Warkworth Castle, Hotspur and Rebellion against Henry IV

DSC_0030.jpgWarkworth Castle was not always in the hands of the Percy family.  It was presented to them in 1332 by Edward III.  Our interest today is in the 1st earl of Northumberland who was so created at the coronation of Richard II.  The earl’s mother was Mary of Lancaster, a granddaughter of Henry III.  Ultimately the 1st earl sided with his cousin Henry Bolingbroke and helped to topple Richard II from power in 1399.  Henry, who had been exiled by Richard II returned to Ravenspur after his father’s death ostensibly to claim the Duchy of Lancaster which Richard had decided to confiscate upon John of Gaunt’s death.  Richard II was in Ireland at the time of Henry’s arrival at Ravenspur.  Richard returned to England via Wales.  He found himself in Conway Castle having a discussion with the Earl of Northumberland and the Archbishop of Canterbury.  From there he found himself in the Tower of London, deposed by Parliament on an assortment of charges agains this realm and from there sent to Pontefract where he died- either because he was starved, forgotten about or refused to eat.   Henry IV did not see himself as a usurper because legally the throne became vacant when Richard was deposed by Parliament. He had merely stepped up to take the role.

As is the way of these things relations soured between the Earl of Northumberland and Henry IV. Given that there were family links as well as ties of affinity and education it is perhaps unexpected. However, this is where the story becomes more complicated and not just in terms of the politics of power.  Hotspur was married to Elizabeth Mortimer.  The Mortimers were descended from Lionel of Antwerp who was John of Gaunt’s older brother – thus even though the throne may have been legally vacant Henry Bolingbroke really and truly shouldn’t have become king. The title should have gone to the earl of March – Edmund Mortimer- who was the son of Elizabeth Mortimer’s brother Roger who had been killed by the Irish in 1398.  Edmund who was a rather youthful eight at the time. Realpolitik must have noted that Richard II’s minority hadn’t been without its issues. Better a grown man than a youth.

DSC_0042.jpgNow in 1403 the initially pro-Lancastrian Percies needed a reason to turn against Henry IV as they discovered that their courses were not running in parallel.  They had initially supported Henry Bolingbroke to regain what was rightfully his but he had then taken matters further and toppled Richard II from the throne – or so they said- demonstrating the History is about stories and that one person’s story is another person’s work of fiction.  Having been badly disappointed in Henry IV who had taken what was not his, the Percies now decided that it was only right and proper that they help put Mortimer on the throne.

It should be noted that Henry IV had not treated Mortimer or his younger brother badly. They were in receipt of a good education and were, for part of the time raised with the king’s own children.  Matters became complicated when Hotspur’s brother-in-law, Sir Edmund Mortimer, managed to get himself captured by Owen Glyndwr and then changed sides – or was at least accused of changing sides by Henry IV.  It probably didn’t help when Glyndwr married his daughter to Sir Edmund and that Sir Edmund wrote that his nephew, young Edmund Mortimer was actually the correct king of England rather than Henry IV.

The truth is that it was during the fourteenth century that the North of England saw the Percy family expand their territory and their power. The accession of Henry IV saw Percy being made Constable of England. This bred much resentment both nationally and locally. The start of the fifteenth century was a time when the monarch wished to curtail the Percy power base.  Meanwhile there were the local politics to contend with  – the Nevilles of Raby were snapping at Percy heels. The Percies became increasingly aggrieved. They were irritated because they had not been properly paid for their protection of the Scottish borders, Henry IV had confiscated their Scottish captives after the Battle of Homildon Hill and thus deprived them of rich ransoms, Henry IV was offering favour to men like Neville and also to George Dunbar who had sought exile in England after a slight to his family honour in Scotland. Sir Edmund had been captured in 1402 and had not been ransomed. It could be argued that Sir Edmund had taken steps to gain his freedom when he reached an understanding with Glyndwr.

It was at Warkworth that the earl plotted the rebellion that led to the death of his son Henry “Hotspur” at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403 and his own exile and loss of title and lands. The key conspirators were related to the Mortimers by marriage: Elizabeth Mortimer was married to Hotspur.  Sir Edmund Mortimer was married to Glyndwr’s daughter Catherine.  They decided to divide the kingdom in three – Mortimer would rule the south, Glyndwr would rule Wales and the Percies would take control of the North.  The earl sent his son Henry and his brother Thomas (the earl of Worcester) on ahead of the earl. They raised their standard at Chester.

Dunbar, loyal to Henry IV raised an army as he marched after his Percy adversaries. Hotspur was killed at the battle of Shrewsbury whilst Thomas was executed two days later. Hotspur was initially buried in Whitchurch but when Henry IV heard rumours that Hotspur was still alive he had the body disinterred and then placed between millstones so that it could be viewed.  He then had the head displayed on the Micklegate in York. Eventually Hotspur’s remains were entombed in York Minster.

Dunbar was created the Earl of the March of Scotland  and given Thomas Percy’s estates as a reward by Henry IV.

DSC_0047.jpgThe grief-stricken earl of Northumberland made his peace with Henry IV on that occasion but it was not long before he rebelled once again, fled to Scotland with his grandson and finally returned to die at Bramham Moor.

Warkworth did not immediately hand itself over to the Crown.  It was briefly besieged although just seven canon shots were required to bring its surrender and then handed into the custody of Henry IV’s younger son John who history would best know as the Duke of Bedford.  Eventually when Henry IV died the earl’s grandson who had lived in exile in Scotland was restored to his property although a marriage to Eleanor Neville, the daughter of Ralph Neville and Joan Beaufort was negotiated first – in part to keep Ralph sweet as he had acquired much of the Percy lands and offices in the intervening time.

For more information on Warkworth follow this link: http://www.gatehouse-gazetteer.info/English%20sites/2879.html

Alnwick Castle

Alnwick CastleAlnwick, like most of the great castles, has had a succession of owners  beginning with Ivo de Vesci who married the granddaughter of Gilbert Tyson, a Saxon killed at Hastings in 1066. The zigzag moulding on the arch in the arch that leads to the inner courtyard reminds visitors that Alnwick has been a fortification for the better part of a thousand years.  The barony of Alnwick and its castle continued in the de Vesci hands until the fourteenth century with intermittent lapses into the hands of David of Scotland and William the Lion although it should be noted that during the reign of Henry I Eustace FizJohn was the castle’s owner.  He married the de Vesci heiress of the period and their son William assumed his mother’s name.

IMG_0237Ivo built a motte and bailey castle from timber – by which we can suppose some hapless Saxons found themselves moving soil and digging ditches. There were two baileys – one to the east and one to the west.  Over the years fortifications were added to the central shell keep and to de Vesci’s two baileys. By 1135 it was one of the strongest castles in Northumberland. In actual fact when William the Lion besieged the castle in 1172 he was unable to capture the castle from William de Vesci. In 1174 the Lion had another go at it and was captured by the English.  Part of the reason why William spent so much time hammering on Alnwick’s doors was that he had originally been the Earl of Northumberland but Henry II had removed it from him some twenty years earlier. Perhaps that was why William joined in the revolt by Henry II’s sons and his queen against Henry II in 1173.  William found himself bundled off to Newcastle and from there to Normandy.  William was forced to recognise Henry II as his feudal overlord and in so doing sewed the seeds of the Scottish Wars of Independence when Edward I insisted on the right to naming the Scottish king and to being the feudal overlord of Scotland.

The de Vescis who did not get on terribly well with King John.  It was only luck that the castle wasn’t razed in 1213.  William de Vesci died at the Battle of Bannockburn the following century without heirs so the king sold it to Anthony Bek, Bishop of Durham who sold it to Henry de Percy.  De Vesci did have an illegitimate son and was able to hand his Yorkshire lands to his natural son.

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The Percys did rather a lot of rebuilding based on the income from the Scottish wars; either loot or ransoms.  The two huge octagon towers that tower above the inner gateway were built sometime around 1350  and this phase of rebuilding included the rebuilding of the keep with seven U shaped towers.  The castle had been successively strengthened by all its owners but this was the time when the Percy family were most wealthy and the reality of having a bellicose neighbour meant that fortifications were a good investment.

IMG_0215The outer wall, around those two baileys encloses something like five acres of ground.  The wall contains several towers and turrets.  One of them houses a water tower and very sensibly it was here that the castle’s laundry was done.  There is also a rather fine well in the inner court yard near the entrance to the keep.  The Constable’s Tower is open to the public

IMG_0224The fortunes of the Percys declined with the Wars of the Roses and the accession of the Tudors.  Margaret of Anjou had garrisoned Alnwick with three hundred french troops in the aftermath of Town in a bid to retain a toehold on her husband’s kingdom. It was a Scot who rode to the garrison’s rescue on that particular occasion so that Margaret’s troops could make good their escape from the forces of the Earl of Warwick.

Put simply they were the over mighty subjects that a strong monarch needed to keep firmly in check. They continued to fulfil their role  on the borders however.  The Alnwick Muster Roll dating from 1513 identifies the men who fought under the Percy colours at Flodden and survived the encounter with the Scots.  When not at war with Scotland there was intermittent raiding.  In 1528, for example fourteen Scottish reivers were hanged in Alnwick.  However, not even their hereditary role of warden was secure any longer nor were the earls necessarily cut out for border warfare.

The Percy family were not as wealthy as they had once been and in 1567 when George Clarkson was commissioned to assess the castle it was deemed unfit for purpose.  Perhaps lack of cash was something that the earl should have considered before conspiring with the Earl of Cumberland and Leonard Dacre to raise the north in rebellion against Elizabeth I.

In 1569 matters came to a head with the Earl of Northumberland revolted along with the Earl of Cumberland in a bid to return England to Catholicism.  The people of Alnwick were caught up in the rebellion.  Although numbers of rebels dwindled rapidly after the initial success of capturing Durham and celebrating the Mass there before marching into Percy’s Yorkshire estates Alnwick Castle did prepare to withstand the Queen’s forces.  Hartlepool was also captured by the rebels with the intention of providing a safe harbour for the Duke of Alva to land Spanish troops. The Spanish Ambassador it should be noted had already told the conspirators that they had not chance of succeeding in their venture.

The arrival of Sir John Forrester  (or Forster depending on the source) the Warden of the English Middle March on the East side of the country was sufficient for earl’s tenants to hand over the castle and hurry to their own homes.  Forrester also blocked the passes so that men who might have joined the rebels could not join with the earls whose thoughts swiftly turned to flight.

There was much rebuilding during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to transform the medieval fortress into a stately home. It was in the 1750s that it became the main residence for the Duke of Northumberland who commissioned Robert Adam to make the castle more habitable not to mention fashionable.   In the Nineteenth Century Salvin was appointed to create more modifications – the fourth duke liked his castle with a romantic tinge.  It remains the second largest inhabited castle in England and reflects a gothic Italian styles admired by the family at that time.

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