Tag Archives: Duke of Bedford

Jacquetta and Richard Woodville – Lancastrians.

Jacquetta of Luxembourg.jpgElizabeth Woodville was the oldest of fifteen children of whom thirteen survived to adulthood. Their father was Richard Woodville of Grafton in Northamptonshire.  The Woodvilles were gentry rather than aristocracy and served the house of Lancaster.  Richard Woodville and his father both served in the duke of Bedford’s household.

It was there that Richard met Elizabeth’s mother – Jacquetta of Luxembourg.  Her father was the Count of St Pol and the family were not only aristocratic but had been around long enough to claim to be descended from Melusine a serpent/witch.  A glance at the family tree reveals that the bloodlines of King John and King Henry III of England were in her ancestry. Jacquetta was the young bride of the duke of Bedford and as with is first marriage to Anne of Burgundy, Bedford’s marriage was a matter of international diplomacy.  When Bedford died in 1435 the pair had been married for two years.

Jacquetta was descended from an ancient line and the aunt of Henry VI by marriage.  She should not have remarried without royal permission and she certainly shouldn’t have married a household knight but that is exactly what the young widow did.

There was a price to be paid for the pair’s love match.  The fine was £1000.  The cash was provided by Cardinal Beaufort but it was not a generous gift.  Jacquetta had to part with lucrative dower lands- she had inherited one third of Bedford’s estates. More of the lands were confiscated by the Crown. The Woodvilles were noted afterwards for their swiftly growing family and for Richard Woodville’s links with the House of Lancaster – in particular the Beauforts.  Richard served in France under the dukes of Somerset in a variety of capacities.

It was not England’s finest hour so far as the Hundred Years War were concerned. It was a sensible decision to sue for peace.  In 1445 Henry VI married Margaret of Anjou.  It was not a decision that met with popular acclaim.  The bride came with no dowry and the English had to part with Anjou and Maine. Margaret, along with her personal symbol of the daisy, was met with hostility.  William de la Pole who had orchestrated the truce and the marriage was reviled.  Yet, a new faction formed in English politics.  De la Pole and the young french bride bonded on their journey to England,  Margaret was only sixteen and she must have welcomed  Jacquetta Woodville who joined the bridal party as a friendly face.  Margaret and Jacquetta became friends.  Margaret swiftly learned the ropes of English politics and set about neutralising the duke of York who she regarded as a threat.

Jacquetta’s position in society was an ambiguous one.  She might have been descended from royalty and as the dowager duchess of Bedfordshire she might have had no superior other than the new queen but she had relinquished that particular position by marrying down – a woman’s rank came from her father and when she married from her husband. This was complicated by the fact that having been married to a duke she kept the title duchess. It was perhaps in part to relieve this anomaly that plain Sir Richard became Baron Rivers in 1448.  The Woodvilles were on the rise at a time when English society and politics was undergoing a bit of a shakedown.

In 1447 Good Duke Humphrey, Henry VI’s remaining uncle found himself being toppled form power when his wife Eleanor Cobham was hauled before the courts on charges of witchcraft and plotting against the king’s life.  He died soon afterwards followed by Cardinal Beaufort the king’s great uncle.  William de la Pole appeared to be in the ascendant.  The king’s cousin, Richard of York, had been sidelined by a posting to Ireland.  The Peace Party, the duke of Suffolk and the Woodvilles were doing very nicely thank you. When Elizabeth Woodville was old enough she came to court as one of Margaret of Anjou’s maid’s of honour.

Elizabeth Woodville was from a gentry family – that was her father’s rank irrespective of who her mother might have been before she married.  Her marriage to Sir John Grey, heir of Edward Grey of Groby was a good match.  Thomas Grey, Elizabeth’s first child, had arrived within two years of the first battle of St Albans. Unsurprisingly the Greys were a Lancastrian family in terms of their politics.

Fortune’s Wheel was about to make a turn.  The war in France continued to go badly. Parliament was called – the duke of Suffolk was blamed for the military disasters and banished.  He was murdered en route to his banishment.  His death was one of the triggers to Cade’s Rebellion of 1450.

Meanwhile the Woodville’s continued to rise – Richard became a member of the Order of the Garter as well as a privy councillor. He became Lieutenant of Calais. He was still in Calais in May 1455 when the red rose and the white rose took to the field against one another.  Woodville’s “sponsor”, Edmund Beaufort, duke of Somerset was killed – Richard Neville took charge of Calais and Richard Woodville returned home.

elizabeth woodvilleIn 1461 Elizabeth Woodville’s husband was killed at the second battle of St Albans fighting on the Lancastrian side – the wrong side as it happened.  Elizabeth was left  widowed with two young sons and at loggerheads with her husband’s family over her dower. She had no alternative other than to petition the Yorkist king Edward IV – the result would see the Woodville’s turn from Lancastrians into Yorkists.

 

 

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Henry VI – King of France and his bishop of Bath and Wells

images-9On this day, December 16th 1431 nine-year-old King Henry VI of England was crowned King of France in the Notre Dame de Paris succeeding his maternal grandfather, the English claimed, through right of his father’s (Henry V) victory at the Battle of Agincourt.  The Treaty  of Troyes- or ‘final peace’- that resulted from the victory saw Henry V married to Katherine of Valois, the daughter of King Charles VI, and nominated King of France once Charles VI died, a treaty that by-passed Charles’ son also called Charles and which left the french somewhat out of sorts with themselves.

However,  Henry V died in August 1422 from dysentry leaving his infant son to ascend to the English throne and Henry’s brother the duke of Bedford nominated as regent in France with the job of keeping the french in line which proved rather difficult once Joan of Arc offered her own inspiration to the campaign.

The party that arrived in France to crown Henry V’s son in 1430 – a whole year before the coronation- included three bishops, one of whom was John Stafford, Bishop of Bath and Wells. For a more detailed description of the coronation and the politics surrounding it click on the image at the start of the post to open a new page.

Stafford is a famous name in late medieval history and the Bishop of Bath and Wells was related to the duke of Buckingham – possibly on the wrong side of the blanket, though the evidence is flimsy.  His patron was Cardinal Beaufort the king’s great uncle.  He became Bishop of Bath and Wells in 1424.  By 1443 Stafford rose to the rank of Archbishop of Canterbury, in all probability a reward for his work as Lord Chancellor.  He held the post until 1452 when he died. He seems to have held fast to Beaufort’s policies which made him a figure of continuity in English politics at the time and thus of stability.

Stafford was a moderate man who helped maintain the balance of Henry VI’s court.  Although he supported the hugely unpopular William de la Pole, earl of Suffolk who managed to get himself banished and then murdered (1450), Stafford did not get tarred with the same brush. In the aftermath of Cade’s rebellion which stemmed partially from Kentish fears of being held responsible for de la Pole’s death the archbishop was found in Kent investigating the rebellion and trying the rebels. Stubbs in his Constitutional History said of the bishop Bishop Stubbs- ‘if he had done little good he had done no harm’ – hardly a ringing endorsement.

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King Henry VI

images-17It was possible for medieval kings to be too nice; too pious and too scholarly. Henry VI was the last Lancastrian Plantagenet king. The chaos that spiralled out of control during his reign came about, in part, because of the king’s inability to control his nobility.

In October 1421 Catherine of Valois, wife of Henry V became a mother for the first time at Windsor. Nine months later the infant boy became King Henry VI although he was not crowned in Westminster until 1429. According to the treaty that the French signed after the Battle of Agincourt the boy, following his maternal grandfather’s death was King of England, Wales, Ireland and France.

Indeed, the boy was crowned in Paris on 16th December 1431 to popular acclaim in Paris but much disgust that the English form of coronation was used rather than the French form. Unfortunately most of the rest of France wanted the dauphin, the son of Charles VI, to rule. The future Charles VII had luck on his side in the form of Joan of Arc; the death of the Duke of Bedford’s wife (Anne of Burgundy) resulted in the Duke of Burgundy changing sides; the death of the Duke of Bedford and faction politics back in England. It probably also helped Charles that Henry VI loathed bloodshed and felt that it was his Christian duty to make peace. This duly occurred in 1445 when Henry married Margaret of Anjou and handed back huge tracts of land to the French.

The Duke of Gloucester was furious but his fall from power was just round the corner. His wife Eleanor was found guilty of witchcraft. Ultimately Gloucester would be accused of treason and then found dead in his bed a couple of days later. It wasn’t long before people were whispering that ‘Good Duke Humphrey’ had been murdered and that the queen had somehow been involved.

Henry, who had no mistresses and had an abhorrence of nudity in both men and women, was unlucky in his queen. He thought she was one of the wisest people that he knew but his people never came to love her. She was French and her marriage, without much in the way of dowry, had cost them hard won lands in France. In later years she headed south with a band of ferocious northerners at her back, something that London never forgave her for.

Money, which had flowed readily enough when the English were winning the Hundred Years War, became a problem the older Henry got. It wasn’t helped that when he achieved his majority he gave away approximately two hundred manors and insisted on spending £2,000 on endowing his colleges at Eton and Cambridge. Before long the crown was in debt to the tune of £400,000.

Inevitably the peace in France could not be sustained and before long the roads were filled with English refugees fleeing the French. It didn’t go down well with the English. Henry V, the victor of Agincourt, successful charismatic warrior king was a hard act for his son to follow. As is usual in these occurrences the people blamed the king’s ‘bad advisers’ for the king’s own failings and bad luck. In 1450 Adam Moleyns, the Bishop of Chichester, managed to get himself lynched by an angry mob in Portsmouth who blamed him for the fall of Normandy. The mob’s wrath then turned on the Duke of Suffolk who found himself on the wrong side of the law for pursuing the policies that Henry wanted him to pursue. Henry insisted that Suffolk was set free but he was forced to leave the country. It didn’t help him. Suffolk, on his way to Calais, was hijacked and beheaded.

In June 1450 Kent revolted. This was Jack Cade’s rebellion. The name Mortimer was tangled up in proceedings. People were reminded that Henry IV, our Henry’s grandfather had usurped the throne from his cousin Richard II, and that actually the Duke of York through his mother Ann Mortimer had a much better claim to the throne – it helped that he had a reputation as an effective warrior.

After the rebellion was quelled, Henry VI turned to the Duke of Somerset for guidance. The peer was very unpopular and York, who was owed huge sums of money for his work in France, felt excluded from his rightful role in government. It didn’t help that Somerset used resources in France that might have enabled York to maintain his garrisons. He returned to England from France with an army. On this occasion Henry VI had a larger and better-led army. The enmity that York felt towards Somerset and Margaret of Anjou would become progressively more bitter as did the in-fighting between the various factions which sought to gain power through the king or his wife. However, this is not a post about the Wars of the Roses.

One of Henry VI’s chaplains wrote that the king was a simple man, incapable of lying. This was not necessarily the best news for the English. Medieval kings needed guile and they needed to be strong. Henry was aware of this and perhaps it was why he chose the advisors he did. He appointed bishops, often men he knew personally and who had reputations as theologians; he administered the law diligently. He spent much of his year on progress dispensing justice.

He was also an intensely pious man. On state occasions he wore a hair shirt. Part of the role of Eton was that it should be a chantry for priests to say Masses for his soul. His end of the deal was to provide the foundation and the money to educate poor boys.

Unfortunately for Henry being a likeable man wasn’t going to help rule a country riven by faction and suffering from a dearth of ready cash due to the on-going problems in France which became much worse. At Clarendon, August 1453, Henry VI received news that his army had been defeated in Gascony. The king fell into a coma where he remained until Christmas 1454, missing his son’s birth in the process.

Leaving aside the various tooings and froings of the Wars of the Roses the Battle of Towton on 29th March 1461 was the bloodiest battle fought on English soil if the figures are correct. Henry’s men fought to the death and when the remaining men finally broke and fled they were slaughtered on the road. Those who were captured faced execution. The king and his immediate family fled to Scotland. In payment Berwick was ordered to surrender itself to the Scots. Lancastrian forces began to take over key fortifications in Northumberland but in May 1464 Henry was almost caught following Lancastrian defeat at the Battle of Hexham. By that time Margaret of Anjou and Prince Edward were in France.

Henry spent almost a year on the run hiding in the hills and moors of Westmorland and Lancashire. We know that he found a welcome at Muncaster Castle. But in June 1465 he was betrayed and taken south to London and the Tower where someone tried to assassinate him but where he was able to spend time in prayer and contemplation.

The Earl of Warwick – the Kingmaker had expected that King Edward IV would be extremely grateful for being given a crown. Edward made a bit of a fool of Warwick who was trying to arrange an advantageous foreign match by secretly marrying the widowed and impoverished Elizabeth Woodville, then proceeding to shower all kinds of goodies on her family. Warwick was not amused.

On the 6th October 1470 Henry VI discovered that he was king again on the say so of the Kingmaker who promptly married his youngest daughter off to Prince Edward having already married his oldest daughter off to Edward’s younger brother, the Duke of Buckingham (possibly known as having your cake and eating it.) After the service in St Paul’s, where he was re-crowned, Henry was rarely seen in public.

DSC_0049-47In March 1471 Edward returned and Henry was led by the hand through the streets of London by Bishop Neville in a bid to raise London’s loyal support. Edward swiftly took London, secured Henry and took him with him to Tewkesbury. After the Yorkist victory which saw the death of Henry’s son, Prince Edward, Henry was returned swiftly to the Tower where the Edward claimed he died of melancholy but in reality where the pious, scholarly, likeable and weary man was murdered by the Yorkists. He was forty-nine years old and had been on a troubled throne for thirty-nine years.

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Eleanor Cobham – duchess, witch, convicted traitor.

eleanorcobhamEleanor Cobham should not have become a duchess; she certainly shouldn’t have been the first lady in Henry VI’s court. She didn’t have the right bloodlines.

 

She was the daughter of Sir Reginald Cobham of Sterborough but was fortunate that she found a place in the household of Jacqueline, Countess of Hainault as a lady-in-waiting. Jacqueline had fled her husband John, Duke of Brabant – so a bit of a wayward woman by medieval standards. As it turned out young Eleanor had her own fair share of waywardness that would take her all the way to the top of English society before she crashed from grace on a charge of witchcraft and treason.

Of course this all has a back story attached to it.  Henry V, the English king died from dysentery contracted during the Hundred Years War. He left a son, Henry VI, as his successor – unfortunately young Henry was still in swaddling clothes. Henry V’s brother, John, Duke of Bedford, governed France as regent, while his youngest brother, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, was named protector of England during the young king’s minority. Henry’s two brothers did not get on. In fact if John said it was day, Humphrey would probably have declared it to be night.

Jacqueline was a Countess without a country. She wanted help recovering Hainault from her husband. If that wasn’t enough of a challenge she also sought to recover Holland and Zeeland from her uncle, John of Bavaria. Duke Humphrey, perhaps because his brother was making a marriage with the Burgundians, married Jacqueline. This rather rained on John, Duke of Bedford’s carefully negotiated treaty with the Burgundians and caused some dissent between the new allies because Philip of Burgundy had his own eyes on Hainault.

 

In October 1424, the Duke Humphrey and his bride landed at Calais. Eleanor Cobham went with them. It was a disaster. Philip of Burgundy was amore popular ruler than Humphrey with the good people of Hainault. So, he did what all sensible men do in an emergency, he deserted his wife and returned home – leaving Jacqueline to be captured by Philip of Burgundy.

 

Eleanor having no desire to be mired in Jacqueline’s disaster took herself home as well. It wasn’t long before the former lady-in-waiting became Humphrey’s mistress. Gossip soon whispered that Eleanor had inveigled Humphrey into her snare with the help of a witch called Margery Journemayne. The gossip must have buzzed when the duke and his mistress were married. Stow reported that a group of women sent a letter to Humphrey pointing out that it wasn’t very honourable of him to leave poor Jacqueline as a prisoner in the hands of the Duke of Burgundy or for him to carry on in public with Eleanor.

 

Whatever nobility wives thought of Eleanor she was now a duchess and in 1440 Henry VI made her a Lady of the Garter.

In September 1435, John, Duke of Bedford died. Humphrey was now heir to the throne – the thought of being king seems to have gone to both Humphrey and Eleanor’s heads. Eleanor had gone from being the daughter of a knight to the first lady in the land. The crown was a heartbeat away. The trouble was that Eleanor was not particularly gracious in her new role. One chronicler wrote that she showed off “her pride and her position by riding through the streets of London, glitteringly dressed and suitably escorted by men of noble birth.”   So clearly tact and diplomacy were not high on her list of skill sets.

 

Duke Humphrey was university educated. He loved books. In his collection was one on astrology. Eleanor appears to have had an interest in the topic as well because in June 1441, Eleanor, having dined at Cheapside was informed that three members of her household had been arrested on charges of conspiring against the king. The suspects implicated Eleanor – as must have been the intention all along. Eleanor seeing which way the wind was blowing took herself off to Westminster and into sanctuary.

 

Eleanor was told to go to Leeds Castle but pretended that she was too ill to go. It was to no avail. She faced trial and admitted that she had turned to witchcraft to get a child with Humphrey and to having the future of Henry VI told. Humphrey remained silent on the matter. He made no move to defend his wife but once she was found guilty his political life was as good as over. Following the trial Humphrey and Eleanor were forcible divorced and Eleanor made to do public penance which was, all things considered, a narrow escape – poor Margery Journemayne was burned at the stake as a witch in Smithfield.

From London, at the beginning of 1442, Eleanor was sent to Cheshire; via Kenilworth and from there to the Isle of Man – a duchess no more.

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John of Lancaster, First Duke of Bedford

john of lancasterJohn of Lancaster,the man with the pudding basin haircut and rather sumptuous gown on his knees in prayer, was the third surviving son of King Henry IV and his first wife Mary Bohun. He was born in 1389.  His mother died when he was just five.

He is better known in history as the First Duke of Bedford. And he is famous, or perhaps infamous, for having Joan of Arc burnt at the stake for witchcraft.  As a mere girl she shouldn’t have been wearing trousers and she certainly shouldn’t have been leading French armies that thrashed English armies.

John’s eldest brother was Henry of Monmouth who went on to become King Henry V after a dissolute youth causing his father Henry IV despair (refer to Shakespeare Henry IV Part One and Part Two for a full litany of drinking, gambling and womanising along with princely reformation).  In any event Henry of Monmouth shook boorish habits from him as soon as he became king and went off to do what medieval English nobility expected of their monarchs – he went to war with someone, gained victory and land.

Henry IV’s second son was called Thomas but he was killed in 1421 at the Battle of Bauge in France. John was the third son and he was followed by Humphrey.  Much of the period of Henry VI’s minority is filled with the political machinations of John and Humphrey who was created Duke of Gloucester and Earl of Pembroke. Each of the brothers wanted more power than the other. Henry V had relied upon John when he was away fighting to rule in his absence.  He took the reigns of power for his brother three times in total.  However it fell to John to continue the English campaign in France despite the fact that he had been named Regent.  This left Humphrey at home.  He became the Lord Protector during John’s long absences in France.

Not that this stopped Humphrey from dabbling in politics in an attempt to destabilize John’s alliances with other European magnates. There was also the small matter of Humphrey antagonizing the next most important man in the kingdom during Henry VI’s minority – Henry Beaufort who was the Bishop of Lincoln, a key figure on the regency council and the half-uncle of Henry IV’s children. (Henry IV’s parents were John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster while Henry Beaufort’s parents were John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford).

 

John’s time in France had been successful – the French might not have been his greatest admirers given his severe administration techniques- until about 1427 at which point a quiet country girl with a dodgy hair cut, a large sword and angels telling her what to do rather rained on his parade. Her name was Joan of Arc.  He was forced to raise the siege of Orleans in 1429 on account of the peasant girl. Joan’s army took the Loire Valley and defeated the English after which she had King Charles VII of France crowned at Rheims which was against the treaty that the French had agreed to after Agincourt which saw King Henry V marry Katherine of Valois.  The French felt there was a world of difference between a mature victorious king and a baby boy – they perhaps had a point given the chaos that often resulted in England when a child was on the throne.

In any event it didn’t do Joan much good.  She was burned for witchcraft in 1431 – the French king who owed her his crown didn’t lift a finger to help her.  John had his young nephew crowned King of France in Paris so that for a little while at least there were technically two kings of France at the same time, though it rather depended where you were as to which one you recognised in public.

John’s second wife was the seventeen year old Jacquetta of Luxembourg, daughter of Peter I, Count of Saint-Pol. She caused a scandal after John’s death by marrying a mere knight called Richard Woodville.  She went on to have sixteen children and the knight became the first Earl Rivers  for his services to Henry VI and his queen Margaret of Anjou.  So when the Yorkists looked down their nose at Elizabeth Woodville, Jacquetta’s daughter and King Edward IV’s wife, they were forgetting that she was the grand-daughter of a Count and that her mother had once been at the heart of the royal court – albeit a Lancastrian one.

John, as well as being a soldier and a politician, was also a scholar. He founded the University of Caen and had a collection of important religious manuscripts, many of which survive today including The Bedford Hours which is held by the British Library. John’s first wife Anne of Burgundy gave the book to young Henry VI for Christmas in 1430 (I wonder how the grandchildren would react to a beautifully hand painted devotional text rather than the usual jigsaws, board games and selected Disney dvds).

John’s died at Rouen in 1435 during negations with the Burgundians who were breaking their alliance with the English to make a separate peace with the French.  His demise further weakened the stability of the English court where opposing and increasingly vociferous factions now had no one sufficiently intimidating to hold them in check.  The Plantagenet family were moving ever closer to implosion.

 

 

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