Duke of Exeter -was he murdered or did he slip?

holland-armsHenry Holland, Third Duke of Exeter was yet another descendent of John of Gaunt. His grandmother Elizabeth was John’s daughter. He had a claim to the throne after the death of Henry VI, something which Edward IV may have been all too aware of being the aforementioned earl’s brother-in-law.

Henry had been Richard of York’s ward.  Richard married his eldest daughter off to Holland in order to secure the dynastic links and power base.  Unfortunately for both Holland and the Duke of York it would appear that the Exeter lands weren’t terribly productive.  Consequentially Holland was always in finical difficulties which didn’t help his disposition overly.

He developed an unsavoury reputation early in his career when he seized Lord Cromwell’s estate at Ampthill and had him falsely accused of treason.  He also extended his land holding through the convenient method of fraud. This was all dragged through the law courts and resulted in no one wanting to be sheriff of Bedfordshire on account of Holland’s bullying tactics. In the end he aligned himself to one of Cromwell’s enemies in order to further his cause – thus demonstrating beautifully the fact that the Wars of the Roses could be said to be a bunch of local disputes that got seriously out of hand.

There wasn’t any great love between the Yorks and Holland so it probably didn’t unduly bother Holland that his alliance with Lord Egremont was one of the causal factors in him being in the Lancastrian army chasing Richard of York around the countryside in December 1460.  Henry Holland was a commander at the Battle of Wakefield on December 30 1460.  Presumably he hadn’t enjoyed being imprisoned in Wallingford Castle in 1455 after Richard assumed the title of Protector when Henry VI was incapacitated on his father-in-law’s orders.  In reality, Richard’s descent from two sons of Edward III gave him a better claim to be protector than Holland who thought he ought to have the job. He was descended from John of Gaunt and the First Duke of Exeter had been Richard II’s half-brother.  York’s claim came from the fact that he was descended from the second surviving son, Lionel of Antwerp via the Mortimer line.  The Mortimers had been Richard II’s heirs.  As if that wasn’t bad enough Holland wasn’t given a role of any importance. Holland threw his toys out of his pram, fermented rebellion in the north and consorted with the Scots – he was lucky that a year in Wallingford was all that he got.

He was, at least, consistent in his support for the Lancastrian cause being present not only at Wakefield but also at the Second Battle of St Albans and Towton.  He scarpered from the latter and managed to escape to France where he joined Margaret of Anjou.

Unsurprisingly family relations were at an all time low by this point. Not only was his attainted of treason but his wife Anne who had been married off to him when she was eight-years-old sought a legal separation from a man who’d gained a reputation for being deeply unpleasant one way or another. They had one child, Anne Holland who would be married off to one of Elizabeth Woodville’s sons from her first marriage, and pre-decease her unfortunate father.

In 1471 he returned to England with the Earl of Warwick who had stopped being Yorkist and become a Lancastrian in what can only be described as a giant strop when Edward IV stopped listening to his advice.  Warwick died at Barnet. Henry Holland though badly wounded managed to reach sanctuary in London. Edward had him rounded up and sent to the Tower.  He had for a time been the Constable of the Tower so at least he was familiar with his accommodation.

By the following year Anne was able to have the marriage annulled, she went on to marry Thomas St Leger but Edward IV seems to have welcomed Henry back into the fold as he was part of the military expedition that set off to make war on the French. It wasn’t a roaring success from the wider population’s point of view as they’d been heavily taxed and expected a decent battle at the very least. What they got was a treaty whilst Edward IV received money to go away and an annual pension.

As for Henry Holland?  He had an unfortunate accident on the way home.  Apparently he fell overboard.  The Milanese Ambassador suggested that the accident was caused by a couple of burly nautical  types picking him up and throwing him…

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography


17 thoughts on “Duke of Exeter -was he murdered or did he slip?

  1. Perhaps a blind man on a galloping horse could see murder before anyone else injected facts half truths or lies. what surprises me is that in those days , unlike now, they did nothing without God on their side? To me they had less faith in gods existence than we are led to believe. Life is but a test between us and him. Set to test us all to be with God in the next life. Now that is what was preached so all they did are they guilty in Gods eyes? You bet they are. For all they fought for then vanished on death. So short a run to be so cruel so pompous so vain. Love history and thankful only that it happened and is recorded as happening. It should serve two causes. One to show us who we are related to? and secondly to teach us what sin is.

    • Certainly they didn’t seem too bothered by some of the Ten Commandments but all owned Bibles, prayer books and endowed churches and monasteries – almost of weighing their sins against their holiness…

  2. There is a post script to this story. The following year, an embassy to Brittany almost succeeded in getting Henry Tudor on a boat bound for England.

    Some sources associate Robert Stillington with the mission. Henry was in custody, kept separately from his uncle. Edward’s agents convinced the Breton court of his good intentions, and Henry was handed over.

    He was taken to Saint-Malo to await his ship. Something must have made Henry suspicious, because he feigned illness and escaped to a church. Edward’s agents broke sanctuary, which angered the locals who saved Henry.

    Jean du Quelennec, who had been absent from the Breton court, returned to remonstrate with the Duke, who sent his treasurer to collect him.

    Seems like Edward was trying to mop up Lancastrians.

    • There are times when Henry Tudor seems to have had more lives than a cat! I’ve been to the church where he escaped but until I read this I’d forgotten that I been there. Thank you for the timely reminder of one of history’s fascinating episodes – and who needs fiction when the truth is so delightfully convoluted.

  3. Hmmmm.. the Earl of Warwick ‘threw a giant strop’, Exeter ‘threw his toys out of the pram’, but when the Yorkists acted treacherously, or turned thier coats, such terms are not used. Instead they act ‘graciously’ and are ‘the legitimate heirs of Richard II’. All sounds more than a tad biased- I take it your loyalties lie firmly in the Yorkist camp? Despite some of the less than pleasant and savoury actions of said Yorkists?

      • You’ll forgive me I hope for not being convinced of that. Many people say such things to appear objective, but actually support and condone the actions of one group, no matter how unpleasant, or won’t tolerate any honest criticism of certain figures- all the while saying they don’t believe they were perfect.

      • You can criticise who you feel the urge to criticise – with a few facts to go along side! I’m not related to any of them and don’t have any side bets on events that happened so long ago. Quite frankly I like stories in history, I always have done – I have no partisan axe to grind, am member of no society promoting one person or another…and oh yes…the events are in the past, the folk who carried them out long dead. Take Richard III for example – who’d have thought he’d turn up in a car park with R marking the spot? Chances are he killed Edward V and Richard of York…or at least gave the orders. He certainly had Hastings executed with out the pretence of a trial – folk are fascinated, me no less than anyone else, on account of the wriggle room in the sources – and some of the wriggle is decidedly eyebrow raising. Do I like to speculate whether it was the Duke of Buckingham – of course I do. Do I think Josephine Tey was right…unlikely in the extreme. Margaret Beaufort…oh please, give me some credit! Would I be delighted if the Laslau Theory had a bit more evidence – I’d be thrilled. Does that mean that I think Sir Edward Guildford was actually Edward V – no it doesn’t. It really is the story – I’m certainly not objective when I retell them – because I’m writing a blog rather than an academic essay. And by now you will have spotted that I dot and dab through history based on what I’m teaching and what I’m reading or where I’m visiting. I don’t post about things I’m likely to get my knickers in a twist about.

      • Apologies, I am rather jaded by biased ‘unbiased’ commentators. Love the way you put it about Tey and Margaret Beaufort. People treat that book as fact- but then again people treated Braveheart as fact……

      • I just don’t watch shows like that. I’ve told my dad that if he ever subjects me to Braveheart, I will cleave the television in two with a broadsword. The same applies to The White Princess, The Tudors and Game of Thrones.

      • There were actually some historians who suggested Richard was there years before by the way, or in what had been that church. It was not just a bolt out of blue.

  4. Hello, JuliaH

    Would you care to elaborate on the Laslau Theory, please? I googled it and didn’t come up with much. For instance, where does it come from? A contemporary or someone writing later who put the puzzle together the way they “thought” it should look? Cause all I can find on John Clements is that he’s born c.1500 (which would make him more likely to be Richard of Shrewsbury’s son rather than Richard himself).


    • Hi there, Firstly I’ve mis=spelled it should be Leslau – Jack Leslie was an amateur (and there’s nothing wrong with that). He spent years developing his theory which is based on the Sir Thomas More Family portrait. There is a figure toward the right at the back the picture named as ‘Johanes heresius Thomae Mori famul: Anno 27‘ . This is John Harris, Sir Thomas More’s secretary. The Leslau theory says that its actually Dr John Clement and that he was actually Richard Duke of York. The problem lays in the dates but bear with me for the time being. Having made analysis of the images and iconography in the picture, Leslau then went off and did some research. In the 1520s he went off to Italy to study medicine having been at university in 1518. As I said on the face of it the writing identifies “heresies” as in Harris but there is no capital letter to denote a name. It could therefore translate as “rightful heir”. Then its all done to the symbolism of the picture. John is head and shoulders above the More family. The door he’s coming through is an optical illusion and there’s a flier de lis above his head – which is a symbol of french royalty admittedly but Holbein tends not to put things in his pictures by chance. There are other anomalies of which one is the clock which lack a pendulum and which has an open door – time isn’t working is basically how Leslie translates this and amongst other things there’s a solar image at the head of the clock – as in sun in splendour. Now obviously this could be seen as pushing the whole Holbein symbolism thing a bit far. Each of the figures has some kind of clue – I like the fact that Margaret Roper, More’s adopted daughter is pointing out a line in her book which is Oedipus – which king then has died? And why is Cecily Heron holding up two fingers in the discussion she is having with Margaret? The main problem is the supposed age of John Clement. If he is born in 1500 then he is too young to be one of the Princes in the Tower but Leslie discovered that John clement was enrolled in Louvain University in 1489 which would make it possible that he was Richard of York. The entry identifies Clement as of noble birth and the oath that all other students were required to make was not made for a secret reason – a conspiracy theorist’s dream come true, not least as there are no noble families called Clement in England. So, the theory stands or falls on Clements age. He turns up in a couple of entries in Henry VIII’s papers – taking part in a feat of arms in 1510. It’s unlikely that a 10 year old would have been taking part in a joust. John Clement died on 1st July 1572 having left England when Edward VI became king, returned when Mary became queen and leaving again when Elizabeth ascended the throne. There is a list of his books which were confiscated. He spent his last years in Louvain. Now then – this bit either means that he was a very respected academic or he was more important than history thinks because he was buried near the high altar of St Rombout’s Cathedral in Mechelen. The area was usually used as a resting place for the royal house of Burgundy – the one Margaret of York married into. If John Clement was Richard of York then he was 98 years old when he died – not impossible but not likely. Try http://www.holbeinartworks.org for further information or the Richard III society. I’m sorry if my failure to spot the spelling mistake has hindered your research – incidentally whenever I read the theory I find myself wanting to believe it as it is very plausible but without more concrete evidence I wouldn’t want to commit myself one way or the other. You might also like entries from https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/tag/jack-leslau/ on the subject.

  5. Pingback: The Holland family -part 2 | The History Jar

  6. Pingback: If Edward IV didn’t dispose of Henry Holand, 3rd Duke of Exeter, who did….? | murreyandblue

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