Tag Archives: King Henry VI

Christmas Day awakening

images-9Apologies for the gap in the posts – a slight connectivity issue that I thought I’d addressed by scheduling my posts; so two posts today to keep on track.

This particular Christmas scene has a long first act. In August 1453 Henry VI, known for his piety, exhibited signs of mental illness. The power struggle that followed between Margaret of Anjou and the Duke of Somerset in one corner and the Duke of York in the other was unsightly – not that it much mattered to Henry. He was capable of eating, drinking and sleeping but he appeared insensible to world around him. Chroniclers recorded men such as the Duke of Buckingham asking for a blessing and the king apparently ignoring them.

 

Even worse, Margaret of Anjou gave birth to her son Edward during this time. Medieval kings were required to acknowledge and bless their off-spring to demonstrate that they were in fact their off spring. Margaret duly presented the infant prince only to be stonewalled by her incapacitated spouse.

 

But then there was a change in the king’s health, news of which sped around the country, “Blessed be to God, the King is well and has been since Christmas day” (The Paston Letters). So, Christmas 1454, if you were Margaret was a time of celebration – less so if you were Richard, Duke of York.

 

300_2511351The causes of Henry’s incapacity are much debated. It is possible that it was a hereditary condition. His grandfather, Charles VI of France (father of Katherine of Valois) believed that he was made of glass and would shatter if anyone touched him. A state of mind which did little for the stability of France and which was partially responsible for allowing King Henry V to  become a hero to his people by soundly trouncing their cross-Channel neighbours.

The fact that Henry V gained an empire which his son managed to lose didn’t go down particularly well with the natives and added to the general feeling of dissatisfaction with Henry VI and his queen.  Margaret of Anjou being from Anjou – i.e. french- didn’t help matters very much either.

Alternatively it has been suggested that the stresses of the loss of Normandy and then Gascony may have contributed to Henry’s breakdown as might Margaret of Anjou’s pregnancy.

 

Whatever the cause, Henry never fully recovered from his vacant period and his lack of control didn’t help the escalating tensions between the different factions at court nor the spiralling violence between the assorted nobility – the Nevilles and the Percys being the most obvious example of blood feuding at its worst. Open warfare was only a matter of time but then hindsight is a wonderful thing.

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King Henry VI

images-17It was possible for medieval kings to be too nice; too pious and too scholarly. Henry VI was the last Lancastrian Plantagenet king. The chaos that spiralled out of control during his reign came about, in part, because of the king’s inability to control his nobility.

In October 1421 Catherine of Valois, wife of Henry V became a mother for the first time at Windsor. Nine months later the infant boy became King Henry VI although he was not crowned in Westminster until 1429. According to the treaty that the French signed after the Battle of Agincourt the boy, following his maternal grandfather’s death was King of England, Wales, Ireland and France.

Indeed, the boy was crowned in Paris on 16th December 1431 to popular acclaim in Paris but much disgust that the English form of coronation was used rather than the French form. Unfortunately most of the rest of France wanted the dauphin, the son of Charles VI, to rule. The future Charles VII had luck on his side in the form of Joan of Arc; the death of the Duke of Bedford’s wife (Anne of Burgundy) resulted in the Duke of Burgundy changing sides; the death of the Duke of Bedford and faction politics back in England. It probably also helped Charles that Henry VI loathed bloodshed and felt that it was his Christian duty to make peace. This duly occurred in 1445 when Henry married Margaret of Anjou and handed back huge tracts of land to the French.

The Duke of Gloucester was furious but his fall from power was just round the corner. His wife Eleanor was found guilty of witchcraft. Ultimately Gloucester would be accused of treason and then found dead in his bed a couple of days later. It wasn’t long before people were whispering that ‘Good Duke Humphrey’ had been murdered and that the queen had somehow been involved.

Henry, who had no mistresses and had an abhorrence of nudity in both men and women, was unlucky in his queen. He thought she was one of the wisest people that he knew but his people never came to love her. She was French and her marriage, without much in the way of dowry, had cost them hard won lands in France. In later years she headed south with a band of ferocious northerners at her back, something that London never forgave her for.

Money, which had flowed readily enough when the English were winning the Hundred Years War, became a problem the older Henry got. It wasn’t helped that when he achieved his majority he gave away approximately two hundred manors and insisted on spending £2,000 on endowing his colleges at Eton and Cambridge. Before long the crown was in debt to the tune of £400,000.

Inevitably the peace in France could not be sustained and before long the roads were filled with English refugees fleeing the French. It didn’t go down well with the English. Henry V, the victor of Agincourt, successful charismatic warrior king was a hard act for his son to follow. As is usual in these occurrences the people blamed the king’s ‘bad advisers’ for the king’s own failings and bad luck. In 1450 Adam Moleyns, the Bishop of Chichester, managed to get himself lynched by an angry mob in Portsmouth who blamed him for the fall of Normandy. The mob’s wrath then turned on the Duke of Suffolk who found himself on the wrong side of the law for pursuing the policies that Henry wanted him to pursue. Henry insisted that Suffolk was set free but he was forced to leave the country. It didn’t help him. Suffolk, on his way to Calais, was hijacked and beheaded.

In June 1450 Kent revolted. This was Jack Cade’s rebellion. The name Mortimer was tangled up in proceedings. People were reminded that Henry IV, our Henry’s grandfather had usurped the throne from his cousin Richard II, and that actually the Duke of York through his mother Ann Mortimer had a much better claim to the throne – it helped that he had a reputation as an effective warrior.

After the rebellion was quelled, Henry VI turned to the Duke of Somerset for guidance. The peer was very unpopular and York, who was owed huge sums of money for his work in France, felt excluded from his rightful role in government. It didn’t help that Somerset used resources in France that might have enabled York to maintain his garrisons. He returned to England from France with an army. On this occasion Henry VI had a larger and better-led army. The enmity that York felt towards Somerset and Margaret of Anjou would become progressively more bitter as did the in-fighting between the various factions which sought to gain power through the king or his wife. However, this is not a post about the Wars of the Roses.

One of Henry VI’s chaplains wrote that the king was a simple man, incapable of lying. This was not necessarily the best news for the English. Medieval kings needed guile and they needed to be strong. Henry was aware of this and perhaps it was why he chose the advisors he did. He appointed bishops, often men he knew personally and who had reputations as theologians; he administered the law diligently. He spent much of his year on progress dispensing justice.

He was also an intensely pious man. On state occasions he wore a hair shirt. Part of the role of Eton was that it should be a chantry for priests to say Masses for his soul. His end of the deal was to provide the foundation and the money to educate poor boys.

Unfortunately for Henry being a likeable man wasn’t going to help rule a country riven by faction and suffering from a dearth of ready cash due to the on-going problems in France which became much worse. At Clarendon, August 1453, Henry VI received news that his army had been defeated in Gascony. The king fell into a coma where he remained until Christmas 1454, missing his son’s birth in the process.

Leaving aside the various tooings and froings of the Wars of the Roses the Battle of Towton on 29th March 1461 was the bloodiest battle fought on English soil if the figures are correct. Henry’s men fought to the death and when the remaining men finally broke and fled they were slaughtered on the road. Those who were captured faced execution. The king and his immediate family fled to Scotland. In payment Berwick was ordered to surrender itself to the Scots. Lancastrian forces began to take over key fortifications in Northumberland but in May 1464 Henry was almost caught following Lancastrian defeat at the Battle of Hexham. By that time Margaret of Anjou and Prince Edward were in France.

Henry spent almost a year on the run hiding in the hills and moors of Westmorland and Lancashire. We know that he found a welcome at Muncaster Castle. But in June 1465 he was betrayed and taken south to London and the Tower where someone tried to assassinate him but where he was able to spend time in prayer and contemplation.

The Earl of Warwick – the Kingmaker had expected that King Edward IV would be extremely grateful for being given a crown. Edward made a bit of a fool of Warwick who was trying to arrange an advantageous foreign match by secretly marrying the widowed and impoverished Elizabeth Woodville, then proceeding to shower all kinds of goodies on her family. Warwick was not amused.

On the 6th October 1470 Henry VI discovered that he was king again on the say so of the Kingmaker who promptly married his youngest daughter off to Prince Edward having already married his oldest daughter off to Edward’s younger brother, the Duke of Buckingham (possibly known as having your cake and eating it.) After the service in St Paul’s, where he was re-crowned, Henry was rarely seen in public.

DSC_0049-47In March 1471 Edward returned and Henry was led by the hand through the streets of London by Bishop Neville in a bid to raise London’s loyal support. Edward swiftly took London, secured Henry and took him with him to Tewkesbury. After the Yorkist victory which saw the death of Henry’s son, Prince Edward, Henry was returned swiftly to the Tower where the Edward claimed he died of melancholy but in reality where the pious, scholarly, likeable and weary man was murdered by the Yorkists. He was forty-nine years old and had been on a troubled throne for thirty-nine years.

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Nostell Priory

Picture 651Before Nostell Priory came into being there was a hermitage but when the Augustinian Canons were introduced to Britain a priory was established soon afterwards on its site. The story of Nostell’s foundation is told in a fourteenth century manuscript detailing twelfth century events.

Apparently King Henry I was on his way to do nasty things to the Scots when his chaplain was taken ill at Pontefract. Whilst he was recovering the chaplain, Ralph Adlave or Adulphus, went hunting and came across the hermits in St Oswald’s Wood (we don’t know how many of them and it was quite normal to be on your own in a group if you were a medieval hermit). Adulphus decided on the spot that he wanted found a priory on the exact spot where he’d encountered the hermits and to become a monastic. Obviously you don’t resign from a job with a Plantagenet king, you ask nicely if it would be possible. King Henry I, having finished with the Scots for the time being gave his gracious consent. Adulphus became an Augustinian Canon in charge of eleven canons. Henry I favoured the new establishment, after all Adulphus had been his confessor, and made a grant of 12d. a day to it from his revenues in Yorkshire.

It was a good thing for a king to become a patron of a monastery. Nobles tended to trip over themselves to follow suit in order to win royal favour. Ilbert or Robert de Lacy swiftly handed over the land on which the priory would sit along with several churches including those at Huddersfield and Batley along with other property.

King Henry II, following the bust up between King Stephen and Empress Matilda, reconfirmed the grants including a three-day fair at the end of February each year coinciding with St Oswald’s feast day.

Nostell Priory was undoubtedly well endowed. As a result it ended up with six daughter houses. The two most important were at Bamburgh in Northumberland, and Breedon in Leicestershire.

Of course, things didn’t always go so swimmingly. The reign of King Edward II was not, in general, noted for its successes. The Scots raided deep into England and the revenue from Bamburgh turned into a loss for fifteen years in succession. The arrival of the Black Death didn’t help matters, neither did the politics of the period nor the fact that avaricious archbishops kept trying to snaffle the most profitable churches from the care of the canons. By 1438 the canons of Nostell Priory were in so much financial difficulty that the young and pious King Henry VI granted to the canons the hospital of St. Nicholas, in Pontefract. These financial woes were not unusual. Bottomley notes that about a fifth of all Augustinian foundations failed because of lack of income.

Nostell Priory,however, was able to overcome its difficulties. It developed a reputation for fine manuscripts that ensured a steady flow of income from their commission.  In 1536 it’s gross income was £606 9s. 3½d in part also because it had become a site of pilgrimage to St Oswald which Cromwell’s commissioners recorded as superstition. Dr Legh, one of the most notorious of Cromwell’s henchmen, was granted the site on which Nostell Priory stood.

Nothing medieval remains at Nostell Priory. In its place is the eighteenth century house and gardens created by the Winn family. There are three buildings that date from the monastic period “Wragby church, which, though it stands within the park, served the parish and not the monastery; and buildings called ‘The Brewhouse’ and ‘The Refectory’ which lie within the precincts of the adjacent 18th-century Nostell Home Farm. These are all at some distance from the Winns’ house”(Wrathmell ).

Where the Augustinian Canons had parochial responsibilities their priory churches survive rather better. Carlisle Cathedral was an Augustinian priory church as was Hexham Abbey. It is interesting to note that despite the fact that Carlisle, Lanercost and Hexham were Augustinian establishments that the main stronghold of the Augustinians was in fact the Midlands. Derby for instance was home to a number of Augustinian priories but little or nothing of their buildings have survived.

Bottomley, Frank. (1995).  Abbey Explorer’s Guide. Otley: Smith Settle

‘Houses of Austin canons: Priory of Nostell’, in A History of the County of York: Volume 3, ed. William Page (London, 1974), pp. 231-235 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/yorks/vol3/pp231-235 [accessed 8 August 2015].

Wrathmell, Stuart. Nostell Priory. http://www.archaeology.wyjs.org.uk/documents/archaeology/newsletters/News21pag6.pdf accessed11.08.2015 09:23

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Thomas Clifford, the Eighth Lord of Skipton

st albansThomas was born in 1415 so he was seven when his father died. The size of the Clifford estates meant that Thomas passed into the wardship of King Henry VI. Often children were passed into the hands of unscrupulous guardians who used the opportunity to strip their charges’ estates or marry them off to their own children. Thomas was more fortunate as he was placed in the custody of his own mother. It was she who arranged the marriage of Thomas to Joan the daughter of Lord Dacre of Gilsland keeping alive the tradition of intermarriage between the powerful northern families. They had four sons and six daughters.

 

Like his father, Thomas took an active role in keeping the Scots under control along the border and like his father he took part in the Hundred Years War, which was drawing to a close by this time. In the years following Henry V’s victory at Agincourt the English had gradually lost the land they had gained. Following the death of Henry VI’s uncle the Duke of Bedford, poor leadership resulted in a rapid decline in English fortunes only halted by peace negotiations and marriage between King Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou.

 

Henry VI’s gentle nature may have suited him for monastic life but they did not suit him for the role of medieval monarch. Frictions between the various court factions were beginning to show the cracks in the Plantagenet royal family.

The Cliffords were associated with Richard of Cambridge through Thomas’s aunt Maud who was Richard’s second wife, Thomas’s godmother and Thomas was a beneficiary of her will.  Logically then, the Cliffords should have sided with the House of York as Cambridge’s descendants would be known because of the ties which bound the two families together. However, there seems to have been a growing enmity between the two clans. One possible reason could be to do with Maud retaining the castle at Conisborough and its estates as part of her dower. Yerburgh suggests that the bad blood that developed into a feud during the Wars of the Roses might be accounted for by the death of one of Cambridge’s men at the hand of Clifford whilst hunting but history hasn’t left a detailed account.

 

Politics gradually turned into warfare. The first battle of the Wars of the Roses was the Battle of St Albans in May 1455. Richard, Duke of York (Richard of Cambridge’s son) led a force of about 3,000 towards London. Henry VI’s army halted at St Albans on their way to intercept York. St Albans found itself behind barricades while the Lancastrians (those for Henry VI) negotiated with the Yorkists. Thomas Clifford, loyal to his king, was commanding the vanguard. Fighting was fierce but ultimately the Earl of Warwick tilted matters in favour of York by breaking through some houses into the market place.

 

Lord Clifford was killed and his body stripped. His twenty-one-year-old son found the body. A feud was born that would continue until the death of Thomas Clifford’s son at Ferry Bridge.  Before that John Clifford’s fury would lead to increasing ferocity on the battle field and the deaths of the flower of England’s nobility.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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John of Lancaster, First Duke of Bedford

john of lancasterJohn of Lancaster,the man with the pudding basin haircut and rather sumptuous gown on his knees in prayer, was the third surviving son of King Henry IV and his first wife Mary Bohun. He was born in 1389.  His mother died when he was just five.

He is better known in history as the First Duke of Bedford. And he is famous, or perhaps infamous, for having Joan of Arc burnt at the stake for witchcraft.  As a mere girl she shouldn’t have been wearing trousers and she certainly shouldn’t have been leading French armies that thrashed English armies.

John’s eldest brother was Henry of Monmouth who went on to become King Henry V after a dissolute youth causing his father Henry IV despair (refer to Shakespeare Henry IV Part One and Part Two for a full litany of drinking, gambling and womanising along with princely reformation).  In any event Henry of Monmouth shook boorish habits from him as soon as he became king and went off to do what medieval English nobility expected of their monarchs – he went to war with someone, gained victory and land.

Henry IV’s second son was called Thomas but he was killed in 1421 at the Battle of Bauge in France. John was the third son and he was followed by Humphrey.  Much of the period of Henry VI’s minority is filled with the political machinations of John and Humphrey who was created Duke of Gloucester and Earl of Pembroke. Each of the brothers wanted more power than the other. Henry V had relied upon John when he was away fighting to rule in his absence.  He took the reigns of power for his brother three times in total.  However it fell to John to continue the English campaign in France despite the fact that he had been named Regent.  This left Humphrey at home.  He became the Lord Protector during John’s long absences in France.

Not that this stopped Humphrey from dabbling in politics in an attempt to destabilize John’s alliances with other European magnates. There was also the small matter of Humphrey antagonizing the next most important man in the kingdom during Henry VI’s minority – Henry Beaufort who was the Bishop of Lincoln, a key figure on the regency council and the half-uncle of Henry IV’s children. (Henry IV’s parents were John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster while Henry Beaufort’s parents were John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford).

 

John’s time in France had been successful – the French might not have been his greatest admirers given his severe administration techniques- until about 1427 at which point a quiet country girl with a dodgy hair cut, a large sword and angels telling her what to do rather rained on his parade. Her name was Joan of Arc.  He was forced to raise the siege of Orleans in 1429 on account of the peasant girl. Joan’s army took the Loire Valley and defeated the English after which she had King Charles VII of France crowned at Rheims which was against the treaty that the French had agreed to after Agincourt which saw King Henry V marry Katherine of Valois.  The French felt there was a world of difference between a mature victorious king and a baby boy – they perhaps had a point given the chaos that often resulted in England when a child was on the throne.

In any event it didn’t do Joan much good.  She was burned for witchcraft in 1431 – the French king who owed her his crown didn’t lift a finger to help her.  John had his young nephew crowned King of France in Paris so that for a little while at least there were technically two kings of France at the same time, though it rather depended where you were as to which one you recognised in public.

John’s second wife was the seventeen year old Jacquetta of Luxembourg, daughter of Peter I, Count of Saint-Pol. She caused a scandal after John’s death by marrying a mere knight called Richard Woodville.  She went on to have sixteen children and the knight became the first Earl Rivers  for his services to Henry VI and his queen Margaret of Anjou.  So when the Yorkists looked down their nose at Elizabeth Woodville, Jacquetta’s daughter and King Edward IV’s wife, they were forgetting that she was the grand-daughter of a Count and that her mother had once been at the heart of the royal court – albeit a Lancastrian one.

John, as well as being a soldier and a politician, was also a scholar. He founded the University of Caen and had a collection of important religious manuscripts, many of which survive today including The Bedford Hours which is held by the British Library. John’s first wife Anne of Burgundy gave the book to young Henry VI for Christmas in 1430 (I wonder how the grandchildren would react to a beautifully hand painted devotional text rather than the usual jigsaws, board games and selected Disney dvds).

John’s died at Rouen in 1435 during negations with the Burgundians who were breaking their alliance with the English to make a separate peace with the French.  His demise further weakened the stability of the English court where opposing and increasingly vociferous factions now had no one sufficiently intimidating to hold them in check.  The Plantagenet family were moving ever closer to implosion.

 

 

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A Little Bit of Luck

Luck of Edenhall

Luck of Edenhall

When I was a child we used to refer to a bird splattering the car window screen  with its guano as leaving ‘luck’.  As an adult responsible for washing my own car I fail to see what luck has to do with it.  However, back to matters in hand, the lucks of today’s post as rather prettier and infinitely more historic – although once again in some instances ‘luck’ seems to be missing from the equation.

The first luck is the ‘Luck of Edenhall’ which used to be in possession of the Musgrave family of Edenhall. The ‘luck’ is a beautiful gilded and enamelled glass beaker (it looks like a vase to me but what do I know).  It was made in Syria so the chances are that it made its way home in the trunk of a Musgrave crusader.  Remarkably it survived the joys of reiver warfare, heavy handed drinkers and the washing up bowl.  Though to be fair it must always have been prized because when not in use it was kept in a leather container that had been made in the Fourteenth Century. The case bears the letters IHS suggesting that it was once used as a communion challice.

The luck was still in one piece at the beginning of the Eighteenth Century when the current owner decided it would be a good idea to drink the health of the entire family from the priceless heirloom.  Luck must indeed have been on the side of the Musgraves because it survived and went on to feature in a ballad.

Border ballads had been popularised by Sir Walter Scott and James Hogg at this time and “The Drinking Match” was a modern contrivance which featured the medieval glassware.

If this cup should break or fall,

Farewell the Luck of Edenhall.

From there it was one small step to the fairies – quite literally at the bottom of the garden – who were supposed to have given the luck to the Musgraves after water was drawn for them at a well.

The Musgraves aren’t the only family to have a ‘concrete’ luck that they need to guard against disaster.  The Lamb Family of Great Salkeld had a brass dish allegedly given by hobgoblins at a wedding feast.  A girl from the wedding family went to a nearby well to fetch water where she was accosted by a hungry hobgoblin – or gaggle of hungry hobgoblins depending on the account- who said that they would bless the bride and groom in exchange for food and drink.

Sir John Pennington was the Lord of Muncaster Castle during a portion of the Wars of the Roses.  In the aftermath of the Battle of Hexham (15 May 1464) King Henry VI was found wandering over the fell.  He was taken to Muncaster where Sir John and his wife cared for the broken monarch for the next nine days.  When he left the monarch – who could have done with a bit more luck himself- gave the family a glass cup telling them that they would prosper so long as it remained unbroken.  It is still on display in Muncaster Castle.

View across fells from Muncaster Castle

View across fells from Muncaster Castle

The final luck in this post brings us to the Luck of Workington.  Mary Queen of Scots fled across the Solway Firth in a fishing boat with sixteen companions.  When she arrived she had very few possessions and needed shelter.  Lord Herries, a Scottish Lowland laird who’d remained loyal to his queen sent a message to Sir Henry Curwen of Workington with whom he had a friendship.  Sir Henry sheltered Mary until she could be escorted to Carlisle Castle.  When she left she gave the family a small agate cup as a token of her gratitude.  It became known as the Workington Luck.

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