A tale of several heads…

sandal1-300x199I watched England’s Bloody Crown tonight.  The series is about the Wars of the Roses and based on The Hollow Crown.  I’m a fan of Dan Jones, his clear writing style and the depth of information he provides- I’m not so much a fan of the tv series though because of the amount of simplification required to tell a story that every viewer can follow.  By the time the Battle of Wakefield had finished I was goggling at the box: for a few moments I wondered if I’d made up the deaths of the Earl of Salisbury, his son Sir Thomas Neville and the Duke of York’s son Edmund.  Certainly the docu-drama element of the programme gave the impression that it was just the Duke of York who found his severed head atop the Micklegate Bar in York.

So, for my own peace of mind…its 30th December 1460. Though in the words of Channel Five I should warn you that this post contains images of medieval violence… (just imagine me spluttering crossly into my cup of peppermint tea)…’medieval’ violence indeed.

The Duke of York has had a mildly unpleasant Christmas holed up in Sandal Castle with between six  and nine thousand men and is running short of food (presumably the important folk got to stay inside the castle and the ordinary man at arms had the joy of camping in Yorkshire in December with the bonus of a hostile force nearby.) For reasons best known to himself York decided to venture out and away from the high ground upon which Sandal Castle stands – possibly to forage, possibly he thought his forces were superior, possibly he’d fallen victim to a Lancastrian trick, possibly he was just a little bit too rash.

Inevitably the Lancastrians and the Yorkists came to blows. During the fighting the Duke of York lost his horse and was killed – there’s a memorial to the event on the housing estate which stands on part of the battle field today. Richard of York’s seventeen-year-old son Edmund, Earl of Rutland attempted to escape over Wakefield Bridge, but was cornered and killed despite pleading for mercy- possibly by Clifford who was known ever afterwards as “Black-faced Clifford” in revenge for his father’s death at St Albans.

The Earl of Salisbury who’d gone north with York managed to escape the battlefield but his son Sir Thomas Neville died during the battle. Salisbury’s getaway was neither an effective nor clean break for freedom.  He was captured during the night and taken to Pontefract Castle – where the local populace did for him (hacked off his head) on account of the fact he was not a terribly generous overlord.

Richard of York’s paper-crowned head was not lonely on the Micklegate Bar.  It was accompanied by the gory remains of his son and the Earl of Salisbury.

Unfortunately Clifford’s brutality and the failure of the staff at Pontefract to keep their ‘guest’ safe meant that the Wars of the Roses became increasingly brutal as well as swiftly reducing the ranks of the warring Plantagenets to the extent that by the time the Lancastrians wanted to field a new contender for the crown after the death of Edward IV  (Richard of York’s son) the only available male heir was Henry Tudor – whose pedigree was decidedly dodgy.


Double click on the image to open a new window containing a history of Sandal Castle.

4 thoughts on “A tale of several heads…

  1. Scandal at Sandal
    Pontefract Castle was the home of the de Lacy family and Sandal Castle, just outside Wakefield, the northern home of the de Warrenes, Earls of Surrey. In the fourteenth century, at that time of Robin Hood of Wakefield, a great scandal blew up between the de Lacys and the Warennes. In October or November of the year 1317, Alesia de Laci, the wife of Thomas Earl of Lancaster, was abducted by John de Warenne, the eighth earl. She was taken to Warenne’s castle at Reigate . The reason for the abduction was not romantic, but political, but the Earl of Lancaster nonetheless divorced the countess and put Sandal Castle to the torch. As the marriage had not been a happy one, she does not seen to have been unduly distressed, in fact she proceeded to have an affair with one of her squires, Ebulo L’Estrange and later married him after the earl’s death.
    In 1322 Thomas of Lancaster rebelled against Edward 11, his cousin, and was defeated at Boroughbridge. He was tried at Pontefract Castle, his home, and one of his judges was , unfortunately for him, his old enemy John de Warenne. Earl Thomas was beheaded in his own grounds and his estates forfeited to the Crown, while those of de Warenne, which he had acquired after the abduction, were regranted back to his rival, though Alesia did not inherit anything. However, she consoled herself by marrying her young squire, though after a few more years she was reputed to have poisoned him and married someone else, dying at sixty-four after an unusual and adventurous life !
    John de Warenne did not fare any better with his matrimonial affairs than the Earl of Lancaster. He had married, for political reasons, Joan le Bar, a ward of Edward 1, when she was ten years old and he was twenty. Their marriage was unhappy because de Warenne already had a mistress, Maud de Neyrford, by whom he had at least two children. This caused such a scandal that the Archbishop of Canterbury intervened, ordering the earl to “cease from the disorderly life which your re leading with Maude de Neyrforde. ” But de Warenne ignored the order and tried in 1314 tried to obtain a divorce from Joan, who had been taken away from her husband and returned to court.
    De Warenne continued with the same doggedness which was to cause a split in the Church two centuries later when Henry VIII embarked upon the same mission . The earl demanded a divorce on the grounds of a pre-contract to his mistress, and also, for good measure, consanguinity towards his wife ! Eventually , however, he had to admit defeat regarding marrying his mistress, so instead made some legal provision for her and named his sons by her as his heirs. However, de Warenne was not to forget that Thomas of Lancaster had joined with King Edward 11 and the bishops in foiling his divorce plans, and in revenge he staged the abduction of the earl’s wife, Alesia, with the far-reaching results already described.
    Finally, to wind up the violent and sordid saga, and somewhat predictably, John de Warenne lost interest in Maud de Neyrford around 1325 and deprived her and her sons of all their previous entitlements. Maud left the country while her two sons were compelled to enter the religious order of St John of Jerusalem. In 1327 Edward 11 was murdered in Berkeley Castle, having been deposed by his son and his mother, Isabella the ” She Wolf ” and her lover, Roger Mortimer. Joan le Bar, who had led an interesting life as lady-in-waiting to the queen, both at home and abroad, was granted lands in the south of England. In later life her estranged husband, no doubt considering that fate of his immortal soul, re-acknowledged her as his consort and granted her further lands. A very different state of affairs from 1314 when he had tried to move heaven and earth for the sake of his ” beautiful wench ” as the Archbishop of Canterbury called Maud de Neyrford, ” with the love of which he was greatly bewitched !”

  2. Thanks Julia–glad you enjoyed it and I did incorporate a lot of it into my novel Spirit of the Greenwood, and although I printed it out myself I never got a publisher. But I did stick to the history as far as possible—in that I didn’t change dates and things–although I had to fill in the gaps. I got in a muddle with the password, thats why it has come up as an old name. My little dog is doing well thanks–wishing you and your family a happy new year and will see you next month–Barbara and Rudi wuffx

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