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

The earldom of Northumberland and the Percy family part 2 of 4

Harry Hotspur AlnwickI had thought three parts to this little series but having written today’s post which is largely about the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries I shall be extending it to four parts.

Generation 10 of Topcliffe/2 of Alnwick:

Henry Percy Junior was only sixteen when his father died in 1314.  Initially John de Felton held his lands in ward but by the time he was twenty Edward II had granted Henry more lands in Northumbria than his father held.  These had been part of Patrick Earl of March’s territory.  Patrick was Scottish and the land offer reflects the way in which northern territories fluctuated between Scotland and England during troubled times.  Henry was no more impressed with Edward II’s choice of male favourite than his father had been nor with the foreign policy and military prowess that saw the Scots raiding deep into Yorkshire.

In no particular order, Percy  conspired against the Despensers and was made governor of both Pickering and Scarborough Castle.  The northern Percy powerhouse was further built upon when he married into the Clifford family and Edward III granted him Warkwarth Castle.  In 1346 he was one of the English commanders at the Battle of Neville’s Cross near Durham against the Scots which must have been a bit irritating given that he had gone to Scotland in 1327 to help negotiate a peace treaty with them.

Generation 3 of Alnwick:

The next generation Henry Percy was at the Battle of Crecy – so should probably be regarded as the Hundred Years War Percy.  His correct title was the 3rdBaron Percy of Alnwick.  His first wife was Mary of Lancaster – the best way of thinking of her is as Blanche of Lancaster’s aunt.  Blanche was the first wife of John of Gaunt who is commemorated in the Book of the Duchess by Chaucer and whose land ensured that Gaunt was the wealthiest man in the country.  Mary was a daughter of Henry III.  With each marriage the Percy family made the wealth and the prestige of the family rose, as did the amount of land that they held and their proximity to the throne.

Generation 4 of Alnwick – 1st Earl of Northumberland:

The Percy family now found itself elevated to the earldom of Northumberland – after all Mary of Lancaster was a Plantagenet princess so it is only reasonable to suppose that her first born son should have a sufficiently impressive title.  The first earl, yet another Henry Percy, was born in 1341. He supported Edward III and then he supported Richard II in his various official capacities on the borders.  It was Richard who created him an earl at his coronation in 1377.  Unfortunately despite being having been married to Margaret Neville, Percy was distinctly un-amused when his power base was eroded by Richard II who created his rival (and nephew-in-law) Ralph Neville the earl of Westmorland.  The First Earl of Northumberland now had a hissy fit because of the creation of the First Earl of Westmorland. He swapped sides. Instead of backing Richard II against his enemies he supported Henry of Bolingbroke, John of Gaunt’s son, against Richard II. Bolingbroke duly became Henry IV and Percy found himself swaggering around with the title Constable of England.

Unfortunately in 1403 the earl swapped sides once more.  He was slightly irritated by the outcome of the Battle of Homildon Hill in 1402.  It was an English-Scots match that the English won.  Percy stood to make rather a lot of cash from ransoming his Scottish prisoners.   Unfortunately Henry IV was feeling the financial pinch and besides which felt that the Percys had too much power in the north.  So he demanded all the hostages and gave Percy a fraction of their value.  The earl was underwhelmed but didn’t immediately voice his irritation.

Having been given the task of subduing the Welsh in 1403, Percy and his son Harry Hotspur now joined with Owain Glyndwr.  Hotspur died at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403 but Henry IV couldn’t pin anything on the earl who hadn’t taken part in the battle.  The most that Henry IV could do was remove the office of constable from Percy who didn’t learn the lesson and continued to conspire against Henry IV. In 1405 Percy decided to take a long holiday in Scotland for the sake of his health. He took Hotspur’s son with him. The earl returned to England in 1408 where he managed to get himself killed at the Battle of Bramham Moor near Tadcaster.  This was the final battle in the Percy family rebellion against cousin Henry IV.

 

2nd Earl of Northumberland:

Joan BeaufortHotspur’s son another Henry had spent most of his childhood in Scotland because both his father and grandfather were at loggerheads with the monarch.  Very sensibly after his grandfather was killed the second earl remained safely in Scotland.  It was only when Henry IV died that Henry Percy took the opportunity to be reconciled with the Crown.  He was officially recognised as the 2ndearl in 1413.

He arrived back in England and settled down to a spot of feuding with his Neville relations. The Nevilles, particularly Richard Neville (aka the Kingmaker) and his father the Earl of Salisbury were associated with Richard of York so naturally the Percy family supported Henry VI and the Duke of Somerset.  Ironically the 2ndearl’s mother was Elizabeth Mortimer, the grand-daughter of Lionel of Antwerp, so you would have thought that he would have been more sympathetic to Richard of York who based his claims on his descent from Lionel.  Not only that but his return to the earldom had been smoothed by Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland. She also arranged his marriage to Eleanor Neville – her second daughter with the Earl of Westmorland – making the Earl of Salisbury Percy’s brother-in-law and the Kingmaker his nephew.  Talk about a tangled family web.

 

I’ve blogged about Eleanor Neville and the Battle of Heworth Moor before so there is no need to write about it again. Enough to say that it demonstrates the depths to which the feud had sunk.  And things were about to get worse.  The earl was born in 1393 and died on 22 May 1455 at the First Battle of St Albans.  It was a comprehensive victory for the Yorkists and according to the chronicles of the time an opportunity for Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, to settle some personal scores – the death of the Earl of Northumberland being on his “to do” list.  Obviously it didn’t help the relations between the Percy and Neville families as the Wars of the Roses spiralled towards the bloodiest battle in English history.

 

3rd  Earl of Northumberland:

Another Henry Percy, swearing vengeance for his father’s death was one of the commanders of the army that surrounded Richard of York and the Earl of Salisbury at Wakefield. The deaths of Richard, his son Edmund and the Earl of Salisbury on the 30 December 1460 were part of the  continuing vendetta.

The victors of Wakefield were now joined by Margaret of Anjou’s army.  They marched south and won the Second Battle of St Albans but stopped short of taking London.  Various armies marched back and forth but for the purposes of this post the next time we need to focus is at the Battle of Ferrybridge – 27 March 1461. Northumberland was supposed to stop the Yorkists from crossing the River Aire at Castleford whilst Lord Clifford held Ferrybridge for the Lancastrians. Lets just say that Northumberland arrived at Castleford late allowing Lord Fauconberg and his men to cross the river and come around behind the Lancastrians who retreated to Dintingdale (28th March) where Lord Clifford was killed by an arrow.

On the 29thMarch 1461, blinded by a snowstorm the 3rdEarl commanded the van of the Lancastrian army.  Closing with the enemy he was killed.

Edward IV was now the only king in England and issued an act of attainder against all the Lancastrian nobility who had fought at Towton.  Edward now rewarded the Nevilles who supported the House of York and punished the Percys who supported the house of Lancaster.

 

John Neville, Earl of Northumberland.

John was the Kingmaker’s younger brother. He was created Earl of Northumberland in 1464 after he had spent three years finishing off the Lancastrian threat in the north. Unfortunately for John, the Kingmaker became increasingly dissatisfied with Edward IV who, in return, became increasingly suspicious of his cousin.  In 1470 Edward removed John from post and gave him the tile the Marquis of Montagu and assorted lands to compensate for the loss of the earldom of Northumberland. It did not go down well with the Neville family who did not see any need for the balance of power  in the North to be restored by the return of the Percy family.

 

Edward was forced to flee his realm in October 1470 but returned in 1471.  John had not regained his title to Northumberland despite his brother effectively ruling England with a puppet king in the form of Henry VI on the throne.  Rather than attack Edward when he landed at Ravenspur, Neville simply shadowed the returned Yorkist king.  Ulitmately Neville would died at the Battle of Barnet along with his brother.

4th Earl of Northumberland:

Henry Percy (what a surprise) was imprisoned in the Fleet Prison in the aftermath of Towton (he was about 12 at the time) and from there he was sent to the Tower in 1464. In 1469 after swearing fealty to Edward IV he was released.  He then set about trying to get his estates returned. He petitioned for the reversal of his father’s attainder though this was not granted by Parliament until 1473.

Interestingly his wife was Maud Herbert, the  girl who Henry Tudor should have married had events not unfolded as they did in 1470.  They had eleven children.

Henry Percy went back to doing what the Earls of Northumberland had been doing for a very long time – i.e. ruling vast tracts of land and skirmishing with the Scots. He held many of the important government posts in the north of England which were traditional in his family including from 10 May 1483, as protector, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, confirmed the fourth earl of Northumberland’s appointment as warden-general of the east and middle marches ‘during the space and time of a whole year’, after which it was renewed for five months but perhaps it would appear not as much power from Richard III as he had hoped. Naturally enough he fought at Bosworth where he commanded the right wing of Richard III’s army.  The Percys were naturally Lancastrian by inclination. Percy’s father and grandfather had died for Henry VI. Some historians says that Percy betrayed Richard III by holding his forces back from action.  Percy’s northern levies weren’t committed to the battle.

If Northumberland had been a metaphorical spoke in Richard’s wheel he wasn’t very well rewarded by Henry Tudor who now became Henry VII. Northumberland, along with the earls of Westmoreland and Surrey was taken into custody and kept in prison for several months, being released only under strict conditions of good behaviour.  He was restored to his position as warden but with curtailed powers.  Henry may not have trusted him but Percy knew how to protect England’s northern border. He was also at hand to help defeat the Yorkist forces that gathered during the Lambert Simnel rebellion in 1487.

In 1489 Northumberland was part of the king’s administration gathering £100,000 of tax. This led to the Yorkshire Rebellion.  Northumberland had to deal with the resistance of Yorkshiremen to the tenth of incomes demanded for Henry’s Breton war and for the raising of a force against the Scots.  Things can’t have gone well for the Earl as his own tenants were up in arms.  He was so alarmed that on Saturday, 24 April, he wrote to Sir Robert Plumpton from Seamer, close to Scarborough, ordering him to secretly bring as many armed men as he could to Thirsk by the following Monday. It didn’t do him much good.

On  Wednesday, 28 April, having gathered a force estimated at eight hundred men, he came into conflict with the commons, whose ringleader was one John a Chamber, near Thirsk, at a place variously called Cockledge or Blackmoor Edge, and was killed.  Popular history claims it wasn’t so much the tax collection that irritated the locals as the fact that as good Yorkshire men their loyalty lay with Richard III.

 

The House of Lancaster- the basics part ii

 

 

Constance of Castile.jpgJohn of Gaunt was married three times.

His first marriage was to Blanche of Lancaster.  She had a sister but ultimately she was the sole heiress of Henry of Grosmont, Duke of Lancaster.   She was descended from Henry III on both sides of her family but the huge wealth associated with the dukedom came Edmund Crouchback who was the second surviving son of Henry III.  Henry of Grosmont wasn’t Edmund Crouchback’s eldest son but his big brother Thomas who initially inherited the titles and estate died without heirs so Henry became the third earl of Lancaster. This title and all the land  was inherited in turn by Blanche who also brought the Earldom of Derby into John of Gaunt’s family.

In addition to Henry of Bolingbroke who became Henry IV, there was Philippa who married King John I of Portugal. Henry the Navigator is her son. Another daughter Elizabeth married into the Holland family and her descendants, the dukes of Exeter and Oxford, were involved in the Wars of the Roses.

Blanche of Lancaster died September 1369.  Traditionally she is thought to have died from bubonic plague but historians increasingly think that she died from complications associated with childbirth.  In any event soon after her death John became romantically attached to a young woman in his household, the widowed wife of one of his knights – a certain Katherine Swynford.   Katherine may or may not have been related to the royal family of Hainhault but the fact is that the widow of a Lincolnshire knight was not a suitable match for a royal duke with aspirations.

On the 21 September 1371 John of Gaunt married for a second time to Constance of Castile.  Constance was the daughter of the rather descriptively named Pedro the Cruel of Castile who had been deposed by his half-brother Henry. Whilst Constance was the Queen of Castile in name following her father’s death she never actually ruled there and part of the reason for her marriage to John of Gaunt was that she wanted someone with a bit of clout and a large army to retrieve her kingdom for her. Equally John rather fancied being a king and Richard II’s advisers thought that it was a good idea as they didn’t totally trust John of Gaunt not to snaffle his nephew’s kingdom. The marriage was a political one but it produced two children – a short-lived son called John and a daughter called Catherine of Lancaster who married back into the royal house of Castile when she married Henry III of Castile who was her half-cousin.   It is Catherine of Lancaster’s descendants who can be seen on today’s Lancaster family tree at the start of this post linking back in to the English royal family when her great granddaughter, Katherine of Aragon, married Henry VIII.

Tomorrow – wife number three and the Beauforts. I have my fingers very firmly crossed that I have managed to spell Castile correctly throughout the whole post – just let’s say that I had a problem with the number of “l”s involved, in much the same way that when I wrote a university essay about private journals I somehow ended up writing about milking parlours despite rewriting the essay three times and reading it very carefully on each occasion!

Katherine Swynford locations

It’s inevitable that many of these locations feature as castles belonging to John of Gaunt: Tutbury, Leicester, Herefored and Hertford to name a few.  I’ve also included a few places associated with Mary de Bohun whose household Katherine is listed in during some of the period when she and Gaunt went their separate ways.

 

Double click on the pointer to open up a box with a snippet of information about each of these locations. If nothing else it is possible to see how widely travelled John of Gaunt was within England. It is possible to see the lines of Roman roads as well as the marches between England and Wales as you look at the locations, a reminder that in the past boundaries determine fortifications and that key transport networks made it possible for the great and the good to administer their estates.

Thomas Walsingham – and the “Scandalous Chronicle.”

KatSwynfordThomas Walsingham was a Benedictine monk.  He lived at St Albans Abbey where he had been educated and is usually considered the last of the great medieval chroniclers being a prolific producer of manuscripts including the “Chronicon Angliae” which covering the years 1328 to 1388.  It is in this chronicle that he criticises John of Gaunt.   The “Gesta Abbatum” or the St Albans Chronicle or Chronica Maiora as a continuation of that of Mathew Paris – and in fact his histories draw heavily on Paris’s work. His writings end in 1422 when he died but it is from Walsingham that we know about Wat Tyler, John Wycliff and the reigns of Richard II and Henry IV.

In part because he wasn’t a fan of John Wycliff and Lollardy – he took against John of Gaunt who was regarded as offering protection to reformers, Wycliff in particular. However, it should be added that there are two versions of Walsingham’s chronicle – one which is deeply hostile to John of Gaunt describing him as having “unbridled malice and greed, fearing neither God nor man.”  Walsingham’s general view was that Gaunt was after his nephew’s crown. True, Gaunt was the power behind the throne but hindsight shows that he never sought to take the crown by force despite several provocations.  It would also have to be said that Walsingham was just repeating what other people thought.  In 1377 his arms were reversed and marched through London by an angry mob. In 1381 his London palace, the Savoy, was burned to the ground. Walsingham was also critical of John’s relationship with  Katherine Swynford describing her as an “unmentionable concubine” and a “whore.”

william bell scott john of gauntRather amusingly and to the detriment of the chronicle a second version was penned after Henry IV, who was of course Gaunt’s son, came to the throne. Oddly all the unpleasant remarks about Gaunt were removed…so that the first version came to be known as “the scandalous chronicle.”

In all fairness Walsingham was critical of most of Richard II’s courtiers describing them as knights of love rather than war and better with words than weapons – well he should know about that!

Lucraft, Jeannette. (2006) Katherine Swynford: The History of a Medieval Mistress. Stroud: Sutton Publishing

Weir, Alison. (2007) Katherine Swynford:The Story of John of Gaunt and his Scandalous Duchess. London: Random House

Get thee to a nunnery! Swynford and Chaucer

nun5.gifIt was quite common in the earlier part of the Middle Ages for a parent to dedicate a baby or a young child to holy orders.  These children were called oblates because the child was offered to God with an altar cloth wrapped around their right hand – an oblation or offering.

Prior to the invasion of 1066 William, duke of Normandy, and his wife Matilda sent their daughter Cecilia into the noviciate at the abbey of Holy Trinity in Caen.  The date is significant – 18 June 1066.  She didn’t become a fully professed nun until 1075 when she was about nineteen or twenty.

It’s easy to speculate that Cecilia was offered in exchange for a successful invasion. Equally many parents gave their child as an offering in hope of heavenly brownie points. It should also be added that if you were a man with many daughters and insufficient lands you might be tempted to palm the plainest or least marriageable daughter off on the Church to avoid all the expenditure that accompanied nuptial arrangements.  Until the rule of Innocent III (1198-1215) children who were given to the Church had no power to quit the religious life once they grew up.  This could lead to unfortunate incidences of runaway or pregnant nuns not to mention nuns like Chaucer’s abbess who dressed well and kept pets.

Katherine Swynford’s eldest daughter Margaret along with her cousin Elizabeth Chaucer entered the nunnery at Barking when they were children.  It is possible that Katherine Swynford and Philippa Chaucer were following family tradition in dedicating a daughter to the Church because evidence suggests that the pair had an older sister (probably a half sibling) called Elizabeth or possibly Isabelle who entered the nunnery of St Wandru in Mons in 1349.

medieval-nuns

 

Elizabeth Chaucer entered the nunnery in 1381 following nomination by Richard II – demonstrating the influence of Katherine by this time.  Elizabeth had previously been lodged in the convent of St Helens in Bishopgate.  We know that John of Gaunt paid her admission fee – in lieu of a dowry.  It was a large sum- £51 8s 2d.  This in its turn has given rise to the rumour that Philippa may have had an affair with the duke of Lancaster and that Elizabeth was his daughter.  As Weir points out, Gaunt acknowledged his other illegitimate children and provided for them handsomely so why would he be furtive about Elizabeth, if she was indeed his?.She also notes that the care given by Gaunt to  members of his household was generous so there should be no raised eyebrows about the gift, although of course Auntie Katherine may have had a hand in it so that her own daughter would have, at least, had the company of a cousin. Margaret went on to become the abbess of Barking in 1419.

The abbess of Barking had the legal status of a baron- a reminder that for women the Church was more or less the only way to wield power in your own right so long as you made it to the top of the job ladder.  Margaret Swynford is recorded as dying in 1433.

Its not much information about the two girls but it’s all there is!

Weir speculates as to whether Sir Hugh and Katherine Swynford might have had other children.  She notes that there was a Katherine Swynford at Stixwold Priory in 1377.  However, other than the name and the fact that it is just possible that the traditionally accepted marriage date for Hugh and Katherine is wrong there is no evidence that this particular Katherine was a member of our Katherine Swynford’s immediate family.  Also Barking was a prestigious location.  It would be here that Jasper and Edmund Tudor were sent after their mother’s death.  By contrast Stixwold was rather impoverished.

 

Lucraft, Jeannette. (2006) Katherine Swynford: The History of a Medieval Mistress. Stroud: Sutton Publishing

Weir, Alison. (2007) Katherine Swynford:The Story of John of Gaunt and his Scandalous Duchess. London: Random House

‘Houses of Benedictine nuns: Abbey of Barking’, in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 2, ed. William Page and J Horace Round (London, 1907), pp. 115-122. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol2/pp115-122 [accessed 7 September 2017].

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Blanche Swynford

KatSwynfordBeing a girl, daughter of a minor and somewhat impecunious Lincolnshire knight claiming descent back to the Saxons, no one thought it sufficiently important to make note of Blanche Swynford’s date of birth. Of course, History reveals little Blanche to be the god-daughter of John of Gaunt and daughter of Katherine Swynford. Nor for that matter is History terribly sure about the number of her sisters.

 

Historians are uncertain whether Blanche is older or younger than her brother Thomas who was born on 21 September 1368.  Anthony Goodman argues that Blanche was born sometime in 1366 whilst John of Gaunt’s first wife was still alive.  It makes sense that if Gaunt was her godfather that Blanche of Lancaster may well have been her godmother.  Equally it is possible to argue that the baby was named after the late duchess and not born until 1370 (ish).  Both scenarios are equally valid although there may be some shifting in the dates depending on the text.

Weir suggests that Blnache may have been born earlier given that Hugh inherited his estates in 1361 pushing the marriage date for Katherine and Hugh back to the start of the decade, at a point where Katherine would have only just attained a legally marriageable age, rather than placing it sometime between 1366 and 1367 as is usual.  In part the problem arises because Historians are uncertain whether Katherine married at a very young age or not.  The argument often given is that it seems unlikely that a very young woman would have been made governess of Gaunt’s children.

What we can be certain about is that the papal dispensation for the marriage between John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford mentions Blanche because of the relationship that being godparent created.  There is also some evidence to suggest that Blanche grew up with John’s daughters – which makes sense given that Katherine was their governess- and which Weir uses as evidence of Katherine being married by the end of 1362 with Blanche making an arrival the following year.  The fact that Blanche is in Gaunt’s records as being in the household of his daughters in 1368 helps this viewpoint.

She turns up again in the aftermath of Queen Philippa’s death on 14 August 1369.  Edward III provided mourning for the ladies at court and Blanche as lady-in-waiting or more accurately demoiselle to John of Gaunt’s daughters received suitable garb for the occasion.  Weir argues that the mourning given to the Swynford family at this time reflects the fact that Philippa remained fond of Katherine and  Philippa Chaucer after their years growing up in the queen’s household.

Lucraft identifies the fact that Gaunt takes an active interest in his godchild.  Katherine was awarded the wardship of Robert Deyncourt in 1375 specifically to cover Blanche’s dowry. Of course, one of the key factors of having a wealthy ward was to marry him into the family as soon as decently possible.  Weir writes that Gaunt intended Deyncourt, a scion of the Lancaster Affinity, as a groom for his godchild. However – Blanche did not marry Robert.

Did she die young? Was Blanche dead by 1378? Possibly.  Alternatively the records provide us with another possible groom in the form of Sir Thomas Morrieux – the gift Gaunt gave the happy couple was extremely generous including as it did silver spoons, saucers and a basket with a silver top. The difficulty is that this may be a different Blanche. Froissart says that Morrieux’s wife was Gaunt’s illegitimate daughter. Either Froissart thought Blanche Swynford was Gaunt’s; or she was the daughter of Marie de St Hillaire or Froissart was wrong (his chronicles do contain errors). The evidence that this particular Blanche is Blanche Swynford is circumstantial- Morrieux was a Lancastrian retainer with an annuity of £100 p.a who died in Spain. Our lack of knowledge about his wife reflects the difficulty of decoding the past where records are incomplete and names not always terribly helpful.

The difficulties of working out relationships from fragmentary evidence and deductions without necessarily knowing exact dates for events are summarised by Sydney Armitage-Smith writing in 1904 about John of Gaunt:

But the attempt to identify the Duke s daughter and the daughter of his later mistress breaks down hopelessly. (It was made by Sir N Nicolas, Scrope v Grosvenor Con
troversy 11 185) For (i) there is Froissart’s explicit state ment quoted above ; (11) Blanche is never mentioned among the Beauforts , (ui) there is the insuperable difficulty of age.
Katharine Swynford, born in 1350, and married to Sir Hugh Swynford m 1367, whose elder child, Sir Thomas Swynford, was born in 1368, could not possibly have been the mother of Blanche, who was married to Sir Thomas Moneux in 1381.

https://archive.org/stream/johnofgaunt001003mbp/johnofgaunt001003mbp_djvu.txt

Lucraft, Jeannette. (2006) Katherine Swynford: The History of a Medieval Mistress. Stroud: Sutton Publishing

Weir, Alison. (2007) Katherine Swynford:The Story of John of Gaunt and his Scandalous Duchess. London: Random House

The Hungerford family and the house of Lancaster

Seal_WalterHungerford_1stBaronHungerford_KG_Died1449.pngSir Thomas Hungerford is generally recognised as the first Speaker of the House of Parliament (Sir Peter de la Mare actually did the job first but no one at the time bothered to give him a job title so technically its Sir Thomas).  His family had all represented Parliament for Wiltshire so it is unsurprising that Sir Thomas should have taken the mantle on his shoulders in 1376 having been knighted the previous year – more unexpected, to the modern way of thinking at least, is the fact that he held the constituency of Wiltshire and also Somerset in the parliaments of 1384 and 1389.  He was already part of the Lancaster Affinity when he sat in his first parliament. He was an member of parliament during the so-called Bad Parliament of 1377 when he fulfilled the role of Speaker. In all, he would serve as a member of parliament sixteen times.

Sir Thomas’s career path is typical of the period – he married well; twice and on both occasions secured lands and political credit.  He represented John of Gaunt within Wiltshire/Somerset and he benefitted from that link to the extent that on his death he was the holder of twelve manors.  Thus on a regional level through family roles and local administration he was a man of importance – sheriff and member of royal commissions.  This in turn was enhanced by his links to the Lancaster Affinity.  And as with other knights I have written about in the last couple of weeks, the arrangement was reciprocal.

Evidence for the growth of Hungerford’s status is best seen in the form of Farleigh Hungerford Castle which started off life as a manor house and which was turned into a castle by Sir Thomas as his power and wealth increased.

And, as with other members of Gaunt’s retinue, Hungerford was associated not only with the father but also the son.  In 1387 he was linked with the so-called Appellants, of whom Henry of Bolingbroke was one,  who sought to muzzle Richard II. However, he was not a member of the Merciless Parliament.  Even so once Richard II regained his power Hungerford lost some of his regional influence which was not restored until John of Gaunt returned from Spain.

 

In addition to serving the Lancaster Affinity within his region he also served as Lancaster’s steward and can be found also  in the role of bailiff to the Bishop of Salisbury.

 

Sir Thomas died at the end of 1397 and was replaced by his son – another Sir Walter who was the only one of his sons to outlive him (his seal is pictured at the start of this post.)  Sir Thomas had three son by his first wife and two by his second.  Sir Walter, who at the time of his father’s death had only just come of age, would become a baron and like his father would maintain his loyalty to the house of Lancaster – and this was demonstrated in 1399 when he supported Henry of Bolingbroke during his return from exile to claim John of Gaunt’s title and estates.  Walter became a knight just before Henry of Bolingbroke was crowned and would continue to serve Lancaster through the reigns of Henry IV and Henry V – he was an executor of Henry V’s will as well as also being a Speaker in Parliament. He was also Chief Steward for all the duchy lands south of the River Trent. By the time Sir Walter died, the Hungerford family owned fifty manors – perhaps making him into an example of a magnate with too much power and cash.

Inevitably the wheel of fortune turned as Lancaster’s fortunes declined with the reign of Henry VI. Sir Thomas’s grandson, Robert was executed in 1464 in the aftermath of the Battle of Hexham.The same fate befell Sir Thomas’s great grandson in 1469. It is perhaps unsurprising to discover that a member of the Hungerford family fought at Bosworth on the side of Henry Tudor – which helped to reverse the attainder that the House of York in the form of Edward IV had passed against the Hungerford family.

The Lancaster Affinity is hugely important to the period and to England’s changing political landscape.  The career patterns of John of Gaunt’s retinue echo one another in more ways than one- so no doubt I shall come back to the Lancaster Affinity and John of Gaunt’s retinue one way or another but its time to look more closely at Katherine Swynford.

 

Roskell, John Smith. (1981) Parliament and Politics in Late Medieval England, Volume 2

Roskell, John Smith. (1965) The Commons and Their Speakers in English Parliaments, 1376-1523. Manchester: Manchester University Press

 

 

Sir John Pole of Hartington (d.1397)

 

DSC_0174John Pole of Hartington (the picture is of Hartington Church) in Derbyshire held some important offices in the Duchy of Lancaster – not least being the steward of the High Peak – which I think you’ll agree is a rather wonderful title as is the title of forester of Crowdecote – another of John’s nice little money spinners. The Crowdecote office came with the purchase of land which appears to have occurred shortly after Pole inherited the family lands in the area. The Parliamentary website also suggests that it was the purchase of the land at Crowdecote which first brought Pole into the orbit of Gaunt’s sphere of influence certainly it was from this time that Pole acquired grazing rights to land in Hartington in the ownership of Gaunt as part of the Duchy of Lancaster  (Hartington had been in the hands of the Ferrers family until involvement with de Montford’s rebellion saw his estates ending up in the hands of Edmund of Lancaster).

We probably shouldn’t be too surprised, either, to learn that Pole became a member of parliament following his links to Gaunt – it is pure supposition to consider the idea that Pole purchased the land at Crowdecote with the single aim of improving his political and financial standing by hooking up to the Lancaster bandwagon but it certainly isn’t outside the realms of possibility.

In 1381 Pole can be found suppressing revolting peasants – a role which he continued throughout his career in Gaunt’s service as in 1386 he is on the record arresting people following unrest in Worksop. Ironically it was probably his role as an assessor of tax in 1379 that led to the unrest in the area in 1381! He is also noted as being sent off  in 1395 to lean on juries in Staffordshire along with other men in Gaunt’s retinue…suddenly its all sounding very mafia-ish.

 

More importantly so far as history’s knowledge of Pole is concerned is his keenness to take people to court – lawyers are good at written records and consequentially we know quite a lot about him.  He first appears in 1376 suing someone from Alstonfield for poaching and there are also records of him suing his own family over the inheritance of the manor of Sheen which had been split for a number of years due to the way it was inherited but when the manor was finally reunited under John’s tenure he promptly sued the previous occupants for laying waste the estate – presumably they weren’t too happy about the fact that the manor was ultimately going into John’s hands and took what they could whilst the going was good. Ultimately another John Pole would sell the manor of Sheen to Edward IV.

 

Our fourteenth century Pole appears to have recognized which side his bread was buttered and became on of the duchy’s most loyal supporters in the region. In return he gained preferential rates for grazing in the High Peak as well as an annuity of £10 a year as one of Gaunt’s retainers – crucially both in times of peace and war. He was newly knighted in 1386 when he set off for Spain with John of Gaunt and Constance or Constanza of Castile in John’s abortive campaign to claim the Spanish throne. Fortunately for Pole he avoided succumbing to the disease that rampaged through Gaunt’s army and returned to Derbyshire.

 

When he returned to England he appears to have continued extending his land holdings in Derbyshire and Staffordshire. His behaviour either on his own behest or for his master seems to have caused major disagreements with the abbot of Dieulacres in 1395.

Dieulacres, a Cistercian Abbey near Leek, had a bit of a reputation! The abbot was prone to suggesting that it was put upon but the Victoria County History for Staffordshire paints a rather different picture as this extract demonstrates:

 

The abbey appears as aggressor as much as victim in numerous breaches of the peace in the area during the later Middle Ages, the abbot maintaining armed bands like any troublesome lay magnate. A royal commission of inquiry in 1379 recited ‘information that one William, Abbot of Dieulacres, desiring to perpetrate maintenance in his marches and oppress the people’, had kept a band of 21 retainers ‘to stay with him . . . to do all the mischief they can to the people in the county of Stafford and that they have lain in wait for them, assaulted, maimed, and killed some, and driven others from place to place until they made a fine with them’. In 1380 a similar group was indicted for having beheaded John de Warton at Leek by command of Abbot William. The abbot surrendered and was imprisoned, but he was soon pardoned and released. At the beginning of Henry V’s reign the county was in a very disturbed state, and among the many indictments was one involving a monk of Dieulacres and a servant of the abbot. They were accused of being members of a group of 80 who had broken into William Egerton’s park at Cheddleton in 1413 and stolen ironstone.

 

So the dispute between Pole and the Cistercians was probably a rather lively one which has been relegated to a passing footnote of history. 1395 also saw Pole being charged with the illegal use of hunting dogs – whether it was connected to the abbot is another matter entirely.

 

Pole was probably dead by 1397 because he disappears from the register and his son, another John, is described as a minor. John senior’s widow, Isobel, went on to marry Sir Thomas Beek, another member of Gaunt’s retinue. Isobel and Sir Thomas appear in the records in several land ownership cases at the time as well as sueing Henry Marion, William Perkson, William de Tyderyngton and Hugh del Grene, for treading down and consuming her grass at Alstonfield – I should add that it was the cattle of the aforementioned doing the trampling and eating!

 

The family tradition for suing all and sundry was maintained by young John when he came of age because he promptly sued his mother and step-father for failing to account for their stewardship of his estates – including at Alstonfield- the general feeling being that they had lived rather well on the proceeds.

 

I have the feeling that I will be returning to the Poles at some point. And before anyone asks; I know that they were related to the Poles of Radbourne in Derbyshire and linked to the Chandos family but not to the de la Poles (dukes of Suffolk) or to the Pole family who were Henry Tudor’s cousins (Henry married off Margaret Plantagenet- daughter of the duke of Clarence- to his cousin Sir Richard Pole – she went on to become the Countess of Salisbury and was brutally executed by Henry VIII). I should add that that particular Pole family came from Cheshire. A casual glance at the map reveals that it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that the two families were somehow linked but the two sets of Poles were distinctly separate entities so far as known history is concerned.

DSC_0173.jpg

 

G C Baugh, W L Cowie, J C Dickinson, Duggan A P, A K B Evans, R H Evans, Una C Hannam, P Heath, D A Johnston, Hilda Johnstone, Ann J Kettle, J L Kirby, R Mansfield and A Saltman, ‘Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Dieulacres’, in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 3, ed. M W Greenslade and R B Pugh (London, 1970), pp. 230-235. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol3/pp230-235 [accessed 22 August 2017].

 

POLE, Sir John de la (d.c.1397), of Hartington, Derbys. and Alstonfield, Staffs. Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993.  Available from Boydell and Brewer

Sir John Curson of Kedleston (d.1406)

john cursonJohn of Gaunt’s estates were huge, including much of Derbyshire. It should not be surprising that Sir John Curson of Kedleston was one of his retainers nor should we be surprised that there was more than one John Curson in the area at the time – one of whom was found guilty of poaching deer from Gaunt’s Duffield’s estate – history is unclear whether it was Curson of Kedleston who went on to redeem the theft of Gaunt’s deer by his good service or another, possibly shadier Curson!

John Curson of Kedleston, unsurprisingly given his position within Derbyshire society, was a justice of the peace and one of the Lancaster Affinity in Parliament. In fact his name turns up rather a lot on legal documents of the period as a trustee for land holdings (more on that at the end of the post) and as a litigant for land claims arising from estates for which he was an executor. Perhaps one of the reasons he was so widely trusted with other men’s property was that he appears not to have extended his own landholdings as much as he might have done given the opportunities that arose.

 

His loyalty to the Lancaster affinity isn’t only seen in the Lancaster livery collar he wears on his funeral monument, it can also be read in his actions. In July 1399 there was a party from Derbyshire at Ravenspur to meet Henry of Bolingbroke who arrived in England breaking the terms of his banishment to claim in the first instant his title as duke of Lancaster. Curson was rewarded by being made an esquire of the chamber.

 

Curson’s actions not only speak of loyalty to the house of Lancaster but of a canny political move. It wasn’t long before Henry of Bolingbroke had turned into King Henry IV. That November Parliament awarded John £20 for his services to John of Gaunt and Henry IV; he became a privy councilor at a time when most of its members were related to the Crown and he escaped the censure which later attached itself to Henry’s council by attending meetings and being very busy on the king’s behalf not only in Derbyshire but in Wales and also in the north.  He became treasurer of Henry V’s army in Scotland, oversaw the so-called “love-days” between the English and the Scots which saw sworn enemies attend church arm in arm and generally made himself very useful on the Scottish borders – an office which extended in 1401 to arbitrating between the Douglas and Percy families (rather him than me). That particular role probably made settling Derbyshire trade disputes seem rather like a walk in the park.

 

Helen Castor makes the point that Curson is an example of how the Lancaster Affinity worked in Duchy counties like Derbyshire. Curson’s allegiance was to Lancaster and he was from one of the county’s leading families – it was almost inevitable that with a Lancastrian king on the throne he would came to hold many important posts within the county – it was almost a chicken and egg situation ie was the status because of his rank within local society or was it because of his loyalty to Lancaster (Castor:205)? In any event Castor says that the loyalty of men like Curson gave Henry IV more power than might have usually been expected by a monarch in the regions as not only did he wield the power of king also but the private power of a mighty magnate (the duchy of Lancaster). It meant that Henry could safely afford to “devolve” power to his men so that he personally did not have to traipse around the countryside dispensing justice and keeping an eye on what was happening because he had men whose loyalty he could rely upon to do that for him – which was fine in the first instance but wasn’t such a great strategy two generations down the line.

 

Curson died in 1405 and demonstrated that he had learned rather a lot about the law over the years. His eldest son was only twelve – so by rights Kedleston should have found itself in the chancy hands of the Crown with young John as its ward. However, Curson had ensured that his lands were in the hands of trustees before his death. Kedleston  did not offer rich pickings. The trustees administered the estate for John Junior until he came of age without recourse to the Crown – so that there was no sale of John’s wardship to the highest bidder and no creaming of the profits to recoup the expenditure.

In addition to John there was another son Thomas and a daughter Margaret all of whom married into Derbyshire families tightening the links that bound the ruling families together. John’s widow married into another local family.

 

And just in case you’re thinking that I’ve made a spelling mistake and the name should be Curzon – that came later.

 

Castor, Helen (2000) The King, the Crown, and the Duchy of Lancaster: Public Authority and the Crown.  Public Authority and Private Power, 1399-1461. Oxford: Oxford University Press

image accessed from https://dorysworld.wordpress.com/tag/all-saints-church-kedleston/ which is an informative (not to mention amusing) look at Kedleston Church.