In the Spring of 1470, England was facing a fresh round of the intermittent warfare that punctuated the Wars of the Roses. The Earl of Warwick’s relationship with King Edward IV had been strained to breaking point the previous year and although the Kingmaker had captured and imprisoned his cousin he had been forced to let him go. There had been an apparent reconciliation. In reality Warwick plotted to overthrow the king and replace him with his son-in-law, George Duke of Clarence. He method for bringing this about involved the Welles family and the men of Lincolnshire.
Lord Richard Welles was the seventh Lord Welles descended from a family of Lincolnshire magnates. He was the son of staunch Lancastrian, Lionel. The sixth Lord is best remembered for his second wife, Margaret Beauchamp, the mother of Lady Margaret Beaufort. Lionel was killed at the Battle of Towton.
Lionel was born in 1410 and was knighted in 1425 at Leicester by the Duke of Bedford who knighted King Henry VI at the same time. In 1446 he received a licence to marry Margaret Beauchamp, the Duke of Somerset’s widow. His loyalty to the Lancastrian cause was absolute. His heir, Richard and his sons-in-law were attainted by Parliament for their support of the Lancastrian cause but as the Yorkist king became reconciled to former Lancastrian supporters the Welles family land and titles were returned.
However by the ninth year of Edward’s reign relations between the Welles and the Yorkist king of England nose dived. Richard and his brother-in-law Sir Thomas Dymmock either became involved with a private feud with Sir Thomas Burgh who was the king’s Master of Horse or they were inveigled to rebellion by the Earl of Warwick who was also a kinsman ( Richard’s wife was a granddaughter of the 3rd Earl of Salisbury as well as being suo jure Lady Willoughby.) In either event, they attacked Gainsburgh Old Hall which was Burgh’s property and the Master of Horse was forced to flee the county whilst his property was looted or destroyed. King Edward summoned both men to London. Initially pleading illness, the pair then took sanctuary in Westminster Abbey only emerging with a royal promise of a pardon – which was granted on 3 March 1470. The pardon did not give them their freedom. Edward marched north and took the two men with him as collateral.
In Lincolnshire, Sir Richard’s son, Robert raised an army calling the men of Lincolnshire to defend themselves against the king, who is was said was determined to punish the county for supporting Robin of Redesdale’s rebellion the previous year (1469). If he had done this it would have meant that he intended to go back on the pardon he granted the rebels the previous year. Robin of Redesdale is a shadowy figure. Most historians believe that the rebellion was fermented by the Earl of Warwick for his own ends. In 1470, the Earl of Warwick was plotting the overthrow of the king who was marching north. The earl planned to trap Edward between Welles’ army and his own.
King Edward was not so easily outmanoeuvred. He marched out of London along the Great North Road in the direction of Lincolnshire but he threatened to have Robert’s father and uncle executed if Welles did not submit to the king’s will. By then Robert and his men were on course to render-vous with Warwick’s army. On hearing the king’s threat, Robert turned back, the king catching up with him just outside Stamford. The two armies drew up opposite one another on the 12th March 1470 at Empingham. Edward gave orders for Lord Welles and his brother-in-law to be summarily executed in the space between the two armies. Other sources state that Edward had the two men executed in Stamford.
The battle became a rout with rebels fleeing the field. Hoping to avoid capture and punishment they shed their jerkins which bore the insignia of Warwick and Clarence. This resulted in the battle being renamed Losecoat during the nineteenth century. As a direct consequence of Welles failure to win the battle the Earl of Warwick and the Duke of Clarence were forced to flee the country.
Sir Robert was captured and confessed the involvement of Warwick and the Duke of Clarence on the 14 March. Further incriminating evidence was found amongst Welles’ documents. It appeared that Warwick intended to make his son-in-law the King of England and Wales in Edward’s place. Sir Robert was executed on 19 March and his only surviving sibling Joan became heiress to her brother’s estates. Strictly Welles’ land was forfeit to the Crown, and it was confiscated a month after Sir Robert’s execution but it was returned to Joan in June that year. Joan died sometime in 1474/1475 and a formal act of attainder was passed against Lord Welles and his son in order to prevent Joan’s inheritance going back into the Welles family. Joan was married to Richard Hastings, the brother of Edward’s drinking buddy and Chamberlain of the Household circa 1470. Hastings ensured the king provided Joan, now suo jure 9th Baroness Willoughby de Eresby with her father and brother’s estates. After her death the regime ensured that Hastings didn’t lose out. It also meant that a large chunk of Lincolnshire was held by a loyal Yorkist.
It was only on the accession of King Henry VII that the attainder against the Welles family was reversed and John Welles, Joan and Robert’s uncle from their father’s second marriage inherited the titles and estates along with their cousin Christopher Willoughby. Even so, Sir Richard Hastings, who died in 1503 continued to be known as Lord Willoughby, a title which should have more properly belonged to Christopher Willoughby whose mother Cecily was a daughter of Lionel, 6th Lord Welles, who died at Towton.
And before I finish… if the name Willoughby is ringing bells its because Christopher’s son married Katherine of Aragon’s loyal lady in waiting Maria de Salinas. The couple had only one child, Katherine, who was a sole heiress to the Willoughby title and estates. She was supposed to have married the Duke of Suffolk’s son but instead found herself married to the duke, Charles Brandon, who was significantly older than she was. In 1546, after she was widowed there were rumours that King Henry VIII wanted to make her wife number seven, even though wife number six was alive and well at the time.