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Welcome to Episode #95 of That Shakespeare Life, the podcast that takes you behind the curtain and into the life of William Shakespeare.

Along the North shore of England lies the Holderness Coast. Over 500 years ago a small town on this coast, named Ravenspurre, went down under the sea and into history as the spot where Henry IV rallied his troops on his way to dethrone Richard II. It is a story repeated by William Shakespeare in his versions of this historical rebellion, with Ravenspurre appearing as “Ravenspurgh” spelled with a gh on the end, in Richard II, Henry IV Part 1, and Henry VI Part 3. Recent research into the exact location of Ravenspurre, and the last spot it was known to be before coastal erosion swallowed the town into the ocean, reveals new information about where Henry IV first landed on his way to defeat Richard II, and shines a historical light on the legendary location of Ravenspurre.

Our guest this week is Dr. Robin Bates, who recently presented on her research investigating the location of Ravenspurre and its relation to Shakespeare’s Richard II, for a presentation at the Blackfriars Conference in Staunton, VA.

Join the conversation below.

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Dr. Robin Bates is chair of the English Department and Geraldine Lyon Owen Professor of English at University of Lynchburg. She is the author of Shakespeare and the Cultural Colonization of Ireland and her work has focused primarily on connections between Shakespeare’s plays and national identity in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Her current project considers how mapping and changes in land use offer us a context for understanding early modern plays.

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Audio Shakespeare Pronunciation App gives you the correct pronunciation of words found in the text of Shakespeare’s plays, with audio accesibility at the click of a button. This app lets you keep a professional voice coach right in your back pocket. 
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In this episode, I’ll be asking Robin Bates about :

  • On a map, where was Ravenspurre located, and why does it no longer exist?
  • Was Shakespeare relying on records like John Leland’s Itinerary to determine what Ravenspurre was?
  • Robin’s research questions Ravenspurre as the likely landing point for Henry IV. Robin, where do you think Henry IV landed, if not Ravenspurre?
  • … and more!
Unto this king of smiles, this Bolingbroke,— ‘Sblood!— When you and he came back from Ravenspurgh.
Hotspur (Henry Percy)

Henry IV Part I (I.3)

Ravenspurre was located at the tip of this jetty. You can see what Robin is talking about with the rise and fall of the ocean washing it away, and then bringing it back such that the geographical spot is resurrected every 200 years or so, while any town that might setup shop there in the meanwhile would be washed away. Original Source: “A view of Spurn Point and its jetty from the south. The causeway which carries the access road was frequently vulnerable to storm damage.” Spurn Head, taken from the air, 1979, by Stanley Howe. Spurn, East Riding of Yorkshire, England. Source

Finding Ravenspurre on a Map

When you look at a map, either from modern times or ones from the past, it is hard to find Ravenspurre as a physical location because the exact spot washes away and returns every 250 years. You see, the town of Ravenspurre was located on this spurn of land that juts out from the mainland. This section erodes and washes away, but reforms a little eastward in 200-250 year cycles. Each time it erodes and reforms, the towns formed on it wash away and are gone. The spot Bolingbroke landed on was 2 spurns ago, so while the place returns, the towns wash away. 

It was gone by the time Shakespeare was writing, but it was recorded in Holinshed’s Chronicles, which was Shakespeare’s basis for his history plays that mention Ravenspurre. Shakespeare could not have visited Ravenspurre himself because it was long since washed into the sea, but the mystery of a lost place or something that you knew about but now cannot go to, was probably the attraction for an artist like Shakespeare.

For all the world As thou art to this hour was Richard then When I from France set foot at Ravenspurgh, And even as I was then is Percy now.
Henry IV

Henry IV Part 1 (III.2)

Line engraving by C. Grignion, purportedly taken from a bust of 16th-century antiquary John Leland at All Souls College, Oxford. Engraving printed in William Huddesford, ed. (1772). The Lives of those Eminent Antiquaries John Leland, Thomas Hearne, and Anthony à Wood. 2 volumes: volume 1. Oxford: Clarendon. Source

John Leland’s Itinerary

John Leland was an antiquary–historian and writer. He worked for Henry VIII by travelling the country and writing down what he found there upon arrival. He recorded the places he visited, and he wrote many other things also, but for Ravenspurre he an itinerary called “the New year’s gift” where he records the distances towns were from each other, the value of what he saw, and the first major description of England and Wales. 

His itinerary forms an amazing record of what England looked like in the middle of the 16th century. The only catch is that he may not have actually set foot there. We know that for many of Leland’s records, he didn’t necessarily go to each of these places he records. Instead, he would gather information from locals about what was nearby.

One major facet of Leland’s record about Ravenspurre specifically is that he leaves the location and the land there undescribed. Interestingly, Holinshed as well does not describe any physical attributes of the place. That lack of specificty for Ravenspurre–that is present for other locations in England– is one main reason historians doubt that Leland actually visited Ravenspurre himself. The inclusion of Ravenspurre in his record of England and Wales likely ties into the nostalgia of the location for the audience. Ravenspurre is associated with a great historical moment in England, and the importance of Ravenspurre is more about what happened there rather than the description of the actual place. For a more modern point of reference, it would be like invoking the reputaiton of Normandy. If you’re writing a history play, it wouldn’t be neccessary to describe Normany physically if you’re trying to connect with the major historical event that happened there. 

The Audio Shakespeare Pronunciation App

Audio Shakespeare Pronunciation App gives you the correct pronunciation of words found in the text of Shakespeare’s plays, with audio accesibility at the click of a button. This app lets you keep a professional voice coach right in your back pocket. 
 Download the app here.

This app is an official sponsor of That Shakespeare Life.


The banish’d Bolingbroke repeals himself, And with uplifted arms is safe arrived At Ravenspurgh.

Richard II (II.2)

Cross erected commemorating Henry IV landing at Ravenspurn – quote from source: The landing of King Henry IV. at Ravenser Spurn was commemorated by the erection of a cross at the place of landing. Was it a grateful Matthew Danthorpe who erected it ? Very possibly. At any rate it was erected within fourteen years of Henry’s landing. Many years afterwards it was removed to Kilnsea ; later still it was removed to Burton Constable, and finally to Hedon, East Riding of Yorkshire, England, where it stands to-day in the garden of Holyrood House.The story of the East Riding of Yorkshire, (1912), Author: Browne, Horace Baker Source

The Trip Henry Took to Dethrone Richard II

When Ravenspurre is resurrected on a map the way Robin’s research has shown, there is a surprising reality about the trip Henry took to dethrone Richard II that contradicts Shakespeare’s version of history. 
Ravenspurre was Henry’s intended destination from the time he set sail from England. It is officially announced that he’ll land at Ravenspurre, but Holinshed’s Chronicle makes it clear that Henry started trying to find a landing in the south of England, but didn’t find one friendly to his cause until he got to Yorkshire. Ravenspurre was a convenient port town, which Shakespeare likely compressed for the play. 
Robin goes on to explain the conflation of history with Shakespeare’s theater production when she analyzes a suprising choice for Shakespeare:
The play compresses also the landing at Ravenspurre and the allegiance of the Lords with the sharing of the allegiance of Northumberland at Doncaster. These two things happened far apart and at different locations, and it’s interesting that Shakespeare held it at Ravenspurre instead of Doncaster that still existed when Shakespeare was presenting this play. 
What then remains, we being thus arrived From Ravenspurgh haven before the gates of York, But that we enter, as into our dukedom?
King Edward IV (Plantagenet)

Henry VI Part III (IV.7)

Early 15th century. Henry Bolingbroke and Richard II at Flint Castle; page from illuminated manuscript of Jean Creton’s La Prinse et Mort du roy Richart (“The Capture and Death of King Richard”), Harleian Collection, British Library, once in the collection of Jean de Valois, Duc de Berry. Source

Why not Doncaster?

Robin’s presentation identifies that while Shakespeare depicts, in detail, the landing of King Richard in Wales as part of his play, Richard II, the parallel landing of Henry IV at Ravenspurre that also occurs during the play, is omitted entirely, with that entire experience occurring off stage. Robin’s research outlines that Ravenspurre was too far away for Henry IV to have travelled as quickly as Holinshed (and Shakespeare) seem to suggest, but in coming to this conclusion, Robin based her ideas on maps she was able to locate via Google Maps. Given that this technology was not available in the 16th century, and that computers are known to be unreliable about historical artifacts, I asked her if she felt Google Maps accounted for the shifting of the spurns. Could it have been possible that Ravenspurre was closer to Doncaster when Henry landed there over 600 years ago? Here’s what she said:
The topography of England has changed, and will continue to change for a variety of reasons from climate to human intervention, but this is probably an issue of scale. If it was a great distance, the amount it could change would be greater but the distance change now is about 70 miles, so when it shifted, it wasn’t far. So it wouldn’t be possible for that time period to be in Doncaster so immediately. Creative License is taken by Shakespeare. Conflation of these two locations means something, and placing it at Ravenspurre instead of Doncaster is significant.

Books & Resources Robin Bates recommends:


This book doesn’t have an image on Amazon, but here’s the link to the Survey of England and Wales Robin recommends.

Robin provided a link to Leland’s Itinerary. Find that document online (free) here.

Robin’s research was compiled into a detailed Google Maps compilation that allows you to see an Index of Leland’s Itinerary, including Ravenspurre. See her work here. 

Robin did not specfically recommend this last one, I just found it and thought it related to this topic and that you might enjoy it also. 

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