Sir John Neville

ralphneville2earlSir John Neville, 1st Lord Neville was born in the first decade of the fifteenth century. His father, conveniently for memory, was John Neville and his grandfather was the first Earl of Westmorland.   John Neville senior had been the keeper of Roxburghe Castle and had been a warden of the West March – based in Carlisle. Lord Neville’s mother was Elizabeth Holland the daughter of the Earl of Kent – so ultimately descended from King Edward I. The reason for the Neville’s links with the royal family came from the fact that Ralph Neville, First Earl of Westmorland had been married twice. His second wife was Joan Beaufort – the only daughter of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt.

 

Aside from an introduction to the royal household for the relatively new member of the aristocracy the marriage to Joan Beaufort sewed discord in the Neville family. Ralph favoured his second crop of children rather than those by his first wife (Lady Margaret Stafford). John Neville and his son were descended from Margaret Stafford. John’s older brother Ralph became the Second Earl of Westmorland – but a rather impoverished one. It was Joan Beaufort’s family who got their hands on the money – which did not make for a very happy family at all -a fact that the Duke of York should have remembered as should his half uncle, the Earl of Salisbury (a son of Joan Beaufort, otherwise known as the side of the family that got the cash.)

Just as an aside, brother Ralph pictured at the start of this post, didn’t become actively involved in the Cousins war although his only son died at the First Battle of St Albans in 1455 which meant that it was John’s son Ralph (not the most imaginative family when it came to naming their off-spring) who eventually became the third Earl of Westmorland.

 

Anyway, back to the story – Richard, Duke of York and the Earl of Salisbury spent Christmas 1460 in Sandal Castle near Wakefield. It was slightly foolish as the castle was surrounded by Lancastrian loyalists but had Richard sat tight he might have been safe enough. In one version of events he and his men were running low on their supplies, in another version he accepted the terms offered by the Duke of Somerset, which offered peace throughout the festive season but Somerset reneged on his word. For whatever reason York found himself engaged in battle thinking that Sir John Neville would arrive to reinforce him.

 

Instead of coming to his half uncle and the duke’s aid Neville promptly changed sides and became a Lancastrian. His reward was to become Constable of Middleham Castle and Sheriff Hutton. Unfortunately Neville didn’t have long to enjoy his newfound favour. He was one of the Lancastrian commanders at the Battle of Ferrybridge but was killed the following day at Towton. King Edward IV had Sir John declared a traitor and his estate confiscated by act of attainder…another happy fifteenth century family story.

 

 

Lady Margaret Courtenay nee Beaufort

MargaretCourtenay_ColytonChurch_DevonThe prelude to the Wars of the Roses and the wars themselves are notable by the role of a number of ambitious and dynastically important women who even managed to get their portraits painted in an age when it wasn’t done to waste paint on the female of the species. There are other women though, wives, mothers and sisters who were part of the Plantagenet tangle but who remain largely in the shadows – leaving modern observers to wonder what they felt about the feuds and wars that saw their families at one another’s throats – and of course to wonder what they looked like. Lady Margaret Beaufort is one such  woman… not the mother of Henry Tudor – the aunt of the much more famous Lady Margaret Beaufort.

 

 

Our Lady Margaret Beaufort was born at the turn of the fifteenth century, the daughter of the First Earl of Somerset, John Beaufort. This means, that her paternal grandparents were John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford. Her mother was Margaret Holland, a daughter of the Earl of Kent – so descended from King Edward I through his second wife and the niece of King Richard II.

 

She married Thomas Courtenay the Fifth Earl of Devon in 1421.   Their son was Thomas Courtenay, the sixth Earl of Devon. He was executed in the aftermath of the Battle of Towton in April 1461 an attainted traitor. He was succeeded by his brother John who died in 1471.

 

Margaret’s husband contributing to the growing antoganism between the Houses of York and Lancaster during Richard, Duke of Lancaster’s first protectorate in 1453. He’d been conducting a feud with Lord Bonville which spread disorder through the southwest since he came of age.  As you might expect, the feud was to do with territory and position – both of which required patronage.   Despite his marriage to Margaret Beaufort he felt sidelined from his rightful position by Lord Bonville. Matters didn’t improve when Bonville married the Earl of Devon’s aunt nor indeed when Cardinal Beaufort died and the power at court transferred into the hands of the Duke of Suffolk (de la Pole) who Bonville looked to for support.

 

One thing led to another. The Earl of Devon, despite his marriage into the Beaufort, and therefore Lancaster clan – sidelined from the court party, found himself drawn ever closer to Richard, Duke of York who represented the opposition.   Ultimately the Earl of Devon spent some time considering the error of his ways in Wallingford Castle – no doubt his wife uttered the immortal words ‘I told you so’…

 

The  next problem for the Earl of Devon and his friendship with Richard of York was that Richard was drawn into an ever closer alliance with the Nevilles who in their own turn had their own alliances; one of which was with…you’ve guessed it – that pesky Lord Bonville. In fact Bonville’s son married one of Richard Neville’s (Earl of Salisbury) daughters.  I wonder if the Earl of Devon gnashed his teeth and wailed when he thought about the way that events in distant London conspired to set him at a disadvantage against his enemy who seemed to have a knack of making important friends.

 

On the eve of the First Battle of St Albans it was the Earl of Devon who, despite his increasing alienation from York, who carried the Duke’s letters for him and handed them to the king.

 

As the kingdom unraveled into civil war things in Devon weren’t going any better between the Earl of Devon and Lord Bonville. A man was murdered, the Earl’s son Thomas was implicated. It was a national scandal reported in the Paston Letters. The Earl found himself in the Tower, not because of the murder, but after a nasty  incident involving the citizens of Exeter. And that might have been that had it not been for Margaret of Anjou – one of those significant women of the Wars of the Roses- who became the Earl’s patroness; married his son and heir off to one of her own kinswomen, provided him with status and put Bonville in his place – ensuring that the earl was loyal to the Lancaster cause thereafter– something that Margaret Beaufort hadn’t been able to achieve during her marriage to the earl.

 

Margaret Beaufort’s husband died almost ten years after his wife at Abingdon Abbey in 1458 and was succeeded by his son who’d been cleared of the murder of Nicholas Radford.

 

It is thought that Margaret Courtenay nee Beaufort, Countess of Devon is buried in St Andrew’s Church Colyton. The effigy at the start of this blog was identified as belonging to Margaret by the Courtenay and Beaufort arms.  So although we don’t know what the lady thought about the feuding which lasted throughout her life time we can hazard a guess as to what she looked like.  Having said that, as you might expect, things aren’t quite as cut and dried as could be desired.  The Courtenay Monument, as it is known, was named for Margaret Courtenay, the daughter of Princess  Catherine,  daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, who married Sir William Courtenay, the tenth Earl of Devon  in 1495.  The earl may have regretted his liaison with a Plantagenet sprig when his brother-in-law a.k.a. Henry VII hustled him and his son off to the Tower of London.

 

 

 

Princess Joan of Kent

joan of kentJoan of Kent was the daughter of Prince Edmund of Woodstock, 1st Earl of Kent and his wife Margaret Wake; wife of the Black Prince and mother to King Richard II.  She is unusual in that on the death of her brother, the 3rd Earl of Kent and 4th Baron Wake, Joan inherited the titles in her own right.

She may well be named after her maternal grandmother who was Princess Joan, King John’s illegitimate daughter who married Llewelyn the Great of Gwynedd.  Just to add to the family tangle, Princess Joan was also cousin to Roger Mortimer, Earl of March.  And Roger Mortimer was the man who was Queen Isabella’s lover and the man responsible for the judicial execution of Joan of Kent’s father who had continued to be loyal to the deposed Edward II (Kent’s half brother).  Once the usurping Earl of March had been done away with and Edward III assumed control of the throne he arranged for Joan and her sister to come to court.  The two girls were raised alongside his own children.  So Joan grew up with the Black Prince.  Eventually Joan became Edward III’s ward.

 

Clearly Joan was an important member of the royal family.  Whoever won her hand in marriage would gain many points in the medieval power game.  Joan had other ideas.  She fell in love with Sir Thomas Holland.  She was twelve.  He was twenty-six. His grandmother was Ela Longespee whose grandfather was the Fist Earl of Salisbury and the illegitimate son of Henry II which puts a whole new meaning on the saying ‘keep it in the family.’  Suffice it to say Thomas Holland wasn’t someone of the make.  His ancestry was as illustrious as that of Joan.

 

The problem was that because the pair had run away to get married it wasn’t strictly legal though very romantic.  Joan, and indeed Thomas, required the king’s consent to get married.  Her guardians at the time wanted Joan to marry their son Sir Thomas Montague, who was the second Earl of Salisbury.  They didn’t see Joan’s marriage to Thomas as a problem.  They simply waited for him to leave the country to go on crusade and then forced Joan to marry their son. In 1341 Holland returned home and wasn’t terribly pleased to discover that his wife was married to another man.  Undeterred he set about winning fame in France in what was to become the Hundred Years War as a military commander and then set about regaining Joan.  Salisbury put up a fight but in the end Pope Clement VI annulled Joan’s marriage to Salisbury.

 

Joan’s firstborn son Thomas Holland who became the Earl of Kent was an ancestor of Katherine Parr which is definitely an unexpected connection – though given the medieval penchant for familial marriages it probably shouldn’t be quite such a surprise. Another son married one of John of Gaunt’s daughters. And yet another child was an ancestor of Lady Jane Grey.  Sir Thomas died in 1360 leaving Joan a rich widow.  She was eventually buried beside her first husband.

 

As well as being wealthy and well-connected with the royal family Joan was also one of the beauties of her age.  She was known as ‘the fair maid of Kent’. Many offers of marriage were made.  Joan turned them all down.  According to one version of events, one of the Black Prince’s men asked  Edward to intercede with Joan on his behalf.  Edward found himself falling in love with his childhood companion.  They were cousins within the degree prohibited by the church so before they could marry a papal dispensation was required.  On her marriage she became the first Princess of Wales.

When she became the Queen Mother her life continued to be the stuff of historical novels and mini-series.  She was so loved by the people of England that when she encountered Wat Tyler and his men at Blackheath they let her pass unharmed with an escort (you can’t help wondering who let such an important personage as the king’s mother meander into the path of revolting peasants?).  In any event the tale demonstrates that as well as being regarded in the light of national treasure she was also conventionally religious.  She was returning from pilgrimage to Canterbury when her path crossed with that of Wat Tyler.