Tag Archives: Eleanor Neville

Joan Beaufort’s descendants – Eleanor Neville Countess of Northumberland

Joan BeaufortEleanor was born in about 1397 to Joan Beaufort and Ralph Neville, 1st earl of Westmorland. Eleanor, like the rest of her sisters,  was married off to another cousin – Richard le Despenser- who if you want to be exact was her second cousin.  His mother was Constance of York who was the daughter of John of Gaunt’s younger brother Edmund of  Langley, Duke of York.

The pair were married some time after 1412 but he died in 1414 aged only seventeen.  He’s buried in Tewkesbury Abbey along with his other more notorious Despenser ancestors – his two times great grandfather was Hugh Despenser who was Edward II’s favourite.  Once again though the Nevilles’ had made a wealthy match for their child.  The Despensers were amongst the wealthiest families in the country and were also Plantagenet in ancestry thanks to Constance.

Richard’s early death meant that the title of Baron Burghersh, which he had inherited from Constance, passed to Richard’s sister Isabella.  Just from point of interest it is worth noting that she would marry the Earl of Warwick  and in turn her daughter, Anne Beauchamp, would marry a certain Richard Neville – better known to history as the Kingmaker – demonstrating once again that very few families held the reins of power during the medieval period and that they were all interconnected.

Eleanor  meanwhile  married into one of the great northern families – the Percy family – which must have caused her heartbreak in later years given that the Percy-Neville feud would be one of the triggers for the Wars of the Roses.  Henry Percy, the 2nd Earl of Northumberland was the son of “Hostpur.”  In a strange twist his family hadn’t done terribly well under the Lancastrian kings despite supporting Henry Bolingbroke against his cousin Richard II.  The Percys had been rewarded in the first instance but had become disillusioned by Henry IV.  Both Henry Percy’s father and grandfather had been killed as a result of rebelling against Henry IV.  It was only when Henry V ascended the throne that our particular Henry Percy was able to return from exile in Scotland in 1413.  It was at the same time that Eleanor’s parents arranged the marriage between Henry and Eleanor.  It says something that Joan Beaufort who was the king’s aunt when all was said and done was able to work at a reconciliation between the king and the house of Percy whilst at the same time strengthening the Neville affinity in the north.

Percy, having returned to the fold, did what fifteenth century nobility did – he fought the Scots and the French.  He was also a member of the privy council during Henry VI’s minority.  But by the 1440s Percy was in dispute with various northerners over land.  He had a disagreement of the violent kind with the Archbishop of York and then fell out with the Nevilles which was unfortunate because not only was he married to Eleanor but he’d married his sister to  the 2nd earl of Westmorland (let’s just set aside the Neville-Neville feud for the moment).  The problem between the Percys and the Nevilles arose from a disagreement over land. Eleanor’s brother, the Earl of Salisbury married his son Thomas to Maud Stanhope who was the niece of Lord Cromwell.  Wressle Castle passed into the hands of the Nevilles as a result of the marriage. The Percy family was not pleased as the castle was traditionally one of their properties.  Eleanor’s husband did not become involved in a physical fight with his in-laws but his younger son Thomas, Lord Egremont did.  He attacked Thomas Neville and Maud Stanhope’s wedding party at Heworth Moor in August 1453.  The two families were forced to make the peace with one another but the hostility continued to mount.  The Nevilles were associated with Richard of York so naturally the Percy faction adhered to York’s opponents who happened to be best represented by Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset of represented Henry VI. The feuding which was really about dominance in the north was a bit like a set of dominoes knocking against one another until the whole affair moved from local to national significance. Each side became more and more determined to support their “national” representative in the hope that either York or Somerset would gain the upper hand and the patronage system would see rewards in the form of confirmation of landownership.

Henry Percy was with the king on 22 May 1455 at St Albans and was killed.  At the time it was regarded as the Earl of Salisbury’s way of dealing with the problem- meaning that he targeted and killed his own brother-in-law.  This in its turn escalated the hostility between the two factions. The death of Eleanor’s husband made the Percy family Lancastrians to the back-bone and would ensure that the feud continued across the battle fields of the Wars of the Roses.

Eleanor and Henry had ten children.  Their eldest son called John died young.  The next boy – inevitably called Henry- became the 3rd Earl of Northumberland upon his father’s death in 1455 and he in his turn was killed in 1461 at the Battle of Towton along with his brother Richard.  Eleanor’s son Henry had his own feud with the Nevilles on account of his marriage into the Poynings family.  This Henry was present at the council meeting in 1458 that demanded recompense for the events of St Albans in 1455.  He took part in the so-called Love-day orchestrated by Henry VI to demonstrate an end of the feuding but in reality Henry worked politically to have his Neville relations attainted of treason by the Coventry Parliament and he was on hand to take his revenge at Wakefield in 1460 when Richard of York and the Earl of Salisbury were killed.

Thomas Percy, Baron Egremont, the Percy responsible for the attack at Heworth Moor, was killed in 1460 at the Battle of Northampton. Ralph Percy was killed in 1464 at the Battle of Hedgeley Moor near Hexham leaving George who died in 1474 and William Percy who was the Bishop of Carlisle ( he died in 1462).  Rather unfortunately for the troubled family, Eleanor’s daughter Katherine was married to Edmund Grey, 1st Earl of Kent – the name may be familiar.  He was the man who laid down his weapons in the middle of the Battle of Northampton costing Henry VI the battle.  Another daughter Anne, lost her first husband in 1469 after he joined with the Earl of Warwick in conspiring to put Henry VI back on the throne and finally as you might expect there was a daughter called Joan who married into the northern gentry.

Eleanor’s son Henry was posthumously attainted of treason after Towton by Edward IV.  Her grandson, another Henry, was packed off to prison and would only be released when Edward IV shook off the influence of the Kingmaker in 1470.  The Percy family lost the earldom of Northumberland in the short term to the Neville family as a result of their loyalty to Henry VI in 1464 when Edward IV handed it over to the Nevilles in the form of John Neville Lord Montagu but unfortunately for Montagu  Northumberland’s tenantry did not take kindly to the change in landlord and Edward IV found himself reappointing the Percys to the earldom – which contributed massively to the Kingmaker throwing his toys from his pram and turning coat.

The new Earl of Northumberland – the fourth Henry Percy to hold the title had learned a lot from his father and grandfather.  Instead of rushing out wielding weapons Eleanor’s grandson was much more considered in his approach.  He did not oppose Edward IV and he did not support Richard III despite the fact that Richard returned lands which Edward IV had confiscated. This particular Earl of Northumberland was on the battlefield at Bosworth but took no part in the conflict.  Once again the locals had the final word though – the fourth earl was killed in 1489 in Yorkshire by rioters complaining about the taxes…and possibly the earl’s failure to support the last white rose king.

Eleanor died in 1472 having outlived her husband and most of her children.

Michael Hicks makes the point that securing an inheritance and a title was extremely important to the medieval mindset.  Once these had been gained the aim was to hold onto them.  The Neville clan headed by Joan Beaufort appear to have been increasingly single-minded about the retention of title and property and this was the key deciding factor in the variety of feuds they became involved with. (Hicks:325).

Just Cecily to go…

Hicks, Michael, (1991)Richard III and His Rivals: Magnates and Their Motives in the Wars of the Roses.  London: Bloomsbury

Wagner, John A. (2001). The Encyclopaedia of the Wars of the Roses. Oxford: ABC

 

 

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Thomas, Lord Stanley

thomas stanley.jpgThomas Stanley is known either as a politically adroit magnate who successfully navigated the stormy seas of the Wars of the Roses or a treacherous little so-and-so – depending upon your historical view point. Stanley is the bloke married to Margaret Beaufort who is best known for being a tad tardy at Bosworth whilst his brother, Sir William, turned coat and attacked Richard III. Stanley wasn’t the only one whose behaviour during the various battles of the wars seems lacking in the essential codes of knightly behaviour but he certainly seems to have been the most successful at avoiding actually coming to blows with anyone unless there was something in it for him – and no this post is not unbiased.
Thomas was born in 1433 , meaning he was some eight years older than Margaret Beaufort.  The Stanley family held estates and office in Lancashire and Cheshire into the Peak District as well as being the titular kings of the Isle of Man.
Thomas turns up in 1454 as one of Henry VI’s squires. By the end of the decade he was married to Eleanor Neville, the daughter of the Earl of Salisbury; making the Kingmaker his brother-in-law.
When the peace between the Lancastrians and Yorkists ground to a sticky halt in 1459 Margaret of Anjou ordered Stanley to assemble men to confront Richard of York. This was a tad tricky as Stanley’s brother-in-law, the Earl of Warwick, was with Richard at Ludlow as indeed was his own brother William Stanley.  Apparently the earl of Salisbury  also corresponded with Stanley at this time – consequentially although Stanley raised a force of 2000 men they sat and twiddled their fingers whilst the Lancastrians and Yorkists expressed their differences of opinion at Bloreheath in August of that year. Parliament was not amused but everyone decided that the best course of action would be to pretend that it never happened.
Richard of York and the Earl of Warwick scarpered to Ireland and Calais respectively in the aftermath of the battle of Ludford Bridge but their return in 1460 saw Stanley trying to sit on the fence and please both sides. It’s quite tricky to spot where he was during the Battle of Towton – but possibly not in Yorkshire. In any event it helped having a powerful brother-in-law on hand to make the new regime more accessible.
Stanley spent the next few years concreting and pacifying his regional power base.  He is recorded as going north to take on the Lancastrians during the first part of the 1460s and he was at court when Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was made public. He became the Justice for Chester – so was one of the magnates that Edward used to rule the regions on his behalf.
Unfortunately Stanley’s brother-in-law was feeling aggrieved. The Kingmaker had not expected Edward IV to get married to a widow with a large family or to start ignoring his advice. In 1470 after the relationship had finally gone sour Warwick took himself and his son-in-law George duke of Clarence off to France to patch things up with Margaret of Anjou and whilst he was at it he arranged the marriage of his youngest daughter Ann Neville to Margaret’s son Prince Edward. Stanley was once again on a sticky wicket.  Did he remain loyal to Edward or did he support his brother-in-law?
To answer the question of what Stanley would do it is important to take a step back to 1469 and before that even to 1461. Richard of Gloucester  needed someone else to fulfil the role of steward of Penrith Castle and warden of the west march.  He chose a man named John Huddleston. Huddleston looked to the Harrington family for patronage. The Harringtons  were one of two families who dominated Lancashire and Cheshire – you already know who the other bunch were.  The Stanley  family – not noted for it front line approach to war-  took advantage of the death of Thomas Harrington’s death at the Battle of Wakefield in 1461 fighting for Richard of York, and also that of his son, John, leaving John’s two daughters to inherit.  There was a messy court case, some fisticuffs and rather a lot of fudging by Edward IV and Richard of Gloucester who both recognised the loyalty of the Harrington family and the, er, how can I put this – oh yes- shiftiness of the Stanley. Edward IV  rather astutely recognised that he couldn’t do without Stanley so he gave the wardship of the two girls to Stanley who intended to marry the little girls to his own son and nephew and thus take control of the estate.
However, the Harrington family argued that the girls were only heiresses if their father -John- had been killed after their grandfather at Wakefield. If Harrington junior had been killed before Harrington senior then there was no case at all because the girls would not be heiresses, their uncle James ( younger brother of John) would automatically inherit.  The Harringtons clenched their teeth and retreated to Hornby Castle where they prepared for a siege. Richard by selecting John Huddleston for the important role of warden signposted a downturn in Stanley fortunes and power because he was effectively saying that the Harringtons had a good case for not handing everything over to Thomas Stanley.
Stanley, keen to lay hold of Hornby Castle in Lancashire, sided with Warwick and Henry VI not because of any great loyalty to his brother-in-law or the Lancastrian king but because he was busy having his own baron-on-baron war.  Hornby remained Yorkist and the Harrington family who owned it were supported by Richard of Gloucester. It was thanks to this connection that Stanley hadn’t already got his chubby paws on the property. High minded ideals about kingship aside, Stanley besieged the castle because he wanted it he could claim he was doing so in support of Henry VI and with Edward IV on the back foot his irritating little brother couldn’t put his oar in and ruin Stanley’s plans.  In short whilst armies were marching around the country slaughtering one another at Barnet and Tewkesbury Stanley was sorting out a property dispute and siding with the colour rose most likely to  benefit him.
When Edward IV arrived back in London having dispatched the Lancastrians the Stanley boys  removed their red roses and were brandishing white ones with enthusiasm – Thomas from a safe distance. He was swiftly re-admitted to the political fold with a place on the privy council.
By this time Stanley was a widower so had no dodgy Neville extended family.  In June 1472, eight months after the death of Sir Henry Stafford, Margaret Beaufort took Stanley as husband number four. The two were, naturally related, in this instance via Sir Henry Stafford (husband number three).  Stanley’s marriage to the last Beaufort standing didn’t seem to do Stanley any harm.  He became Lord Steward of the Royal Household and turned up in 1482 in Scotland when he was part of the force that captured Berwick-upon-Tweed back from the Scots.Margaret Beaufort probably chose her fourth husband based on the idea of needing someone who could protect her interests and Stanley had already demonstrated advanced skills in self-interest as well as being, somewhat bizarrely, well-in with Edward IV.  Whilst Margaret worked on re-establishing her son, Stanley  continued to work on dominating vast tracts of Lancashire and Cheshire.  For a man not keen to wield a sword on the battle field rather a lot of his opponents soon found themselves on the wrong end of Stanley’s weaponry.  Sir John Butler of Warrington was murdered by Stanley’s servants – it was a reminder about who was in charge in the region. Stanley got away with it – he doesn’t even appear to have got his wrist slapped.

There was no love lost between Richard of Gloucester and Stanley. There was the Hornby Castle affair to consider as well as Stanley’s failure to relinquish key northern roles to Gloucester in 1469. It is perhaps not surprising that in 1483 when Richard was unsure who to trust in the run up to taking his nephew’s throne for himself that Stanley found himself briefly under arrest. Stanley who was at the privy council meeting in the Tower on the morning that Lord Hastings was summarily executed was perhaps lucky not to meet with a similar end.

 

So what did Thomas Stanley have that both Edward IV and Richard III needed that he was able to get away with murder and change sides without too much inconvenience? One gets the feeling it wasn’t his charm and sparkling personality. Stanley was effectively a “mini-king maker” although not as wealthy or influential as the earl of Warwick, Stanley ran the Northwest of England and the border with North Wales.  He was able to put a huge number of men in the field (even if they did just stand around). It seems to be that both Edward IV and Richard III felt that it was better to have Stanley on their side than against them.

Stanley played an important part at Richard III’s coronation and did rather well out of the duke of Buckingham’s rebellion in 1483, even though Margaret Beaufort found herself under house arrest and all her assets transferred to her husband.
He became Lord Constable of  England although there was the caveat that when Stanley left court to go to Lathom that Richard expected Stanley’s son Lord Strange to be on hand…not a hostage….an incentive for Stanley to return.  Of course, once Henry Tudor landed in 1485 Lord Strange was very definitely a hostage.  Richard III reminded Thomas that if he don’t tow the line there would be unpleasant consequences for Lord Strange.
At Bosworth on 22nd August 1485 Thomas Lord Stanley did what he did best – he sat around and twiddled his fingers. Lord Strange survived the battle despite the fact that his father’s forces sat between the two opposing armies and did absolutely nothing.  Meanwhile Sir James Harrington (you remember the Harringtons and Hornby Castle) rocked up loyal as you please to Richard III. The Harringtons had been loyal to the white rose from start to finish.  Sir James may well have been carrying the king’s banner when he died at Richard’s side.

On the 27 October 1485 his step-son, now Henry VII of England, made his earl of Derby and naturally Thomas found himself taking on lots of other jobs as well although Henry VII did execute brother William Stanley in 1495 for his part in the Perkin Warbeck affair.

Thomas Stanley died on the 29 July 1504 – in his bed at Lathom. I’m not actually sure why I object to the man so much. He’s no better and no worse than many other magnates of the period. He was singularly successful at not being present on any battlefield ( which shows a modicum of common sense singularly lacking at the time).  He was undoubtedly intelligent and was able to excel politically during a time of instability – more able in some respects than the various Plantagenet scions that hacked one another to pieces on the battle fields of England; definitely more savvie than the honourable Harringtons. However, the Harrington affair, the murder of Sir John Butler and Stanley’s ability to sit on the fence, irrelevant of the plight of his son, combine in my mind at least to make him an unpleasant little weasel who definitely didn’t get what he deserved …which means, as Mr Spock would say, that my logic is defective as this is History and not a story book where honourable loyal people live happily ever after.

Norton, Elizabeth. (2011).  Margaret Beaufort: Mother of Dynasty.  Stroud: Amberley Press

Wagner, John A. (2001) Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses.

 

 

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