I’ve posted before about Henry Vernon being a canny politician. He was ordered to attend Richard III prior to the Battle of Bosworth but there is no evidence for him on the battlefield – on either side. Having been in good odour with Edward IV, the duke of Clarence and the earl of Warwick if the letters in the Rutland Archive are anything to go by it is a little surprising that Sir Henry did so well under the Tudors – In fact a study of a range of Vernon’s letters gives helpful insight into the changing politics of the period – which is exactly what I intend to do in a couple of weeks with my Wars of the Roses group, along with a peek at Sir Henry’s will.
Sir Henry was from a notable Derbyshire family. The Vernons had been part of the Lancaster Affinity in the fourteenth century. His grandfather, Sir Richard, had fought in the Hundred Years War and been made Treasurer of Calais. He was also an MP for Derbyshire as was Henry’s father Sir William Vernon who died in 1467 when his son was about twenty-six.
The Battle of Towton took place at Easter 1461. This event saw Yorkist Edward taking the throne. The power behind the throne was Edward’s cousin, Richard Neville, the earl of Warwick – a.k.a -the Kingmaker. Unfortunately the two Yorkist cousins had a falling out when Edward IV married the widow of Sir John Grey of Groby in secret. Elizabeth Woodville was not who the earl of Warwick envisaged as queen of England. He had been negotiating for the hand of a French princess so felt a bit foolish. Nor did it help that Elizabeth Woodville had a large family all of whom had to be found excellent positions within the establishment not to mention wealthy and titled spouses: let’s just say noses were put out of joint. The political situation became more tense. Ultimately in 1470 Edward IV was forced to flee and his wife and their daughters seek sanctuary in Westminster Abbey. In March 1471 Edward returned via Ravenspur and marched on London where he was greeted with popular acclaim. There then followed the battle of Barnet and the demise of the earl of Warwick and his brother Lord Montagu. Clearly this is a rather brief outline but you get the gist!
So where was Sir Henry Vernon in all of this? He was the recipient of rather a lot of letters from various people who want this support. He on the other hand appears to have taken a rather measured approach to the royal cousins charging around the countryside trying to slaughter one another.
Duke of Clarence to Henry Vernon, squire. (This was written when Warwick was in charge of the kingdom and Clarence had deserted his brother Edward’s cause thinking that Warwick was a better proposition! He’d married Warwick’s eldest daughter only to have Warwick marry off his other daughter to the Lancastrian Prince Edward – meaning that Clarence was no better off than he had been before and was regarded as a bit of a swine for doing the dirty on his brother.)
1470, Oct. 4, Tewkesbury.
Trusti and welbeloved we grete you wele, lating you wite that wee bee fully purposed with the grace of our Lord to bee at Lichefield on Twysday now commyng, on Monday at our toun of Asthebourne and on Thursday next ensuying at our town oI Chestrefield. Wherefore we woll and desire you to mete with us at our commyng at the said parties, and to com- mande on our behelf our offrcers and tenanntes within your ofhces to doo in like wyse. Geven under our signet at Teukesbury the iiii day of October.
This letter is swiftly followed up by a second letter which asks Vernon to find out how the rest of the gentry in Derbyshire feel about Clarence. It should be noted that Clarence did own some manors in Derbyshire and his cousin was married into the Talbot family. A third letter sounds a note of panic with the news that Edward is on his way back to England. By the time Vernon received it, Edward had already landed at Ravenspur and was making his way south.
Yet another letter, this time from the earl of Warwick describes Edward as a “gret enemy rebelle and traitour is now late arrived in the North partes of this land and commyng fast on Southward accompanyed with Flemminge, Esterlands and Danes.” The letter is a commission of array. Essentially it orders Sir Henry to gather men and join Warwick’s army immediately in order to maintain the rule of Henry VI (or rather the earl of Warwick who preferred the idea of being a puppet master to that of loyal subject.)
Sir Henry is then in receipt of several more letters from the duke of Clarence. Clarence is marching from Malmsbury, at the end of March ostensibly to intercept his brother Edward. By the 2nd of April he is in Burford and from there he went to Coventry and instead of fighting his brother joined with him against the earl of Warwick.
Sir Henry’s next letter is from King Edward IV who wrote from Tewkesbury:
Margaret late called Queene is in our handes, her son Edward slayn Edmund called Duc of Somerset, John Erl of Devonshire with all the other lords knightes and noblemen that were in their company taken or slayn, yet we now understand that commones of divers partes of this our royaume make murmurs and commocions entending the distruccion of the churche, of us our lords and all noblemen, and to subvert the public of our said royome which we in our persone with Goddes helpe and assistance of you and other trewe subgettes shall mightly defend the same and we woll that ye be with us.
Clearly Sir Henry had avoided the various battlefields and kept his head down, though it would appear that he had made a list of his valuables which he pledged to Edward’s support.
Once Edward had won the Battle of Tewksbury and Prince Edward was killed the end of Henry VI, a prisoner in the Tower, was inevitable. Sir Henry Vernon along with the rest of the country would reasonably have expected Edward to reign for a good long while and then to have been succeeded by his sons – Elizabeth Woodville having produced the first male heir, another Prince Edward, whilst she was in sanctuary in Westminster. Vernon’s loyalty to the house of York is made apparent in a letter from Edward IV of 1481:
we bee enformed that ye have taken distresse for us and in oure name for thomage due unto us in that behalve for the which we thanke vou.
He was also appointed Bailiff of the High Peak by the York regime.
Then, in 1483, it was all change again. Edward IV died unexpectedly whilst his eldest son Edward was still too young to inherit in his own right. Enter Richard III and yet another commission of array for Sir Henry Vernon to meet the king on the field against Henry Tudor. Vernon appears to have avoided Bosworth.
It is thus somewhat surprising that Sir Henry thrived under the rule of Henry Tudor. Having said that Vernon married Anne Talbot, daughter of the earl of Shrewsbury in 1466 so the Talbot Lancastrian links and the fact that the earl of Shrewsbury joined with Henry Tudor prior to the Battle of Bosworth may go rather a long way to explaining how Sir Henry Vernon survived the change from white rose to red. He became Governor and Treasurer to Prince Arthur and was also made a Knight of the Bath. He was in attendance when Arthur married Katherine of Aragon. Local legend states that Arthur stayed at Vernon’s home in Derbyshire – Haddon Hall- on more than one occasion.
There is a letter from Henry VII dated 1485. It describes Vernon as “trusty and well beloved” and it describes in some detail the problem of a Yorkist insurrection led by the anonymous Robin of Redesdale requesting that Vernon place himself at Henry’s disposal. In fact the first attempt on Henry VII’s life was made in York when he first visited it. A later letter identifies the trust that Henry placed in Vernon in the care of his eldest son:
Henry VII to Sir Henry Vernon.
1492, Aug 31. Windsor. Trusti and welbeloved we grete you wele. And inasmoche as we have appointed you tobe Comptroller of household with our derrest son the Prince and that we depart in all hast on our voyage over the see, we therefor desire and praye you that ye will give your personell attendaunce upon our said derrest son for the tyme we shalbe out of this our realme, and that ye faile not hereof as we truste you’ Geven under our signet at our Castel of Windesor the last day of August viii of our reyne. Sign Manual
Later still Vernon would go with Margaret Tudor to Scotland and pay a forced loan of £100 to the notoriously parsimonious Tudor monarch.
Sir Henry survived into the reign of Henry VII which ended in 1509. He would now serve the second Tudor monarch. In 1512/13 Henry VIII wrote to Sir Henry Vernon ordering him to send “a hundred tal men hable for the warre sufficiently harnessed to Greenwich.” This must have been for Henry’s war against the french. The letter also advises Vernon that money would be expected for the men’s upkeep.
Sir Henry Vernon, who had lived through so many tumultuous events died on April 15th 1515 and was buried in Tong Church where his wife Anne Talbot is also buried. His effigy wears the double ss livery collar of the House of Lancaster and there is a Tudor rose to be seen – just so that everyone is quite clear about where his loyalties lay…
Kirke, H. (1920) ‘Sir Henry Vernon of Haddon.’ Derbyshire Archeological Journal:42. (pp. 001-017).