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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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Filed under Anglo-Scottish history, Fourteenth Century, The Plantagenets

John Dudley, Lord Lisle, earl of Warwick, duke of Northumberland…traitor. Part one: rise to power

John_Dudley_(Knole,_Kent).jpgJohn Dudley, son of an executed traitor suffered the same fate as his father in 1554 when he failed to place his daughter-in-law Lady Jane Grey on the throne. He’d risen to the highest place in the country and become the first non-royal duke in the land.

John’s father Edmund was one of Henry VII’s key administrators and tax collectors.  So when John was born in 1504 it looked as thought the family was on the rise.  Five years later John’s world came crashing down when his father along with Richard Empson became Henry VIII’s sacrificial offerings to the people of England.  On the 17th August 1510 having been arrested and tried for treason the chief instruments of Henry VII’s hated financial policies were executed.

empson-and-dudley-with-king-henry-vii

The Duke of Rutland Collection- Empson and Dudley with King Henry VII

John’s mother Elizabeth, (nee Grey- the niece of Elizabeth Woodville through Woodville’s first marriage) remarried the following year.  Her new husband was Arthur Plantagenet who became Lord Lisle as a consequence.  Arthur has appeared on the History Jar before. He was an illegitimate son of Edward IV who lived in Elizabeth of York’s household and appears to have been raised as a companion to young Prince Henry. Edmund Dudley’s lands were handed over to Arthur. The year after that the taint of treason was removed from young John when Edmund’s attainder for treason was erased – so presumably some lands went back to John but history’s account books have been slightly blurred round the edges. This together with Dudley’s connections meant that he was all set for a career at court under the guardianship of Lord Guildford who promptly married John off to his own daughter Jane. John Dudley would not acquire the title of Lord Lisle until the death of his step-father who by that time would have been accused of treason and imprisoned himself.

Dudley surfaces on the margins of events though out the period and by 1532 had aligned himself with Thomas Cromwell. He was not terribly important but he was gaining land around the country and no one could dispute his loyalty to the king. He begins to come to the fore in 1541 when he worked with Archbishop Cranmer to find out exactly what Katherine Howard had been up to and with whom.

From this point onwards Lord Lisle can be seen rising in prominence.  He even became warden of the Scottish marches – an all encompassing appointment along the English side of the border.  It was Dudley who had to deal with the aftermath of the Battle of Solway Moss and the quarrelling Scottish council as well as having to communicate that his master wished for the baby queen of Scots to marry Prince Edward. By 1544 his job had changed and rather than being a politician in soldiers clothing he’d become an admiral, a post that he continued to hold until the ascent of King Edward VI.

He was actually the admiral in charge of Henry VIII’s navy when the flagship the Mary Rose somewhat embarrassingly sank. His role as politician, admiral and diplomat led to him rising in Henry’s estimation so that by the time Henry made his will it could be said of Dudley that he was in the right place at the right time. He also benefited from Henry’s will to the tune of £500.  He was also of the reforming religious persuasion.  It probably also helped that not only had he once leant Sir Edward Seymour, the oldest of the new king’s uncles, money but he was also very good friends with the man who now styled himself Lord Protector.

edward-sm

John now found himself promoted to Lord Chamberlain and the Earl of Warwick whilst Sir Edward Seymour not content with being Lord Protector also became the Duke of Somerset. This obviously meant that he had to hand in his admiral’s hat which was, in turn, dished out to Edward VI’s other uncle Sir Thomas Seymour – who wasn’t particularly grateful for the role but seems to have got his own back by marrying the dowager queen Katherine Parr having asked first of all to marry Princess Mary and when that request was turned down the Princess Elizabeth.

At this stage in proceedings Edward Seymour and John Dudley were the best of friends. They even went on a jolly little outing to Scotland together, along with an army, when Somerset decided to try and force the Scots into accepting a marriage between Mary Queen of Scots and King Edward. The reality was that Seymour’s foreign policy in regards to the Scottish borders was untenable. Men and fortifications required money that England did not have.  Even worse the french who had been quiet at the on-set of Edward’s reign now acquired a young and belligerent king in the form of Henri II. Somerset became the bone between two dogs as he sought to control his extended northern borders and hang on to England’s continental lands in the form of Calais and Guines.

At home things weren’t too brilliant for Somerset either. His brother was found guilty of treason  and executed having spent more time canoodling with Princess Elizabeth than he ought and then hatching a plot to remove the king from his brother’s clutches which ended in him shooting the king’s favourite dog.   Currency values continued to plummet. Inflation rocketed and not everyone was terribly happy about Cranmer’s reforms to the Church which now became decidedly protestant in tone. In the months that followed his brother’s execution Somerset grew grumpy and autocratic.  He became suspicious of everyone and refused to listen to the council.   Dudley was conveniently on the margins of all of this having been given the Welsh marches to govern.

In 1549 the country exploded into civil unrest.  In Cornwall the so-called Prayer Book Rebellion kicked off whilst in East Anglia the locals led by Robert Kett became rather rowdy on the subject of enclosure. Whatever else might be said of Somerset he did listen to the Commons and he ordered that common land that had been fenced off should be removed.  Unfortunately this resulted in riots across the region as locals took the removal of hedges and fences in to their own hands.  Ultimately Norwich, the second city in England at the time, found itself under siege.  Somerset was unable to quell the trouble and this did not go down well with the nobility – who understandably felt a bit nervous about the hoi polloi running around with sharp implements.

Sir William Parr had been sent off with a very small army to see Kett and his happy band off but he didn’t have enough men to convince them to leave.  It was Dudley who put the East Anglians firmly in their place by killing some 2000 of them but the aftermath was far less bloodthirsty than might have been expected Would now be a good time to mention that Kett was John Dudley’s tenant? Not that it saved him from being found guilty and hanged from the castle walls in Norwich.  He had been offered clemency if only he would ask for a pardon but Kett insisted that he had nothing to ask pardon for.

The thing was that Dudley was fed up with Somerset. He didn’t disband his army and he found himself buddying up with the catholic Earls of Arundel and Southampton. There were many conversations in darkened corners.  The privy council who had been marginalised by Somerset came on board with the idea that Somerset’s day was done.

Somerset found out what was going on and issued a proclamation asking the ordinary people to defend the young king – and the Lord Protector- against a vile plot.  This wasn’t terribly clever as once again the “Good Duke” was seen to be favouring the unwashed masses rather than the great and the good. Then Somerset moved Edward from Hampton Court to Windsor.  It should also be added at this point that Uncle Edward Seymour wasn’t the king’s favourite uncle – Seymour kept his royal nephew short of cash, isolated an uninvolved in governing the realm despite the letters that Edward sent on various subjects.

In mid October 1549 Seymour gave up his protectorship, handed over the king and awaited arrest. At that time it was the Earl of Southampton, Thomas Wriothesley “call me Risley” who seemed to be in charge.  Wriothesley who’d learned politics from the masterly hands of Wolsey and Cromwell probably thought that his moment had come. It wasn’t.

By the end of November Somerset had been accused of treachery and in the old Catholic V Protestant scramble for power Dudley tarred with the same brush. Dudley, having been warned about what was on the cards, made an impassioned speech which probably saved Somerset’s life as well as his own political career. Historians still can’t work out whether there really was a plot by Southampton and other religious conservatives or whether Dudley simply made one appear in a clever ruse to strengthen his own position on the council because by February 1550 Dudley was in charge and his title was about to change…Machiavellian or what?

 

 

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Adela of Louvain

tumblr_nuxhb1yIrc1txs5z9o1_250After the White Ship sank taking with it Henry I’s only legitimate son he remarried in order to beget another male heir pronto.  At the time he was fifty-three.  His new bride Adela of Louvain was eighteen and known as the Fair Maid of Brabant.  It also ought to be added that he may not just have married out of the duty of providing his realm with a male heir as there is evidence that negotiations were underway before the tragedy of the White Ship.

The young bride arrived in England in 1121 and there was immediately a rumpus about who was going to crown her. The royal pair married in Windsor and the Bishop of Salisbury claimed the right as Windsor was within his diocese.  The Archbishop of Canterbury was having none of it.  A council was summoned to debate the matter. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Ralph d’Escures, got the job of marrying them. Unfortunately he was somewhat frail so Henry asked the Archbishop of Salisbury if he’d officiate the following day at Adela’s coronation.  It is recorded that the following day the royal couple were half way through the ceremony when the Archbishop of Canterbury rocked up, stopped the service, removed Henry’s crown from his head and put it back on again – presumably with as much force as he could manage.  Unfortunately for Ralph all that stomping around had proved too much for him and he could not complete the service so he asked the Bishop of Winchester to continue – no doubt any bishop was better than Salisbury in his mind.

After that introduction to royal life the couple settled down to doing what Norman monarchs did – ruling.  Unlike Matilda, Henry’s first wife, Adela took no part in the running of the country even though Henry appears to have travelled everywhere with her.  She is recorded as being pious and founding religious houses.  She is also said to have encouraged learning.  Her principle role was to provide an heir.  They were married fifteen years but no children were born of the marriage.

Henry died in 1135 and Adela took herself off to the nunnery at Wilton where she remained for at least a year until  William D’Albini proposed, and she accepted.  As a queen she might have perhaps expected a better match even though it appeared that she was barren but times were difficult and who knows – perhaps she actually liked him.  There was also the small matter of Arundel Castle to take into consideration. It had been confiscated by the Crown in 1102.  On Henry’s death it lay in the hands of Adela. William D’Albini was a royal steward, an important member of the king’s household, and loyal to the new king Stephen who’d taken the crown despite the fact that Henry I had forced all his nobles to agreeing to accept his other legitimate heir the Empress Matilda.

The newly weds must have come under something of a strain what with William trying to further his position in the court of Stephen and his new wife being friends with her step-daughter.  When Matilda came to England in 1139 she made for Arundel – where Adela was.  It didn’t do William any harm as ultimately Stephen created him the Earl of Arundel for his loyalty. Adela’s still hold the earldom.

Adela and William D’Albini had seven children between 1139 and 1148 – which must have come as something of a surprise given her first marriage.  Her descendants include Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard – they should perhaps have taken a lesson from their ancestress’s strategies for being a successful queen.  Eventually Adela took herself off to  Afflingham Nunnery in Brabant where she died in 1151.

Adela’s grandson, another William D’Albini, was one of the twenty-five signatories to the Magna Carta guaranteeing that the charter would be kept.  It must have been a sad moment for King John as D’Albini had been one of the royal favourites but by 1215 was the commander for the defence of Rochester Castle against the king.  It was on his order the sick and the weak were sent from the castle during the siege.  Rather than sending them on their way John ordered that their hands and feet be cut off.  When the castle finally fell, John was so angry that he wanted all the nobility involved to be hanged.  Fortunately for William he was talked out of this rather unchivalrous action but was to spend rather a lot of time admiring the decor of Corfe Castle as a consequence.

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Henry Bolingbroke

Henry IVYoung Henry Bolingbroke was just eleven years old when he carried the ceremonial sword at his cousin Richard II’s coronation. The king was a year younger than Henry.

Henry, named after one of his father’s (John of Gaunt) Lincolnshire castles was also known as Henry of Lancaster. His mother was Blanche of Lancaster and as his father’s heir the title is one that makes sense. However, just to confused things he was also created the Earl of Derby and upon his marriage to Mary Bohun he was created Earl of Hereford – oh yes, then he deposed his cousin and became known as King Henry IV.

 

Henry’s variety of names is confusing enough but his familial relations look like spaghetti rather than a tree. Henry’s grandfather was King Edward III, his father John of Gaunt and his mother Blanche of Lancaster. So, far so good. However, when Henry married Mary Bohun, who was just eleven at the time and remained at home with her widowed mother after the wedding, Henry’s aunt became his sister-in-law! Edward III’s youngest son Thomas of Woodstock was already married to Mary’s older sister Eleanor. They were the co-heiresses of the Earl of Hereford. Henry’s mother-in-law was the widow of the earl and the daughter of Richard FitzAlan third Earl of Arundel.

 

As Richard II grew to manhood he became convinced about the authority of kings. It was this king who introduced the terms ‘Majesty’ and ‘Highness’. It was this king who demanded that anyone entering his presence should bow three times before they approached him. This high handed attitude, not to mention failure to go to war with France, didn’t win him friends within his family. Nor did his preference for ‘new men’ such as his chancellor Michael de La Pole help matters very much.

 

Inevitably there were plots. Eventually in 1387 the Lords Appellant, as they became known, forced Richard to tow the line. He spent some time in the Tower – possibly on the naughty step. Amongst the Lords Appellant were Thomas of Woodstock (Henry’s uncle and brother-in-law) and Richard Fitzalan, the fourth Earl of Arundel (Henry’s uncle-in-law), Thomas Beauchamp (Earl of Warwick), Thomas Mowbray (Earl of Nottingham) and Henry himself.

 

Of course, Richard didn’t take kindly to being told what to do by the nobility even if he was related to most of them. Eventually he regained his power and had Thomas of Woodstock sent to Calais where he ordered his royal uncle to be murdered. The man who organized this was another of Thomas’s nephews ….it’s always nice to see a happy extended family, isn’t it?

Henry’s uncle-in-law, Arundel, was given a show trial and executed. The Earl of Warwick must have heaved a huge sigh of relief when he found himself on a slow boat to the Isle of Man with instructions not to come back. The king seized the estates of all three of these Lords Appellent. Henry and Mowbray seemed, at least for the time being, to have escaped Richard’s wrath.

 

However, Mowbray suggested that the king would do to him and Henry what he’d done to the other three lords. The conversation was not a particularly private one and inevitably word got back to the king that Mowbray was plotting again. Henry denounced Mowbray before he could be accused of being involved.  He went on to challenge Mowbray to trial by combat. The two men were to have met at Coventry on the 16th September 1398. They were just about to attack one another when Richard banned the combat and exiled its combatants: Mowbray for life, Henry for ten years – demonstrating that Mowbray had been right all along.

 

Then John of Gaunt died. Richard changed Henry’s exile to life and claimed Lancaster’s estates as his own.

 

Henry landed at Ravenspur in July 1399. Men flocked to his banner. Richard, who was in Ireland at the time, hurried to meet his cousin but by the time he reached Conway Castle it was evident that Richard had lost his kingdom to his cousin.

 

Henry Bolingbroke became Henry IV by popular acclaim. If Richard’s abdication was real rather than forced – and the deposed king was to die very soon afterwards in Pontefract Castle.  The next rightful heir was eight-year-old Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March- and no one wanted another child on the throne.   Henry however, did not claim his right to rule exclusively from his grandfather. He claimed his right to rule through his mother Blanche of Lancaster. Blanche was descended from Edmund Crouchback, the second surviving son of Henry III. Henry IV allowed it to be known that rather than being the second born, Edmund Crouchback was actually the first born child but had been set aside in favour of his brother Edward (King Edward I) on account of his ‘crouchback’.   Given that crouchback meant cross-back it was probably a reference to his crusading zeal rather than any physical deformity.

 

Henry did not have a peaceful reign. Owen Glendower rose with the Welsh in rebellion and the Earl of Northumberland joined in with his son ‘Hotspur’. Hotspur was the husband of Ann Mortimer and therefore uncle to Edmund Mortimer (the child with a better claim to the throne than Henry). It would be nice to think that he was outraged that his nephews Edmund and Roger Mortimer were being imprisoned simply because of their ancestry but it is much more likely that he, together with his father Northumberland, was furious that they hadn’t received what they perceived to be their dues for supporting Henry when he arrived at Ravenspur. They were also expected to guard the border with Scotland more efficiently now that Henry was on the throne.

 

In any event, Henry had to quell rebellions, assassination attempts, deal with financial difficulties, his own heir’s apparent waywardness and his poor health. It was widely reported that he became a leper- he certainly suffered from an unpleasant skin disease of some description. He had difficulty walking and had a fit whilst praying in Westminster Abbey before dying on the 20 March 1413.

 

He left a warrior son to become King Henry V. Unfortunately for England, King Henry died when his own son by Katherine of Valois was an infant.

The Mortimers had not forgotten their claim to the throne (though Edmund and Roger died without children- their sister Ann had married and had children).  Their claim to the throne was  better than baby Henry VI’s. The stage was set for The Cousins War or as we know it, thanks to Sir Walter Scott, the Wars of the Roses – which strange though it may seem given that I’ve cantered through the reigns of both Richard II and his cousin Henry IV,  is what I’m warming up for with this post.

 

 

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Filed under Fifteenth Century, Kings of England, The Plantagenets, Wars of the Roses