I should really be exploring England’s only Pope. Nicholas Breakspear was made pontiff on the 4th December 1154 becoming Pope Adrian IV. However, I’ve got myself well and truly sidetracked flicking through Henry VIII’s letters and papers.
A quick perusal of Henry’s letters and papers yielded up today’s advent personality Sir Edward Neville who was tried and executed for treason along with Sir Geoffrey Pole in 1538. In this instance there isn’t a letter to read but there is an index of documents relating to the trial of the two gentlemen dating from the 4th of December – an insight into the process of bringing someone to trial and the administrative flair of Thomas Cromwell. The file, just an an aside, contains the signed copy of the reply sent by Sir William Kingston the Constable of the Tower confirming that he would have the parties in question in the dock on time.
Sir Edward Neville was a younger son of baron Bergevenny and it proprably won’t come as a great surprise to discover he was vaguely related to Henry VIII whom he resembled so greatly that there was a rumour that Edward was actually Henry’s son (this was an impossibility). In addition to having a drop of Plantagenet blood he was also related through the Beaufort line. His great grandfather was Ralph Neville, earl of Westmorland and his great grandmother was Joan Beaufort the daughter of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt. As well as the name Neville which certainly conjures up the old aristocracy, Edward could also, if he chose, boast names such as Despenser, Fitz-Alan and Beauchamp in his family tree (I told you they were all related one way or the other!)
Pedigree aside Edward did all the usual Tudor gentlemanly things (there should be a check list). He was a soldier as well as a courtier and he played the game of courtly love with aplomb. He went to France in 1514 with Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk and Arthur Plantagenet Lord Lisle to see Princess Mary married – they did this in disguise (ahh, I hear you cry how romantic.)
Cross-Channel lads’ weekends aside Edward rose in importance during the early period of Henry’s reign when he was married to Katherine of Aragon and all, though not always rosy, was relatively pleasant in the royal garden. He’d also been part of the 1512-1513 military expedition and he was at the Field of Cloth of Gold. He even seems to have kept that favour as late as 1537 having sensibly played a role in 1533 for Anne Boleyn’s coronation. He was made Constable of Leeds Castle in Kent in 1535 and carried the canopy at Prince Edward’s christening in 1537.
The problem for Sir Edward was that in 1538 he fell foul of Thomas Cromwell over the small matter of Moatenden Priory. Edward wanted the lands but, unfortunately, so did Thomas.
From there it was a simple matter for Cromwell to implicate Edward in the Pilgrimage of Grace along with the Pole family irrelevant if where his sympathies might have lain. His niece’s husband was Henry Pole, Lord Montagu. The Pole family found itself guilty of treachery largely because Reginald refused to agree with Henry’s divorce and had written a book on the subject which displeased his kingly cousin enormously and because Margaret Pole, countess of Salisbury was the daughter of the duke of Clarence (brother of Edward IV). The Poles were the personification of the Plantagenet white rose branch of the family tree. Put plainly, Edward Neville was related to the wrong people at the wrong time.
It probably didn’t help that his brother, George Neville (pictured right in a sketch by Hans Holbein), had been married to Mary Stafford, the daughter of the duke of Buckingham and been arrested in 1521 along with his father-in-law. Edward’s brother was released without charge at that time but it may well have lingered in Henry’s mind and made it easier for Cromwell to present Sir Edward Neville as a traitor. And if Henry did count George as a traitor, he wasn’t alone. Eustace Chapuys the Imperial Ambassador identified George Neville as pro-Pole as a result of his arrest and the tarnishing of his reputation which never fully recovered.
As for Edward, he was arrested on the 3rd of December, notices for the trial were published on the 4th and from there it was a short step until his execution on the 8th December 1538.
‘Henry VIII: December 1538 1-5’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 13 Part 2, August-December 1538, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1893), pp. 409-426. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol13/no2/pp409-426 [accessed 17 November 2016].