Monthly Archives: October 2014

The Earl of Kendal – one man, many titles.

NPG D23929; John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset after Unknown artistJohn Beaufort, as well as being the grandson of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford, was also the first Duke of Somerset.   Just to confuse things his father was only the Earl of Somerset. It was only in the reign of Edward III that Duke’s were added to the list of English nobility. Initially it was a title reserved for the king’s sons prior to that time the title ‘Earl’ was the highest ranking title in the peerage below that of King.  Our John, depicted here in an eighteenth century engraving, was the second son of John Beaufort, First Earl of Somerset. He became the third earl when his brother, Henry, died in 1418 – somewhat bizarrely making him Earl and Duke of Somerset.


Beaufort fought in Henry V’s army in France. In 1421, he accompanied the king’s younger brother Thomas of Lancaster to the fighting in Anjou. Thomas was killed at the Battle of Baugé and Somerset was captured. He remained a captive until a ransom was paid and then he continued a military career which was not an unmitigated success.

In August 1443, having been created Duke of Somerset, Earl of Kendal and Knight of the Garter by King Henry VI, John led an army to France where he managed to loose badly.  He had to turn to Richard, Duke of York for support – a bitter pill for the Duke of York to swallow, as John’s army had been financed while his own army was not. Unable to bear the stigma of defeat it is thought that John Beaufort, First Duke of Somerset, committed suicide.


The Earldom of Kendal was not a new title when Henry VI gave it to him.  This, of course, is one of the things that make titles hard to follow.  It had been re-created from a Norman title for a son of Henry IV but it became extinct on his death. It became extinct once more when John Beaufort died. Oddly, John Beaufort has something in common with Charles I’s nephew, Prince Rupert of the Rhine because he too was given the title Earl of Kendal and once again it became extinct with the earl’s death without legitimate issue.  The only thing that can be said about the Earldom of Kendal after the Norman period is that it was given to someone with a familial connection to the king!


The question then becomes why don’t we known John Beaufort as the Earl of Kendal? Well, quite simply a duke is more important than an earl.  Of course, just to complicate things there is a title between Duke and Earl – Marquess- but there aren’t very many of them.

King Richard II introduced the title ‘marquess’ in 1385 when he made Robert de Vere, who was already Earl of Oxford, Marquess of Dublin.  The title was removed from de Vere in 1386 on account of the rest of the earls being decidedly underwhelmed.  The title remained unpopular.  John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset (the John of this blog’s father) asked not to be known by the title Marquess of Dorset because he said that it was ‘strange’ in England.




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Sir John Bataille – a good friend.

This is a snippet of domestic history that hints at the wider social and  political turmoil of the Fifteenth Century.

The Victoria County History for Essex reveals that In 1454 Sir John Bataille temporarily forfeited two-thirds of his manor in Ongar.  He had pledged the property as surety for the good behaviour of Robert Poynings, who had been ‘carver and swordbearer’ to Jack Cade (and who had married Elizabeth Paston the same year as becoming involved in the Kent rebellion). He was pardoned and bound over to keep the peace, but failed to do so. It wasn’t until 1455 that Poynings was cleared of treason having been outlawed in the meantime. John Bataille, who’d clearly been a good friend to Poynings in his time of need, was left out of pocket. His land was removed from him by the king for 15 years – which is an awful lot of rent to miss out on especially as he died a short time after it was returned to his care.


There is evidence of  Sir John Bataille’s straitened circumstances because in 1468, he mortgaged the manor of Magdalen Laver to Sir Thomas Cooke for £200. Soon afterwards Thomas became owner of the estate. (S) Magdalen Laver: Manor, A History of the County of Essex: V4: 1956.


And don’t be mistaken into believing that Robert Poynings was a disgruntled soldier returning from the disasterous war with France neither was he a yeoman nor a peasant who was fed up with taxation and an unfair social system. No, not at all…Robert Poynings’ grandfather was a baron who had settled the manors of Newington, Eastwell and Westwood in Kent on his granddaughter, Eleanor Poynings – the wife of the Earl of Northumberland. Our Robert had a countess for a niece and he wasn’t happy that she’d bagged the land which he had his eye upon. Even worse, someone else had carted off his grandfather’s belongings. (Was everyone related to everyone else at the beginning of the Wars of the Roses?  It must have been ever so difficult to keep track of which members of your family you weren’t speaking with.)  Anyway, back to Poynings -it was this disgruntlement with his grandfather’s will  and the response to his lawsuit that apparently led him to join with Cade. It didn’t do him any harm in the long run as he ended up as MP for Sussex.


So why did Sir John pledge his property? Well his wife Elizabeth who was the daughter of John Orell and Alice Poynings.  Didn’t I say everyone was related to everyone else?

Now while this isn’t a complete biography by any stretch of the imagination it does provide a snapshot that goes to show that family alliances and friendships could have far reaching consequences during the reign of Henry VI in the run up to the Wars of the Roses.

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Lady Margaret Courtenay nee Beaufort

MargaretCourtenay_ColytonChurch_DevonThe prelude to the Wars of the Roses and the wars themselves are notable by the role of a number of ambitious and dynastically important women who even managed to get their portraits painted in an age when it wasn’t done to waste paint on the female of the species. There are other women though, wives, mothers and sisters who were part of the Plantagenet tangle but who remain largely in the shadows – leaving modern observers to wonder what they felt about the feuds and wars that saw their families at one another’s throats – and of course to wonder what they looked like. Lady Margaret Beaufort is one such  woman… not the mother of Henry Tudor – the aunt of the much more famous Lady Margaret Beaufort.



Our Lady Margaret Beaufort was born at the turn of the fifteenth century, the daughter of the First Earl of Somerset, John Beaufort. This means, that her paternal grandparents were John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford. Her mother was Margaret Holland, a daughter of the Earl of Kent – so descended from King Edward I through his second wife and the niece of King Richard II.


She married Thomas Courtenay the Fifth Earl of Devon in 1421.   Their son was Thomas Courtenay, the sixth Earl of Devon. He was executed in the aftermath of the Battle of Towton in April 1461 an attainted traitor. He was succeeded by his brother John who died in 1471.


Margaret’s husband contributing to the growing antoganism between the Houses of York and Lancaster during Richard, Duke of Lancaster’s first protectorate in 1453. He’d been conducting a feud with Lord Bonville which spread disorder through the southwest since he came of age.  As you might expect, the feud was to do with territory and position – both of which required patronage.   Despite his marriage to Margaret Beaufort he felt sidelined from his rightful position by Lord Bonville. Matters didn’t improve when Bonville married the Earl of Devon’s aunt nor indeed when Cardinal Beaufort died and the power at court transferred into the hands of the Duke of Suffolk (de la Pole) who Bonville looked to for support.


One thing led to another. The Earl of Devon, despite his marriage into the Beaufort, and therefore Lancaster clan – sidelined from the court party, found himself drawn ever closer to Richard, Duke of York who represented the opposition.   Ultimately the Earl of Devon spent some time considering the error of his ways in Wallingford Castle – no doubt his wife uttered the immortal words ‘I told you so’…


The  next problem for the Earl of Devon and his friendship with Richard of York was that Richard was drawn into an ever closer alliance with the Nevilles who in their own turn had their own alliances; one of which was with…you’ve guessed it – that pesky Lord Bonville. In fact Bonville’s son married one of Richard Neville’s (Earl of Salisbury) daughters.  I wonder if the Earl of Devon gnashed his teeth and wailed when he thought about the way that events in distant London conspired to set him at a disadvantage against his enemy who seemed to have a knack of making important friends.


On the eve of the First Battle of St Albans it was the Earl of Devon who, despite his increasing alienation from York, who carried the Duke’s letters for him and handed them to the king.


As the kingdom unraveled into civil war things in Devon weren’t going any better between the Earl of Devon and Lord Bonville. A man was murdered, the Earl’s son Thomas was implicated. It was a national scandal reported in the Paston Letters. The Earl found himself in the Tower, not because of the murder, but after a nasty  incident involving the citizens of Exeter. And that might have been that had it not been for Margaret of Anjou – one of those significant women of the Wars of the Roses- who became the Earl’s patroness; married his son and heir off to one of her own kinswomen, provided him with status and put Bonville in his place – ensuring that the earl was loyal to the Lancaster cause thereafter– something that Margaret Beaufort hadn’t been able to achieve during her marriage to the earl.


Margaret Beaufort’s husband died almost ten years after his wife at Abingdon Abbey in 1458 and was succeeded by his son who’d been cleared of the murder of Nicholas Radford.


It is thought that Margaret Courtenay nee Beaufort, Countess of Devon is buried in St Andrew’s Church Colyton. The effigy at the start of this blog was identified as belonging to Margaret by the Courtenay and Beaufort arms.  So although we don’t know what the lady thought about the feuding which lasted throughout her life time we can hazard a guess as to what she looked like.  Having said that, as you might expect, things aren’t quite as cut and dried as could be desired.  The Courtenay Monument, as it is known, was named for Margaret Courtenay, the daughter of Princess  Catherine,  daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, who married Sir William Courtenay, the tenth Earl of Devon  in 1495.  The earl may have regretted his liaison with a Plantagenet sprig when his brother-in-law a.k.a. Henry VII hustled him and his son off to the Tower of London.




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Eleanor Cobham – duchess, witch, convicted traitor.

eleanorcobhamEleanor Cobham should not have become a duchess; she certainly shouldn’t have been the first lady in Henry VI’s court. She didn’t have the right bloodlines.


She was the daughter of Sir Reginald Cobham of Sterborough but was fortunate that she found a place in the household of Jacqueline, Countess of Hainault as a lady-in-waiting. Jacqueline had fled her husband John, Duke of Brabant – so a bit of a wayward woman by medieval standards. As it turned out young Eleanor had her own fair share of waywardness that would take her all the way to the top of English society before she crashed from grace on a charge of witchcraft and treason.

Of course this all has a back story attached to it.  Henry V, the English king died from dysentery contracted during the Hundred Years War. He left a son, Henry VI, as his successor – unfortunately young Henry was still in swaddling clothes. Henry V’s brother, John, Duke of Bedford, governed France as regent, while his youngest brother, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, was named protector of England during the young king’s minority. Henry’s two brothers did not get on. In fact if John said it was day, Humphrey would probably have declared it to be night.

Jacqueline was a Countess without a country. She wanted help recovering Hainault from her husband. If that wasn’t enough of a challenge she also sought to recover Holland and Zeeland from her uncle, John of Bavaria. Duke Humphrey, perhaps because his brother was making a marriage with the Burgundians, married Jacqueline. This rather rained on John, Duke of Bedford’s carefully negotiated treaty with the Burgundians and caused some dissent between the new allies because Philip of Burgundy had his own eyes on Hainault.


In October 1424, the Duke Humphrey and his bride landed at Calais. Eleanor Cobham went with them. It was a disaster. Philip of Burgundy was amore popular ruler than Humphrey with the good people of Hainault. So, he did what all sensible men do in an emergency, he deserted his wife and returned home – leaving Jacqueline to be captured by Philip of Burgundy.


Eleanor having no desire to be mired in Jacqueline’s disaster took herself home as well. It wasn’t long before the former lady-in-waiting became Humphrey’s mistress. Gossip soon whispered that Eleanor had inveigled Humphrey into her snare with the help of a witch called Margery Journemayne. The gossip must have buzzed when the duke and his mistress were married. Stow reported that a group of women sent a letter to Humphrey pointing out that it wasn’t very honourable of him to leave poor Jacqueline as a prisoner in the hands of the Duke of Burgundy or for him to carry on in public with Eleanor.


Whatever nobility wives thought of Eleanor she was now a duchess and in 1440 Henry VI made her a Lady of the Garter.

In September 1435, John, Duke of Bedford died. Humphrey was now heir to the throne – the thought of being king seems to have gone to both Humphrey and Eleanor’s heads. Eleanor had gone from being the daughter of a knight to the first lady in the land. The crown was a heartbeat away. The trouble was that Eleanor was not particularly gracious in her new role. One chronicler wrote that she showed off “her pride and her position by riding through the streets of London, glitteringly dressed and suitably escorted by men of noble birth.”   So clearly tact and diplomacy were not high on her list of skill sets.


Duke Humphrey was university educated. He loved books. In his collection was one on astrology. Eleanor appears to have had an interest in the topic as well because in June 1441, Eleanor, having dined at Cheapside was informed that three members of her household had been arrested on charges of conspiring against the king. The suspects implicated Eleanor – as must have been the intention all along. Eleanor seeing which way the wind was blowing took herself off to Westminster and into sanctuary.


Eleanor was told to go to Leeds Castle but pretended that she was too ill to go. It was to no avail. She faced trial and admitted that she had turned to witchcraft to get a child with Humphrey and to having the future of Henry VI told. Humphrey remained silent on the matter. He made no move to defend his wife but once she was found guilty his political life was as good as over. Following the trial Humphrey and Eleanor were forcible divorced and Eleanor made to do public penance which was, all things considered, a narrow escape – poor Margery Journemayne was burned at the stake as a witch in Smithfield.

From London, at the beginning of 1442, Eleanor was sent to Cheshire; via Kenilworth and from there to the Isle of Man – a duchess no more.

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