Henry Percy, Fourth Earl of Northumberland

museumbossThis particular Earl of Northumberland is an unusual one in that he was the only one of his family to appear on the Yorkist side of the battle listings during the Wars of the Roses which of course means that a bit of back story is required for his actions to make sense.

Essentially the two great northern families were the Percys and the Nevilles (think Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick a.k.a. the Kingmaker). Had Henry VI been a little bit more effective it is possible that the two families wouldn’t have reached such a state of animosity that when Henry VI broke down in 1453 that the two sides came to blows.  A force of more than seven hundred Percys and their retainers, led by Lord Egremont (the Earl of Northumberland’s second son), attacked a wedding party of Nevilles on Heworth Moor near York.  Quite clearly this did not bode well for wide political implications as it was almost inevitable that if the Percys were favoured by Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou that the Nevilles would look to the other side for support.

The Nevilles affiliated themselves with the Richard of York. The Earl of Salisbury (the Kingmaker’s father) also called Richard Neville was Richard of York’s uncle.  His sister, Cicely Neville a.k.a. ‘The Rose of Raby’ was married to Richard of York.

So far so good. The Earls of Northumberland then proceeded to drop like flies and of course they all rejoiced in the name Henry thus making remembering them easy or difficult depending on what you’re trying to remember. The Second Earl of Northumberland didn’t make it beyond the first official battle of the Wars of the Roses.  He was killed at the First Battle of St Albans on 22 May 1455.  He was succeeded by his eldest son Henry Percy (just to confuse matters he’s also known as Lord Poynings on account of gaining the title when he married his wife) who became the Third Earl of Northumberland. The third earl was definitely Lancastrian.  The feud was in full swing now as the noble families of England merrily took turns slaughtering on another. He died in his turn on 29 March 1461 at the Battle of Towton.  This battle was won by Richard of York’s son Edward who was now Edward IV of England, his father having fallen victim to a sharp weapon at the Battle of Wakefield the previous year.

The death of earl number three finally brings us to our Henry Percy.  He did not automatically become the Earl of Northumberland. His father’s earldom was forfeited at the Battle of Towton by the victorious Yorkists who naturally declared everyone fighting on the wrong side of the battle field traitors and promptly confiscated anything of value as well as lopping off a few heads.  In that sense Henry Percy was lucky.  He was imprisoned in the Fleet Prison and from there he was sent to the Tower in 1464.  During this time John Neville, the Kingmaker’s brother  was created Earl of Northumberland – I don’t even want to imagine how that went down with the locals.

In 1469 after swearing fealty to Edward IV  Henry Percy was released.  He then set about trying to get his estates returned. He petitioned for the reversal of his father’s attainder though this was not granted by Parliament until 1473.  For various reasons including his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV began to find his Neville cousins rather wearing and ultimately Henry Percy gained Edward IV’s support.  John Neville found himself kicked out of his newly acquired earldom whilst Henry Percy regained the family title.  Ta dah! Henry Percy, Fourth Earl of Northumberland and Ta dah! John Neville, Marquess of Montagu.

Unsurprisingly John Neville wasn’t best pleased and promptly changed sides along with his brother the Earl of Warwick who was displeased with having been made to look a fool whilst negotiating for Edward IV’s marriage to a french princess only to discover that he’d married Elizabeth Woodville. After that the Nevilles found that dominating court became rather tricky with the best perks going to a huge extended Woodville clan.  Both brothers were killed at the Battle of Barnet in 1471

Henry Percy went back to doing what the Earls of Northumberland had been doing for a very long time – i.e. ruling vast tracts of land and skirmishing with the Scots. He held many of the important government posts in the north of England which were traditional in his family including from 10 May 1483, as protector, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, confirmed the fourth earl of Northumberland’s appointment as warden-general of the east and middle marches ‘during the space and time of a whole year’, after which it was renewed for five months but perhaps it would appear not as much power from Richard III as he had hoped. Naturally enough  he fought at Bosworth where he commanded the right wing of Richard III’s army.

And now for the twist.  The Percys were naturally Lancastrian by inclination. Percy’s father and grandfather had died for Henry VI. Some historians says that Percy betrayed Richard III by holding his forces back from action.  Percy’s northern levies weren’t committed to the battle.

If Northumberland had been a metaphorical spoke in Richard’s wheel he wasn’t very well rewarded by Henry Tudor who now became Henry VII. Northumberland, along with the earls of Westmoreland and Surrey was taken into custody and kept in prison for several months, being released only under strict conditions of good behaviour.  He was restored to his position as warden but with curtailed powers.  Henry may not have trusted him but Percy knew how to protect England’s northern border. He was also at hand to help defeat the Yorkist forces that gathered during the Lambert Simnel rebellion in 1487.

In 1489 Northumberland was part of the king’s administration gathering £100,000 of tax. This led to the Yorkshire Rebellion.  Northumberland had to deal with the resistance of Yorkshiremen to the tenth of incomes demanded for Henry’s Breton war and for the raising of a force against the Scots.  Things can’t have gone well for the Earl  as his own tenants were up in arms.  He was so alarmed that on Saturday, 24 April, he wrote to Sir Robert Plumpton from Seamer, close to Scarborough, ordering him to secretly bring as many armed men as he could to Thirsk by the following Monday. It didn’t do him much good.

On  Wednesday, 28 April, having gathered a force estimated at eight hundred men, he came into conflict with the commons, whose ringleader was one John a Chamber, near Thirsk, at a place variously called Cockledge or Blackmoor Edge, and was killed.

It was at first reported that he had gone out unarmed to parley with the rebels. It rapidly became clear that another reason for the earl’s death was that the good men of Thirsk who had been loyal to Richard III held the earl partly responsible for their king’s death.  The rebellion was  ultimately suppressed by the Earl of Surrey (the son of the Duke of Norfolk and yet another noble who’d been on the wrong side at Bosworth).  Surrey  took on Northumberland’s lands whilst the newest Henry Percy  was a minor.

More complicated family trees – and a link to the Plantagenets.

IMG_3953John Clifford, the Tenth Lord, maintained the reputation for jousting that his father had bequeathed to him. Like his father he met with the Douglas family in tournament at Carlisle and like his father he was established as a favourite at court.  He was present at the coronation of Henry V and following the victory at Agincourt at the coronation of Katherine of Valois.

The Cliffords were definitely  on the up. It helped that their experiences on the Scottish borders made them warriors.  John maintained his role in the north and added to the family homes by extending Appleby Castle – the gatehouse which stands today was commission by him.  John aside from his parochial responsibities in the north and job as MP for Henry IV and Henry V’s parliaments also managed to find time  to gain a reputation for thrashing the french during the Hundred Years War.

 

Edward III’s mother was Isabella of France (the one married to Edward II and known in history as the ‘she wolf’’). Upon the death of her brothers she was the last remaining member of the family so logically the French throne should have passed to her son King Edward III of England. Certainly that was what had been promised. However, the French were not keen on the English and also had a salic law in place which prohibited women from claiming the throne so handed the crown straight to a male cousin causing the English to become very irritated indeed and spend slightly more than a hundred years trying to prove their point with varying amounts of success.

 

Edward III carried his claim into war against France and it continued intermittently thereafter through the reigns of Richard II, Henry IV , Henry V and Henry VI. In its early years when the English were successful it was an opportunity for knights to make a fortune in loot and ransoms. It was also an opportunity to gain influence and power. Yerborough records of John Clifford:

 

Henry V retained him in his service for one year for the war with France. The contract was to this effect, that the said John, Lord Clifford, with fifty men-at-arms well accoutred, whereof three to be knights, the rest esquires, and one hundred and fifty archers, whereof two parts to serve on horseback, the third on foot, should serve the king from the day he should be ready to set sail for France, taking for himself 4s.for every knight, for every esquire is., for every archer 6d. a day.

P29 Yerborough, Some Notes on Our Family History

 

John was by Henry V’s side at Agincourt and at the Siege of Harfleur, then the inevitable happened. He got himself killed. He was thirty-three years old in 1422 when he was killed at the Siege of Meaux.  Again according to Yerborough and the Chronicle of Kirkstall he “was buried at Bolton Abbey apud canonicos de Boulton.’ Elizabeth his wife outlived him and married, secondly, Ralph, Earl of Westmorland.”  The moral of the story being that if you were sufficiently important someone would pickle you and send you home to your grieving wife who would promptly marry someone just as important as you even if you were a knight of the garter.

 

Marrying someone important was rapidly becoming a family pass time for the Cliffords.  Elizabeth Clifford started out as Elizabeth Percy. She was the daughter of Shakespeare’s Earl of Northumberland – Harry Hotspur- meaning that not only was she a scion of the most powerful border family in the country but she was also a Plantagenet. Her grandfather had been Edward Mortimer, Earl of March and her grandmother Philippa was the only child of Lionel Duke of Clarence, the second son of King Edward III.

Ties to the Plantagenets were even deeper and even more complicated than the Elizabeth Percy link. John’s sister Matilda (or Maud depending on the text) married Richard, Duke of Cambridge. Richard’s first wife Ann had been a Mortimer (a daughter of the fourth Earl of March– so definitely some kind of cousin of Elizabeth Percy) but Ann had died in childbirth leaving children and brothers who would find their Plantagenet bloodline and claim to the throne increasingly problematic.

 

Richard and Maud had one daughter Alice – about whom I’m currently quite upset as I thought I knew the House of York family tree rather well on the grounds that knowing who was related to whom becomes very important if you study the Wars of the Roses and now there’s someone new for me to worry about. Maud, on the other hand, was not in the least bit worried by the looks of it. She outlived Richard who managed to get himself executed in 1415 in the aftermath of the Southampton Plot.

 

The Southampton Plot had been designed to depose Henry V and replace him with Edward Mortimer – Richard’s young brother-in-law by his first wife Ann Mortimer. Edward Mortimer had a very good claim to the throne being descended from the second son of Edward III. Henry V didn’t take very kindly to Richard and his friends pointing out that Henry’s dad (Henry IV) had stolen the throne from his cousin (Richard II).  Aside from the fact that usurping thrones is generally not very nice, Henry IV and V were descended from John of Gaunt who was the third son of Edward III. Neither of them really should have been king at all – the descendants of the second son having a better claim than the descendants of the third son.  Henry demonstrated that family trees are all very well but actually being a medieval king was largely about having a large sword, an even larger army and a reputation for winning.  Had Henry V lived to see his son grow to adulthood Richard of Cambridge may well have ended up as a footnote in history as it was Henry V failed to do the one other thing that a medieval king needed to do – provide the kingdom with a strong adult male to succeed him.

 

Maud spent a lot of time at Conisborough Castle after Richard’s death and became a founder an patron of Roche Abbey.  She must have seen the various members of the Plantagenet family and their associated noble scions taking sides after Henry V’s death as to who should wield power in England – the House of York to which the Cliffords were allied through marriage or the House of Lancaster. Her will, dated 1446 (just nine years before the First Battle of St Albans), makes no mention of her troublesome step-children who would feature heavily in the Wars of the Roses.

 

Just to complicate matters that little bit further Matilda/Maud had already been married once to John Neville, the Sixth Baron Latimer. The divorce documents still remain – “casusa frigiditatis ujusdem Johannis Nevill  Now there’s a story to be told in those few words!  Who needs soap operas when the Plantagenets and the Cliffords are in town?