Tag Archives: Henry IV

The fate of kings – Edward VIII, Edward II, Richard II and Charles I

king_edward_viiiThree kings plus a spare – what could be more festive than that?

 

The first of today’s faces is outside my usual time period but it is a significant event so far as the British monarchy is concerned. On the 11 December 1936 King Edward VIII, uncrowned king of the United Kingdom, renounced the throne, not by proclamation but through the very modern medium of a radio broadcast. He then joined Wallis Simpson on a boat bound for France. He’d been king for less than a year. In his abdication speech Edward was eager to observe that as a constitutional monarch he’d never done anything in opposition to his parliament. Churchill made much the same comment in a speech given in the House of Commons on the subject. He also said, “ What is done is done. What has been done or left undone belongs to history, and to history, so far as I am concerned, it shall be left.”

 

Since then history, journalists, biographers and anyone with an interest have speculated as to the whys and wherefores of the case of the only king in English history to voluntarily renounce his throne.

 

Edward’s decision was the result of a constitutional crisis bought about by his love for Wallis Simpson, an almost twice divorced American. I say almost because her second divorce from Ernest Simpson was still pending at this time. If Edward had hoped that the political elite would be tolerant of his love for Wallis he was sadly mistaken even though there was probably a big clue in the fact that his own father, George V, had refused to meet her in 1934.

 

Edward even went so far to ask Stanley Baldwin, the then prime minister, if it would be possible for him to have a morganatic marriage. A morganatic marriage in this context is a marriage between a couple of unequal rank in society. Although the marriage is recognized any children resulting from the union would not be permitted to inherit the throne. Nor would Wallis have attained the rank and privileges of her husband. This was a reasonably common approach to marriage in European royal houses but would have been unique in British history – no one dared mention to Henry VIII, of instance, that his marriage to Anne Boleyn, even with her drip of Plantagenet blood, was not a marriage of equals.

 

Baldwin’s cabinet deemed that the British public would not take to a twice divorced American with a scandalous reputation so said no to a morganatic union. This left Edward with three choices: he could say goodbye to Wallis and marry a woman deemed appropriate; abdicate or ignore the prime minister and marry Wallis anyway. This would have led to a direct confrontation between king and his ministers as they would have resigned resulting in a constitutional crisis.

 

By the beginning of December the scandal was all over the papers.  Edward made his decision and ‘lay down the burden’ of kingship – which rather suggests he felt there was a choice in the matter. The pair got married on June 3 1937. Edward’s younger brother Albert, now King George VI, created him duke of Windsor.  Edward and Wallis spent the rest of their lives in exile.

 

edwardiiOf course, other kings have abdicated in English history – just they didn’t do it voluntarily and they certainly weren’t sent off  to be the governor of the Bahamas. The demise of deposed medieval kings reflects the way in which parliament gradually became more important as the centuries progressed and the kings themselves gradually found their power being eroded. Edward II was deposed in January 1327 when he was captured by his wife Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer. Parliament named his son Edward III as king. There wasn’t a great deal of debate about the matter but it is significant that parliament was called upon to recognise the transition. Edward II disappeared into Berkeley Castle where he was murdered – the medieval way of getting rid of a king who’d worn out his welcome.

 

tumblr_m94jocf45j1qeu6ilo1_500Two generations later Richard II renounced the throne in 1399. In reality, he too was deposed but his cousin Henry of Bolingbroke, who became Henry IV, recognized the importance of popular acclaim and legal justification for his actions- no need to discuss the fact that Richard II was being held captive at the time nor the fact that he didn’t have a great deal of choice in the matter. Like his great grandfather Richard found himself being escorted to a large castle (Pontefract) and quietly removed from the scene (starved).

During the Wars of the Roses, Lancastrians and Yorkists alike were careful to have parliament identify their reign as beginning prior to the key battle that saw them taking hold of power.  This ensured that the loosing side could all be attained for treason.

Charles_I_in_Three_Positions_1635-36By the reign of Charles I the law and parliament had evolved even further, though now is not the time to explore the reasons for that.  Charles found himself on trial for treason. The rationale for this came from the Roman idea that a military body could overthrow a tyrant and even then many people had doubts about the legitimacy of such an action. The Parliament of 1648 was notable for the way in which MPs were excluded from the House of Commons if they were not in support of Oliver Cromwell’s drastic actions. This parliament was known as the Rump Parliament.

 

The idea that there were fundamental laws and liberties which a monarch was required to uphold or to face penalties  imposed by parliament and the law would have come as a surprise to Charles I’s predecessors.  Having seen the power that they could wield parliament now invited Stuart monarchs to ascend to the throne, kicked them out if they didn’t like their religion and laid down statutes as to who could inherit the throne. This meant that with the advent of the protestant Hanoverian monarchs, the British monarchy was a constitutional monarchy.  Kings and queens are heads of state but within defined parameters – their role became increasingly ceremonial whilst the business of laws and governing rest in the hands of Parliament.

Who would have thought that this centuries long evolution would resolve itself in the first half of the twentieth century with the abdication of a monarch for the love of a woman?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Edward of Norwich

edward of norwich.jpgSome of you will be relieved that I’m moving away from Henry VIII for a short while. Today I’ve landed on the 8th of December 1405 and the figure behind the door is Edward of Norwich. So we’re slap bang in the middle of the reign of Henry IV and almost inevitably Edward is a Plantagenet related to Edward III. Edward III is Edward’s grandfather.

 

Edward’s father was Edward III’s fourth surviving son Edmund of Langley a.k.a. the first duke of York – from whence the name York of the House of York stems though rather confusingly by the time the Wars of the Roses started much of their land holdings were in the south whilst the Lancastrians held lands in Yorkshire (you know you’d be disappointed if it was straight forward).   Edward’s mother was Isabelle of Castille, the sister of John of Gaunt’s wife Blanche and there’s a tale to tell about Isabelle and her husband because there were rumours (aren’t there always?) that Edward’s younger brother Richard of Connisburgh wasn’t necessarily the child of Edmund of Langley.

 

Any way enough of that.  Edward died at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 having lived through the reigns of Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V. His death without heirs would mean that his nephew would become the 3rd duke of York and he would be at the heart of the Wars of the Roses.

 

Edward was born, oh dear, in Kings Langley, Norwich or York as it is possible that Norwich is a mispronunciation of the Latin form of the name York…it’s always nice to be clear about these things, don’t you think?

 

Edward was knighted at Richard II’s coronation in 1377 when he was about four years old. He was younger but close enough in age for the two boys to grow up together and  to be close to Richard II throughout Richard’s life. He benefitted accordingly becoming the earl of Cork and the earl of Rutland, as well as, duke of Aumale and eventually second duke of York. He became warden of the West March, Constable of the Tower, Governor of the isle of White. In fact if you can think of a well known role chances are that Edward will have held the office at some point during Richard II’s reign. He even gained control of Anne of Bohemia’s lands after her death and benefited from them financially.

 

In 1397 following the arrest of Thomas of Woodstock a.k.a. the duke of Gloucester (the youngest son of Edward III) and his subsequent nasty accident with a mattress it was Edward who became Constable of England ultimately accusing his uncle and the earl of Arundel of treason. It was widely suggested that Edward had assisted with the practicalities of the mattress related incident in Calais when his cousin suggested it would be a good idea if their uncle was removed from the scene.

 

So, Edward is at the key event in 1398 when Henry of Bolingbroke (John of Gaunt’s son and later Henry IV) took on Thomas Mowbray, duke of Norfolk, in armed combat. Edward was the constable in charge of overseeing fair play. Of course the combat didn’t go ahead and both Mowbray and Henry were exiled.

 

Edward went off to Ireland with Richard II who on John of Gaunt’s death had seized his estate and changed Bolingbroke’s exile from a temporary affair to one of life. Edward seeing which way the wind was blowing swiftly changed sides when Henry landed at Ravenspur. This about-face didn’t save Edward from the wrath of the people who’d risen up against Richard II.  It was only the intervention of Henry IV which saved him from prison and worse.  He did lose the title of Aumale.

 

In October 1399 Edward was a prisoner but by the end of the year he was back on the king’s council. Henry IV was troubled by plots throughout his reign. Henry V (then Prince Henry) would describe Edward as a ‘loyal and valiant knight’ demonstrating that Edward’s personality was such that he managed to survive being implicated in any of them over the long term unlike his brother Richard of Connisburgh got himself executed for his role in the Southampton Plot of 1415 or their sister Constance who had tried to put the earl of march on the throne in 1405.

The 1415 plot also sought  to place Edmund Mortimer a descendant of Lionel of Antwerp – the second surviving son of Edward III so legally the correct claimant of the crown after Richard II- in place of Henry V who was, of course, descended from John of Gaunt – the third surviving son of Edward III and Henry Iv who had of course usurped his cousin’s throne, albeit by popular demand.

 

Edward of Norwich died at Agincourt having placed himself in danger to protect Henry V. Edward was replaced as duke of Norfolk by his nephew, Richard of York – the son of Richard of Connisburgh who’d been executed for treason at the start of the French campaign for his role in the Southampton Plot.

 

And welcome to the Wars of the Roses. Richard of York would eventually attempt to claim the throne in December 1460 through his descent from Lionel of Antwerp rather than Edmund of Langley but fail to gain popular support. On the 30th December 1460 he would be killed along with his son the young earl of Rutland in the aftermath of the Battle of Wakefield.

In between doing what Plantagenets did i.e. being a soldier, ruling various realms and plotting against his family, Edward of Norwich  also managed to find time to write the oldest known book on hunting.

You might be wondering whether Edward married.  The answer is yes, he did.  Phillippa de Bohun who was twenty years his senior.  She must have been an heiress I hear you yell. Well actually no.  Although Phillippa was a de Bohun her mother had sold the family estates leaving her daughters with no lands and no noticeable dowry.  Intriguingly Edward’s bride was not only twenty years older than him she was also no great catch and having already been twice widowed but still childless not particularly fertile…leaving us with the possibility that the pair loved one another.

 

http://www.englishmonarchs.co.uk/plantagenet_70.html

http://www.shakespeareandhistory.com/duke-of-aumerle.php

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King’s Mead Priory, Derby

 

DSC_0491The Benedictine nunnery of King’s Mead in Derby dedicated to the Virgin Mary was the only Benedictine foundation in Derbyshire and its inhabitants were initially under the spiritual and temporal guidance of the abbot of Darley Abbey – an Augustinian foundation.  History reveals that in the twelfth century there was a warden who acted as chaplain to the nuns as well as looking after the nuns’ business affairs. The nunnery grew its land holdings over the next hundred or so years so that it included three mills at Oddebrook. One of the reasons that this may have occurs was because Henry III gave the nuns twelve acres of land. Because the king had shown an interest it is possible that more donors followed suit in an effort to win favour. Equally donors such as Lancelin Fitzlancelin and his wife Avice who gave land and animals to the nunnery in 1230 or Henry de Doniston and his wife Eleanor could expect a shorter term in Pergatory after their deaths because the nuns would be expected to hold them in their prayers as a result of the land transaction.

 

By 1250 the nuns of King’s Mead and the abbot of Darley Dale were out of sorts with one another. It was decided that the nuns should go their own way and that the abbot of Darley Dale would cease interfering with their business. The land holdings of both organisations were perused and a division occurred.  The nuns were required to give some land to Darley Abbey but it was at this time that the church and living of St Werburgh in Derby along with other agricultural land was signed over to the nuns.

The pattern is similar to countless other monastic foundations across the country, so too are the difficulties that befell the nuns. Sadly they ended up so deeply in debt due to cattle morrain that by 1327 that they had to ask the king for protection as they were not able to offer hospitality to visitors to Derby. This raises an interesting question. Who exactly were the nuns petitioning? Edward II reigned from 1284 until 1327 but he was forced by his wife Isabella of France and her lover Roger Mortimer to hand over his crown to his son, Edward, in January 1327 before being whisked off to Berkeley Castle where he died on the 21st September 1327 (if history is to be believed) due to an unfortunate accident with a hot poker. The petition must therefore have been addressed to King Edward III but realistically it was Mortimer who was in charge at this point in proceedings.

 

Things looked as though they were improving with the appointment of a new prioress, Joan Touchet, and custodians who could make the books balance. However the priory was still struggling seven years later. Joan was still in charge in 1349 but she died that year. It was the year of the Black Death.

 

After this time the nunnery seems to have ticked along without cause for concern. A possible reason for this could well have been the charter from Henry IV granting the nuns payment of one hundred shillings every year from the town of Nottingham. Another reason could well have been the fact that it was Derbyshire’s only nunnery so it had the monopoly on educating the daughters of Derbyshire’s leading lights.

 

Things start to look uncertain for King’s Mead with the reign of Henry VI. The County History reveals the tale of the abbot of Burton demanding the back payment of twenty-one years rent. The prioress, a lady called Isabel de Stanley wasn’t having any of it:

 

Wenes these churles to overlede me or sue the law agayne me ? They shall not be so hardy but they shall avye upon their bodies and be nailed with arrowes; for I am a gentlewoman comen of the greatest of Lancashire and Cheshire; and that they shall know right well.

 

With hind sight, it may have been a bit of a foolish thing for the abbot of Burton to do though he can’t have known that Henry VI would end up murdered in the Tower or that the only Lancastrian claimant left standing would be the  step son of one Thomas Stanley. The name Stanley should be ringing bells by now! The prioress was related to Thomas Stanley who just so happened to be Margaret Beaufort’s husband and she of course just so happened to be Henry Tudor’s mother…

 

Not that being cosy with the Tudors was something that would serve future prioresses of King’s Mead very well. The Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535, identifies Joan Curzon as prioress and gives the annual value of King’s Mead as £18 6s. 2d. and that the priory was in debt. The nuns of King’s Mead had already had a bit of a shock before the arrival of the visitors. The year before a fake visitor called James Billingford, who claimed to be the queen’s cousin arrived to inspect the barns. He was shown to be a fraud but it wasn’t long before Layton and Legh, Cromwell’s unfunny double act, arrived to poke into King’s Mead’s shady corners. They found nothing apart from a fragment of Thomas of Canterbury’s shirt which was venerated by the pregnant ladies of Derby. Interestingly, despite being the only nunnery in Derbyshire King’s Mead was not given a stay of execution. Perhaps the Prioress didn’t know that Cromwell was open to financial gifts or perhaps the sisters couldn’t afford to pay. In any event the nunnery was suppressed in 1536.

 

In 1541 the site fell into the ownership of the Fifth Earl of Shrewsbury and by the nineteenth century nothing remained apart from the name Nun Street.

 

 

 

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To be king…or not to be king…

You’d have thought, from history lessons at school, that inheriting the throne in the medieval period would have been fairly straight forward – i.e. the number one son.  However, from Norman times onwards it was rarely as simple as that; occasionally it involved imprisonment or death – sometimes both.  GraduHenry IVally, however, Parliament became involved with the process of identifying the order in which monarchs would ascend the throne.
In 1406 an act of the so-called Long Parliament which went on most of the year and seemed to deal largely with sorting out Henry IV’s account book decided who would inherit the crown in the event of Prince Henry (who would become Henry V) pre-deceasing his father without producing ‘an heir of his body’.  Many historians have identified this as Henry IV seeking to restrict the number of people who could make a claim to the throne in an attempt to bolster his line which descended from the third surviving son of Edward III and which only had its grubby mitts on the crown because Henry IV had usurped the crown from his cousin Richard II (imprisonment and death).  In June 1406 an act identified Henry IV’s sons in age order and their male heirs but in December this act was replaced by an earlier law (1404) restoring the succession to the king’s sons and their heirs. The term heirs means male and female children. Neither of Henry IV’s daughters were mentioned – Blanche who had been married in 1402 to Louis III, Elector Palatine and Philippa who was queen of most of Scandinavia:

…it is ordained and established, that the inheritance of the crown, and of the realms of England and France, and of all the other dominions of our said lord the king beyond the sea, with all the appurtenances, shall be settled and remain in the person of the same our lord the king, and in the heirs of his body begotten; and especially at the request and of the assent aforesaid, it is ordained and established, pronounced, decreed, and declared, that the lord the prince Henry eldest son to our said lord the king, be heir apparent to the same our lord the king,to succeed him in the said crown, realms and dominions, to have them with all the appurtenances after the decease of the same our lord the king, to him and his heirs of his body begotten; and if he die without heir of his body begotten, then all the said crown, realms and dominions, with all the appurtenances, shall remain to the Lord Thomas, second son of our said lord the king, and to the heirs of his body begotten; and if he die without issue of his body, that then ail the said crown, realms and dominions, with all the appurtenances, shall remain to the Lord John, the third son of our said lord the king, and to the heirs of his body begotten; and if he die without heir of his body begotten, that then all the foresaid crown, realms and dominions, with all the appurtenances, shall remain to the Lord Humphrey,the fourth son of our said lord the king, and the heirs of his body begotten.

 

300_2511351As it happened none of Henry IV’s children did much in the way of begetting.  Thomas, Duke of Clarence was killed at the Battle of Bauge in 1421.   Henry V married Katherine of Valois and had one son who became Henry VI by the time he was nine months old in 1422.  John, Duke of Bedford was married twice.  His second wife was Jacquetta of Luxembourg who went on to marry one of John’s household knights and have a large family including her daughter Elizabeth Woodville.  John of Bedford, on the other hand, had no legitimate children. Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester was initially married to Jacqueline of Hainault but the marriage was annulled without surviving issue.  Humphrey then went on to marry his mistress Eleanor Cobham who was ultimately found guilty of witchcraft and imprisoned.  He didn’t have legitimate children either.    Given that Henry IV had six children who survived to adulthood he possibly didn’t anticipate that his line would prove quite so unprolific when he arranged for Parliament to pass the 1406 Act of Succession.

 

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In 1460 during the reign of Henry VI which history remembers largely for the Wars of the Roses,  Parliament repealed the act of 1406 at the behest of Richard, Duke of York who said that the whole thing was decidedly dodgy and reflected the fact that Henry IV was trying to shore up his line having usurped the crown from Richard II and his rightful heirs who were, of course, Richard of York’s immediate ancestors. The Act of Accord passed in October 1460 allowed Henry VI to keep the crown but identified Richard of York as his heir by-passing Henry VI’s own son Prince Edward. Richard was dead by the end of the year, killed at the Battle of Wakefield.

 

Richard of York, it should be added, made no comment about the note added in 1407 to the document that legitimised Henry IV’s half siblings by Katherine Swynford. Henry IV wrote on it himself ‘excepta dignitate regali’ . Those three words meant that although the Beauforts were legal they could not claim the throne. Henry IV’s marginal amendment did not go through the legal process. Parliament did not ratify his endeavours to influence who might or might not become king making Henry IV’s bar on them decidedly dubious.

 

Of course, Henry IV was not the last king to try and ensure the succession from beyond the grave. Henry VIII had more Acts of Succession than were healthy for any one king– the first one was passed by Parliament in 1533 (Actually March 1534) replaced Princess Mary, having bastardised her, with the Princess Elizabeth. The second of these acts made Elizabeth illegitimate whilst the third Act of Succession in 1543 legalised both princesses and stipulated the order in which Henry VIII’s children beginning with his son Edward were to inherit the throne. Henry VIII backed this act up with his will which also laid out the order in which his offspring were to inherit the kingdom.  The last of the Tudors, Queen Elizabeth I, not only by-passed marriage and the begetting of heirs but also refused to name her successor outright much to the irritation of her council and her parliaments.

 

By 1701 Parliament had gained sufficient clout to prevent kings (and queens) they didn’t like from inheriting the kingdom. They mainly didn’t like Catholic Stuart kings – the 1701 Act of Settlement, identified the first available non-Catholic heir by tracing back up the Stuart family tree to Elizabeth of Bohemia (the so-called Winter Queen) who was the daughter of James VI of Scotland/ James I of England. Her daughter was Sophia of Hanover. Parliament very politely invited her to accept the crown in the event of Queen Anne, who clearly wasn’t going to have an heir of her own, dying. Sadly for Sophia, Queen Anne outlived her by nearly three months, necessitating a further Act of Settlement that invited Sophia’s Protestant son George of Hanover to take the crown in 1714.

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Henry VII – king of ‘spin’?

henryviiHenry VII’s claim to the throne was weak – and that’s putting it mildly. There was only the thinnest of Plantagenet threads running through his blood. Even that had to be legitimised in 1397 by Richard II who issued Letters Patent to that fact when the children of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford (they’d finally married the previous year) were bought into Parliament along with their parents to stand beneath a canopy of State. Pope Boniface IX had already issued a papal dispensation legitimising the Beaufort clan. However, Henry IV added a note into the legal record in 1407 stating that the Beauforts were not to inherit the throne. It might not have been strictly legal but it weakened Henry’s already weak claim.  In addition to which England did not have a salic law prohibiting women from the crown so technically the aftermath of the Battle of Bosworth should have seen the crowning of Queen Margaret.

 

Henry was able to make a play for the throne simply because by 1483 there weren’t many Lancaster sprigs left – the Wars of the Roses took a terrible toll on the aristocratic male population who counted themselves as having direct male descent from Edward III whether they were for York or for Lancaster. George, Duke of Clarence’s son, Edward – the young Earl of Warwick, was a child. The Duke of Buckingham claimed Plantagenet blood but like Henry Tudor’s it came from the Beaufort line and a junior one to Henry’s. There were others descended from female lines including the de la Poles who would be regarded as a key threat to the Tudors.  After Henry came to the throne as well as demonstrating prudent fiscal policy Henry also demonstrated a dab hand at pruning the Plantagenet branches still further – as did his son, to ensure that the Tudor dynasty continued.

 

DSCF2105.JPGWhatever one might think of the twists and turns of the Battle of Bosworth on 22 August 1485, not to mention the Stanley turncoats, the fact is that Richard III’s army gave way to Henry’s and Richard lost his life. Henry became king of England on the battlefield by conquest and thus by God’s will – Divine Right – working on the principle that God had given Henry the power to overcome Richard III. Yes, I know that some of the readers of this post are going to mutter about treachery but the view is a valid one when one takes account of the medieval/early modern mind set. The badge to the left of this paragraph is in the keeping of the British Library and it reflects this fact.  Henry wasn’t shy about reminding people.

bosworth-windows.jpgThere were also ballads entitled ‘Bosworth Field’ and the ‘Ballad of Lady Bessie”.  The earliest printed version (well – a summary) dates from the sixteenth century and there is some question as to whether these ballads are pure fiction, their reliability is questionable. However, it is not unreasonable to assume that Henry would have encouraged ballads like this in order that ordinary people heard about the fact that someone who was really very obscure had taken the crown on the battle field.  According to the ballad – in a king on king struggle to the death Henry was personally victorious…history is after all the winners version and does not necessarily take all the facts into consideration. Double click on the image on the right to open a new window linking to the American branch of the Richard III society and a version of the ballad.

 

Henry was equally swift to ensure that the written word reflected not only the Tudor right to rule but how much better they were than their immediate predecessors.  Polydore Vergil arrived in England in 1502 to collect Peter’s Pence but as a humanist scholar Henry VII was keen to have him on board.  It is thought that he began writing the Anglica Historia in 1505, although it wasn’t published until 1534. Double click on the title to open a new window and the online version of Vergil’s unashamedly pro-Tudor writing.  In this excerpt we see Vergil extol Henry’s virtues as he took up the reigns of office:

 

His chief care was to regulate well affairs of state and, in order that the people of England should not be further torn by rival factions, he publically proclaimed that (as he had already promised) he would take for his wife Elizabeth daughter of King Edward and that he would give complete pardon and forgiveness to all those who swore obedience to his name. Then at length, having won the good-will of all men and at the instigation of the both nobles and people, he was made king at Westminster on 31 October and called Henry, seventh of that name. These events took place in the year 1486 after the birth of Our Saviour.

 

There were other contemporary chronicles, principally The Great Chronicle of London and the Chronicle of Calais as well as later chroniclers including Edward Hall who wrote The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancastre and Yorke, more commonly known as Hall’s Chronicle – Hall was born in 1497.  Sir Thomas More wrote about the reign of Richard  III – he was four in 1485. And, of course, there was Holinshed’s Chronicle which heavily influenced Shakespeare. It made its first appearance in 1577. All of them were vehicles for the Tudor State one way or another.

gold medal.jpgBack to Henry – having driven home the message that he was king by Divine Right and because he was better (yes, I know its Tudor spin) than his predecessors because he paid attention to the country and didn’t murder small boys he also needed to make it clear that the Tudor dynasty was a fresh start. The pope had been so glad that the English had stopped slaughtering one another that he didn’t hesitate in signing the dispensation that allowed Henry to marry Edward IV’s daughter, Elizabeth of York. He  was swift to honour his pledge to marry her, once the stain of illegitimacy had been revoked by Parliament. A medal was struck commemorating the marriage in 1486. This rare survivor is in the hands of the British Museum.  Double click on the image to open a new page with information about the medal. Elizabeth wasn’t crowned until the Tudor dynasty looked like becoming a certainty. Henry did not want to be seen as Elizabeth’s consort. He wanted it to be understood that he was king in his own right.

marriagebed + henry tudorBizarrely Henry VII’s marriage-bed came to end up in a car park in Chester.  However, since it’s identity has been verified the magnificent carvings can be used to tell the story that Henry wanted to tell in his union with Elizabeth of York Double click on the image to open a window and find out more.

 

DSC_0002Which – brings us back to the dodgy bloodline.   Henry got around the problem by simply using a much older legacy. He claimed that he was descended from the ancient British hero Cadwallader, and produced pedigrees to prove it.  He fought under the red dragon at Bosworth and a red dragon was swiftly added to the permitted armorial supporters before his coronation. Cadwallader was reflected on his coat of arms as shown in the first image in this post. The white greyhound is the Richmond greyhound but the red dragon, which flew on Henry’s banner as he marched through Wales from Pembroke belonged to the ancient king. Other images show Henry’s coat of arms also bearing a portcullis. This came from the Beaufort armorial bearings.

Penn’s acclaimed book about Henry VII demonstrates the lengths that Henry went to in order to secure his kingdom and his dynasty.  An article published in The Guardian in 2012 notes that Henry didn’t just use the red dragon he also made use of the red rose of Lancaster – a somewhat obscure symbol at that time- which was then united with the white rose of York to create the Tudor Rose signifying the union of the two houses and the end of the thirty years of conflict.  He then proceeded to plant his roses everywhere: on architecture, on pre-existing manuscripts and on new documents. Double click on the image of Henry’s banner to open a new page with the full article.

 

Another well used symbol locating Henry’s right to be king in conquest is the image of that crown perched on a wild rose bush. This was a reminder that Henry had won his crown on the battlefield. In an age of low literacy it was important for there to be symbolism that people understood. Henry was a master of propaganda, right down to the Tudor livery of green and white. White symbolised purity whilst green represented renewal.

DSCF2103Henry also looked to the legend of King Arthur.  Unsurprisingly Henry simply claimed him as an ancestor and reminded folk of Merlin’s prophecy that Arthur would return with the union of the red king and the white queen.  It probably isn’t co-incidence that Malory’s Morte d’Arthur was one of the first books off Caxton’s printing press in England. Elizabeth of York went to Winchester which Malory claimed was Camelot in order to have her first child.  Prince Arthur was duly born and baptised in Winchester.  The Italian humanist, Petrus Carmelianus wrote a poem to celebrate the birth and the end of the civil war.  One of the illustrated pages shows the royal coat of arms being supported by two angels (back to Divine Right). It might also be worth noting that Petrus went on to become Henry VII’s Latin secretary and chaplain.  Double click on Petrus Carmelianus to open a new page with an illustration of one of the pages from his poem. Henry also reinstated Winchester’s round table which dates from the reign of Edward III.  This together with a small number of King Arthur related tapestries and images, according to the article on the subject by Starkey, is all that remains of Henry’s arthurian public image strategy – one which he’d borrowed, it should be added from earlier Plantagenet kings including Edward III and Edward IV.roundtable.jpg

In other respects Henry simply took up long established traditions such as being portrayed in manuscripts as a king, including one where he was depicted as a classical hero and issuing coinage which showed a very lifelike looking Henry.

The most easily accessible online image in a manuscript of Henry as king can be found in the British Library. The book called Henry VII’s book of Astrology shows him sitting on his throne in royal regalia receiving the book of astrology as a gift. Obviously Fate and the stars were on Henry’s side when he became king. Double click on the image from the manuscript to open a British Library article about the imagery in the text.  The manuscript itself has been digitised and pages can be viewed on the British Library website Astrology was a ‘proper’ science. All the Tudors had court astrologers – the most famous being Dr John Dee during the reign of Elizabeth I.

henry vii receiving book.jpgHenry VII’s astrologers appear not to have been a particularly able bunch.  One predicted that Elizabeth of York would live until she was eighty whilst William Parron’s 1503 manuscript predicted that young Prince Henry would grow up to be a good son of the Catholic Church. Parron had originally found favour by predicting that all of Henry VII’s enemies would die…

 

 

 

 

 

Doran, Susan. The Tudor Chronicles. London:Quercus

Penn, Thomas. (2012) Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England. London:Penguin

Starkey, David, “King Henry and King Arthur,” in Arthurian Literature XVI, ed. James Patrick Carley, 171-196. Woodbridge, Suffolk: D.S. Brewer, 1998.

 

 

 

 

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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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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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Pontefract Castle

DSC_0001Wolsey, on his way back to London in disgrace commented of Pontefract Castle, “Shall I go there, and lie there, and die like a beast?”  Perhaps he was thinking of King Richard II who starved to death in the great fortress.

The Normans built their motte and bailey on the Anglo-Saxon Royal Manor of Tanshelf.  It’s builder was Ilbert de Lacy.  Ilbert and his brother arrived in 1066.  The new Lord of Pontefract had done well out of the conquest and didn’t forget to show his gratitude by making gifts to both Selby Abbey and St Mary’s Abbey in York.  DSC_0004

As the centuries progressed so did the castle until its eight towers dominated the town and the landscape beyond. Edward I described it as ‘the key to the north’.  The de Lacy’s continued to be its custodians until Henry de Lacy  (Earl of Lincoln) lost his male heir when he fell off the battlements in 1310.  His daughter Alice an important heiress was married to Thomas, Earl of Lancaster so it was he who became the next custodian of the castle.  He was Edward II’s cousin and it would be fair to say that they didn’t see eye to eye.  By 1318 Alice and Thomas were separated – possibly because of the fraught political situation of the period or perhaps because they just didn’t like one another.  Alice spent most of her time in Pickering while Thomas lived a bachelor life.  Thomas eventually revolted against his cousin on account of the Despencers, made an alliance with the Scots and then rather unfortunately lost the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322.  He was taken back home to Pontefract and unceremoniously executed looking towards Scotland which was the direction of his treachery.  DSC_0021

Eventually the castle passed into the hands of John of Gaunt and from there to his son Henry Bolingbroke who became Henry IV when he usurped his cousin’s throne.  Richard II found himself locked in one of Pontefract;s dungeons and that was the end of him.  Pontefract was now a royal castle and its prisoners reflected its importance and its security.  In 1405, Richard Scrope, Archbishop of York was imprisoned here before his execution.  James I of Scotland spent some time here as an unwilling guest as did the Dukes of Bourbon and Orleans after their capture at Agincourt.  Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury was executed here in 1460 and in 1483 Richard of York had Earl Rivers and Lord Richard Gray imprisoned here and executed – which was one way to reduce the Woodville influence at court but hasn’t reflected well on the man who became Richard III mainly because the two half brothers of the boy king Edward V were executed without trial.

The castle had a grim reputation which is perhaps something that Catherine Howard (Henry VIII’s Fifth wife) ought to have reflected upon before she started her affair with Thomas Culpepper during a Royal Progress.DSC_0011

Pontefract Castle’s days of greatness  and terror drew to a close with the English Civil War.  After the Battle of Marston Moor the castle became a Royalist stronghold.  Parliamentry forces besieged it and when it finally fell in 1648 the mayor of Pontefract petitioned on behalf of the townspeople that the castle should be destroyed.  Work began  in April 1649.

Today a few fragments of the castle remain.  The curtain wall encloses a park which hides a grim secret.  Some thirty-five feet beneath the grass there lurks a network of  cellars and magazines which were once Pontefract Castle’s dungeons.

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