The Battle of Wakefield

DSC_0041.JPGIn September 1459 Richard of York fled to Ireland.  He returned a year later and attempted to claim the throne from Henry VI.  This was not a sensible manoeuvre and it certainly didn’t have popular acclaim.  He did manage to wangle the agreement that he would be king after Henry VI, effectively disinheriting Prince Edward and seriously irritating Edward’s mother and Henry VI’s wife – Margaret of Anjou.

Things didn’t get better.  In November 1460 the Lords Dacre, Clifford and Neville attacked the tenants of Richard of York and the Earl of Salisbury (the Kingmaker’s father).  Meanwhile Margaret of Anjou was chivvying the north to her and her disinherited son’s aid.  It is worth pointing out that despite his title and landholdings at Conisborough and Wakefield the majority of the Duke of York’s land and support was elsewhere than the north.

Richard of York underestimated the degree of antipathy towards him and the extent to which northerners were prepared to take up arms.  He rode north to Wakefield on 9th December 1460 together with the Earl of Salisbury  in order to sort out his landholding there and to knock the Lancastrians into order. He held the necessary legal documents but very few men.  He was dogged, it appears, by bad roads, worse weather and several broken bridges as well as the Duke of Somerset’s men launching a surprise attack.  He must have been in a pretty grim frame of mind by the time he arrived at Sandal Castle pictured at the start of this post on the 21 December 1460.

Once at Sandal he was joined by knights loyal to York including Sir Thomas Parr who’d been an MP for Westmorland on five occasions.  Many of the ordinary soldiers would have had to have camped outside the castle (lucky them!).  Soon York found himself hemmed in by Lancastrians and he also discovered that he hadn’t got enough supplies.  It must have been a jolly Christmas season.

For whatever reason York’s men left the castle on the 30th December.  One version of the story says he sent men out for supplies and they failed to recognise the size of the Lancastrian force that they encountered.  Another version suggests that a certain Anthony Trollope and his men had changed from York to Lancaster and that he came up with a plan to disguise four hundred or so of the Duke of Somerset’s men as retainers of the Earl of Warwick and simply march into Sandal. Stage two of the plan was for Trollope to arrive the following morning lure York’s men out into the open and then Somerset’s men were to show their true colours which seems rather a lively not to mention hard to swallow story.  Presumably the Earl of Salisbury might have asked some questions of the men who arrived claiming to be sent by his son?

In any event on the 30 December 1460 Richard set out to meet a force of Lancastrians on Wakefield Green.  He thought that there was only a small force of men.  He was rather badly wrong.  The Yorkists charged the Lancastrians and were surprised by arrows and more Lancastrians who came from the woods that lay to both sides of the Yorkist force.  It must have seemed to Richard that for every Lancastrian he killed another two sprouted in their place.

IMG_7100Bridge Street near the River Calder is still sometimes called Fall Ings describing the number of fleeing Yorkists killed there but Richard chose to stand and fight, legend says with his back to a willow tree.  One of the reasons he may have made this decision was because his eldest son Edmund, the Earl of Rutland was amongst the Yorkists fleeing the battle field.

If this was the case it did Richard little good.  Not only did he die on the spot marked by a Victorian memorial replacing the one destroyed during the English Civil War but his son was killed near the bridge by Lord Clifford in revenge for the death of his father at the first Battle of St Albans in 1455. The news rapidly circulated that Edmund had been unarmed and pleaded for his life at the time that Clifford killed him.  The Wars of the Roses turned to another shade of nastiness as a consequence.DSC_0053.JPGDSC_0055.JPG

The chantry chapel on the bridge at Wakefield looks a little lost next to the ring road.  It was enriched by Edward IV in memory of his father and brother whose heads together with the Earl of Salisbury had adorned York’s Micklegate Bar in the aftermath of the battle.

As for Sir Thomas Parr, one of several northern knights loyal to the house of York he died the following year.  He was also the grandfather of Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth queen – or if you followed Henry’s logic second queen on account of the fact that only Jane Seymour had been his true wife!

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Clark David, (2003) Battlefield Walks in Yorkshire. Wilmslow: Sigma Press

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.

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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Black-Faced Clifford

'The_Murder_of_Rutland_by_Lord_Clifford'_by_Charles_Robert_Leslie,_1815John Clifford, aged twenty-one, at the First Battle of St Albans in 1455 buried his father in St Albans Abbey. It was agreed, according to Holinshed, that at the Duke of York, the Earls of Warwick and Salisbury should pay the monastery of St. Albans for masses for the souls of Thomas Clifford and the other notable Lancastrians who died during the battle and that the Earl of should pay a fine to be shared between Thomas’s children – no doubt the Vikings would have recognized it as weregeld. The new Lord Clifford wasn’t particularly interested in gold and John, according to Shakespeare, was much more interested in revenge.

 

John’s opportunity came five years later on the 30th December 1460. Five years had seen the polarization of England’s nobility while Richard, Duke of York ultimately overplayed his hand. Richard having been named Lord Protector during Henry VI’s illness in 1453 had been sidelined by Henry VI’s queen, Margaret of Anjou, once Henry regained his facilities. This led to the fisticuffs at St Albans. In the aftermath of the First Battle of St Albans, although the Yorkists had been victorious Richard had reaffirmed his loyalty to the king and an uneasy peace achieved mainly by shipping Richard off to Ireland where he was out of the way.

 

Relations between the different factions reached breaking point in 1459 when Richard arrived home without asking permission first and the Earl of Warwick arrived in Sandwich from Calais backed up by an army. Without going through the frenetic events of the next twelve months it is sufficient for the purposes of this post to say that Richard eventually rocked up in Parliament and said he wanted to be king. If he’d asked to be made Lord Protector folk might have agreed but Richard was carried away by his own spin and seems to have forgotten that when Henry Bolingbroke did the same thing in order to become Henry IV that not only had the whole thing had been carefully orchestrated but that King Richard II was in ‘safe’ custody. In Richard of York’s case neither of these precautions had been taken and even his closest allies were somewhat taken aback. There was a bit of an embarrassed silence followed by the Act of Accord which essentially said that Henry VI could be king while he lived but his successor would be Richard of York – a resolution which satisfied no one – especially Margaret of Anjou whose son Prince Edward had just been cut out of the succession.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing but it seems quite obvious that it wasn’t going to end well.

 

Richard of York took himself North and spent Christmas at his castle in Sandal just outside Wakefield. This was not necessarily the most clever thing he’d ever done as it was in enemy territory. Nor was it very sensible of Richard to emerge on the 30th to give battle to a party of Lancastrians. Sandal was a well-protected castle. All he had to do was sit tight and wait for reinforcements. This isn’t a post about the reasons behind Richard’s decisions to give battle or the rights and wrongs of them but I am finally back on track with John Clifford as he was one of the Lancastrians waiting outside Sandal.

 

The Battle of Wakefield was a vicious affair. John Clifford is purported to have come across the body of Richard of York, resting against an ant hill, and hacked off the corpse’s head. It was not a very knightly deed.  Richard’s head ended up with a paper crown facing into the city of York from Micklegate Bar having first been presented to Margaret of Anjou by way of a gift. Richard’s sons Edward, George and Richard would not forgive the insult.

 

Even worse, popular rumour stated that John Clifford killed Richard of York’s other son Edmund, Earl of Rutland in the aftermath of the battle. There is no specific evidence that John did the deed, Edmund may have been killed during the battle itself and not by John. History shows the lad was about seventeen. Shakespeare makes him a boy- as illustrated in this picture dating from 1815. Edmund, the son of a nobleman, would reasonably have expected mercy in the event of his capture for two reasons. Firstly and most importantly he could be ransomed and secondly despite the events at Agincourt when chivalry went out the window there was still an expectation of respecting ones opponents. So, to tell the tale, which probably isn’t history but definitely makes a good story; Edmund fled the battle and arrived at the bridge crossing the River Calder at Wakefield.  Some versions of the story say that he sought shelter in some nearby houses but that no one would take him in, other versions say that he was captured but anonymous.  John Clifford noticed the boy’s clothes and asked who he was. Edmund’s tutor told Clifford adding that he would be well rewarded for keeping the boy safe, thinking that it would ease Edmund’s situation – talk about misreading the situation!  John wanted revenge for his father’s death so killed the boy  saying ‘your father slew mine so now I kill you,’ or words to that effect.  Edmund’s brother Edward, George and Richard would have their own revenge in due course.

 

John’s actions at the Battle of Wakefield gained him the name “Butcher Clifford” or “Black-Faced Clifford.” The Wars of the Roses became a much bloodier affair thereafter with both sides killing one another in the aftermath of battles reflecting personal feuds running parallel to the desperate power struggle between the various Plantagenet scions.

 

The rest of John’s story is best summaries by Leland:

Next year he met with his own end. On the day before the Battle of Towton, and after a rencontre at Ferrybridge, having put off his gorget, he was struck on the throat by a headless arrow out of a bush, and immediately expired.

 

It is thought that his body was thrown into a burial pit after Towton.

 

Lady Margaret Courtenay nee Beaufort

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

The Battle of Tewkesbury

Tewkesbury AbbeyThe Battle of Barnet in April 1471 saw the defeat and death of the Earl of Warwick. A Lancastrian defeat was not the kind of news that Queen Margaret (of Anjou), wife of Henry VI, wished to hear when she came ashore with her son Prince Edward  at Weymouth on the same day.

 

Her only option was to meet with Jasper Tudor in Wales. The Yorkist king, Edward IV, needed to prevent this from happening. The two armies came face to face with one another on the 3rd of May 1471. Margaret managed to avoid Edward at Sodbury and was heading for Gloucester when the armies finally met. A battle would be fought the following day that would see Margaret and Henry’s only child, Prince Edward, killed.

 

The Lancastrians held the land to the south of the abbey. Edward used artillery and bowmen to attack the Lancastrians. The Lancastrian right wing came to the aid of its center and caught the Yorkists by surprise. Things could have gone very wrong for Edward had not his brother Richard, then Duke of Gloucester, met the attack. As it was the Lancastrians found themselves caught on marshy ground and 2,000 men died resulting in the name of ‘Bloody Meadow’ being attached to the area of battle where the Lancastrians fell.  The Duke of Somerset held John Wenlock (the  1st baron) responsible for the disaster as he’d commanded the centre of the Lancastrian army.  The Duke who’d commanded the right wing of Margaret’s forces was so incensed that he killed his compatriot on the field of battle. The army fled, many of its soldiers killed in the fields and hedgerows where the A38 runs today.  Other men sought sanctuary in the abbey.

 

However, Tewkesbury Abbey did not hold legal sanctuary status so the Yorkists forced their way into the abbey two days after the battle. They laid hold of the Lancastrians who sheltered there. The abbey church was so desecrated that it required purification the following month while the Lancastrians who survived the onslaught found themselves dragged into the market square where they were summarily beheaded. Amongst the executed were Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset (Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII was his niece) and his younger brother John. They were returned to the abbey for burial.

Prince Edward was also buried in the abbey.  The other Plantagenets to find a final resting place in the abbey were Isabella (wife of the Duke of Clarence and daughter of the Earl of Warwick) and the Duke of Clarence, Edward IV’s brother who was drowned in a butt of Malmsey.

 

As for Margaret of Anjou, she was captured on the 7th May. She remained a prisoner until 1475 when a ransom was paid for her release.

Click on the picture to open up a new window for a BBC page showing a Victorian interpretation of the Yorkists and Lancastrians in Tewkesbury Abbey.