“Never the mother!” – The Boleyn Girls, their cousins, the king and a laundress.

Mary_Boleyn-248x300.jpgMary Boleyn took part in a court masque on March 4 1522 when she was about twenty-two.  The theme was love and the title “Chateau Vert.”  Anne Boleyn, newly arrived from France, played the part of Perseverance whilst Mary played kindness.  There were eight ladies in total dressed to the nines waiting in a castle for their lords to arrive.  There were also eight choristers dressed as unfeminine behaviours such as unkindness and rather alarmingly strangeness – demonstrating that being an oddity was not something that Henry found at all endearing.

Henry’s relationship with Mary is only written about by his cousin Cardinal Reginald Pole – he pointed out, rather unhelpfully from Henry’s point of view, that if you are trying to divorce your wife because she was married to your brother but denies the marriage was ever consummated, where does that leave the woman you want to marry if you’ve had an affair with her sister?  Henry wasn’t amused.  Other than Pole’s evidence there’s not a great deal of  concrete information – which is typical of Henry’s mistresses and encounters.

Mary does fit to the pattern that emerges in Henry’s earlier relationships – in that when she returned from the service of Queen Claude where she is alleged to have had a relationship with Francis I she was married off on February 4th 1520 to Sir William Carey – one of Henry’s gentlemen.  The usual 6 shillings and 8 pence is identified in the king’s accounts as a perfectly proper gift.  But by Easter 1522 Henry was riding into jousts with the motto  “she has wounded my heart” and then there was that masque – the ritual of courtly love was being played out.  It almost seems that King Henry was in love with the idea of being in love.

In 1523 Henry owned a boat called the Mary Boleyn.  The boat had been purchased from Thomas Boleyn so could have arrived already named.

Of course the Catholic and reforming factions got to grips with the Boleyn girls- one group tried to paint them as a pair of scheming femme fatals whilst the other faction were more keen on emphasising their learning and culture.  It wasn’t long before the rumour was circulating that when he first became king, Henry, who as we have seen in the case of Anne Stafford, liked the older lady had a fling with Elizabeth Howard – Mary and Anne’s mother.  This particular rumour survives curtesy of a letter from George Throckmorton who  said that Henry on being accused of “meddling” with Anne’s mother and sister blushed and said “never the mother” – demonstrating at least that Mary was his mistress.  Nicholas Sander, a Jesuit priest went one better and according to Licence announced that not only had Henry had an affair with Elizabeth but that Anne was the result of the liaison – Thomas Boleyn being abroad during some very key dates.  This is definitely a nasty smear and when looking at the broader picture it is possible that Mary got caught up in the campaign to blacken the Boleyn name.   There is very little evidence from the time to suggest that she had an affair with Francis.  Licence also points out that the french king had an unfortunate social disease which Mary ran a high risk of catching but appears not to have done so, nor do her children bear any signs of the disease.  Of course, as with all these things its a matter of speculation and what little evidence there is can be argued both ways.

 

In any event Sir Thomas Boleyn suddenly became the king’s treasurer – presumably because he was a talented book-keeper and manager as averse to Henry being naughty with his youngest surviving daughter – let us not forget that emerging pattern of behaviour whereby the family of the king’s new mistress suddenly become financially more stable, acquire lands and new positions.  Sir Nicholas Carew got his own tiltyard in Greenwich when Henry was interested in Nicholas’s young wife Elizabeth.

 

catherine careyKatherine Carey was born in 1524 or possibly 1523.  Whose child was she: William Carey’s or the King’s?  Henry granted Carey estates and titles in Essex (so that was all right then).   If the child was Henry’s it was considered somewhat poor manners to claim the child of another man’s wife as yours and beside which she was a girl.  She first appears in the court records as a maid of honour to Anne of Cleves in 1439- so early teens which is about right.  She went on to marry Sir Francis Knollys when she was sixteen and have sixteen children.

It is clear that Katherine Carey was close to her cousin and possibly half-sister, Princess Elizabeth.  As she prepared to flee England for Protestant Germany on the accession of Queen Mary she received a letter from Elizabeth signed “cor rotto” meaning broken hearted.  Katherine did not return to England until Mary died. She was appointed Chief Lady of the Bedchamber making her one of Elizabeth’s most trusted women – nothing wrong with that they were cousins – but were they more?  When Katherine died in 1569 Elizabeth had her buried in Westminster Abbey.  The notoriously parsimonious queen paid £640 for the funeral – fit in fact for a princess.

Steven_van_Herwijck_Henry_Carey_1st_Baron_Hunsdon

Mary Boleyn’s son, Henry Carey was born in 1525 according to the date on his memorial in Westminster Abbey but evidence suggests he was actually born in 1526 (no wonder Thomas Cromwell invented parish registers!)  The question then arises did Henry continue his affair with Mary once she had returned to court after the birth of Katherine? He doesn’t appear to have resumed his liaison with Bessie Blount  after she had her child and more importantly why didn’t Henry acknowledge the boy if he was indeed the king’s?  The answer to that one is fairly straight forward – King Henry had already demonstrated that he could beget sons, Bessie Blount (unusually) wasn’t married at the time she gave birth and there was the small matter of a possible interest in Mary’s sister Anne.  All that can be said is that Henry Carey is said to have looked like Henry VIII and Carey believed himself to be the king’s son as did John Hale the Vicar of Isleworth – a declaration that got him into rather a lot of bother with the monarch. Once again the evidence when delved into can be read two different ways as it is all circumstantial and comprises of ifs, buts and wherefores.

On June 22nd 1528 when Mary’s husband William Carey died of the Sweating Sickness leaving Mary with little visible means of support.  The wardship of young Henry was given to Anne Boleyn and the king had to intercede on Mary’s behalf insisting that Thomas Boleyn house his daughter.

Queen Anne BoleynBy 1527 it was clear that Katherine of Aragon wasn’t going to have any more children and Henry wanted a male heir.  Anne Boleyn wasn’t content with the idea of being the king’s mistress.  There followed a seven year courtship written about at length elsewhere on the Internet, a protracted court case and seventeen love letters found stashed in the Vatican, probably stolen on the orders of Reginald Pole.  History does not have Anne’s letters.  It is possible to imagine Henry having a private bonfire when he tired of Anne.

 

Mary,_Lady_Heveningham_by_Hans_Holbein_the_YoungerAs with his first queen a pattern of pregnancy and miscarriage developed along with another princess with wife number two.  Henry was not best pleased.  Anne Boleyn recognised that Henry was at his most likely to stray during her pregnancies so it has often been suggested that the Boleyn/Howard family encouraged Mary or possibly her sister Madge Shelton to entertain the king in 1535 whilst Anne was pregnant. The Sheltons were Anne’s first cousins.  Their mother, Anne, was Sir Thomas Boleyn’s sister.   Rumour identified Mary Shelton as a potential fourth wife for Henry whilst Madge was linked with the unfortunate Henry Norris.

Unfortunately for Anne the pattern of pregnancies, miscarriages and mistresses continued.  The key mistress of Anne’s time as queen went on to become wife number three- Jane Seymour, yet another cousin of sorts.

It was during this period that Henry seems to have taken a fancy to one of his laundresses- a girl by the name of Joan Dingley.  She was married off to a man called Dobson whilst the resulting child called Etheldreda or even Audrey depending on the source you read was reared by the king’s taylor – a man called John Malte.  The king granted him ex monastic lands so that when he died it all passed to Ethelreda – the illegitimate daughter of the taylor at  face value was unexpectedly wealthy- especially as the lands went to Ethelreda rather than John’s other children and  she moved in esteemed circles. She married John Harrington who was in the king’s service and then Princess Elizabeth’s household  In 1554 she accompanied Princess Elizabeth to the Tower as one of her ladies and attended Elizabeth’s coronation in 1559 – she died the same year.

Mary Boleyn died in July 1543, seven years after her sister Anne died a traitor’s death, having married for a second time to William Stafford in 1534.  Stafford was a soldier and not a sufficiently grand match for the queen’s sister. Mary was banished from court by Henry and Anne because of the marriage.  Her family disowned her because she had dared to marry, for love, a younger son with few prospects.  She was forced to write to Thomas Cromwell asking for help.

 

Licence, Amy. (2014) The six wives and many mistresses of Henry VIII: the women’s stories. Stroud: Amberley Publishing.

 

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Henry VIII- Sir Loyal Heart?

1531_Henry_VIIIThis particular post and the next five which will follow all this week are by way of a reminder to me about Henry’s wives, mistresses and alleged children.  Although he only ever acknowledged Henry FitzRoy, the son of Bessie Blount who he created duke of Richmond and Somerset there is speculation about other children.

1509 – 1527 – Henry ascended the throne aged seventeen and promptly married his widowed sister-in-law Katherine of Aragon.  She was twenty-three and the archetypal princess in need of a heroic knight having been kept in limbo by the machinations of her father Ferdinand of Aragon and Henry VII who were as tight fisted as one another.

Henry saw himself as Catherine’s knight errant riding to her rescue.  Unfortunately things soon went badly wrong when Ferdinand manipulated his young son-in-law into going to war with France and then making a peace which served his purposes rather than Henry’s.  At home Cardinal Wolsey gained the king’s ear and Catherine failed to provide Henry with an heir to the throne.  It wasn’t long before mistresses abounded but Henry continued to wear love knots on his jousting armour with his initials inter-twined with those of Katherine.

The birth of Princess Mary in 1516 squashed rumours that Henry was looking to have his marriage annulled but matters can’t have been helped as Katherine became more and more pious, even wearing a hair shirt. In addition Katherine was troubled by an infection of the womb that may have caused an unpleasant smell.  In 1525 Henry stopped living with his wife.

Key facts:
1510 – Lady Anne Stafford – the sister of the duke of Buckingham and wife of Lord Hastings. She was also Henry VIII’s cousin and eight years older than him. The alarm was raised by Anne’s sister Elizabeth who spoke with her brother Edward. He caught Sir William Compton in her chamber.  Anne’s husband was summoned; Anne was packed off to a nunnery; there was a scandal; Katherine of Aragon was deeply upset; Edward informed Henry that a Tudor wasn’t good enough to carry on with his sister.  It is perhaps not terribly surprising that Buckingham ended up being charged with treason in 1521 and executed.  Henry appears to have continued his affair until about 1513.  Meanwhile, Sir William Compton was close to the king.  He was a gentleman of the privy chamber and appears to have arranged for the king to entertain ladies in William’s house on Thames Street as well as facilitating the discrete arrival of ladies in Henry’s bed chamber at court.

1513 Ettiennette de la Baume  After the Battle of the Spurs and the Siege of Tournai Henry went to Lille where he stayed with Margaret of Austria, the regent of the Netherlands as well as sister to Emperor Maximillian.  Henry was reported as dancing in his bare feet and shirt sleeves with “Madam the Bastard.”  History has no idea who the lady might be.  However, the following year Henry received a letter from Ettiennette who was one of Margaret’s ladies.  She sent a bird and medicinal roots as well as a reminder that Henry had spoken “pretty things” to her and promised her 10,000 crowns or angels when she was married- a generous gesture!

1514- in the same year as receiving the letter from Ettiennette Henry placed the whole court in mourning “for love of a lady.”

Elizabeth Carew- Elizabeth was just twelve when she gave birth to a son.  She was the wife of Henry’s bosom buddy Sir Nicholas Carew.  He was a champion jouster and friend of the king’s.  Like Compton he facilitated opportunities for Henry to be alone with the ladies.  It has been suggested that one of the ladies was his own wife.  Henry gave the happy couple the standard Tudor wedding present of 6 shillings but Elizabeth’s mother received £500 whilst Elizabeth was given presents of jewels and a mink coat.  Make of it what you will – he might have just been being generous to the wife of a very good friend.

bessieblount1Bessie Blount – Bessie was one of Catherine’s maids-of-hounour.  When she first arrived at court she is estimated to have been about eleven years old. We know that she was well educated and that she took part in the masque that occurred at court. In July 1514 her father received £146 in advance wages and there is also the evidence of a letter from Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk where he makes a courtly gesture to both Bessie Blount and Elizabeth Carew.   She was married off to Gilbert Tailboys, a gentleman in Wolsey’s household.

1514- Jane Popincourt – The frenchwoman began her career in 1498 in service of Elizabeth of York but transferred into the household of Mary Tudor and from there into Katherine of Aragon’s household.  She achieved notoriety in 1513 when  Louis d’Orleans, the Duc de Longueville was captured and sent to the Tower.  She visited him often and commenced an affair.  When Mary Tudor was sent off to France to marry King Louis XII Jane should have gone with her as a lady -in-waiting but Louis struck her name from the list because she was an immoral woman announcing,  “I would she were burned.” She did finally return to France in 1516 received a parting gift of £100 from Henry.  Their affair had begun in 1514 when Katherine of Aragon was heavily pregnant.

Mary Boleyn- famously Henry owned a boat called the Mary Boleyn but he may have purchased it from Mary’s father. Mary, somewhat notoriously, was mistress of Francis I, the King of France before catching Henry’s eye.  When she returned to England she was married, rather promptly, to Sir William Carey a Gentleman of the Chamber. The wedding gift from the king was the usual 6 shillings.  The only written evidence that Mary was Henry’s mistress comes from Cardinal Pole.

 

Children

1519- birth of Henry FitzRoy, son of Bessie Blount followed in 1521 by a daughter called Elizabeth who received the name Tailboys.  There are some doubts about the dates. Bessie’s third child, George, was definitely her husbands so far as historians can tell these things.

1524- birth of Catherine Carey, daughter of Mary Boleyn.  She went on to marry Sir Francis Knollys.  Henry Carey was born in 1526.  However, Mary would have been pregnant with him in 1525.  It has been suggested that Mary’s pregnancy with Henry causedKing Henry to look more closely at Mary’s sister Anne.  Henry Carey’s parentage has always been much speculated upon. Understandably King Henry did not acknowledge either of these children as his because it would have rather sunk his argument about cohabiting with an in-law at a point when he was trying to divorce Katherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn.
 

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Henry VIII clauses

Henry-VIII-enjoyed-gambli-008The so-called Henry VIII clause is topical at the moment so I thought I’d write a short post about what it is and where it originates. Essentially, according to the Parliamentary website,  “the Government of the day sometimes adds this provision to a Bill to enable a repeal or amend after the Bill has become an Act of Parliament.” That’s not what’s causing the current furore – the problem is that the resulting Act can be changed without further parliamentary scrutiny if the Government so wishes. The House of Lords Select Committee on the Scrutiny of Delegated Powers in its report of 1992-93 defined a Henry VIII clause as,  “a provision in a Bill which enables primary legislation to be amended or repealed by subordinate legislation, with or without further Parliamentary scrutiny.” [HL 57 1992-93, para 10].

 

640px-Cromwell,Thomas(1EEssex)01And what you might wonder does the matrimonially challenged Henry VIII have to do with this? Well, these provisions are named after the 1539 Statute of Proclamations by the Crown which meant that Henry VIII could legislate simply by having a proclamation read out. That sounds suspiciously like kicking Parliament into touch and ruling as an absolute monarch.  However,  G.R. Elton didn’t believe that the act was meant to enable to the king to rule without Parliament or make his own laws rather it was an extraordinary power to be used when speed was of the essence.  The example that is generally used is that proclamations were used to prevent the export of English coinage abroad. Elton references price control – or in other words Henry’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, was merely underlining, with typical belt and brace thoroughness, by a Parliamentary Act the way in which proclamations had always worked in regards to enacting well rehearsed uses such as changes to coinage. Elton also notes that the law made it quite clear that this was not an excuse for Henry to go around arresting, imprisoning or executing anyone just because he didn’t like the cut of their jib.

 

It is unsurprising that the mastermind behind this nifty piece of maneuvering was none other than Thomas Cromwell. Essentially things were moving fast in terms of domestic and religious policy as well as foreign policy which was decidedly volatile at the beginning of 1539. Even Cromwell had to agree that the so-called Reformation Parliament was “tractable” – and given that a large number of MPs were on Cromwell’s list of friends, family and acquaintances it is perhaps not surprising. Even so, Cromwell did not always have time to draft a bill and then wait for the parliamentary process to be completed before a bill became law. The act makes it clear at the very beginning:

An act that proclamations made by the king shall be obeyed. Forasmuch as the king’s most royal majesty, for divers considerations, by the advice of his council hath heretofore set forth divers and sundry his grace’s proclamations, as well for and concerning divers and sundry articles of Christ’s religion as for an unity and concord to be had amongst the loving and obedient subjects of this his realm and other his dominions, and also concerning the advancement of his commonwealth and good quiet of his people (which nevertheless divers and many froward, wilful, and obstinate persons have wilfully contemned and broken, not considering what a king by his royal power may do, and for lack of a direct statute and law to coerce offenders to obey the said proclamations… at all times by authority of this act his proclamations, under such penalties and pains and of such sort as to his highness and his said honourable council or the more part of them shall see[m] necessary and requisite; and that those same shall be obeyed, observed, and kept as though they were made by act of parliament for the time in them limited, unless the king’s highness dispense with them or any of them under his great seal.

 

Cromwell seems to have intended the proclamations to be administered by common law but as the quote from the act demonstrates, ultimately because of Parliamentary intractability on the part of the Lords, the proclamations were to be administered by a council: workable in theory but not in practice. The act was amended in 1543 to change the mechanism by which the council worked but finally repealed in 1547 after Henry’s death– not that it seems to have made a jot of difference as proclamations continued to be a perfectly legal way of doing things.

Proclamations would cause the Stuarts no end of problems – you could probably argue that Charles I lost his head over them given that he ruled and collected taxes without the aid of Parliament for more than a decade. Parliament was quite clear that the king didn’t have the right to go around demanding money – taxes had to be voted to him by Parliament and for him to suggest otherwise was illegal. He misused proclamation assuming that he could be behave as an absolute monarch.

And that is where I shall stop as I have no desire for this post to move from an interesting historical meander into political debate about the rights and wrongs of its use in the modern day. If nothing else it proves that Cromwell was a seriously wily political operator.

 

Bush L  “The Act of Proclamations: A Reinterpretation” The American Journal of Legal History. Vol. 27, No. 1 (Jan., 1983), pp. 33-53

Elton, G.R.Tudor Rule and Revolution: Essays for G R Elton from His American Friends

G. R. Elton, The Rule of Law in Renaissance England, in TUDOR MEN AND INSTITUTIONS 265-94 (A. J. Slavin ed., 1972), reprinted in 1 STUDIES IN TUDOR AND STUART POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT 260-84 (1974)

 

http://www.constitution.org/sech/sech_074.txt

 

 

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Thomas Walsingham – and the “Scandalous Chronicle.”

KatSwynfordThomas Walsingham was a Benedictine monk.  He lived at St Albans Abbey where he had been educated and is usually considered the last of the great medieval chroniclers being a prolific producer of manuscripts including the “Chronicon Angliae” which covering the years 1328 to 1388.  It is in this chronicle that he criticises John of Gaunt.   The “Gesta Abbatum” or the St Albans Chronicle or Chronica Maiora as a continuation of that of Mathew Paris – and in fact his histories draw heavily on Paris’s work. His writings end in 1422 when he died but it is from Walsingham that we know about Wat Tyler, John Wycliff and the reigns of Richard II and Henry IV.

In part because he wasn’t a fan of John Wycliff and Lollardy – he took against John of Gaunt who was regarded as offering protection to reformers, Wycliff in particular. However, it should be added that there are two versions of Walsingham’s chronicle – one which is deeply hostile to John of Gaunt describing him as having “unbridled malice and greed, fearing neither God nor man.”  Walsingham’s general view was that Gaunt was after his nephew’s crown. True, Gaunt was the power behind the throne but hindsight shows that he never sought to take the crown by force despite several provocations.  It would also have to be said that Walsingham was just repeating what other people thought.  In 1377 his arms were reversed and marched through London by an angry mob. In 1381 his London palace, the Savoy, was burned to the ground. Walsingham was also critical of John’s relationship with  Katherine Swynford describing her as an “unmentionable concubine” and a “whore.”

william bell scott john of gauntRather amusingly and to the detriment of the chronicle a second version was penned after Henry IV, who was of course Gaunt’s son, came to the throne. Oddly all the unpleasant remarks about Gaunt were removed…so that the first version came to be known as “the scandalous chronicle.”

In all fairness Walsingham was critical of most of Richard II’s courtiers describing them as knights of love rather than war and better with words than weapons – well he should know about that!

Lucraft, Jeannette. (2006) Katherine Swynford: The History of a Medieval Mistress. Stroud: Sutton Publishing

Weir, Alison. (2007) Katherine Swynford:The Story of John of Gaunt and his Scandalous Duchess. London: Random House

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Get thee to a nunnery! Swynford and Chaucer

nun5.gifIt was quite common in the earlier part of the Middle Ages for a parent to dedicate a baby or a young child to holy orders.  These children were called oblates because the child was offered to God with an altar cloth wrapped around their right hand – an oblation or offering.

Prior to the invasion of 1066 William, duke of Normandy, and his wife Matilda sent their daughter Cecilia into the noviciate at the abbey of Holy Trinity in Caen.  The date is significant – 18 June 1066.  She didn’t become a fully professed nun until 1075 when she was about nineteen or twenty.

It’s easy to speculate that Cecilia was offered in exchange for a successful invasion. Equally many parents gave their child as an offering in hope of heavenly brownie points. It should also be added that if you were a man with many daughters and insufficient lands you might be tempted to palm the plainest or least marriageable daughter off on the Church to avoid all the expenditure that accompanied nuptial arrangements.  Until the rule of Innocent III (1198-1215) children who were given to the Church had no power to quit the religious life once they grew up.  This could lead to unfortunate incidences of runaway or pregnant nuns not to mention nuns like Chaucer’s abbess who dressed well and kept pets.

Katherine Swynford’s eldest daughter Margaret along with her cousin Elizabeth Chaucer entered the nunnery at Barking when they were children.  It is possible that Katherine Swynford and Philippa Chaucer were following family tradition in dedicating a daughter to the Church because evidence suggests that the pair had an older sister (probably a half sibling) called Elizabeth or possibly Isabelle who entered the nunnery of St Wandru in Mons in 1349.

medieval-nuns

 

Elizabeth Chaucer entered the nunnery in 1381 following nomination by Richard II – demonstrating the influence of Katherine by this time.  Elizabeth had previously been lodged in the convent of St Helens in Bishopgate.  We know that John of Gaunt paid her admission fee – in lieu of a dowry.  It was a large sum- £51 8s 2d.  This in its turn has given rise to the rumour that Philippa may have had an affair with the duke of Lancaster and that Elizabeth was his daughter.  As Weir points out, Gaunt acknowledged his other illegitimate children and provided for them handsomely so why would he be furtive about Elizabeth, if she was indeed his?.She also notes that the care given by Gaunt to  members of his household was generous so there should be no raised eyebrows about the gift, although of course Auntie Katherine may have had a hand in it so that her own daughter would have, at least, had the company of a cousin. Margaret went on to become the abbess of Barking in 1419.

The abbess of Barking had the legal status of a baron- a reminder that for women the Church was more or less the only way to wield power in your own right so long as you made it to the top of the job ladder.  Margaret Swynford is recorded as dying in 1433.

Its not much information about the two girls but it’s all there is!

Weir speculates as to whether Sir Hugh and Katherine Swynford might have had other children.  She notes that there was a Katherine Swynford at Stixwold Priory in 1377.  However, other than the name and the fact that it is just possible that the traditionally accepted marriage date for Hugh and Katherine is wrong there is no evidence that this particular Katherine was a member of our Katherine Swynford’s immediate family.  Also Barking was a prestigious location.  It would be here that Jasper and Edmund Tudor were sent after their mother’s death.  By contrast Stixwold was rather impoverished.

 

Lucraft, Jeannette. (2006) Katherine Swynford: The History of a Medieval Mistress. Stroud: Sutton Publishing

Weir, Alison. (2007) Katherine Swynford:The Story of John of Gaunt and his Scandalous Duchess. London: Random House

‘Houses of Benedictine nuns: Abbey of Barking’, in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 2, ed. William Page and J Horace Round (London, 1907), pp. 115-122. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol2/pp115-122 [accessed 7 September 2017].

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Blanche Swynford

KatSwynfordBeing a girl, daughter of a minor and somewhat impecunious Lincolnshire knight claiming descent back to the Saxons, no one thought it sufficiently important to make note of Blanche Swynford’s date of birth. Of course, History reveals little Blanche to be the god-daughter of John of Gaunt and daughter of Katherine Swynford. Nor for that matter is History terribly sure about the number of her sisters.

 

Historians are uncertain whether Blanche is older or younger than her brother Thomas who was born on 21 September 1368.  Anthony Goodman argues that Blanche was born sometime in 1366 whilst John of Gaunt’s first wife was still alive.  It makes sense that if Gaunt was her godfather that Blanche of Lancaster may well have been her godmother.  Equally it is possible to argue that the baby was named after the late duchess and not born until 1370 (ish).  Both scenarios are equally valid although there may be some shifting in the dates depending on the text.

Weir suggests that Blnache may have been born earlier given that Hugh inherited his estates in 1361 pushing the marriage date for Katherine and Hugh back to the start of the decade, at a point where Katherine would have only just attained a legally marriageable age, rather than placing it sometime between 1366 and 1367 as is usual.  In part the problem arises because Historians are uncertain whether Katherine married at a very young age or not.  The argument often given is that it seems unlikely that a very young woman would have been made governess of Gaunt’s children.

What we can be certain about is that the papal dispensation for the marriage between John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford mentions Blanche because of the relationship that being godparent created.  There is also some evidence to suggest that Blanche grew up with John’s daughters – which makes sense given that Katherine was their governess- and which Weir uses as evidence of Katherine being married by the end of 1362 with Blanche making an arrival the following year.  The fact that Blanche is in Gaunt’s records as being in the household of his daughters in 1368 helps this viewpoint.

She turns up again in the aftermath of Queen Philippa’s death on 14 August 1369.  Edward III provided mourning for the ladies at court and Blanche as lady-in-waiting or more accurately demoiselle to John of Gaunt’s daughters received suitable garb for the occasion.  Weir argues that the mourning given to the Swynford family at this time reflects the fact that Philippa remained fond of Katherine and  Philippa Chaucer after their years growing up in the queen’s household.

Lucraft identifies the fact that Gaunt takes an active interest in his godchild.  Katherine was awarded the wardship of Robert Deyncourt in 1375 specifically to cover Blanche’s dowry. Of course, one of the key factors of having a wealthy ward was to marry him into the family as soon as decently possible.  Weir writes that Gaunt intended Deyncourt, a scion of the Lancaster Affinity, as a groom for his godchild. However – Blanche did not marry Robert.

Did she die young? Was Blanche dead by 1378? Possibly.  Alternatively the records provide us with another possible groom in the form of Sir Thomas Morrieux – the gift Gaunt gave the happy couple was extremely generous including as it did silver spoons, saucers and a basket with a silver top. The difficulty is that this may be a different Blanche. Froissart says that Morrieux’s wife was Gaunt’s illegitimate daughter. Either Froissart thought Blanche Swynford was Gaunt’s; or she was the daughter of Marie de St Hillaire or Froissart was wrong (his chronicles do contain errors). The evidence that this particular Blanche is Blanche Swynford is circumstantial- Morrieux was a Lancastrian retainer with an annuity of £100 p.a who died in Spain. Our lack of knowledge about his wife reflects the difficulty of decoding the past where records are incomplete and names not always terribly helpful.

The difficulties of working out relationships from fragmentary evidence and deductions without necessarily knowing exact dates for events are summarised by Sydney Armitage-Smith writing in 1904 about John of Gaunt:

But the attempt to identify the Duke s daughter and the daughter of his later mistress breaks down hopelessly. (It was made by Sir N Nicolas, Scrope v Grosvenor Con
troversy 11 185) For (i) there is Froissart’s explicit state ment quoted above ; (11) Blanche is never mentioned among the Beauforts , (ui) there is the insuperable difficulty of age.
Katharine Swynford, born in 1350, and married to Sir Hugh Swynford m 1367, whose elder child, Sir Thomas Swynford, was born in 1368, could not possibly have been the mother of Blanche, who was married to Sir Thomas Moneux in 1381.

https://archive.org/stream/johnofgaunt001003mbp/johnofgaunt001003mbp_djvu.txt

Lucraft, Jeannette. (2006) Katherine Swynford: The History of a Medieval Mistress. Stroud: Sutton Publishing

Weir, Alison. (2007) Katherine Swynford:The Story of John of Gaunt and his Scandalous Duchess. London: Random House

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The Hungerford family and the house of Lancaster

Seal_WalterHungerford_1stBaronHungerford_KG_Died1449.pngSir Thomas Hungerford is generally recognised as the first Speaker of the House of Parliament (Sir Peter de la Mare actually did the job first but no one at the time bothered to give him a job title so technically its Sir Thomas).  His family had all represented Parliament for Wiltshire so it is unsurprising that Sir Thomas should have taken the mantle on his shoulders in 1376 having been knighted the previous year – more unexpected, to the modern way of thinking at least, is the fact that he held the constituency of Wiltshire and also Somerset in the parliaments of 1384 and 1389.  He was already part of the Lancaster Affinity when he sat in his first parliament. He was an member of parliament during the so-called Bad Parliament of 1377 when he fulfilled the role of Speaker. In all, he would serve as a member of parliament sixteen times.

Sir Thomas’s career path is typical of the period – he married well; twice and on both occasions secured lands and political credit.  He represented John of Gaunt within Wiltshire/Somerset and he benefitted from that link to the extent that on his death he was the holder of twelve manors.  Thus on a regional level through family roles and local administration he was a man of importance – sheriff and member of royal commissions.  This in turn was enhanced by his links to the Lancaster Affinity.  And as with other knights I have written about in the last couple of weeks, the arrangement was reciprocal.

Evidence for the growth of Hungerford’s status is best seen in the form of Farleigh Hungerford Castle which started off life as a manor house and which was turned into a castle by Sir Thomas as his power and wealth increased.

And, as with other members of Gaunt’s retinue, Hungerford was associated not only with the father but also the son.  In 1387 he was linked with the so-called Appellants, of whom Henry of Bolingbroke was one,  who sought to muzzle Richard II. However, he was not a member of the Merciless Parliament.  Even so once Richard II regained his power Hungerford lost some of his regional influence which was not restored until John of Gaunt returned from Spain.

 

In addition to serving the Lancaster Affinity within his region he also served as Lancaster’s steward and can be found also  in the role of bailiff to the Bishop of Salisbury.

 

Sir Thomas died at the end of 1397 and was replaced by his son – another Sir Walter who was the only one of his sons to outlive him (his seal is pictured at the start of this post.)  Sir Thomas had three son by his first wife and two by his second.  Sir Walter, who at the time of his father’s death had only just come of age, would become a baron and like his father would maintain his loyalty to the house of Lancaster – and this was demonstrated in 1399 when he supported Henry of Bolingbroke during his return from exile to claim John of Gaunt’s title and estates.  Walter became a knight just before Henry of Bolingbroke was crowned and would continue to serve Lancaster through the reigns of Henry IV and Henry V – he was an executor of Henry V’s will as well as also being a Speaker in Parliament. He was also Chief Steward for all the duchy lands south of the River Trent. By the time Sir Walter died, the Hungerford family owned fifty manors – perhaps making him into an example of a magnate with too much power and cash.

Inevitably the wheel of fortune turned as Lancaster’s fortunes declined with the reign of Henry VI. Sir Thomas’s grandson, Robert was executed in 1464 in the aftermath of the Battle of Hexham.The same fate befell Sir Thomas’s great grandson in 1469. It is perhaps unsurprising to discover that a member of the Hungerford family fought at Bosworth on the side of Henry Tudor – which helped to reverse the attainder that the House of York in the form of Edward IV had passed against the Hungerford family.

The Lancaster Affinity is hugely important to the period and to England’s changing political landscape.  The career patterns of John of Gaunt’s retinue echo one another in more ways than one- so no doubt I shall come back to the Lancaster Affinity and John of Gaunt’s retinue one way or another but its time to look more closely at Katherine Swynford.

 

Roskell, John Smith. (1981) Parliament and Politics in Late Medieval England, Volume 2

Roskell, John Smith. (1965) The Commons and Their Speakers in English Parliaments, 1376-1523. Manchester: Manchester University Press

 

 

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Sir John Pole of Hartington (d.1397)

 

DSC_0174John Pole of Hartington (the picture is of Hartington Church) in Derbyshire held some important offices in the Duchy of Lancaster – not least being the steward of the High Peak – which I think you’ll agree is a rather wonderful title as is the title of forester of Crowdecote – another of John’s nice little money spinners. The Crowdecote office came with the purchase of land which appears to have occurred shortly after Pole inherited the family lands in the area. The Parliamentary website also suggests that it was the purchase of the land at Crowdecote which first brought Pole into the orbit of Gaunt’s sphere of influence certainly it was from this time that Pole acquired grazing rights to land in Hartington in the ownership of Gaunt as part of the Duchy of Lancaster  (Hartington had been in the hands of the Ferrers family until involvement with de Montford’s rebellion saw his estates ending up in the hands of Edmund of Lancaster).

We probably shouldn’t be too surprised, either, to learn that Pole became a member of parliament following his links to Gaunt – it is pure supposition to consider the idea that Pole purchased the land at Crowdecote with the single aim of improving his political and financial standing by hooking up to the Lancaster bandwagon but it certainly isn’t outside the realms of possibility.

In 1381 Pole can be found suppressing revolting peasants – a role which he continued throughout his career in Gaunt’s service as in 1386 he is on the record arresting people following unrest in Worksop. Ironically it was probably his role as an assessor of tax in 1379 that led to the unrest in the area in 1381! He is also noted as being sent off  in 1395 to lean on juries in Staffordshire along with other men in Gaunt’s retinue…suddenly its all sounding very mafia-ish.

 

More importantly so far as history’s knowledge of Pole is concerned is his keenness to take people to court – lawyers are good at written records and consequentially we know quite a lot about him.  He first appears in 1376 suing someone from Alstonfield for poaching and there are also records of him suing his own family over the inheritance of the manor of Sheen which had been split for a number of years due to the way it was inherited but when the manor was finally reunited under John’s tenure he promptly sued the previous occupants for laying waste the estate – presumably they weren’t too happy about the fact that the manor was ultimately going into John’s hands and took what they could whilst the going was good. Ultimately another John Pole would sell the manor of Sheen to Edward IV.

 

Our fourteenth century Pole appears to have recognized which side his bread was buttered and became on of the duchy’s most loyal supporters in the region. In return he gained preferential rates for grazing in the High Peak as well as an annuity of £10 a year as one of Gaunt’s retainers – crucially both in times of peace and war. He was newly knighted in 1386 when he set off for Spain with John of Gaunt and Constance or Constanza of Castile in John’s abortive campaign to claim the Spanish throne. Fortunately for Pole he avoided succumbing to the disease that rampaged through Gaunt’s army and returned to Derbyshire.

 

When he returned to England he appears to have continued extending his land holdings in Derbyshire and Staffordshire. His behaviour either on his own behest or for his master seems to have caused major disagreements with the abbot of Dieulacres in 1395.

Dieulacres, a Cistercian Abbey near Leek, had a bit of a reputation! The abbot was prone to suggesting that it was put upon but the Victoria County History for Staffordshire paints a rather different picture as this extract demonstrates:

 

The abbey appears as aggressor as much as victim in numerous breaches of the peace in the area during the later Middle Ages, the abbot maintaining armed bands like any troublesome lay magnate. A royal commission of inquiry in 1379 recited ‘information that one William, Abbot of Dieulacres, desiring to perpetrate maintenance in his marches and oppress the people’, had kept a band of 21 retainers ‘to stay with him . . . to do all the mischief they can to the people in the county of Stafford and that they have lain in wait for them, assaulted, maimed, and killed some, and driven others from place to place until they made a fine with them’. In 1380 a similar group was indicted for having beheaded John de Warton at Leek by command of Abbot William. The abbot surrendered and was imprisoned, but he was soon pardoned and released. At the beginning of Henry V’s reign the county was in a very disturbed state, and among the many indictments was one involving a monk of Dieulacres and a servant of the abbot. They were accused of being members of a group of 80 who had broken into William Egerton’s park at Cheddleton in 1413 and stolen ironstone.

 

So the dispute between Pole and the Cistercians was probably a rather lively one which has been relegated to a passing footnote of history. 1395 also saw Pole being charged with the illegal use of hunting dogs – whether it was connected to the abbot is another matter entirely.

 

Pole was probably dead by 1397 because he disappears from the register and his son, another John, is described as a minor. John senior’s widow, Isobel, went on to marry Sir Thomas Beek, another member of Gaunt’s retinue. Isobel and Sir Thomas appear in the records in several land ownership cases at the time as well as sueing Henry Marion, William Perkson, William de Tyderyngton and Hugh del Grene, for treading down and consuming her grass at Alstonfield – I should add that it was the cattle of the aforementioned doing the trampling and eating!

 

The family tradition for suing all and sundry was maintained by young John when he came of age because he promptly sued his mother and step-father for failing to account for their stewardship of his estates – including at Alstonfield- the general feeling being that they had lived rather well on the proceeds.

 

I have the feeling that I will be returning to the Poles at some point. And before anyone asks; I know that they were related to the Poles of Radbourne in Derbyshire and linked to the Chandos family but not to the de la Poles (dukes of Suffolk) or to the Pole family who were Henry Tudor’s cousins (Henry married off Margaret Plantagenet- daughter of the duke of Clarence- to his cousin Sir Richard Pole – she went on to become the Countess of Salisbury and was brutally executed by Henry VIII). I should add that that particular Pole family came from Cheshire. A casual glance at the map reveals that it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that the two families were somehow linked but the two sets of Poles were distinctly separate entities so far as known history is concerned.

DSC_0173.jpg

 

G C Baugh, W L Cowie, J C Dickinson, Duggan A P, A K B Evans, R H Evans, Una C Hannam, P Heath, D A Johnston, Hilda Johnstone, Ann J Kettle, J L Kirby, R Mansfield and A Saltman, ‘Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Dieulacres’, in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 3, ed. M W Greenslade and R B Pugh (London, 1970), pp. 230-235. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol3/pp230-235 [accessed 22 August 2017].

 

POLE, Sir John de la (d.c.1397), of Hartington, Derbys. and Alstonfield, Staffs. Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993.  Available from Boydell and Brewer

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Sir John Curson of Kedleston (d.1406)

john cursonJohn of Gaunt’s estates were huge, including much of Derbyshire. It should not be surprising that Sir John Curson of Kedleston was one of his retainers nor should we be surprised that there was more than one John Curson in the area at the time – one of whom was found guilty of poaching deer from Gaunt’s Duffield’s estate – history is unclear whether it was Curson of Kedleston who went on to redeem the theft of Gaunt’s deer by his good service or another, possibly shadier Curson!

John Curson of Kedleston, unsurprisingly given his position within Derbyshire society, was a justice of the peace and one of the Lancaster Affinity in Parliament. In fact his name turns up rather a lot on legal documents of the period as a trustee for land holdings (more on that at the end of the post) and as a litigant for land claims arising from estates for which he was an executor. Perhaps one of the reasons he was so widely trusted with other men’s property was that he appears not to have extended his own landholdings as much as he might have done given the opportunities that arose.

 

His loyalty to the Lancaster affinity isn’t only seen in the Lancaster livery collar he wears on his funeral monument, it can also be read in his actions. In July 1399 there was a party from Derbyshire at Ravenspur to meet Henry of Bolingbroke who arrived in England breaking the terms of his banishment to claim in the first instant his title as duke of Lancaster. Curson was rewarded by being made an esquire of the chamber.

 

Curson’s actions not only speak of loyalty to the house of Lancaster but of a canny political move. It wasn’t long before Henry of Bolingbroke had turned into King Henry IV. That November Parliament awarded John £20 for his services to John of Gaunt and Henry IV; he became a privy councilor at a time when most of its members were related to the Crown and he escaped the censure which later attached itself to Henry’s council by attending meetings and being very busy on the king’s behalf not only in Derbyshire but in Wales and also in the north.  He became treasurer of Henry V’s army in Scotland, oversaw the so-called “love-days” between the English and the Scots which saw sworn enemies attend church arm in arm and generally made himself very useful on the Scottish borders – an office which extended in 1401 to arbitrating between the Douglas and Percy families (rather him than me). That particular role probably made settling Derbyshire trade disputes seem rather like a walk in the park.

 

Helen Castor makes the point that Curson is an example of how the Lancaster Affinity worked in Duchy counties like Derbyshire. Curson’s allegiance was to Lancaster and he was from one of the county’s leading families – it was almost inevitable that with a Lancastrian king on the throne he would came to hold many important posts within the county – it was almost a chicken and egg situation ie was the status because of his rank within local society or was it because of his loyalty to Lancaster (Castor:205)? In any event Castor says that the loyalty of men like Curson gave Henry IV more power than might have usually been expected by a monarch in the regions as not only did he wield the power of king also but the private power of a mighty magnate (the duchy of Lancaster). It meant that Henry could safely afford to “devolve” power to his men so that he personally did not have to traipse around the countryside dispensing justice and keeping an eye on what was happening because he had men whose loyalty he could rely upon to do that for him – which was fine in the first instance but wasn’t such a great strategy two generations down the line.

 

Curson died in 1405 and demonstrated that he had learned rather a lot about the law over the years. His eldest son was only twelve – so by rights Kedleston should have found itself in the chancy hands of the Crown with young John as its ward. However, Curson had ensured that his lands were in the hands of trustees before his death. Kedleston  did not offer rich pickings. The trustees administered the estate for John Junior until he came of age without recourse to the Crown – so that there was no sale of John’s wardship to the highest bidder and no creaming of the profits to recoup the expenditure.

In addition to John there was another son Thomas and a daughter Margaret all of whom married into Derbyshire families tightening the links that bound the ruling families together. John’s widow married into another local family.

 

And just in case you’re thinking that I’ve made a spelling mistake and the name should be Curzon – that came later.

 

Castor, Helen (2000) The King, the Crown, and the Duchy of Lancaster: Public Authority and the Crown.  Public Authority and Private Power, 1399-1461. Oxford: Oxford University Press

image accessed from https://dorysworld.wordpress.com/tag/all-saints-church-kedleston/ which is an informative (not to mention amusing) look at Kedleston Church.

 

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Peter de Melbourne

Melbourne_castle_1602Peter de Melbourne was an important part of the Lancaster affinity, serving as the MP for Derbyshire as well as being Constable of Melbourne Castle pictured at the start of this post (don’t go looking for it – there’s only a small section of wall surviving).

Peter’s parents also served in Lancaster’s household. Amy Melbourne knew Katherine Swynford and Philippa Chaucer serving as she did in Constance of Castile’s household. Like Katherine who raised her children alongside the duke’s as part of her terms of employment as the Gaunt governess there is evidence to suggest that Amy fetched her son into Gaunt’s household at an early age and as he grew was retained into the household – again in the way that Katherine Swynford did with her own son- Thomas Swynford. Amy’s links to Katherine are even more defined by the fact that when Katherine was away from her duties as governess it was Amy who stepped into her shoes and that the Duke gave them identical gifts for the care of his children on at least one occasion (Weir: 120).

 

In 1376 Peter was indentured for life to John of Gaunt at a fee of £10 per year; in earlier years it had been £5. He gained the role of Constable of Melbourne Castle as well as keeper of the park at the same time. After Amy’s death, parliamentary information reveals that he kept rents to the value of £66 per year which had formerly been his mother’s. This together with a marriage to one of Sir Simon Handseacre’s coheiresses made him a wealthy man and his fees would continue to grow with the passage of time marking his advancement in Gaunt’s household and then in the household of Henry of Bolingbroke.

In fact Melbourne went with Henry in 1392 to Prussia as part of Bolingbroke’s crusade – against the Lithuanians (it wasn’t a wildly popular event)- and from there accompanied Henry to the Holy Land – a fact which marks him out as being close to Bolingbroke who took only a small party of his closest friends and supporters with him.

Melbourne must have been increasingly concerned that his loyalty to Lancaster led him into conflict with Richard II. Bolingbroke was one of the Lords Appellant and being, apparently, a cautious man Melbourne gained a letter of pardon from the king for his support of Henry and the other Lords Appellant.

 

In 1399 it looked like a very sensible thing to have gained. John of Gaunt was dead and Henry of Bolingbroke in exile while his own son, another Henry, was  effectively hostage in Richard’s custody. Looking at the dry accounts there doesn’t seem much to tell – Melbourne appears to have jumped ship and gone over to Richard – the king confirmed Melbourne’s annuities. Melbourne went to Ireland with Richard that same summer.

 

Except of course – he hadn’t changed sides. Certainly Henry of Bolingbroke on becoming King Henry IV and locking his cousin away in Pontefract promptly granted Melbourne a fee of 100 marks a year and gave him lands in Derbyshire that had once belonged to Thomas Merke, Bishop of Carlisle and vociferous critic of the usurpation. The key to understanding the reward and what Melbourne was doing with Richard comes from recognizing the fact that Melbourne was appointed chamberlain of the household of the newly minted Prince Henry – the eldest son who’d found himself at the court of Richard. Melbourne would appear to have been caring for the Lancaster scion all along – and let’s not forget that he turns up on Henry IV’s wife’s accounts as well, as one of her two esquires. Without a doubt Peter de Melbourne was at the heart of the Lancaster household. In March 1413 when Prince Henry became King Henry V, Melbourne was rewarded by the new king for his lifelong loyal service.

 

Melbourne died in 1418.

 

Weir, Alison (2011) Katherine Swynford – The Story of John of Gaunt and his Scandalous Duchess. London:Vintage

http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1386-1421/member/melbourne-peter-1418

 

 

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