Tag Archives: Earl of March

Edward Courtney, Earl of Devon

edward courtney.jpgEdward Courtney was the only surviving son of the Marquess of Exeter born in 1526.
More significant  was the fact that he was the great-grandson of Edward IV.   Katherine, the sixth of Edward and Elizabeth Woodville’s children to survive babyhood, was married off to Sir William Courtney a loyal Lancastrian in the aftermath of Bosworth which must have been a bit of a comedown from an earlier proposal for her to marry either a Scottish or a Spanish prince but better by far than scuttling around in the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey.  Unfortunately for poor old William he somehow became inveigled into a conspiracy to put Edmund de La Pole on the throne in 1502 and spent the rest of Henry VII’s reign in custody – it’s fairly safe to say that the Courtneys were framed.
Katherine Courtney of York.jpgWhen Henry VIII came to the throne he had his uncle by marriage released from prison but persuaded his Aunt Katherine to renounce her claim to the earldom of March- and the Mortimer inheritance which caused so much mayhem during the Wars of the Roses- and following the death of William in 1511, Katherine took a vow of chastity.  This seemed to go down well with Bluff King Hal who gave her the rights to the income from the Courtney lands during her life time, drew her son Henry into the inner court circle and made her godmother to the Princess Mary in 1516. The problem so far as her grandson Edward would be concerned would be that little drop of Plantagenet blood.  It had been alright for Katherine to sign herself ‘the excellent Princess Katherine, Countess of Devon, daughter, sister and aunt of kings’ (Westcott) but royalty wasn’t such a good thing to have in one’s bloodstream during the mid-Tudor crisis and especially not if one fancied wearing a crown rather than a coronet.
Edward Courtney looked all set for a charmed life – he was a cousin of the Tudors and his grandmother had been a respected member of the inner family circle.  He’d spent time in the household of Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk – presumably to learn the art of being a gentleman.
Unfortunately for Edward his father Henry Courtney  came up with the wonderful wheeze of marrying young Edward off to the Princess Mary – you’d have thought he’d have learned from his own father’s experiences.   In addition, Henry’s second wife (and mother of Edward) Gertrude Blount was a daughter of Baron Mountjoy who had served Katherine of Aragon since her arrival in England – Blount, a Derbyshire man  and Katherine’s chamberlain- had a bit of a torrid time of it during the 1530s but Gertrude remained unswervingly loyal to Katherine – and yes, Gertrude was related to Bessie Blount (Henry VIII’s mistress and mother of Henry Fitzroy) but this isn’t the post for that particular amble around Tudor family trees. The Mountjoy clan and the Courtneys were identified as members of the Aragonese faction as supporters of Katherine were called. Henry  Courtney was not only related to the Poles and the Nevilles but on good terms with them – they, being Catholic, were decidedly grumpy about the break with Rome. Put in a nutshell Courtney managed to get himself caught up in one of Thomas Cromwell’s snares in 1538 to keep anyone with a claim to the throne under lock and key- the planned match between Edward and Mary being the icing on the cake so far as Cromwell’s evidence was concerned, so as to speak.
In November 1538 Gertrude, Henry and twelve-year-old Edward found themselves in the Tower.  Henry was executed at the beginning of December and Edward remained a prisoner for the next fifteen years. Henry paid for his distant cousin’s food and education. Upon Henry VIII’s death the regency council and the duke of Somerset decided that an adult male with Plantagenet blood was better in the Tower than out of it – so there he remained, although he now had the company of Bishop Gardiner.  The pair took something of a shine to one another.  Edward referred to the bishop as “father” and Edward became Gardiner’s protégée.
In August 1553 Princess Mary fresh from Framlingham arrived in London to claim her throne from Lady Jane Grey.  A month later Edward was created earl of Devon and Reginald Pole described him as the “Flower of English Nobility” on account of his learning –  let’s face it there wasn’t much else for him to do in the Tower to while away the hours other than read, translate various ancient works and play the lute.
On 1 October 1553 Courtney took his place in Mary’s court by bearing the sword of state at her coronation.
Edward now spent considerable amounts of time running around London with the wrong kind of women – but I don’t suppose he’d had much opportunity for drunkenness and debauchery whilst in custody. Queen Mary was not impressed.
Meanwhile Mary was determined to marry into the family of Charles V.  It had been her mother’s wish and she refused to consider any other options – no matter what anyone else might say on the matter. The thought of Philip II of Spain made quite a lot of English gentlemen feel a little nauseous. Gardiner did try and suggest Courtney as a match but it was no go.  Instead, Sir Thomas Wyatt and Sir Peter Carew came up with the idea of Courtney marrying the Princess Elizabeth – voila Protestant, English – Tudor/Plantagenet- what more could one wish for? Sir William Paget the Tudor administrator was keen on the match as well.  Obviously Gardiner wasn’t so keen on the idea – him being very catholic and everything but Courtney whose freedom seems to have done strange things to his personality and common sense thought it was a terrific plan, as did the recently freed duke of Suffolk Henry Grey, father of Lady Jane Grey.
The plan for the regions to rise up did not go well.  The council found out that there was rebellion in the air and various parties ran around in ever decreasing circles until they were rounded up and placed under arrest – the only exception was in Kent where Wyatt’s rebels advanced upon London and caused quite a lot of panic. Henry Grey scarpered to the Midlands where he met with indifference or hostility whilst Gardiner slapped Courtney metaphorically around in order to find out exactly what he knew.  Gardiner had no intention of languishing in the Tower or loosing his head although it looks as though Gardiner did try and keep Courtney out of trouble no matter what the rest of the Privy Council and the now very influential Spanish Ambassador had to say on the subject.
Ultimately Wyatt’s Rebellion foundered and Edward Courtney found himself back in the Tower once more scratching his head and looking vaguely bewildered. Unfortunately for Courtney, Wyatt had been tortured and had incriminated the earl in the hope, it is believed,  of securing a pardon.  The two men would meet on the 11 April 1554 when Wyatt went to the block and is said to have begged Courtney’s pardon. Wyatt made it quite clear before his execution that neither Courtney nor Elizabeth had been involved in his rebellion. Henry Grey went to the block and so too did Lady Jane Grey and her husband Guildford Dudley who had no part in the plot and were not intended to benefit from the plot – it was an opportunity to tidy up loose ends. But not as it turned out to get rid of Courtney and Elizabeth.
At the end of May 1554 Courtney was sent to Fotheringhay where he stayed for a year. Then he took a journey, presumably for the benefit of his health to Brussels and from there to Venice.  Unfortunately the Spanish took a dim view of the earl and were planning to have him assassinated – the assassin changed sides in Venice thus saving Courtney from an untimely end.
It does appear that Courtney couldn’t help but dabble in treason as the moment he arrived in Italy he hooked up with Sir Henry Dudley, one of Northumberland’s sons, and between them they came up with a harebrained plan to murder Mary  and replace her with Elizabeth – with Courtney as royal spouse. There was even talk of a possible match to Mary Queen of Scots  thanks to Henri II of France.
On the 18 September 1556 Edward Courtney died in Padua where he had enrolled as a student. There were rumours of poison but in reality he’d caught a chill whilst out hawking. A letter sent to Queen Mary by Peter Vannes provides an account of events, “for his Honest recreation… to see his hawks fly upon a wasted ground, without any houses” was caught “in a great tempest of wind and rain” Rather than leave his sport he’d refused to get changed out of his wet clothes and by the end of the week “entered into a continue hot ague, sometimes more vehement than at another… so that his tongue had so stopped his mouth, and his teeth so clove together” that he couldn’t take the Sacrament at the end.
Inevitably with an unexpected death in a time of intrigue and treason there are always conspiracy theories. Poisoning is a favourite so far as Courtney is concerned but I have also read that he may have died of syphilis – that other perennial Tudor exit strategy. The earldom of Devon was extinct  as there were no more male sprigs. Four girls inherited his estates but not the title. There was also one less contender for the throne.
Ian W. Archer, ‘Courtenay, Edward, first earl of Devon (1526–1556)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/6449, accessed 17 March 2017]
Margaret R. Westcott, ‘Katherine, countess of Devon (1479–1527)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/70277, accessed 17 March 2017]

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Filed under Sixteenth Century, The Tudors

Mortimer’s Cross

sun-in-splendourIn the aftermath of Wakefield on December 30 1460, the Lancastrians must have believed that their way to London, reclamation of Henry VI and the crown was only a matter of time.  Their march south would lead them back to St Albans.  A second battle would be fought and they would vanquish the Yorkists but they never gained access to London.  More on that anon.

Edward, Richard of York’s son, known until this point as the Earl of March heard about his father’s and his brother’s deaths whilst he was raising troops on the Welsh border near Ludlow.

On 2nd February a parhelion was seen in the sky.  Essentially a parhelion is what appears in the sky when light refracts off ice crystals high in the sky.  The refracting light creates an illusion – in this instance of three suns.

It could have been a disaster for eighteen-year-old Edward.  His men were superstitious.  They could easily have read the signs in the sky as an omen of disaster.  Instead, Edward declared that “the sun in splendour” was a sign that the Almighty favoured his cause.  The English Chronicle details Edward’s motivational speech on the topic:

The noble erle Edward thaym comforted and sayde, “Beethe of good comfort, and dredethe not; thys ys a good sygne, for these iij sonys betoken the Fader, the Sone, and the Holy Gost, and therefore late vs haue a good harte, and in the name of Almyghtye God go we agayns oure enemyes.

 

Aside from a quick mind and a way with words Edward also had geography on his side.  He knew the area and he was already in position – so he got to choose where he met with the Lancastrians led by Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke and James Butler, Earl of Wiltshire and of Ormond whose army moved to intercept young Edward.  He selected a position with a river on his left flank and a steeply wooded slope on his right.  This meant that he could not be outflanked.

It should be noted that James Butler, an Irish noble, had plenty of Irish soldiers or kerns amongst his troops.  This was an added incentive for the Yorkists.  Locally recruited their wives, mothers, daughters, sisters and sweethearts would have been in their minds.  The Sack of Ludlow in 1459 must have been in everyone’s minds.

The English Chronicle and William of Worcester are the key sources for what happened at Mortimer’s Cross  on February 3rd and they aren’t what you might describe as military historians and neither do they always agree.

Essentially medieval battles usually began in a flurry of arrows. There would have been a charge and hand to hand fighting.  Edward, taking advantage of his height, fought with a pole-axe.

Ultimately the Lancastrians broke.  It’ said that James Butler was one of the first to flee the field. He has a bit of a reputation for leaving the party before it’s over during the Wars of the Roses, though oddly Jasper Tudor who also presumably did a runner leaving his elderly father on the battle field, doesn’t suffer from the same reputation.

Gregory’s Chronicle gives an account of the dignity with which Owen Tudor met his end.  Unable to believe that he was to be executed until his collar was torn from his doublet he died, it is said, thinking of Katherine of Valois.  Edward and his men left Owen’s head at the market cross in Hereford where a “madwoman” washed it and surrounded it with lit candles.  Owen was paying for the execution by Lord Clifford of Edward’s brother Edmund, Earl of Rutland a month earlier at Wakefield.

 

 

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Filed under February, Fifteenth Century, On this day..., The Plantagenets

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.

DSCF1560

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.

IMG_5987 - Version 2

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Filed under Church Architecture, Fifteenth Century, Kings of England, Wars of the Roses

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