Tag Archives: John Beaufort

Katherine Swynford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

katherine swynford coat of arms.jpg

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

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

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

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

 

 

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John de la Pole, 2nd duke of Suffolk, the trimming duke and father of “white roses.”

john de la pole + elizabeth of york.jpgJohn de la Pole born in 1442 was the only son of William de la Pole, earl and then duke of Norfolk and Alice Chaucer, granddaughter of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer. William de la Pole was Henry VI’s key adviser during the 1440s. It was he who arranged the marriage between Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou in a bid to bring the Hundred Years War to an end, on Henry’s orders it should be added – it didn’t end the war with the French and it didn’t make William popular with the English who blamed him for a French bride who had no dowry but who had cost England large areas of France: Maine and Anjou. It probably didn’t help that he was descended from a Hull wool merchant rather than being tied by blood to the ruling families.

 

John de la Pole is technically Margaret Beaufort’s first husband, though it is doubtfully that she recognised that she’d ever been married to him. John’s part in Margaret Beaufort’s story starts with Margaret’s father John Beaufort duke of Somerset. In 1443 an army was sent to Gascony, at that time in English hands, to defend it against the French. The person in charge was John Beaufort. It was a bit of an odd choice given Beaufort’s lack of experience and certainly Richard of York who was a proven commander wasn’t best pleased. John was probably selected because he wasn’t Richard of York and because he was part of the Lancastrian royal family. There was also the fact that after seventeen years as a hostage in France following the disastrous Battle of Bauge that Beaufort, although not entirely at ease with the idea of being in charge of the whole affair, was quite keen on garnering some loot so that he could do something about his fortune which had suffered due to the ransom that had been paid for his release.

Suffice it to say things didn’t go very well. For a start Somerset ravaged parts of Brittany. This was not good. The Duke of Brittany was an ally of the English so didn’t appreciate having to pay a hefty tribute to Somerset. Ultimately Somerset was ordered home where he died less than a year after the birth of his only legitimate child Margaret Beaufort. The causes of his death on 27 May 1444 are a bit vague but popular history identifies him as a suicide.

Prior to going to France Somerset arranged with the king that should anything happen to him that his infant daughter should be given into the custody of his wife Margaret Beauchamp of Bletsoe. This had the two-fold advantage of keeping mother and child together and ensuring that Beaufort’s lands and revenue weren’t depleted during Margaret’s minority as was often the case when a child was handed over as a ward to another noble family. Unfortunately for John Beaufort, kings and politicians are prone to reneging on their word particularly when the chap they’ve made the agreement with in the first place has had a bit of a disastrous tenure of office.

 

Margaret, as a great heiress, automatically became a ward of the Crown upon her father’s death. She was also, whilst the king had no children of his own, a candidate for the throne. Whoever had possession of the child had possession of wealth which could be accrued permanently through marriage and of political power at a time when politics was essentially a family affair. Henry VI gave the matter some thought then promptly handed Margaret over to William de la Pole, earl then duke of Suffolk and Henry’s key adviser:

For asmoche as oure Cousin the Duc of Somerset is nowe late passed to Goddes mercy, the whiche hath a doughter and heir to succede after hym of ful tender age called Margarete, We, considering the notable services that oure Cousin therl of Suffolk hath doon unto us . . . have . . . graunted unto hym to have the warde and marriage of the said Margarete withouten enything therfore unto us or oure heires yelding.

 

It was normal for wards to be raised in the homes of their guardians but perhaps Henry VI didn’t entirely go back on his word in that Margaret was raised by her mother who remarried to Lionel, Lord Welles. Maraget’s childhood was spent in the company of her extended family of half-siblings the St Olivers.

 

Meanwhile, following the death of Cardinal Beaufort, Henry VI’s great uncle in 1447, Suffolk tightened his grip on the political affairs of the English court. The death of Cardinal Beaufort was followed by the arrest of Humphrey, duke of Gloucester (Good Duke Humphrey). Humphrey’s political ambitions had been firmly squashed when his wife Eleanor Cobham had been condemned as a witch but he remained popular with ordinary people and his death soon after his arrest was treated with suspicion – fingers pointing in the direction of Suffolk.

 

The wheel of fortune creaked on its circuit. Suffolk was incredibly powerful but heartily disliked not least by Richard, duke of York who believed that it should be he and not Suffolk who had the king’s ear. Matters didn’t improve as the conflict in France deteriorated still further. Edmund Beaufort (John Beaufort’s younger brother) managed to lose Normandy. Beaufort was one of Suffolk’s allies. Suffolk was once again tarred with the brush of English defeat in France.

 

Suffolk’s son John was eight by this time. Suffolk decided that the best thing that he could do to retrieve the situation would be to marry John to Margaret a.s.a.p. He would gain access to Beaufort support and shore up his position – so he thought. The marriage in itself wasn’t unusual, there are plenty of examples of babies, both royal and noble, being contracted in marriage during the medieval period and later. Because the two of them were related a papal dispensation was required. This arrived after the marriage had been celebrated. Unfortunately it was politically disastrous union for the duke.

 

Suffolk found himself under arrest on the 28 January 1450. Parliament attainted Suffolk of treason arguing that he’d only married his son to Margaret to steal the throne and that further more he was going to get the French to invade to make it happen all the sooner. Clearly this was nonsense but Henry VI was too weak to save his friend from the attainder of treason and its consequences. The best he could manage was to have the inevitable execution reduced to banishment.

 

Suffolk wrote a letter to John the night before he was due to be exiled, exhorting the boy to obey the king and his mother in all things:

 

My dear and only well-beloved son, I beseech our Lord in Heaven, the Maker of all the World, to bless you, and to send you ever grace to love him, and to dread him, to the which, as far as a father may charge his child, I both charge you, and pray you to set all your spirits and wits to do, and to know his holy laws and commandments, by the which ye shall, with his great mercy, pass all the great tempests and troubles of this wretched world.

And that also, weetingly, ye do nothing for love nor dread of any earthly creature that should displease him. And there as any frailty maketh you to fall, beseech his mercy soon to call you to him again with repentance, satisfaction, and contrition of your heart, never more in will to offend him.

Secondly, next him above all earthly things, to be true liegeman in heart, in will, in thought, in deed, unto the king our aldermost high and dread sovereign lord, to whom both ye and I be so much bound to; charging you as father can and may, rather to die than to be the contrary, or to know anything that were against the welfare or prosperity of his most royal person, but that as far as your body and life may stretch ye live and die to defend it, and to let his highness have knowledge thereof in all the haste ye can.

Thirdly, in the same wise, I charge you, my dear son, alway as ye be bounden by the commandment of God to do, to love, to worship, your lady and mother; and also that ye obey alway her commandments, and to believe her counsels and advices in all your works, the which dread not but shall be best and truest to you. And if any other body would steer you to the contrary, to flee the counsel in any wise, for ye shall find it naught and evil.

Furthermore, as far as father may and can, I charge you in any wise to flee the company and counsel of proud men, of covetous men, and of flattering men, the more especially and mightily to withstand them, and not to draw nor to meddle with them, with all your might and power; and to draw to you and to your company good and virtuous men, and such as be of good conversation, and of truth, and by them shall ye never be deceived nor repent you of.

Moreover, never follow your own wit in nowise, but in all your works, of such folks as I write of above, ask your advice and counsel, and doing thus, with the mercy of God, ye shall do right well, and live in right much worship, and great heart’s rest and ease.

And I will be to you as good lord and father as my heart can think.

And last of all, as heartily and as lovingly as ever father blessed his child in earth, I give you the blessing of Our Lord and of me, which of his infinite mercy increase you in all virtue and good living; and that your blood may by his grace from kindred to kindred multiply in this earth to his service, in such wise as after the departing from this wretched world here, ye and they may glorify him eternally amongst his angels in heaven.

Written of mine hand,

The day of my departing fro this land.

Your true and loving father

 

Suffolk was duly placed on a ship and sent on his merry way. Unfortunately for him the Nicholas of the Tower halted his vessel mid-channel. The greeting Suffolk got when he was transferred boat was ominous – “Welcome traitor,” He was then beheaded with a rusty sword. It took six blows. His body was discovered, along with his head on a pole, on a Dover beach on the morning of 2nd May 1450.

 

John should now have become the second duke of Suffolk– except attainder specifically excluded the attainted man’s family from title or estate, the idea being that the traitor’s blood had corrupted his family, not to mention it being a huge disincentive for actually being treasonous.

 

John’s marriage to Margaret Beaufort was annulled in February 1453 so that Henry VI could marry Margaret off to his half brother Edmund Tudor who along with his brother had been drawn into the royal family and given a more prominent role. This was likely to have something to do with Henry’s lack of children- it could be interpreted as strengthening a Lancastrian claim- as well as a desire to ensure that his half brother’s had money to go alongside their status.

 

By 1458 John de la Pole was married to Elizabeth, the daughter of Richard of York – a fact that would plague the de la Pole family throughout the Tudor period. The marriage reflects John’s political affiliations. Although Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou continued to show favour to Suffolk’s family they were not in a position to establish his son as the second duke. It was Edward IV who re-established the title for the benefit of his brother-in-law through letters patent in 1463. Under the Yorkist dynasty John became Constable of Wallingford Castle and High Steward of Oxford University as well as a knight of the garter. John’s own eldest son, also John (first earl of Lincoln), was identified as Richard III’s heir.

 

In total John and Elizabeth had eleven children, several of whom died young.

 

John fought for his brother-in-law at Bosworth but in the aftermath of the battle submitted to Henry VII and continued to serve the Tudors loyally until his death in 1492 even though his son John rebelled against Henry and was killed at the Battle of Stoke in 1487 – John de la Pole, second duke of Suffolk had, after all, leant at a very early age that the consequences of irritating the people in power tends to be deeply unpleasant. As a consequence he is sometimes known as “The Trimming Duke.” The same can not be said of his own sons who would spend their lives as potential white rose heirs to the throne of England and die accordingly.

 

He and Elizabeth of York are buried at Wingfield Church in Suffolk. Wingfield Castle was one of the de la Pole possesisons.

Norton, Elizabeth. (2011) Margaret Beaufort. Stroud: Amberley Press

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Margaret Holland – troubled royal

margaret holland.jpgMargaret Holland, duchess of Clarence was born in the later part of the fourteenth century, the daughter of Thomas Holland.  He was the fifth earl of Kent and his half-uncle was Edward II through his mother Joan the Fair Maid of Kent, meaning that Margaret Holland was the great granddaughter of Edward I if I’ve counted back right. This is important because Margaret Holland whose family had a bit of a torrid time when Richard II was deposed had married John Beaufort, earl of Somerset, the eldest illegitimate son of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford meaning that she was the other more famous Margaret Beaufort’s granny.

Margaret Holland’s husband seems to have been a bit more on the ball that her Holland brother and uncle who managed to get themselves executed in a plot in 1400 to remove Henry IV from the throne. John Beaufort benefited from his half-brother’s rise to power by becoming Constable of England before he died in 1410 leaving his wife a wealthy widow with a royal pedigree and a title.

Margaret now married her husband’s half nephew – Thomas of Lancaster, the second son of Henry IV- just in case the waters weren’t already muddy enough. Thomas, in the way of younger sons, wasn’t terribly well off and there was a fairly complicated dispensation required before the marriage could go ahead because, of course, they were related twice over in that they were both descended from Edward I – i.e. consanguinity and they were related through marriage – i.e. affinity.

Thomas when the marriage finally received papal dispensation became the duke of Clarence.  History now enters the glory days of the Hundred Years War with Henry V being all martial thus allowing Shakespeare the opportunity to write dramatic speeches on the subject in the sixteenth century.  Unfortunately despite the fact that Henry V ended up married to Katherine of Valois in the aftermath of Agincourt and the Treaty of Troyes he ultimately failed in his bid to rule France successfully because he died leaving his infant son Henry VI on the throne for a lengthy minority and the Wars of the Roses.

Thomas of Lancaster managed to die at the Battle of Baugé on 22 March 1421.  As though this wasn’t bad enough Margaret’s sons John and Thomas Beaufort were captured. John Beaufort would remain in captivity for the next seventeen years and when he did get out he was heavily in debt thanks to the ransom he was required to pay. This John Beaufort would become Duke of Somerset and he would also be the father of Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry Tudor.

Meanwhile Margaret Holland decided that two husbands were enough for any woman and decided that she wouldn’t marry again.  She didn’t need to.  She was wealthy in her own right.  She spent a lot of time trying to negotiate for her sons’ release.  She also, as many wealthy widows did at this time, developed close links with a monastic community. She is particularly associated with Syon.  When she died in 1439 she was buried in Canterbury Cathedral.

BeaufortJohnTomb.jpg

R. L. J. Shaw, ‘Holland , Margaret, duchess of Clarence (b. in or before 1388, d. 1439)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Oct 2008; online edn, May 2009 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/98133, accessed 22 April 2017]

PS Apologies for lack of posts – wifi is erratic to put it mildly at the moment!

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Margaret Beauchamp of Bletsoe

beauchamp.jpgWho?  Well, she’s the maternal grandmother of Henry Tudor. In the great scheme of things John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset could have looked for a more prestigious marriage but he’d been a prisoner of the french for seventeen years and was hugely indebted on account of the ransom that had to be paid for his release.

Margaret, the daughter of Baron Beauchamp, was something of an heiress.  He brother had died young and without children. She married Sir Oliver St John who fathered several children and then died in France as a result of being involved in the Hundred Years War freeing Margaret up to marry the Duke of Somerset who was swiftly got his new bride pregnant and went back to fighting the French. A girl child duly arrived called Margaret.  The day before little Margaret Beaufort’s first birthday which fell on the 31 May 1444 her father died, in all probability by his own hand as a result of not doing terribly well in his campaign against the French.

Margaret Beauchamp widowed for a second time now spent three years without a husband at her home in Bletsoe where her daughter seems to have enjoyed a brief but happy childhood amongst her five half-siblings although she was given in wardship to William de la Pole, Earl -later Duke- of Suffolk. History isn’t entirely sure when Margaret Beaufort left her mother’s care although we do know that Margaret Beaufort remained loyal to her wider St John family throughout her life.  We also know that Suffolk arranged for his ward to marry his own son only for the whole  house of cards to come tumbling down when Henry VI became involved, ordered Margaret Beauchamp to bring her daughter to court in 1453 and gave Margaret who was a significant heiress as a bride to his own half-brother despite the fact that the child was already married to John de la Pole.  This childhood marriage was swiftly annulled and Margaret Beaufort always spoke of her marriage to Edmund Tudor as her first marriage.

 

Margaret Beauchamp married for a third time to one Lionel, Lord Welles who managed to survive longer than husbands one and two but who carelessly got himself killed at the Battle of Towton in 1461.

Lord Welles was a supporter of Margaret Beauchamp’s brother-in-law Edmund Beaufort (now Duke of Somerset – the one rumour said may have fathered Margaret of Anjou’s son rather than Henry VI). Lionel was part of the extended Clifford and Greystoke families for those who like a northern link. He was also an unsuccessful Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and served as deputy  Lieutenant for Calais on behalf of Edmund Beaufort who got himself killed in 1455 at the First Battle of St Albans.

We know very little else about Margaret Beauchamp except that she had a book of hours because it passed into the hands of her daughter Margaret Beaufort.  It is often referenced in texts because of Margaret Beaufort’s habit of annotating it. Double click on the image at the start of this post to open the British Library page with information about the Beaufort/Beauchamp Book of Hours.

Margaret Beauchamp of Bletsoe died in 1482 and was buried in Wimbourne Minster – so we also have a good idea what she may have looked like from her effigy which lays alongside that of her second husband – John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset.

 

Jones, Michael K. and Underwood, Malcolm G. (1993) The King’s Mother: Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

 

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Richard III – evidence in the bones.

Richard_III_of_EnglandIt turns out that someone somewhere has been skulking along the medieval corridors of power  late at night on their way to an assignation– the problem is that we can’t be sure when or even who was encouraging the aforementioned skulk and for the last five hundred years no one – with the obvious exceptions- have been any the wiser. An article published in this month’s edition of Nature has changed that along with the revelation that Richard was a blue-eyed blond or at least a blond baby whose hair darkened with the passage of time.

 

The story begins with Richard III. He’s a chap who’s provided history with more than one mystery and now there’s another to add to the collection.  Most folk are aware of the conflicting theories about the disappearance of Princes Edward and Richard in the Tower of London in the summer of 1483. Was Richard a wicked uncle responsible for the demise of his nephews or has history framed the last Yorkist king for a crime that he didn’t commit? Were King Edward V and Prince Richard done away with as Tudor chroniclers would have us believe and if so who did the deed and who gave the orders? Other scenarios suggest that one or more of the princes were spirited to safety; other folk suggest that the Lancastrians did the terrible deed to ensure their own man’s success. I wouldn’t like to make any definitive suggestions as there’s evidence that can be offered in support of all these options as well as plenty of circumstantial evidence and there are plenty of passionate advocates for the different theories.

This post isn’t about that.   It’s partly about a pleasant trip down memory lane and the way that history isn’t something that’s static – it shifts like quicksand. Richard and the missing princes were the first topic that was covered at my secondary school by way of an introduction to history and the trustworthiness of sources. As I recall there was a folder full of ‘evidence’ that had to be sorted and categorised to try to decide whether Richard did the deed – and that’s before we even advanced to his portrait – was he really as physically repellent as Shakespeare portrayed him? While we now know the answer to his appearance thanks to the work of countless professionals– including the surprising blue eyes and baby blonde hair- we still don’t know about his role as murderous uncle – its certainly not a debate I want to get tangled in; not least because I can never quite make up my mind. What I do recall is that I progressed from the facts to Josephine Tey’s Daughter in Time in the space of an afternoon and at the age of eleven became hooked on historical fiction.

 

What I’m really blogging about this evening are the findings from the Leicester University that were all over the weekend’s papers – the quicksand bit of history.  Something which appeared to be solid turns out to be mired in uncertainty.   Maternal DNA reveals that Richard really was the king under the car park but further analysis reveals that somewhere along the line of the Beaufort family the paternal line was broken – Richard has a rather unusual Y chromosome but the brave souls- Beaufort descendants who offered their own DNA for comparison do not match up to that of the last Yorkist King. Their Y chromosomes are much more pedestrian. Someone somewhere in the family tree between Edward III and Richard III was a bit of a naughty girl on the quiet.

 

One line of thought is that John of Gaunt might not have been the son of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault. There was a persistent rumour that he was the son of a Flemish butcher….an odd possibility. I mean, I can see how Duchess Cecily Neville (the wife of Richard of York and mother to Edward IV and Richard III) might have fancied a fling with a tall handsome archer (more of that in a moment) but how on earth would a butcher have met, let alone struck up a conversation that progressed to a liaison with the English queen?

 

Generally speaking it has always been assumed to have been a vile slander. John of Gaunt wasn’t popular in England. His palace at the Savoy was destroyed during the Peasant’s Revolt. Folk believed that he wanted the crown for himself even though he was always loyal to his nephew the young Richard II. Apparently the rumour of his supposed parentage made John very, very irritable as depicted in that wonderful fictional evocation of his mistress’s life Katherine by Anya Seyton.

 

It is equally possible that the cuckoo in the nest could have been John Beaufort,  Gaunt’s son by Katherine Swynford – one of history’s love stories… so I really hope not. It would be deeply ironic if the legitimised illegitimate son of the Duke of Lancaster turned out not to belong to the man who claimed him as a son.

 

Another possibility presents itself.  What if Richard was the progeny of a cuckoo in the nest? Or indeed not quite what he seemed. Rumours about Duchess Cecily, his mother, sprang up in relation to Richard’s brother Edward IV. It was suggested that Edward’s father was actually an archer called Blaybourne. There is also contention over the conception dates. Richard, Duke of York was in Pontoise while Cecily was in Rouen. It seems quite difficult to reach a definitive conclusion without the existence of undisputed primary evidence – though that’s only my opinion. Certainly Edward’s baptism at Rouen was very low-key but then again the Duke of York didn’t deny paternity and in Medieval terms that meant Edward was legitimate. The rumour floated to the surface at a time when George, Duke of Clarence took a shine to the crown and its not difficult to see that George might have used gossip for his own ends (supposition again).  When Richard needed a public justification for his claim to the throne in 1483 the rumour was aired again. And as we all know mud sticks and there’s no smoke without fire. I’m sure if I think I can come up with a few more clichés.

 

Whatever the truth about Plantagenet goings-on in the bedroom department, the very informative University of Leicester website reveals that false paternity is to be expected – apparently it runs at 1-2% per generation which if you’re a family historian should make for disturbing thoughts about your own ancestry.

 

Ultimately, the fact that someone passed off the child of their lover as legitimate makes no difference whatsoever to the events of the Wars of the Roses or the monarchy thereafter but what it does do is add another fascinating layer to a story that already has many complex twists and turns. Who needs soap opera  or even Cleudo when we’ve got the Plantagenets?

 

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The Earl of Kendal – one man, many titles.

NPG D23929; John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset after Unknown artistJohn Beaufort, as well as being the grandson of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford, was also the first Duke of Somerset.   Just to confuse things his father was only the Earl of Somerset. It was only in the reign of Edward III that Duke’s were added to the list of English nobility. Initially it was a title reserved for the king’s sons prior to that time the title ‘Earl’ was the highest ranking title in the peerage below that of King.  Our John, depicted here in an eighteenth century engraving, was the second son of John Beaufort, First Earl of Somerset. He became the third earl when his brother, Henry, died in 1418 – somewhat bizarrely making him Earl and Duke of Somerset.

 

Beaufort fought in Henry V’s army in France. In 1421, he accompanied the king’s younger brother Thomas of Lancaster to the fighting in Anjou. Thomas was killed at the Battle of Baugé and Somerset was captured. He remained a captive until a ransom was paid and then he continued a military career which was not an unmitigated success.

In August 1443, having been created Duke of Somerset, Earl of Kendal and Knight of the Garter by King Henry VI, John led an army to France where he managed to loose badly.  He had to turn to Richard, Duke of York for support – a bitter pill for the Duke of York to swallow, as John’s army had been financed while his own army was not. Unable to bear the stigma of defeat it is thought that John Beaufort, First Duke of Somerset, committed suicide.

 

The Earldom of Kendal was not a new title when Henry VI gave it to him.  This, of course, is one of the things that make titles hard to follow.  It had been re-created from a Norman title for a son of Henry IV but it became extinct on his death. It became extinct once more when John Beaufort died. Oddly, John Beaufort has something in common with Charles I’s nephew, Prince Rupert of the Rhine because he too was given the title Earl of Kendal and once again it became extinct with the earl’s death without legitimate issue.  The only thing that can be said about the Earldom of Kendal after the Norman period is that it was given to someone with a familial connection to the king!

 

The question then becomes why don’t we known John Beaufort as the Earl of Kendal? Well, quite simply a duke is more important than an earl.  Of course, just to complicate things there is a title between Duke and Earl – Marquess- but there aren’t very many of them.

King Richard II introduced the title ‘marquess’ in 1385 when he made Robert de Vere, who was already Earl of Oxford, Marquess of Dublin.  The title was removed from de Vere in 1386 on account of the rest of the earls being decidedly underwhelmed.  The title remained unpopular.  John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset (the John of this blog’s father) asked not to be known by the title Marquess of Dorset because he said that it was ‘strange’ in England.

 

 

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Lady Margaret Courtenay nee Beaufort

MargaretCourtenay_ColytonChurch_DevonThe prelude to the Wars of the Roses and the wars themselves are notable by the role of a number of ambitious and dynastically important women who even managed to get their portraits painted in an age when it wasn’t done to waste paint on the female of the species. There are other women though, wives, mothers and sisters who were part of the Plantagenet tangle but who remain largely in the shadows – leaving modern observers to wonder what they felt about the feuds and wars that saw their families at one another’s throats – and of course to wonder what they looked like. Lady Margaret Beaufort is one such  woman… not the mother of Henry Tudor – the aunt of the much more famous Lady Margaret Beaufort.

 

 

Our Lady Margaret Beaufort was born at the turn of the fifteenth century, the daughter of the First Earl of Somerset, John Beaufort. This means, that her paternal grandparents were John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford. Her mother was Margaret Holland, a daughter of the Earl of Kent – so descended from King Edward I through his second wife and the niece of King Richard II.

 

She married Thomas Courtenay the Fifth Earl of Devon in 1421.   Their son was Thomas Courtenay, the sixth Earl of Devon. He was executed in the aftermath of the Battle of Towton in April 1461 an attainted traitor. He was succeeded by his brother John who died in 1471.

 

Margaret’s husband contributing to the growing antoganism between the Houses of York and Lancaster during Richard, Duke of Lancaster’s first protectorate in 1453. He’d been conducting a feud with Lord Bonville which spread disorder through the southwest since he came of age.  As you might expect, the feud was to do with territory and position – both of which required patronage.   Despite his marriage to Margaret Beaufort he felt sidelined from his rightful position by Lord Bonville. Matters didn’t improve when Bonville married the Earl of Devon’s aunt nor indeed when Cardinal Beaufort died and the power at court transferred into the hands of the Duke of Suffolk (de la Pole) who Bonville looked to for support.

 

One thing led to another. The Earl of Devon, despite his marriage into the Beaufort, and therefore Lancaster clan – sidelined from the court party, found himself drawn ever closer to Richard, Duke of York who represented the opposition.   Ultimately the Earl of Devon spent some time considering the error of his ways in Wallingford Castle – no doubt his wife uttered the immortal words ‘I told you so’…

 

The  next problem for the Earl of Devon and his friendship with Richard of York was that Richard was drawn into an ever closer alliance with the Nevilles who in their own turn had their own alliances; one of which was with…you’ve guessed it – that pesky Lord Bonville. In fact Bonville’s son married one of Richard Neville’s (Earl of Salisbury) daughters.  I wonder if the Earl of Devon gnashed his teeth and wailed when he thought about the way that events in distant London conspired to set him at a disadvantage against his enemy who seemed to have a knack of making important friends.

 

On the eve of the First Battle of St Albans it was the Earl of Devon who, despite his increasing alienation from York, who carried the Duke’s letters for him and handed them to the king.

 

As the kingdom unraveled into civil war things in Devon weren’t going any better between the Earl of Devon and Lord Bonville. A man was murdered, the Earl’s son Thomas was implicated. It was a national scandal reported in the Paston Letters. The Earl found himself in the Tower, not because of the murder, but after a nasty  incident involving the citizens of Exeter. And that might have been that had it not been for Margaret of Anjou – one of those significant women of the Wars of the Roses- who became the Earl’s patroness; married his son and heir off to one of her own kinswomen, provided him with status and put Bonville in his place – ensuring that the earl was loyal to the Lancaster cause thereafter– something that Margaret Beaufort hadn’t been able to achieve during her marriage to the earl.

 

Margaret Beaufort’s husband died almost ten years after his wife at Abingdon Abbey in 1458 and was succeeded by his son who’d been cleared of the murder of Nicholas Radford.

 

It is thought that Margaret Courtenay nee Beaufort, Countess of Devon is buried in St Andrew’s Church Colyton. The effigy at the start of this blog was identified as belonging to Margaret by the Courtenay and Beaufort arms.  So although we don’t know what the lady thought about the feuding which lasted throughout her life time we can hazard a guess as to what she looked like.  Having said that, as you might expect, things aren’t quite as cut and dried as could be desired.  The Courtenay Monument, as it is known, was named for Margaret Courtenay, the daughter of Princess  Catherine,  daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, who married Sir William Courtenay, the tenth Earl of Devon  in 1495.  The earl may have regretted his liaison with a Plantagenet sprig when his brother-in-law a.k.a. Henry VII hustled him and his son off to the Tower of London.

 

 

 

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