The Duke of Buckingham’s mistake

Edward_Stafford.jpgEdward Stafford the third Duke of Buckingham really should have known about the dangers of irritating monarchs.  His father the second duke was executed by Richard III and Edward a mere child of five was forced to flee into hiding having been dressed by his mother Katherine Woodville as a girl.

The problem was that Edward was descended thrice over from Edward III despite the fact that his mother was Katherine Woodville.  The Stafford family had been around for centuries whereas the Tudors were Johnny-Come-Late-lies.  This was so much the case that after the death of Prince Arthur in 1502 it was suggested in some quarters that the Duke of Buckingham might make an appropriate monarch.  Not only was Edward a Plantagenet with clear  and legitimate lines of descent but he had also benefitted from a royal upbringing having been made a ward of Margaret Beaufort.

Seven years later  when Edward discovered that his sister had become the king’s mistress he was absolutely furious.  He believed that his family was far to important for Anne to be the mistress of a mere Tudor, a marked contrast to the Duke of Norfolk who would spend most of his political career from the 1520s onwards dangling Howard girls under Henry’s nose.

Buckingham knew how the court worked under Henry VII – a man not admired for his lack of mistresses and had failed to notice that whilst the Plantagenets were first amongst equals – in a country where rulers appointed men to effectively rule their own regions that the Tudors centralised and appointed administrators – that they were absolute rulers for want of a better description.

Henry VII sought to use Edward’s Plantagenet blood in the marriage market when he suggested a marriage with Anne of Brittany but avarice won out when the Earl Northumberland offered the king £4000 for Edward to marry his daughter Eleanor.  By 1509 Edward Stafford had claimed the hereditary right of being Lord High Constable and was on Henry VIII’s newly appointed council having performed in a series of diplomatic and high status court roles.

Buckingham’s sense of self worth was probably reinforced when he received a licence to crenelate, i.e. to fortify a property.  He was treading the path of the fifteenth century over mighty subject who ruled his own domain. He had failed to spot that his second cousin   Henry VIII granted favours to his friends but woe betide them if they didn’t play by his rules.

Thus when Edward heard from Anne’s sister Elizabeth that Anne was conducting an affair with the king he thought that there would be no repercussions when he summoned his brother-in-law and removed Anne to a nunnery some sixty miles from court.  Even worse the affair became common knowledge.  Queen Katherine who was pregnant became very upset and Henry was embarrassed. Anne would return to court and the affair probably continued for another few years if Henry’s New Year’s gift list is anything to go by.  However, the damage was done – Henry knew how to carry a grudge.

In 1520 Buckingham was suspected of treason. It had become clear that Katherine of Aragon was not as fertile as her mother.  A child, Mary, had been born the pervious year but it was unthinkable that a girl might inherit – the Tudors were in danger of dying out.  Edward Stafford was the man, so he said, to take up the Crown –   Henry personally interviewed the witnesses. In April 1521 he was packed off to the Tower for imagining the death of the king and executed on the 17th May. The evidence was flimsy.

Jane Parker, Lady Rochford

Jane-Parker.jpgJane Parker or Mrs George Boleyn has gone down in history as the woman who accused her husband and sister-in-law of incest.  She was also the woman who connived to allow Katherine Howard to meet her lover  Thomas Culpepper- resulting in Katherine being executed and Henry VIII changing the law to allow for the execution of the insane so that Jane could share the same fate on the 13th February 1542.

The image at the start of the post is a Holbein. Recent consensus is that this particular Lady Parker is actually Grace Parker – nee Newport the wife of Jane’s brother Henry rather than Jane.

Jane was described by Henry as a “bawd” because she had helped Katherine to meet with Thomas, had passed on letters and kept watch whilst the pair conducted their assignations during the royal progress to York.. It can’t have come as a total surprise that Henry ordered her arrest when he discovered what had been going on. rather unreasonably Thomas Culpepper and Katherine Howard both tried to put the blame on Jane for orchestrating the meetings.  Jane had a nervous breakdown whilst in confinement.

So, what else do we know about her?  She was descended from Margaret Beauchamp of Bletsoe,  Margaret Beaufort’s mother – making Jane a distant Tudor relation which accounts for her court links. Her father was raised in Margaret Beaufort’s household. Jane first appears in the court records in 1520 pertaining to the Field of the Cloth of Gold.  She would have been about fifteen. She served in the households of Catherine of Aragon, her sister-in-law Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves  and also in Katherine Howard’s.  We know that she appeared in court masques and we know that in 1524 /25 she married George Boleyn.

Warnicke theorises that Jane and George were unhappily married  because of George’s sexuality- certainly something wasn’t right if Jane was prepared to send her husband to the block on some rather unpleasant charges.  The primary source evidence for this comes from George Cavendish’s account of Boleyn.  However to counter this it should be noted that Cavendish was loyal to Wolsey and there was little love lost between the Cardinal’s faction and the Boleyns. It should also be noted that George had a bit of a reputation with the ladies. The only bad thing that Chapuys, the Imperial Ambassador, could say about George was that he was very Protestant in his outlook.  It’s safe to say that had Chapuys got a whiff of George being homosexual that it would have been recorded in his letters.

Whatever the family relationship, in 1534 Jane helped Anne to get rid of an unnamed mistress of the king’s and that Jane was banished as a consequence.  This allowed Anne the opportunity to place another potential mistress under Henry’s nose – a Howard girl- possibly Madge Shelton and someone who was unlikely to be used by the conservative faction at court to weaken Anne’s position.  Jane herself was back at court the following year.

Popular history claims that Jane told the king that one of Anne’s lovers was George but whilst the primary sources talk about ‘one woman’ they don’t actually name Jane as the culprit and there is certainly no written evidence to support the idea although that doesn’t preclude the possibility of verbal evidence.  Like so much popular history we think we know what happened but the closer you look at the evidence the more elusive the truth becomes.

Julia Fox, Jane’s biographer states that Jane was only named during the reign of Elizabeth I.  Jane was long dead and who else cold have told such blatant lies – but a mad woman?  Alison Weir on the other hand concludes that Jane was probably instrumental in George’s execution.  It is also true to say that an anonymous Portuguese writer claimed a month after Anne’s execution that Jane was responsible for the incest accusation.  Weir deduces that Jane was jealous of the closeness that existed between her husband and Anne.

It is true though that the evidence of George’s trial points to Jane telling Cromwell that Anne Boleyn had talked of Henry VIII’s impotence which one imagines would have been more than enough to get Anne into serious hot water with her spouse.

Jane didn’t benefit from her husband’s death.  Thomas Boleyn refused to pay Jane’s jointure.  She was forced to write to Cromwell asking for help.

And whilst we’re at it we should perhaps also look at the idea that Jane was insane at the time of her execution.  Primary evidence supplied by Ottwell Johnson reveals a woman who went to her maker calmly and with dignity despite the fact that no one in her family had attempted to intervene on her behalf. Lord Morley (Jane’s father) and his son Henry perhaps realised the extent of Henry’s anger.

Finally – just to make life that little bit more interesting in 1519, the year before the first written account of Jane at court Henry VIII had a fling with  “Mistress Parker” or at least court rumour said he did.  At fourteen Jane fitted Henry’s liking for young mistresses best typified by Katherine Howard.  Jane like so many other of his mistresses was related to him and like many other of his mistresses a large wedding gift was given.  Alternatively maybe Mistress Parker was Jane’s mother Alice St John?

In 1519 Henry was in the midst of his affair with Bessie Blount the mother of his illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy. Mistress Parker was a diversion whilst Bessie was pregnant.  Could Alice have been Henry’s mistress and gained her daughter a place in Catherine of Aragon’s household?  It’s possible.

Alice outlived her daughter and like her husband she did not publicly mourn the death of Jane.

Fox. Julia,  (2008) Jane Boleyn: The Infamous Lady Rochford

Retha M. Warnicke “The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn: Family Politics at the Court of Henry VIII”

Sir Henry Stafford’s will

BeaufortLadyM_CU_SJ_170smHenry Stafford was the second son of Humphrey Stafford, First Duke of Buckingham. I’ve posted about him before.  The post can be found here.   Henry was Margaret’s second husband (discounting John de la Pole).  Their marriage began when she was fourteen and covered the period of Henry Tudor’s minority – initially in the care of Jasper Tudor and then, after Towton,  Sir William Herbert.

On the 14th April 1471, Sir Henry took part in the Battle of Barnet against the Earl of Warwick’s forces.  Warwick having turned his coat and reached an agreement with Henry VI’s queen Margaret of Anjou.  The official record does not record how Margaret Beaufort felt about her husband taking up arms on York’s behalf.  Clearly Edmund Beaufort’s visit to the couple at Woking in March did not go as planned! Nor for that matter do we fully know why Stafford chose to support the Yorkist king rather than the Lancastrian one on this particular occasion.

Sir Henry was wounded and returned to Woking (which he and Margaret had acquired through royal warrant in 1466 – it had formerly been in Beaufort hands) where he was cared for by Margaret. He died on the 4th October 1471.

He had written his will on the 13th April 1471 – a hasty realisation of what might follow.  It was witnessed by the parish priest of Woking, a man named Walter Baker.  He also gave 10 shillings to the church for tithes – noting that he may have forgotten to pay them or even withheld them previously. Another 20 shillings were given for building work in the church.

The bequests that the will contains are few.  He left Henry Tudor new velvet trappings for four horses, Reginald Bray – his man of business- a “grizzled horse”  and £160 for masses to be said for his soul. The copy of the will held by St John’s College, Cambridge includes the gift of another horse to his brother John – who Edward IV had created Earl of Wiltshire.  He left everything else to his “entirely beloved wife Margaret, Countess of Richmond, she thereof to dispose her own free will for ever more.”  Another, downloadable, copy of the will can be found in the National Archives at Kew.

Halsted, Caroline (1845)  Life of Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby, mother of King Henry the Seventh. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=PF9iAAAAcAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

Jones, Michael and Underwood, Malcom. (1992)  The King’s Mother. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Licence, Amy. 2016 Red Roses. Stroud: The History Press

 

 

http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/D970211

Poison and murder – a Boleyn conspiracy?

fisherI recently purchased James Moore’s The Tudor Murder Files.  It’s published by Pen and Sword.  It turns out that under Henry VIII there were something in the region of 72,000 executions – which is a rather eye watering figure.  Clearly there were assorted bigwigs including as Sir Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard  but there were also thousands of nameless men and women such as those who were executed by the Duke of Norfolk during the period of martial law following on form the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536-which has just reminded me of another victim of Henry VIII’s famous Tudor tantrums – Robert Aske. Which brings as neatly to today’s post having mentioned beheading and hanging it’s time to move on to being boiled alive.

In Europe the practise of boiling people either in water, oil or tar (anything that got hot and unpleasant basically) continued into much more recent times.  In 1531 the Act of Poisoning was enshrined in English law.  It came about because a cook called Richard Roose or Rouse was found guilty of murdering two people with broth.  Roose is mentioned by name in the act.  The act made the crime of poisoning that of petty treason. Petty treason, just in case you were wondering, is when a subordinate (wife or servant) kills or betrays their superior (husband or master).  After Roose met his unfortunate end a maid servant was boiled in King’s Lynn for poisoning her mistress  and in March 1542 Margaret Davie was boiled at Smithfield for poisoning three households.

 

Richard Roose was a cook for the Bishop of Rochester – John Fisher (pictured at the start of this post)- the man who had been Margaret Beaufort’s confessor and who wrote her biography.  In 1509 he had led the funeral of Henry VII and had tutored Henry VIII in theology. He was regarded as one of the most learned theologians in the Western world which was fine whilst he and Henry VIII were in agreement.  In short, he was a very important person until he sided with Katherine of Aragon against Henry in Henry’s Great Matter. In 1527 Henry told Fisher that his conscience was tormented by concerns over Leviticus and  Deuteronomy as to whether he was legally married to Katherine.  Fisher, not taking the hint, went off and had a conflab with assorted theologians and got back to Henry with the “good news” that he had nothing to worry about. Henry presumably took a deep breath then went off to consult with theologians that Fisher hadn’t thought to ask.

1529, Fisher expressed his views very clearly at the Legatine Court about marriage and Anne Boleyn. He was Katherine’s advocate.  This was not at all what Henry wanted.

Fisher found himself briefly imprisoned for resisting the reformation of the clergy and the legal strategy that Cromwell was using to exert pressure on Rome.   It didn’t stop him from writing several books in support of Katherine of Aragon. By 1531 Bishop Fisher must have been feeling very uncomfortable indeed. Not only did he resist attempts to limit clerical power but Henry made it very clear that he would throw the bishop into the river if he didn’t start behaving himself.

On the 18th February 1531 the sixteen or so gentlemen who had shared Bishop Fisher’s meal became unwell.  One of them by the name of Curwen died. The beggars who gathered at Lambeth for alms – the leftovers- also became unwell. One, a widow called Alice Trypptt died.  The soup, or pottage as it was called, was dodgy.  The only man who didn’t succumb to food poisoning was Bishop Fisher who hadn’t fancied the soup.  Other sources suggest that Fisher wasn’t even present in Lambeth at the time.

The Venetian Archives contains a report about Richard Roose’s interrogation and confession.  He admitted having put a “powder” in the soup for a bit of fun.  He thought that the powder was a laxative (a man with a strange sense of humour).

At Henry’s insistence rather than being tried for murder in the usual fashion Roose was put on trial for treason as though Fisher was a member of the royal family.    What this meant was that there was no jury to hear the case, the verdict being a summary one. The Imperial Ambassador, Chapuys, noted that Roose did not say where the powder came from in the first place. Chapuys hesitated to blame Henry VIII himself for dishing out powders to get rid of troublesome priests but did suggest that the Boleyn family might have something to do with it – and let’s remember he wasn’t Anne’s greatest fan.  Thomas More reported the rumour that the Boleyn’s were involved to Henry VIII who was signally unamused by the suggestion.  It should be noted that neither Chapuys or More presented any evidence.  Henry is said to have commented that Anne Boleyn was blamed for everything.

It should be added that Fisher had another near miss involving a canon ball that landed in his study.  It appears that the canon which fired the aforementioned cannonball was sited in the home of Thomas Boleyn.  In October 1531 Anne Boleyn sent Fisher a message warning him not to attend parliament.  She noted that he would not get sick again.

On the 5th April The Chronicle of Greyfriars reported Roose’s end along with the mechanics of execution which as based on a rope and pulley system which lifted him in and out of the  water.  Another chronicle noted that there was a lot of yelling and that those people not sickened by the sight felt that the axeman was a more edifying sight.  Roose died without benefit of the clergy.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing but up until this point Henry wasn’t known for executing people willy-nilly  he hadn’t got to the point where he was lopping off heads to get the wife he wanted so either he had something to hide and was getting rid of the accomplice in plain sight or he really was deeply concerned about household staff with small bottles labelled with skulls and crossbones getting rid of their employers.  Let’s just remember the that the Tudors had a thing about anyone mentioning that they might die – so fear of being poisoned probably would produce alarm and brand new nasty punishments.

Poor Fisher found himself in ever increasing difficulties.  In 1534 he was imprisoned for not reporting everything about the Maid of Ken (Elizabeth Barton).  And then he refused to take the Oath of Supremacy.  On 22 June 1535 Fisher became one of the 72,000 execution victims of Henry VIII.  When he emerged from the Tower he was gaunt and badly nourished. This probably demonstrates more effectively than anything that Henry had no need to send henchmen to skulk down dark alleys with little bottles decorated by skulls and crossbones.   Henry and Cromwell knew how to use the law to intimidate and then silence Henry’s critics without legally getting their hands dirty.

Boiling people was removed from the statute books in 1547 during the reign of Edward VI although Moore dies note that there was at least one execution of this kind during the reign of Elizabeth I.

Moore, James. (2016) The Tudor Murder Files. Barnsley: Pen and Sword

Joan Beaufort’s family – Anne Neville, Countess of Stafford

Joan Beaufort neville family tree

 

Joan BeaufortAn earlier post looked at Katherine Neville’s four marriages.  Today I am looking at Anne Neville’s marriages.  Anne was born in about 1410 (depending on the source you read). By the time she was fourteen she was married to Humphrey Stafford, Earl of Stafford who would go on to become the First Duke of Buckingham.  The family was hugely wealthy.  Anne like many of the other women in her family became noted for her interest in books and spent money on lavishly illustrated prayer books and psalters. The Wingfield Book of Hours was hers for example.  In addition, as with others of her family History also has her book of accounts detailing her expenditure. She died in 1480 at the age of seventy (ish) after two marriages and many children – again figures vary depending upon the source but there were at least ten of them.  Sadly of their sons, only three survived to adulthood.

Anne’s eldest son with Humphrey Stafford – unsurprisingly another Humphrey died in 1458 of plague – a reminder of the fact that disease stalked the land culling various Beaufort descendants just as much as war. Anne’s son had been married to his cousin Margaret Beaufort – not to be confused with the Margaret Beaufort. This one was the daughter of  Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset (the one who had a thing with Katherine of Valois and managed to get himself killed at the first Battle of St Albans in May 1455) rather than her more famous cousin who was first married to Edmund Tudor.

The next son was Henry Stafford who married the widowed Margaret Tudor – nee Beaufort.  It must have been a bit confusing to have two Margaret Beauforts in the family.  This Margaret, other than being Henry VII’s mother, was the daughter of John Beaufort the older brother of Edmund who died in 1444 under suspicious circumstances having lost vast chunks of France due to ineptitude.  Henry seems to have had a skin condition called St Anthony’s Fire – the condition involving inflation of the skin as well as headaches and sickness which cannot have been ideal when you had to get togged up in armour and go and fight battles.  There were no grandchildren from this union but the pair seem to have genuinely loved one another celebrating their wedding anniversary each year and Margaret Beaufort celebrated St Anthony’s day throughout her life. Sir Henry also fell victim to the Wars of the Roses dying from injuries sustained at the Battle of Barnet in October 1470.  Although the family had started off loyal to Henry VI, Henry had made his peace with Edward IV and when he was injured was fighting on the side of the White Rose.

The third and final son to survive to adulthood was called John and he would become the Earl of Wilshire.  Like his brothers he fought in the Wars of the Roses.  History knows that he was at Hexham in 1464 fighting on the side of Edward IV.  He went on to become Chief Butler for England.  Like his brothers he married an heiress.   He and his wife, Constance, had one son, also called John, who inherited John’s title and estates when he was a child.  As his cousin Buckingham would do, John found himself under the care of his paternal grandmother – Anne Neville.

Several daughters from Anne’s marriage to Humphrey survived to marriageable age and this proved to be a bit of a headache for the Buckinghams despite the wealth I mentioned earlier.  Part of the problem was the Humphrey’s mother held extensive dower estates having not only been married to Humphrey’s father but to his older brother before that.  There was also the fact that Buckingham wished to make extremely good marriages for his daughters and that cost money.

The couple’s oldest daughter, another Anne, married the heir to the Earl of Oxford. Aubrey de Vere is best known to history for being executed for treason in 1462 along with his father the twelfth Earl of Oxford.  Edward IV had Aubrey and his father arrested for writing to Margaret of Anjou and planning to have a Lancastrian force land in England. This was rather unfortunate as up until that time the de Vere’s had done rather well at keeping themselves out of the fifteenth century fracas. It would also have to be said that the exact nature of the plot is rather blurred round the edges.  Anne de Vere nee Stafford went on to marry Thomas, Lord Cobham. Thomas died in 1471 without legitimate male issue so his title passed to Anne’s daughter also called Anne who was married to Edward Burgh of Gainsborough who was unfortunately declared insane.

Anne Cobham married Edward Burgh when he was thirteen.  Katherine Parr’s first spouse was a member of the Burgh family.  Anne Neville and Humphrey Stafford’s 2x-great grandson Thomas Burgh fought at Flodden in 1513 and sat on Anne Boleyn’s trial having been very forceful in her favour at the time of Henry VIII’s divorce from Katherine of Aragon – he is on record as ripping the royal coat of arms from her barge. His residence in Gainsborough was Gainsborough Old Hall which I have posted about before. Sir Thomas does not seem to have been a terribly pleasant man given his towering rages and having his own grandchildren declared illegitimate.

But back to the daughters of Anne Neville and Humphrey Stafford. Joan Stafford, was married aged ten to William, Viscount Beaumont who started out as a Lancastrian, became temporarily Yorkist after Towton when he was captured but wasn’t given back his lands- Edward chose to give them to his friend Lord Hastings- so remained Lancastrian at heart which meant that the next two decades were eventful for him until he returned with Henry Tudor and took part in the Battle of Bosworth. William was unusual in that his loyalty to the Lancastrians was pretty much unwavering. Unfortunately for Joan the marriage was set aside in 1477.  She went on to marry Sir William Knyvett of Buckenham in Norfolk.  The family was an important part of the Norfolk gentry and feature in the Paston Letters.  Like her mother, Joan commissioned many books which survive today.

A third daughter called Catherine married into the Talbot family.  John Talbot became the third Earl of Shrewsbury after his father’s death in 1460.The couple had two sons and a daughter.  It feels as though Neville strands of DNA link most of the important fifteenth century families and reflects the way in which a power base and affinity could be built.  Another daughter, Margaret married Robert Dunham of Devon.

Humphrey Stafford overstretched himself as he was still paying his daughters’ dowries when he died and accommodation had to be made for that in his will.  The Buckinghams were good Lancastrians.  Humphrey was killed in 1460 at the Battle of Northampton whilst guarding Henry VI’s tent.  If you recall this was the battle that Edmund Grey rather ruined for the Lancastrians by changing sides mid battle and allowing the Earl of Warwick through his lines. This event rather changed things within the wider Neville family dynamic.  In 1459 after the Battle of Ludford Bridge (which really wasn’t a battle – more of a stand-off followed by a tactical scarpering by Richard of York) Anne and Humphrey had accommodated Anne’s sister Cecily who was Richard of York’s wife along with her younger children.  Thanks to popular fiction if we think of Anne at all it is usually in her rather frosty welcome of disgraced Cecily. The wheel of Fortune turned in 1460 at the Battle of Northampton and by Easter 1461 the Lancastrians had been labelled traitors and the house of York was in the ascendant with Cecily lording it over widowed Anne.

 

The Second duke of Buckingham was Anne’s grandson.  He wasn’t even five years old when he acquired the title.  Wardship of the new duke passed into the hands of Anne but Edward IV – who was Anne’s nephew (Cecily Neville was his mother)- purchased the wardship from her and with it the right to organise the young duke’s marriage.  He’s the one who ended up married to Katherine Woodville, feeling resentful of his Yorkist cousin who didn’t allow him the freedoms and rights that he felt were his due. Ultimately he undertook a spot of light revolting against Richard III in October 1483 which ended in his execution at the beginning of November the same year in Salisbury.

 

Six years after the death of Humphrey Stafford, Anne married  again to Walter Blount who was the first Baron Mountjoy.  They had no children (and trust me when I say that since beginning to track the descendants of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford that I am grateful whenever I come across that fact.) Mountjoy died in 1474 mentioning his beloved wife in his will.

Anne died in 1480 and is buried in Pleshy, Essex next to Humphrey Stafford as her will requested. Only her daughter Joan Stafford survived her. Most famously she left books to her one time daughter-in-law Margaret Beaufort who was now married to Thomas Stanley, Earl of Derby.

 

Baldwin, David. (2009).  The Kingmaker’s Sisters. Stroud: The History Press

The Encyclopaedia of the Wars of the Roses

Rules for Medieval Marriage

Marriage_of_Blanche_of_Lancaster_and_John_of_Gaunt_1359.jpg  I have been reading a Social History of Women in England 450-1500 by Henrietta Leyser  in between finding out about John of Gaunt’s retinue as it is sometimes easy to impose our own views and beliefs on the events of a particular period.  Interestingly it was only in the twelfth century that the Church came up with a consistent view of what constituted a marriage and what wordage was required from the couple who it joined in wedlock and whether the marriage needed to be consummated in order to be legally binding.

So here it is very briefly as I understand it: Peter Lombard of Paris insisted that a couple need only exchange the words “I take you as my wife” and “I take you as my husband.” He argued that the Virgin Mary was married to Joseph but had remained a virgin her whole life according to the theology of the time.  Consequentially, if it was good enough for the mother of Jesus it was good enough for everyone else.  Pope Alexander III backed this view.

In 1215 Pope Innocent III clarified the Church’s views on consanguinity by reducing the prohibited degrees of relationship from seven to four. When counting seven degrees of relationship the Church simply counted back up the family tree so that would have meant that a sixth cousin would be unable to may his or her sixth cousin which must have made life somewhat difficult for the intertwined aristocratic families. Properly the first degree of consanguinity is the closest one – parent and child; second degree of consanguinity -siblings; third degree aunt-nephew or uncle-neice; fourth degree- first cousins. However, the Church continued to make its calculations by going back up the family tree four generations meaning that the net of consanguinity covered much more than a first cousin. It included anyone with the same great great grandparent. However, there were such things as papal dispensations which fetched in a handy income for the Church.

478px-Lady_Margaret_Beaufort_from_NPGThe need to apply for papal dispensation where cousins removed were to be married often fitted into a rather lengthy negotiation process where the marriage was more of a seal on an alliance than a love match. Prior to a couple’s betrothal a financial settlement had to be agreed.  A bride’s family was expected to settle a dowry upon her.  This was her share of her inheritance.  It often took the form of goods and cash as well as land which her own mother might have brought into her own marriage.  In return the bride would receive dower rights from the lands which her groom held i.e. the income from those lands was hers.  Once the marriage settlement had been agreed then there would be a betrothal ceremony.  Given that these betrothals often took place where at least one of the participants was a very young child the betrothal wasn’t always binding.  Effectively where children  had not yet reached the age of reason it was much easier to wriggle out of a marriage alliance than after.  Margaret Beaufort was betrothed by her guardian to his son John de la Pole at the age of six but was rebetrothed on the orders of Henry VI to his half-brother Edmund Tudor  three years later.  Seven was regarded as the age of reason and after that time is was harder to break a betrothal. A full coming of age was twelve for girls and fourteen for boys though even at the time Edmund Tudor’s treatment of  his child bride raised eyebrows.

There were other considerations to take account of if you were of peasant stock and wished to marry. Family politics and relative wealth acquisition played their parts from the mightiest to the least in the land. However the peasantry or those descend from villeins had to find the money to pay marriage fines and there were plenty of them.  Leyser (120) describes Merchet – a fine paid for a licence to marry; legerwite which literally translates as a laying down fine was the fine levied on a woman who had had pre-marital sex (there was no corresponding male fine) and there was also chidewite which was the fee for having an illegitimate child.  You might also find yourself having to marry someone your lord had decreed was a suitable match for you – though of course this something that every strata of society had to deal with.

Innocent III also forbade secret marriages and decreed the necessity of the calling of banns. There were also times of the year when the Church decreed that marriages couldn’t occur.  Advent and Lent were marriage free times of the year.  Banns were called three times and the calling had to be at least a day apart to allow an opportunity for anyone objecting to the union to come forward.

During medieval times weddings did not take place inside the Church.  Weddings occurred at the church door – which given the climate in England probably accounts for the number of porches within medieval church architecture.   The marriage at the church door was a curious amalgam of vows and financial arrangements.  The ring that the bride wears today is all that is left of the symbolism of the groom’s symbolic gift of gold or silver given to represent the bride’s dower.  It was apparently quite normal for the groom to arrive with a shield or book stacked with gold or silver.  The couple exchanged vows in English. And did I mention that a priest wasn’t needed even if the couple did get married at the church door!  Of course having a priest made it easier to prove you were married.

And that leads to an explanation of the word wedding. Dixon Smith explains that consent to a marriage or a pledge to marry was shown by giving and receiving an item referred to English as a ‘wed’. A ‘wed’ could be any gift understood by those involved to mean consent to marry but was often a ring.  A ‘wedding’ where a man gave a woman a ring and she accepted it created the marriage.  This complicates things still further because if the giving of a gift is enough to have created a marriage there’s an awful lot of room for accusations and counter accusations of being married based on very little evidence other than a he says/ she says sort of exchange in a court.

Once the couple had exchanged their vows they entered the Church and celebrated Mass.  Once that was done the couple knelt to receive a further blessing.This was all followed by a wedding feast and there could be no skimping on the food or festivities.  Leyser reveals that Robert Juwel was fined for failing to provide a feast at his marriage (109).  Obviously this depended on the relative status and wealth of the groom and his family.

And finally the priest would bless the happy couple’s bedchamber and the bed.  There then followed an often rowdy and sometimes public bedding of the bride and groom.

images-17elizabeth woodville

 

All very straight forward except it wasn’t! Leyser goes on to reveal that during the Middle Ages couples  got married all over the place – from trees to inns.  This of course was because there were two kinds of marriage as anyone familiar with the convoluted story of Edward IV’s love life must be aware. If Edward IV, who married Elizabeth Woodville in secret, had previously been betrothed to Eleanor Butler then he was as good as married which made his union with Elizabeth bigamous.  The promise of marriage followed by intercourse was marriage and recognized as such by the Church. So despite the fact that secret marriages were prohibited, the Church recognised that people could and did get married without the consent of either the Church, their parents or their overlords. Law required the irregular or clandestine marriage to be regularised before any children could inherit but the marriage was legally binding even if there were no witnesses, no banns and none of the above negotiations. No priest was required for an irregular marriage either.  This makes either proving or disproving such a union rather difficult.

Unsurprisingly there are plenty of accounts in the ecclesiastical courts of couples who’d married clandestinely and which were followed up by objections. And so far as consanguinity was concerned anyone with an interest in English History knows where that got Henry VIII but realistically it was possible to extract yourself from an unsatisfactory marriage if some previously unknown impediment should be discovered and that’s before we even get on to the topic of people being pre-contracted in marriage and then going off and marrying someone else.

All of this seems to be rather complicated and in an age where the wealthy often married without love it comes as a bit of a surprise to discover that a marriage could be dissolved if it was proved to have occurred under duress.  Marriage by abduction did occur.  The reason why there may have been very few annulments for this reason was that once the marriage was consummated or the couple had lived together the grounds for duress was deemed to have fallen by the wayside.  Nor was cruelty a grounds for divorce though occasionally the courts threatened errant husbands with a whipping if they didn’t step up to the mark.

Of course sometimes people did marry for love – Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville spring to mind as do Margery Paston and the family bailiff Richard Calle. Katherine of Valois married Owen Tudor in secret rather than face life without a spouse and unable to marry to her own status in society until her son came of age.  More surprisingly Edward I’s daughter Joan of Acre married Ralph de Monthermer a squire from her household in secret.  Her father was not amused when he found out.

The image at the start of the post is to be found in Reading Museum.  It is an interpretation by Horace Wright completed in 1914 of the marriage between John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster which took place in Reading Abbey on 13 May 1359.  The happy couple were third cousins so a papal dispensation was required. Their shared heritage was their descent from King Henry III.

Dixon-Smith, Sally.  Love and Marriage in Medieval England in History Extra 11 February 2016   http://www.historyextra.com/article/feature/love-and-marriage-medieval-england-customs-vows-ceremony

Leyser, Henrietta. (1997) Social History of Women in England 450-1500  London: PheonIx

 

 

 

 

 

Thomas, Lord Stanley

thomas stanley.jpgThomas Stanley is known either as a politically adroit magnate who successfully navigated the stormy seas of the Wars of the Roses or a treacherous little so-and-so – depending upon your historical view point. Stanley is the bloke married to Margaret Beaufort who is best known for being a tad tardy at Bosworth whilst his brother, Sir William, turned coat and attacked Richard III. Stanley wasn’t the only one whose behaviour during the various battles of the wars seems lacking in the essential codes of knightly behaviour but he certainly seems to have been the most successful at avoiding actually coming to blows with anyone unless there was something in it for him – and no this post is not unbiased.
Thomas was born in 1433 , meaning he was some eight years older than Margaret Beaufort.  The Stanley family held estates and office in Lancashire and Cheshire into the Peak District as well as being the titular kings of the Isle of Man.
Thomas turns up in 1454 as one of Henry VI’s squires. By the end of the decade he was married to Eleanor Neville, the daughter of the Earl of Salisbury; making the Kingmaker his brother-in-law.
When the peace between the Lancastrians and Yorkists ground to a sticky halt in 1459 Margaret of Anjou ordered Stanley to assemble men to confront Richard of York. This was a tad tricky as Stanley’s brother-in-law, the Earl of Warwick, was with Richard at Ludlow as indeed was his own brother William Stanley.  Apparently the earl of Salisbury  also corresponded with Stanley at this time – consequentially although Stanley raised a force of 2000 men they sat and twiddled their fingers whilst the Lancastrians and Yorkists expressed their differences of opinion at Bloreheath in August of that year. Parliament was not amused but everyone decided that the best course of action would be to pretend that it never happened.
Richard of York and the Earl of Warwick scarpered to Ireland and Calais respectively in the aftermath of the battle of Ludford Bridge but their return in 1460 saw Stanley trying to sit on the fence and please both sides. It’s quite tricky to spot where he was during the Battle of Towton – but possibly not in Yorkshire. In any event it helped having a powerful brother-in-law on hand to make the new regime more accessible.
Stanley spent the next few years concreting and pacifying his regional power base.  He is recorded as going north to take on the Lancastrians during the first part of the 1460s and he was at court when Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was made public. He became the Justice for Chester – so was one of the magnates that Edward used to rule the regions on his behalf.
Unfortunately Stanley’s brother-in-law was feeling aggrieved. The Kingmaker had not expected Edward IV to get married to a widow with a large family or to start ignoring his advice. In 1470 after the relationship had finally gone sour Warwick took himself and his son-in-law George duke of Clarence off to France to patch things up with Margaret of Anjou and whilst he was at it he arranged the marriage of his youngest daughter Ann Neville to Margaret’s son Prince Edward. Stanley was once again on a sticky wicket.  Did he remain loyal to Edward or did he support his brother-in-law?
To answer the question of what Stanley would do it is important to take a step back to 1469 and before that even to 1461. Richard of Gloucester  needed someone else to fulfil the role of steward of Penrith Castle and warden of the west march.  He chose a man named John Huddleston. Huddleston looked to the Harrington family for patronage. The Harringtons  were one of two families who dominated Lancashire and Cheshire – you already know who the other bunch were.  The Stanley  family – not noted for it front line approach to war-  took advantage of the death of Thomas Harrington’s death at the Battle of Wakefield in 1461 fighting for Richard of York, and also that of his son, John, leaving John’s two daughters to inherit.  There was a messy court case, some fisticuffs and rather a lot of fudging by Edward IV and Richard of Gloucester who both recognised the loyalty of the Harrington family and the, er, how can I put this – oh yes- shiftiness of the Stanley. Edward IV  rather astutely recognised that he couldn’t do without Stanley so he gave the wardship of the two girls to Stanley who intended to marry the little girls to his own son and nephew and thus take control of the estate.
However, the Harrington family argued that the girls were only heiresses if their father -John- had been killed after their grandfather at Wakefield. If Harrington junior had been killed before Harrington senior then there was no case at all because the girls would not be heiresses, their uncle James ( younger brother of John) would automatically inherit.  The Harringtons clenched their teeth and retreated to Hornby Castle where they prepared for a siege. Richard by selecting John Huddleston for the important role of warden signposted a downturn in Stanley fortunes and power because he was effectively saying that the Harringtons had a good case for not handing everything over to Thomas Stanley.
Stanley, keen to lay hold of Hornby Castle in Lancashire, sided with Warwick and Henry VI not because of any great loyalty to his brother-in-law or the Lancastrian king but because he was busy having his own baron-on-baron war.  Hornby remained Yorkist and the Harrington family who owned it were supported by Richard of Gloucester. It was thanks to this connection that Stanley hadn’t already got his chubby paws on the property. High minded ideals about kingship aside, Stanley besieged the castle because he wanted it he could claim he was doing so in support of Henry VI and with Edward IV on the back foot his irritating little brother couldn’t put his oar in and ruin Stanley’s plans.  In short whilst armies were marching around the country slaughtering one another at Barnet and Tewkesbury Stanley was sorting out a property dispute and siding with the colour rose most likely to  benefit him.
When Edward IV arrived back in London having dispatched the Lancastrians the Stanley boys  removed their red roses and were brandishing white ones with enthusiasm – Thomas from a safe distance. He was swiftly re-admitted to the political fold with a place on the privy council.
By this time Stanley was a widower so had no dodgy Neville extended family.  In June 1472, eight months after the death of Sir Henry Stafford, Margaret Beaufort took Stanley as husband number four. The two were, naturally related, in this instance via Sir Henry Stafford (husband number three).  Stanley’s marriage to the last Beaufort standing didn’t seem to do Stanley any harm.  He became Lord Steward of the Royal Household and turned up in 1482 in Scotland when he was part of the force that captured Berwick-upon-Tweed back from the Scots.Margaret Beaufort probably chose her fourth husband based on the idea of needing someone who could protect her interests and Stanley had already demonstrated advanced skills in self-interest as well as being, somewhat bizarrely, well-in with Edward IV.  Whilst Margaret worked on re-establishing her son, Stanley  continued to work on dominating vast tracts of Lancashire and Cheshire.  For a man not keen to wield a sword on the battle field rather a lot of his opponents soon found themselves on the wrong end of Stanley’s weaponry.  Sir John Butler of Warrington was murdered by Stanley’s servants – it was a reminder about who was in charge in the region. Stanley got away with it – he doesn’t even appear to have got his wrist slapped.

There was no love lost between Richard of Gloucester and Stanley. There was the Hornby Castle affair to consider as well as Stanley’s failure to relinquish key northern roles to Gloucester in 1469. It is perhaps not surprising that in 1483 when Richard was unsure who to trust in the run up to taking his nephew’s throne for himself that Stanley found himself briefly under arrest. Stanley who was at the privy council meeting in the Tower on the morning that Lord Hastings was summarily executed was perhaps lucky not to meet with a similar end.

 

So what did Thomas Stanley have that both Edward IV and Richard III needed that he was able to get away with murder and change sides without too much inconvenience? One gets the feeling it wasn’t his charm and sparkling personality. Stanley was effectively a “mini-king maker” although not as wealthy or influential as the earl of Warwick, Stanley ran the Northwest of England and the border with North Wales.  He was able to put a huge number of men in the field (even if they did just stand around). It seems to be that both Edward IV and Richard III felt that it was better to have Stanley on their side than against them.

Stanley played an important part at Richard III’s coronation and did rather well out of the duke of Buckingham’s rebellion in 1483, even though Margaret Beaufort found herself under house arrest and all her assets transferred to her husband.
He became Lord Constable of  England although there was the caveat that when Stanley left court to go to Lathom that Richard expected Stanley’s son Lord Strange to be on hand…not a hostage….an incentive for Stanley to return.  Of course, once Henry Tudor landed in 1485 Lord Strange was very definitely a hostage.  Richard III reminded Thomas that if he don’t tow the line there would be unpleasant consequences for Lord Strange.
At Bosworth on 22nd August 1485 Thomas Lord Stanley did what he did best – he sat around and twiddled his fingers. Lord Strange survived the battle despite the fact that his father’s forces sat between the two opposing armies and did absolutely nothing.  Meanwhile Sir James Harrington (you remember the Harringtons and Hornby Castle) rocked up loyal as you please to Richard III. The Harringtons had been loyal to the white rose from start to finish.  Sir James may well have been carrying the king’s banner when he died at Richard’s side.

On the 27 October 1485 his step-son, now Henry VII of England, made his earl of Derby and naturally Thomas found himself taking on lots of other jobs as well although Henry VII did execute brother William Stanley in 1495 for his part in the Perkin Warbeck affair.

Thomas Stanley died on the 29 July 1504 – in his bed at Lathom. I’m not actually sure why I object to the man so much. He’s no better and no worse than many other magnates of the period. He was singularly successful at not being present on any battlefield ( which shows a modicum of common sense singularly lacking at the time).  He was undoubtedly intelligent and was able to excel politically during a time of instability – more able in some respects than the various Plantagenet scions that hacked one another to pieces on the battle fields of England; definitely more savvie than the honourable Harringtons. However, the Harrington affair, the murder of Sir John Butler and Stanley’s ability to sit on the fence, irrelevant of the plight of his son, combine in my mind at least to make him an unpleasant little weasel who definitely didn’t get what he deserved …which means, as Mr Spock would say, that my logic is defective as this is History and not a story book where honourable loyal people live happily ever after.

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

Wagner, John A. (2001) Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses.

 

 

Henry Stafford

478px-Lady_Margaret_Beaufort_from_NPGIn 1457 Margaret Beaufort, shown here in later life, along with her brother-in-law Jasper Tudor left Pembroke Castle.  They were on their way to arrange a marriage. The groom in question was Henry Stafford.  He was the second son of the Duke of Buckingham.

The pair married on the 3rd January 1458 at Maxstowe Castle. The marriage had been agreed by April at the latest the previous year but there was the inevitable dispensation to apply for and besides which Margaret possibly didn’t want to hurry the match because when she started married life as Mrs Stafford she relinquished the care of her infant son, Henry, into the care of Jasper Tudor.

Henry was twenty years or so older than Margaret who was nearly fifteen when she married for the third time. This means that Henry was born in 1425 (ish).  He was a second son of Ann Neville (daughter of Joan Beaufort- only daughter of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford for those of you who are interested in these things- and Ralph Neville- earl of Westmorland).  We don’t no the exact date or place of his birth, without much in the way of titles or estate but what he did have was a powerful father, the Duke of Buckingham.  Margaret’s wealth would keep the couple very comfortably- both of them seem to have liked expensive clothes if the household accounts are anything to go by but it was Stafford’s father who would keep Margaret safe.

Household accounts and personal letters show that the marriage was a happy one. The couple travelled together and appear to have always celebrated their wedding anniversary – which was not standard practise. Margaret began to fast on St Athony Abbott’s day.  He was the patron saint of people who suffered from skin complaints and it would seem that Henry Stafford suffered from St Anthony’s Fire. She continued to venerate the saint after Henry’s death, again suggesting that the couple had a loving relationship according to Elizabeth Norton.

 

Henry fought at the Battle of Towton on the Lancastrian side but was pardoned by Edward IV on 25 June 1461 and then demonstrated loyalty to the house of York. Five years later, although he never became more than a knight suggesting that Edward IV possibly didn’t totally trust the Staffords, given who Margaret Beaufort was this isn’t entirely surprising, gave the couple Woking Old Hall as a hunting lodge. It became one of the Staffords’ favourite homes.  In December 1468 Edward IV  visited Old Woking Hall to hunt and to dine with Henry and Margaret.

 

Meanwhile the household accounts reveal that Henry suffered from poor health through out the period.  He sent to London for medicines frequently.  “St Anthony’s Fire” or erysipelas was believed at the time to be a variety of leprosy but is now understood to be a form of alkaline poisoning sometimes caused by ergot (the stuff in bread that caused folk to hallucinate).  In addition to an unpleasant rash  Henry would also have suffered from a burning sensation in his hands and feet.

This didn’t stop him from fulfilling his role as a medieval noble. He took part in jousts and battles. In a rather tense family situation he was with Edward IV on 12 March 1470 at the Battle of Losecoat Field. The Lancastrian forces were led by Sir Robert, Lord Wells who just happened to be Margaret Beaufort’s stepbrother. The Lancastrians were defeated and it fell to Henry to break the news to his mother-in-law Margaret Beauchamp of Bletsoe by that time Lady Welles that her step-son had been executed (bet that was a cheery conversation).

During Henry VI’s re-adaption (1470-71) Margaret Beaufort was reunited with her brother-in-law Jasper Tudor and her son Henry Tudor. She travelled to London, met with Henry VI and forwarded her son’s cause. In order words she demonstrated that aside from being a devoted mother that she was Lancastrian to the core. This may have caused some disagreement with Henry Stafford who remained loyal to the Yorkist cause even when he was visited by the Duke of Somerset in a bid to win his cousin-in-law over to the Lancastrian cause.

On 12 April 1471 Henry Stafford was in London, where he’d previously attended parliament,  to welcome Edward IV back to his capital.  He joined Edward at the Battle of Barnet on the 18 April. The Earl of Warwick was killed but Stafford was so badly wounded that he was sent home. Henry never recovered from his injuries.  He lingered another six months before dying on 4 October 1471 having made his will two days earlier.

In his will he bequeathed thirty shillings to the Parish Church at Old Woking, a set of velvet horse trappings to his stepson, Henry Tudor suggesting a fondness for the young earl of Richmond.  Stafford had been with Margaret when they visited the Herbert family who held Henry Tudor’s wardship during the first years of Edward IV’s reign (bought for the whopping sum of £1000). The couple had travelled from Bristol where Henry Stafford held land.  There was a bay courser to his brother, the Earl of Wiltshire, another “grizzled” horse  to his receiver-general, Reginald Bray who would go on to become Margaret Beaufort’s “Mr Fix-it” and general man of business.  £160 for a chantry priest- a respectable one- to sing Masses for the repose of his soul.  His body was buried in Holy Trinity Church, Pleshey near Chelmsford. The rest of his estate went to “my beloved Margaret”.

Margaret Beaufort must have been devastated. In addition to losing a husband that she appears to have loved, her son, now the only surviving Lancastrian claimant to the throne, had gone into precarious exile in France and Margaret was once again without a protector.

Norton, Elizabeth. (2011) Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty Stroud:Amberley Press.

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

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]