Tag Archives: Henry VII

Who murdered the princes in the Tower?

princes_in_the_tower_2.jpgThe honest answer to that is that it rather depends on your interpretation of the sources and, as I have said before, your affiliations. Richard III is a monarch who stirs strong sentiments!  I first encountered the event and a few of the various sources aged eleven when my History teacher used the Jackdaw activity pack about the princes to encourage his class to see that History isn’t something cast in concrete and that the same source can be valued or discredited according to viewpoint and known facts. The story of the princes is the story of an unsolved murder – it’s a bit like unmasking Jack the Ripper in that everyone has their pet theory and some evidence to back up their ideas. The novelist Patricia Cornwall has spent a huge sum of money to gather overlooked evidence which points to Jack being the artist Walter Sickert. Unsolved historical murders have a fascination because everyone can look at the available evidence and draw their own conclusions.  Difficulties arise when historians – and determined amateur sleuths – try to find previously unknown evidence that has disappeared down the crevices of time  that will point in the right direction. It is often the work of painstakingly moving the pieces around until a more clear picture emerges. Until then it has to be best and most accepted fit – but that doesn’t mean that in a modern court the evidence would produce a guilty verdict.

So here  are the possibilities of what happened to the Princes- in no particular order, other than the order they’ve emerged from my brain.

  1. King Richard III had them killed. Please don’t inhale and reach for your keyboard if you think he’s innocent – he is a rather notable suspect.  Richard, as duke of Gloucester, served his brother Edward IV with loyalty and honour.  Edward left him to get on with ruling the North of England and he did a stonkingly good job of it.  The good folk of York felt sufficiently strongly about it to make a note of his deposition and death at Bosworth – an act guaranteed to hack off the new regime.  The problem for Richard, if you’re that way inclined, was that Edward IV allowed the Woodville faction to gain dominance at court in terms of lucrative positions, marriages and ultimately by giving the care of his son into Woodville hands.  Richard only found out about his brother’s death because Lord Hastings sent him a note warning of Woodville intentions to get young Edward crowned as quickly as possible which would have seen Richard as a protector without any power because he didn’t have control of the king. When Richard intercepted the young king at Northampton it could be argued that Richard was acting in the interests of rather a lot of people who weren’t terrible keen on the aforementioned Woodvilles who were regarded by many as too big for their boots – and now is not the time to go down the side alley of Jacquetta Grey’s lineage. So far so good. Nor is this post the time to go through the whole chronology of events. The key things that stick in my mind are the Eleanor Butler incident i.e. the announcement that Edward IV had already been pre contracted in marriage thus rendering all his children illegitimate and Richard as heir to the throne.  The argument is usually put forward that if the children were illegitimate and since the Titulus Regulus act of Parliament said they were then there was no way they could inherit-so why kill them?  There’s also the episode with Lord Hastings finding himself being manhandled out of a privy council meeting to a handy lump of timber where he was executed without trial – clearly a large chunk from the historical jigsaw missing there although plenty of historians have presented theories on the subject as to why Richard should fall out with his brother’s friend so dramatically and decisively. Jane Shore found herself doing public penance, lost her property and ended up in jail in the aftermath of the episode – again why should Richard do that?  His brother had plenty of other mistresses.  The problem with skulduggery is that people don’t tend to make careful notes before, during or after the event – at least not if they wanted to keep their heads. There is obviously much more that I could write about both for and against Richard’s involvement.  I have four rather hefty volumes on my desk as I type.  Richard was the key suspect at the time according to rumour- Dominic Mancini left an account of events as he understood them.  He left England the week of Richard’s coronation, doesn’t provide an account of what Richard looked like and his manuscript went missing until 1934.  He says:” But after Hastings was removed, all the attendants who had waited on the king were debarred access to him. He and his brother were withdrawn into the inner apartments of the Tower proper, and day by day  began to be seen more rarely behind the bars and windows, til at length they ceased to appear altogether. The Physician John Argentine, the last of his attendants whose services the king enjoyed, reported that the young kin, like a victim prepared for sacrifice, sought remission of his sins by daily confession and penance, because he believed that death was facing him.”

    “I have seen many men burst into tears and lamentations when mention was made of him after his removal from men’s sight; and already there is a suspicion that he had been done away with. Whether, However, he has been done away with, and by what manner of death, so far I have not yet at all discovered.” 

    Mancini recognises that rumours aren’t fact but does give us a circumstantial account which holds water in that he doesn’t have any particular axe to grind on the subject.  Richard was in charge – whilst dying in the Tower was a huge risk for any of its imprisoned inhabitants it should only have happened if the bloke at the top of the chain of command gave the order; medieval Kings needed to secure their dynasties.  In having Edward of Middleham created Prince of Wales, Richard was laying a marker for the future.  If nothing else, and this is my thought on the subject, the Wars of the Roses would have taught him that having two kings on the board isn’t a terribly good idea in terms of political stability.  Little boys, bastardised or not, have a nasty tendency of growing up to be focal points of rebellion (and so does the idea of their existence as Henry VII swiftly discovered). I should also add that I have no problem with it if Richard did do it – medieval kings weren’t required to be nice they were required to hold on to the throne, pass it to the next generation and preferably win a large number of wars abroad whilst avoiding the scenario of their own citizens killing each other. I might also add that no one has any problem with Edward IV bumping off Henry VI in order to ensure no further unrest – of course he had the body displayed which eases the problem of conspiracy theories popping up out of the woodwork and he produced heirs – not to mention a brother who managed to land himself with a far more juicy tale. Equally Henry IV who bumped off his cousin doesn’t suffer as much as Richard on account of the fact that there were two further generations of Lancastrian kings making Henry’s actions less noteworthy (if you wanted to keep your head) whilst Richard lost his throne and his life after only two years  allowing the Tudor propaganda machine to get to work which also muddies some of the sources.

  2. Henry Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham was descended from both John of Gaunt and Thomas of Woodstock. Again, if contemporary/near contemporary accounts are to be believed he had something of a grudge against the Woodvilles believing that his marriage to Katherine Woodville was beneath his dignity and that he hadn’t been permitted to take up his correct position in society. There are accounts where it is Stafford who is encouraging Richard to do away with the two princes. Things weren’t going terribly well for Stafford in terms of promotion and power although he swiftly became virtual ruler of the whole of Wales when Richard followed his brother’s model of giving titles, offices and lands to people he trusted and then letting them get on with it. By the winter of 1483 Bucking was in open rebellion against Richard and in cahoots with Margaret Beaufort who we  know he met on the road to Brecon where Bishop Morton was being kept under house arrest.  There seem to be two separate plots that turned into one plot – untidy but demonstrating that the great and the good had seen an opportunity for making their moves and also demonstrating that beneath the surface there were some very nasty currents at work – none of which is evidenced through much more than hearsay, some gleaned documentary comments and a few very interesting travel itineraries. The combination of  Buckingham’s arrogance and a few well chosen words of encouragement could have  been enough to see Buckingham have the boys murdered.  He had the means and the opportunity in that he was Constable of the Tower and had Richard’s trust.  He was executed in Salisbury on 3 November 1483.  He was not permitted to make a speech before his death.  It is plausible that he had the boys killed in order to make life difficult for Richard and also to open his way to the throne – it would have to be said that if the latter was the case Stafford was an inordinately optimistic chap.  If the former is true then he succeeded better than he could ever have dreamed. Jean Molinet is one of the sources who references Buckingham as does Commines.  There’s also a fragment of manuscript in the Ashmolean that points in Buckingham’s direction. The key thing here is that Richard didn’t know about it until it was too late and then who would have believed him.
  3.  

    Sir James Tyrell- according to Sir Thomas More and Polydore Vergil – the chap that did the deed. He apparently confessed in 1502 prior to his execution.  There is no known copy of the confession in existence. The Great Chronicle of London repeated the rumour.

  4. And that was more or less it until historians began revising their views in the Twentieth Century – the Victorians as the image above demonstrates were rather keen on the wicked uncle theory.  There is an account written by the Tudor historian John Stowe which says that there was a failed rescue attempt complete with a diversion of fire.  Again, I have no problem with that as it is entirely plausible that Stowe had access to sources that are now lost – happens a lot in this story.  This account opens up the possibility that the princes were killed accidentally or on purpose by someone other than on the orders of the folk in charge.  If there was a rescue attempt and it went wrong it would be very easy for the princes’ guards to kill them either to prevent their rescue or – and this is pure speculation- trying to do their best Thomas Becket replay for reward or someone could have paid the killer on the staff to do the deed – which opens up the possibility of the Lancastrian faction weighing in…all of which has no evidential base – Josephine Tey and Philippa Gregory are fiction writers. They can take  scraps and use the wriggle room as they wish. For accounts in the history books to be changed there needs to be something rather more substantial.
  5. They died accidentally or of illness. Well, why didn’t Richard just say?  Who would have believed him – look what happened to Edward II and Richard II and Henry VI – no one believed their deaths were natural….and that’s mainly because they weren’t.  There are plenty of other examples of the elite dying unexpectedly and the next thing you know its on account of poison or dastardly deeds. The average medieval man and woman in the street liked a conspiracy theory as much as the present generation – another thing which doesn’t help the primary accounts that we do have.  It’s largely all gossip.
  6. They didn’t die at all.  There was a story in Tyrell’s family that he removed the boys from the Tower.  There’re un-identified children in Richard’s financial records in Sheriff Hutton (oh goody, more speculation- but at least there’s something documented). There is also the Laslau Theory that says that John Clement, Margaret Gigg’s husband, was actually Richard of York. It’s a really interesting theory based on Holbein’s picture of Sir Thomas More’s family – obviously with flaws like the idea of Sir Edward Guildford (father of the duke of Northumberland’s wife) actually being Edward V incognito  but it would account for some of Sir Thomas More’s more glaring errors in his account of events – if you’re a follower of the Laslau Theory, Sir Thomas rather than being a Tudor propagandist/historian (depending on your viewpoint) is actually laying a screen of misinformation in order to protect the identity of a surviving prince. Laslau does offer some slender  threads of documentary evidence in his quest which are  interesting and which muddy the waters still further.  And finally and most obvious of the lot there is Henry VII’s on-going fear of pretenders.  King James of Scotland accepted Perkin Warbeck as Duke of York. This isn’t without its difficulties as Warbeck was initially acclaimed in Dublin as Earl of Warwick but you get the gist.  Elizabeth Woodville testified to the legitimacy of her children but never accused anyone of murder – either before or after Richard’s demise…and yes there’s a whole host of things that could be added to that statement.
  7. There are a couple of other candidates for murderer- take John Howard who became Duke of Norfolk.  He was the claimant to the estate of the Mowbray Dukes of Norfolk.  He was given custody of the Tower of London under less than regular circumstances the night the Princes are supposed to have disappeared from the Tower (Weir). He had opportunity and it turns out he had a motive—Richard, Duke of York was also Duke of Norfolk in right of his deceased child bride Anne, the daughter of the last Mowbray Duke.  Normally land and title reverted to the family where a child marriage was not consummated and no heir produced – which is why Edmund Tudor didn’t wait until Margaret Beaufort was a bit older before getting her with child.  he was concerned she’d die and he’d lose the lolly. In this case though, Richard had kept the title, the estates and the revenue…
  8. And finally John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln. John had been by Uncle Richard’s side throughout 1483.  Like Buckingham he was trusted.  He would become Richard’s heir presumptive after Edward of Middleham’s death.  If we’re going to suggest that Buckingham was looking to be king then it also makes sense that someone a bit nearer to the Crown would bear some investigation.

The thing is that there is some evidence but its contradictory and circumstantial.  It might be possible to rule out the princes’ survival if the bones in the urn in Westminster Abbey turned out to belong to Edward V and Richard of York. Even if they weren’t it wouldn’t necessarily mean that they had survived their misadventure. And if the bones were theirs, it wouldn’t prove who did the killing since the skeletons did not emerge from their resting place clutching a note identifying the murderer – though it would make the account offered by More more plausible – errors and all.

And that’s all I intend to post about the Princes in the Tower for the time being.  Most of the time, with a few notable exceptions, if it weren’t for the traffic stats on the History Jar I wouldn’t know whether anyone was reading my ramblings or not.  I’ve not got the hang of being liked, joining communities or developing conversations through comments – Richard III, the Woodvilles and the Princes on the other hand certainly get a response! So thank you for your comments – positive, negative, knowledgeable and thought provoking as they are.

Primary sources or near primary sources include:

André, Bernard: Vita Henrici VII (in Memorials of King Henry VII, ed. J. Gairdner, Rolls Series, 1858)

Bull of Pope Innocent VIII on the Marriage of Henry VII with Elizabeth of York (ed. J. Payne-Collier, Camden Miscellany I, 1847)

Fabyan, Robert: The Concordance of Histories: The New Chronicles of England and France (1516) (ed. H. Ellis, 1811)

Grafton, Richard: Grafton’s Chronicle, or History of England (2 vols, ed. H. Ellis, 1809)

Hall, Edward: The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York (London, 1550; ed. H. Ellis, 1809; facsimile edition of the original published 1970)

Holinshed, Raphael: Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (6 vols, ed. H. Ellis, 1807–8)

Leland, John: Collectanea (6 vols, ed. T. Hearne, Oxford, 1770–74)

A London Chronicle in the Time of Henry VII and Henry VIII (ed. C. Hopper, Camden Society, Camden Miscellany IV, 1839)

 

More, Sir Thomas: The History of King Richard the Third (in The Complete Works of Sir Thomas More, Vol. II, ed. R. S. Sylvester and others, Yale, 1963, London, 1979)

Rous, John: Joannis Rossi Antiquarii Warwicensis. Historia Regum Angliae (ed. T. Hearne, Oxford, 1716 and 1745)

The Song of the Lady Bessy

Stow, John: A Survey of London

Vergil, Polydore: The Anglica Historia of Polydore Vergil, AD 1485–1573 (trans. and ed. D. Hay, Camden Series, 1950)

For secondary sources both for and against Richard as well as presenting other possibilities and candidates see http://erenow.com/biographies/richardiiiandtheprincesinthetower/26.html

 

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Sir James Tyrell – reputed murderer of the Princes in the Tower.

Princes in towerFor those of you who like your history traditional – boo hiss!  For those of you who like your history revised – poor maligned soul!  I’ve blogged about Sir James before.  Depending on your interpretation of the sources and your historical affiliations, he either murdered the princes in the Tower, has been framed for the deed or for those of you who like happy endings there is a story that he removed them from the Tower and shuttled them to obscurity in the Suffolk countryside – I’ll get to that in another post.

Sir James is the chap who worked for Richard III – no problem with that, plenty of facts to support it.  It looks like he started on the Plantagenet career ladder in 1471 which would coincide with Richard getting his mitts on the Neville inheritance – remember he was married to Anne Neville, widow of Prince Edward of Lancaster and daughter of the Kingmaker. This would account for how Tyrell from Gipping in Suffolk came into Gloucester’s employment. We know he served in the Scottish war in 1492.

Once Richard was in power he was rewarded with a number of prominent positions across the country- which may have been tricky when it came to actually doing the jobs so presumably from Cornwall to Wales he had a number of deputies to help out.

He turns up in the Paston Letters in 1473 when he is identified as the employee who transported the Countess of Warwick, Anne Neville’s mother, from her sanctuary in Beaulieu to Middleham and Richard’s custody – Edward IV having conveniently declared the unfortunate countess dead for the purposes of the legal system so that brothers Richard and George could inherit estates which properly should have belonged to the countess.

In 1483  he helped carry Edward IV’s body to its final resting place and the same year Bishop Rotherham, the chap who’d helpfully rushed the Great Seal of England along to Westminster Abbey where he handed it into the care of Elizabeth Woodville on realising that Richard of Gloucester had taken charge of the young king, found himself in the custody of Sir James Tyrell. – Nothing unpleasant happened and the bishop died in his bed in 1500, just in case you were wondering.

It was in 1483, if Sir Thomas More and Polydore Vergil are to be believed Tyrell arrived in the Tower late one evening with a letter from Richard III, Brackenbury – the Constable of the Tower handed over the keys and Tyrell got rid of the princes by having them smothered.  Clearly More who was only five at the time wasn’t watching events unfold through a telescope and  Vergil- Henry VII’s official historian- wasn’t hiding in a convenient trunk, quill and parchment in hand to record events as they unfolded. Tyrell, inconveniently, didn’t keep a diary nor did he hand himself in to the authorities immediately after the event. Furthermore he couldn’t even find the bodies,  More says it was because Brackenbury removed them from where Tyrell had put them.

At the beginning of 1485 Tyrell was given command of Guisnes, a fortress in the Pale of Calais where he was in August and where he stayed when the Plantagenet dynasty became the Tudor dynasty. He was not attainted. On the 16th June 1485 Tyrell was issued with a pardon from Henry VII for anything and everything (well it was certainly unspecified). And then the pardon was issued again.  Two pardons in swift succession tends to make some folk think that Tyrell may have been doing work on behalf of the Tudors prior to Bosworth – bringing a whole new meaning to the concept of being a double agent. I would merely point out that whilst this is possible that in order to inherit Henry Tudor would have had to kill off rather a lot of people before the family tree perched the crown on his bonce…think Alex Guiness in Kind Hearts and Coronets for the general idea (spoiler alert – a distant relation stages a series of unlikely accidents wiping out an entire family in order to inherit). Historians have argued both sides of the equation eloquently and with passion with the same basic evidence.  It tends to come down to whether they are pro-Richard or pro-Henry.

What we can be sure of is that up until 1501 Tyrell was a man of influence and power.  Then he helped Edmund de la Pole, possible Plantagenet heir, avoid Henry VII’s wrath.  Next thing you know he’s under arrest on charges of treason and there is apparently a confession – allegedly made under torture- to the effect that it was him who topped Eddie and Richard. Quite honestly, I think most of us would agree that we would fess up to having committed the murders under those circumstances.  Unfortunately the paper copy of the confession seems to have been poorly filed and hasn’t yet turned up – meaning that it possibly never existed if you’re that way inclined.  Henry VII executed Tyrell for treason but failed to mention the murder of two members of the royal family  which you think he might have done, even in passing, as it would have scotched rumours of pretenders which bubbled up throughout his reign. It was pointed out to me that Richard ought to have paraded the princes in order to douse the rumours of 1483- and so he should.  But equally so should Henry have announced that Tyrell had confessed and executed him not just for treason but for murder…did he? No – he didn’t.   Maybe he didn’t want to draw attention to the princes  because it would, after all, have reminded his citizens that his general claim to the throne was a tad shaky – and yes I know he was the last Lancastrian standing, was married to Elizabeth of York and had won the Battle of Bosworth but Henry spent most of his reign bolstering up his claim one way or another so to draw attention to the correct albeit missing claimants might have been a bit counter productive in his mind.  Do I know that for sure? No – I don’t.  Sadly, Henry VII didn’t keep a personal diary, it’s just his financial accounts that are pretty nifty. Am I bearing in the general direction of sarcasm?  Quite possibly. There is only a basic amount of evidence and as any decent lawyer will tell you any story can be worked from both ends.

Tyrell was not, apparently, permitted to make a speech before being executed. Three years later the attainder against Tyrell was reversed and his son inherited Tyrell’s property.

Did Tyrell murder the princes? Quite probably  based on the evidence in hand but until such time as more evidence is forthcoming – like a DNA test on the bones purported to be the princes-  History’s biggest mystery will keep folk passionate and partisan not to mention keeping book sales buoyant.

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Filed under Fifteenth Century, The Plantagenets, Wars of the Roses

John Dudley, Lord Lisle, earl of Warwick, duke of Northumberland…traitor. Part one: rise to power

John_Dudley_(Knole,_Kent).jpgJohn Dudley, son of an executed traitor suffered the same fate as his father in 1554 when he failed to place his daughter-in-law Lady Jane Grey on the throne. He’d risen to the highest place in the country and become the first non-royal duke in the land.

John’s father Edmund was one of Henry VII’s key administrators and tax collectors.  So when John was born in 1504 it looked as thought the family was on the rise.  Five years later John’s world came crashing down when his father along with Richard Empson became Henry VIII’s sacrificial offerings to the people of England.  On the 17th August 1510 having been arrested and tried for treason the chief instruments of Henry VII’s hated financial policies were executed.

empson-and-dudley-with-king-henry-vii

The Duke of Rutland Collection- Empson and Dudley with King Henry VII

John’s mother Elizabeth, (nee Grey- the niece of Elizabeth Woodville through Woodville’s first marriage) remarried the following year.  Her new husband was Arthur Plantagenet who became Lord Lisle as a consequence.  Arthur has appeared on the History Jar before. He was an illegitimate son of Edward IV who lived in Elizabeth of York’s household and appears to have been raised as a companion to young Prince Henry. Edmund Dudley’s lands were handed over to Arthur. The year after that the taint of treason was removed from young John when Edmund’s attainder for treason was erased – so presumably some lands went back to John but history’s account books have been slightly blurred round the edges. This together with Dudley’s connections meant that he was all set for a career at court under the guardianship of Lord Guildford who promptly married John off to his own daughter Jane. John Dudley would not acquire the title of Lord Lisle until the death of his step-father who by that time would have been accused of treason and imprisoned himself.

Dudley surfaces on the margins of events though out the period and by 1532 had aligned himself with Thomas Cromwell. He was not terribly important but he was gaining land around the country and no one could dispute his loyalty to the king. He begins to come to the fore in 1541 when he worked with Archbishop Cranmer to find out exactly what Katherine Howard had been up to and with whom.

From this point onwards Lord Lisle can be seen rising in prominence.  He even became warden of the Scottish marches – an all encompassing appointment along the English side of the border.  It was Dudley who had to deal with the aftermath of the Battle of Solway Moss and the quarrelling Scottish council as well as having to communicate that his master wished for the baby queen of Scots to marry Prince Edward. By 1544 his job had changed and rather than being a politician in soldiers clothing he’d become an admiral, a post that he continued to hold until the ascent of King Edward VI.

He was actually the admiral in charge of Henry VIII’s navy when the flagship the Mary Rose somewhat embarrassingly sank. His role as politician, admiral and diplomat led to him rising in Henry’s estimation so that by the time Henry made his will it could be said of Dudley that he was in the right place at the right time. He also benefited from Henry’s will to the tune of £500.  He was also of the reforming religious persuasion.  It probably also helped that not only had he once leant Sir Edward Seymour, the oldest of the new king’s uncles, money but he was also very good friends with the man who now styled himself Lord Protector.

edward-sm

John now found himself promoted to Lord Chamberlain and the Earl of Warwick whilst Sir Edward Seymour not content with being Lord Protector also became the Duke of Somerset. This obviously meant that he had to hand in his admiral’s hat which was, in turn, dished out to Edward VI’s other uncle Sir Thomas Seymour – who wasn’t particularly grateful for the role but seems to have got his own back by marrying the dowager queen Katherine Parr having asked first of all to marry Princess Mary and when that request was turned down the Princess Elizabeth.

At this stage in proceedings Edward Seymour and John Dudley were the best of friends. They even went on a jolly little outing to Scotland together, along with an army, when Somerset decided to try and force the Scots into accepting a marriage between Mary Queen of Scots and King Edward. The reality was that Seymour’s foreign policy in regards to the Scottish borders was untenable. Men and fortifications required money that England did not have.  Even worse the french who had been quiet at the on-set of Edward’s reign now acquired a young and belligerent king in the form of Henri II. Somerset became the bone between two dogs as he sought to control his extended northern borders and hang on to England’s continental lands in the form of Calais and Guines.

At home things weren’t too brilliant for Somerset either. His brother was found guilty of treason  and executed having spent more time canoodling with Princess Elizabeth than he ought and then hatching a plot to remove the king from his brother’s clutches which ended in him shooting the king’s favourite dog.   Currency values continued to plummet. Inflation rocketed and not everyone was terribly happy about Cranmer’s reforms to the Church which now became decidedly protestant in tone. In the months that followed his brother’s execution Somerset grew grumpy and autocratic.  He became suspicious of everyone and refused to listen to the council.   Dudley was conveniently on the margins of all of this having been given the Welsh marches to govern.

In 1549 the country exploded into civil unrest.  In Cornwall the so-called Prayer Book Rebellion kicked off whilst in East Anglia the locals led by Robert Kett became rather rowdy on the subject of enclosure. Whatever else might be said of Somerset he did listen to the Commons and he ordered that common land that had been fenced off should be removed.  Unfortunately this resulted in riots across the region as locals took the removal of hedges and fences in to their own hands.  Ultimately Norwich, the second city in England at the time, found itself under siege.  Somerset was unable to quell the trouble and this did not go down well with the nobility – who understandably felt a bit nervous about the hoi polloi running around with sharp implements.

Sir William Parr had been sent off with a very small army to see Kett and his happy band off but he didn’t have enough men to convince them to leave.  It was Dudley who put the East Anglians firmly in their place by killing some 2000 of them but the aftermath was far less bloodthirsty than might have been expected Would now be a good time to mention that Kett was John Dudley’s tenant? Not that it saved him from being found guilty and hanged from the castle walls in Norwich.  He had been offered clemency if only he would ask for a pardon but Kett insisted that he had nothing to ask pardon for.

The thing was that Dudley was fed up with Somerset. He didn’t disband his army and he found himself buddying up with the catholic Earls of Arundel and Southampton. There were many conversations in darkened corners.  The privy council who had been marginalised by Somerset came on board with the idea that Somerset’s day was done.

Somerset found out what was going on and issued a proclamation asking the ordinary people to defend the young king – and the Lord Protector- against a vile plot.  This wasn’t terribly clever as once again the “Good Duke” was seen to be favouring the unwashed masses rather than the great and the good. Then Somerset moved Edward from Hampton Court to Windsor.  It should also be added at this point that Uncle Edward Seymour wasn’t the king’s favourite uncle – Seymour kept his royal nephew short of cash, isolated an uninvolved in governing the realm despite the letters that Edward sent on various subjects.

In mid October 1549 Seymour gave up his protectorship, handed over the king and awaited arrest. At that time it was the Earl of Southampton, Thomas Wriothesley “call me Risley” who seemed to be in charge.  Wriothesley who’d learned politics from the masterly hands of Wolsey and Cromwell probably thought that his moment had come. It wasn’t.

By the end of November Somerset had been accused of treachery and in the old Catholic V Protestant scramble for power Dudley tarred with the same brush. Dudley, having been warned about what was on the cards, made an impassioned speech which probably saved Somerset’s life as well as his own political career. Historians still can’t work out whether there really was a plot by Southampton and other religious conservatives or whether Dudley simply made one appear in a clever ruse to strengthen his own position on the council because by February 1550 Dudley was in charge and his title was about to change…Machiavellian or what?

 

 

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Sir Thomas Lovell – Tudor lawyer and henchman.

sir thomas lovell.jpgI’ve arrived at today’s metaphorical advent in a rather circuitous way. My story starts with John Billesdon’s will. He wrote it on the 18th of December 1522 and left rather a lot of money to chantries being built for the repose of Sir Thomas Lovell’s soul.  The image on the left comes from the National Portrait Gallery. Here’s the will:

Billesdon (John),”grocer.”—To the Wardens of the Commonalty of the Mistery of the Grocery of London he leaves certain messuages, comprising “the Weyhouse,” (fn. 2) in Cornhill in the parish of S. Michael, held by him in trust, so that the said wardens maintain two chantries, in the chapel erected by Sir Thomas Lovell on the south side of the priory church of Halywell without Bysshoppisgate, for the souls of the said Sir Thomas when dead, Isabell, late wife of the same, and others, with observance of an obit, &c., in manner as directed. The sum of three hundred pounds he declares to have handed over, on behalf of the said Sir Thomas Lovell, to the wardens aforesaid, for repairing the above messuages. In case of default made in carrying out the terms of the devise the property is to go over to the Master and Wardens of the Marchaunte Taillours of the Fraternity or Guild of S. John Baptist of London under like conditions, with further remainder to the Mayor and Commonalty of the City of London. Desires that his will be enrolled of record before the Mayor at the Guildhall, there to remain for ever. The will made tripartite: one part to remain with the Wardens of the Commonalty of Grocers, another with the Prioress of Haliwell, and the third with Sir Thomas Lovell and his heirs. Dated 18 December A.D. 1522.

Roll 240 (54).

 

‘Wills: 21-38 Henry VIII (1529-47)’, in Calendar of Wills Proved and Enrolled in the Court of Husting, London: Part 2, 1358-1688, ed. R R Sharpe (London, 1890), pp. 634-651. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/court-husting-wills/vol2/pp634-651 [accessed 10 December 2016].

Why was I perusing  wills?  Well, for a start wills are an insight into the medieval/Tudor hereafter and the way ordinary people perceived themselves.  In this particular hereafter it was important, somewhat unexpectedly, for Mr Billesdon not to care for the repose of his own soul but to fulfil a debt to Sir Thomas Lovell.  Lovell would die two years after our grocer made his will but it is clear he was already concerned with his immortal soul – and further exploration suggests he may have had cause for concern.

The specific purpose of a chantry was to say prayers for the dead so that their souls would spend less time in Purgatory before heading off to Heaven – think of Purgatory not so much as God’s waiting room but God’s sauna for the soul where you had to go in Catholic ideology until such time as your soul was sufficiently cleansed in order to be admitted to Heaven. The prayers offered by the monks and nuns who prayed in the chantries weren’t necessarily ‘get out of Purgatory free cards’ but definitely ensured that you would arrive at your destination sooner than otherwise.

And who was Sir Thomas Lovell? The name Lovell is suggestive of someone with strong white rose sympathies – think Francis Lovell of Minster Lovell in Oxfordshire- but this particular Lovell came from a Norfolk family and was not related to Richard III’s friend, chamberlain and most loyal supporter. Sir Thomas, a Lincoln’s Inn trained lawyer, was strongly Lancastrian in sympathy, so Lancastrian in fact that he’d had to flee to Brittany to join Henry Tudor during the reign of Richard III in 1483 having become involved with Buckingham’s rebellion. His brother-in-law was Henry Tudor’s standard bearer at Bosworth.

Sir Thomas returned with Henry and after Bosworth was elected to Henry’s first parliament. Sir Thomas was the chap who asked that Henry should honour the arrangements made between Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth Woodville and marry Elizabeth of York – of course, Henry was going to do it anyway but by having Parliament make the request dressed the whole thing up as the will of the people. The logic is rather like a succession of falling dominoes: if the people want something to happen anyone reacting against it or Henry in particular was essentially not only a traitor to the Crown but also a traitor to the country…a nice piece of Tudor spin.

Lovell continued in his support for Henry not only politically but militarily at the Battle of Stoke in 1497 where he was knighted and also in terms of his financial policies.  Henry’s best known money men were Empson and Dudley but records show that Lovell was also a signatory to the forced loans that much of the nobility were required to make during this period, thus ensuring they didn’t have money to plot against Henry and were finically reliant upon the Tudors. Empson and Dudley were the sacrificial tax collectors executed by Henry’s own son when he became Henry VIII in 1509 in a bid for popular acclaim. It should be noted he also cancelled most of the outstanding loans.

Lovell may well have felt that he was lucky not to join Empson and Dudley, not least because as Chancellor of the Exchequor ( an appointment for life) as well as master of wards for a time, he’d successfully feathered his own nest during the reign – the Magnificat Window at Great Malvern was part funded by his donations which is why his image once featured in it.  Lovell even lent Elizabeth of York money.  The debt was secured against her plate.  A clue as to where this younger son gained his wealth can be gleaned from William Worseley,  Dean of St Paul’s.  The dean kept careful accounts which reveal that he paid Reginald Bray and Thomas Lovell ‘fines of allegiance’ on a regular basis.  Lovell was perhaps fortunate in 1909 that he was one of the executors of Lady Margaret Beaufort’s will along with Reginald Bray, Henry VII’s own shady ‘Mr Fix-it.’

Lovell could bear looking at a little more closely.  He was appointed Constable of the Tower and was present at the time when the Earl of Warwick and Perkin Warbeck made their ‘escape’ in 1499. This very foolish not to mention convenient action allowed them to be executed, leaving the way clear for Katherine of Aragon to marry Prince Arthur.

It was Lovell who arrested Sir James Tyrell at Guisnes near Calais  in 1501 where he’d served since 1485 with only a brief interlude to change allegiance from Richard III to Henry VII who pardoned him not once but twice from all possible crimes he might have committed whilst in the service of Richard III (you can just feel the conspiracy theory thickening nicely can’t you?)

Tyrell’s arrest and eventual execution was precipitated from having become involved with the doings of the de la Pole family. Tyrell had given Edmund de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, shelter at Guisnes then waved the earl merrily on his way rather than arresting him on the spot. Lovell turned up, offered Tyrell safe conduct and then promptly arrested him. Tyrell rather belatedly made his confession as regards to the killing of the two princes in the Tower but claimed not to know where the bodies were on account of the fact they’d been moved.  He also named another person who was alive at the time – oddly Lovell didn’t feel the need to have words with the chap.  No one has ever clapped eyes on Tyrell’s confession (That’s not to say it doesn’t exist of course because things can get put on the proverbial safe place only to turn up five hundred or so years later but none the less circumstantially very suspect whatever Thomas More may have thought on the subject). Thomas Penn, Henry VII’s award winning biographer, notes that ‘strange things tended to happen’ in Lovell’s vicinity. It’s also worth noting that Tyrell was attainted two years after his death but at no point does the bill against him mention slaughtering the princes in the Tower – which in the circumstances you might think it should. Tyrell’s son was arrested at the same time as his father but was granted his freedom and after a sufficient time had elapsed regained his father’s estate…make of it what you will. There will be more posts on the topic in 2017.

And how does our grocer fit into this rather shady picture? Further exploration reveals that  Billesdon was one of a number of merchants sent to negotiate with Lovell on behalf of the Mercers’ Company in relation to subsidies and rates (Watney:349). His name also turns up on the Calendar for Payment of Fines. This together with the will suggests that palms had been greased and favours exchanged in the cut throat world of Tudor politics.

Lovell is one of Henry VII’s new men. These men were appointed for their ability rather than their bloodline and because since Henry had made them, Henry could break them. This did not necessarily win friends and influence people at the time but it ensured that the Tudor administrative system was much more effective than anything that had come before. I’ve posted about Bray earlier in the year.  Double click on his name to open a new page for the earlier post.

anne_ashby_largeIn an interesting aside, Sir Thomas featured in another of the History Jar’s posts. He and his wife had no children. He left his estate at East Harling in Norfolk to his nephew Francis. Francis married Anne Ashby who turns out to be Hans Holbein’s ‘Lady with the Squirrel.’ I told you the Tudor world was a small one! Double click on Anne’s image to open the post on a new page if you want to read further.

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

 Watney, Frank D and  Lyell Laetitia. (2016) Acts of Court of the Mercers’ Company 1453-1527 Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Wroe, Ann (2003) Perkin A Story of Deception. London: Jonathon Cape

‘London and Middlesex Fines: Henry VIII’, in A Calendar To the Feet of Fines For London and Middlesex: Volume 2, Henry VII – 12 Elizabeth, ed. W J Hardy and W Page (London, 1893), pp. 16-68. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/feet-of-fines-london-middx/vol2/pp16-68 [accessed 28 November 2016].

http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1509-1558/member/lovell-sir-thomas-i-1450-1524

 

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Prince Arthur’s tomb

IMG_7789Prince Arthur, born 1486 in Winchester- the heir uniting the white rose with the red, died on April 2, 1502 after a few short months of marriage to Catherine of Aragon.

Three weeks later he was buried in Worcester Cathedral parallel with the altar with much pomp and pageantry. We know about Arthur’s funeral because a royal herald, one William Colbarne or Colbourne (the York Herald) wrote a first hand account.  Being Henry VII’s son there is also a detailed account of the cost of the funeral.

A chantry where prayers could be said for Arthur’s soul was built two years after the prince’s death. It’s a two-storey affair that rather overshadows the fourteenth century tombs beneath it. His tomb chest is made from Purbeck marble and decorated with the arms of England, although he is buried beneath the cathedral’s floor several feet away from the tomb that visitors can see. Archeologists discovered the actual grave in 2002 with the use of ground penetrating radar that gave rise to speculation as to whether it might be possible to find out what Arthur died from. At the time it was announced that he’d died from sweating sickness. Historians tend to think it is more likely that he had tuberculosis, the disease that ultimately, probably, carried off his father (Henry VII) and his nephew (Edward VI).

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The inscription round the tomb’s edge reads that Prince Arthur was the first begotten son of the ‘right reknowned’ King Henry VII and that he popped his clogs in Ludlow in the seventeenth year of his father’s reign. Having lost his heir, Henry appears to have been keen to remind everyone how successful his reign had been, that he had more sons and that he was perfectly entitled to the throne, thank you very much, and hadn’t he done well arranging a marriage with a European royal house such as Ferdinand and Isabella’s. The symbolism on the chantry is typical of Tudor iconography. There’s the white rose of York and red rose of Lancaster for instance as well as the Tudor rose; the Beaufort portcullis; a pomegranate for Catherine of Aragon whose home was Grenada and a sheath of arrows which belong to her mother Isabella of Castille; a Welsh dragon and the white greyhound of Richmond – a reminder that Edmund Tudor, Henry VI’s half brother was the earl of Richmond. The prince of Wales feathers are also on display.

 

 

 

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Great Malvern Priory and Henry VII

IMG_7791.jpgHenry VII stamped his presence as King of England on Great Malvern Priory. His is the least of the medieval windows.  His son destroyed the monastery.

The window is called the Magnificat Window and tells the story of the Incarnation and scenes from Christ’s life including his presentation at the Temple and turning water into wine.

The bottom lights, or panes, depict the donors and send a significant political message alongside the joys of the Virgin Mary. The key donor is King Henry VII.  He is pictured along with his queen, Elizabeth of York.  Sadly her image is lost. There are tiny Tudor roses as well as the Tudor heir, Prince Arthur. Pictures of Arthur are rare so this is a treasure, that Worcester Cathedral copied.  The window was placed in 1501 or early 1502 to celebrate the Tudor success of an heir married to a Spanish princess. Arthur, the red and white rose combined, died in 1502 at Ludlow a few months after his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so the grand window with its less than subtle political message, trumping the Plantagenet west window of Richard, then duke of Gloucester, is rather flawed.

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Two other donors feature.  There is Sir Thomas Lovell on the far left, then Sir John Savage, his image is gone as well, and finally Sir Reginald Bray.

Lovell, a Norfolk man, was attainted by Richard III but under Henry VII, having fought alongside him at Bosworth, became chancellor. In 1487 he fought with Henry at the Battle of Stoke and in 1489 he became Constable of Nottingham Castle.  He had links with the Malvern area. He was also an executor for Margaret Beaufort. He died in 1524 having served Henry VIII but increasingly sidelined by the rise of Wolsey although in 1506 it was Lovell who went to Dover to collect Edmund de la Pole and transport him to the Tower.  It is said that Lambert Simnel attended Lovell’s funeral.

Sir John Savage, another of Henry VII’s privy council, commanded the left wing of Henry Tudor’s army at Bosworth.  He was also the nephew of Margaret Beaufort’s husband Thomas, Lord Stanley. The Savages were a Cheshire family with strong connections to Macclesfield. They were also linked to Malvern Chase being keepers of Hanley Castle. Savage and his father were both Sheriff of Worcestershire.

IMG_7792.jpgSir Reginald Bray was a Worcestershire man and as Chrimes observes it is unlikely that Henry VII, if he had been the key donor of the window, would have placed Savage, Lovell and Bray alongside his son – or himself for that matter.  Far more likely then that Bray and his fellow privy councillors paid for the window which Henry VII graciously permitted (Chrimes: 337). To find out more about Bray double click on his name.

Chrimes, S.B. (1999) Henry VII (The Yale English Monarch Series)

Wells, Katherine. (2013) A Tour of the Stained Glass at Great Malvern Priory.  Friends of Great Malvern Priory.

 

 

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Stained Glass in Great Malvern Priory

DSCF2447.jpgThe priory’s treasure is its windows.  It has the largest collection of fifteenth century glass in England which means that the parliamentarians didn’t get there during the English Civil War. It also means that although the parishioners of Great Malvern were able to buy the priory for £20 they were unable to remove the coloured glass and replace it with plain Protestant panes in later years.

I was told that the glazing of the East Window began in 1430 and although the pieces of glass no longer tell a story because of the impact of time and ivy the panes are still medieval having been moved around from other locations within the church. Wells suggests that the window was originally given by Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick and his wife Isabel Despenser because of the roses and circle stars that appear there and which also feature on their coat of arms.

 

DSCF2426Looking to the west, the arms of Richard III, then Duke of Gloucester can be found.  This was probably moved from the West Window which was originally donated by him and his wife Anne Neville.  Her coat of arms can be found in the western choir aisle in the so-called museum window which is largely plain with sections of medieval glass being inset there.  The heads of two bear supporters – referencing the bear and ragged staff can be seen. The West Window told of the Day of Judgement. Depending upon your viewpoint of Richard III there may well be some irony in his donation and the fact that of all the windows this was the one which survived least well into the modern era.

The west window of the transept is known as the Magnificat Window and was donated by Henry VII.  I shall do a separate post on that as it contains images of Henry, Prince Arthur and some of his leading henchmen.

 

IMG_7777.jpgHowever, in Queen Anne’s Chapel a treat awaits.  Most stained glass involves a crick in the neck but here the windows are substantially lower so the glass is much closer.  The crucifixion window is Victorian but the rest of the glass is medieval.  One window tells the story of the Creation, another the stories of Noah and Abraham whilst the third relates the stories of Isaac, Joseph and Moses.  It is a reminder that in an age where most people lived in small dark buildings that churches were full of light and colour.  It is also a reminder that the word of God came not only from the priest but from the pictures that surrounded the congregation.

 

 

 

 

 

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The tradition of donors, some of whom are pictured above, giving windows continued in Great Malvern Church through the Victorian era with Princess Charlotte, the only child of George IV who died in childbirth, donating a window amongst others. The Friends of Malvern Priory donated the Tom Denny windows which celebrate the millennium.  They can be found in the north choir.  Their theme is psalm 36. Denny has used the Malvern hills as part of his inspiration as well as colours which echo the medieval windows.  Denny was also commissioned in Leicester for the Richard III memorial windows. Once seen, his style is instantly recognisable.

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Wells, Katherine. (2013). A Tour of the Stained Glass of Great Malvern Priory. The Friends of Malvern Priory.

 

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Great Malvern Priory

IMG_7747.JPGWhat a gem!  Great Malvern Priory was founded in 1085 by a hermit, Aldwin, from Worcester Abbey on land belonging to Westminster Abbey.  This means that during the life of Great Malvern’s monastic establishment it looked to  Benedictine Westminster for direction which is why it’s a priory rather than an abbey in its own right.

Aldwin was supported and guided by Bishop Wulfstan of Worcester who went on to become one of King John’s favourite saints. The priory also received its charter and funding from  William the Conqueror who gave charters to many monasteries – a reminder that the conquest of England had the Pope’s blessing and that William was conscious of the need to give thanks for his victory. Henry I and Edward III confirmed and renewed the charter. The priory wasn’t without its problems though.  The fact that it was on Westminster Abbey land but founded by a monk from Worcester and looked to the Worcester for guidance led to friction at various times in the priory’s history.

DSC_0102The pillars in the nave of today’s building are Norman and there are odd clues to the Norman past scattered about the building but the priory as it stands today dates largely from the fifteenth century.  The Bishop of Worcester was called upon to consecrate the new build in 1460 – just as the Wars of the Roses really got started (Battle of Wakefield December 30 1460).  However, the new build ensured that assorted Lancaster and York monarchs added their ‘bit’ to the decor from Henry VI’s tiles via Richard III’s stained glass windows to Henry VII. At least those monarchs wanted to enhance the building, finished in 1502.

In 1535 Dr Legh, one of Cromwell’s commissioners and a bit of a thug by all accounts,  visited the priory.  Things can’t have been that bad as there is no report of his findings amongst Cromwell’s documents.  According to the Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535, the income of the prior and convent amounted to £375 0s. 6½ d. It escaped the act suppressing the small monasteries, although a cell belonging to the priory wasn’t so fortunate.

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In 1539 the monastery was dissolved despite the please of Hugh Latimer the Bishop of Worcester (he would ultimately go to the flames in the reign of Mary Tudor for his Protestantism). He wrote to Cromwell on behalf of the prior; ‘at the request of an honest man, the prior of GreatMalvern, of my diocese,’ pleads for the ‘upstandynge’ of his house, and continuance of the same to many good purposes, ‘not in monkery . . . but to maintain teaching, preaching, study with praying, and (to the which he is much given) good “howsekepynge,” for to the “vertu” of hospitality he hath been greatly inclined from his beginning, and is very much commended in these parts for the same . . . The man is old, a good “howsekepere,” feeds many, and that daily, for the country is poor and full of penury. Alas, my good lord, shall not we see two or three in each shire changed to such remedy? . . Sir William Kingston can report of the man further.’ The letter dated 13 December 1538 finishes with flattery: “Blessed be God of England that worketh all, whose instrument you be! I heard you say once after you had seen that furious invective of cardinal Pole that you would make him to eat his own heart, which you have now, [I trow], brought to pass, for he must [needs] now eat his own heart, and be[as] heartless as he is graceless.”  Latimer went on to offer Cromwell 200 marks and the king 500 if they would spare the priory.

Not that it did any good. By January 1539 the priory had been suppressed and the lead stripped from its roof.  The prior, one Richard Whitborn, received h £66 13s. 4d. each year.  Ultimately, in 1541, the parishioners of Great Malvern purchased the priory for £20.00 as the original parish church was in a poor state.  They acquired the “stateliest parish church in England.” The parish church of St Mary and St Michael is without a shadow of a doubt a show stopper.

 

A second post will consider Great Malvern’s medieval tiles whilst a third post will explore the wonderful medieval windows and also a fourth post on the glass given by Richard III and by Henry VII.  As you might guess, I spent a very happy morning in Great Malvern Priory although I wasn’t able to study the misericords (the ledges on which the monks could rest during services) because of work being done in the choir of the church.  Great Malvern is unusual in that as well as depicting a mermaid on its misericords it also has a merman.

For fans of C.S. Lewis it is also worth noting that he went to school in Malvern College just before World War One and whilst he was there he may have been inspired by the enclosed east doors of the priory church which ultimately turned into the wardrobe by which the Pevensies entered Narnia.  A glimpse through the lock reveals a fir tree and a lamp post.

‘Houses of Benedictine monks: Priory of Great Malvern’, in A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 2, ed. J W Willis-Bund and William Page (London, 1971), pp. 136-143. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/worcs/vol2/pp136-143 [accessed 16 August 2016].

Cleop. E. iv.264. B. M.Wright’s Suppression of the Monasteries,148. ‘Henry VIII: December 1538 11-15’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 13 Part 2, August-December 1538, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1893), pp. 438-455. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol13/no2/pp438-455 [accessed 23 August 2016].

‘Parishes: Great Malvern with Newland’, in A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 4, ed. William Page and J W Willis-Bund (London, 1924), pp. 123-134. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/worcs/vol4/pp123-134 [accessed 16 August 2016].

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Margaret Beaufort’s other family part 2

478px-Lady_Margaret_Beaufort_from_NPGMargaret Beauchamp of Bletsoe, Margaret Beaufort’s (pictured  at the start of this paragraph)  mother, was married in the first instance to Sir Oliver St John who died in 1437. From this union Margaret Beaufort had seven siblings; two brothers and five sisters.

 

The eldest of the five daughters was called Edith and she married Geoffrey Pole who owned land in Cheshire. Edith, about whom not much appears to be known, died in 1459.  She had a daughter called Eleanor Pole who served as one of Katherine of Aragon’s ladies-in-waiting (double click on the link to open a new window with my post about Eleanor).  And that might have been that apart from the fact that her son Sir Richard Pole, a loyal supporter of the Tudors married the daughter of the Duke of Clarence, the one who was allegedly drowned in a vat of Malmsey.

 

Just so we’re clear, Sir Richard Pole a Lancastrian of Welsh descent via his father Geoffrey was Henry VII’s cousin because Richard’s mother Edith was Henry VII’s aunt.  Margaret Beaufort had fond memories of her all to short childhood growing up with her St John kin. She took an interest in her extended family and it is perhaps not surprising that they lurk in the background of Tudor history.

 
As family Sir Richard Pole was trusted by Henry VII. He was married off to Margaret Plantagent the niece of Edward IV and Richard III and whose brother the youmargaret salisbury.jpgng Earl of Warwick was kept locked up in the Tower until he was executed –. Henry VII was satisfied with letting the blood of Margaret’s brother and marrying her to a minor member of his own family.  Even Shakespeare, the Tudor spin doctor, said of this union; “His daughter (the Duke of Clarence’s) meanly have I match’d in marriage.” They went on to have five children and must have thought that they had weathered the Wars of the Roses storm.

It cannot, sadly, be said that Henry VIII trusted the Poles. The Poles were doubly his cousins – through their relationship to Margaret Beaufort and through the fact of their descent from George Duke of Clarence. Despite Sir Richard Pole’s loyal service to two generations of Tudors, his wife and sons were rounded up and executed on account of their Plantagenet blood  and their Catholicism– an irony for the Pole children given their Lancastrian heritage and links to Margaret Beaufort.

 

 

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Margaret Beaufort’s other family

Stained_glass_in_the_Burrell_CollectionDSCF0301_07.jpgThe Wars of the Roses or The Cousins War as it was called at the time is complicated enough without looking too closely at the relationships that existed between the women of the period and the links forged by marriages often arranged to secure family alliances and extend land holdings. Yet, to do so gives a new insight into the power dynamics, politics and family relationships of the period and also of the Tudor period given that Henry VIII emulated his father when he approached mid-life by starting to execute members of his nobility with too much Plantagenet blood in their veins.

 

Margaret Beaufort and her assorted extended family is typical of the far reaching links that often seem to run counter to what might be expected from the overarching political affiliations depicted in history books. Her mother was Margaret Beauchamp of Bletsoe. Margaret Beauchamp was married three times. She had children by all three of her husbands. These children were Margaret Beaufort’s half-siblings and thus aunts and uncles of Henry Tudor, thought much less publicized than Jasper Tudor. Margaret Beaufort’s youngest half-brother, John born sometime around 1450, was the child of Margaret Beauchamp’s third marriage to Lionel de Welles, the sixth baron Welles.

 

Lionel died at the Battle of Towton in 1461 fighting on the Lancastrian side. Barons number seven and eight (Lionel Welles’ son and grandson from a previous marriage) had their heads chopped off for plotting against Edward IV in 1470. This resulted in an Act of Attainder and the removal of titles and estates most of which were situated in Lincolnshire. John Welles, not put off by the severing of heads from shoulders, continued the family tradition of loyalty to Lancaster by becoming involved with Buckingham’s rebellion against Richard III in 1483. He then scarpered across the Channel where he joined his nephew Henry Tudor.

 

So far so good – though I admit a family tree would help. He returned to England in 1485 by his nephew’s side, was knighted and got his lands back. He also acquired a bride some nineteen years his junior and who tied him more closely than ever to the royal family.

 

His bride was Cecily Plantagenet, the second daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville to survive to adulthood (her elder sister Mary died young). She had been offered as a bride to King James III of Scotland’s heir in 1474 – and in 1482, the year before Edward IV’s death, to the Duke of Albany although there was the slight problem of Albany already having a wife.

 

Cecily’s grand Scottish match came to nothing. Instead her father died and she found herself in sanctuary for the second time in her short life and no longer a princess. Her parents’ marriage was declared invalid on account of her father’s alleged pre-contract with Lady Eleanor Butler making his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville bigamous and Cecily and her siblings illegitimate.

 

Richard III arranged for his niece to marry Ralph Scrope the younger brother of a northern baron. The marriage was swiftly brought to an end once Henry VII gained the throne. Cecily was required at court and in the hands of a good Lancastrian rather than a supporter of Richard III. In 1486 she carried Prince Arthur to his baptism and in 1487 she accompanied her sister Elizabeth, Henry VII’s wife, to her coronation. By the following year she was married to Henry VII’s less well-known uncle John Welles. This was a clever move on Henry’s part. It rewarded his uncle for his loyalty and ensured that Cecily didn’t acquire an overly ambitious husband.

 

It was, however, a marriage that makes for complicated family ties. Cecily as well as becoming Henry Tudor’s sister-in-law also became his mother’s (Margaret Beaufort) sister-in-law; something of an irony bearing in mind that Margaret Beaufort in the red corner and Elizabeth Woodville in the white corner (Cecily’s mother) were consummate rivals and only united in 1483 against a common foe in Richard III (if popular history is to be believed and we set aside the fact that Elizabeth Woodville not only accepted Margaret Beaufort at court whilst Edward IV was alive but asked her to be godmother to one of her daughters at a time when both women might reasonably have supposed that their positions were established and secure…I did say it was complicated).

 

Cecily and John had two daughters both of whom died in childhood. John died in 1499 and Cecily continued with her duties at court where she seems to have been something of a favourite. She was part of Prince Arthur’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon. Records state that she carried the bride’s train and danced with Prince Arthur at the festivities afterwards. Jones and Underwood note that during this time she and Margaret Beaufort spent time together and seem to have grown to like one another.

 

She was also financially secure. Welles having died without children left a will giving Cecily an interest in his estates for her lifetime. He named her as executor of his will along with Margaret Beaufort’s, and now Henry VII’s, long trusted henchman Sir Reginald Bray.

 

Behind the scenes Cecily was taking her life in her own hands. History knows relatively little of the arrangements behind her first marriage to Ralph Scrope but in all likelihood it was arranged by Richard III who’d promised his nieces marriages to gentlemen (but not nobility of the first order). Her second marriage was obviously political. In that Cecily’s life was no different from countless other women of the period but she was about to break the rules. In 1502, Cecily married Thomas Kyme of Friskney, a Lincolnshire esquire, without royal license and socially far below her in rank.

 

Henry VII was not amused.

 

However, Cecily and Thomas had an unexpected ally in Cecily’s sister-in-law, Margaret Beaufort. Margaret permitted Cecily, of whom she appears fond, to stay in her house at Collyweston until the king’s anger had time to simmer down. She also began negotiations on Cecily’s behalf. As you might expect much of Henry’s anger was about loss of prestige, something important to the parvenu Tudor. But, almost as important to Henry VII was his treasury. As soon as the marriage came to light Henry set about removing the Welles’ estates from his sister-in-law but Margaret, canny negotiator, ensured that Cecily retained some of her lands and was able to pay her way out of trouble though not back into royal favour which may explain why she didn’t attend her sister, Elizabeth of York’s funeral – a noticeable absence after all the other key events she’d played an important role in.

 

Cecily appears to have continued to be often in Margaret Beaufort’s company and when Cecily died in 1507 it was Margaret Beaufort who paid most of her funeral expenses.

 

Jones, Michael K and Underwood, Malcolm G.(1992) The King’s Mother: Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

 

 

 

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