Tuesday, 26 October 2021

William and John: Part 5) Robin Hood

 “Robin Hood and his Merry Men Entertaining Richard the Lionheart” by Daniel Maclise (1806-1870). This painting was always on display at Nottingham Castle in my time there.

When I worked at Nottingham Castle the last weekend in October was the annual Robin Hood Pageant. The grounds were filled with craftsmen, re-enactors and jousting contests. Sadly, the last pageant at the castle was in 2018. To remind me of those happy days I’ll continue telling the lives of Sir John Clanvowe and Sir William Neville. In the previous article Sir William had been appointed Constable of Nottingham Castle.

You can’t think about Nottingham Castle without thinking of Robin Hood. I believe Sir John Clanvowe wrote the ballad “The Geste of Robyn Hode”, printed posthumously between 1493 and 1534 (“geste” means “adventure”). It contains a remarkable amount of similarities to people, places and events in the lives of Sir John, Sir William, and William's wife Elizabeth le Waleys.

I wrote a small e-book called “Robin Hood – Out of the Greenwood: His Gay Origins Revealed” in which I go into much more detail about my theory. You can purchase it from Amazon here. There is only room for a very brief explanation of my theory on this blog.

The earliest reference to Robin Hood as a subject of ballads is in "Piers Plowman, a poem written around 1377. One line says: “But I know rhymes of Robin Hood and Randolf, Earl of Chester", indicating that “rhymes”, or ballads, about Robin Hood were well known. Unfortunately no-one wrote those ballads down, meaning everything we know about Robin Hood the outlaw hero was written after 1377. Before then, many legal documents record Robin’s as a common alias adopted by criminals. "Piers Plowman" is the first time Robin is associated to ballads.

The other man mentioned with Robin in "Piers Plowman" was a real person, Randolf de Blundeville, 6th Earl of Chester (b.1170). By 1216 Randolf was the greatest magnate in all England and virtual ruler of Cheshire. He also appears in another ballad, probably written in 1260, named after another folk hero, "Fulke le Fitz Waryn". Its plot bears more than a passing resemblance to "The Geste of Robyn Hode”. The synopsis of both are interchangeable and goes like this -

The outlaw hero has a right-hand man called John who waylays travellers in a forest and brings them back to the camp for a meal with the hero. They pay for the meal with their valuables. One of the hero’s companions assumes a false identity in the presence of the hero’s archenemy. The disguised companion lures the archenemy into the forest where the hero kills him. The king hears about the outlaw hero and comes to deal with him in person. The king’s men injure one of the hero’s companions who begs to be killed. The hero seeks refuge with a friendly knight. The king can’t find anyone willing to help him find the hero, but eventually he finds and pardons the outlaw.

Historians are convinced that “The Geste of Robyn Hode” (which I’ll just refer to as “The Geste” from now on) has some influence on “Fulke le Fitz Warine”. The real Fulk FitzWarin was a popular folk hero in the county where Sir John Clanvowe was born and raised. I believe he based “The Geste” on “Fulke le Fitz Waryn” and moved the action from his home county to Nottinghamshire.

Elizabeth le Waleys, the wife of Sir John’s partner Sir William Neville, (explained here) was step-niece to King Robert the Bruce of Scotland whose ancestor Prince David of Scotland was married to the sister of Randolf, Earl of Chester.

The few surviving ballads about Robin Hood date from the 1400s. Scholars of language and grammar use in “The Geste” suggest it was originally written before 1400. The same grammar is used in "Piers Plowman" and Sir John Clanvowe’s own poem "The Boke of Cupide" throughout, suggesting it was written in their lifetime. The language in "The Geste” is also consistent with Sir John's Lollard writing (explained here) - another clue linking Sir John to “The Geste”.

"The Geste" is composed of four interwoven plotlines. The first and last are set in Barnsdale Forest, Yorkshire. The plotlines in the middle takes place in a forest in Nottinghamshire. Sherwood is never mentioned, it is only implied by us today because it is the only forest in Nottinghamshire. A manuscript from around 1410 contains the line "Robin Hood in Sherwood stood." However, another document of 1429 says "Robin Hood in Barnsdale stood”. Both are used in a similar fashion to someone today saying “Is the Pope Catholic?” meaning something is blatantly obvious. This suggests the locations were interchangeable. There’s much rivalry today between Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire over which county Robin Hood comes from. The answer is, both. The forests were a short distance from each other, and the main road from London to York runs through both.

The author of “The Geste” shows a geographical knowledge of specific locations in both areas. Sir William Neville’s wife Elizabeth owned several manors in Barnsdale, and William himself was Constable of Nottingham Castle. Sir John Clanvowe would have known both areas well, and my theory is that he used this knowledge of both areas to write “The Geste”.

It’s difficult to imagine Robin Hood without King Richard the Lionheart and his brother, the evil Prince John. One read of "The Geste" and you are struck by the absence of both. The only king mentioned is Edward. Before 1400 there were only three kings called Edward – a father, son, and grandson - who reigned beween 1272 and 1377. But which King Edward is featured in “The Geste”?

Edward II was the most frequent to visit Nottingham and is the most widely accepted candidate by modern historians. One visit of note was in 1323-4 when he came in pursuit of outlaws whom he later pardons, as King Edward does in “The Geste”. One of those pardoned was Sir Richard le Waleys, Elizabeth le Waleys’ grandfather.

One interesting fact is the presence of a real man named Robin Hood in documents relating to this visit. Robin is one of Edward's porters, but about six months later he leaves the king's service. In "The Geste" Robin Hood joins the king's service after being pardoned and leaves a year later. Was this Robin Hood the man who was turned into an outlaw hero by ballad writers, and was the man whose “rhymes” became widely known by the time “Piers Plowman” was written in around 1377?

This is just an outline of some of my research. Historians of medieval literature agree that “The Geste” was written by a competent author, someone writing in the late 1300s whose work was considered worthy of saving and printing in the 1490s. None of the known English writers or poets of the late 1300s can be connected to “The Geste” in as many different ways as Sir John Clanvowe, either directly or through his partner Sir William Neville and William’s wife Elizabeth.

In the next part of “William and John“, published some time next year, I’ll continue to look at the Robin Hood connection and some of the famous characters in “The Geste” and reveal more family ties to Sir John, Sir William and Elizabeth, including Little John and the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Friday, 1 October 2021

October Birthdays

Welcome to the first of my lists of monthly birthdays. Every day of every month sees the anniversary of the birth of many lgbt people. In this series I list one person for each date. Those listed represent the widest range possible – nationality, ethnicity, occupation, gender identity, sexuality and era.

These birthdays come from my personal spreadsheets containing names and information of almost 25,000 lgbt people whose identities have been made public in the media or online.

Do you share your birthday with someone famous – or infamous? If you’re not happy sharing a birthday with someone infamous, don’t worry. Next year’s list will have a different set of names.
























































The list of November birthdays will appear on November 1st.

Saturday, 11 September 2021

Pause for 9/11

Most of us who were born before 2000 will remember what they were doing and where they were on 11th September 2001, 20 years ago today. I was at work, stationed in the main art gallery on the top floor of Nottingham Castle. It was time for my afternoon break but my colleague who was to take over from me for 20 minutes was 5 minutes late. I wasn’t too worried. Then he was 10 minutes late, and I was wondering where he was. Then he was 15 minutes late, and I radioed down to the office to ask where he was. At which point he arrived and told me that he had been watching the television in the staff room. Two planes had crashed into the World Trade Centre, he said. It didn’t sink in for a minute or two until I got to the staff room and saw for myself the tragedy unfolding on television.

There was a sombre feeling in the air for the rest of the day. About an hour later one of my ex-partners (let’s call him Sam) came to visit me in the gallery. He has just come off duty as a nurse and had been effected by the news, which was made more personal for him as only a month beforehand he and his then partner were standing on the top of the World Trade Centre. For reasons which don’t concern us, he and his partner had split up since then and Sam was feeling vulnerable. He asked me to keep him company that evening. I agreed and we couldn’t help but watch what was going on in New York for the rest of the night.

Many commemorative events are taking place around the world. There are too many names of those who lost their lives for us to remember individually. Many have family and friends to remember them, but some may not. The lgbt community lost just a tiny group of people compared to the full list of casualties. Below is a list of those known to us.

I list their names alone in alphabetical order of surname. Just by reading down the list you are contributing to the global commemoration and helping to keep their names alive, whether they are remembered by their loved ones or by no-one other than yourself.

Renee Barrett

Graham Berkeley

Mark Bingham

Pamela Boyce

David Charlebois

Eugene Clark

Jeffrey Collman

Luke Dudek

James Joe Ferguson

Carol Flyzik

Ronald Gamboa and his partner Dan Brandhorst

Sheila Hein

Mychal Judge

William Anthony Karnes

John Keohane

Andrew LaCorte

Michael Lepore

Patricia McAneney

Wesley Mercer

“Roxy Eddie” Ognibene

Seamus O’Neal

Catherine Smith

Waleska Martinez

and two people who are known to us by their first name only,

Eddie

Joshua

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Going Part-time

I’ve been saying this for a long time, but I need to slow down. The time has come to put my words into action.

When I began this blog way back in 2011 I didn’t know what reaction I’d get. Ten years later, and exactly a week after my 10th anniversary, the blog passed half a million page views. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate people’s interest in what I write, even if they stumble on my blog by accident and never return.

For several years my intention was to stop writing when I reached my 10th anniversary. It would also be when I’ve reached an age when I can start thinking about early retirement. Reaching half a million page views is another reason why I’ve thought about it again – the 10th anniversary, half a million page views, entering my 60s. It seems an appropriate time to step back.

This has always been a hobby. I’ve never asked for money from readers and I don’t accept adverts (I’ve lost count of the ads that crop up masquerading as comments that I’ve deleted). So I’ve never made a living out of this, not even from my Olympic research which has been very popular from the start.

History should also be freely accessible without censorship (I leave that sort of manipulation of facts to politically left and right activists).

There has always been something in lgbt history that catches my eye when researching, and there’s so much more to find. With that in mind I want to reassure regular “fans” that I’ll still keep researching and writing – but not as often.

To ensure that at least one article appears each month, a list of birthdays will (hopefully) appear on the first day of each month or the last day of the previous month.

Fans of my annual Heraldic Alphabet, and I know there are many out there from the reaction I’ve received on social media, can expect another edition in June 2022.

The planned articles that will appear for the rest of this year are listed below. It is unlikely that this schedule will change.

11th September – 9/11 20th anniversary in memoriam.

1st October – list of October birthdays.

26th October – William and John: Part 5) Robin Hood.

1st November – list of November birthdays.

28th November – Advent 1: The first of my annual Christmas articles with an lgbt theme.

1st December – list of December birthdays.

5th December – Advent 2.

12th December – Advent 3.

19th December – Advent 4.

1st January 2022 – list of January birthdays.

A provisional list of proposed article for 2022 will appear at the beginning of January.

Thinking well ahead to 2023 I have begun research for a new series of “Around the World in 80 Gays”. The individual who will start and finish this circle of 80 connected lgbt people through time and location has already been chosen – the Roman Emperor Hadrian.

Once again, thank you for showing an interest in my blog. I hope you return to check out the new articles when they are published.

Tuesday, 24 August 2021

William and John: Part 4) Nottingham

Nottingham Castle gatehouse, part of the medieval castle that survives.

Nottingham Castle reopened to the public last month after a £30 million pound make-over (of the parts not protected by law). As regular readers may recall, I worked there for seven years as a gallery assistant and tour guide (winning the Best Guided Tour in the UK award in 2003 by “Good Britain Guide”).

2021 is an anniversary year for Nottingham Castle, because 640 years ago Sir William Neville was appointed Constable of Nottingham Castle. In the previous chapter I described how he and his partner Sir John Clanvowe acquired positions at the court of King Richard II. Today I’ll explore their connection to Nottingham.

Sir William’s first appointment which brought him to Nottingham was as Justice of the Forest North of the Trent in May 1381. The office, one of two English Justices of the Forest (the other being South of the Trent) were the chief magistrates of forest law. Sir William's appointment covered the forests of Sherwood in Nottinghamshire, and Knaresborough and Inglewood Forests in Yorkshire.

The medieval idea of a forest is different to ours today. A forest was not just trees, as you imagine Sherwood Forest to be. The word derives from the Latin for “outside”, so a forest included open fields, meadows, rivers, villages, and occasionally a small town. What united them was that the area covered by forest law, where the king had sole rights of hunting, hence they are called royal forests.

Being Justice of the Forest meant you only had to carry out your duties once every three years, but the actual performance of these duties would take many months as the Justice was required to sit and judge the accumulated violations of forest law and review the forest’s administration. If anyone poached deer or took wood for fire without permission within a royal forest, the Justice presided over their case. In modern versions of Robin Hood it is often the Sheriff of Nottingham who arrests and presides over the court in Sherwood Forest, but in real life he had no authority there. He couldn’t arrest Robin Hood for any law he broke in Sherwood Forest. That was the job of the Foresters. In 1387 Sir William Neville resigned from this appointment.

Often accompanying the office of Justice of the Forest North of the Trent was the constableship of Nottingham Castle. Unlike the Justice, this was a full-time position. Sir William Neville was appointed as Constable in November 1381. Nottingham was a royal castle and his appointment was a further sign of the king's favour, and William was appointed for life. Sir William would travel between Nottingham and his Yorkshire estates all the time.

But what is a constable? Basically, it’s the general manager of a castle. He kept the castle running when the king wasn’t in residence, and ensured that everything the king wanted when he was in residence was available. As a royal residence Nottingham Castle was visited by King Richard II every year that Sir William was Constable.

One of the most well-known events of King Richard's reign was the Peasant's Revolt of June 1381. Neither Sir William nor his partner Sir John Clanvowe had any real part in it. The revolt was partly a response to the changing social make-up after the Black Death, and partly due to growing support for Lollardy, an early form of Protestantism. There was also a political move against the king who was giving too much importance to his friends and advisers. By 1385 a political group called the Lords Appellant had been formed which openly criticised the king.

Through the influence of the Lords Appellant the parliament of 1386 took away the powers of the 19-year-old King Richard and put them into the hands of commissioners. Richard retaliated by going on a journey around the country to gather support against the commission. At Nottingham Castle in August 1387 he gathered his supporters at a Great Council. A group of judges pronounced the Lords Appellant commission as treasonable.

The king made an error of judgement in thinking that the supporters who gathered at Nottingham Castle were powerful enough to defeat the Lords Appellant, who issued a reciprocal accusation of treason against members of the court, including Archbishop Alexander Neville, the younger brother of Sir William Neville. Sir William had neither the political power nor resources to openly support his brother against the charge. Sir William Neville was wise to not openly declare his own views, which would be to his advantage. As constable of a royal residence he was required to support the king, but he was perhaps remembering the earlier crisis surrounding the impeachment of his brother Lord Neville for the failure of the military campaign in northern France in 1376.

The king reluctantly agreed to arrest the named traitors and bring them to trial at the so-called "Merciless Parliament" in February 1388. Archbishop Neville was found guilty of treason. Only his position as a clergyman protected him from execution. He ended his days in exile as a parish priest in France.

Several courtiers who weren’t charged with treason were, however, banished from court. Sir John Clanvowe was one of them. He disappears from court records for a while, perhaps returning to estates in Herefordshire and Wales. Sir William, however, earned the trust of the victorious Lords Appellant. They awarded him an annuity out of the forfeited estates of the traitors.

The power of the Lords Appellant lasted less than two years. After Richard II regained his personal rule on reaching 21 years of age, Sir John Clanvowe and Sir William Neville were again regular attendees at court, and for a few brief years Richard was secure on his throne.

Earlier I mentioned Lollardy as being a cause of the Peasants Revolt. Both Sir William Neville and Sir John Clanvowe were prominent Lollard supporters, members of a small group of courtiers called the Lollard Knights. I wrote about this several years ago, so I’ll direct you over to those articles where you can read more.

While visiting his royal residence in Nottingham King Richard II would have been entertained with lavish banquets, jousts and entertainment. Sir John Clanvowe was a poet and it is my belief that on one occasion he produced a new ballad to be recited in front of the king and the court at one of those banquets. It featured a well-known character in a new setting, not unlike modern reboots of films and television series. Sir John used personal knowledge and the family backgrounds of himself, Sir William Neville, and the king to give local interest to his ballad. That well-known character was Robin Hood. Most of what is familiar to us about this legendary outlaw comes from the ballad I believe was written by Sir John Clanvowe, and I’ll explain more about it in the next chapter of the lives of Sir William and Sir John.

However, you’ll have to wait a while for that. I’ll explain why in a couple of weeks, but look out for 26th October, Robin Hood Day, when his connection to Sir John Clanvowe and Sir William Neville will be explained.

Wednesday, 18 August 2021

Tokyo Review

I’m exhausted! Even though most of the action at the Tokyo Olympics took place outside my working hours it was difficult keeping up with all 180+ athletes. I will definitely be taking time off work during Paris 2024.

Let’s look back at Tokyo 2020. The bidding process for the 2020 Olympics began in May 2011. The final candidate cities were Tokyo, Baku, Doha, and Madrid. Each bid had its own logo. Madrid’s logo caused a bit of controversy. The illustration below helps to explain. Top left is the winner of the logo competition. Top right is what the Madrid bid committee did to it. Below them is promotional material for two Italian gay dolls called Gayskelly and Spaggaytti. In the top left corner of the advert you’ll see their logo. You won’t be surprised to learn that critics of the Madrid bid logo accused the committee of plagiarism. The dolls are no longer produced.

As we know, Tokyo won the 2020 Olympics. In February 2017 the Tokyo Organising Committee held its first Open Day to show National Olympic Committees (NOCs) how preparations were progressing. Among the delegates was Luke Pellegrini, Head of Games Operations and Sports Services with the Australian Olympic Committee. In this role he ensures that all the Australian athletes (including its 13 lgbt Tokyo athletes) received adequate support before and during the games. He was listed among the Outstanding 50 LGBTI Leaders of 2018 by Deloitte and Google Australia.

Currently, the only other known openly lgbt member of an NOC is Fumino Sugiyama, a former fencing champion, who was elected to the Japanese Olympic Committee in June.

2020 was the 10th anniversary of Pride House, a place where lgbt athletes, friends and allies could meet. The first official Pride House was set up for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Tokyo’s Pride House was announced in April 2017.

Just as the athletes were entering their final stages of training the covid pandemic struck. For the first time in the modern era the Olympics were postponed. For some athletes this was a hindrance, but for others it was a blessing, as they would probably not have qualified had the games been held in 2020.

There were several lgbt coaches who trained Tokyo 2020 athletes during the qualification period. These included Alyson Annan-Thate (head coach, women’s hockey, Netherlands), Cheryl Reeve (assistant coach, softball, USA), Pia Sundhage (head coach, women’s football, Brazil), and Denis Vachon (coach to Canadian gymnast Brooklin Moors).

The IOC appointed several lgbt officials and judges. Among them were Craig Hunter (swimming and water polo judge) and Jon Napier (Technical Delegate, sailing competition, mainly responsible in resolving registered protests). Deputy Sport Manager for the badminton competition was Bambang Roedyanto, Gay Games badminton champion (men’s doubles 1994).

There was also the first transgender judge. Kimberly Daniels was a judge in the canoe slalom, in which her daughter Haley competed.

Staying with transgender issues, the inclusion of Laurel Hubbard on New Zealand’s weightlifting team drew the same criticism she received in previous competitions. Credit should be given to the IOC for taking the decision to accept her inclusion. In the women’s football competition Canada’s team included the self-identified transgender player Quinn.

At last, on 23rd August 2021 the Tokyo 2020 Olympics began. The muted opening ceremony contained little lgbt content apart from the flag bearers mentioned several weeks ago. Former Olympic rowing champion Marnie McBean was the Chef de Mission (the head of an Olympic delegation) of Team Canada, the only nation known to have had an openly lgbt Chef de Mission. Marnie is their second following Mark Tewkesbury in London 2012 (Craig Hunter, above, was Chef de Mission of Team GB at the London 2012 Paralympics).

Team Out (our lgbt athletes) was bigger than most national teams. It would take too long to chronicle every day and result, so I suggest you hop over to Outsports which reported on all the best action.

Francine Niyonsaba, the Burundi sprinter, was one of several athletes who were subject to gender regulations from the IOC and World Athletics. Her inclusion in my list is based on official announcements of her being on the intersex spectrum. Other athletes were affected by the regulations. I won’t place them on the full list until I have verified the precise nature of their Disorder of Sexual Development (as it is called in official circles).

The first member of Team Out was Kaia Parnaby in the Australian softball team on 21st July. Their competition was one of several which began before the opening ceremony.

The lgbt medal was won by French judoka Amandine Buchard on 25th July. As stated last week Amandine topped the lgbt Tokyo medal table by winning one gold and one silver. In doing so she leapt straight in to equal 36th place on the all-time summer medal table.

The last lgbt medal was won by Alexandra Lacrabere and Amandine Leynaud, members of the French handball team who won the gold medal on the final day. They were the last lgbt athletes to finish competing. How appropriate that French athletes would be first and last to win medals in Tokyo. Perhaps it’s a good omen for the next Olympics in Paris 2024. By becoming handball champion Lacrabere joins Buchard in equal 36th place. Leynaud was making her debut and only (!) has a gold medal. Three members of New Zealand’s rugby sevens team also jumped up to equal 36th by winning the gold medal to add to the silver they won in Rio 2016.

On the final day Team Out finished in 7th place in the final Olympic medal table. Once we started winning medals we jostled with Team France in the medal table, and only the presence of the above mentioned members of the winning handball team put us higher. (Update: several lgbt athletes have become know to us since then, though their results keep us in 7th place).

The highest climber in the medal table among the experienced Olympians was Brazilian swimmer Ana Marcela Cunha who, by wining the gold medal in the marathon swim, leapt up 142 places to joint 21st position.

Only four members of Team Out managed to hang on to their position in the medal table due to their results ensuring that newcomers in the table above them didn’t push them down. These athletes were British dressage rider Carl Hester (31st place), and Australian footballers Chloe Logarzo, Sam Kerr and Tameka Yallop (equal 244th place). Incidentally, the full summer medal table (up to 8th place finishers) has 478 places.

The closing ceremony had two lgbt flag bearers – Nesthy Petecio (Philippines, boxing silver medallist) and Francine Niyonsaba (Burundi sprinter). Nesthy was just one of quite a few athletes who publicly thanked their same-sex partner for support.

So, that wraps up this rather lengthy “brief” review of Tokyo 2020. It has been a record-breaking Olympics, both in terms of the size of Team Out and in the overall positive support from the Tokyo organising committee. This is surely a turning point in lgbt sport.

Attention returns to Japan next week with the Paralympics. As I have said several times recently I have stopped research into lgbt Paralympians because of the volume of Olympic research there is to do. I will return to the Olympics in just a few months for the winter games of Beijing 2022.



Thursday, 12 August 2021

Olympic Record Breakers

What a record-breaking Olympic Games! Who would have thought that Tokyo 2020 would see such an increase in lgbt visibility in competitive sport on a global scale. Japan has surprised me in showing such open support for the community. Yes, there have been critics and phobes, but that is the price of free thought. Without opposition there is no discussion or progress, and the Tokyo Olympics may have pushed the debate about transgender and gender variance ahead quicker than it would have done without it. The London 2012 Paralympics was a turning point in the general attitudes to athletes with disabilities in sport. They were seen as athletes, not as people with disabilities who do sport. Tokyo 2020 may have the same effect on gender identity in sport. Only time will tell if that is a good thing for sport or not.

Waffle over, let’s get on with the new lgbt Olympian list. This list only covers the summer Olympics (including Youth Olympics). Previous lists were fairly uniform, but this year I have included colour coding and more symbols to cut down on text. Since I completed this list at the beginning of this week another Olympian can be added, Argentine hockey player Sofía Maccari. She will appear on future lists. So, here is the link to the new list.

Summer Olympians

There are many other athletes who have been suggested for inclusion. As Cyd Zeigler said in this Outsports article, being told someone is lgbt is just hearsay, unless it comes from the actual athlete. Research into Olympians who have passed away is often difficult if they left no recorded confirmation, one way or the other, of their sexual identity or orientation. Several of the earliest lgbt Olympians are listed on probability based on secondary evidence. In this article I gave the reasons for excluding two Olympians from my list. There are another two names I am currently researching who would be the earliest known lgbt Olympians (both from 1908) if their orientation can be adequately determined.

Looking at the size of the list I think the time is right for a complete change. The number of athletes competing for Team Out (my name for the whole lgbt contingent) has amazed everyone. The list I compiled with my friends at Outsports just kept growing, and dozens of athletes asked to be added to the list. In fact, with over 180 members Team Out was bigger than most of the national teams. This made it difficult for me to keep up to date with what each individual athlete was doing. I have a job which kept me away from any coverage for several hours each day. Catching up on what was going on, and keeping an eye on live events, took a lot of energy out of me. I am extremely pleased that I have decided not to continue with my Paralympic lists. After beginning my lists in 2012 I can relax and watch the Tokyo Paralympics as an ordinary viewer and cheer on my own nation.

Because of the sheer amount of statistics I need to analyse I won’t bring a full account of the games today. I’ll do that in a couple of weeks after I’ve viewed all of my recordings. But there are a few facts and figures I can bring you now.

I’ll start by being a bit parochial and mention the BBC’s coverage. This year the BBC was too mean to put up enough money to pay for full broadcasting rights to the games. They were only allowed to show two live events at any time. They have justifiably received a lot of criticism because of it. However, what coverage they did show was enough to keep me, as an lgbt historian, happy. Not only was 99 percent of the lgbt Olympians shown competing (the only athlete or sport I don’t recall ever being covered was Kayla Miracle in the wrestling), but a host of lgbt commentators and pundits were brought into the studio. The main coverage was fronted by Claire Balding, who has done this over several games and is regarded as the BBC’s “Face of the Olympics”. In the UK studio there was the usual parade of past Olympic greats to help commentate and analyse the sports. These included several on my list – Colin Jackson, Mark Foster, Kate Richardson-Walsh and Nicola Adams.

In the previous article about Tokyo I mentioned the flag bearers at the opening ceremony. Apparently, Yulima Rojas, the Venezuelan flag bearer, missed her flight to Tokyo and couldn’t make it in time. Her place was taken by someone else. This was such a last minute change that even the BBC didn’t notice and still named Yulima as the flag bearer, even going further by mentioning her lgbt activism. Even I didn’t notice until I watched it again.

Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi (USA, basketball) became the first lgbt Olympians to win gold medals in 5 successive games. By doing so they toppled Greg Louganis (USA, diving) and Jayna Hefford (Canada, ice hockey) off their joint third places on the all-time (summer and winter) medal table. There’s no change at the top. Swimmer Ian Thorpe remains at the head of the summer medal table, with speed skater Ireen Wüst topping him with more winter medals.

Tom Daley (GB, diving) and Amandine Buchard (France, judo) were the only athletes to win more than one medal in Tokyo. Amandine won a gold and silver, and Tom won a gold and bronze, making him the most decorated GB diver in history (added to his medals from previous games).

Tokyo saw the most athletes making their Olympics debut at one games – 103. This is higher (by more than 30) than previous games and a remarkable achievement. Incidentally, they were an additional 71 athletes who competed in Olympic qualifying events, national selection trials or Olympic qualification rankings who didn’t make it to Tokyo. Combined with those who did make it to Tokyo this is also a record number, over 250 known lgbt athletes chasing their Olympic dream since Rio 2016. This is mainly because of the trend in more athletes coming out at a younger age and during their early careers. All these records are likely to be broken in successive future games.

Finally, a personal note. I don’t often cheer out loud when I’m watching the Olympics, but there were several times when I did. Once was when Tom Daley won his gold medal, and the other times were during events in track and field on 1st August. First was when Yulima Rojas made her last amazing jump to clinch the triple jump gold medal and a world record. Added to this was the men’s high jump when the two athletes agreed to share the gold medal, and then the men’s 100 meters and the celebrations of the two Italians who had won gold in each event. I’ve watched it several times.

Because of the volume of information I have to go through I haven’t been able to complete some of the other non-Olympic articles I had planned for this week and next week. They will be appear in due course.

Next week I’ll bring you a proper analysis and review of Tokyo 2020 with an updated Tokyo medal list. We already know that Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi have jumped up to joint third place, but what about the others? Who has managed to maintain their position? Who has gone up in the table and who has gone down? And how many Olympic debutantes have made it into the top 20? You’ll find out next week.

Tuesday, 3 August 2021

Homohoax: The Non-Confession of a Long Distance Runner

[Homohoax: A hoax, prank, scam, confidence trick, deception or fraud committed by, targeted at, or attributed to the lgbt community]

Even as we marvel at the achievements of the Olympians let’s not forget that some athletes cheat. Russia has been the “bad boy” of sport for several years with its use of performance-enhancing drugs, but there have also been individuals who cheat in other ways.

In fact, the first case of cheating at the modern Olympics occurred at the very first one in Paris in 1896. A Greek marathon runner finished in third place, but he was disqualified after it was discovered that he had travelled most of the course in a horse and carriage (incidentally, he wasn’t stripped of his bronze medal because only first and second place received them in 1896). As we shall see, history will repeat itself.

One of the most famous sporting hoaxes occurred in the 1980 Boston Marathon, and to her dying day the lgbt runner responsible denied any wrong-doing.

On a hot, sunny morning on 21st April 1980 thousands of people lined the streets of Boston, Massachusetts, to watch one of the biggest marathons in the USA. There were 5,471 entrants – 5,015 male and 456 female. It was very much a standard marathon throughout, until the last mile.

Spectators and commentators were caught off-guard by the sight of the lead female runner, Rosie Ruiz. She seemed to be running a record race, and everyone cheered as she crossed the finish line in a time of 2 hours 31 minutes, 56 seconds. This was the fastest time for a woman at the Boston Marathon and the third fastest in the world at that time.

The media instantly hailed Ruiz as the new hero for female sport. But fellow runners were questioning her achievement. The two women who finished in second and third place had been told when they reached mile 17 that they were in the lead, and neither of them saw Rosie Ruiz pass them.

No other runner could remember seeing her until the last half mile, and with her bright yellow shirt she would have been noticeable. It was also noticed that after supposedly running a full marathon Ruiz was hardly sweating and her shirt was virtually dry. It was also not a regular running vest but a short-sleeved shirt. So it wasn’t long before people began to question her result.

In an after-race interview Ruiz didn’t seem to show any knowledge of standard marathon training techniques when asked how she trained. Ruiz claimed she had trained herself. Nobody believed her. No-one at any official check point remembered seeing her. These questions over her finish soon alerted race officials and an investigation was started.

As the rumours of Rosie Ruiz faking her marathon run grew some eye witnesses came forward who said they had seen her moving out of the crowd of spectators and begin running on the route. Film footage of the marathon, or as much of the route as was covered, was poured over to see if Ruiz and her distinctive shirt could be spotted. She was not.

While this was going on, organisers of the New York City Marathon began looking at their own race results. Ruiz had competed in their race in the previous October. Her finish time was what had qualified her for the Boston Marathon. Ruiz was asked after the Boston Marathon how she could have cut half an hour of her New York Marathon time. Again, she said she just trained. Everything about both marathons looked suspicious, so the New York organisers launched their own investigation.

Ruiz’s New York application was suspicious enough. She put in her application after the closing date and it was turned down. However, Ruiz claimed that she had a brain tumour and had two operations. Without asking for medical verification the organisers gave her a special dispensation to enter.

Several witnesses at the came forward who said Ruiz had also faked her New York marathon run. A photographer remembered travelling with her on the New York subway during the race. Ruiz claimed to have injured her ankle and was on her way to a medical station further along the route. On getting to the medical station Ruiz just joined the runners.

New York voided Ruiz’s 1979 marathon results and disqualified her on 25th April 1980. A couple of days later, Boston voided and disqualified Ruiz as well.

The controversy carried on over the following years. Rosie Ruiz continued to protest her innocence and expressed her intention to continue marathon running. It was obvious that no-one was going to believe in her innocence and after a year of two Ruiz seemed to disappear from public view.

The only time Rosie Ruiz’s name returned to the headlines were in references to her as the hoax marathon runner, though she only exacerbated her reputation when news appeared that she was arrested twice – once for embezzlement, and once for involvement in a cocaine deal.

Despite her widespread notoriety Rosie Ruiz managed to retreat into obscurity. It is known that she married Aicaro Vivas in 1984 and divorced in 1987. Nothing much else was known about her until 2019 when an obituary notice in Florida noted the death of one Rosie Vivas at the age of 66. Was this Rosie Ruiz? All the details in her obituary matched exactly those of Ruiz (except that there was no mention of any marathon running!). Journalists double-checked the details and confirmed that the Boston Marathon hoaxer had indeed died.

Rosie has been battling cancer for the previous ten years, no faking it his time. Her obituary mentioned her life partner Margarita Alvarez, who has expressed her lasting love for Rosie every year on the anniversary of her death. Rosie was also survived by three step-children.

No-one will ever know why Rosie Ruiz tried to hoax the world with two fake marathon runs. She wasn’t the first to do so, as the first modern Olympics has shown, and she won’t be the last, but because her hoaxes were uncovered in such a high profile race and manner it will be the only thing the world will remember her for.

Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Extraordinary Life: The Japanese Da Vinci - Part 1


Today the Japanese are celebrating something other then the Olympics. Today is the Midsummer Day of the Ox. On this day the Japanese celebrate the season by eating eels. I bet you thought that as it was the Day of the Ox that they’d be eating beef, but you’d be wrong. But there’s a simple explanation as to why eels are eaten, and legend says that that it’s all due to a gay inventor, engineer, writer, artist, ceramicist, pharmacist event organiser, marketing executive called Hiraga Gennai (1728-1780). It’s no surprise that some historians have labelled him the Japanese Leonardo da Vinci.

Hiraga Gennai’s life was so extraordinary, in some ways ahead of his time, that it needs two separate articles. Perhaps the most extraordinary fact about him is that he wrote books on farting! Today, however, I’ll concentrate on his early life, his rise to fame and his connection to the Midsummer Day of the Ox.

Let’s start, though, with the Day of the Ox. The day gets it name from its location in the Chinese calendar, which the Japanese used from the 6th century until 1873. Just like the Chinese New Year, the Midsummer Day of the Ox is not a fixed date and varies from year to year. The day was known to the Japanese for centuries, but how did eels become specifically associated with it?

There’s a traditional Japanese saying that says that if you eat eels on Midsummer Day of the Ox you won’t suffer from the heat, and it gets scorching hot in Japan at this time of year, as I’m sure we can tell by watching the Olympics.

The eels became important during the Edo Period (1603-1868). This is also called the Tokugawa Period because it was founded by the shoguns of the Tokugawa dynasty. This is a family that my most regular readers may remember from older articles. The fifth shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (1646-1709), was the subject of this article I wrote in 2019. I also mentioned his father here.

During the hot summers of Tokugawa Period Japan eels were not eaten very often. It wasn’t regarded as a summer food. Eel vendors were finding it difficult and unpredictable to sell all their eels, and the price varied according to demand. A couple of generations after the above-mentioned shogun there was one eel vendor who complained about not knowing from one day to the next if he’ll have to throw away most of his unsold produce.

It is fortunate that this vendor turned to Hiraga Gennai for advice. Hiraga came up with an effective marketing strategy. He told the vendor to put up a sign outside his shop saying “Midsummer Day of the Ox”. Of course, everyone knew what day it was, but Hiraga suggested to the vendor that he promote the eating of eels to keep cool during the summer heat. The idea worked, and the vendor sold all his eels. After that, all the other eel vendors followed suit, and it soon turned into an annual tradition.

That’s the legend. There’s no real evidence that it happened like that but it illustrates the influence of Hiraga Gennai in Japanese culture, particularly his reputation as a product marketer. To this day historians aren’t sure why this marketing plan worked. So, how great was Hiraga? Is his reputation as a Japanese Leonardo da Vinci justified? I’ll take a closer look at these questions next week, but for today let’s look at his early life.

Hiraga was born into a samurai family of the Yamashita clan. His father was a manager in the rice warehouse of the Takamatsu daimyo (or feudal lord) and young Hiraga showed an early interest in plants and herbs. He studied medicinal herbs at Osaka and was then employed as a sort of pharmacologist in the herb garden of his daimyo.

In 1749, at the age of 21, Hiraga succeeded his father as warehouse manager. He spent two years studying in Nagasaki, where he came into contact with European merchants, specifically the Dutch. On his return to the rice warehouse he resigned and relinquished his position of head of his household to his brother-in-law.

After travelling and studying around Japan he gained a reputation as an intelligent scholar and was called upon by his daimyo to perform several official duties. Once again, Hiraga resigned. He was no what you could call an independent spirit, a ronin, a samurai not attached to any feudal lordship. He was not able to serve any official duty. This gave him the freedom to continue studying and travelling. He gained more experience of Dutch culture and this influenced his future career which, in turn, influenced Japanese culture.

It is from this time that Hiraga Gennai turned into one of the most extraordinary men in 18th century Japan. This will be the focus of part 2 of this look at this Japanese da Vinci, which will appear sometime in the coming months.

Thursday, 22 July 2021

Tokyo: The Wait is Over

There’s going to be a lot of statistics in this article, so I apologise in advance if you get confused. The data is as correct as possible on Thursday 21st July 2021 at 7 a.m. GMT (UCT) +1.

With Cyd Ziegler of Outsports I have again compiled a list of openly lgbt athletes at the Olympics. Let’s call them Team Out. It’s a record number, and this is sure to increase as more athletes are identified. Check out the list here.

First, a comparison to the previous record-holding Olympics, the Rio 2016 games. Outsports published its first Rio list of 27 names on 11th July 2016. By the start of the games on 5th August it had 49, and at the end of the games it had 55. Since then, a lot of Rio athletes have come out and have been identified, so that today my complete list of lgbt Olympians who were at Rio is at 151.

Outsports’ first Tokyo 2020 list, published on 12th July, had 121 names, so records were being broken before the games started. Today, there are over 160 names.

There are over 90 Olympic newcomers, another record. Most newcomers are under 30 years old, all born during an era in which lgbt sport has been slowly gaining acceptance, though there is still a long way to go. Many young athletes are coming out during their college years rather than waiting until they’ve retired, as has often been the case in previous decades.

Let’s look to the returning Olympians and their previous performances. There are several ways of counting medals and places – by event or by individual athlete. For example, the official medal table counts team events as one medal, and doesn’t count each individual player in the team.

On the last day Rio 2016 a total of 25 individual members of Team Out (excluding those identified as lgbt after Rio) had won medals in 14 events (5 gold, 6 silver and 3 bronze). This placed them 17th in the final medal table. As of today, adding the athletes identified since Rio, Team Out is 8th, with 10 gold, 16 silver and 5 bronze medals in individual and team events (won by 59 athletes if you split team medals into individuals).

I’m going to make some predictions. There are 64 medal events in which members of Team Out are competing. I believe there will be at least 80 individual members of Team Out who will win a medal in 40 of those events. Predicting Team Out’s place on the final medal table (counting events, not individuals) I think it is probable that they will be ever higher than Rio’s 8th position.

Below are medal and placings tables for the returning Olympians. It shows how many medals they have won as individuals. It should not be compared to national medal tables which only count events, not individuals.

I’ve split the table into two. The first portion shows the medal winners and the second the non-medal winners. Both tables include each athlete’s position up to the 8th place. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) awards diplomas to athletes who finish in the top 8 in most sports. These diplomas are highly sought after by collectors and, depending on their condition and the athlete who received it, a diploma can fetch up to $1,000 US, more than some gold medals.

Even those athletes who don’t finish in the top 8 receive a participation medal, so no-one goes home empty handed. Last year I included the participation medal of gay Olympian Mark Chatfield when I painted his coat of arms.

So, the tables. The columns show the athlete’s name, nationality and sport, followed by the 8-place finishes.

The last two columns show the athlete’s place in the all-time summer lgbt Olympian medal table, then their place on the all-time lgbt Olympian medal table if you include the Winter Olympians. Let’s take Brittney Griner to explain those figures. Her last two columns show 49= (28) and 64= (33). The first means that she is in equal 49th position in the all-time summer list, and that she is one of 28 athletes with the same medals and placings. The second figure means Brittney is in equal 64th position among 33 athletes if you include the Winter Olympians. I hope that makes sense.


Several other facts before I go. The Brazilian footballer Miraildes Mota, commonly called “Formiga”, is making her 7th Olympic appearance, the record number of competitive appearances by an lgbt Olympian. She is probably the only Olympian to have competed in every tournament since her sport was introduced last century (women’s football, introduced 1996).

Formiga is also one of the two members of Tokyo’s Team Out who competed in an Olympic Games before 2000. The other is British dressage rider Carl Hester who first competed in 1992 (Tokyo is his 6th Olympics). Carl is also the current record holder as the oldest lgbt competitor (at 54) and the oldest lgbt medallist (a silver in Rio, aged 49).

If you see the opening ceremony try to stay awake long enough to see the flag-bearers. An innovation this year is for nations to have two flag-bearers if possible, one male and one female. There are five lgbt flag-bearers in the parade (Rio 2016 had 3) – Cecilia Carranza (Argentina), Andri Eleftheriou (Cyprus), Kellie Harrington (Ireland), Sue Bird (USA) and Yulima Rojas (Venezuela). Not only are they waving the flag for their nation but they are waving them as proud members of Team Out. Many gay men will be eagerly looking forward to Tonga’s flag bearer, the oiled-up muscle-boy from Rio 2016 and PyeongChang 2018. His predecessor at London 2012 was gay swimmer Amini Fonua (fully clothed). Amini probably won’t be in the parade tomorrow because his first race is the day after.

I’ll return to the medal table after the games and review some of the most significant events.

UPDATE: Since this article was published, many more lgbt Olympians have been added to the Tokyo list. The original tables have been updated to include the new listed names that are returning Olympians.

Thursday, 15 July 2021

Dancing With the Spartans

Not long to go now before the Tokyo Olympics, so I thought I’d take a look at another of the many ancient Greek competitive festivals that I write about now and again.

Our modern period of late June and early July was the first month of the Spartan year. As such it was regarded as something special and the Spartans celebrated with a festival called Gymnopaedia. It was one of their most important festivals and, like the others, was marked with contests of physical prowess.

The Gymnopaedia is thought to have originated in about the year 668 BC. It was held in honour of the god Apollo (whose love affair with the Spartan Prince Hyakinthos gave rise to the Hyakinthia festival), as well as Artemis (goddess of the hunt and Apollo’s sister) and Leto (their mother).

Just a few years before the Gymnopaedia began, perhaps only a generation of two, Sparta had introduced pederasty – boy-love – as a social norm in their society. There’s a danger of confusing Spartan and Greek pederasty with the modern concept of homosexuality. For the Spartans, and the other Greek cultures that adopted it later, pederasty was part of a boy’s rite of passage into adulthood. Once a man (usually a soldier or athlete) had chosen one boy to mentor and assist in his progression through puberty and into adulthood with regular sex, the emotional bond of friendship that was formed would (or should) remain for the rest of their lives.

The very name Gymnopaedia probably illustrates its sexual nature. The name comes from the two Greek words “gymnos”, meaning naked, and “paedia”, meaning youth. Literally, “naked youth”. As was common in the festivals across Greece, contestants competed naked. Some historians have speculated that the Gymnopaedia became the most popular means by which Spartan men chose who was to be their boy-lovers. Another theory about the name is that contestants competed without arms or weapons.

To regard the Gymnopaedia as a sports festival like the modern Olympics will be only half correct. Originally there were no athletic contests – running, wrestling, chariot racing, that sort of thing. The focus was on choreographed war dances and songs. If a comparison has to be made, think of these performances as the ancient equivalent of rhythmic gymnastics, ironically, a sport (with synchronised swimming) in which there is no equivalent competition in the modern Olympics for men. Men are banned from these sports, yet women are banned from none – proof that the IOC’s claim of gender equality is hypocrisy.

The main dances of the Gymnopaedia were performed by boys up to the age of about 15. These boys would have already undergone some military training for several years. Their movements would mimic military stances, like the action of throwing a spear or wielding a sword. The movements were designed specifically to show off the boy’s physical appearance and grace. The military songs that accompanied them would tell of the heroic deeds of their ancestors and the gods. At other venues around Sparta other dances were performed by older age groups and men. These were more of a celebratory nature and not as competitive as the boys’ dances.

A bas relief showing soldiers performing what is known as a pyrrhic dance, a dance similar to that performed at the Gymnopaedia. This relief dates from the 1st century BC but is based on one from the 4th century BC. It is currently on display in the Vatican Museum.

Over the centuries more music, dances and athletic contests were added and the whole festival began to stretch over a week long. It became increasingly popular, not only with the Spartans but with other Greeks who came to watch as well – men only, of course, because women weren’t allowed to watch or compete. There was another group who weren’t allowed to watch. These were the agamoi, unmarried men over the age of 30. You can find out why in this article I wrote last year about the Spartan harvest festival, the Karneia.

The competitors were divided into groups with each area of Sparta represented by a team. Even though all participants in the Gymnopaedia were naked the team leaders were allowed to wear something – a crown of palm leaves. This is said to have been in honour of the Spartan victory at the Battle of Thyrea in 546 BC, an event which was often praised during the war songs. Although it has no real lgbt connection, other than the Spartan combatants had boy-lovers, the story of the battle is quite interesting.

The battle is also known as the Battle of the 300 Champions. This may remind you of the famous film about Spartans called “300”. The connection is tenuous – the battle got its name because each side, the Spartans and the Argives, decided that only 300 of their best soldiers should fight to the death. The last man standing was the victor.

The battle began at around mid-day. By dusk two Argive soldiers stood on the battlefield, looking around them at the carnage of 598 bodies around them. They limped back to their camp and claimed victory. However, back on the battlefield, one severely wounded Spartan soldier was still alive. He managed to rise to his feet and stagger back to his camp. The Spartans then claimed victory. The Argives were very angry and refused to accept that their victory had been disputed. They attacked the Spartans, who thrashed the Argives and sent them back home. The Spartans celebrated with their usual victory games.

The film “300” was about the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC. The Spartan leader was played by Gerard Butler. Let’s link “300” to the modern Olympics. On 13th March 2020, during the 2,500th anniversary year of the battle, Gerard Butler took part in the Olympic torch relay before it was stopped due to the covid pandemic. He ran with the torch into the centre of Sparta itself, lit the ceremonial cauldron and shouted his famous line “This is Sparta!” Sadly, he didn’t run naked like the ancient Greeks would have done in their various torch relays.

And with that I’ll leave ancient Greece and look forward to Tokyo 2020. Next Thursday I’ll preview the games with an overview of the known lgbt athletes who will be competing and a few comparisons to previous games. I’ll also look at the returning Olympians and how they stand in the all-time lgbt medal table. Two weeks after that I’ll look at the Tokyo results and see which of them rise and which of them fell in the table, and which Olympic newcomers made their mark.

Thursday, 8 July 2021

William and John: Part 3) William at Court

After looking at Sir John Clanvowe’s military career we turn today to the court career of his partner, Sir William Neville.

First of all, let’s look at Sir William’s marriage. It wasn’t what you could call a “marriage of convenience” as it might have been described in the 20th century, in which a marriage was arranged to hide the sexuality of one of the partners. Men we would regard as gay today would often marry and have children in pre-modern times. They didn’t think there was anything was wrong with that.

Sir William’s marriage was more of a political and financial marriage. As I mentioned in Part 1 when I described the childhoods of Sir William Neville and his male partner, William had little chance of inheriting substantial property or an income from his father, being the youngest of five sons. After plans for William to inherit the estates of his step-brother, Lord Greystoke, fell through, Lord Neville arranged for him to marry the heiress of manors spread across Yorkshire.

In 1366 William married Elizabeth le Waleys, the younger of the two daughters and coheirs of Stephen le Waleys, 2nd Baron Waleys. The elder daughter, Anora, died childless within two years and Elizabeth became sole heir to the family estates and "de facto" Baroness Waleys. This meant that William Neville now had an independent income and property through his wife (all property of a married woman usually belonged to the husband in those days). Elizabeth le Waleys was as well connected as her husband. Her father’s step-brother was the famous Robert the Bruce, King of the Scots.

As mentioned in part 2, Sir William Neville spent some time in France serving with the army during the Hundred Years War. When he returned to England he began a distinguished career at court. By this time his eldest brother Lord Neville, who had inherited their father’s title, had obtained the position of Lord Steward of the King's Household in late 1371. Probably through his brother's influence, Sir William succeeded his brother as Admiral of the North in 1372. This was one of the top naval commands in England. As Admiral of the North Sir William was responsible for all the fleet and ports north of the River Thames and naval activities in the North Sea.

In 1373 Sir William temporarily commanded the southern fleet that was appointed to patrol the Norman and Breton coasts and protect the English possessions there. Sir William anchored his fleet at St. Malo for several months and then he was called upon to go to the aid of his brother, Lord Neville. Lord Neville had been appointed ambassador to Brittany in June 1372 in order to negotiate an Anglo-Breton alliance. Brittany was subject to the French crown even though it was English support that had put the Duke of Brittany in power, as explained last time. The resulting alliance, not welcomed by the Breton lords, led to renewed rivalry between England and France. Lord Neville was appointed Captain of Brest and was given command of an English force. The French, under Bertrand du Guesclin, invaded Brittany and laid siege to Brest Castle. Lord Neville was accused of not providing sufficient military defence which led to the siege. This would taint Lord Neville’s reputation and be used against him three years later.

Lord Neville hoped that the army being assembled by Prince John of Gaunt, destined to form the "Grand Chevauchée" (see Part 2), would come to his aid. The army helped to keep the French at bay only temporarily. Sir William Neville's fleet carried an army which reinforced and restocked the Brest garrison. The Grand Chevauchée distracted some French forces away from Brest, but several other garrisons were still taken from the English.

By 1376 the war with France was not going well and people were putting some blame onto Lord Neville. As Lord Steward of the King’s Household he was also accused of helping the Lord Chamberlain to embezzle public funds. Later that year both the Lord Chamberlain and Lord Neville were impeached by parliament, even though the actual evidence of embezzlement against Neville was flimsy to say the least. This “Good” Parliament, as is it known, was called to address the many growing suspicions of corruption among the chief ministers of the old and frail King Edward III. The "Good" Parliament only deepened divisions, both at court and in the country. Sir William Neville seems to have escaped any suggestion that he profited from his brother's alleged actions. However, he was removed from his appointment of Admiral of the North in the same month as the impeachment. It wasn't long, however, before Lord Neville was reappointed Lord Steward by Prince John of Gaunt, who had by now become the chief minister of the country.

King Edward III died on 21st June 1377. His grandson Richard, Prince of Wales, succeeded as King Richard II at the age of 10. Sir William Neville had been appointed to the household of Richard just six months earlier. The succession of a 10-year-old boy as king led to politicians and royal relatives vying to ensure that the king's voice was theirs. Richard's own voice on matters was hardly ever heard, but he was personally responsible for the decision to keep Sir William Neville in his service after his accession, perhaps even making him a Gentleman of the Chamber at that time also.

By 1378 both Sir William Neville and Sir John Clanvowe were favoured members of King Richard's court. Both were King's Knights and in regular attendance on Richard. They had become members of an inner circle of friends which the young king gathered around himself. Their positions of trust was recognised by their additional appointments as Knights of the Chamber by 1381. This brought them even closer to the king than the Privy Council and indicates how much King Richard must have trusted in their confidence.

A few historians believe that by this time Sir William and Sir John had formed a close personal bond. On John's return from the French wars they would have had ample opportunity to meet at court. As the years passed their names appear together in court records more and more often, and chroniclers of their time even begin to acknowledge an unusually close bond between them. They continued to have their separate lives and appointments; Sir William and his wife Elizabeth with their estates in Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, and Sir John with his appointments in Herefordshire and the Welsh borders. But they always managed to be together at court sessions and as the King’s Knights of the Chamber, which would be for six weeks at a time on a regular basis.

During their time at King Richard’s court they would have mingled with the other courtiers, and that included the famous poet Geoffrey Chaucer. He became a close friend of both Sir William Neville and Sir John Clanvowe. It was through this friendship that Chaucer and Sir John came up with the idea of St. Valentine’s Day as a day of romance, something that had not happened in history before. The story of how they created it is told here.

It was also at about this time that Sir William Neville acquired his connection to Nottingham Castle and Sherwood Forest. In Part 4 I’ll delve further into their time in Nottingham and how I believe Sir John Clanvowe came up with the oldest surviving ballad featuring a hero well-known across England at the time – Robin Hood.