can tell, she wasn't even aware that Bolingbroke and Southwell were in custody. No, she was eating one of her lavish dinners, laughing, drinking wine and enjoying the metaphorical view from her lofty position. But when a servant rushed in and whispered into her ear, all of that came to a stop.
Moments later, she was running down the halls of the old palace to take shelter inside the chapel. Her plan was relatively simple. Hide out under the church's protection. There she was only accountable to the church court, not the king. And while death might await her outside those doors, the worse the church could do would be far better than that. What happened next was a series of very complicated events that I will oversimplify for you. While Eleanor was being questioned by a panel of bishops inside the church, Bolingbrook and Southwell were facing the wrath of the king.
One of the key pieces of evidence that came to light during this mess was a wax figure of the king that was said to belong to Bolingbrook. And this figure was damning. You he, as an astrologer and Necromancer Bolingbrook would have known of the folk traditions surrounding sympathetic magic, the idea that if two things are similar enough, they will share identical qualities and characteristics. And one of the more nefarious uses of this principle was the wax figure, a procedure commonly found in Gregoire's of the era.
The process was simple enough craft a wax figure of the person you wish to harm or kill and then give it a Christian baptism using that person's name. This was meant to make the link between them more powerful and therefore give the damage done to the wax figure a greater chance of repeating itself in or on the person it represents. In a lot of ways, Bolingbrook was accused of making a sort of voodoo doll like we've all seen used in TV and film over the years, and the results were damning.
Bolingbrook had been caught red handed and the case was airtight as far as the authorities were concerned. Eleanor, however, wasn't as easy to crack. Instead of admitting fault, she had denied almost all of the charges against her. Instead, she claimed that she had only sought the men's advice on how to conceive a child for her beloved husband, a question she had also asked of her old friend, Marjorie Jordano, the witch of I. She was trying to help herself, but in the process put a target on Marjorie's head.
A short while later, the other woman was arrested as well. Margery's doom arrived with the discovery of a wax figure in her own home, it was described as rather melted and disfigured, and there was no way of knowing for sure who it was meant to represent. A, given the circumstances, the authorities just assumed it was the king and that she had been melting it to make him ill. There wasn't much of a trial for Marjorie, although knowing how women of her station and occupation were treated in those days, her end was sadly predictable.
She was found guilty of high treason and burned at the stake. On October 27th of 14 41, Thomas Southwell died in the Tower of London before he could face his own punishment. It's rumored that he predicted his own death, claiming that he would die in his bed and not by justice. A fitting end to a known astrologer. I suppose. But Roger Bolingbrook lived through all of that. He watched all the players in this twisted drama leave the stage one by one until he was the last man standing on November 18th, he was found guilty and sentenced to death.
Thankfully, he wouldn't have to wait long for that death to arrive. Later that day, he was drawn and quartered, a phrase that many people are familiar with without knowing the full scope of that punishment, the drawn part refers to how the criminal arrived at the gallows, dragged or drawn behind a horse for Bolingbrook. His destination was the execution site known as the Tiburon Tree, located close to where London's Marble Arch stands today. Once there, he was given a chance to cry out to God for mercy, then he was hanged in front of the gathered crowd until just before the moments of death.
It wasn't an exact science and some criminals died at the end of the rope, but many survived. As far as we know, Bolingbroke lived to experience the next phase of his punishment. Still breathing, he was then disemboweled, beheaded, and then finally cuts into four pieces, the quarters, parts of drawn and quartered before those pieces were delivered to distant corners of the kingdom and put on display. His head, though, would stay in London, where it would join those of other criminals as decoration on the London Bridge.
It was a bloody tragic end to a man who had done nothing more than answer a simple question, but it was also a first. It was the first time in English history that the full punishment for treason was carried out on a criminal for doing one specific thing. For making a prediction. Humans are predictable, it's a reality that's been part of our world since the very beginning. Wherever there is power held by the few over the many, fear and superstition have been wielded like weapons to defend it.
We lash out at the things we don't understand. Yes, but the powerful do it when they feel threatened. This predictability of human nature is also what made the job of ancient astrologers so easy, like an experienced hunter, knowing exactly which direction their prey will run when cornered, allowing them to be guided into the trap. These fortunetellers may or may not have had a direct line to the divine, but at the very least, it's clear that they understood what made people tick and then use that to their advantage.
Not everyone won out, though, even Eleanor, after retreating into the sanctuary of the church, found consequences waiting for her two weeks before Roger Bolingbrook was brutally executed. She watched as her marriage was annulled by the archbishop because if she had been willing to manipulate Humphrey with potions, who was to say any decision he made after meeting her was voluntary? Because of this, she lost everything, her titles, her wealth and her lofty position in the royal courts.
A week later, on November 13th of fourteen forty one, she stepped out of the palace chapel and into a street surrounded by hundreds of curious onlookers to begin the next step in her punishment or penance. This woman who had once paraded through the streets of London dressed in shimmering gowns, was forced to walk plainly dressed and barefoot through the mud and manure that represented her new station in life. She was instructed to carry a lit two pound candle from one location to another across town.
Then after three of those trips, she was taken away to Chester Castle, where she would begin the final phase of her sentence.
Life in prison. She would move around over the next few years, but by fourteen forty nine, she found herself inside Beaumaris Castle, about 75 miles west of Liverpool. She died there three years later on July 7th of 14, 52, poor and powerless. But one person from her life still managed to hold on to a bit of control. The Witch of I. You see, Marjorie had been a troublemaker for a lot longer than Eleanor had known her.
In fact, ten years before her death, Marjorie had served time in prison for some of the less savory aspects of witchcraft. When she was released, she swore she'd never do it again. But that didn't last very long. As she took on more clients and those clients became more and more powerful. She met people like Eleanor, as well as a man named Edmund Beaufort, the Duke of Somerset. We know he was a paying customer, at least for a while, but it seems that they had a falling out in the middle of that disagreement.
She predicted that he would eventually die in a castle.
During the week that Marjorie was in custody and that wax figure was found in her possession, the court sought out other witnesses to her crimes and one of the men who stepped forward was none other than Edmund Beaufort, who agreed that, yes, she was a powerful witch and not one to be trusted. Marjorie, of course, lost her life a short while later, and I can't help but think that Beaufort believe that he had slipped free from her prediction about his own demise.
He certainly went on living as if there were no dark clouds hanging over him. But you can't outrun your own destiny. On May 2nd of 14 55, Beaufort participated in the first battle of the War of the Roses, which took place about 20 miles north of London, in the process, the duke was wounded and in an attempt to save his life, he was carried off the battlefield and into a local establishment. Sadly, he died there from his wounds.
For those that knew about Margery's prediction that he would die in a castle. His death came as quite a revelation, not because it happened, but because the building he died in wasn't a massive stone fortress or the home of royalty. It was just an in. The castle in. One thing that's clear from today's tour through the early life of King Henry, the sixth is just how steeped he was in superstition and fear of the unknown. But as difficult as it is to believe the drama of Eleanor, Marjorie, Bolingbrook and all the others was just one of many connections he had to the world of witchcraft.
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I hope it's obvious just how powerful the world of folk magic and superstition was in a time of King Henry the sixth, any time a government passes a law that makes predicting the death of its ruler a crime punishable by death. It's pretty clear they've crossed the line and that sort of environment. And born and raised on that fear, young King Henry behaved exactly as we might expect. But there's more to it than that. Remember, he never had a chance to meet his father, King Henry the Fifth, but he grew up around his father, stepmother Joan of Navarre.
She had married his grandfather, Henry, the fourth back in 14 03. And even after he died 10 years later, she was reported to have had a strong and friendly relationship with her stepson, Henry. The fifth things went sour in 14 19, though, Joan of Navarre was accused of plotting Henry's death and rumored to have used dark magic as her weapon of choice. But Henry survived, and Joan had her entire fortune confiscated before being thrown into prison.
It would get her out of the picture long enough for Henry to return to the war in France, but his death would change all of that. I mentioned earlier how his will dictated how his infant son was to be cared for and who would be regent while he was growing into adulthood, but it also called for a third thing.
His stepmother, Jonah Devar, was to be released and given back her fortune.
After that, Joan was active and around all through the years that Henry the sixth was growing up until her death in fourteen thirty seven. My point is this. Henry might have had a good reason to fear the power of folk magic because he spent his entire childhood in contact with a woman who had, at least according to rumors, tried to kill his father with sorcery. But as amazing as it might sound, there's at least one more connection between his family and a powerful figure who threatened to destroy them.
Remember his bickering uncles, John, the Duke of Bedford and Humphrey, the Duke of Gloucester? Well, John spent most of his time as regent across the English Channel in France, bouncing back and forth as needed, although it was usually just to settle an argument with his brother, who had a bit of a chip on his shoulder in 14. Twenty seven, John headed back to France after yet another of those sibling spats and found the war flaring up with new life.
A new French military leader had arrived on the scene claiming to have a message and mission from God. And this new fuel turn, the latter portion of the century long conflict into a religious war. John Duke of Bedford was furious.
He was so close to the finish line believing that taking the city of Corleone would signal the end of the war.
But this newcomer changed all of that, and John was forced to withdraw his siege of the city. And then while he was trying to clean up that mess and find his rhythm again, the French followed their new leader out into the countryside and began to liberate town after town that had previously been controlled by the English. I think it's an understatement to say that things were falling apart for John and his English forces and then they only got worse after that. For almost three years, this is how things went for John Bedford, capturing this military leader became almost an obsession of his, all the more so because it was believed their actions were those of a heretic and a sorcerer.
But in May of 14, 30 English allies managed to ambush thousands of French soldiers and found their beloved military leader among them. The trial was nothing more than a trap meant to trick the prisoner into self incrimination, church officials attempted to force theological mistakes, but it didn't work in the end, frustrated with all of the dead ends that kept popping up in their prosecution, the trial settled on a more obscure, heretical crime, not witchcraft across dressing.
Cross-dressing because the military leader was a woman, a woman who wore the uniform of a soldier as part of her mission to lead French troops to victory, a mission given to her, she claimed, by God. And yes, the utterly absurd charges brought against her led to her being burned at the stake on May 30th of 14 31. But no amount of blazing fire could ever erase her courage and vision from the pages of history, which is why most people alive today still know her name.
The maid of honor, Leon. Joan of Arc. This episode of law was written and produced by me, Aaron Manqué, with research by Michelle Mudo and music by Chad Lawson, law is much more than just a podcast. There's a book series available in bookstores and online and two seasons of the television show on Amazon Prime video. Check them both out if you want more law in your life. I also make two other podcasts. Aaron makes Cabinets of Curiosities and unobscured, and I think you'd enjoy both.
Each one explores other areas of our dark history, ranging from bite sized episodes to season long dives into a single topic.
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