Sir Edward Neville

640px-Cromwell,Thomas(1EEssex)01I should really be exploring England’s only Pope.  Nicholas Breakspear was made pontiff on the 4th December 1154 becoming Pope Adrian IV.  However, I’ve got myself well and truly sidetracked flicking through Henry VIII’s letters and papers.


A quick perusal of Henry’s letters and papers yielded up today’s advent personality Sir Edward Neville who was tried and executed for treason along with Sir Geoffrey Pole in 1538. In this instance there isn’t a letter to read but there is an index of documents relating to the trial of the two gentlemen dating from the 4th of December – an insight into the process of bringing someone to trial and the administrative flair of Thomas Cromwell. The file, just an an aside, contains the signed copy of the reply sent by Sir William Kingston the Constable of the Tower confirming that he would have the parties in question in the dock on time.


Sir Edward Neville was a younger son of baron Bergevenny and it proprably won’t come as a great surprise to discover he was vaguely related to Henry VIII whom he resembled so greatly that there was a rumour that Edward was actually Henry’s son (this was an impossibility). In addition to having a drop of Plantagenet blood he was also related through the Beaufort line. His great grandfather was Ralph Neville, earl of Westmorland and his great grandmother was Joan Beaufort the daughter of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt. As well as the name Neville which certainly conjures up the old aristocracy, Edward could also, if he chose, boast names such as Despenser, Fitz-Alan and Beauchamp in his family tree (I told you they were all related one way or the other!)


Pedigree aside Edward did all the usual Tudor gentlemanly things (there should be a check list). He was a soldier as well as a courtier and he played the game of courtly love with aplomb. He went to France in 1514 with Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk and Arthur Plantagenet Lord Lisle to see Princess Mary married – they did this in disguise (ahh, I hear you cry how romantic.)


Cross-Channel lads’ weekends aside Edward rose in importance during the early period  of Henry’s reign when he was married to Katherine of Aragon and all, though not  always rosy, was relatively pleasant in the royal garden. He’d also been part of the 1512-1513 military expedition and he was at the Field of Cloth of Gold.  He even seems to have kept that favour as late as 1537 having sensibly played a role in 1533 for Anne Boleyn’s coronation. He was made Constable of Leeds Castle in Kent in 1535 and carried the canopy at Prince Edward’s christening in 1537.


The problem for Sir Edward was that in 1538 he fell foul of Thomas Cromwell over the small matter of Moatenden Priory. Edward wanted the lands but, unfortunately, so did Thomas.


From there it was a simple matter  for Cromwell to implicate Edward in the Pilgrimage of Grace along with the Pole family irrelevant if where his sympathies might have lain. His niece’s husband was Henry Pole, Lord Montagu. The Pole family found itself guilty of treachery largely because Reginald refused to agree with Henry’s divorce and had written a book on the subject which displeased his kingly cousin enormously and because Margaret Pole, countess of Salisbury was the daughter of the duke of Clarence (brother of Edward IV). The Poles were the personification of the Plantagenet white rose branch of the family tree. Put plainly, Edward Neville was related to the wrong people at the wrong time.

sir-georgeIt probably didn’t help that his brother, George Neville (pictured right in a sketch by Hans Holbein), had been married to Mary Stafford, the daughter of the duke of Buckingham and been arrested in 1521 along with his father-in-law. Edward’s brother was released without charge at that time but it may well have lingered in Henry’s mind and made it easier for Cromwell to present Sir Edward Neville as a traitor. And if Henry did count George as a traitor, he wasn’t alone. Eustace Chapuys the Imperial Ambassador identified George Neville as pro-Pole as a result of his arrest and the tarnishing of his reputation which never fully recovered.


As for Edward, he was arrested on the 3rd of December, notices for the trial were published on the 4th and from there it was a short step until his execution on the 8th December 1538.


‘Henry VIII: December 1538 1-5’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 13 Part 2, August-December 1538, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1893), pp. 409-426. British History Online [accessed 17 November 2016].

Eleanor Cobham – duchess, witch, convicted traitor.

eleanorcobhamEleanor Cobham should not have become a duchess; she certainly shouldn’t have been the first lady in Henry VI’s court. She didn’t have the right bloodlines.


She was the daughter of Sir Reginald Cobham of Sterborough but was fortunate that she found a place in the household of Jacqueline, Countess of Hainault as a lady-in-waiting. Jacqueline had fled her husband John, Duke of Brabant – so a bit of a wayward woman by medieval standards. As it turned out young Eleanor had her own fair share of waywardness that would take her all the way to the top of English society before she crashed from grace on a charge of witchcraft and treason.

Of course this all has a back story attached to it.  Henry V, the English king died from dysentery contracted during the Hundred Years War. He left a son, Henry VI, as his successor – unfortunately young Henry was still in swaddling clothes. Henry V’s brother, John, Duke of Bedford, governed France as regent, while his youngest brother, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, was named protector of England during the young king’s minority. Henry’s two brothers did not get on. In fact if John said it was day, Humphrey would probably have declared it to be night.

Jacqueline was a Countess without a country. She wanted help recovering Hainault from her husband. If that wasn’t enough of a challenge she also sought to recover Holland and Zeeland from her uncle, John of Bavaria. Duke Humphrey, perhaps because his brother was making a marriage with the Burgundians, married Jacqueline. This rather rained on John, Duke of Bedford’s carefully negotiated treaty with the Burgundians and caused some dissent between the new allies because Philip of Burgundy had his own eyes on Hainault.


In October 1424, the Duke Humphrey and his bride landed at Calais. Eleanor Cobham went with them. It was a disaster. Philip of Burgundy was amore popular ruler than Humphrey with the good people of Hainault. So, he did what all sensible men do in an emergency, he deserted his wife and returned home – leaving Jacqueline to be captured by Philip of Burgundy.


Eleanor having no desire to be mired in Jacqueline’s disaster took herself home as well. It wasn’t long before the former lady-in-waiting became Humphrey’s mistress. Gossip soon whispered that Eleanor had inveigled Humphrey into her snare with the help of a witch called Margery Journemayne. The gossip must have buzzed when the duke and his mistress were married. Stow reported that a group of women sent a letter to Humphrey pointing out that it wasn’t very honourable of him to leave poor Jacqueline as a prisoner in the hands of the Duke of Burgundy or for him to carry on in public with Eleanor.


Whatever nobility wives thought of Eleanor she was now a duchess and in 1440 Henry VI made her a Lady of the Garter.

In September 1435, John, Duke of Bedford died. Humphrey was now heir to the throne – the thought of being king seems to have gone to both Humphrey and Eleanor’s heads. Eleanor had gone from being the daughter of a knight to the first lady in the land. The crown was a heartbeat away. The trouble was that Eleanor was not particularly gracious in her new role. One chronicler wrote that she showed off “her pride and her position by riding through the streets of London, glitteringly dressed and suitably escorted by men of noble birth.”   So clearly tact and diplomacy were not high on her list of skill sets.


Duke Humphrey was university educated. He loved books. In his collection was one on astrology. Eleanor appears to have had an interest in the topic as well because in June 1441, Eleanor, having dined at Cheapside was informed that three members of her household had been arrested on charges of conspiring against the king. The suspects implicated Eleanor – as must have been the intention all along. Eleanor seeing which way the wind was blowing took herself off to Westminster and into sanctuary.


Eleanor was told to go to Leeds Castle but pretended that she was too ill to go. It was to no avail. She faced trial and admitted that she had turned to witchcraft to get a child with Humphrey and to having the future of Henry VI told. Humphrey remained silent on the matter. He made no move to defend his wife but once she was found guilty his political life was as good as over. Following the trial Humphrey and Eleanor were forcible divorced and Eleanor made to do public penance which was, all things considered, a narrow escape – poor Margery Journemayne was burned at the stake as a witch in Smithfield.

From London, at the beginning of 1442, Eleanor was sent to Cheshire; via Kenilworth and from there to the Isle of Man – a duchess no more.