Ankarette Tayhno is Innocent!

twelfth of April, 1477, Ankarette Taynho - previously a respectable widow - was arrested and taken from her home in Frome. Three days later, she was charged with poisoning the Duchess of Clarence, and was hung from the public gallows, pitiably protesting her innocence.

Of course she was innocent. To begin with, those who arrested her had no authority to do so - she was picked up by no fewer than one hundred of the private retainers of the Duke of Clarence (whose wife had been the supposed victim).

Of course she was innocent. Clarence wasn't remotely interested in her at all. She was chosen because she was the servant of his sister-in-law, Elizabeth. Clarence actually wanted to accuse Elizabeth directly (and on occasions did so), but daren't do so because Elizabeth's husband (and Clarence's brother) was King of England - Edward IV.

Of course she was innocent. There was little or no evidence that the Duchess had been poisoned at all - and none that Elizabeth (much less Ankarette) had committed any such crime. For Clarence wasn't directly interested in Elizabeth either. The whole thing was intended as an oblique challenge to the power of his brother, the King.

1477 falls within that period of English history generally known as the Wars of the Roses (1453-1485), where the great houses of York and Lancaster struggled for control of the kingdom.

The family emblem of the House of Lancaster was a red rose, that of the House of York a white rose - hence "The Wars of the Roses". In fact, the last Lancastrian challenge had been defeated in 1461 - so the Yorkists started on each other.
Since 1485 (only eight years after the terrible death of Ankarette Taynho), the emblem of England has had alternate red and white petals - botanically unlikely, but symbolically meaningful.
This was a bewildering time. The Hundred Years War (with, and in, France) had just finished in 1453. That hundred years had seen successive Kings use foreign exploits as a way of occupying the violent and greedy nobility who would otherwise be after the top job.

With the end of regular hostilities, thousands of men who knew little else but violence returned to England, smarting and impoverished by defeat. Rather than concentrating their efforts on rebuilding their fortunes by hard work, they turned on each other.

The most powerful families gathered private armies around them, and used them. There was nothing new about that, of course. But England in the fifteen century had become a much more complex society than before. The merchant class was growing in wealth and importance, and industries (such as weaving) were shifting the focus of power away from the old ex-feudal estates. The complexity of government had grown to manage this changed environment. The days when England could be governed by a king with half a dozen advisors was long gone. The rudiments of a civil service was now in place. Parliament was still a long way from democracy, but it was a force in the land.

This meant that any of these great families who wanted to control the kingdom had to control all (or most) of the arms of government. For most of this period, no-one was up to the job.

Edward IV managed to hold the crown for over twenty years, but it was a constant struggle. He spent most of his time trying to curb the power of the great nobles - many of whom had as good a claim on the throne as he had. These nobles, including the Duke of Clarence, perceived these attempts to curb their power as affronts to their rights (to do whatever they liked).

In the end, Clarence just couldn't control himself. He got away with his callous treatment of Ankarette, but he kept on pushing - against the Queen, against the King - launching ever more blatent insults and challenges toward his brother's position. Finally, he resorted to an abortive attempt at force, and Edward was forced to punish his unruly brother.

As a last attempt at family favouritism, Edward granted Clarence a choice of deaths. Clarence chose to be drowned in a butt of malmsey wine.

Of course Ankarette Taynho was innocent.

Selwood Selwood Forest *A Very Nice Town Frome
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