Sir John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, c.1390-1453 (Jay Cool’s 16th Great Grandfather)
Some say she was brave, some a feminist, and others lust after her luscious red locks.
Most of us can easily conjure up an image of a breast-plated woman of muscly Neanderthal stature, standing up high on a chariot urging her terrified horses to get on with the job – to trample down the fleeing English army.
You do, of course, know that I am waffling on about the great Joan of Arc, leader of a French resistance movement. For some strange reason, Joan had strong objections to an English baby (Henry VI), being the French heir, preferring to ally herself with the rightful claimant – the French Dauphin! This was in spite of the fact that the poor-unwanted Henry VI was the sprog of a union between King Henry V of England and the French Princess, Catherine.
Joan, in spite of her aversion to the English, and most likely due her femaleness, became a household name. I mean, what woman wouldn’t rather be out there, on the continent, playing real-life games of British Bulldogs, than to be in their kitchens? This is why I, Jay Cool, have elevated the Joan’s portrait (below), to a high-up place above my kitchen sink.
But, what isn’t often mentioned is the name of the English Commander, the man who gathered his archers on high ground near Patay, in France, and who dared to confront the mighty Joan and her cavalry, with a spattering of arrows. I say a spattering, rather than a deluge, because the majority of Talbot’s men, after one glimpse of the enemy, disappeared into think air, leaving their leader stranded. Talbot stood his ground, and flanked by a dwindling number of non-hopers, fought on in hand-to-hand combat, surviving against all the odds (he was the only English survivor!). That man was none other than my 16th Great Granddad, Sir John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury.
Okay, so John may not have handed the red-hair MCR1 gene down to me (at least I don’t think so (unless he had more than a fighting liaison with Joan)), but he was still one of my direct ancestors – and he still counts! And, even though, he may or may not have been a ginger, he did pass down one, or two, of his fine physical features to his 16th Great Granddaughter, Jay Cool. Just take a look at his tiny ears! (And no you may not see a photo of one of my ears for comparative purposes! They may be miniscule, but that doesn’t entirely eliminate the possibility of unsightly ear hair and yolky wax!)
And also, my father, Spike Cool, definitely inherited John’s thick crop of dark curls (albeit temporarily), i.e. he looks a bit like this now!
Whereas, at one time, a very long time ago, my father, Spike Cool, looked like this:
Which was a kind of upside-down-spitting-image version of the Cool’s ancestor, Sir John Talbot.
Stop beating about the bush! you tell me. Get on with John’s lifestory; we don’t want to know about his physical bits (or every person in your family’s physical bits) – this isn’t an episode of ‘Embarrassing Bodies’!
But, I might remind you, this is I, Jay Cool, blogger extraordinaire, and I specialise in the little details that make a life lived, memorable. So, pray, let me continue …
John Talbot was a troublesome teenager, who created lots of headaches for his parents, by virtue of the fights he got into (suspect he had ADHD!). It really wasn’t all that sensible for young John to be picking fights with the Percy brothers of Northumberland (none other than my 2nd cousins 3X removed!); especially not when the Percys were in a gang with some Welsh geezer, by the name of Owain Glyn Dwr (refers to the Battle of Shrewsbury). And the whole silly business got a bit out of hand when John, against all the odds, knocked little Henry Percy out cold!
John’s parents, Richard Talbot, and Ankaret Le Strange, may well have had fears that Henry’s invincibility couldn’t be sustained into early adulthood, let alone into old age, so, perhaps hoping that a relationship with the opposite sex might tame him, they married their son off. John, perhaps even then, had a high forehead (his curls looked like the sea with the tide going out) and, although he was only a sprightly-young boy of fourteen, had he waited any longer to secure a match – he would have been turned down flat. I mean, what young girl in her right mind would want to marry a baldy?
In 1404, John walked up the aisle with the stunning (i.e. rich) Maud Neville. Personally, had I been Maud, I would have done a runner there and then. Why ever did her parents agree to a match with a man who had killed one of their own. For indeed, the ill-fated Henry Percy was the offspring of Margaret Neville (1341-1372). And, judging by the surname, then I reckon there must have been a genetic connection there somewhere. Did Maud not think to check out all of this out beforehand with a DNA test on Ancestry.com?
But, taking a step back to view the whole Talbot-Neville situation objectively (in a subjective sort of a way), I realise that without this coupling I might not be here now, hogging up a table in Prado Lounge, writing this fine blog post.
So, with reservations, I feel I am entitled to overlook my 16th Great Granddad’s crimes. And, after all, as John Talbot was a soldier in the employ of Henry IV (who, incidentally, was my 19th Great Granddad), then I don’t suppose that he had much choice about any of it (be it the battles or his love life). John was man out of control – a man on the precipice! And, at the end of the day, or the beginning of my history, then its all just another piece of the jigsaw that makes up the great Jay Cool’s existence!
By 1413, my 16th Great Grandmother, Maud Talbot (nee. Neville), was sitting on her lonesome-ownsome, in some sort of a massive mansion (one of a number of properties in the baronies of Furnivall and Hallamshire, she’d unwittingly handed over to her husband), thinking about what a berk her other-half had become. For, at that time, John Talbot was banged up in the Tower of London for upsetting Henry V, over a difference in religious affiliations. John had got all pally with a certain Sir John Oldcastle, a follower of a religious sect known as the Lollards. Rather shockingly, the Lollards didn’t believe in transubstantiation.
Okay, so I’ve just looked up this very-long word and, if you believe Wikipedia, then it refers to bread and wine being miraculously transformed into flesh and blood, during its passage down one’s throat. This doesn’t make me particularly happy, as only about six weeks ago, I attended Lavenham Parish Church in the company of my mother to partake in the holy communion. (When one is a vicar’s daughter, one has to keep up appearances!)
This decision was based on the premise that I am not really an alcoholic (i.e. I did not just attend the Sunday service to satiate my desperation for wine during a period of mum-induced abstinence), if communion wine is really just an infinite supply of holy blood. So, I’m just a little-tinsy bit gutted, to be informed by my 16th Great Grandfather (of all people), that the whole transubstantiation thing is a pile of old cobblers.
It does solve another issue that was bothering me, though. It explains the inexplicable, i.e. why I didn’t turn into a vampire and go flying off into the trees with the handsome Carlisle Cullen from the Twilight stories. It’s not that I have a mid-life crush on Carlisle (lie), it’s more that I feel an affiliation with him because, like myself, he is the unlikely sprog of a man of the cloth, i.e. we are both embarrassments to our God-fearing church-going parents. And, like most people, I have skin that would benefit from a touch of immortality (i.e. I wouldn’t have to splash out on any more wrinkle-erasing face creams from Aldi!).
This is all very well, you say. But we’re not very interested in the Cullens, and we’re not at all interested in the depth of your facial dykes. Get back onto the case of Sir John Talbot!
Oh yes, well John, like I said was banged up in the Tower, with none other than his buddy, Sir John Oldcastle. Hence, he must have been pretty p*****d off, when Oldy did a bunker and escaped. And John must have been doubly p****d off, when Oldy was given sanctuary by the highly-esteemed Abbot of Shrewsbury.
But John, once again proved to be invincible and, still fighting fit, he was released from imprisonment in 1414 by the merciful Henry V and sent off on a mission to Ireland. It was decided that John, being a man of miraculous powers, was just the person to sort out the ongoing petty squabbles of a host of Irish and Anglo-Norman landowners. Being a fair and just man, John thought it prudent to deal with the Anglo-Normans as harshly as the Irish.
But, as all great leaders (and classroom teachers) know, if one is silly enough to practise egalitarianism with the masses – the masses, instead of turning on each other, will turn on you. If unsure of my meaning, then please see this illustrative example:
Of course the real reason why Talbot’s allies, his army of English soldiers and Irish hangers on, turned on their master, was because they hadn’t been fully recompensed for their efforts.
Henry V, the nasty little trickster (nothing changes in my family), had promised to give John Talbot 4,000 marks for the payment of his army, then backtracked on the deal by only handing over 400 marks.
Hungry men have always caused problems and, inevitably, a large number of Irish farmers put in complaints about the pillaging of their grain supplies. But John, being John, managed to sort it all out, appeasing all and sundry by promising to promote justice, equality and respect between all factions.
Mercifully, by the time John wanted to up sticks and return to England in 1418, the Irish had grown quite fond of him, even begging him to stay (perhaps a ploy to secure themselves some generous parting gifts).
Invincible, John Talbot may have been, but not so his brother.
My 16th Great Uncle, Gilbert Talbot, was killed in 1419, leaving his daughter Ankaret, under the guardianship of her Uncle John. And, I’m trying not to read too much into this, but Ankaret soon died, leaving her Uncle John heir to all the Talbot estates. Lucky John!
By 1427, John Talbot was at the beck and call of the new infant King, Henry VI’s, Uncle and Regent, the Duke of Bedford. And, no sooner had Bedford sent John back to have another go at sorting out Ireland, than he sent orders redirecting him to France. John was instructed was to try out his chances with crushing the redness out of the blazen-haired Joan of Arc. No, I don’t need to repeat this part of the story – I told you it all about it earlier!
As the last English man standing, or in his case lying down, and surrounded by bloodied Salopians, John was relieved to be arrested by the enemy and carried off to a French prison. And during his break from all the action, he missed out on bearing witness to Joan of Arc’s death. But, he did hear the gossip, and he didn’t want his own heart to be similarly roasted at the stake, so, still in captivity, he made a will – stating that his heart should be buried under the porch of his beloved parish church, back in his hometown of Whitchurch.
But in 1433, prior to his own end, John was released and, finding out that wife Maud had died of a very-relieved heart in his absence, he got himself hitched up again – this time with the Earl of Warwick’s daughter, Margaret Beachamp. The couple managed to get on with a touch of mating and producing, before war-weary John was sent back to his old haunt – Ireland.
This is when John’s latent eccentricities started to surface; he created a new law, stating that anyone of English descent should adorn their faces with a moustache. Hairy chins were strictly forbidden. Fortunately, I have just recently snipped off the hairs from the chin-mole that I inherited courtesy of John’s dodgy negotiations with Joan.
And then came another stint, for John, in a French prison. By this point, I’m guessing that John had been institutionalised and, unable to cope, in the real world, kept on getting himself invited back into confinement. Recognising that John was now a fruit-loop with nothing left to lose, Henry VI made a deal with Charles VII of France, agreeing to pay a ransom for John’s release, only on the proviso that the lucky man be packed off on a pilgrimage to Rome. This must have been for some sort of mindfulness retreat (did they have Buddhist communes in Rome, back then?), in which the patient would have to meditate for hours and hours and hours, in the hope of bringing his mind back into the present.
Once his head was sorted, John (now pretty malleable and gullible, i.e. victim to an early form of lobotomy) was bolstered up with a pep talk and a title (Lieutenant of Aquitaine), and packed off again to France, alongside his minder (Lord Lisle, his youngest son). Yes, it really was Groundhog Day for poor-fool John! And, in 1453 he stomped through Gascony with an English army, collected up some local helpers on the way (for some reason, unbeknownst to me, the Gasconians actually wanted to be ruled by the English), in the belief that he was about to quash any rebels siding with the French King. Sadly, as will have become clear to you by now, Sir John Talbot, like his 16th Great Grandaughter (who thinks she can make her fortune out of blogging), was deluded. Big-time deluded!
At this point, I cannot help but wonder about the state of John’s scalp when, at the grand old age of sixty-three (in 1453), near Castillon, his skull was on the receiving end of a French battle-axe (no, not your mother-in-law – the genuine war-worthy weapon)! Perhaps the reason behind this gruesome end, might have been that John’s scalp had long since lost its protective mass of bubble wrap. I also suspect that, had he not died in battle, John would not have survived a great many months beyond that date.
Before you accuse me of being a doom-monger, then my thoughts are backed up by eyewitness testimony. I am a time traveller, and John Talbot’s dead body was, by my own account, identified by his toothless gums. And, how could an alpha male possibly have made it into old age, without the ability to consume his daily intake of meat proteins (1)?
Now, had any of the onlookers who had the pleasure of seeing John die, known about the immortality of vampires, they might have rammed a stake through his heart before the great man drew his last breath. But they didn’t! So, instead, some butcher bloke, ripped out the dead man’s heart and arranged for it to be buried under the porch at the Parish Church in Wenlock. In my opinion, any loyalty to John’s last wishes, should have been eliminated by the cost of transporting a body part back to Britain. But, the British upper classes always did have more money than sense.
Reflecting on such a tragic end to the tale of my 16th Great Grandfather, then, much as I am sure the church at Whitchurch would benefit from the presence of my body parts, I have no intention of following in John’s footsteps. There’s no way my skull is going to be knocked through by anyone’s battle-axe! And, my heart was ripped out many times over, a lot of years ago (sound of violins playing), so is probably too rotten by now to benefit from a church burial.
And, putting aside any other concerns, then I can’t afford the train fare needed to end my days on a hill in France, on my non-existent blogger’s wages (plea for someone to offer me a paid writing job – not a plea for a free Euro tunnel ticket!).
Copyright owned by Jay Cool, February 2019
(1) A tale was once relayed to me about a sheep that a certain vegetarian celebrity rescued from the slaughter house. The sheep munched away at the grass, until its teeth wore down, at which point it died of starvation. The process of evolution had not seen any purpose in kitting a farm animal out for survival into old age! And that same unsavoury male (no ex of mine!), insisted it had been scientifically proven that men, unlike women, needed to be carnivorous. If he had to eat any of my vegetarian cooking, he persisted, he would drop dead. That, my friends, is why I proceeded to force-feed the beast!
Wrenn, Dorothy P.H., ‘Shropshire History Makers’ (EP Publishing Ltd, 1975).