The Welles Uprising and subsequent brushes with royalty…

Lionel Lord Welles

In the Spring of 1470, England was facing a fresh round of the intermittent warfare that punctuated the Wars of the Roses. The Earl of Warwick’s relationship with King Edward IV had been strained to breaking point the previous year and although the Kingmaker had captured and imprisoned his cousin he had been forced to let him go. There had been an apparent reconciliation. In reality Warwick plotted to overthrow the king and replace him with his son-in-law, George Duke of Clarence. He method for bringing this about involved the Welles family and the men of Lincolnshire.

Lord Richard Welles was the seventh Lord Welles descended from a family of Lincolnshire magnates. He was the son of staunch Lancastrian, Lionel. The sixth Lord is best remembered for his second wife, Margaret Beauchamp, the mother of Lady Margaret Beaufort. Lionel was killed at the Battle of Towton.

Lionel was born in 1410 and was knighted in 1425 at Leicester by the Duke of Bedford who knighted King Henry VI at the same time. In 1446 he received a licence to marry Margaret Beauchamp, the Duke of Somerset’s widow. His loyalty to the Lancastrian cause was absolute. His heir, Richard and his sons-in-law were attainted by Parliament for their support of the Lancastrian cause but as the Yorkist king became reconciled to former Lancastrian supporters the Welles family land and titles were returned.

However by the ninth year of Edward’s reign relations between the Welles and the Yorkist king of England nose dived. Richard and his brother-in-law Sir Thomas Dymmock either became involved with a private feud with Sir Thomas Burgh who was the king’s Master of Horse or they were inveigled to rebellion by the Earl of Warwick who was also a kinsman ( Richard’s wife was a granddaughter of the 3rd Earl of Salisbury as well as being suo jure Lady Willoughby.) In either event, they attacked Gainsburgh Old Hall which was Burgh’s property and the Master of Horse was forced to flee the county whilst his property was looted or destroyed. King Edward summoned both men to London. Initially pleading illness, the pair then took sanctuary in Westminster Abbey only emerging with a royal promise of a pardon – which was granted on 3 March 1470. The pardon did not give them their freedom. Edward marched north and took the two men with him as collateral.

In Lincolnshire, Sir Richard’s son, Robert raised an army calling the men of Lincolnshire to defend themselves against the king, who is was said was determined to punish the county for supporting Robin of Redesdale’s rebellion the previous year (1469). If he had done this it would have meant that he intended to go back on the pardon he granted the rebels the previous year. Robin of Redesdale is a shadowy figure. Most historians believe that the rebellion was fermented by the Earl of Warwick for his own ends. In 1470, the Earl of Warwick was plotting the overthrow of the king who was marching north. The earl planned to trap Edward between Welles’ army and his own.

King Edward was not so easily outmanoeuvred. He marched out of London along the Great North Road in the direction of Lincolnshire but he threatened to have Robert’s father and uncle executed if Welles did not submit to the king’s will. By then Robert and his men were on course to render-vous with Warwick’s army. On hearing the king’s threat, Robert turned back, the king catching up with him just outside Stamford. The two armies drew up opposite one another on the 12th March 1470 at Empingham. Edward gave orders for Lord Welles and his brother-in-law to be summarily executed in the space between the two armies. Other sources state that Edward had the two men executed in Stamford.

The battle became a rout with rebels fleeing the field. Hoping to avoid capture and punishment they shed their jerkins which bore the insignia of Warwick and Clarence. This resulted in the battle being renamed Losecoat during the nineteenth century. As a direct consequence of Welles failure to win the battle the Earl of Warwick and the Duke of Clarence were forced to flee the country.

Sir Robert was captured and confessed the involvement of Warwick and the Duke of Clarence on the 14 March. Further incriminating evidence was found amongst Welles’ documents. It appeared that Warwick intended to make his son-in-law the King of England and Wales in Edward’s place. Sir Robert was executed on 19 March and his only surviving sibling Joan became heiress to her brother’s estates. Strictly Welles’ land was forfeit to the Crown, and it was confiscated a month after Sir Robert’s execution but it was returned to Joan in June that year. Joan died sometime in 1474/1475 and a formal act of attainder was passed against Lord Welles and his son in order to prevent Joan’s inheritance going back into the Welles family. Joan was married to Richard Hastings, the brother of Edward’s drinking buddy and Chamberlain of the Household circa 1470. Hastings ensured the king provided Joan, now suo jure 9th Baroness Willoughby de Eresby with her father and brother’s estates. After her death the regime ensured that Hastings didn’t lose out. It also meant that a large chunk of Lincolnshire was held by a loyal Yorkist.

It was only on the accession of King Henry VII that the attainder against the Welles family was reversed and John Welles, Joan and Robert’s uncle from their father’s second marriage inherited the titles and estates along with their cousin Christopher Willoughby. Even so, Sir Richard Hastings, who died in 1503 continued to be known as Lord Willoughby, a title which should have more properly belonged to Christopher Willoughby whose mother Cecily was a daughter of Lionel, 6th Lord Welles, who died at Towton.

Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk by Hans Holbein

And before I finish… if the name Willoughby is ringing bells its because Christopher’s son married Katherine of Aragon’s loyal lady in waiting Maria de Salinas. The couple had only one child, Katherine, who was a sole heiress to the Willoughby title and estates. She was supposed to have married the Duke of Suffolk’s son but instead found herself married to the duke, Charles Brandon, who was significantly older than she was. In 1546, after she was widowed there were rumours that King Henry VIII wanted to make her wife number seven, even though wife number six was alive and well at the time.

Lionel, Lord Welles – step father of Margaret Beaufort

lord welles.jpgBaron Lionel de Welles was born in 1406. The family was a Lincolnshire one but Lionel’s mother was the daughter of Lord Greystoke (pause for Tarzan jokes if you wish).  As you might expect he was part of the network of families that ruled England. Mowbray blood ran in his veins as well as a splattering of  Clifford DNA reflecting a heritage stretching from the Midlands via Yorkshire into Cumbria. John inherited his lands when he was still a minor.  It took a further five years for him to win his estate in his own right.

The family was firmly Lancastrian in its sympathies. He married in 1417 to Joan Waterton of Methley near Leeds. Her father was one of John of Gaunt’s retainers. They had one child called Richard. Lionel’s service began with Henry VI who knighted him and in whose household he served.  Lionel was a soldier as well. He went to France with Humphrey of  Gloucester in 1435 and later to Ireland where he made a bit of a hash of things being unable to control the locals.

All this knightly pursuit would have been well and good if he’d been a single man but in addition to his wife he had a mother, several sisters, four daughters and an aunt to support as well as his grandfather’s debts to pay off. In short Lord Welles was actually Baron Hardup personified.

Things changed in 1447 when he married Margaret Beauchamp of Bletsoe, the dowager duchess of Somerset who was considerably wealthier than him and with better connections for that matter.  Having secured a trophy wife, though none of the texts I’ve read have given any indication about how he managed to do this (so in the short term I will merely assume he had an absolutely charming personality and then kick myself when I remember something important about land holdings), Lionel landed the role of knight of the Garter and also Lieutenant of Calais. He managed to find time to be at home long enough for Margaret to have a son called John who was Margaret Beaufort’s half brother.

He fought at the Second Battle of St Albans in February 1461 Towton and a month later at Towton where he was killed. Edward IV promptly attained him as had been on the Lancastrian side of the battlefield. Richard de Welles didn’t inherit the family title or estates until the attainder was reversed in 1467 and generally speaking he didn’t take to the Yorkists although he managed to inch his way into Yorkist favour for a time. Richard and Lionel’s grandson were ultimately executed by Edward IV in 1471 meaning that it was Margaret Beauchamp’s son who became the first Viscount Welles.  Its a typical fifteenth century tale when alls said and done.

 

Lionel was buried in St Oswald’s Church Methley where he’d married his first wife Joan. It might have been because of the great love he bore his first wife but equally I am compelled to point out that Methley is rather closer to Towton than his Lincolnshire estates.  His monument, with some rather fine corbels and medieval glass can still be viewed today along side other West Riding notables including members of the Savile family.

Michael Hicks, ‘Welles, Leo , sixth Baron Welles (c.1406–1461)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/28998, accessed 26 April 2017]

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