Category Archives: The Plantagenets

Peter de Melbourne

Melbourne_castle_1602Peter de Melbourne was an important part of the Lancaster affinity, serving as the MP for Derbyshire as well as being Constable of Melbourne Castle pictured at the start of this post (don’t go looking for it – there’s only a small section of wall surviving).

Peter’s parents also served in Lancaster’s household. Amy Melbourne knew Katherine Swynford and Philippa Chaucer serving as she did in Constance of Castile’s household. Like Katherine who raised her children alongside the duke’s as part of her terms of employment as the Gaunt governess there is evidence to suggest that Amy fetched her son into Gaunt’s household at an early age and as he grew was retained into the household – again in the way that Katherine Swynford did with her own son- Thomas Swynford. Amy’s links to Katherine are even more defined by the fact that when Katherine was away from her duties as governess it was Amy who stepped into her shoes and that the Duke gave them identical gifts for the care of his children on at least one occasion (Weir: 120).

 

In 1376 Peter was indentured for life to John of Gaunt at a fee of £10 per year; in earlier years it had been £5. He gained the role of Constable of Melbourne Castle as well as keeper of the park at the same time. After Amy’s death, parliamentary information reveals that he kept rents to the value of £66 per year which had formerly been his mother’s. This together with a marriage to one of Sir Simon Handseacre’s coheiresses made him a wealthy man and his fees would continue to grow with the passage of time marking his advancement in Gaunt’s household and then in the household of Henry of Bolingbroke.

In fact Melbourne went with Henry in 1392 to Prussia as part of Bolingbroke’s crusade – against the Lithuanians (it wasn’t a wildly popular event)- and from there accompanied Henry to the Holy Land – a fact which marks him out as being close to Bolingbroke who took only a small party of his closest friends and supporters with him.

Melbourne must have been increasingly concerned that his loyalty to Lancaster led him into conflict with Richard II. Bolingbroke was one of the Lords Appellant and being, apparently, a cautious man Melbourne gained a letter of pardon from the king for his support of Henry and the other Lords Appellant.

 

In 1399 it looked like a very sensible thing to have gained. John of Gaunt was dead and Henry of Bolingbroke in exile while his own son, another Henry, was  effectively hostage in Richard’s custody. Looking at the dry accounts there doesn’t seem much to tell – Melbourne appears to have jumped ship and gone over to Richard – the king confirmed Melbourne’s annuities. Melbourne went to Ireland with Richard that same summer.

 

Except of course – he hadn’t changed sides. Certainly Henry of Bolingbroke on becoming King Henry IV and locking his cousin away in Pontefract promptly granted Melbourne a fee of 100 marks a year and gave him lands in Derbyshire that had once belonged to Thomas Merke, Bishop of Carlisle and vociferous critic of the usurpation. The key to understanding the reward and what Melbourne was doing with Richard comes from recognizing the fact that Melbourne was appointed chamberlain of the household of the newly minted Prince Henry – the eldest son who’d found himself at the court of Richard. Melbourne would appear to have been caring for the Lancaster scion all along – and let’s not forget that he turns up on Henry IV’s wife’s accounts as well, as one of her two esquires. Without a doubt Peter de Melbourne was at the heart of the Lancaster household. In March 1413 when Prince Henry became King Henry V, Melbourne was rewarded by the new king for his lifelong loyal service.

 

Melbourne died in 1418.

 

Weir, Alison (2011) Katherine Swynford – The Story of John of Gaunt and his Scandalous Duchess. London:Vintage

http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1386-1421/member/melbourne-peter-1418

 

 

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Sir John Marmion

marmion tomb.jpgSir John Marmion is buried in West Tanfield church near Ripon alongside his wife Elizabeth St Quentin. They feature in most guides to “must do” churches because of the wrought ironwork above their monument. Apparently the frame with its candle holders is a rare survival of a medieval hearse – which simply meant a portable frame- which was used to cover the coffin with a cloth prior to burial when it stood in front of the altar.   Goodall explains that the rite of cloth and candles would be re-enacted on an annual basis as it was regarded as of benefit to souls in purgatory. Marmion’s lady wife had the foresight to ensure they had a permanent hearse at hand for the anniversary ritual – and don’t ask me how the cloth and seven candles would have worked together without causing a small inferno – I am merely rehearsing my reading of Goodall. What makes the whole thing even more odd is that given that Marmion died in Spain it seems unlikely that his mortal remains ever ended up under a pall in West Tanfield perhaps making the prayers for his soul all the more important.

 

Sir John Marmion’s father was John Grey 2nd baron of Rotherfield. Grey’s second wife was Avice Marmion and Sir John was their eldest son. He was born in 1343 and assumed the name Marmion when his uncle Robert died without heirs.  John Marmion had an older  half-brother who would inherit the Grey name and property. He also appears to have inherited the Marmion loyalty to the house of Lancaster. Certainly Bean’s analysis of Gaunt’s record of indentures identifies the fact that Marmion was one of the group of men that Gaunt bound closely to him not only during times of war but also during times of peace. It is evident from the records that Marmion was a key figure in Gaunt’s retinue. He was personally retained by Gaunt. This seems to be somewhat confirmed by the alabaster monument in West Tanfield. Sir John’s effigy is wearing a livery collar of interlinked s’s. This is associated with Gaunt according to the Heraldry Society. He was afterall an important man in John of Gaunt’s household holding the office of chamberlain.

He was also sufficiently trusted in the wider world to be one of the men called upon to take depositions in the case of the blue shield with the bend d’or  armorial bearings in Scrope V Grosvenor case that I have previously posted about.  At the time Gaunt’s army was assembling in Plymouth to sail to Spain in order for Gaunt to make his claim on the Castilian throne by right of his marriage to Constance of Castile.

It was at this time that Marmion also showed his mettle as an independent and valued commander.  He completely refused to consider Thomas de Evese de Wysewell as a soldier in his company for the Spanish venture.  Goodman suggests that it might have been because the double-barrelled gentleman was prone to scarpering when the going got tough (Goodman: 212)

Marmion died on 25th February 1387 whilst in Spain. The army was plagued by disease brought on by starvation as well as the usual perils of charging around battle fields and besieging castles/towns. It appears as though Marmion fell victim at the same time as eleven barons, eighty knights and two hundred squires – making it one of Gaunt’s least successful adventures abroad in terms of loss of manpower.

Marmion’s name appears in Gaunt’s records the following year when it was ordered that a payment of £342 be made in respect of wages owed to Marmion and his own body of men (Goodman:122).

Goodall, John.(2015) Parish Church Treasures: The Nation’s Greatest Art Collection  London: Bloomsbury

Goodman, Anthony. (1992) John of Gaunt: The Exercise of Princely Power in Fourteenth Century Europe. London: Longman

Bean, John Malcolm William. (1989) From Lord to Patron: Lordship in Late Medieval England. Manchester: Manchester University Press

http://www.theheraldrysociety.com/articles/early_history_of_heraldry/the_livery_collar.htm (accessed 31/07/2017)

Image of Sir John Marmion and his wife from the review of St Nicholas Church posted on the Silvertraveladvisor.  Click on the image to open a new window and visit the page.

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Sir Walter Urswick – soldier, warrior, constable of Richmond Castle.

john of gauntBefore he became the duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt was the earl of Richmond. The title was confirmed on him by Edward III in 1351, prior to that date the income from the estates lay in Queen Philippa’s hands for the maintenance of the royal children.

Gaunt surrendered the title in June 1372 when he married Constance of Castile and took the title king of Castile. Many members of his retinue had joined with Gaunt as he started to build his train of retainers whilst earl of Richmond. Sir Walter Urswick was one such.

Sir Walter Urswick, who was Gaunt’s master of game amongst other things, joined John’s retinue in 1367 as Gaunt for £40.00 per year. Urswick died a decade later (approx) and was buried in the church at Catterick. Interestingly Urswick’s indenture doesn’t make any mention of serving Gaunt during time of war. Conditions are only attached to peacetime service and Urswick was a very busy man on John of Gaunt’s behalf from his base in the Manor of Catterick. In addition to being Gaunt’s master of game he was also the Forester for Swaledale and in 1371 became Constable of Richmond Castle.  In addition he was the Forester for the Forest of Bowland – Gaunt was the Lord of Bowland in addition to all his other titles. Walter held a property at Whitewell which is an inn today.

Despite not having agreed to serve in Gaunt’s retinue in times of war Urswick turns up in Navarre in 1366 where he was knighted and is mentioned in Froissart as serving with Gaunt in Bruges. Following the good service that Urswick performed in Navarre he attained all the other preferrements identified in the paragraphs above and is noted as one of Gaunt’s most trusted men. A letter recalls:

John, son of the noble King of England, Duke of Lancaster, &c., &c„
to all whom these letters may concern, greeting I Know you that for the
good and friendly service which our well-beloved Master Walter de Urswick
has done us in our expedition to Spain, and for others he will render in time
to come, and also to enable him the better to maintain the order of knight-
hood which he took of us on the day of the battle of Najara, we have given
and granted to him for the term of his. life £40 a year, to be taken, year by
year, in round sums, at the hands of our general Receiver for the time being
out of the issues of our Manors of Katterick and Forcet, in our county of
Richmond.’

https://archive.org/stream/recordsfamilyur01urwigoog/recordsfamilyur01urwigoog_djvu.txt (accessed 25/07/2017 21:24).

Sir Walter’s brother Robert was Gaunt’s receiver and other members of the family appear on the pay roll as well.  It should also be mentioned that he married into the Scrope family – as demonstrated by the impaling of the Urswick arms with those of the Scropes’ upon his monument in St Anne’s Catterick – demonstrating once again the growth of a network binding the Lancaster Affinity together.

Catterick - St Anne Walter Urswick 1375 77.jpg

The picture of Sir Walter’s monument originates from http://www.themcs.org/armour/14th%20century%20armour.htm

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Sir Richard Scrope – 1st Baron Scrope of Bolton.

bolton castle.jpgBefore we start and at the risk of telling folk something they already know Scrope is pronounced “Scroop.” The Scrope family is one of the great northern families who arrived with the Conquest and gradually grew in power. They can be found in a number of official capacities down the centuries from the fourteenth century onwards  including as Lord Wardens of the Western March. It should be added that like everyone else I’m reading about at the moment Richard Scrope was decidedly chummy with John of Gaunt. Goodman describes him as a mentor to the duke – after all Scrope had campaigned with Edward III since the early days of the Hundred Years War as well as during various Scottish conflicts (p289).

Richard was the son of Edward III’s chief justice. Sir William de la Pole, the canny Hull merchant who I mentioned in my previous post was Edward III’s financier at about the same time. He arranged the marriage between Richard Scrope and his daughter Blanche de la Pole in 1344. The couple had four sons before Blanche’s death in 1378.

Sir Richard, like many men of his generation, fought during the early campaigns of the Hundred Years War. He served initially in the retinue of The Earl of Warwick in France and later with John of Gaunt where he was an experienced warrior in a war band led by Gaunt who at that stage in proceedings hadn’t seen so much conflict. He appears on Gaunt’s list of knights  from 1367 for the fee of £40 per annum.  He was still receiving that fee  when the duke died in 1399.

Scrope fought in every major campaign between 1346 and 1384 including at Crecy and the Siege of Calais.  We know this from the events that followed the Scottish campaign of 1385.  Goodman makes the point that soldiers of Scrope’s repute helped to recruit men who wished to serve in John of Gaunt’s retinue.  As time passed younger men wished to serve Gaunt not only for the patronage and prestige of being linked to the house of Lancaster but also to rub shoulders with their military heroes (p 217) including Scrope.

In the meantime as well as garbing himself in fortune and glory whilst in France Scrope proved to be a canny businessman.  He obtained the wardship of the three heiress daughters of Robert, Lord Tiptoft who died in April 1372.  Tiptoft was reputed to have salvaged King John’s treasure from ‘The Wash’. Sir Richard paid 230 marks for to become the girls’ guardian. The three girls were betrothed to Scropes’ sons and are all left legacies in Scrope’s will.  It should be added that by the time he died he was a wealthy man having purchased land all over the country including the Isle of Man.

Scrope’s links with John of Gaunt and the ties of the Lancaster Affinity are evidenced not only by his appearance of Lancaster’s list of retainers but is also evidenced through their shared patronage of the Franciscans at Richmond. Other donors also feature on Gaunt’s list of retainers. The men on the list, as might be expected given their lives working together also feature in other written records – namely wills and as witnesses on other legal documents.  Scrope, for example, was one of William Ufford, earl of Suffolk’s executors. (Just to clarify this particular earl died without male heirs, the title lapsed and was filled three years later by Michael de la Pole another of John of Gaunt’s retinue.

Yet more evidence  of the links between Scrope,  John of Gaunt and other members of the Lancaster Affinity can be found in the case of Sir Richard Scrope versus Sir Robert Grosvenor from Cheshire. All the magnates turned out for war against the Scots in 1385. Not only did the campaign not go well for the English but there was the small matter of both Scrope and Grosvenor turning up with arms described in heraldic terms as azure bend or (blue with a gold stripe running diagonally from top left to bottom right). A General Proclamation was promptly made throughout the army that all who were interested in the dispute should appear on 20th August at Newcastle on Tyne to state their views in the matter. Unsurprisingly it took rather longer than a day to resolve the issue. More than three hundred depositions exist taken from thirteen different locations on behalf of both men pertaining to their rights to bear those particular arms. The question that the depositions answered was had the person giving their deposition seen Scrope or Grosvenor bearing those arms, were they aware of any prior usage within the family and had they ever seen the arms used by anyone else. The case lasted four years.

3_scrope.jpg

The depositions provide the information that Scrope first bore his arms during the reign of Edward III in 1359. One of the depositors on Scrope’s behalf was a knight called Sir John de Sully of Crediton in Devon. He was allowed to give his information from the comfort ofhis home – he was over a hundred years old at the time! Testimony was provided by none other that Geoffrey Chaucer- it is from his deposition that we learn that Chaucer ended up as a French prisoner of war during his various adventures. Amongst the people giving evidence were John of Gaunt.

glendowerseal.gifTestifying for Sir Robert was a little known Welshman called Owen Glyndwr – possibly demonstrating that Fourteenth century Britain was a small place when all was said and done! The depositions were made to establish who used the arms and when – making them a gift for military historians wishing to piece together information about the specifics of a particular campaign. Judgement was eventually handed down in Westminster in Scrope’s favour and Grosvenor chose a new coat of arms which changed the bend or for the Chester wheat sheaf – that particular coat of arms is still used by the very unrural sounding dukes of Westminster. It should be added that the Grosvenor family remembered the loss of their coat of arms and in the 1880’s named a race horse “Bend Or.”  It won the Derby.

 

Between 1371 and 1375 Scrope served as Lord Treasurer and was made Lord Chancellor in 1378, which post he held until 1380, but he then served again from 1381 to 1382. One of his roles was to curb the extravagance of the young king who installed toilets in his palaces and followed the fashion for curly toed shoes.  Relations between Scrope and his king came to a rather sticky impasse as a result of the execution of  Edmund Mortimer, Third Earl of March.  Richard being a bit short of cash should made the most of Mortimer and his fellow conspirators having under age heirs.  The lands and the heirs immediately came into Crown hands – wards were valuable commodities in that the person holding the wardship of an heir could milk the estates for their own benefit until the ward came of age and if they were canny the guardian would ensure that the ward was married into the guardian’s family.  It was in a sense a way for Richard to make some quick cash by selling the various wardships to the highest bidder.  Scrope suggested that this wasn’t the most sensible thing that Richard had ever done. It would make far more economic sense for Richard to keep the wards under his own control as the estates would generate revenue and could still be farmed out a later date.  Richard II informed his Chancellor to do get on and do what he was told.   Scrope persisted in trying to persuade Richard to hold on to the lands in question.  Richard II did not like being told what to do and demanded the Great Seal back from Scrope.  Scrope refused to comply until he’d had it from the king’s mouth rather than a messenger’s that he’d been dismissed from his post.

It should be added that Scrope appears to have been regarded as an honest man in that he was appointed executor to Edmund Mortimer’s will – so to say he must have experienced a conflict of interest might be an understatement!

In between going to war, running the country and fulfilling various legal commitments from his friends and peer group Scrope found time to be the Warden of the West March – a post he was appointed to in 1381. The post became something of a hereditary one in that the name Scrope features frequently as warden from that time hence until the post was abolished during the reign of James I of England (VI of Scotland).

It was perhaps fortunate in the aftermath of  Richard II’s disagreement with Scrope that Scrope already had a licence to crenelate Castle Bolton.  The project took him twenty years and £12,000. In the meantime his son William took on the role of warrior and politician rising to become the earl of Wiltshire – and loyal member of the Lancaster affinity. Richard Scrope died on 30 May 1403.  He was buried at Easby Abbey.

 

https://archive.org/details/decontroversiai01scrogoog

http://www.boltoncastle.co.uk/what-to-do-yorkshire/medieval-castles-history/

MacFarlane, K.B. (1973). The Nobility of Late Medieval England. Oxford. Oxford University Press

Goodman, Anthony. (1992) John of Gaunt: The Exercise of Princely Power in Fourteenth Century Europe. London: Longman

 

 

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Michael de la Pole – Earl of Suffolk, Chancellor, traitor and retainer

john of gauntMichael De La Pole ( born circa 1331) was created Earl of Suffolk in 1385. It was a meteroric rise to power given that his father was a Hull wool merchant. Of course, there was money involved.  Edward III needed a financier and William de la Pole was the man for the job. Unsurprisingly, Michael benefitted from his father’s wealth and influence at the court of Edward III.

He can be found amongst the retinues of the Black Prince and later John of Gaunt. It appears that when he first took arms in 1359 he served in the retinue of Henry of Grosmont a.k.a. the first duke of Lancaster. In 1366 he served under the banner of John of Gaunt and continued in the duke’s service in successive campaigns. This suggests that joining with the Black Prince was something that all men wanted to do irrelevant of where their loyalty would normally lay – don’t forget the Black Prince was the military commander who led the English to their early victories during the Hundred Years War.

It was as a consequence of his affiliation with Lancaster that de la Pole began to rise in position. In 1376 he was made admiral of the fleet north of the Thames (Roscell: 129). He was reappointed to the post when Richard II became king in 1377.  Pole was also appointed to be one of Richard II’s advisers. He worked alongside the earl of Arundel who would go on to become Pole’s arch rival and Richard’s bitter enemy.

In 1378 de la Pole was back in France with a commission to take over the castle at Brest – at the behest of Gaunt. During his years as a soldier de la Pole was made a prisoner of war at least once on the second occasion he was part of an embassy negotiating with Wenzel for the hand of Anne of Bohemia. Quite how John of Gaunt must have felt when his former captain managed to get himself captured by brigands in Germany having gone off to negotiate a bride for Richard II can only be imagined. Gaunt agreed to pay 7,000 florins in January 1380 for the return of the embassy that included de la Pole. The ransom would come up at de la Pole’s trial – apparently the ransom constituted rather a waste of money and it hadn’t helped that on his return to England the exchequer was ordered to pay de la Pole his salary as well, inclusive of the time when he was twiddling his fingers in a cell in Germany. As is the way of these things the penpushers dragged their heels and it was only when de la Pole became chancellor that he got his back pay, which ultimately was turned, into a charge of embezzlement.

Richard II made de la Pole chancellor in 1385 but his role as Richard’s man made him a target for an increasingly hostile parliament who regarded Richard’s wish for peace as the result of poor advice. So whose man was de la Pole at this point? He was the king’s friend and adviser  and the king wanted peace.  It looks like Pole leaned in that direction as well.  However Gaunt was for a continuation of the continental conflict – so was Pole still gaunt’s man or not? Possibly not but it was probably just as well that popular opinion had placed Pole in a league of his own because  the Hundred Years War took a turn for the worse and even the Scots seemed to have the upper hand. Once again it was the king’s advisers who were to blame – and who better to blame than the jumped-up son of a merchant? In October 1386, just a year after being made an earl the Commons charged him with the crimes of embezzlement and negligence. This did not deter nineteen-year-old Richard who was forced to accept the impeachment of his adviser and friend. De la Pole continued to maintain his place at Richard’s side but Richard’s loyalty to his friend would ultimately see him removed from power. Consequentially, the following year Michael found himself on the wrong side of the Lords Appellants in November 1387. Pole had the sense to flee England in the aftermath of the Appellants’ victory at the Battle of Radcot Bridge so avoided the punishments meted out by the Merciless Parliament. Sentenced for treason he was stripped of his titles.   He died in Paris the following year but at least avoided the fates of Robert Tresilian (chief justice, Richard Bembre (former mayor of London) and Sir Simon Burley (Richard’s tutor) who amongst others were executed on the orders of the so-called Merciless Parliament. Richard remained powerless whilst John of Gaunt was overseas trying to secure the throne of Castile. It was only on Gaunt’s return in 1389 that Richard was able to regain the ascendency.

 

Froissart is not one of de la Pole’s fans. He described him as a man who gave bad advice and who caused trouble for John of Gaunt by making Richard II increasingly suspicious of his uncle. This is usually the evidence that is used to identify the fact that de la Pole was no longer of the Lancastrian Affinity.

And yet, it is clear that once upon a time de la Pole was very much part of Gaunt’s retinue and he is often used as an example of the way in which the Lancaster Affinity found itself in some very important places – which might well account for the duke of Gloucester’s antipathy to his brother and certainly Gaunt benefited from having retainers in high places. In October 1383, by which time de la Pole was chancellor, Michael spoke about the Anglo-Scottish situation in a way favourable to Gaunt who according to Goodman (p98) wanted to go to war in France rather than on England’s northern borders. By the following year Richard’s hostility to his uncle would taint their relationship (again) and the politics of the realm not to mention the way in which Scottish campaigning would be conducted. However, it was the last time that Michael de la Pole took to the field. When the English army marched into Scotland de la Pole arrived with one hundred and forty men and took his place as a retainer to John of Gaunt demonstrating de la Pole’s loyalty to the duke of Lancaster. During the campaign there were accusations of plots and disloyalty which Froissart interpreted as being de la Pole’s fault – a typical example of blaming the poor decisions of a monarch on his bad advisors. There is some  circumstantial evidence that suggests that de la Pole maintained some loyalty to the duke of Lancaster throughout his life. When the earl of Oxford, one of Richard’s favourites, plotted to rid the political scene of John of Gaunt’s influence in February 1385 it is possible that it was de la Pole who warned the duke of the plot which would have seen him arrested at a council meeting in Walham.

 

And as you might expect the more closely that you look at the extended families of Gaunt’s retinue the more it becomes apparent that there was a web of relationships building on Lancastrian links. Blanche de la Pole, Michael’s sister was married to a son of Lord Scrope – another of Gaunt’s prominent retainers. Michael’s other sister, Margaret, was married to Sir Robert Neville of Hornby. Sir William de la Pole – the Hull merchant had successfully married all his children into some of the north’s leading families – and they all happened to have some loyalty to the duchy of Lancaster. It’ll come as no surprise to know that Michael’s brother Edmund was also in the retinue of John of Gaunt – Edmund was also one of the people who was called upon to pay Michael’s ransom.

 

 

Armitage-Smith, Sydney. (1876) John of Gaunt: King of Castile and Leon, Duke of Aquitaine and Lancaster

Goodman, Anthony. (1992) John of Gaunt: The Exercise of Princely Power in Fourteenth-Century Europe. London: Longman

Roskell, John Smith. (1984)The Impeachment of Michael de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk in 1386: In the Context of the Reign of Richard II. Manchester: Manchester University Press

 

 

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John of Gaunt’s retinue

john of gaunt.jpgThe Katherine Swynford Society runs two quarterly writing competitions – one biographical the other fictional.  Their website states that:

The main characters may be a mixture of the following: ancestors, contemporaries or descendants of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and his three wives; Blanche of Lancaster, Constance of Castile and Katherine Swynford. Minor characters may include any members of John of Gaunt’s entourage in the Duchy of Lancaster. The aim of the competitions is to promote and stimulate interest and research into the life of Katherine Swynford and the late Medieval period.

http://www.katherineswynfordsociety.org.uk/short-story-competition.html

There certainly isn’t a shortage of ancestors or descendants to write about.  I shall peruse them in due course.  In the meantime I’ve become intrigued by the “minor characters.” The English Historical Review Vol. 45, No. 180 (Oct., 1930) contains an article about the way that John of Gaunt packed the Good Parliament of 1376 with his supporters.  The writers goes on to make analysis of the number of paid Lancastrians in the twelve parliaments between 1372 and 1382 (pp. 623-625.)  It turns out that from the one hundred and twenty-five knights  he identifies on John of Gaunt’s payroll that thirty did a stint as a member of parliament during the decade identified.

The reason that the article could be written and the Katherine Swynford Society are able to include individuals from John’s retinue so specifically is that amongst Gaunt’s documents is a list of his retainers. He is the only medieval magnate where such a list exists (although of course it doesn’t mean that other lists won’t be discovered languishing in archives or being reused for backings to other documents).  The list covers the period 1379 to 1383 – although it appears to be an amalgamation of knights from a more wide ranging span that’s been collated and filed at this point.  It exists because  many of the knights and squires in John’s service were required to sign a contract or as it was then called an “indenture of service.”  The indenture identified behaviours, duties and rights for times of peace and for times of war. These documents were then enrolled in chancery where they were confirmed by the king: in this case Richard II.  Bean contains a detailed analysis of the list.  He notes that ten knights have “cancelled” by their name.  Three of them were dead so I’m left wondering about the other seven! In total there were eight-five knights and eighty-five squires – some of them were cancelled as well but rather more cheerfully this appears to have been because they were promoted.

Other sources of information about John’s retinue come from his account books which is the main source for identifying Philippa Chaucer and other women including Katherine Swynford who were in the pay of Lancaster at one time or another. By chance several of Gaunt’s accounts survived as backing to a cartulary belonging to the Waley family, The problem is that the various accounts from the household rolls have been rather badly damaged when they were reused. The National Archives explains that the accounts list members of the household and their daily allowance, expenses for various departments and cost of equine care.  Bean uses figures from Gaunt’s financial returns to calculate that at the time of his death there were approximately two hundred knights and squires in his retinue.  Apparently squires were paid 10 marks a year whilst a basic knight’s salary was £20.  Bean goes on to provide a handy appendices listing all of Gaunt’s knights. John Neville of Raby is the first one of the list as was Lord Welles and Sir John Marmion.  The Camden Society also have a list of Gaunt’s retainers written by Lodge and Sommerville and Walker’s Lancaster Affinity is a useful text.

The more I read though, the more it became clear that the indentures were a business arrangement and whilst a number of men are consistently in Gaunt’s household many of them appear for a brief time only.  This is best explained as a military arrangement rather than a matter of feudal duty.  The men who fought for John during one season might re-enlist  in another magnate’s retinue for the next season’s fighting in France.  The idea of the retinue is much more complicated than it first appears. It is not just about feudal links and tenure of land. There are political and financial considerations to be taken on board as well as gaining a foothold in the household of England’s wealthiest magnate.  Sir John Saville of West Yorkshire is a relatively straightforward example of fealty. He fought for Henry Duke of Lancaster (Blanche of Lancaster’s father) and then turns up in Gaunt’s retinue in Spain.  He’s also one of those parliamentarians with a Lancastrian affinity mentioned at the start of this post.  Saville’s loyalty to the house of Lancaster is confirmed by the fact that the chantry at Elland built at the end of the fourteenth century was for prayers not just for the Saville family but also for the dukes of Lancaster. However, just to throw a small spanner in the wheel, Sir John also turns up in the records as doing service in the retinue of the Black Prince in the mid 1350’s demonstrating that membership of a martial retinue was not always about feudal duty or loyalty to a particular family.

Walker demonstrates throughout his book that during the fourteenth century feudalism was not always what is taught in school – even taking the effects of the Black Death into consideration. Knights and lords were not necessarily obedient to the will of their overlords. Independent action occurs as demonstrated by the number of men shifting from one retinue to another during campaigns in France. Walker also gives examples of men at the heart of Lancastrian territories acting contrary to Gaunt’s will – suggesting that society was much more complicated in the fourteenth century than text books often credit.

Armitage-Smith, Sydney. (1937)  John of Gaunt’s Register Camden Society, 3rd series, LVI-LVII https://archive.org/details/gauntsregister01smituoft (accessed 22.00 16/07/2017)

Bean, John Malcolm William. (1989) From Lord to Patron: Lordship in Late Medieval England. Manchester: Manchester University Press

E.C. Lodge and R. Somerville (ed) John of Gaunt’s Register, 1372–1376

Walker, Simon. (1990) The Lancaster Affinity: 1361-1399. Oxford: Oxford Historical Monographs

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Sir Hugh Swynford

william bell scott john of gaunt.jpgSir Hugh Swynford of Kettlethorpe and Coleby in Lincolnshire married Katherine de Roet in about 1366, although Alison Weir suggests the earlier date of 1362 based on the possible ages of the couple’s three children.  Weir also suggests that the union was arranged by Blanche of Lancaster and her husband John of Gaunt.

The Swynfords themselves were proud of their Saxon heritage and Hugh was part of Gaunt’s retinue.  Hugh’s father Thomas held Coleby for John of Gaunt – a reminder that the Lancaster inheritance was a far reaching one.  When he married Katherine de Roet he’d been a soldier fighting in the Hundred Years War for about ten years (if we take the traditional 1366 date).  He was also born in about 1340 making him a decade older than his  barely teenage bride (she was about twelve) when they married in the church of St Clement Dane.

Weir reveals that he’d fought first for the Black Prince and then transferred into the retinue of John of Gaunt, who was after all, his  feudal overlord.  Hugh wasn’t particularly wealthy, the rents from Kettlethorpe and Coleby appear to have been irregular, although he’d inherited his father’s estates in 1361.  It probably didn’t help that it wasn’t the most fertile of ground and even the mill lay in ruins.  Realistically his income came from his pay in Lancaster’s service and any loot or ransoms he could acquire whilst in France.  He was, however, a knight so the match between him and Katherine who held some lands in Hainault was considered a good one because she didn’t have much in the way of a dowry- though what Katherine, having been raised in the court of Philippa of Hainault, must have thought is not recorded.  Not that it would have mattered; marriage was not about love it was a business arrangement that would secure Katherine and Hugh’s future as vassals of the Lancaster family.  Realistically we don’t know much about the marriage – the portrayal of Swynford as rough and uncouth is based entirely on Anna Seyton’s book Katherine which has Katherine married off to Sir Hugh against her will.

The marriage took place, it is often stated, on In November 1366 Sir Hugh took himself off to Guienne to continue his duties as a knight in Gaunt’s service.  Katherine was pregnant.  Their son Thomas was born on 24 February 1367.  His arrival is often the reason that the marriage is dated to the previous year but the dates of his sisters’ births are not recorded  Weir argues that Blanche who was Gaunt’s godchild and named after the Duchess of Lancaster could have been the older of the siblings but that because she was a girl and because she wasn’t born whilst Katherine was in the company of the Duchess of Lancaster that the dates was not recorded. It is possible to argue the case both ways.

Swynford returned from France in 1369 but was summoned once more for military service the following year.  Katherine would not see him again.  He died on the Gironde in Aquitaine on the 13th November 1371. Katherine was only twenty-one when she was widowed.  Her story was about to take a dramatic turn as portrayed by the image at the start of this post.  It’s one of those Victorian History paintings that they loved so much.  Its by William Bell Scott and depicts John of Gaunt being read to by Chaucer.  The two women are Katherine Swynford and her sister Philippa Chaucer.

When John of Gaunt and Katherine petitioned the pope to legitimise their Beaufort children they stated that the affair had not begun during Hugh’s lifetime.  Froissart believed otherwise and when it came to Sir Hugh’s son Thomas inheriting his mother’s Hainault lands there were some problems on account of the rumour that he was actually the illegitimate son of John of Gaunt.  In the end King Henry IV wrote a letter stating that Thomas, who had been four when his father died in France, was legitimate.  Whatever the truth of the matter Hugh is for the most part a footnote in one of English History’s great love stories or a fictional counterfoil to the heroic personage of John of Gaunt – neither of which seems particularly fair- but without any other evidence its impossible to flesh him out any further.

Lucraft, Jeannette, (2010) Katherine Swynford: The History of a Medieval Mistress. Stroud: The History Press

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

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Margaret Holland – troubled royal

margaret holland.jpgMargaret Holland, duchess of Clarence was born in the later part of the fourteenth century, the daughter of Thomas Holland.  He was the fifth earl of Kent and his half-uncle was Edward II through his mother Joan the Fair Maid of Kent, meaning that Margaret Holland was the great granddaughter of Edward I if I’ve counted back right. This is important because Margaret Holland whose family had a bit of a torrid time when Richard II was deposed had married John Beaufort, earl of Somerset, the eldest illegitimate son of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford meaning that she was the other more famous Margaret Beaufort’s granny.

Margaret Holland’s husband seems to have been a bit more on the ball that her Holland brother and uncle who managed to get themselves executed in a plot in 1400 to remove Henry IV from the throne. John Beaufort benefited from his half-brother’s rise to power by becoming Constable of England before he died in 1410 leaving his wife a wealthy widow with a royal pedigree and a title.

Margaret now married her husband’s half nephew – Thomas of Lancaster, the second son of Henry IV- just in case the waters weren’t already muddy enough. Thomas, in the way of younger sons, wasn’t terribly well off and there was a fairly complicated dispensation required before the marriage could go ahead because, of course, they were related twice over in that they were both descended from Edward I – i.e. consanguinity and they were related through marriage – i.e. affinity.

Thomas when the marriage finally received papal dispensation became the duke of Clarence.  History now enters the glory days of the Hundred Years War with Henry V being all martial thus allowing Shakespeare the opportunity to write dramatic speeches on the subject in the sixteenth century.  Unfortunately despite the fact that Henry V ended up married to Katherine of Valois in the aftermath of Agincourt and the Treaty of Troyes he ultimately failed in his bid to rule France successfully because he died leaving his infant son Henry VI on the throne for a lengthy minority and the Wars of the Roses.

Thomas of Lancaster managed to die at the Battle of Baugé on 22 March 1421.  As though this wasn’t bad enough Margaret’s sons John and Thomas Beaufort were captured. John Beaufort would remain in captivity for the next seventeen years and when he did get out he was heavily in debt thanks to the ransom he was required to pay. This John Beaufort would become Duke of Somerset and he would also be the father of Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry Tudor.

Meanwhile Margaret Holland decided that two husbands were enough for any woman and decided that she wouldn’t marry again.  She didn’t need to.  She was wealthy in her own right.  She spent a lot of time trying to negotiate for her sons’ release.  She also, as many wealthy widows did at this time, developed close links with a monastic community. She is particularly associated with Syon.  When she died in 1439 she was buried in Canterbury Cathedral.

BeaufortJohnTomb.jpg

R. L. J. Shaw, ‘Holland , Margaret, duchess of Clarence (b. in or before 1388, d. 1439)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Oct 2008; online edn, May 2009 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/98133, accessed 22 April 2017]

PS Apologies for lack of posts – wifi is erratic to put it mildly at the moment!

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Who murdered the princes in the Tower?

princes_in_the_tower_2.jpgThe honest answer to that is that it rather depends on your interpretation of the sources and, as I have said before, your affiliations. Richard III is a monarch who stirs strong sentiments!  I first encountered the event and a few of the various sources aged eleven when my History teacher used the Jackdaw activity pack about the princes to encourage his class to see that History isn’t something cast in concrete and that the same source can be valued or discredited according to viewpoint and known facts. The story of the princes is the story of an unsolved murder – it’s a bit like unmasking Jack the Ripper in that everyone has their pet theory and some evidence to back up their ideas. The novelist Patricia Cornwall has spent a huge sum of money to gather overlooked evidence which points to Jack being the artist Walter Sickert. Unsolved historical murders have a fascination because everyone can look at the available evidence and draw their own conclusions.  Difficulties arise when historians – and determined amateur sleuths – try to find previously unknown evidence that has disappeared down the crevices of time  that will point in the right direction. It is often the work of painstakingly moving the pieces around until a more clear picture emerges. Until then it has to be best and most accepted fit – but that doesn’t mean that in a modern court the evidence would produce a guilty verdict.

So here  are the possibilities of what happened to the Princes- in no particular order, other than the order they’ve emerged from my brain.

  1. King Richard III had them killed. Please don’t inhale and reach for your keyboard if you think he’s innocent – he is a rather notable suspect.  Richard, as duke of Gloucester, served his brother Edward IV with loyalty and honour.  Edward left him to get on with ruling the North of England and he did a stonkingly good job of it.  The good folk of York felt sufficiently strongly about it to make a note of his deposition and death at Bosworth – an act guaranteed to hack off the new regime.  The problem for Richard, if you’re that way inclined, was that Edward IV allowed the Woodville faction to gain dominance at court in terms of lucrative positions, marriages and ultimately by giving the care of his son into Woodville hands.  Richard only found out about his brother’s death because Lord Hastings sent him a note warning of Woodville intentions to get young Edward crowned as quickly as possible which would have seen Richard as a protector without any power because he didn’t have control of the king. When Richard intercepted the young king at Northampton it could be argued that Richard was acting in the interests of rather a lot of people who weren’t terrible keen on the aforementioned Woodvilles who were regarded by many as too big for their boots – and now is not the time to go down the side alley of Jacquetta Grey’s lineage. So far so good. Nor is this post the time to go through the whole chronology of events. The key things that stick in my mind are the Eleanor Butler incident i.e. the announcement that Edward IV had already been pre contracted in marriage thus rendering all his children illegitimate and Richard as heir to the throne.  The argument is usually put forward that if the children were illegitimate and since the Titulus Regulus act of Parliament said they were then there was no way they could inherit-so why kill them?  There’s also the episode with Lord Hastings finding himself being manhandled out of a privy council meeting to a handy lump of timber where he was executed without trial – clearly a large chunk from the historical jigsaw missing there although plenty of historians have presented theories on the subject as to why Richard should fall out with his brother’s friend so dramatically and decisively. Jane Shore found herself doing public penance, lost her property and ended up in jail in the aftermath of the episode – again why should Richard do that?  His brother had plenty of other mistresses.  The problem with skulduggery is that people don’t tend to make careful notes before, during or after the event – at least not if they wanted to keep their heads. There is obviously much more that I could write about both for and against Richard’s involvement.  I have four rather hefty volumes on my desk as I type.  Richard was the key suspect at the time according to rumour- Dominic Mancini left an account of events as he understood them.  He left England the week of Richard’s coronation, doesn’t provide an account of what Richard looked like and his manuscript went missing until 1934.  He says:” But after Hastings was removed, all the attendants who had waited on the king were debarred access to him. He and his brother were withdrawn into the inner apartments of the Tower proper, and day by day  began to be seen more rarely behind the bars and windows, til at length they ceased to appear altogether. The Physician John Argentine, the last of his attendants whose services the king enjoyed, reported that the young kin, like a victim prepared for sacrifice, sought remission of his sins by daily confession and penance, because he believed that death was facing him.”

    “I have seen many men burst into tears and lamentations when mention was made of him after his removal from men’s sight; and already there is a suspicion that he had been done away with. Whether, However, he has been done away with, and by what manner of death, so far I have not yet at all discovered.” 

    Mancini recognises that rumours aren’t fact but does give us a circumstantial account which holds water in that he doesn’t have any particular axe to grind on the subject.  Richard was in charge – whilst dying in the Tower was a huge risk for any of its imprisoned inhabitants it should only have happened if the bloke at the top of the chain of command gave the order; medieval Kings needed to secure their dynasties.  In having Edward of Middleham created Prince of Wales, Richard was laying a marker for the future.  If nothing else, and this is my thought on the subject, the Wars of the Roses would have taught him that having two kings on the board isn’t a terribly good idea in terms of political stability.  Little boys, bastardised or not, have a nasty tendency of growing up to be focal points of rebellion (and so does the idea of their existence as Henry VII swiftly discovered). I should also add that I have no problem with it if Richard did do it – medieval kings weren’t required to be nice they were required to hold on to the throne, pass it to the next generation and preferably win a large number of wars abroad whilst avoiding the scenario of their own citizens killing each other. I might also add that no one has any problem with Edward IV bumping off Henry VI in order to ensure no further unrest – of course he had the body displayed which eases the problem of conspiracy theories popping up out of the woodwork and he produced heirs – not to mention a brother who managed to land himself with a far more juicy tale. Equally Henry IV who bumped off his cousin doesn’t suffer as much as Richard on account of the fact that there were two further generations of Lancastrian kings making Henry’s actions less noteworthy (if you wanted to keep your head) whilst Richard lost his throne and his life after only two years  allowing the Tudor propaganda machine to get to work which also muddies some of the sources.

  2. Henry Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham was descended from both John of Gaunt and Thomas of Woodstock. Again, if contemporary/near contemporary accounts are to be believed he had something of a grudge against the Woodvilles believing that his marriage to Katherine Woodville was beneath his dignity and that he hadn’t been permitted to take up his correct position in society. There are accounts where it is Stafford who is encouraging Richard to do away with the two princes. Things weren’t going terribly well for Stafford in terms of promotion and power although he swiftly became virtual ruler of the whole of Wales when Richard followed his brother’s model of giving titles, offices and lands to people he trusted and then letting them get on with it. By the winter of 1483 Bucking was in open rebellion against Richard and in cahoots with Margaret Beaufort who we  know he met on the road to Brecon where Bishop Morton was being kept under house arrest.  There seem to be two separate plots that turned into one plot – untidy but demonstrating that the great and the good had seen an opportunity for making their moves and also demonstrating that beneath the surface there were some very nasty currents at work – none of which is evidenced through much more than hearsay, some gleaned documentary comments and a few very interesting travel itineraries. The combination of  Buckingham’s arrogance and a few well chosen words of encouragement could have  been enough to see Buckingham have the boys murdered.  He had the means and the opportunity in that he was Constable of the Tower and had Richard’s trust.  He was executed in Salisbury on 3 November 1483.  He was not permitted to make a speech before his death.  It is plausible that he had the boys killed in order to make life difficult for Richard and also to open his way to the throne – it would have to be said that if the latter was the case Stafford was an inordinately optimistic chap.  If the former is true then he succeeded better than he could ever have dreamed. Jean Molinet is one of the sources who references Buckingham as does Commines.  There’s also a fragment of manuscript in the Ashmolean that points in Buckingham’s direction. The key thing here is that Richard didn’t know about it until it was too late and then who would have believed him.
  3.  

    Sir James Tyrell- according to Sir Thomas More and Polydore Vergil – the chap that did the deed. He apparently confessed in 1502 prior to his execution.  There is no known copy of the confession in existence. The Great Chronicle of London repeated the rumour.

  4. And that was more or less it until historians began revising their views in the Twentieth Century – the Victorians as the image above demonstrates were rather keen on the wicked uncle theory.  There is an account written by the Tudor historian John Stowe which says that there was a failed rescue attempt complete with a diversion of fire.  Again, I have no problem with that as it is entirely plausible that Stowe had access to sources that are now lost – happens a lot in this story.  This account opens up the possibility that the princes were killed accidentally or on purpose by someone other than on the orders of the folk in charge.  If there was a rescue attempt and it went wrong it would be very easy for the princes’ guards to kill them either to prevent their rescue or – and this is pure speculation- trying to do their best Thomas Becket replay for reward or someone could have paid the killer on the staff to do the deed – which opens up the possibility of the Lancastrian faction weighing in…all of which has no evidential base – Josephine Tey and Philippa Gregory are fiction writers. They can take  scraps and use the wriggle room as they wish. For accounts in the history books to be changed there needs to be something rather more substantial.
  5. They died accidentally or of illness. Well, why didn’t Richard just say?  Who would have believed him – look what happened to Edward II and Richard II and Henry VI – no one believed their deaths were natural….and that’s mainly because they weren’t.  There are plenty of other examples of the elite dying unexpectedly and the next thing you know its on account of poison or dastardly deeds. The average medieval man and woman in the street liked a conspiracy theory as much as the present generation – another thing which doesn’t help the primary accounts that we do have.  It’s largely all gossip.
  6. They didn’t die at all.  There was a story in Tyrell’s family that he removed the boys from the Tower.  There’re un-identified children in Richard’s financial records in Sheriff Hutton (oh goody, more speculation- but at least there’s something documented). There is also the Laslau Theory that says that John Clement, Margaret Gigg’s husband, was actually Richard of York. It’s a really interesting theory based on Holbein’s picture of Sir Thomas More’s family – obviously with flaws like the idea of Sir Edward Guildford (father of the duke of Northumberland’s wife) actually being Edward V incognito  but it would account for some of Sir Thomas More’s more glaring errors in his account of events – if you’re a follower of the Laslau Theory, Sir Thomas rather than being a Tudor propagandist/historian (depending on your viewpoint) is actually laying a screen of misinformation in order to protect the identity of a surviving prince. Laslau does offer some slender  threads of documentary evidence in his quest which are  interesting and which muddy the waters still further.  And finally and most obvious of the lot there is Henry VII’s on-going fear of pretenders.  King James of Scotland accepted Perkin Warbeck as Duke of York. This isn’t without its difficulties as Warbeck was initially acclaimed in Dublin as Earl of Warwick but you get the gist.  Elizabeth Woodville testified to the legitimacy of her children but never accused anyone of murder – either before or after Richard’s demise…and yes there’s a whole host of things that could be added to that statement.
  7. There are a couple of other candidates for murderer- take John Howard who became Duke of Norfolk.  He was the claimant to the estate of the Mowbray Dukes of Norfolk.  He was given custody of the Tower of London under less than regular circumstances the night the Princes are supposed to have disappeared from the Tower (Weir). He had opportunity and it turns out he had a motive—Richard, Duke of York was also Duke of Norfolk in right of his deceased child bride Anne, the daughter of the last Mowbray Duke.  Normally land and title reverted to the family where a child marriage was not consummated and no heir produced – which is why Edmund Tudor didn’t wait until Margaret Beaufort was a bit older before getting her with child.  he was concerned she’d die and he’d lose the lolly. In this case though, Richard had kept the title, the estates and the revenue…
  8. And finally John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln. John had been by Uncle Richard’s side throughout 1483.  Like Buckingham he was trusted.  He would become Richard’s heir presumptive after Edward of Middleham’s death.  If we’re going to suggest that Buckingham was looking to be king then it also makes sense that someone a bit nearer to the Crown would bear some investigation.

The thing is that there is some evidence but its contradictory and circumstantial.  It might be possible to rule out the princes’ survival if the bones in the urn in Westminster Abbey turned out to belong to Edward V and Richard of York. Even if they weren’t it wouldn’t necessarily mean that they had survived their misadventure. And if the bones were theirs, it wouldn’t prove who did the killing since the skeletons did not emerge from their resting place clutching a note identifying the murderer – though it would make the account offered by More more plausible – errors and all.

And that’s all I intend to post about the Princes in the Tower for the time being.  Most of the time, with a few notable exceptions, if it weren’t for the traffic stats on the History Jar I wouldn’t know whether anyone was reading my ramblings or not.  I’ve not got the hang of being liked, joining communities or developing conversations through comments – Richard III, the Woodvilles and the Princes on the other hand certainly get a response! So thank you for your comments – positive, negative, knowledgeable and thought provoking as they are.

Primary sources or near primary sources include:

André, Bernard: Vita Henrici VII (in Memorials of King Henry VII, ed. J. Gairdner, Rolls Series, 1858)

Bull of Pope Innocent VIII on the Marriage of Henry VII with Elizabeth of York (ed. J. Payne-Collier, Camden Miscellany I, 1847)

Fabyan, Robert: The Concordance of Histories: The New Chronicles of England and France (1516) (ed. H. Ellis, 1811)

Grafton, Richard: Grafton’s Chronicle, or History of England (2 vols, ed. H. Ellis, 1809)

Hall, Edward: The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York (London, 1550; ed. H. Ellis, 1809; facsimile edition of the original published 1970)

Holinshed, Raphael: Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (6 vols, ed. H. Ellis, 1807–8)

Leland, John: Collectanea (6 vols, ed. T. Hearne, Oxford, 1770–74)

A London Chronicle in the Time of Henry VII and Henry VIII (ed. C. Hopper, Camden Society, Camden Miscellany IV, 1839)

 

More, Sir Thomas: The History of King Richard the Third (in The Complete Works of Sir Thomas More, Vol. II, ed. R. S. Sylvester and others, Yale, 1963, London, 1979)

Rous, John: Joannis Rossi Antiquarii Warwicensis. Historia Regum Angliae (ed. T. Hearne, Oxford, 1716 and 1745)

The Song of the Lady Bessy

Stow, John: A Survey of London

Vergil, Polydore: The Anglica Historia of Polydore Vergil, AD 1485–1573 (trans. and ed. D. Hay, Camden Series, 1950)

For secondary sources both for and against Richard as well as presenting other possibilities and candidates see http://erenow.com/biographies/richardiiiandtheprincesinthetower/26.html

 

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Sir James Tyrell – reputed murderer of the Princes in the Tower.

Princes in towerFor those of you who like your history traditional – boo hiss!  For those of you who like your history revised – poor maligned soul!  I’ve blogged about Sir James before.  Depending on your interpretation of the sources and your historical affiliations, he either murdered the princes in the Tower, has been framed for the deed or for those of you who like happy endings there is a story that he removed them from the Tower and shuttled them to obscurity in the Suffolk countryside – I’ll get to that in another post.

Sir James is the chap who worked for Richard III – no problem with that, plenty of facts to support it.  It looks like he started on the Plantagenet career ladder in 1471 which would coincide with Richard getting his mitts on the Neville inheritance – remember he was married to Anne Neville, widow of Prince Edward of Lancaster and daughter of the Kingmaker. This would account for how Tyrell from Gipping in Suffolk came into Gloucester’s employment. We know he served in the Scottish war in 1492.

Once Richard was in power he was rewarded with a number of prominent positions across the country- which may have been tricky when it came to actually doing the jobs so presumably from Cornwall to Wales he had a number of deputies to help out.

He turns up in the Paston Letters in 1473 when he is identified as the employee who transported the Countess of Warwick, Anne Neville’s mother, from her sanctuary in Beaulieu to Middleham and Richard’s custody – Edward IV having conveniently declared the unfortunate countess dead for the purposes of the legal system so that brothers Richard and George could inherit estates which properly should have belonged to the countess.

In 1483  he helped carry Edward IV’s body to its final resting place and the same year Bishop Rotherham, the chap who’d helpfully rushed the Great Seal of England along to Westminster Abbey where he handed it into the care of Elizabeth Woodville on realising that Richard of Gloucester had taken charge of the young king, found himself in the custody of Sir James Tyrell. – Nothing unpleasant happened and the bishop died in his bed in 1500, just in case you were wondering.

It was in 1483, if Sir Thomas More and Polydore Vergil are to be believed Tyrell arrived in the Tower late one evening with a letter from Richard III, Brackenbury – the Constable of the Tower handed over the keys and Tyrell got rid of the princes by having them smothered.  Clearly More who was only five at the time wasn’t watching events unfold through a telescope and  Vergil- Henry VII’s official historian- wasn’t hiding in a convenient trunk, quill and parchment in hand to record events as they unfolded. Tyrell, inconveniently, didn’t keep a diary nor did he hand himself in to the authorities immediately after the event. Furthermore he couldn’t even find the bodies,  More says it was because Brackenbury removed them from where Tyrell had put them.

At the beginning of 1485 Tyrell was given command of Guisnes, a fortress in the Pale of Calais where he was in August and where he stayed when the Plantagenet dynasty became the Tudor dynasty. He was not attainted. On the 16th June 1485 Tyrell was issued with a pardon from Henry VII for anything and everything (well it was certainly unspecified). And then the pardon was issued again.  Two pardons in swift succession tends to make some folk think that Tyrell may have been doing work on behalf of the Tudors prior to Bosworth – bringing a whole new meaning to the concept of being a double agent. I would merely point out that whilst this is possible that in order to inherit Henry Tudor would have had to kill off rather a lot of people before the family tree perched the crown on his bonce…think Alex Guiness in Kind Hearts and Coronets for the general idea (spoiler alert – a distant relation stages a series of unlikely accidents wiping out an entire family in order to inherit). Historians have argued both sides of the equation eloquently and with passion with the same basic evidence.  It tends to come down to whether they are pro-Richard or pro-Henry.

What we can be sure of is that up until 1501 Tyrell was a man of influence and power.  Then he helped Edmund de la Pole, possible Plantagenet heir, avoid Henry VII’s wrath.  Next thing you know he’s under arrest on charges of treason and there is apparently a confession – allegedly made under torture- to the effect that it was him who topped Eddie and Richard. Quite honestly, I think most of us would agree that we would fess up to having committed the murders under those circumstances.  Unfortunately the paper copy of the confession seems to have been poorly filed and hasn’t yet turned up – meaning that it possibly never existed if you’re that way inclined.  Henry VII executed Tyrell for treason but failed to mention the murder of two members of the royal family  which you think he might have done, even in passing, as it would have scotched rumours of pretenders which bubbled up throughout his reign. It was pointed out to me that Richard ought to have paraded the princes in order to douse the rumours of 1483- and so he should.  But equally so should Henry have announced that Tyrell had confessed and executed him not just for treason but for murder…did he? No – he didn’t.   Maybe he didn’t want to draw attention to the princes  because it would, after all, have reminded his citizens that his general claim to the throne was a tad shaky – and yes I know he was the last Lancastrian standing, was married to Elizabeth of York and had won the Battle of Bosworth but Henry spent most of his reign bolstering up his claim one way or another so to draw attention to the correct albeit missing claimants might have been a bit counter productive in his mind.  Do I know that for sure? No – I don’t.  Sadly, Henry VII didn’t keep a personal diary, it’s just his financial accounts that are pretty nifty. Am I bearing in the general direction of sarcasm?  Quite possibly. There is only a basic amount of evidence and as any decent lawyer will tell you any story can be worked from both ends.

Tyrell was not, apparently, permitted to make a speech before being executed. Three years later the attainder against Tyrell was reversed and his son inherited Tyrell’s property.

Did Tyrell murder the princes? Quite probably  based on the evidence in hand but until such time as more evidence is forthcoming – like a DNA test on the bones purported to be the princes-  History’s biggest mystery will keep folk passionate and partisan not to mention keeping book sales buoyant.

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