Poison and murder – a Boleyn conspiracy?

fisherI recently purchased James Moore’s The Tudor Murder Files.  It’s published by Pen and Sword.  It turns out that under Henry VIII there were something in the region of 72,000 executions – which is a rather eye watering figure.  Clearly there were assorted bigwigs including as Sir Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard  but there were also thousands of nameless men and women such as those who were executed by the Duke of Norfolk during the period of martial law following on form the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536-which has just reminded me of another victim of Henry VIII’s famous Tudor tantrums – Robert Aske. Which brings as neatly to today’s post having mentioned beheading and hanging it’s time to move on to being boiled alive.

In Europe the practise of boiling people either in water, oil or tar (anything that got hot and unpleasant basically) continued into much more recent times.  In 1531 the Act of Poisoning was enshrined in English law.  It came about because a cook called Richard Roose or Rouse was found guilty of murdering two people with broth.  Roose is mentioned by name in the act.  The act made the crime of poisoning that of petty treason. Petty treason, just in case you were wondering, is when a subordinate (wife or servant) kills or betrays their superior (husband or master).  After Roose met his unfortunate end a maid servant was boiled in King’s Lynn for poisoning her mistress  and in March 1542 Margaret Davie was boiled at Smithfield for poisoning three households.

 

Richard Roose was a cook for the Bishop of Rochester – John Fisher (pictured at the start of this post)- the man who had been Margaret Beaufort’s confessor and who wrote her biography.  In 1509 he had led the funeral of Henry VII and had tutored Henry VIII in theology. He was regarded as one of the most learned theologians in the Western world which was fine whilst he and Henry VIII were in agreement.  In short, he was a very important person until he sided with Katherine of Aragon against Henry in Henry’s Great Matter. In 1527 Henry told Fisher that his conscience was tormented by concerns over Leviticus and  Deuteronomy as to whether he was legally married to Katherine.  Fisher, not taking the hint, went off and had a conflab with assorted theologians and got back to Henry with the “good news” that he had nothing to worry about. Henry presumably took a deep breath then went off to consult with theologians that Fisher hadn’t thought to ask.

1529, Fisher expressed his views very clearly at the Legatine Court about marriage and Anne Boleyn. He was Katherine’s advocate.  This was not at all what Henry wanted.

Fisher found himself briefly imprisoned for resisting the reformation of the clergy and the legal strategy that Cromwell was using to exert pressure on Rome.   It didn’t stop him from writing several books in support of Katherine of Aragon. By 1531 Bishop Fisher must have been feeling very uncomfortable indeed. Not only did he resist attempts to limit clerical power but Henry made it very clear that he would throw the bishop into the river if he didn’t start behaving himself.

On the 18th February 1531 the sixteen or so gentlemen who had shared Bishop Fisher’s meal became unwell.  One of them by the name of Curwen died. The beggars who gathered at Lambeth for alms – the leftovers- also became unwell. One, a widow called Alice Trypptt died.  The soup, or pottage as it was called, was dodgy.  The only man who didn’t succumb to food poisoning was Bishop Fisher who hadn’t fancied the soup.  Other sources suggest that Fisher wasn’t even present in Lambeth at the time.

The Venetian Archives contains a report about Richard Roose’s interrogation and confession.  He admitted having put a “powder” in the soup for a bit of fun.  He thought that the powder was a laxative (a man with a strange sense of humour).

At Henry’s insistence rather than being tried for murder in the usual fashion Roose was put on trial for treason as though Fisher was a member of the royal family.    What this meant was that there was no jury to hear the case, the verdict being a summary one. The Imperial Ambassador, Chapuys, noted that Roose did not say where the powder came from in the first place. Chapuys hesitated to blame Henry VIII himself for dishing out powders to get rid of troublesome priests but did suggest that the Boleyn family might have something to do with it – and let’s remember he wasn’t Anne’s greatest fan.  Thomas More reported the rumour that the Boleyn’s were involved to Henry VIII who was signally unamused by the suggestion.  It should be noted that neither Chapuys or More presented any evidence.  Henry is said to have commented that Anne Boleyn was blamed for everything.

It should be added that Fisher had another near miss involving a canon ball that landed in his study.  It appears that the canon which fired the aforementioned cannonball was sited in the home of Thomas Boleyn.  In October 1531 Anne Boleyn sent Fisher a message warning him not to attend parliament.  She noted that he would not get sick again.

On the 5th April The Chronicle of Greyfriars reported Roose’s end along with the mechanics of execution which as based on a rope and pulley system which lifted him in and out of the  water.  Another chronicle noted that there was a lot of yelling and that those people not sickened by the sight felt that the axeman was a more edifying sight.  Roose died without benefit of the clergy.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing but up until this point Henry wasn’t known for executing people willy-nilly  he hadn’t got to the point where he was lopping off heads to get the wife he wanted so either he had something to hide and was getting rid of the accomplice in plain sight or he really was deeply concerned about household staff with small bottles labelled with skulls and crossbones getting rid of their employers.  Let’s just remember the that the Tudors had a thing about anyone mentioning that they might die – so fear of being poisoned probably would produce alarm and brand new nasty punishments.

Poor Fisher found himself in ever increasing difficulties.  In 1534 he was imprisoned for not reporting everything about the Maid of Ken (Elizabeth Barton).  And then he refused to take the Oath of Supremacy.  On 22 June 1535 Fisher became one of the 72,000 execution victims of Henry VIII.  When he emerged from the Tower he was gaunt and badly nourished. This probably demonstrates more effectively than anything that Henry had no need to send henchmen to skulk down dark alleys with little bottles decorated by skulls and crossbones.   Henry and Cromwell knew how to use the law to intimidate and then silence Henry’s critics without legally getting their hands dirty.

Boiling people was removed from the statute books in 1547 during the reign of Edward VI although Moore dies note that there was at least one execution of this kind during the reign of Elizabeth I.

Moore, James. (2016) The Tudor Murder Files. Barnsley: Pen and Sword

Sir Robert Shirley, Laudianism and an unusual protest against Cromwell’s Commonwealth

Staunton Harold ChurchStaunton Harold in Leicestershire, just a stone’s throw from Ashby de la Zouche.  It’s seventeenth century church reflects the principles of Laudianism.

Laudianism was the approach to religion and belief favoured by Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud.  On a superficial level Laud can simply be seen as wishing for a return to ritual, vestments and rich furnishings.  He also advocated the return of altars to the east wall of the chancel rather than a more central table.   It also placed an emphasis upon hierarchy. None of these things were particularly appealing to members of the church with a Calvinist mindset.

Even worse, Laud’s theology differed from those with more Puritanical leanings.  Calvinists believed in predestination.  Essentially you either were one of the elect or you weren’t – you could not save yourself from damnation by good works.  Laud was more optimistic in that he preferred to focus on God’s grace towards mankind and free will.

Unsurprisingly both groups believed they were right.  The Puritans saw church furniture such as the return of altar rails keeping God’s people at arm’s length so as to speak was rather too close to Rome for comfort. Meanwhile Laud was stressing that the altar was the “Greatest place of God’s residence upon earth.”  Salvation for puritans was through faith alone – there was not the need of the altar for communion and we are not even going to go down the route of transubstantiation.

Charles I favoured Laud.  When Laud was promoted from the bishopric of London to that of Canterbury he effectively became the spokesman for the Church of England which Puritans at the other end of the spectrum found somewhat alarming. Though as with all things painting in black and white does not do justice to the nuances of religious belief of the seventeenth century or the degree to which those in power tolerated the beliefs or not of their countrymen – and it certainly isn’t a topic for a brief post.

Into this increasingly complex world came Sir Robert Shirley.  He was just seventeen when he inherited Staunton Harold and the title Baron Ferrers (he was the 13th baron)  from his brother Charles in 1646 – the English Civil War seems not to have affected Staunton Harold or the Shirleys up until this point.

Unfortunately Robert Shirley was not like his brother who had done remarkably well to keep such a low profile in an area criss-crossed by assorted armies during the period.  Robert had been raised as a Protestant by his mother but the Shirley family were known for their Catholicism.  Perhaps for Shirley, Laudianism presented a middle ground where he felt comfortable. Robert was also a staunch royalist.

Robert now spent the next ten years irritating Cromwell and Parliament.  In 1648 he was caught up in the fighting for Ashby Castle. To be fair it was more of a drunken brawl that an attempt to take on the Parliamentarian garrison.  Shirley was packed off to Leicester where he was imprisoned and then accused of plotting with fellow Royalist goal-birds to ferment rebellion. He was also accused of stockpiling weapons at Staunton Harold. Shirley claimed he was the victim of some unfortunate confusion. He was also just nineteen years old.

In 1650 he found himself in the Tower having been set up by an agent provocateur and his estates were sequestrated. This particular episode began with a letter sent from some of the gentlemen of Staffordshire to the Rump Parliament denouncing the execution of Charles I.  Shirley added his signature along with some Leicestershire gentry.  Parliament responded by demanding that their various county committees investigate the men that they now styled “delinquents.” In Leicestershire this was backed up by confiscating all of Shirley’s rents and income. Shirley tried to untangle his finances from the Tower explaining that if Parliament sequestrated his estate rental then he would not be able to pay outstanding debts or care for his family.  Interestingly he didn’t attempt to naysay the notion that he was a delinquent although in his next missive he did take the authorities to task for their labelling of him. After six months of imprisonment he was freed. He did not receive a “get out of jail free card.”  He was required to offer a security of £10,000.

In December 1652 Shirley reappears in the official record on account of the fact that he was having to defend himself against the charge of being a “malignant Royalist landlord.”  Basically a couple of his Parliamentary supporting tenants had been on the receiving end of Shirley’s spite. Shirley needed to prove that the families who petitioned against him were not respectable Parliamentarians at all and that they were simply using his well known royalist credentials as a way of backsliding.  History does not know what the court decided.

In 1653 Shirley began to build an unusual architectural protest against the political and religious situation.  He also seems to have been part of the Sealed Knot – the underground Royalist organisation that plotted for the return to England of Charles II. It seems unwise to draw attention to yourself by building a new chapel kitted out with Laudian features at the same time as indulging in some serious plotting against authority but that is exactly what Robert Shirley did. By 1654 Shirley was purchasing arms, writing to royalists abroad and co-ordinating resistance to Parliament in the East Midlands.  In the prequel to the Royalist rising known as Penruddock’s Rising (March 1655) after John Penruddock who managed to get himself executed in Exeter, Shirley came to the notice of Cromwell’s intelligence network.

John Thurloe, Cromwell’s spymaster, now discovered that Shirley was planning to blow Cromwell up. But it didn’t really matter because Shirley had done something much more noticeable than concocting fantastical plots.  He had built Staunton Harold Church of the Holy Trinity – which was the private chapel of the Shirley family.  Staunton Harold boasts being one of the few churches built during the Commonwealth Period and it certainly didn’t meet with Cromwell’s approval.  The altar is aligned to the east wall of the chancel which is screened by rough iron gates.  The lavish silk velvet altar frontal yells Laudianism. And that’s before visitors to the Church even get so far as studying the painted ceiling in the nave.  It’s hues of grey depict the creation of the World by God.  Humankind are on the right hand side of the ceiling looking towards God whilst opposite them the head of a dog looks back in the direction of chaos – on one hand it might be the creation of animals on the other Shirley did liken Cromwell to a dog so it might be more of an oblique comment on Shirley’s views about the Protector’s religious beliefs.

Stunton Harold ceiling

Cromwell suggested that if Shirley could afford to build such a lavish chapel complete with box pews and a pulpit he could outfit one of Parliament’s ships.  Shirley declined and found himself back in the Tower where he spent his time considering how the Sealed Knot could best be reformed to be more effective.  Unfortunately he died whilst imprisoned aged twenty-seven.  Inevitably there were suggestions that he had been poisoned.  Robert never saw his completed church. His son’s guardians would complete the building and the message above the door which is Shirley’s legacy:

“In the year 1653 when all things Sacred were throughout ye nation, Either demolisht or profaned, Sir Robert Shirley, Baronet, Founded this church; Whose singular praise it is, to have done the best things in ye worst times, and hoped them in the most callamitous. The righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance.”

 

And for those of you who like a moment of complication – the Earl of Essex who was Parliamentarian, perhaps  in part thanks to his humiliation over his divorce from Frances Howard so that she could marry James I’s favourite Robert Carr and become the Countess of Somerset, was Robert Shirley’s uncle.  Robert’s mother was Dorothy Devereaux – whose father managed to get himself executed for treason against Elizabeth I and whose mother was the daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham.  If one climbs a little further up the family tree Robert Shirley was descended from Catherine Knollys the unacknowledged daughter of Mary Boleyn and Henry VIII.

 

If you are in the West Riding and feel the urge to visit a seventeenth century church – St James in Leeds was built during the reign of Charles I and is resplendent in terms of its woodwork.  I shall be ferreting through my photographs and a post will follow!

https://www.le.ac.uk/lahs/downloads/1982-83/1982-3%20(58)%2025-35%20Lacy.pdf

Date error

To err is human – to get your 6’s and 4’s the wrong way round is rather inconvenient if you are writing about the Wars of the Roses.  Many apologies and many thanks to the reader who pointed out the switch round.  I’d like to blame the computer but sadly I can’t on this occasion.  The article has now been changed online.

The earls of Northumberland and the Percy family part 4 of 4

Lady Elizabeth Percy, Duchess of Somerset (1667-1722)by Sir Godfrey Kneller (Lübeck 1646 - London 1723)

The 9th earl of Northumberland:

The nineth earl, yet another Henry was the eighth earl’s son born in 1564 and like his father spent time in the Tower. He was complicit in the Gun Powder Plot, gambled rather too much and had a nicotine habit.

Prior to getting himself into a treasonous sort of trouble he served under the Earl of Leicester in the Low Countries during the 1580s and was in the fleet facing the Spanish Armada.   Not withstanding his evident loyalty to the throne there were suggestions that he might marry Lady Arbella Stuart during the early 1590s.  Arbella had a claim to the throne via her father Charles Stuart the younger brother of Henry Stuart (Lord Darnley).  The earl also had a claim to the throne albeit a rather distant one.  It was suggested that the pair might make a winning team as with the death of Mary Queen of Scots a Catholic alternative was required to Protestant James.  Instead of marrying Arbella he  married Dorothy Devereaux, the sister of the 2ndearl of Essex (the one executed by Elizabeth I for treason in 1601) and step-daughter of the Earl of Leicester.  It was not necessarily a wildly happy marriage although they did have a shared friend in Sir Walter Raleigh.

Initially it appeared that the ninth earl would rise to prominence under the Stuarts.  He was made a Privy Councillor in 1603 but Percy was not happy about the way Raleigh was treated and the promised tolerance for catholicism never materialised. He also regarded Prince Henry as a more regal alternative.  In short when Thomas Percy was found to have conspired in the gunpowder plot it was one short step from there to the incrimination of the earl himself.

Despite the fact that Lord Salisbury (Robert Cecil) wrote that there was no evidence against him the earl was charged with treason and fined £30,000 – £11,000 of the fine fell due immediately.  Percy was in the Tower, his wife appealed to Anne of Denmark and James I confiscated some of the earl’s estates.  The earl’s years in the Tower were not badly spent in that he and Sir Walter Raleigh spent their time conducting scientific experiments and reading.  He also had plenty of time to fulminate on his dislike of all things Scottish which can’t have been good news when his daughter fell in love with one.  In all the earl spent almost sixteen years inside the Tower.

The earl, upon release, having taken the waters in Bath retired to Petworth where he died in 1632.

The 10th Earl of Northumberland:

The tenth earl broke with tradition in that his first name was Algernon but like the rest of his family he didn’t get along with the current occupant of the throne.  Whilst he was on his European educational tour his father wrote to him from the Tower giving him advice about what to look at and how to behave.  He was the MP for Sussex in 1624 and served as an admiral in various campaigns. Charles I favoured him with assorted promotions over the years but ultimately despite looking like a Royalist with his flowing hair and lace collars he fought on Parliament’s side during the English Civil War. By 1649 he was doing everything possible to prevent the king’s execution.  Essentially after Charles I was executed Algernon threw all his toys out from his pram and refused to play with Oliver Cromwell.  In 1660 when he returned to politics along with a restored monarchy he petitioned against the actions that Charles II took against the regicides.

 

The 11th Earl of Northumberland:

The 11thearl was called Josceline – born 1644, he had been a page at Charles II’s coronation. When he died in Turin in 1670 there was just one daughter Elizabeth.  She was married to Charles Seymour, the Sixth Duke of Somerset.  It was her third marriage and she was only  fifteen at the time!  Her son Algernon became the Duke of Somerset – the title being superior to that of an earl. Normally his eldest son would have taken the title earl of Northumberland until he inherited the dukedom but he also had only one child – a daughter, Elizabeth Seymour  pictured at the start of the post.  The dukedom of Somerset would pass elsewhere on Algernon’s death but the earldom of Northumberland was held suo jureor in her own right  by Elizabeth as indeed her grandmother  had held it.  So, her husband Sir Hugh Smithson took the surname Percy in much the same way that had happened back in the thirteenth century.  In 1766 Sir Hugh Smithson changed his name to Percy by act of Parliament. It was a move to see that an ancient name and title did not die out. He was created the Duke of Northumberland the same year.

From an earl to a duke.

The Dukedom of Northumberland has been created on three different occasions: John Dudley made himself Duke of Northumberland in 1551 – but he had a nasty accident with an axe thanks to the whole Lady Jane Grey gambit.   Charles II revived the title for one of his illegitimate sons but  George Fitzroy had no heirs.  There was a Jacobite duke in 1715 but he is considered not to count because he was installed by the Old Pretender.

 

 

The earls of Northumberland and the Percy Family – part 3 of 4. The magnificent and unlucky Tudors.

The 5th Earl of Northumberland:

5th north coat of armsThe 5th earl  carried the Coronation sword at Richard III’s coronation but grew up in Henry VII’s court as part of the group of young men who were schooled alongside Princes Arthur and Henry. In the first instance it helped remind the 4th earl where his loyalties lay and in the second place it kept the Percy power base under control. He was at Arthur’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon and  was part of the train that took Princess Margaret to Scotland to be married to James IV.  He had a reputation for being magnificently dressed and travelling in the manner befitting an earl.   As such it would be easy to assume that he had royal favour but it is clear that becoming warden of the border marches was something of an issue once he attained his majority.  Nor for that matter did he acquire any important national roles.  The stumbling block would appear to be the  “ravishment” of Elizabeth Hastings – which sounds unpleasant.  In reality Elizabeth was the daughter of Sir John Hastings of Yorkshire. She was a ward of the Crown and Percy had arranged her marriage.   The language of ravishment and abduction is the language of property being removed from Henry VII’s grasping fingers rather than an account depicting the earl’s predatory nature.  Initially he was fined £10,000 but this was later reduced by half.  Part of the problem for Percy was that the Tudors had learned important lessons about over mighty subjects. Consequentially Henry VII took a dim view of anyone standing on his prerogatives and he didn’t trust the Percy clan in any event because of their landholding and wealth – not to mention prior form. It was Henry VIII who cancelled the debt once he became king. The question is was Percy unsuited for power or did Henry VII use the case of Elizabeth Hastings to financially kneecap a man known for his lavish lifestyle?

 

Meanwhile Percy and his wife, Katherine Spencer – a three times great grand-daughter of Edward III had four children born in the first decade of the sixteenth century; Henry (1502), Thomas (1504), Ingram (1506) and Margaret (1508).   The year after Margaret was born it was rumoured that the earl had come to an agreement with the Duke of Buckingham to overthrow the Tudors.  It was supposed that he would rule north of the Trent. It says something that when Buckingham found himself in the Tower in 1521 on charges of treason that the earl was spared though he had been in the Fleet a few years previously on another ward related charge.  It is also evident that Henry VIII ordered Cardinal Wolsey to keep an eye on the earl despite the fact that nothing can really, at this point in history, be levelled against him.

 

He did all the usual things that Tudor nobles did. He went to war in France in 1512 so was not on hand when James IV of Scotland took the opportunity to invade England.  By 1522 he was back on the borders and indulging in some light feuding with the Dacre family.  The problem was that Percy saw the warden role in the east and middle marches as one that he was entitled to whilst Dacre had other ideas.  The only reason that the Dacre family had become used to serving in the capacity of Warden was that the fifth earl had been a minor when his father was killed by a mob near Thirsk in 1489.  Whilst the earl was a ward of the Crown, the Percy estates were administered by the Earl of Surrey and many of the offices associated with the Percy family were offered out to other families.  The truth is that Percy had never played the role his forefather’s played either through his youth or because of Tudor distrust.  Despite that he attempted to regain the position in northern society he felt was his. By the time he was offered a wardenship he knew that he did not have the necessary military skills to fulfil the role and resigned his commission. The magnificent earl might perhaps have been better described at that stage as the very grumpy earl.

 

Dacre complained from the borders to the king he wasn’t getting the help from Percy that he thought should have been forthcoming.  In 1517 when Margaret Tudor returned to England as a heavily pregnant fugitive, the earl was not overjoyed to see her.  He wrote to the king suggesting that Dacre or the Earl of Cumberland might like to look after her.  He was probably aware the cost of providing for her would come out of his purse.  He attempted to suggest that the countess was indisposed but that didn’t wash with Henry who ordered Northumberland to bring Margaret south.  One of the reasons was that the earl was not as wealthy as he had once been.  He gambled heavily, spent excessively and seems to have been fined rather a lot by Cardinal Wolsey who seems to have been determined to break the northern powerbase that was the earldom of Northumberland.

 

Henry’s brother William was much more the border baron than his brother.  He fought at the Battle of Flodden in 1513 and was created a knight on the battlefield. Even Lord Dacre wrote highly of William as did Bishop Ogle of Carlisle. It was William who trained the earl’s younger sons in the art of border warfare whilst their eldest brother was sent to London to the household of Cardinal Wolsey for his education and, let’s be honest, as a surety for the fifth earl’s good behaviour.

 

The Fifth earl turns up in national history in 1526 when he was summoned from the north to sort out the affairs of his eldest son.  Henry junior was betrothed to Mary Talbot, daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury, but had fallen in love with Anne Boleyn.  The earl was supposed to back up the cardinal who had been ordered to prevent the match.

 

He died on May 19 1527.

The 6th Earl of Northumberland:

The new earl was of age but Wolsey made the earl of Cumberland, Margaret Percy’s husband, executor of the 5th earl’s estate.  The 6th earl was forbidden from attending the funeral of his father and then there was the issue of Mary Talbot – the powerless daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury.  The engagement had been a means of breaking off the relationship between Percy and Anne Boleyn but the match was not finalised.  It had in fact been halted because the young people did not like one another.   Now Percy was required to marry her and to live in the north.  The fifth earl had not been impressed with his heir and it would have to be said that either of his younger brothers was more suited to riding around the countryside killing reivers – poor old Henry simply hadn’t been trained for it and was rather on the sickly side.  It can’t have helped that his father was so far in debt- more than £17,000- that the plate had to be pawned to pay for his funeral.

 

Cardinal Wolsey drew up a budget.  It was not generous. Wolsey also arranged for the estate rents to be collected and began to have a close look at various Percy deeds and entitlements.  Matters came to a head when it was discovered that one of the earl’s retainers, appropriately named Wormme,  was sending Wolsey details of the earl’s accounts. The earl was not amused and the gentleman in question is supposed to have spent considerable time in a less comfortable dungeon in Alnwick Castle upon payment of a £300 bribe by the earl specifically to get his hands on the man.

 

The earl now set about demonstrating that he was more than capable of maintaining order in the north though unfortunately he was less able to maintain order in his own marriage. Mary liked Henry almost as much as he liked her.  The pair separated but were required by Wolsey to resume their married life. It was not a happy marriage in any sense of the word.  Mary became convinced that Henry was trying to kill her – there is no evidence that he was.

 

But time was running out for the Cardinal who had been unable to untie Henry VIII from his marriage to Katherine of Aragon. The king had rather an unpleasant sense of humour. He sent the man whose life had been made a misery to arrest the Cardinal and convey him to London.  Northumberland arrived at Cawood near York on the 4thNovember 1529 where he behaved, it is said with great dignity and compassion for Henry VIII’s former minister.

 

In 1531 the earl was made a knight of the garter. He was not involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace.  He died in 1537 leaving his money to Henry VIII.  He is best remembered as the first love of Anne Boleyn.  He collapsed at her trial and never really recovered.

Having no children his title passed to his younger brother unfortunately Thomas had become caught up in Bigod’s Rebellion (the follow on to the Pilgrimage of grace).  He was hanged drawn and quartered in London in June 1537 before he could become earl.

 

The 7th Earl of Northumberland:

200px-Thomas_Percy_Earl_of_Northumberland_1566The 7th earl was Thomas’s oldest son, also called Tomas – a pleasant change from all those Henrys.  To all intents and purposes his father’s death as a traitor should have debarred him from the earldom but when he came of age in 1549 he was restored to some of his lands and his loyalty to Mary Tudor in 1557 saw him restored to the earldom.  The Percys had never stopped being Catholic. Unfortunately it all went to his head – quite literally- as he took part in the Northern Rising of 1569. I have posted about the 7th earl before.  If you would like to read more click here to open a new page.  He was executed in 1572 in York on Elizabeth’s orders.  His execution warrant can still be seen in Alnwick Castle.

 

The seventh earl’s son died before him and he left a family of daughters so the family had to look back up the family tree for the next earl.  Not only that but Elizabeth I didn’t trust the family so far as she could throw them so refused to allow them to travel to their residences in the north of the country.  During this time Petworth in Sussex became the main Percy residence.

The 8th Earl of Northumberland:

Henry Percy, 8th Earl of Northumberland (c.1532-1585) (posthumous) by Sir Anthony Van Dyck (Antwerp 1599 - London 1641)

Oil painting on canvas, Henry Percy, 8th Earl of Northumberland (c.1532-1585) by Sir Anthony Van Dyck (Antwerp 1599 – London 1641). A posthumous three-quarter-length portrait, standing, turned slightly to the right, gazing at the spectator, short cropped hair, beard and moustache, wearing full armour, his right hand wearing his gauntlet and holding a baton his left elbow leaning on a ledge and his left bare hand hanging over it. On the ledge is his helmet.

The eighth earl was another Henry Percy and he was the seventh earl’s younger brother.  He had the common sense to remain loyal to Elizabeth I during the Rising of the North. Unfortunately he was implicated in assorted plots to release Mary Queen of Scots.  He was sent to the Tower as a result of being implicated in the Throckmorton Plot and again in 1584 when he was accused of plotting to allow the Duc de Guise to land troops for the purpose of releasing Mary Queen of Scots and returning England to Catholicism.  Off he went to the Tower – for a third time as it happens – he died unexpectedly on 21stJune 1585.

Someone had shot him through the heart.  It was decided that he had committed suicide. Let’s just say that warders and officers in charge of the earl’s well being were changed just beforehand to men who were careless about guns. It rather looks as though Sir Christopher Hatton, the queen’s favourite, may have assisted the “suicide.”

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.

 

A beginners guide to the Earldom of Northumbria and the Percy family (part one of four)

IMG_0241I always associate the Percy family with the earldom of Northumbria in the centuries following 1066 but it isn’t true that the family have held the title throughout the whole period since the conquest.  There was an interlude during the Wars of the Roses when the Neville’s got their paws on the title.  It’s also true to say that they weren’t elevated from earls to dukes in the first instance – John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland stole a march on the family – and let’s face it Dukes were normally required to be of royal blood whereas Dudley was the son of a Tudor administrator.  Before they reached the elevated social heights associated with dukedoms the Percy family spent a long time as barons.

Generation 1 – Baron Percy of Topcliffe:

Setting aside Saxon earls let us start with the Normans. William de Percy arrived with William the Conqueror in 1066. The first written record of his presence in England dates from 1067.  He owed part of his fealty to Hugh of Avranches who gave him land in Yorkshire in the years following 1072 – by which time Hugh had become the 1st earl of Chester.  Hugh was hugely wealthy.  He was one of the men who bankrolled the Conquest.  History sometimes calls him Hugh the Fat although I suspect he preferred the name Hugh Lupus or Hugh the Wolf.  Whilst William de Percy was undoubtedly a Norman there is some evidence to suggest that he held lands in England during the time of Edward the Confessor but may not have done so well under the auspices of Harold.  I read somewhere that the name Algernon which turns up frequently in the Percy pedigree comes from a derivation meaning be-whiskered.  The text suggested that William was unlike many of his Norman contemporaries because he had facial hair which was more associated with Saxons. He turns up in the Whitby Abbey Cartulary and in the Domesday Book holding lands directly from William I.  It was in response to his landholdings in Yorkshire that he was one of the patrons who re-founded Whitby Abbey in the years following the Conquest.  His brother appears to have been its first prior.  And let’s not get carried away with the idea that William was all set to be northern.  He also held lands in Essex and Hampshire.

 

Generations 2, 3 and 4:

William had a son Alan who had a son called William but he died in 1174 (possibly 1175) leaving two daughters.  Adeliza of Louvain, the widowed second wife of Henry I arranged for one of them, Agnes Percy, to marry Joscelin of Louvain who just so happened to be Adeliza’s younger half-brother. Joscelin who was a son of Godfrey, Count of Louvain. He was noble from Brabant.  He took his wife’s name and settled in England at the family’s seat of Topcliffe in Yorkshire.  In return Joscelin gave the Percy family the lion rampant for their crest.  Adeliza also gave her brother Petworth in Sussex.

 

Generation 5:

Joscelin and Agnes had several children.  Richard de Percy was born in 1170 and died in 1244.  He is the fifth Baron Percy of Topcliffe.  He was one of the twenty barons assigned to enforce Magna Carta.  Unfortunately having signed it King John changed his mind so our Percy found himself knee deep in the Barons’ War.  Inevitably John confiscated his lands. As soon as John popped his clogs, having mislaid his crown in The Wash, Richard sought pardon from young Henry III and retrieved all his property. Richard had no children.  The barony should have passed to Richard’s younger brother Henry.  He married into the Bruce family but died before he could inherit the barony of Topclife.

 

Generations 6, 7, 8 and 9 – or should that be 6,7,8 and 1:

William died in 1245. He was the nephew of Magna Carta Richard.  We then have Henry, John and another Henry.  Henry Percy (the last one on the list) was born in 1273 and died in 1314.   Henry, born at Petworth, was a posthumous child which was just as well on account of the Percy family running short of males once again.  He fought during on the Scottish Wars of Independence in the army of Edward I.   Like all his forefathers he fulfilled various local duties and roles associated with the northern wardenry.

And this is where it becomes complicated.  Henry was the 9th Baron Percy of Topcliffe.  He inherited in 1293.  However in 1309 he purchased Alnwick Castle from the Bishop of Durham (Anthony Bek).   The barony of Alnwick was different from the Barony of Topcliffe and Henry was created baron of Alnwick by writ – so he became the first Baron Percy of Alnwick.  From henceforth the head of the Percy family would be referred to by their Alnwick title meaning that the clock was rewound on the numbers – not particularly helpful.

Henry was not keen on Edward II. He ultimately rebelled over the issue of Piers Gaveston. He also declined to fight at the Battle of Bannockburn.  He died at home in his bed at Alnwick pictured at the start of this post.

And I think that is more than enough for today.

Anne Vavasour – scandal, bigamy and a portrait

Queen-Elizabeth-I-The-Ditchley-portrait.jpgAnne was born in about 1560 to 1653 – she was a girl remember- to a Yorkshire family.  When she was somewhere between eighteen and twenty, she became one of Elizabeth I’s ladies-in-waiting.  Her links with   the Kynvet family through her mother were probably what landed her a plum job at court. Her sister would also serve the queen and cause almost as much scandal as Anne.

Unfortunately rather than being a chaste ornament in the court of the Virgin Queen, Anne was chased and caught by Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford – one of Elizabeth I’s favourites.  He was approximately ten years older than Anne and already had something of a reputation for naughtiness not to mention an unfortunately scandalous marriage of his own.

Anne and Edward de Vere had an illegitimate son which came as a shock to the other ladies she shared her chambers with as she had successfully managed to keep her pregnancy secret.  Edward couldn’t marry Anne as he was already married to Anne Cecil the daughter of William Cecil.  The fact that the pair didn’t get on is neither here nor there. Nor is the fact that he was widely regarded as a cuckold

The day after Anne became a mother she was packed off to the Tower. Presumably Anne was relieved that Elizabeth hadn’t shouted and thrown things at her in the way that she had at Anne Shelton when she’d married John Scudamore on the quiet.  A flying candle stick broke the poor woman’s fingers.

Edward de Vere, who does not come out of this shining with the glow of a hero, was caught trying to leave the country.  He was also invited to spend some time considering the error of his ways in the Tower.  This happened in 1581.  De Vere wasn’t allowed back to court for the next two years.

The consequences of the affair were that Anne’s reputation was ruined. De Vere had no part in the raising of his son – named Edward Vere – although he did leave him some land.  The child was actually cared for by the earl’s cousin Sir Francis.  There were assorted duels as a consequence of besmirched honour that resulted in the death of a number of servants mainly because Anne’s uncle Sir Thomas Knyvet wasn’t terribly happy about the way things had turned out. And finally, posterity was given a poem entitled Echo which is credited not only to the accomplished, if somewhat troubled, Earl of Oxford but also to Anne herself.

 

Anne was now in need of a respectable spouse so she was married off to a sea captain called Finch or Field depending on the source.  It appears to have been a marriage of convenience as the couple did not have a child.  At about the same time she married Anne also became the mistress of Sir Henry Lee who was the queen’s champion.  Lee did not hide his affection for Anne.  He even had a suit of armour that was decorated with Anne’s initials and love knots – clearly Lee was taking a lesson from his old master Henry VIII.  Sir Henry had his own wife at home in Ditchley in Oxfordshire.  Eventually Anne had a second son called Thomas in 1589, the year before Sir Henry’s wife died.  The boy belonged to Sir Henry although he took the name of Anne’s husband.

After Sir Henry was widowed the pair lived together at his home in Ditchley along with Anne’s two sons.  Henry gave Finch/Field a pension – presumably to stay at sea and not make trouble. Lee was on the best of terms with the likes of Robert Dudley and with William Cecil.  Despite the fact that he was co-habitting with a married woman who had done a stint in the Tower he was also on such terms with Elizabeth that she visited him at Ditchley.

Sir Henry presented Queen Elizabeth I with the life sized portrait of herself pictured at the start of this post in 1592.  It co-incided with Elizabeth’s visit to Ditchley and is about the monarch’s forgiveness of his behaviour.  The entertainment included jousting and a series of noble portraits – the best of which was Elizabeth standing on top of the world like the sun after a storm bringing calm weather. Just in case she needed a hint Lee wrote a sonnet to the “prince of light” and reminded Elizabeth that she could take revenge but that she does not take revenge.

 

Elizabeth duly forgave Lee for falling into a “stranger lady’s thrall” and posterity acquired one of the best known portraits of Elizabeth.  The image of Anne  shown below is dated to 1605.

AnneVavasour.jpg

Sir Henry died in 1611.  He left Anne £700 but his heir- and cousin- challenged Anne in the courts over the inheritance.  In 1618, despite her husband being very much alive and well, Anne  married for a second time to a man called Richardson.  Lee’s cousin promptly took her to court on charges of bigamy.  Anne was required, in 1622, to pay a fine of £2000 and to do public penance. The former was excused when Queen Anne , the wife of James I, interceded on her behalf.

The picture of Anne Vavasour shown here is by Robert Peake the elder. She would live until 1560 and although the Church drew the line at allowing the unmarried couple to snuggle up for eternity in a shared tomb, Anne can be found on Sir Henry Lee’s monument in Spelsbury Church

anne vavasour.jpg

 

 

History in the garden

I can tell summer is nearly here because I’m disappearing historic down cul de sacs without a second thought.  Today’s post is about plants – it’s easy to think that  historical figures trotted around gardens that looked very like our own but it was only in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that many of the plants we think of as typical of an English country garden were introduced thanks to people like the Tradescants.

However, that aside -and this is my horticultural rhetorical question of the evening- what did the Romans do for us? to quote a certain well known film. The answer is that they gave us ground elder, that’s what they did and quite frankly I rather wish they hadn’t.  This garden nightmare is currently making my life slightly difficult because it does not matter what I do to get rid of it, the ground elder keeps coming back. Ground elder (Aegopodium podagraria) was introduced by the Romans, to supply their soldiers with fresh vegetables – think of it as a sort of centurion version of spinach.  I shan’t be trying any of my harvest given that having failed with hand weeding I have turned to chemicals. Rather amusingly it is also known as bishop’s weed because it was used by medieval monks as a cure for gout.

Further research revealed that the Romans also gave us the celandine. Rather than being edible like ground elder the celandine offered a cure for warts and corns when its juice was applied.  Even more surprising it turns out that before the Romans arrived on the scene the British countryside lacked foxgloves, walnuts and nettles – and here was me thinking that the Romans only introduced dock leaves to ease the tired tootsies of the marching masses.  The nettles were a form of central heating – i.e. thrash yourself with a nettle and you will soon warm up.  It’s also a cure for rheumatism and sciatica – please don’t try rolling in nettles at home.

Jumping forward to Elizabeth I, lauded as the Empress of Flowers, a garden just wasn’t a garden unless it had an artificial mound where folk could sit and watch other folk hunting deer in the deer park.  It was a time of mazes, fountains and patterned parterres created by borders of box hedge -another Roman offering.  You might even want to smell the roses which were you’ve guessed it, another Roman introduction.  Elizabeth would have been able to walk along gravelled paths looking upon the order and feeling calmed after a hard day yelling at her councillors and boxing their ears as she was prone to doing when she flew into a rage.

The thing about the knot garden though is that it requires a high level of maintenance so not only is it a garden delight, it also has the benefit of  showing off its owners wealth.  The most famous of this kind of  knot garden has been recreated at Kenilworth.  It was originally created in 1575 when Elizabeth visited Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester on one of her progresses.  Dudley turned the visit into an extended marriage proposal  – which is quite a long way from trying to rid one’s garden of ground elder which is what prompted this post.

In addition to all of the above if you were a truly dedicated Tudor garden lover you would require a lawn on which to play bowls; a banqueting house in which to enjoy pudding and other intimate entertainments (yes – you can raise your eyebrows); of yes and lets not forget that all important deer park.

Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire boasts a rather impressive walled herb garden and although it was established in the twentieth century it’s a reminder that the wealthy didn’t just use their gardens for entertainment and to show off their wealth, they formed a part of the larder as well as offering medication for all kinds of ailments.

So you might be wondering why I started this post with an image of Elizabeth I- it’s the Hardwick Portrait.  The dress was probably a New Year’s gift from bess of Hardwick to Elizabeth.  As well as all kinds of sea monsters – there are also a number of different flowers including irises.  It’s a reminder that flowers had meaning.  The blue and white of the iris had once been associated with the Virgin Mary.  It’s meaning goes back even further though, the goddess Iris was the personification of the rainbow – the link between Heaven and Earth.  So Bess was saying with her use of the lovely flowers which can still be seen at Hardwick Old Hall that the queen was  as chaste and innocent as the Virgin Mary and that the queen was her people’s conduit to Heaven.

 

Joan Beaufort’s descendants – Anne Mowbray, Countess of Norfolk.

Joan BeaufortI’ve been working on the family tree of Joan Beaufort’s second family with Ralph Neville Earl of Westmorland this afternoon – and just let’s say its not straightforward!  I may be reverting to quill pen and parchment at my current rate of progress.

The family comprised five daughters and nine sons. John, Cuthbert, Thomas and Henry are straight forward as sadly in an era of high infant mortality they all died young.  Continuing the de Roet tradition of service to the Church one of Joan Beaufort’s daughters  also called Joan became a nun. Robert who was born in 1404 became the Bishop of Salisbury and Durham.

After that it becomes more complex.  Katherine Neville who lived until 1484 was married four times.  Her first marriage when she was Joan’s eldest daughter.  When she was about twelve she was married to John Mowbray, the 2nd Duke of Norfolk.  There appears to have been one child from the union, another John who became the third duke aged seventeen upon his father’s death in 1432.  Katherine’s husband was a younger brother but his elder sibling, Thomas, revolted against Henry IV and paid the ultimate price.  The 2nd duke kept his head down across the Channel fighting in the Hundred Years War for both Henry V and Henry VI.  It was an expensive business for the duke though.

As Katherine’s son was still a minor he became Henry VI’s ward and initially appeared set to follow in his father’s footsteps as a warrior in France.  However, the 3rd duke  also became involved with the thorny problem of  more local politics – History books tend to linger on his feud with fellow East Anglian peer, the earl (to become duke) of Suffolk, William de la Pole (de la Pole was Henry VI’s key adviser and guardian to Margaret Beaufort). It was unfortunate that de la Pole was such a powerful man that that Mowbray felt unable to get the better of his nemesis.  The local arguments sent him in the direction of Richard of York’s faction at court.  During the 1450s Katherine’s son seems to have been able to defend Henry VI during times of trouble despite his increasing sympathies for the claims of Richard of York.

Easter 1461, however, John Mowbray arrived at the Battle of Towton to take the side of Richard of York’s son Edward. His late arrival with reinforcements was one of the factors that ultimately swung one of England’s bloodiest battles in favour of the Yorkists.

The 3rd duke died in November 1461 so really had only six months in which to enjoy the position of favour in which he found himself.  Katherine’s grandson – another John now assumed the mantle of duke of Norfolk.  He had been known as the Earl of Surrey since 1451.  It is this particular Duke of Norfolk who features in the Paston Letters as their opposition over the inheritance of Caistor Castle.

When the  the fourth duke died unexpectedly in January 1476 there was only a three year-old-girl called Anne to inherit – The Paston Letters contain references to her birth at Framlingham as well as her baptism. As a result of the existence of just one girl child the title fell extinct. Although Anne was known as the Countess of Norfolk she could not hold the dukedom.  Anne was a rich prize and it was less than a fortnight after her father’s death that Edward IV selected the little girl, who was now a ward of the Crown, to become his younger son’s bride.  Richard Duke of York acquired the title to the dukedom through his wife but the dukedom of York took precedence over the Norfolk title. Anne was married aged five to Richard Duke of York who was four at the time.  The marriage agreement included a clause that meant that Anne’s mother had to hand over her dower lands and that they along with the Norfolk estates would remain with the young groom if the bride died before they arrived at an age for the marriage to become a physical reality.

 

And that might have been that except for the fact that Anne Mowbray died on the 19th November 1481.  She was just eight years-old. By rights as the marriage was a child marriage and there were no heirs to inherit the title and estates of the dukes of Norfolk should have been deposited elsewhere up the family tree along with the title.  In this instance with Anne’s cousins – John Lord Howard being the elder of the potential claimants.  Unfortunately Edward IV had no intention of allowing so rich a prize to escape his second son so in January 1483 parliament allowed Prince Richard to keep his wife’s titles and estates.

This must have annoyed the Howard family very much indeed because rather than supporting Edward IV’s children when Edward died the same year Lord Howard supported their uncle the duke of Gloucester in his bid to become Richard III. Howard was created Duke of Norfolk shortly after Richard III’s coronation and gained half the estate.  The other half went to his cousin (William Berkeley)

Prince Richard, Duke of York ended up known to history as the younger of the vanishing Princes in the Tower. In yet another twist and turn of fate Anne Mowbray’s mother was Elizabeth Talbot – one of the daughters of the Earl of Shrewsbury.  Anne Mowbray’s maternal aunt was Eleanor Butler who has her own infamy as the alleged legitimate spouse of Edward IV making Richard, Duke of York and all his siblings illegitimate.