Death of Henry V

 

henry vKing Henry V of England  or Henry of Monmouth if you’ve been reading Shakespeare became king in 1413.  He resumed the Hundred Years War that his great grandfather Edward III had pursued and in 1415 won the Battle of Agincourt.  So far so good.  As part of the Treaty of Troyes between England and France that followed – recognising Henry as Charles VI’s heir he married Katherine of Valois – the French king’s daughter.  All the dominoes had been lined up for a union between England and France.  He had done, in short order, what medieval kings were required to do – he’d been victorious in war and landed a bona fide princess to boot and his first child was a boy – what more could you want?

Popular history does not tend to linger on the realities of a successful military campaign.  For instance Henry ordered all males over the age of twelve to be executed after the fall of Caen and in Agincourt English archers were ordered to cut the throats of their French captives.  However, this sort of behaviour is not the sort of thing that one expects from heroic kings – look at Richard I and his massacre as an example of popular history quietly removing the more unsavoury aspects of life.

Henry V will always be a heroic warrior king because he didn’t survive very long after his victory over the French and thanks to the works of Shakespeare.  He died on the 31st August 1422 of dysentery whilst in France.  He’d just returned there after three years spent in England.  He left behind him a nine-month-old son who now became King Henry VI.  Katherine of Valois was effectively sidelined and ultimately quietly married Owen Tudor.

It says something that the Lancastrian line which had contended with plots ever since Henry of Bolingbroke usurped the throne from his cousin Richard II was able to maintain power with an infant on the throne.  In part this was because there had been a plot against Henry before he went to war in 1415.  Edmund Mortimer, the Earl of March and man with a better claim to the throne than Henry revealed that a plot was afoot to depose Henry before he went to France.

Although this plot was formulated elsewhere it is known as the Southampton Plot because this was where events played out.  Richard, Earl of Cambridge was the main conspirator. Its for this reason that the Southampton Plot is also known as the Cambridge Plot.  He was married to Anne Mortimer (their son was Richard of York who managed to get himself killed at the Battle of Wakefield in 1460).  Although  Richard was the Earl of Cambridge he didn’t have the money or the land to go with the title – this wasn’t helpful when he was expected to contribute towards Henry’s forthcoming war.  He became involved with Henry Scrope of Masham and Sir Thomas Grey of Heton in a plot to put his brother-in-law Edward Mortimer on the throne (I should note that Anne Mortimer was dead by this point) having killed Henry V and his brothers as they were about to depart for France.  Mortimer decided that he had no desire to revolt against Henry V so revealed the plot claiming that he had no idea what was going on.  This saved him from execution but did ensure that Henry was able to mop up the opposition at home before going off to trounce the French – Richard, Scrope and Grey were tried and executed at the beginning of August in Southampton.  Henry V set sail on the 11th August 1415 for those readers who would like another August date to add to the collection.

Dysentery was known as the “bloody flux.”  As well as uncontrollable diarrhoea  Henry would have experienced stomach cramps, a fever, vomiting and exhaustion.  It was more often fatal than not given that soldiers marched long distances, lived off the land and weren’t prone to being overly fastidious in their hygiene.  Damp ground  and heat also helped to spread the disease.

And that brings us to the end of August.  Sadly the WEA have cancelled the short course in Derby at the beginning of September so if you were thinking of coming – I’m very sorry but the WEA decided that there weren’t the numbers.

Nicholas and Ralph Fitzherbert – a glimpse of the Wars of the Roses.

DSCF1562Norbury in Derbyshire is mentioned in the Domesday Book. By 1125 it was in the hands of the Fitzherbert family who initially rented the estate from Tutbury Priory. The remains of the Fitzherbert’s medieval hall stands next door to the church. It was in this building, according to George Elliot’s imagination that milk maid Hetty Sorrel could be found. Historically speaking the building is a mishmash of reconstruction including a beam dated to 1483. One side of the beam is beautifully worked the other, not meant for public view, is still covered by bark.

The Fitzherberts built a fine hall and an even finer church. The glass dated originally from the beginning of the fourteenth century – not much of it remains but the chancel is a beautiful ‘lantern’ flooded by light on three sides. Three alabaster tombs dominate the church. The stone came from just nine miles away and with the right camera traces of the original paints can still be glimpsed.

IMG_6007Nicholas Fitzherbert, shown left, died in 1473. He was the eleventh lord. He’s wearing a collar decorated with suns and roses. The suns are representative of the sun in splendor reflecting Edward’s victory at Mortimer’s Cross in 1461 when a parhelion, which could have struck mortal dread into his army, was used by Edward as a sign of forthcoming victory – each one of the suns represented one the Earl of March’s surviving sons – Edward, George and Richard. The roses are, of course, the white roses of York. At the bottom of Nicholas’s collar, a pendant can be glimpsed beneath marble hands raised in prayer. It is a pendant of a lion. The white lion is representative of the House of March – and Edward’s Mortimer descent: a reminder that the House of York came from a line senior to that of the House of Lancaster. Anne Mortimer, Edward IV’s grandmother, was the great-granddaughter of Lionel of Antwerp. He was the second son of Edward III.IMG_5997

So Nicholas, even in death, is declaring his allegiance to the House of York. He is also fully dressed in plate armour and his head rests on his helm but as Mercer states in The Medieval Gentry: Power, Leadership and Choice During the Wars of the Roses history does not know what Nichols’s role was during the Wars of the Roses or how he demonstrated his loyalty to Edward IV.

One thing is sure, livery badges as these collars are often known were important indicators of political affiliation during the Wars of the Roses. It is known that King Richard III gave away huge numbers of his livery badges made from cloth at the time of his coronation in 1483.   Richard’s personal badge – the white boar- a play on the Latin ebor  meaning York and a reminder of Richard’s northern powerbase has been found on pendants and hat badges across the country including Richard’s home at Middleham Castle in Yorkshire.

IMG_5973In Norbury, on the opposite side of the chancel from Nicholas there is a second alabaster tomb. It depicts Nicholas’s son Ralph, shown left and in the first picture in this post, and his wife. Like his father Nicholas is wearing a collar depicting suns and roses but the pendant is different. Nestled under Ralph’s hands is a tiny boar. Ralph died in 1483 shortly after making his will requesting that he should be buried in Norbury Church so he could not know that a mere two years later the white boar would be evidence of untrustworthiness so far as the new Tudor kings of England were concerned.

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The Fitzherberts did not thrive under the Tudors; not because of their Yorkist fealties but because of their Catholicism. Like many of the old established families the Fitzherberts were conservative in their religious beliefs.  By the reign of Elizabeth I the Fitzherberts faced severe financial penalities for their continued beliefs and Sir Thomas Fitzherbert would spend thirty years in prison because of his faith.

Mercer, Malcolm. (2012). The Medieval Gentry: Power, Leadership and Choice During the Wars of the Roses. London: Continuum Books.

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Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March – from the House of Mortimer to the House of York.

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Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March (born in 1391), was descended from the second surviving son of King Edward III – Lionel of Antwerp. Lionel had only one legitimate child (well at least that’s straight forward). Her name was Philippa. Her mother was Elizabeth de Burgh, Daughter of the Earl of Ulster.  Edmund is not a York claimant to the throne.  He is a Mortimer claimant – but he is the link that takes us from the Mortimers to the House of York.

Philippa, Lionel’s daughter,  married Edmund Mortimer, third Earl of March – his grandfather had run off with her great-grandmother (Isabella of France) and plotted to overthrow and possibly murder her great-grandfather (Edward II). Philippa had four children. The one we are interested in for the purposes of this post is her eldest son Roger although the others will get a mention before the end. He became the 4th Earl of March as well as Earl of Ulster. So far so good – the Mortimer claim to the succession is good – though female in origin.

There are no Salic Laws in England to prevent a female claim to the throne.  Henry IV tried to argue that his claim was better than Philippa’s and her descendents because he was a male.  However, this was the same man who fought in France basing the English claim to the French throne on the fact the Edward III was Isabella of France’s son.  When Charles IV of France died, Isabella and her descendants were the next closest claimants to the French throne – a fact which the French refused to accept based on their Salic Law.  Henry IV was essentially trying to have his cake and eat it.

 

But back to the Mortimers – Roger, Philippa’s son, married Eleanor Holland- who adds to the blue blood running through the veins of the Mortimers with the blood of the Earls of Arundel and Henry III.

 

Roger, managed to get himself killed by the Irish when young Edmund, who this blog is about, was just six. This was unfortunate because Roger Mortimer’s claim to the throne was better than that of Henry Bolingbroke who went on to become King Henry IV. Roger was descended from the second son of Edward III while Henry was descended from the third son- John of Gaunt.

Richard II had recognized Roger as heir to the throne in 1385 according to one source. Other accounts suggest that Roger was walking a difficult tightrope in his cousin Richard II’s affections from which he could have easily fallen. Certainly after Roger’s death Mortimer’s lands were swiftly set upon by an avaricious king (Richard II as averse to Henry IV who was just as bad so far as Mortimer land was concerned).

Things went from bad to worse after Henry Bolingbroke usurped the throne. Edmund (now the 5th Earl of March) and his younger brother Roger became royal wards – they were in line for the succession after all and family as well…  In reality, they were largely brought up in Windsor as prisoners.  Edmund was not permitted anywhere near his estates.

Henry IV did have reason to feel nervous of the Mortimers. The boys had an uncle- helpfully also called Edmund- who felt that young Edmund had a better claim to the throne than Henry. Uncle Edmund felt so strongly about it that he joined up with Owain Glyndwr to rebel against Henry IV. Elizabeth Mortimer- the 5th earl’s aunt, wasn’t to be trusted either. She had been married to Henry “Hotspur” Percy who had died at the Battle of Shrewsbury (1403). In short Henry IV must have looked at his Mortimer cousins and regarded them as treacherous nuisances.

Just to complicate things that little bit further another cousin, Constance Plantagenet who was the daughter of Edmund of Langley, the 4th surviving son on Edward III, attempted to free Edmund and Roger Mortimer from Windsor in 1405. She thought if she could get them to Wales and Glyndwr that Edmund could be declared king. She wasn’t terribly keen on Henry IV although she’d kept her feelings hidden long enough to be trusted to care for Edmund and Roger. She was the widow of Thomas le Despenser, Earl of Gloucester who was executed for treason in 1400. Cousin Constance managed to get the two boys as far as Cheltenham before Henry IV caught up with them. What a happy family reunion it must have been for all concerned!

Things changed somewhat when Henry V ascended the throne in 1413. Edmund was knighted and finally allowed to inherit his estates. He married Anne Stafford, the daughter of the Duke of Buckingham and appears to have done so without asking Henry V’s permission because he was fined a huge amount of money for doing so. Interestingly there is no evidence that it was paid. In any event the 5th Earl of March, perhaps because of his somewhat dysfunctional childhood and adolescence, was a loyal and quiet subject to the Lancastrian Henry V before he died of plague in Ireland – and I’m sure by this stage you’re just as pleased as the regency council of baby Henry VI must have been- without any heirs.

Edmund’s younger brother Roger also died without an heir.  So that was that, so far as a direct Mortimer claim to the throne was concerned.

However, a claim remained within the family – (I’ve nearly arrived at the York claim to the throne – hurrah!)  Roger, the 4th Earl of March, and Eleanor Holland had four or five children – Edmund, the 5th Earl who died without an heir in 1425; Roger who died sometime around 1410 without an heir; Eleanor who did get married but when widowed became a nun – died without an heir; Alice, who according to Alison Weir might not even have existed and finally the eldest child of the family – Anne Mortimer.

 

Perhaps Henry IV would have been better locking her up because she married another cousin – Richard, Duke of Cambridge the son of Edmund of Langley.  Edmund of Langley (the fourth surviving son of Edward III) was also the Duke of York. Richard’s sister was the rather daring Constance who managed to extract two small boys from their imprisonment in Windsor and get to Cheltenham with them before she was caught.

 

If Plantagenet family gatherings look as though they might have been somewhat difficult by the time of Henry VI’s birth in 1421 it is also worth remembering that Richard, Duke of Cambridge was part of the Southampton Plot of 1415. The plan was that the plotters would get rid of Henry V and replace him with Richard’s brother-in-law – i.e. Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March.

 

Edmund may have been involved in the plot up to his neck or there again he might not. The information is lost somewhere down the back of the sofa of history. Clearly Edmund got to thinking about the chances of the plot succeeding. He didn’t have to worry about hurting his sister’s feelings. She’d died four years previously. Edmund went to see Henry V to tell him all about the plot. Richard of Cambridge was executed.

However – Anne Mortimer left a son called Richard.  He became Duke of York and never forgot that his claim to the throne was much better than that of King Henry VI.