Tag Archives: Henry Bolingbroke

Elizabeth of Lancaster and Sir John Holland

elizabeth_of_lancasterI’ve found a new author – well, she might not be new but she’s new to me- Anne O Brien.  I’ve just guzzled ‘The King’s Sister’ a novel about Elizabeth of Lancaster, the third child of Blanche of Lancaster and John of Gaunt.

Her story is an everyday tale of the Plantagenets – so there’re two arranged marriages, treachery and a spot of skulduggery for starters.

John of Gaunt arranged a marriage between Elizabeth and John Hasting’s the third Earl of Pembroke in 1380.  She was seventeen, he was eight and got on, in the novel at least, very well with Elizabeth’s little brother Henry of whom more anon.  It isn’t perhaps surprising that she was more attracted to John Holland a son of Princess Joan and her first husband (the one she married when she was twelve before her family married her off to a second more important husband but that’s a different story) who had been married for a third time to the Black Prince and was mother to King Richard II.  John Holland had a reputation as a ladies man and a champion jouster – or in other words a knight errant- as well as gaining a reputation as a soldier in the field in both Scotland and Spain.  Apparently, according to the records of the time, he was smitten with Elizabeth of Lancaster’s great beauty.  He followed her day and night…so what would you do if you were a hormone ridden teenager – remain loyal to the child to whom your father has married you off to or run away with the handsome half brother of the king?   Elizabeth’s marriage to the young Earl of Pembroke was annulled.

The relationship between Elizabeth and John Holland is a tempestuous one in Anne O’Brien’s novel but the historical reality is not without its ironies.  John’s half brother was Richard II.  Elizabeth’s brother was Henry Bolingbroke a.k.a. Henry IV.  I should imagine that the family get together after Henry deposed and imprisoned Elizabeth’s brother-in-law was a tense one.  Although John gave his fealty to the new king he remained loyal to Richard in Pontefract – and despite Richard’s notorious temperamental streak – he’d been good to his half-brother and wife.  John Holland had been created First Duke of Exeter and been rewarded with other posts and estates.

In 1400 he was involved in the so-called ‘Epiphany Plot,’ also known as ‘the Three Earls Plot’ which sought to overthrow Henry, kill him and his sons, and return Richard II to the throne.  The plot was betrayed and John fled but was captured at Pleshy Castle in Essex.  He was fortunate to get so far.  Twenty-nine of the conspirators were executed at Oxford.  John was  was executed by Joan Fitzallan, the Countess of Hereford who had a grudge against Elizabeth’s husband.  Holland had executed her brother (the Earl of Arundel) several years before without going through the niceties of an entirely fair trial.

Henry IV used attainder to impoverish his sister and his nieces and nephews in the short term.  So not what you might call a terribly happy-ever-after for the couple although there is more to Elizabeth’s story and her children because they remained close to the crown and eventually regained their titles if not all of their estates.  As for Richard II, well he apparently starved himself to death very soon after the failed uprising in January 1400.  The chroniclers didn’t believe it either!

As for me I’m pleased to report that there are five other novels by Anne O Brien…as well as a list of places for me to visit that are associated with the Plantagenet princess who broke the rules and ran off with her handsome knight only to find herself embroiled in deadly family politics.

 

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Black-Faced Clifford

'The_Murder_of_Rutland_by_Lord_Clifford'_by_Charles_Robert_Leslie,_1815John Clifford, aged twenty-one, at the First Battle of St Albans in 1455 buried his father in St Albans Abbey. It was agreed, according to Holinshed, that at the Duke of York, the Earls of Warwick and Salisbury should pay the monastery of St. Albans for masses for the souls of Thomas Clifford and the other notable Lancastrians who died during the battle and that the Earl of should pay a fine to be shared between Thomas’s children – no doubt the Vikings would have recognized it as weregeld. The new Lord Clifford wasn’t particularly interested in gold and John, according to Shakespeare, was much more interested in revenge.

 

John’s opportunity came five years later on the 30th December 1460. Five years had seen the polarization of England’s nobility while Richard, Duke of York ultimately overplayed his hand. Richard having been named Lord Protector during Henry VI’s illness in 1453 had been sidelined by Henry VI’s queen, Margaret of Anjou, once Henry regained his facilities. This led to the fisticuffs at St Albans. In the aftermath of the First Battle of St Albans, although the Yorkists had been victorious Richard had reaffirmed his loyalty to the king and an uneasy peace achieved mainly by shipping Richard off to Ireland where he was out of the way.

 

Relations between the different factions reached breaking point in 1459 when Richard arrived home without asking permission first and the Earl of Warwick arrived in Sandwich from Calais backed up by an army. Without going through the frenetic events of the next twelve months it is sufficient for the purposes of this post to say that Richard eventually rocked up in Parliament and said he wanted to be king. If he’d asked to be made Lord Protector folk might have agreed but Richard was carried away by his own spin and seems to have forgotten that when Henry Bolingbroke did the same thing in order to become Henry IV that not only had the whole thing had been carefully orchestrated but that King Richard II was in ‘safe’ custody. In Richard of York’s case neither of these precautions had been taken and even his closest allies were somewhat taken aback. There was a bit of an embarrassed silence followed by the Act of Accord which essentially said that Henry VI could be king while he lived but his successor would be Richard of York – a resolution which satisfied no one – especially Margaret of Anjou whose son Prince Edward had just been cut out of the succession.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing but it seems quite obvious that it wasn’t going to end well.

 

Richard of York took himself North and spent Christmas at his castle in Sandal just outside Wakefield. This was not necessarily the most clever thing he’d ever done as it was in enemy territory. Nor was it very sensible of Richard to emerge on the 30th to give battle to a party of Lancastrians. Sandal was a well-protected castle. All he had to do was sit tight and wait for reinforcements. This isn’t a post about the reasons behind Richard’s decisions to give battle or the rights and wrongs of them but I am finally back on track with John Clifford as he was one of the Lancastrians waiting outside Sandal.

 

The Battle of Wakefield was a vicious affair. John Clifford is purported to have come across the body of Richard of York, resting against an ant hill, and hacked off the corpse’s head. It was not a very knightly deed.  Richard’s head ended up with a paper crown facing into the city of York from Micklegate Bar having first been presented to Margaret of Anjou by way of a gift. Richard’s sons Edward, George and Richard would not forgive the insult.

 

Even worse, popular rumour stated that John Clifford killed Richard of York’s other son Edmund, Earl of Rutland in the aftermath of the battle. There is no specific evidence that John did the deed, Edmund may have been killed during the battle itself and not by John. History shows the lad was about seventeen. Shakespeare makes him a boy- as illustrated in this picture dating from 1815. Edmund, the son of a nobleman, would reasonably have expected mercy in the event of his capture for two reasons. Firstly and most importantly he could be ransomed and secondly despite the events at Agincourt when chivalry went out the window there was still an expectation of respecting ones opponents. So, to tell the tale, which probably isn’t history but definitely makes a good story; Edmund fled the battle and arrived at the bridge crossing the River Calder at Wakefield.  Some versions of the story say that he sought shelter in some nearby houses but that no one would take him in, other versions say that he was captured but anonymous.  John Clifford noticed the boy’s clothes and asked who he was. Edmund’s tutor told Clifford adding that he would be well rewarded for keeping the boy safe, thinking that it would ease Edmund’s situation – talk about misreading the situation!  John wanted revenge for his father’s death so killed the boy  saying ‘your father slew mine so now I kill you,’ or words to that effect.  Edmund’s brother Edward, George and Richard would have their own revenge in due course.

 

John’s actions at the Battle of Wakefield gained him the name “Butcher Clifford” or “Black-Faced Clifford.” The Wars of the Roses became a much bloodier affair thereafter with both sides killing one another in the aftermath of battles reflecting personal feuds running parallel to the desperate power struggle between the various Plantagenet scions.

 

The rest of John’s story is best summaries by Leland:

Next year he met with his own end. On the day before the Battle of Towton, and after a rencontre at Ferrybridge, having put off his gorget, he was struck on the throat by a headless arrow out of a bush, and immediately expired.

 

It is thought that his body was thrown into a burial pit after Towton.

 

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Thomas – a crusading, jousting Clifford

IMG_3926Thomas Clifford, the sixth baron, was born in approximately 1365.  He became a royal favourite at the time of Richard II – he was noted, apparently, for his “dissipation and indulgence” by which we can assume his shoes had very curly toes.  Quite what the inhabitants of the borders would have made of a court favourite dressed in the height of fashion is left unrecorded but Thomas found himself in the role not only of Warden of the West March but also the East March – making him a very busy man.  In 1384 he was granted custody of Carlisle Castle for life along with John Neville.  Presumably they took turns visiting.

 

One of the features of Thomas’s tenure was the knightly habit of jousting- hence the repetition of the picture in this post.  Thomas travelled widely in Europe with a retinue of knights who attended tournaments.  In fact, he even crossed into Scotland for the odd tournament and gave Lord Douglas permission to come into England for the same reason.  Think of these tournaments as the equivalent of medieval football matches crossed with the arrival of your favourite pop star.

 

In between governing the whole of the north and keeping the Scots under control and generally being knightly Thomas also rose to the role of Master of the King’s Horse.

It’s worth mentioning that while Thomas was busy doing all of this that England was having a spot of bother. The Lords Appellant were not keen on the way Richard II was ruling his kingdom.  Having come out of the Peasant’s Revolt with a reputation for personal bravery Richard developed a sense of his own importance.  It was this monarch who introduced the word ‘majesty’ into the descriptors to be used and also came up with an elaborate protocol involving repeated bowing on approaching the royal presence.  Unsurprisingly this did not go down particularly well with the aristocracy who were just as well bred as Richard.  Nor were they terribly impressed with Richard’s best friend, Richard de Vere, Earl of Oxford.  Inevitably, de Vere was  sent packing following the Battle of Radcot Bridge in 1387 and then expired whilst in exile.  Richard was forced to submit to the so called Merciless Parliament in 1388 (the year Thomas became Master of the King’s Horse)  and then spent a good number of years biding his time while he gained sufficient power to show everyone exactly who was in charge.

 

Thomas was treading an aristocratic tightrope along with every other noble in the country.  Not only did the nobility owe their land and their allegiance to the monarchy but they were increasingly connected by ties of blood.  For example Thomas’s wife, Elizabeth de Roos was descended from King Edward I. De Roos was the Lord of Helmsley – a reminder that national politics were interwoven with marriages and family relationships at a local level.  Feudalism was giving way to bastard feudalism.  In part this was a consequence of the Black Death but it was also the result of family sponsorship and patronage that lent itself to close knit community ties but also to feuding.

 

Little wonder that Thomas took himself off on crusade to Lithuania with Thomas of Woodstock, Earl of Gloucester in 1395.  Unfortunately he got into a bit of a fight with a son of the Earl of Douglas – and killed him.  Filled with remorse Thomas decided to go on another crusade to Jerusalem.  Somewhere (don’t you love it when history fails to provide all the details?) between Lithuania and Jerusalem he died, missing out on the joys of Richard II’s deposition by Henry Bolingbroke (a.k.a. Henry IV, cousin of Richard II, member of the Lords Appellant and king in Shakespeare’s Hollow Crown cycle of plays) but leaving a two-year-old to inherit the title who in turn would grow up to be one of Henry V’s warriors as well as assorted other offspring who were married into leading northern families.  But more of them anon.

 

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Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March – from the House of Mortimer to the House of York.

white rose

Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March (born in 1391), was descended from the second surviving son of King Edward III – Lionel of Antwerp. Lionel had only one legitimate child (well at least that’s straight forward). Her name was Philippa. Her mother was Elizabeth de Burgh, Daughter of the Earl of Ulster.  Edmund is not a York claimant to the throne.  He is a Mortimer claimant – but he is the link that takes us from the Mortimers to the House of York.

Philippa, Lionel’s daughter,  married Edmund Mortimer, third Earl of March – his grandfather had run off with her great-grandmother (Isabella of France) and plotted to overthrow and possibly murder her great-grandfather (Edward II). Philippa had four children. The one we are interested in for the purposes of this post is her eldest son Roger although the others will get a mention before the end. He became the 4th Earl of March as well as Earl of Ulster. So far so good – the Mortimer claim to the succession is good – though female in origin.

There are no Salic Laws in England to prevent a female claim to the throne.  Henry IV tried to argue that his claim was better than Philippa’s and her descendents because he was a male.  However, this was the same man who fought in France basing the English claim to the French throne on the fact the Edward III was Isabella of France’s son.  When Charles IV of France died, Isabella and her descendants were the next closest claimants to the French throne – a fact which the French refused to accept based on their Salic Law.  Henry IV was essentially trying to have his cake and eat it.

 

But back to the Mortimers – Roger, Philippa’s son, married Eleanor Holland- who adds to the blue blood running through the veins of the Mortimers with the blood of the Earls of Arundel and Henry III.

 

Roger, managed to get himself killed by the Irish when young Edmund, who this blog is about, was just six. This was unfortunate because Roger Mortimer’s claim to the throne was better than that of Henry Bolingbroke who went on to become King Henry IV. Roger was descended from the second son of Edward III while Henry was descended from the third son- John of Gaunt.

Richard II had recognized Roger as heir to the throne in 1385 according to one source. Other accounts suggest that Roger was walking a difficult tightrope in his cousin Richard II’s affections from which he could have easily fallen. Certainly after Roger’s death Mortimer’s lands were swiftly set upon by an avaricious king (Richard II as averse to Henry IV who was just as bad so far as Mortimer land was concerned).

Things went from bad to worse after Henry Bolingbroke usurped the throne. Edmund (now the 5th Earl of March) and his younger brother Roger became royal wards – they were in line for the succession after all and family as well…  In reality, they were largely brought up in Windsor as prisoners.  Edmund was not permitted anywhere near his estates.

Henry IV did have reason to feel nervous of the Mortimers. The boys had an uncle- helpfully also called Edmund- who felt that young Edmund had a better claim to the throne than Henry. Uncle Edmund felt so strongly about it that he joined up with Owain Glyndwr to rebel against Henry IV. Elizabeth Mortimer- the 5th earl’s aunt, wasn’t to be trusted either. She had been married to Henry “Hotspur” Percy who had died at the Battle of Shrewsbury (1403). In short Henry IV must have looked at his Mortimer cousins and regarded them as treacherous nuisances.

Just to complicate things that little bit further another cousin, Constance Plantagenet who was the daughter of Edmund of Langley, the 4th surviving son on Edward III, attempted to free Edmund and Roger Mortimer from Windsor in 1405. She thought if she could get them to Wales and Glyndwr that Edmund could be declared king. She wasn’t terribly keen on Henry IV although she’d kept her feelings hidden long enough to be trusted to care for Edmund and Roger. She was the widow of Thomas le Despenser, Earl of Gloucester who was executed for treason in 1400. Cousin Constance managed to get the two boys as far as Cheltenham before Henry IV caught up with them. What a happy family reunion it must have been for all concerned!

Things changed somewhat when Henry V ascended the throne in 1413. Edmund was knighted and finally allowed to inherit his estates. He married Anne Stafford, the daughter of the Duke of Buckingham and appears to have done so without asking Henry V’s permission because he was fined a huge amount of money for doing so. Interestingly there is no evidence that it was paid. In any event the 5th Earl of March, perhaps because of his somewhat dysfunctional childhood and adolescence, was a loyal and quiet subject to the Lancastrian Henry V before he died of plague in Ireland – and I’m sure by this stage you’re just as pleased as the regency council of baby Henry VI must have been- without any heirs.

Edmund’s younger brother Roger also died without an heir.  So that was that, so far as a direct Mortimer claim to the throne was concerned.

However, a claim remained within the family – (I’ve nearly arrived at the York claim to the throne – hurrah!)  Roger, the 4th Earl of March, and Eleanor Holland had four or five children – Edmund, the 5th Earl who died without an heir in 1425; Roger who died sometime around 1410 without an heir; Eleanor who did get married but when widowed became a nun – died without an heir; Alice, who according to Alison Weir might not even have existed and finally the eldest child of the family – Anne Mortimer.

 

Perhaps Henry IV would have been better locking her up because she married another cousin – Richard, Duke of Cambridge the son of Edmund of Langley.  Edmund of Langley (the fourth surviving son of Edward III) was also the Duke of York. Richard’s sister was the rather daring Constance who managed to extract two small boys from their imprisonment in Windsor and get to Cheltenham with them before she was caught.

 

If Plantagenet family gatherings look as though they might have been somewhat difficult by the time of Henry VI’s birth in 1421 it is also worth remembering that Richard, Duke of Cambridge was part of the Southampton Plot of 1415. The plan was that the plotters would get rid of Henry V and replace him with Richard’s brother-in-law – i.e. Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March.

 

Edmund may have been involved in the plot up to his neck or there again he might not. The information is lost somewhere down the back of the sofa of history. Clearly Edmund got to thinking about the chances of the plot succeeding. He didn’t have to worry about hurting his sister’s feelings. She’d died four years previously. Edmund went to see Henry V to tell him all about the plot. Richard of Cambridge was executed.

However – Anne Mortimer left a son called Richard.  He became Duke of York and never forgot that his claim to the throne was much better than that of King Henry VI.

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Thomas Merks – the loyal bishop.

This is one of those posts without a picture.  I may track one down eventually.  Thomas Merks or Merke died in 1409.  He was Bishop of Carlisle for three years between 1397 and 1400.  His duties were not terribly onerous.  After all, Richard II could not really do without one of his principle advisors.  It was Merks who helped negotiate the King’s marriage to Anne of Bohemia.  The Westminster monk did much to make himself indispensable to Richard II.  He helped to negotiate the dowry of Isabella of Valois and he went with Richard to Ireland.  Some chronicles accused the bishop of enjoying evenings of carousing rather than prayer but these were Lancastrian chronicles and they had no love for the king’s bishop.

 In 1400 Merks found himself in the Tower.  He had remained loyal to his king even when Richard no longer had his throne.  Only one other bishop was deprived of his see by Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster who took on the title King Henry IV.  Merks  stood up in court to defend his master and paid a significant price.  He ended his days deputising for the Bishop of Winchester.  The family had links to the area – Merks nephew is buried in a local church.

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