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Sir William Comes to Life...
by Doug Bigelow, descendant of de Baguley family.
While researching my proposed article on the life and times of Sir William de Baguley (and possibly a book), I became intrigued with his era. I saw many paintings and illustrations on various knights and battles of the 13th and 14th centuries from my large library on the medieval times. I often wondered "what did our ancestor look like?" Was his coat of arms impressively displayed on his shield? Did he bring fear to the enemy as an ominous figure on the field of battle? I could only imagine the answers to these questions until one day thumbing through a copy of "Military History" magazine and seeing an ad for military artist Mark Churms. Churms ad showed Gaius Julius Caesar leading his Roman army. It sparked a thought. "Why not have a painting commissioned of Sir William?" It was quite a simple process actually. A check of the artist's website, www.markchurms.com. A few emails back and forth explaining what I was looking for and Mark was hired.
One thing I learned quickly is that Churms is quite a perfectionist for details. Although I had the description of the Bigelow Coat of Arms from the Bigelow Society and pictures of the Sir William effigy, Mark suggested that I contact the College of Arms in London for verification. The College was founded in 1484 by King Richard III and regulates heraldry and the granting of new armorial bearings in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. According to William G Hunt of the College I discovered that Arms did not have to be registered until 1530. "It is quite possible that our records go back as far as Sir William de Baguley if descendants of his recorded a pedigree at the time the Heralds were undertaking visitations(to confirm the Arms and record pedigrees of gentry, about every 30 years from 1530-1687)". Churms was also interested to find out who exactly Sir William served under. Perhaps Hamon Massy, Lord of Dunham-Massy or King Edward I directly. Since the College could make no guarantees and would not research records without fees paid I decided to rest assured that Bigelows of the past would have discovered any such records at the 500 year old institution.
Although renowned for his military paintings, Churms didn't concentrate on that field when he first turned professional in 1990. He started as an equestrian artist painting horses and polo matches with quality good enough to be selected for exhibition at Christie's and Sotheby's of London. He then moved on to do military paintings for Cranston Fine Arts. Cranston (publisher of 3600 art prints since 1980) had just begun operations in Scotland. "A man waving a polo stick is the same as a guy waving a sword on a horse" Churms said.
As a youth Churms' mother was a history teacher at various schools in the UK. "We moved every five years as dad was a Methodist minister". She was quite interested in American history as well British which influenced Mark's curiosity in the past. "I may have been to Baguley Hall in my youth. I've been to many places. My folks used to take me out to many old houses and halls, my moms sister used to live in Manchester & we'd drive through there quite a bit."He's been to all the Scottish battle sites and many throughout the world that he has painted.
Churms' resume lists many prestigious buyers including: the US Army, National Guard and US Military Academy as well as the British military, multiple English museums and many private collectors. Churms also created 50 paintings for the $3 billion dollar Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) in 2005; his subjects have included the ancient armies of Greece and Rome, American Doughboys of WW I, the 1879 Zulu War, Davey Crockett at the Alamo, Custers 7th Cavalry at Little Big Horn, navy ships, battles and wars.
For the deBaguley painting Churms choose an old Norman archway that could represent a manor or a church. "Norman (or Romanesque, ie: copying Roman style of buildings) building styles would have been common in the churches, manor houses, monastic buildings etc? and in existence for 200 years at the time of our scene". His knowledge of this design comes from studies in high school and college. "I studied medieval architecture and saw many different arches on field trips".
The scene itself is an obvious battle depiction. Sir William is poised to strike while standing in front of a Norman archway. A fallen welsh warrior lays behind him. Strewn about are arrows that have missed their intended targets. Since Sir William is thought to have been born c1260 it's possible that this scene is from the English-Welsh War of 1295. The people of Wales and the people of England had originally hailed from the same "families". The native tribes of Brythonic Celts were conquered by the Romans around 43AD. The separation started in the early 5th century as the Romans abandoned the island to concentrate on holding onto their lands on the European Continent. Invasions by the Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Picts saw the Celts subjugated or forced west to Wales and Ireland. In time the Vikings gained a foothold in the east and England was shared by the Anglo-Saxons and the Danes. In 1066 William the Conqueror invaded with his Norman forces. The warriors from Normandy (Norsemen or "northmen" who were of Viking descent themselves) took control of the lands.
Since the times of the Romans the Welsh either battled within their own kingdoms or the ones on their eastern borders. William the Conqueror established Norman Marcher Lords on the border with Wales as a buffer between the kingdoms. These lords had total autonomy to seek war at will with the Welsh to control the western borders. By the mid 13th century the Anglo-Saxons had been subjugated by the French speaking Norman royalty but the native welsh were still rebellious. In 1272 Edward I became King of England after the death of his father, King Henry III. After multiple wars with the Welsh Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (or Llywelyn the Last) had greed to the Treaty of Montgomery with Henry III recognizing his right to rule over Wales in 1267. Edward refused to accept this treaty upon his ascension to the crown and Llywelyn refused to pay homage to the new king. Bad blood and political disputes led to Edwards's first war with his disenchanted neighbors in 1277. Another war in 1282 saw the Welsh prince lose his life on the battle field and his brother, Dafydd, fall to the executioners skill by being hanged, drawn and quartered.
Edwards's response to his disloyal subjects was to imprison Welsh royalty, melt down the crown jewels, destroy royal mausoleums and impose an English shire system. In 1284 Edward signed the Statute of Rhuddlan incorporating Wales into England. He introduced English common law and installed many English officials into the top of the Welsh hierarchy. He further punished them by restricting their civil rights and imposing higher taxation. Feeling abused by those placed authority to govern them more rebellions broke out in 1287 and 1291. From 1277-1304 Edward built 10 castles in Wales at a cost of 3-times the yearly royal revenue. His taxes were based on a percentage of moveable wealth (everything but land). In 1283 this was a 30th but by 1290 it had doubled to a 15th.
Wars were expensive but money alone did not win the battles. Men were needed and the English king forced levies for service in his war with France by ordering compulsory enlistment. While waiting in Portsmouth for a favorable wind to set sail for the continent he received word of troubles in Wales. On Sept 30, 1294 Welsh soldiers mutinied at Shrewsbury killing officers and beginning the rebellion. English castles and strongholds fell to the rebels but Edward was able to redirect the forces he had gathered for Gascony to Worcester in early October. Edward "Longshanks" split his forces into two and led a group of 50 knights and 5,000 infantry himself. From Chester he rode 15 miles south to Wrexham on December 5th and then turned westward toward the first Welsh lands of the upper Clwyd. The leadership of the uprising fell to Madog ap Llywelyn, a junior member of the House of Aberffraw who had estates in Anglesey. Madog was born in England to the exiled Llywelyn ap Maredudd . He had held the favor and support of King Edward I during his attempts to regain the family's lands in Wales. Upon Llywelyn ap Gruffudds death in 1282 he received lands in Anglesey from the English king. Once he rebelled Madog declared himself "Prince of Wales" and took other royal titles in his bid to become the lawful successor.
Madog's forces swept through north and central Wales capturing Castell y Bere and Dinas Bran as well as castles at Carnarvon, Cardigan, Denbigh, Hawarden, Ruthin, Morlais and Kenfig. Others suffered the sacking of towns and the sieges of their fortresses such as Aberystwyth, Builth, Criccieth, Harlech and Conwy. In the south the uprising gained support with Cynan ap Maredudd, Maelgyn ap Rhys and Morgan ap Maredudd taking up the cause. On Christmas Eve the King was reunited with the Baron of Ruthin Castle, Reginald de Grey and his contingent of 74 knights and 11,000 infantry at Conwy. Leaving the main body of his army on the other side of the river Conwy on Jan. 6th he took an advance guard on a raiding mission. First to Bangor, then down the northwest coast of Snowdonia into the Lleyn Peninsula to assault the important trading town of Nefyn on Jan 12th.
The English King was possibly ambushed on his return trip and most certainly put under siege once they arrived at Conwy Castle. Edward was cut off from his main force as they were held back by the flooded river. Once the waters subsided the castle was relieved. Conwy had been one of the castles begun before the second revolt of 1284. It was one of the strategically placed fortresses in Edwards "Iron Ring" to subdue the population. Started in 1283 by master mason James of St. George d'Esperanche it took 6 years to complete. 1500 laborers and stonecutters built the 1400 yards of walls, 21 towers, 8 massive towers and 3 double tower gateways for the sum equivalent to $20 million in today's currency.
The great castle would have been an impressive and imposing sight once completed and covered in a white plaster. It was a glimmering beacon for miles around reminding the Welsh of their social and political inferiority. The walled towns were for English settlers only. As in previous wars Edward's advance on the mountainous region of Snowdonia stalled and he wintered at Conwy. Taking to the offensive Madog decided to lead his army eastward to threaten Shrewsbury in late Feb. or early March. Having heard of these plans William de Beauchamp, 9th Earl of Warwick, hurried from Oswestry 25 miles south to Montgomery with 120 knights and 2500 foot soldiers on March 4th. With his army surrounded Madog formed his men into a schiltron (or "porcupine") to defend against heavy cavalry. The defensive tactic had pikemen in a circular position with their spears pointed out and the butts dug into the ground. The first charge came on the 5th and favored the rebels with 10 English knights falling. Beauchamp repositioned his archers and crossbowmen to higher ground and then concentrate on the "sitting ducks" below. With the Welsh broken by the rain of arrows the royalists routed with their second assault. 700 welsh were killed with only an additional 90 of the Kings men lost. Those who could, fought their way out and retreated across the river Banwy where many drowned. The Welsh prince was lucky enough to make good on his escape but the backbone of the rebellion had been lost. Five months later he would surrender to John de Havering, Governor of Caernarvon Castle, at Snowdonia. For some reason he didn't meet the fate of past Celt princes and Edward spared his life.
Smaller battles and skirmishes bled the Welsh of their spirit and manpower and on April 15th Edward occupied Anglesey. After four weeks (and the beginning of construction at Beaumaris Castle) Edward began his return to England via Dolgelley, Conwy and Caernarvon. He arrived at Westminster on August 4th.
Our painting shows Sir William as he may have looked during one of the many battles or skirmishes during this war of 1294-1295. A true knight in the service of the man he swore to defend and honor. At the foot of Sir William is his helmet or Great Helm as it was called. The headgear was used primarily from 1250-1540. It completely covered the head and had only small openings for the eyes and mouth. The helm evolved from the headgear of the Norman forbearer William the Conquerors' conical style helmet with nasal (nose guard). Sir Williams's effigy shows just such a style piece.
With the Helm obscuring the face of the wearer for protective purposes there was a need for other means of identification. They were painted to match shields and became an early form of heraldry. It showed your status to opposing soldiers in the hope that you might be captured and ransomed rather than killed utright if the battle didn't go in your favor. Another outgrowth of the need for identification is the crest (decorative top piece of the helm). Crests could be made of wood, leather or plaster/gesso. Sir William's shows a ram's head which symbolizes authority. The helm was not only a fancy way of telling who was who but also an intricate part of keeping the knight alive. Wounds to the head carried far more grave consequences than to other parts of the body. Medieval medical experts had little ability against head injuries. It was however heavy and relatively hampered their mobility. Not to mention the discomfort of wearing it.
To show Sir Williams face Churms placed his helm on the ground, perhaps knocked off during the heat of battle. He has a close fitting steel skull cap known as a cervelliere covered by a maille coif still in place. Sir Williams's surcoat flowed from neck to knee. It was a common outer garment in the middle ages used to help reflect the suns heat from the maille. Frequently they were emblazoned with the knights "arms" hence being known as his "coat of arms". Sir William is wearing an overcoat of maille (the word chainmail was not used in the Middle Ages) for protection. Known as a hauberk it provided protection from cuts and stabbing. The suit had from 10,000 to 250,000 tiny metal ringlets depending on the wealth of the wearer. The latter amount would deny a pin from penetrating to the flesh. It was used effectively to defend against slashing blows by an edged weapon and from penetration by thrusting and piercing weapons. Its flexibility meant that a blow could injure the wearer potentially causing bruising or even broken bones but not puncture. This is very important since surgeons of the times were much more apt to save a wounded knight from a broken bone than any kind of cut. The disadvantage is that it's heavy (upwards of 50 lbs) and most of the weight is concentrated on a few points causing fatigue. Impact weapons were more effective against it such as maces, hammers and axes.
Sir Williams's longsword is still sheathed in his scabbard. The deadly weapon could be used for hewing, slicing and stabbing. Its blade was about 35 inches and an overall length of 45. Its weight was about 3 pounds. The powerful tool was prized for its versatility and killing capabilities in close combat. All of its parts, including the pommel and crossguard, could be used as a weapon. The grip was known as a "hand and a half" which could be wielded by one or two hands. In later years the greatsword would be introduced that required two hands to control.
In this battle Sir William has chosen to fight with a single headed battle axe. It was effective in close combat or could be hurled at an opponent. A blow from the axe could apply tremendous force and was used primarily to remove limbs in one stroke. At his disposal he may have also had a dagger, mace, war hammer and lance. Sir William's shield is of the heater variety. The heater evolved from the larger kite style around 1250. It was a better, more versatile shield that could be used on horse or afoot. Usually made of wood with a leather overlay the heater could also be used as a bludgeoning weapon itself. Since the great helm's visor covered the knight's face the shield was also used to help identify him on the field of battle. The knight's heraldic design decorated the face of the shield and provided another form of recognition. Sir William's colors were argent (white, meaning peace and sincerity) and azure (blue, loyalty and truth). The charges (symbols) were 3 lozenges, 2 over 1, which stood for honesty and constancy, plus noble birth.
Churms has done approximately 1000 total paintings to date with 200 having a military theme. Of that 9 or 10 have been of the late 13th / early 14th century medieval time period. Besides the Sir William piece Churms is currently working on a painting of Stonewall Jackson at the Battle of Chancellorsville, and has other Civil war scenes displayed at Ellwood Manor where Jackson's amputated arm is buried. He has completed, or is working on, 9 total commissioned pieces for the National Park Service. Seven Civil War scenes for the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park and two for the George Washington Memorial Parkway displaying the WW II POW camp at Fort Hunt, Alexandria. He is also working on WW II soldiers and military aviation. Most military collectors and enthusiasts agree that Mark Churms is one of the worlds best historical artists alive today.
My original Mark Churms painting of Sir William de Baguley will find a place of honor in my home. I wish I could say that he was a gallant, chivalrous knight who defended the weak and poor but in all honesty, who knows? But, until someone proves otherwise, in my eyes he's the Bigelow version of Sir Lancelot.
SIR WILLIAM DE BAGULEY, England or Wales circa 1295, AD.
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