Monthly Archives: February 2015

Black-Faced Clifford

'The_Murder_of_Rutland_by_Lord_Clifford'_by_Charles_Robert_Leslie,_1815John Clifford, aged twenty-one, at the First Battle of St Albans in 1455 buried his father in St Albans Abbey. It was agreed, according to Holinshed, that at the Duke of York, the Earls of Warwick and Salisbury should pay the monastery of St. Albans for masses for the souls of Thomas Clifford and the other notable Lancastrians who died during the battle and that the Earl of should pay a fine to be shared between Thomas’s children – no doubt the Vikings would have recognized it as weregeld. The new Lord Clifford wasn’t particularly interested in gold and John, according to Shakespeare, was much more interested in revenge.

 

John’s opportunity came five years later on the 30th December 1460. Five years had seen the polarization of England’s nobility while Richard, Duke of York ultimately overplayed his hand. Richard having been named Lord Protector during Henry VI’s illness in 1453 had been sidelined by Henry VI’s queen, Margaret of Anjou, once Henry regained his facilities. This led to the fisticuffs at St Albans. In the aftermath of the First Battle of St Albans, although the Yorkists had been victorious Richard had reaffirmed his loyalty to the king and an uneasy peace achieved mainly by shipping Richard off to Ireland where he was out of the way.

 

Relations between the different factions reached breaking point in 1459 when Richard arrived home without asking permission first and the Earl of Warwick arrived in Sandwich from Calais backed up by an army. Without going through the frenetic events of the next twelve months it is sufficient for the purposes of this post to say that Richard eventually rocked up in Parliament and said he wanted to be king. If he’d asked to be made Lord Protector folk might have agreed but Richard was carried away by his own spin and seems to have forgotten that when Henry Bolingbroke did the same thing in order to become Henry IV that not only had the whole thing had been carefully orchestrated but that King Richard II was in ‘safe’ custody. In Richard of York’s case neither of these precautions had been taken and even his closest allies were somewhat taken aback. There was a bit of an embarrassed silence followed by the Act of Accord which essentially said that Henry VI could be king while he lived but his successor would be Richard of York – a resolution which satisfied no one – especially Margaret of Anjou whose son Prince Edward had just been cut out of the succession.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing but it seems quite obvious that it wasn’t going to end well.

 

Richard of York took himself North and spent Christmas at his castle in Sandal just outside Wakefield. This was not necessarily the most clever thing he’d ever done as it was in enemy territory. Nor was it very sensible of Richard to emerge on the 30th to give battle to a party of Lancastrians. Sandal was a well-protected castle. All he had to do was sit tight and wait for reinforcements. This isn’t a post about the reasons behind Richard’s decisions to give battle or the rights and wrongs of them but I am finally back on track with John Clifford as he was one of the Lancastrians waiting outside Sandal.

 

The Battle of Wakefield was a vicious affair. John Clifford is purported to have come across the body of Richard of York, resting against an ant hill, and hacked off the corpse’s head. It was not a very knightly deed.  Richard’s head ended up with a paper crown facing into the city of York from Micklegate Bar having first been presented to Margaret of Anjou by way of a gift. Richard’s sons Edward, George and Richard would not forgive the insult.

 

Even worse, popular rumour stated that John Clifford killed Richard of York’s other son Edmund, Earl of Rutland in the aftermath of the battle. There is no specific evidence that John did the deed, Edmund may have been killed during the battle itself and not by John. History shows the lad was about seventeen. Shakespeare makes him a boy- as illustrated in this picture dating from 1815. Edmund, the son of a nobleman, would reasonably have expected mercy in the event of his capture for two reasons. Firstly and most importantly he could be ransomed and secondly despite the events at Agincourt when chivalry went out the window there was still an expectation of respecting ones opponents. So, to tell the tale, which probably isn’t history but definitely makes a good story; Edmund fled the battle and arrived at the bridge crossing the River Calder at Wakefield.  Some versions of the story say that he sought shelter in some nearby houses but that no one would take him in, other versions say that he was captured but anonymous.  John Clifford noticed the boy’s clothes and asked who he was. Edmund’s tutor told Clifford adding that he would be well rewarded for keeping the boy safe, thinking that it would ease Edmund’s situation – talk about misreading the situation!  John wanted revenge for his father’s death so killed the boy  saying ‘your father slew mine so now I kill you,’ or words to that effect.  Edmund’s brother Edward, George and Richard would have their own revenge in due course.

 

John’s actions at the Battle of Wakefield gained him the name “Butcher Clifford” or “Black-Faced Clifford.” The Wars of the Roses became a much bloodier affair thereafter with both sides killing one another in the aftermath of battles reflecting personal feuds running parallel to the desperate power struggle between the various Plantagenet scions.

 

The rest of John’s story is best summaries by Leland:

Next year he met with his own end. On the day before the Battle of Towton, and after a rencontre at Ferrybridge, having put off his gorget, he was struck on the throat by a headless arrow out of a bush, and immediately expired.

 

It is thought that his body was thrown into a burial pit after Towton.

 

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Thomas Clifford, the Eighth Lord of Skipton

st albansThomas was born in 1415 so he was seven when his father died. The size of the Clifford estates meant that Thomas passed into the wardship of King Henry VI. Often children were passed into the hands of unscrupulous guardians who used the opportunity to strip their charges’ estates or marry them off to their own children. Thomas was more fortunate as he was placed in the custody of his own mother. It was she who arranged the marriage of Thomas to Joan the daughter of Lord Dacre of Gilsland keeping alive the tradition of intermarriage between the powerful northern families. They had four sons and six daughters.

 

Like his father, Thomas took an active role in keeping the Scots under control along the border and like his father he took part in the Hundred Years War, which was drawing to a close by this time. In the years following Henry V’s victory at Agincourt the English had gradually lost the land they had gained. Following the death of Henry VI’s uncle the Duke of Bedford, poor leadership resulted in a rapid decline in English fortunes only halted by peace negotiations and marriage between King Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou.

 

Henry VI’s gentle nature may have suited him for monastic life but they did not suit him for the role of medieval monarch. Frictions between the various court factions were beginning to show the cracks in the Plantagenet royal family.

The Cliffords were associated with Richard of Cambridge through Thomas’s aunt Maud who was Richard’s second wife, Thomas’s godmother and Thomas was a beneficiary of her will.  Logically then, the Cliffords should have sided with the House of York as Cambridge’s descendants would be known because of the ties which bound the two families together. However, there seems to have been a growing enmity between the two clans. One possible reason could be to do with Maud retaining the castle at Conisborough and its estates as part of her dower. Yerburgh suggests that the bad blood that developed into a feud during the Wars of the Roses might be accounted for by the death of one of Cambridge’s men at the hand of Clifford whilst hunting but history hasn’t left a detailed account.

 

Politics gradually turned into warfare. The first battle of the Wars of the Roses was the Battle of St Albans in May 1455. Richard, Duke of York (Richard of Cambridge’s son) led a force of about 3,000 towards London. Henry VI’s army halted at St Albans on their way to intercept York. St Albans found itself behind barricades while the Lancastrians (those for Henry VI) negotiated with the Yorkists. Thomas Clifford, loyal to his king, was commanding the vanguard. Fighting was fierce but ultimately the Earl of Warwick tilted matters in favour of York by breaking through some houses into the market place.

 

Lord Clifford was killed and his body stripped. His twenty-one-year-old son found the body. A feud was born that would continue until the death of Thomas Clifford’s son at Ferry Bridge.  Before that John Clifford’s fury would lead to increasing ferocity on the battle field and the deaths of the flower of England’s nobility.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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More complicated family trees – and a link to the Plantagenets.

IMG_3953John Clifford, the Tenth Lord, maintained the reputation for jousting that his father had bequeathed to him. Like his father he met with the Douglas family in tournament at Carlisle and like his father he was established as a favourite at court.  He was present at the coronation of Henry V and following the victory at Agincourt at the coronation of Katherine of Valois.

The Cliffords were definitely  on the up. It helped that their experiences on the Scottish borders made them warriors.  John maintained his role in the north and added to the family homes by extending Appleby Castle – the gatehouse which stands today was commission by him.  John aside from his parochial responsibities in the north and job as MP for Henry IV and Henry V’s parliaments also managed to find time  to gain a reputation for thrashing the french during the Hundred Years War.

 

Edward III’s mother was Isabella of France (the one married to Edward II and known in history as the ‘she wolf’’). Upon the death of her brothers she was the last remaining member of the family so logically the French throne should have passed to her son King Edward III of England. Certainly that was what had been promised. However, the French were not keen on the English and also had a salic law in place which prohibited women from claiming the throne so handed the crown straight to a male cousin causing the English to become very irritated indeed and spend slightly more than a hundred years trying to prove their point with varying amounts of success.

 

Edward III carried his claim into war against France and it continued intermittently thereafter through the reigns of Richard II, Henry IV , Henry V and Henry VI. In its early years when the English were successful it was an opportunity for knights to make a fortune in loot and ransoms. It was also an opportunity to gain influence and power. Yerborough records of John Clifford:

 

Henry V retained him in his service for one year for the war with France. The contract was to this effect, that the said John, Lord Clifford, with fifty men-at-arms well accoutred, whereof three to be knights, the rest esquires, and one hundred and fifty archers, whereof two parts to serve on horseback, the third on foot, should serve the king from the day he should be ready to set sail for France, taking for himself 4s.for every knight, for every esquire is., for every archer 6d. a day.

P29 Yerborough, Some Notes on Our Family History

 

John was by Henry V’s side at Agincourt and at the Siege of Harfleur, then the inevitable happened. He got himself killed. He was thirty-three years old in 1422 when he was killed at the Siege of Meaux.  Again according to Yerborough and the Chronicle of Kirkstall he “was buried at Bolton Abbey apud canonicos de Boulton.’ Elizabeth his wife outlived him and married, secondly, Ralph, Earl of Westmorland.”  The moral of the story being that if you were sufficiently important someone would pickle you and send you home to your grieving wife who would promptly marry someone just as important as you even if you were a knight of the garter.

 

Marrying someone important was rapidly becoming a family pass time for the Cliffords.  Elizabeth Clifford started out as Elizabeth Percy. She was the daughter of Shakespeare’s Earl of Northumberland – Harry Hotspur- meaning that not only was she a scion of the most powerful border family in the country but she was also a Plantagenet. Her grandfather had been Edward Mortimer, Earl of March and her grandmother Philippa was the only child of Lionel Duke of Clarence, the second son of King Edward III.

Ties to the Plantagenets were even deeper and even more complicated than the Elizabeth Percy link. John’s sister Matilda (or Maud depending on the text) married Richard, Duke of Cambridge. Richard’s first wife Ann had been a Mortimer (a daughter of the fourth Earl of March– so definitely some kind of cousin of Elizabeth Percy) but Ann had died in childbirth leaving children and brothers who would find their Plantagenet bloodline and claim to the throne increasingly problematic.

 

Richard and Maud had one daughter Alice – about whom I’m currently quite upset as I thought I knew the House of York family tree rather well on the grounds that knowing who was related to whom becomes very important if you study the Wars of the Roses and now there’s someone new for me to worry about. Maud, on the other hand, was not in the least bit worried by the looks of it. She outlived Richard who managed to get himself executed in 1415 in the aftermath of the Southampton Plot.

 

The Southampton Plot had been designed to depose Henry V and replace him with Edward Mortimer – Richard’s young brother-in-law by his first wife Ann Mortimer. Edward Mortimer had a very good claim to the throne being descended from the second son of Edward III. Henry V didn’t take very kindly to Richard and his friends pointing out that Henry’s dad (Henry IV) had stolen the throne from his cousin (Richard II).  Aside from the fact that usurping thrones is generally not very nice, Henry IV and V were descended from John of Gaunt who was the third son of Edward III. Neither of them really should have been king at all – the descendants of the second son having a better claim than the descendants of the third son.  Henry demonstrated that family trees are all very well but actually being a medieval king was largely about having a large sword, an even larger army and a reputation for winning.  Had Henry V lived to see his son grow to adulthood Richard of Cambridge may well have ended up as a footnote in history as it was Henry V failed to do the one other thing that a medieval king needed to do – provide the kingdom with a strong adult male to succeed him.

 

Maud spent a lot of time at Conisborough Castle after Richard’s death and became a founder an patron of Roche Abbey.  She must have seen the various members of the Plantagenet family and their associated noble scions taking sides after Henry V’s death as to who should wield power in England – the House of York to which the Cliffords were allied through marriage or the House of Lancaster. Her will, dated 1446 (just nine years before the First Battle of St Albans), makes no mention of her troublesome step-children who would feature heavily in the Wars of the Roses.

 

Just to complicate matters that little bit further Matilda/Maud had already been married once to John Neville, the Sixth Baron Latimer. The divorce documents still remain – “casusa frigiditatis ujusdem Johannis Nevill  Now there’s a story to be told in those few words!  Who needs soap operas when the Plantagenets and the Cliffords are in town?

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