Murder in the Abbey- John of Gaunt style

john of gauntIn 1378 Westminster Abbey had to be closed for several months after  an unfortunate interlude.  Murder had been done in the choir and John of Gaunt was implicated.  It didn’t help his reputation as the abbey had to be reconsecrated.

The back story is important. Two knights called Schakell and Hawle or Hauley had taken a Spanish Count prisoner whilst fighting with the Black Prince during the Hundred Years War – the capture took place in 1367 at the Battle of Najera. A ransom was required for the release of the Count of Denia from Aragon.  This was normal procedure and one of the reasons why going to war was so popular as men were able to make a fortune on the battlefield by capturing wealthy men. The Count was allowed to return to Spain to organise the ransom but had to leave his son, Alphonso, as a hostage. Ten years later Alphonso, who was the count’s eldest son was still in England.

Unfortunately for Schakell and Robert Hawle, who was actually Schakell’s squire John of Gaunt was negotiating for the Crown of Castile.  The fact that a Spanish noble was being held hostage until his pa sent back large sums of cash was not good press. Pressure was applied.  Remember this was only a year after Richard II had become king.  John’s power whilst not absolute was non the less impressive.

The two knights refused to release their prisoner. John had them arrested and sent to the Tower of London to focus their minds.   They managed to escape from the Tower and fled to Westminster Abbey where they claimed sanctuary.

You can probably see where this is going.  Sanctuary was ignored by a group of by the Constable of the Tower, Alan Boxhall. Schakell was captured but Hawle and a monk were murdered in the Choir.  All of which sounds as though it was a mad chase through the street and an action which took place in the heat of the moment.

Unfortunately a royal letter made its way to the Abbot of Westminster demanding that Schakell and Hawle be handed over.  The abbot refused.  And that’s when the Constable made his move – so not the heat of the moment. And he didn’t go with a few men.  He took fifty men into the abbey.

The upshot of this was that Bloxhall and all who were involved were excommunicated apart from the young Richard II, his mother Joan of Kent and of course John of Gaunt which seems a bit rich as it’s not a wild leap of deduction to work out who the plan’s mastermind might have been.

Liddel Strength – John of Gaunt on the borders

220px-Edward_III_of_England_(Order_of_the_Garter)John of Gaunt owned more than thirty castles – many came though his marriage to Blanche of Lancaster, others came by gift from his father Edward III.  One of them, Liddel Strength, sitting on the banks of the River Liddel, quite close to the wonderfully named village of Moat in Cumbria, went through assorted hands until it came into the ownership of the Earls of Kent – John the 3rd Earl of Kent died in 1352.  He was twenty-two.   He died without children and his titles passed to his sister Joan.

Joan became the 4th Countess of Kent and Baroness Wake.  History, on the other hand, knows Joan as the Fair Maid of Kent.   Thomas Holland who married her secretly ultimately became the Earl of Kent when Joan extracted herself from a second bigamous marriage that her family had imposed upon her.

All of which was rather unnecessary in this post because John, Earl of Kent passed the castle to Edward III pictured at the start of this post who in turned passed it to John of Gaunt in 1357 after he had proved his martial ability. However, given that the Scots had destroyed the castle in 1346 and behaved rather unpleasantly to the chap responsible for the castle – one Sir Walter de Selby who according to one source was forced to watch two his his sons being strangled prior to his own beheading.

The castle was never rebuilt despite the fact that the area was prone to Scottish raiding given its position on the border.  Edward III’s plan seems to have been that John should become a northern magnate and the lordship gave him the necessary political importance in the region.  Edward was also in the middle of negotiations with King David of Scotland — so a handily placed son was not to be sneezed at in the eventuality of a substitution being required.

Certainly in the 1370s when the intermittent Anglo-Scottish war broke out once more Gaunt went north on Richard II’s behalf with the intention of ending them and had placed the Percy family in a position of greater power than ever on the borders by giving the earl of Northumberland the powers necessary to levy forces from across the marches to repel a Scottish army.

The  title to the Lordship would pass to Henry of Bolingbroke in 1380.

 

The childhood of a prince

john of gauntJohn of Gaunt was born in March 1340 whilst Edward III was on campaign in France trying to claim the French throne through his mother’s, Isabella of France, bloodline – someone hadn’t explained salic law to him.  John was probably born in St Bavo Abbey in Ghent.  In later years the rumour would arise that he was no true son of Edward’s but was instead a Ghentish butcher’s brat – no one ever paused to wonder how Philippa of Hainhault might have met this butcher given that queen’s aren’t prone to popping out to do the shopping for the evening meal.

Froissart states that Gaunt’s godfather was John, Duke of Brabant, a reminder of the shifting tides of political affiliation in Europe.

In November the royal family returned to England.  We know very little of John’s early year’s although, as ever, it is the accounts that give us some insight.  We know for instance from Edward III’s wardrobe account for 1340-41 that the baby was provided with some rather snazzy red and green bedding, that he had silken robes and a household of servants.  As well as his nurse there was a female cradle-rocker.   And, as if this wasn’t enough, there were two esquire of the body, six chamber servants and three “domicelli.” Domicelli are also servants but they are of a higher social status.

John probably found himself in the royal nursery with his sisters Isabella and Joan and his older brother Lionel as well as the new baby Edmund.  At the age of seven he would have been deemed old enough to leave the nursery and begin his training as a knight.  We also know, thanks to the accounts again, that Edward set aside £1000 a year for his children and that Philippa of Hainault of seems to have been a very hands on royal mother was granted their guardianship in 1342 whilst Edward was busy across the Channel.

John was also  created the Earl of Richmond. This may have been because his father was already scouting around for prospective brides for his young son.  The earldom was reconfirmed in 1351.

Ecclesiastical documents also reveal that the young John was admitted to the confraternity at Lincoln and later to St Mary’s in York.  The later took place in 1349 just after the Princess Joan had died from the plague.

John’s next step towards adulthood was being placed in the care of his brother, Edward, the Black Prince.  John was probably in his brother’s household between 1350 and 1355 – the accounts tell us this because there were purchases of knightly accoutrements for the young prince.

It was in 1350 that John found himself in the middle of the Battle of Winchelsea.  He was too young to take part in the fight but according to Froissart John was on board the ship with his father because the king was very fond of his son.  Edward III was attempting to intercept the Castilian fleet of Pedro I who had become an ally of France rather than England – despite Edward III attempting to negotiate a marriage between England and Castile.  Edward III won the battle but it was touch and go.  He knighted his son immediately afterwards according to some versions of Gaunt’s history although others think that the narrator was confused in remembering events that had taken place thirty years previously and that Lionel and John were both knighted in 1355.  In either case Philippa of Hainhault spent an unpleasant afternoon with a good view of a sea battle.

BattleofSluys.jpg

This particular image is from Froissart’s Chronicle.  It depicts the Battle of Sluys which was fought in 1340 between england and France but it gives a good idea that a sea battle was really about getting the ships alongside one another and then being engaged in hand to hand fighting.

In 1355 John was old enough to join his father and older brother on their military campaigns in Normandy and from Calais.  Whilst Edward was occupied in France the Scots took the opportunity to capture Berwick-Upon-Tweed but that’s a different story.  The key thing is that John was part of the winter campaign to recapture the town which surrendered on 13 January 1356.

The following year John was granted the  lordship of Liddel – John was going to be a northern lord getting to grips with those pesky Scots.  The next step in securing John’s future would be his marriage to Blanche of Lancaster.  Childhood – such as it had been- was over.

Goodman, Anthony. (1992) John of Gaunt. London: Longman.

The Wykeham Incident

WilliamOfWykehamEngland, until the Reformation, always had its share of clever clerics – think Cardinals Beaufort and Wolsey for example.  Not only did they hold important places in the Church’s hierarchy they also held the reins of power in State matters as well.  Whilst I’m at it, the other two clerics who people may immediately identify are Thomas Becket who became Henry II’s bête noire and Simon of Sudbury who managed to get himself beheaded by revolting peasants in 1381 – his head is still in Sudbury’s parish church if you’re of a ghoulish turn of mind.

So just who is Wykeham? William  Wykeham is Edward III’s leading cleric and statesman and like the above named gentlemen he had the knack of irritating folk – well mainly John of Gaunt.  Wykeham’s story is an interesting one in that he was not the second son of aristocracy or even a member of the gentry.  Generally his family are described as poor.  His father could afford for him not to labour on the land but it would have been a sacrifice as would the education that replaced manual labour. William’s natural talent was recognised and he must have had a sponsor who helped pay for his education.  William was educated in Winchester and then found employment as a clerk (in minor orders) in Winchester.  By 1349 (just in time for the Black Death) Wykeham was in the employ of the Bishop of Winchester.  This would have brought him into the royal orbit as the bishop was Edward III’s treasurer. Winchester also has close associations with the court so it was a place of opportunity for a gifted young man.

 

Wykeham continued working for the bishop until the mid 1350s at which point he suddenly accrued a number of official roles at court.  He was also made surveyor of the works for Windsor Castle and its park.  He had arrived – the long path to overnight success had been trodden and from now on he made rapid advances in royal service.  He turns up in Calais negotiating the terms of the Treaty of Bretigny in 1360.

Wykeham became more and more influential as the 1360s progressed.  It did not make him very popular with the rest of Edward III’s advisors not least because having decided to undergo ordination he also squirrelled away some very lucrative livings at a point when there was peace with France and the rich pickings of earlier years were not so readily available.  in 1366 on Edward III’s orders he was elected Bishop of Winchester.  He also went on to become Edward’s chancellor.

john of gauntIt seemed as though there would be no stopping him but as ever the currents of political power eddy and swirl.  Parliament ultimately petitioned the king to stop the practice of ecclesiastics having positions of power and not being liable to account for their actions, and that non-clerical laymen should replaced them. An important supporter of this action was John of Gaunt who was not keen on Wykeham – which is a bit rich coming from the man who used Edward III’s increasing infirmity as an opportunity to take control of the court and to reverse reforms made by the king.

In 1371 Gaunt had his way and Wykeham found himself transformed from one of the wealthiest men in the kingdom to being utterly reliant on the charity of his friends when he was kicked out of the See of Winchester and forced to resign the chancellorship. John of Gaunt tried to have Wykeham charged with corruption.

In 1377 when Richard II became king Wykeham received a full pardon although it should be noted that initially Wykeham was specifically excluded from the pardon and it was only after an ecclesiastical uproar that his name was added to the list. He went on to be one of the king’s councillors demonstrating that John of Gaunt did not control the regency council in the way that is often suggested given that he and Wykeham were at loggerheads with one another.  Between 1389 and 1391 Wykeham was Richard II’s chancellor. In 1391 he was back on the case of the war with the French – by now the war was sixty years long on and off.

He died in 1404 having welcomed Henry of Bolingbroke to Winchester in 1400 as king.

So why is Wykeham important? Firstly he isn’t of noble birth – which no doubt caused quite a lot of resentment at the time.  In an age when blood line was all important Wykeham is a role model for the self made man.  He’s symptomatic of changing times.  War and plague as well as some effective patronage opened up possibilities for his advancement. Second, we are used to hearing that Gaunt was all powerful.  In 1377  Gaunt was unable to continue his campaign against Wykeham despite the fact that he is usually depicted as the leading member of the regency council.  And thirdly, the reason usually given for Gaunt’s unrelenting campaign against Wykeham is that allegedly Wykeham spread the rumour that Gaunt was actually the son of a Ghentish butcher rather than Edward III – and well all know how history loves a good conspiracy theory.

 

 

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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