Tag Archives: Geoffrey Chaucer

Sir Richard Scrope – 1st Baron Scrope of Bolton.

bolton castle.jpgBefore we start and at the risk of telling folk something they already know Scrope is pronounced “Scroop.” The Scrope family is one of the great northern families who arrived with the Conquest and gradually grew in power. They can be found in a number of official capacities down the centuries from the fourteenth century onwards  including as Lord Wardens of the Western March. It should be added that like everyone else I’m reading about at the moment Richard Scrope was decidedly chummy with John of Gaunt. Goodman describes him as a mentor to the duke – after all Scrope had campaigned with Edward III since the early days of the Hundred Years War as well as during various Scottish conflicts (p289).

Richard was the son of Edward III’s chief justice. Sir William de la Pole, the canny Hull merchant who I mentioned in my previous post was Edward III’s financier at about the same time. He arranged the marriage between Richard Scrope and his daughter Blanche de la Pole in 1344. The couple had four sons before Blanche’s death in 1378.

Sir Richard, like many men of his generation, fought during the early campaigns of the Hundred Years War. He served initially in the retinue of The Earl of Warwick in France and later with John of Gaunt where he was an experienced warrior in a war band led by Gaunt who at that stage in proceedings hadn’t seen so much conflict. He appears on Gaunt’s list of knights  from 1367 for the fee of £40 per annum.  He was still receiving that fee  when the duke died in 1399.

Scrope fought in every major campaign between 1346 and 1384 including at Crecy and the Siege of Calais.  We know this from the events that followed the Scottish campaign of 1385.  Goodman makes the point that soldiers of Scrope’s repute helped to recruit men who wished to serve in John of Gaunt’s retinue.  As time passed younger men wished to serve Gaunt not only for the patronage and prestige of being linked to the house of Lancaster but also to rub shoulders with their military heroes (p 217) including Scrope.

In the meantime as well as garbing himself in fortune and glory whilst in France Scrope proved to be a canny businessman.  He obtained the wardship of the three heiress daughters of Robert, Lord Tiptoft who died in April 1372.  Tiptoft was reputed to have salvaged King John’s treasure from ‘The Wash’. Sir Richard paid 230 marks for to become the girls’ guardian. The three girls were betrothed to Scropes’ sons and are all left legacies in Scrope’s will.  It should be added that by the time he died he was a wealthy man having purchased land all over the country including the Isle of Man.

Scrope’s links with John of Gaunt and the ties of the Lancaster Affinity are evidenced not only by his appearance of Lancaster’s list of retainers but is also evidenced through their shared patronage of the Franciscans at Richmond. Other donors also feature on Gaunt’s list of retainers. The men on the list, as might be expected given their lives working together also feature in other written records – namely wills and as witnesses on other legal documents.  Scrope, for example, was one of William Ufford, earl of Suffolk’s executors. (Just to clarify this particular earl died without male heirs, the title lapsed and was filled three years later by Michael de la Pole another of John of Gaunt’s retinue.

Yet more evidence  of the links between Scrope,  John of Gaunt and other members of the Lancaster Affinity can be found in the case of Sir Richard Scrope versus Sir Robert Grosvenor from Cheshire. All the magnates turned out for war against the Scots in 1385. Not only did the campaign not go well for the English but there was the small matter of both Scrope and Grosvenor turning up with arms described in heraldic terms as azure bend or (blue with a gold stripe running diagonally from top left to bottom right). A General Proclamation was promptly made throughout the army that all who were interested in the dispute should appear on 20th August at Newcastle on Tyne to state their views in the matter. Unsurprisingly it took rather longer than a day to resolve the issue. More than three hundred depositions exist taken from thirteen different locations on behalf of both men pertaining to their rights to bear those particular arms. The question that the depositions answered was had the person giving their deposition seen Scrope or Grosvenor bearing those arms, were they aware of any prior usage within the family and had they ever seen the arms used by anyone else. The case lasted four years.

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The depositions provide the information that Scrope first bore his arms during the reign of Edward III in 1359. One of the depositors on Scrope’s behalf was a knight called Sir John de Sully of Crediton in Devon. He was allowed to give his information from the comfort ofhis home – he was over a hundred years old at the time! Testimony was provided by none other that Geoffrey Chaucer- it is from his deposition that we learn that Chaucer ended up as a French prisoner of war during his various adventures. Amongst the people giving evidence were John of Gaunt.

glendowerseal.gifTestifying for Sir Robert was a little known Welshman called Owen Glyndwr – possibly demonstrating that Fourteenth century Britain was a small place when all was said and done! The depositions were made to establish who used the arms and when – making them a gift for military historians wishing to piece together information about the specifics of a particular campaign. Judgement was eventually handed down in Westminster in Scrope’s favour and Grosvenor chose a new coat of arms which changed the bend or for the Chester wheat sheaf – that particular coat of arms is still used by the very unrural sounding dukes of Westminster. It should be added that the Grosvenor family remembered the loss of their coat of arms and in the 1880’s named a race horse “Bend Or.”  It won the Derby.

 

Between 1371 and 1375 Scrope served as Lord Treasurer and was made Lord Chancellor in 1378, which post he held until 1380, but he then served again from 1381 to 1382. One of his roles was to curb the extravagance of the young king who installed toilets in his palaces and followed the fashion for curly toed shoes.  Relations between Scrope and his king came to a rather sticky impasse as a result of the execution of  Edmund Mortimer, Third Earl of March.  Richard being a bit short of cash should made the most of Mortimer and his fellow conspirators having under age heirs.  The lands and the heirs immediately came into Crown hands – wards were valuable commodities in that the person holding the wardship of an heir could milk the estates for their own benefit until the ward came of age and if they were canny the guardian would ensure that the ward was married into the guardian’s family.  It was in a sense a way for Richard to make some quick cash by selling the various wardships to the highest bidder.  Scrope suggested that this wasn’t the most sensible thing that Richard had ever done. It would make far more economic sense for Richard to keep the wards under his own control as the estates would generate revenue and could still be farmed out a later date.  Richard II informed his Chancellor to do get on and do what he was told.   Scrope persisted in trying to persuade Richard to hold on to the lands in question.  Richard II did not like being told what to do and demanded the Great Seal back from Scrope.  Scrope refused to comply until he’d had it from the king’s mouth rather than a messenger’s that he’d been dismissed from his post.

It should be added that Scrope appears to have been regarded as an honest man in that he was appointed executor to Edmund Mortimer’s will – so to say he must have experienced a conflict of interest might be an understatement!

In between going to war, running the country and fulfilling various legal commitments from his friends and peer group Scrope found time to be the Warden of the West March – a post he was appointed to in 1381. The post became something of a hereditary one in that the name Scrope features frequently as warden from that time hence until the post was abolished during the reign of James I of England (VI of Scotland).

It was perhaps fortunate in the aftermath of  Richard II’s disagreement with Scrope that Scrope already had a licence to crenelate Castle Bolton.  The project took him twenty years and £12,000. In the meantime his son William took on the role of warrior and politician rising to become the earl of Wiltshire – and loyal member of the Lancaster affinity. Richard Scrope died on 30 May 1403.  He was buried at Easby Abbey.

 

https://archive.org/details/decontroversiai01scrogoog

http://www.boltoncastle.co.uk/what-to-do-yorkshire/medieval-castles-history/

MacFarlane, K.B. (1973). The Nobility of Late Medieval England. Oxford. Oxford University Press

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

 

 

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Katherine Swynford

KatSwynfordKatherine de Roet was probably born about 1350 in Hainault.  As is often the case we have no exact records of her birth.  What we do know about Katherine’s early life is found in the accounts of chronicler Jean Froissart who was also from Hainault.  He talks of Katherine as a ‘Hainaulter’ so its a reasonable assumption to make. 

The family headed by Katherine’s father  Paon de Roet arrived in England as part of Philippa of Hainault’s entourage when she married Edward III in 1328.  Paon served in the royal household. Historians think he died in the early 1350s.  Katherine  and her sister Philippa served in the queen’s household  and received their education there as well as developing links with some of the most important people in the country.  Philippa married the poet Geoffrey Chaucer whilst Katherine found herself looking after the daughters of John of Gaunt and his first wife Blanche of Lancaster; Elizabeth and Philippa.  

Blanche died in 1368, most historians think from the Black Death.  By this time Katherine was married to Sir Hugh Swynford of Kettlethorpe in Lincolnshire. It was considered an advantageous marriage for Katherine at the time. Blanche of Lancaster and John of Gaunt held many estates in the area. Historians tend not to think that Katherine had begun her affair with John of Gaunt before Blanche of Lancaster’s death.  Certainly Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess suggests that the duke deeply mourned the wife that gave him seven children and made him the wealthiest man in the kingdom.

Katherine and Hugh appear to have had three children who survived infancy.  The oldest child was a boy called Thomas, the second was a girl called Blanche presumably named after Blanche of Lancaster.  John of Gaunt was Blanche’s god-father and when the time came for John to make his union with Katherine legal and also to legitimise his children this would cause a degree of problem as the papacy deemed that there was a degree of prohibited relationship on account of John’s role as godfather. Blanche grew up with Elizabeth and Philippa of Lancaster. The third child probably grew up to be a nun.  Her name may have been Margaret. Katherine swore her affair with John of Gaunt did not begin until after Sir Hugh Swynford died but Froissart says differently.

Hugh died in 1372 and Katherine’s first child by John of Gaunt was born the following year. John Beaufort was named after the french castle that Gaunt owned and where John was possibly born.  The  couple went on to have three more children who survived infancy; Henry, Thomas and Joan who had her own dramatic love story.  John had married his second wife Constance of Castile in  1371.  It was a state marriage that gave John a claim to the throne of Castile but the existence of a much loved mistress in John’s life cannot have helped the relationship nor the fact that it is known that during some periods Katherine lived quietly in the home of John’s son, Henry of Bolingbroke (Henry IV). During the Peasants Revolt of 1381 the lovers parted company or they became more secretive about their liaison possibly because John was so hated or because John wished to pursue his claim to the Castilian throne.  Not that this prevented Katherine from being made a Lady of the Garter in 1388.

Wife number two died in 1394.  There followed a flurry of letters to the pope and two years later John of Gaunt took the unusual step of marrying his mistress.  They were married on  13 January 1396 at Lincoln Cathedral.  This had the effect of putting rather a lot of noses out of joint. Not only did Katherine become the duchess of Lancaster  but because the king, Richard II, had no queen and John was the next most important man in the country Katherine automatically became the first lady to whom all others had to give way… I should imagine that some very stiff necked ladies muttered rather a lot about that particular turn up for the books. 

John and Katherine’s children were not only legitimised by the pope but also legitimised by Act of Parliament on the command of their cousin Richard II on 9th February 1397.  Later Henry IV would add a note in his own hand to the effect that whilst the Beauforts might be legitimate they couldn’t inherit the throne.  This didn’t stop Henry IV from making effective use of his Beaufort half-siblings.

katherine swynford coat of arms.jpg

Katherine Swynford’s coat of arms – after her marriage to John of Gaunt

Katherine died on the 10th May 1403 having outlived John of Gaunt by four years.  She’d survived a period of plague, seen the Peasants revolt and the Hundred Years War as well as having caused a national scandal.  She and her daughter Joan are buried in Lincoln Cathedral having lived quietly in Lincoln in her final years.  We can still identify her house.

There was a brass of the dowager duchess but it was destroyed or certainly very badly treaded by the Roundheads in 1644 so we have no certain primary source image of the woman who stole the heart of the most powerful man in England despite the fact that there is now a brass over Katherine’s tomb it is not the original and she’s wearing a widow’s veil which doesn’t help matters but it is an effective way of the engraver dealing with the fact he didn’t know what the duchess looked like.  Froissart describes her as young and pretty in his chronicles. The image at the start of this post comes from a fifteenth century edition of Chaucer’s work and it shows the key people of Richard II’s reign. John of Gaunt is identifiable.  It’s possible that the girl in blue is Katherine.

Weir, Alison.(2007) Katherine Swynford: The Story of John of Gaunt and His Scandalous Duchess. London: Jonathan Cape

 

 

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Chaucer and the de la Poles.

chaucer3This is one of those surprising connection posts.  It also reflects the way in which society changed as a consequence of the Black Death and the decline of feudalism.  The descendent of an inn keeper became a Duke of Suffolk and was embroiled in the bloody aftermath of the Wars of the Roses.

The Chaucer family were upwardly mobile, of that there’s no doubt.  Geoffrey’s great-grandfather was a inn  in Ipswich, his grandfather was a shoemaker – not a humble cobbler- think wholesale shoe sales with entrepreneurial tendencies; he was also a vintner.  In addition, he had the good sense to marry a pepperer’s widow called Mary Heron which added a further very lucrative string to his bow.

Their son, Geoffrey’s father, John Chaucer was an established merchant and freeman of the City of London.  He was sufficiently wealthy for his aunt to attempt to kidnap him in order to marry his cousin when he arrived at a marriageable age.  The plot was foiled but it demonstrates how much the Chaucer family circumstances had changed in four generations.

As the Chaucers climbed the social rungs they became soldiers and served in royal households.  Geoffrey Chaucer was talented not only as a poet but also as a diplomat.  It helped that he was married to the sister of John of Gaunt’s mistress – Katherine Swynford – which is in itself a fairly unexpected connection but one of history’s more well-known links.

However it is in Geoffrey’s descendants that the really unexpected connection begins to take shape.  Geoffrey’s son Thomas- there are some suggestions that Thomas was in fact John of Gaunt’s son but there is no evidence to confirm this- had a daughter called Alice who married three times.  Her final husband was William de la Pole – who became the Duke of Suffolk.  They had one son – John who married Edward IV’s sister Elizabeth which turned the de la Poles into Plantagenets which was an excellent step up the social ladder in the world before the Wars of the Roses but was not so useful in the Tudor world.

Alice’s grandson John took part in the ill-fated  uprising against Henry VII  with Lambert Simnel.  He was killed.  His younger brother Edmund took on the family title but fled to Europe where he found protection at the court of the Hapsburgs. Unfortunately Philip the Handsome was shipwrecked on the English coast and Henry VII was able to have the troublesome Plantagenet returned to his care and a comfy room in the Tower of London.  In 1513 Henry VIII had Edmund executed.  The third de la Pole brother was called Richard who became a soldier of fortune and was killed at the Battle of Pavia – an event which Henry VIII celebrated.

But who would have thought that any of the three were related to Geoffrey Chaucer?

 

 

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