Tag Archives: Pontefract Castle

The Battle of Wakefield – perfidy, trickery and spin.

sandal1-300x199Yes, I know I’ve covered this before but it is the 30th December which is, of course, the anniversary of the battle which took place in 1460. Today’s post is as good a time as any to deal with some of the confusions of the battle resulting from lack of clear primary sources and underhanded trickery which, in all probability, the parties involved didn’t want widely advertised, not to mention confusion and misplaced optimism  on the part of Richard of York.

Richard of York arrived in Sandal with 5,000 to 6,000 men just before Christmas.  The castle wasn’t big enough for that number so a large number would have had to camped outside the castle walls (sounds like an invitation to pneumonia to me). Some historians point to this as evidence of a festive truce between York and the Lancastrian Duke of Somerset. If there was a Christmas Truce it would have lasted until the 6th January.

The Lancastrians kept Christmas at Pontefract Castle whilst the Yorkists ate through Sandal’s meagre supplies.  It is reasonable to assume that both sides sent out for their tenants and supporters in addition to scouring the land for additional supplies (bet that went down well with the locals).  Richard also sent out a commission of array.  This demonstrates that he saw himself as the king’s representative because this was what monarchs did when they wanted to raise an army. After all the Act of Accord had identified him as the heir to the throne.  Somewhat bizarrely  Lord  John Neville, brother of the Earl of Westmorland presented himself at Sandal in answer to the commission of array that had been served on him saying that he wanted  rebels against the king’s will to be suitably punished (according to a Yorkist chronicle). He is also said to have arrived with a substantial army at his back.

The reason this is bizarre is that Lord Neville was the brother of the Earl of Westmorland. Ideally this should be nice and straight forward. Unfortunately he came from a branch of the family at loggerheads with the side of the family represented by the Earl of Salisbury  and the Earl of Warwick who were also Nevilles – or more correctly, the Nevilles of Middleham and key Yorkists.  There was a rift between the Nevilles dating back to the reign of Richard II.  The problem had arisen when Ralph Neville (the first Earl of Westmorland) married Joan Beaufort the daughter of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford.  It was a second marriage and a love match. The eldest son of Ralph’s first wife Margaret Stafford inherited the earldom of Westmorland but the vast majority of the money and estates were bequeathed to Joan Beaufort’s children leaving Ralph’s first family feeling somewhat aggrieved – just to add to the general confusion of the Wars of the Roses.  The Earl of Salisbury, the Earl of Warwick and, of course, Cecily Neville – Richard of York’s wife were all descended from Ralph’s second family (the ones what got the money) so there was no love lost between Lord John Neville  who now came knocking on Sandal’s doors (metaphorically speaking) and Richard of York’s extended family even though technically John Neville was the nephew of the Earl of Salisbury.  Inevitably a track back up various northern family trees reveals that the enmity between the two branches of the Neville family had its part to play in the sides that many of the aforementioned northern families chose to take in the conflict.

So – to get back to the matter in hand – keep Lord John Neville and his army in mind. They’re going to be important.

On the 28th December 1460 the Lancastrians- Somerset, Lord Clifford, the Earl of Wiltshire, the Earl of Devon, Lord Roos, Lord Dacre (who was related to the Earl of Westmorland Nevilles) and the Earl of Northumberland- left Pontefract and arrived on the outskirts of Wakefield the same day. Amongst their number was Sir Henry Holland the Duke of Exeter (York’s own son-in-law) .They didn’t have siege weapons which meant that had the Duke of York stayed inside Sandal then there would not have been a Lancastrian victory and it would have given York’s eldest son – Edward, the Earl of March time to journey from Wales to Yorkshire to provide reinforcements for his father.

It has often been suggested that Richard was rash in leaving the castle. Historians speculate that he supposed that his numbers were far superior to the Lancastrians or that he was taken by surprise when foraging for food believing that he was safe during a period of truce.  If there was a truce,  Richard of York should have been suspicious on account of the fact that that Act of Accord which identified him as the heir to the throne also stipulated an end to the warfare and that had been undermined on the road north when Somerset had accosted some of Richard’s men at Worksop.  Also why would you go foraging with every able bodied man?  In truth, Richard may have believed that he was about to inflict a crushing defeat upon the Lancastrians and simply couldn’t resist the opportunity.

Enter the skulduggery element of our tale.  Sir Andrew Trollope, a professional soldier who’d gained a reputation during the Hundred Years War agains the French,  is said to have arrived with more soldiers during the Christmas period  and it was given that this was the reason Richard may have thought that his force was superior. If this was the case Richard should have remembered that the previous year at Ludford Bridge after the Battle of Blore Heath Trollope had switched from his side to that of the Lancastrians.

The Yorkist commanders were Richard of York, the Earl of Salisbury and his son Sir Thomas Neville.  Sir David Hall, a long time servant of York’s was also there.  Hall’s Chronicle, a sixteenth century account, records that Davy counselled discretion but that York regarded this as a dishonour. It has also been suggested that the Lancastrians taunted Richard into leaving the safety of his castle.

In any event off he went to meet his foes on Wakefield Green – Lancastrians emerged from the woods on both sides of York’s men and Sir Andrew Trollope promptly changed sides as he had planned all along. A chronicle by Jean de Waurin gives a detailed account of Trollope’s perfidy. However, it’s not a straight forward case of dastardly behaviour – it could be a question of Yorkist spin. Haigh observes that de Waurin’s is the only chronicle with this account of events and that the man was a friend of the Earl of Warwick.  In short his evidence is unsubstantiated and not overly reliable. Another account suggests that Trollope’s men arrived wearing the Earl of Warwick’s colours to avoid raising York’s suspicions which again has issues of credibility and this part of his plan succeeding he then played an instrumental part in luring York out of the castle into the open.  Haigh hypothesises that what actually might have happened is that Trollope’s forces approached and York simply got the wrong end of the stick about whose men they were.

It is also plausible that Lord Neville wasn’t quite as underhand as I have just suggested.  It is possible that he arrived at Sandal  just when York considered taking on the Lancastrians. York seeing a Neville banner behind the Lancastrians simply thought he’d got them surrounded in his desire to do battle.  He didn’t stop to consider that some of the Nevilles didn’t feel very warmly to their Salisbury relations.

For an early History Jar account of the Battle of Wakefield, click here.

We’ll never know what prompted York to exit from the safety of Sandal castle or the real roles played by Sir Andrew Trollope and Lord John Neville (who incidentally, made no murmur about the execution of his uncle the Earl of Salisbury.)

Haigh, Philip, A. The Battle of Wakefield 1460. Sutton Publishing

 

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Sir Henry Savile V Sir Richard Tempest

halifax.jpgSir Henry Savile had a problem with his neighbours Thomas, Lord Darcy of Templehurst (Temple Newsam) and Sir Richard Tempest who was related to Lord Darcy.  There is a litany of court cases between the two parties.

One ongoing feud was about the vicar of Halifax.  A man who owed his position to Lewes Abbey which owned the Manor of Halifax and the incumbency.  The man in question was Robert Holdesworth who was an ally of Sir Henry Savile.  Because he was Savile’s man, Tempest seems to have worked against the vicar.  Tempest had been responsible for ordering the arrest of  Holdesworth and when he returned from London he even brought an injunction against Tempest not to burn his house.  The modern world seems a long way away in Tudor Halifax.  Tempest responded by saying that Holdesworth caused quarrels in the parish and, even worse, had falsified his tax returns (First Fruits and Tenths – the first year’s income from the position and a tenth thereafter).  Tempest also suggested that Holdesworth was about to sell his lands and scarper.  A petition was drawn up.  One hundred or so signature were added and off it was sent to Cromwell.  Tempest also accused Holdesworth of saying that if Henry reigned much longer then he would take everything that the Church owned….which smacked somewhat of treason.

Unsurprisingly Tempest had managed to land Holdesworth in rather a lot of bother.  It got worse.  Holdesworth had to go to York to answer the charges that had been levelled against him.  During that time Tempest’s son-in-law John Lacy stole all the poor man’s cattle and anything else he could carry off.  It’s ironic really that Holdesworth and Tempest should both, one way or another, have been against what Henry was doing to the church but the enmity between Tempest and Savile was so great that there was no meeting on the same ground for Savile’s supporter.

 

However, things were about to get even nastier.

Sir Richard, as the King’s steward of Wakefield, sent a message to Lord Darcy at the outbreak of the Pilgrimage of Grace that he would join him in Pontefract Castle but Darcy told him to remain in Wakefield. Initially it seemed that Sir Richard would take the Crown’s part in proceedings but the pilgrims were only ten miles from Wakefield and then Pontefract Castle fell. The Tempests swore to the pilgrim oath. Sir Richard is recorded in York as a pilgrim captain. His commitment to the whole proceeding was described by Cromwell as middling. His younger brother Sir Nicholas was much more involved and he was executed in May 1537 for his involvement with the rebellion.  This does seem rather unfair as he was told that unless he signed up to the rebellion his son would be executed on the spot.

 

Sir Richard was caught in the same net as John Neville, Lord Latimer (Katherine Parr’s husband). Both men were ordered to London. John Neville managed to bribe his way to freedom although many writers note that his health suffered as a consequence. Sir Richard on the other hand found himself confined to the Fleet. He too approached Cromwell. He asked to be released fearing the dirt and disease of the prison. He probably had a point. He died on 25th August 1537 in the Fleet along way from the West Riding.

 

Almost as a matter of course Sir Henry Savile discovering that the Tempests were for the pilgrimage declared himself for the king and fled to Rotherham. It was an old feud that had been simmering whilst the two men took part in the war against the Scots under the Earl of Surrey as he was then (he turned into the Duke of Norfolk). Even Wolsey had been unable to resolve the situation. A personal disagreement meant that the Pilgrimage of Grace turned into an opportunity for violence between the two sets of neighbours.

 

Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the Pilgrimage of Grace, Sir Henry Savile was on the up. He became the steward of Pontefract and from there was elected onto the Council of the North.

Dodds Madeline and Dodds Ruth (1916) The Pilgrimage of Grace 1536-1537 and the Exeter Conspiracy

TEMPEST, Sir Richard (c.1480-1537), of Bracewell and Bowling, Yorks. Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982 http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1509-1558/member/tempest-sir-richard-1480-1537

 

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The Constable brothers and The Pilgrimage of Grace

pilgrimage-of-grace-banner2My last post on Katherine Parr got me thinking about the fate of the gentry involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace and the way in which events are often more complicated than we first suppose.  Take the Constable brothers, though some texts identify them as an assortment of brothers and cousins.  They weren’t young men.  Two of them were veterans of Flodden. Sir John Constable of Burton Constable and Sir William Constable of Great Hatfield, one of the brothers at Flodden, lived some of the time in the wapentake of Holderness. Both of them were in residence in October 1536.

That month Anthony Curtis arrived in the area with the news that had spread through Lincolnshire and was now making its way through Yorkshire. The King, it was said, was going to limit the number of churches to one every five, or seven miles depending on the source, and was about to raise fees for marriages, christenings and funerals.  Bad enough that the new articles of faith denied there was any such place as Purgatory. Soon the area was up in arms as the Commons answered the call to join the Pilgrimage of Grace. Those who were less than enthusiastic either fled or were ‘persuaded.’

John and William Constable took themselves off to Hull and remained behind the town’s walls. They, together with the two Sir Ralph Ellerkers (which must have been uncomfortable as there was something of a feud going on between the two families) were the leading gentry of the area and it wasn’t long before the pilgrims arrived at Hull’s gates demanding the town and the gentry to lead them. Burton reveals that their brother Sir Robert Constable who’d been knighted by Henry VII after the Battle of Blackheath in 1487 was already in Pontefract Castle and that their other brother Sir Marmaduke, another veteran of the Scottish wars, went into hiding where he remained a loyal man of the king…always easier to achieve when you haven’t got a mob threatening to do very nasty things to you or your family.

On the 19th of October Hull capitulated when it started to run out of food.  The rebels forced the men behind its walls to take their oath.  Sir John Constable after initially refusing to submit to the rebels found himself in charge of Hull whilst Sir William, together with the pilgrims, headed in the direction of Pontefract.

Pontefract Castle fell to the rebels on the 21st and the Constable family found another of their number sworn to the pilgrim oath. Sir Robert now began working with Aske to organise the host of men who’d answered the call to arms or had been forced into rebellion. Later Sir Robert would negotiate with the various captains and commons for negotiation with the Duke of Norfolk rather than battle although it is evident there was a time when he wanted to continue beyond Doncaster towards London.  This did not endear him to Henry VIII.  Moorhouse reveals that Henry had a little list of men he wished to make an example of including Robert Aske and Lord Darcy.  Sir Robert Constable’s name also featured on the list.

In the aftermath of the rebellion Sir John managed to talk his way out of the situation. In 1537 he oversaw the trials and executions of Hull’s pilgrims. Sir William also sat on the trial commission.

King Henry VIII did not forget his little list of men who did not deserve pardon in his opinion.  Sir Robert was at Templehurst (Temple Newsam) , home of Lord Darcy, when Robert Aske arrived there on January 10, 1537.  He’d been wined and dined over Christmas by the king so had no idea that Henry was after vengeance as he was now trying to damp down renewed calls for rebellion.  Notices had been stuck on church doors across the area demanding a return to the old format of service. The three men decided the best thing to do was to try and keep the north calm until the Duke of Norfolk arrived.  The problem was that all three of them would soon be summoned to London.  Sir Robert received his politely worded note on the 19th February.  By Easter  he was in the Tower. The men went voluntarily believing that the king would treat them fairly.    They didn’t understand that Sir Francis Bigod’s rebellion in January 1537 nullified the agreement that Henry had reached with them…in Henry’s mind.  It didn’t matter that Robert Aske even had a letter of recommendation from the Duke of Norfolk.

Due process of the law now kicked into play.  The Duke of Norfolk put together a jury to hear the accusations against the men.  This was held in York.  Moorhouse notes that the jury was composed of a large number of relatives of the three men.  This effectively ensured that there would be an indictment, or as Moorhouse observes, the three men would have been joined in the Tower by some of their nearest and dearest. There were three men prepared to turn evidence against Constable.  Moorhouse details it (p298-99) and the fact that it was undoubtedly a fix – not least because one of the prosecution witnesses was a certain Sir Ralph Ellerker (you’ll remember him from Hull where he also signed the pilgrim oath).  Ellerker was either buying his own safety or taking the opportunity to take out a member of the Constable family with whom the Ellerkers were feuding.

Lord Darcy was executed in London but Sir Robert Constable, Robert Aske and Lord Hussey, another leader of the pilgrimage, were sent back to the places where they’d rebelled against the king.  It must have been an unhappy convoy that set off from London.  Lord Hussey was dropped off at Lincoln where Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk awaited him with an executioner.  The convoy continued north.  Aske would die in chains in York but Sir Robert was destined for Hull.  When he arrived there was time to spare as his execution was set for market day (plenty of spectators).  He was executed on the 6th of July 1537 and his body was hung in chains.

As for Sir Marmaduke – he purchased Drax Priory from the Crown because of it’s links to his wife’s family.

To find out more about the history of the Pilgrimage of Grace double click on the image to open up a new webpage.  Rather alarmingly I have added to my list of posts for this week – there’re Sir Nicholas Tempest who was hanged at Tyburn for his part in the pilgrimage as well as Sir John Bulmer and his wife Margaret Stafford.  She was burned at Smithfield for her treason.  It’s not that I’m turning this blog into a series of posts about who Henry VIII executed – although there’s enough material for it- it’s more that I’ve become curious about who escaped and who paid the ultimate penalty and why.

 

Bush, M.L. (1996) The Pilgrimage of Grace: A Study of the Rebel Armies of October 1536 Manchester: Manchester University Press

Lipscomb, Suzannah. (2006) 1536: The Year That Changed Henry VIII Oxford: Lion Hudson

Moorhouse, Geoffrey. (2002). The Pilgrimage of Grace. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson

 

 

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Katherine Parr and the Pilgrimage of Grace

katherine parrIn 1534 after the death of her first husband and a stay with relations at Sizergh Castle Katherine Parr married John Neville. She was twenty-two.

 

Neville was the third Baron Latimer, of Snape, Richmondshire, North Yorkshire. He was twice Katherine’s age and had grown up children. Unlike her mother, Maud, Katherine could not afford to remain unmarried.  This was perceived as a marriage “up,” related as Neville was to the Earl of Salisbury and the Kingmaker. In more feudal times the Parrs had looked to the Nevilles although, unsurprisingly, they were related to them. Neville’d been married twice before and spent a lot of time in Yorkshire according to Porter. Like many other nobles wrote letters to Thomas Cromwell about the difficulties of paying debts. He also provided Katherine with two younger step-children: John and Margaret.

 

However, this post is not about family links. It is about the 1536 Pilgrimage of Grace and its aftermath. Katherine had, by that time, spent two years building relationships with her new family and managing Latimer’s household at Snape but changes were afoot. In 1534 when they married Anne Boleyn was queen. In the January of 1536 Catherine of Aragon died. In Spring, Anne Boleyn was accused and found guilty of adultery, incest and treason. She was dead by the end of May and Jane Seymour was queen.  The Seymours together with the Duke of Norfolk who’d conspired to topple his own niece represented a more conservative faction but Cromwell’s methodical dismemberment of the Catholic Church in England continued. In Yorkshire, his commissioners had made a valuation of the monasteries, smaller monasteries were being suppressed, abbots of foundations such as Fountains were forced to resign and more pliable men placed in their stead.

Lord Latimer was more a catholic than a reformer even though, like countless other men, he’d taken the Oath of Supremacy and now in October 1536 found himself in a difficult position as across Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, Westmorland and Cumberland mobs of men gathered to demand a return of the monasteries and the re-establishment of Princess Mary as Henry’s legitimate successor. The Pilgrimage of Grace was underway and it would soon arrive in Snape.

 

On 11 October rebels arrived at Jervaulx Abbey. The abbot, Adam Sedbar, tried to avoid being drawn into the conflict and hid for a while on the moors. The rebels who claimed they wanted to restore the abbeys threatened to burn Jervaulx if Sedbar didn’t return and take the oath. He claimed that he joined the pilgrims under duress. It would not save him from the Tower or execution.

 

Lower down the valley in Wensleydale, Katherine and her family at Snape must have been aware of the discontent seething around them. Porter describes events as does Moorhouse. For ten days history does not know where Lord Latimer might have been although a letter dated the 15th makes it apparent that the King knew he’d joined with the rebels. He appears in person on the 21st of October at Pontefract Castle marching under the banner of the Five Wounds.  What is rather murkier is whether he joined the rebels voluntarily or under duress. His role would become that of spokesman and negotiator when the rebels presented their articles and Henry was forced (presumably grinding his teeth) to negotiate.  The rebels were granted a pardon.

Even so, Latimer’s head must have felt somewhat loose about his shoulders when he returned home to Snape and his entire family must have feared that he would be attainted of treason. He was summoned to London to throw himself upon the King’s mercy. James suggests that the only reason that Latimer didn’t find himself in the Tower alongside other leaders of the rebellion was because of Katherine’s family who’d fought alongside the Duke of Norfolk to put the rebellion down put in a good word. It must have been a miserable Christmas despite Henry’s clemency.  Lord Latimer went to London as soon as the holiday was over to try and repair the damage with his monarch and to placate Cromwell.

 

However, in January 1537 the North rose again. Latimer was still in London. This time, the rebellion was led by Sir Francis Bigod, bizarrely a convinced reformer, who was the father of Margaret Neville’s intended husband. A new mob arrived at Snape Castle and ransacked it. Katherine and her step-children became hostages. History has Lord Latimer’s own words in a letter sent to William Fitzwilliam, the First Earl of Southampton (he’d one day have to interrogate the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, Agnes Tilney, about her knowledge of Catherine Howard’s liaison with Manox and Dereham). Latimer wrote:

 

If I do not please them I do not know what they will do with my body and goods, my wife and children. I beg to know the King’s pleasure…

 

The rebels demanded that Lord Latimer return to Yorkshire immediately. Somehow or other he negotiated for the release of his family.  History does not know what he said or promised.  Nor does history know any of Katherine’s views or feelings during this time as there are no letters or record of this time. If Katherine wasn’t a reformer before it is easy to imagine that she was committed to change after the Pilgrimage of Grace.

 

The rebellion was firmly squashed by the Duke of Norfolk. Men such as Robert Aske and Lord Darcy who’d led the 1536 rebellion were arrested as was Abbot Sedbar. It is not unreasonable to suppose that the axe hung over Lord Latimer not least because his brother Marmaduke who’d been a rather more enthusiastic pilgrim spent time in the Tower and wrote to Cromwell noting that Lord Latimer had been involved as well.

640px-Cromwell,Thomas(1EEssex)01Cromwell didn’t need to have Latimer executed, he arrived at a sensible business arrangement instead. It is clear from Latimer’s accounts that Cromwell received an annual income from Latimer until 1540 when Cromwell suddenly discovered what happened to men who displeased the King and made his own appointment with the axe.

Latimer’s health began to fail after the Pilgrimage of Grace. He spent more time in London along with his family who rarely travelled North with him when he journeyed there to administer to his estates and buy new land (yes, it was ex monastery). It may also have been that the King and Cromwell wanted Latimer close at hand.

This post has more holes than a colander in terms of actual reliable facts about Lord Latimer and Katherine Neville, as she was then, and the extent of their involvement and thoughts on the subject but what it does do is give us a flavour of the difficulties of being a member of the Northern gentry and aristocracy during the Pilgrimage of Grace. It is also a reminder that Katherine Parr is much more than Henry’s sixth queen – she had rather a dangerous life beforehand.

 

James, Susan E. (2009) Catherine Parr: Henry VIII’s Last Love. Stroud: The History Press

Loades, David (2010) The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Stroud: The History Press

Moorhouse, G. (2002) The Pilgrimage of Grace. London:Weidenfeld and Nicolson

Porter, Linda. (2010) Katherine the Queen. London: Pan Books

 

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A tale of several heads…

sandal1-300x199I watched England’s Bloody Crown tonight.  The series is about the Wars of the Roses and based on The Hollow Crown.  I’m a fan of Dan Jones, his clear writing style and the depth of information he provides- I’m not so much a fan of the tv series though because of the amount of simplification required to tell a story that every viewer can follow.  By the time the Battle of Wakefield had finished I was goggling at the box: for a few moments I wondered if I’d made up the deaths of the Earl of Salisbury, his son Sir Thomas Neville and the Duke of York’s son Edmund.  Certainly the docu-drama element of the programme gave the impression that it was just the Duke of York who found his severed head atop the Micklegate Bar in York.

So, for my own peace of mind…its 30th December 1460. Though in the words of Channel Five I should warn you that this post contains images of medieval violence… (just imagine me spluttering crossly into my cup of peppermint tea)…’medieval’ violence indeed.

The Duke of York has had a mildly unpleasant Christmas holed up in Sandal Castle with between six  and nine thousand men and is running short of food (presumably the important folk got to stay inside the castle and the ordinary man at arms had the joy of camping in Yorkshire in December with the bonus of a hostile force nearby.) For reasons best known to himself York decided to venture out and away from the high ground upon which Sandal Castle stands – possibly to forage, possibly he thought his forces were superior, possibly he’d fallen victim to a Lancastrian trick, possibly he was just a little bit too rash.

Inevitably the Lancastrians and the Yorkists came to blows. During the fighting the Duke of York lost his horse and was killed – there’s a memorial to the event on the housing estate which stands on part of the battle field today. Richard of York’s seventeen-year-old son Edmund, Earl of Rutland attempted to escape over Wakefield Bridge, but was cornered and killed despite pleading for mercy- possibly by Clifford who was known ever afterwards as “Black-faced Clifford” in revenge for his father’s death at St Albans.

The Earl of Salisbury who’d gone north with York managed to escape the battlefield but his son Sir Thomas Neville died during the battle. Salisbury’s getaway was neither an effective nor clean break for freedom.  He was captured during the night and taken to Pontefract Castle – where the local populace did for him (hacked off his head) on account of the fact he was not a terribly generous overlord.

Richard of York’s paper-crowned head was not lonely on the Micklegate Bar.  It was accompanied by the gory remains of his son and the Earl of Salisbury.

Unfortunately Clifford’s brutality and the failure of the staff at Pontefract to keep their ‘guest’ safe meant that the Wars of the Roses became increasingly brutal as well as swiftly reducing the ranks of the warring Plantagenets to the extent that by the time the Lancastrians wanted to field a new contender for the crown after the death of Edward IV  (Richard of York’s son) the only available male heir was Henry Tudor – whose pedigree was decidedly dodgy.

 

Double click on the image to open a new window containing a history of Sandal Castle.

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Pontefract Castle

DSC_0001Wolsey, on his way back to London in disgrace commented of Pontefract Castle, “Shall I go there, and lie there, and die like a beast?”  Perhaps he was thinking of King Richard II who starved to death in the great fortress.

The Normans built their motte and bailey on the Anglo-Saxon Royal Manor of Tanshelf.  It’s builder was Ilbert de Lacy.  Ilbert and his brother arrived in 1066.  The new Lord of Pontefract had done well out of the conquest and didn’t forget to show his gratitude by making gifts to both Selby Abbey and St Mary’s Abbey in York.  DSC_0004

As the centuries progressed so did the castle until its eight towers dominated the town and the landscape beyond. Edward I described it as ‘the key to the north’.  The de Lacy’s continued to be its custodians until Henry de Lacy  (Earl of Lincoln) lost his male heir when he fell off the battlements in 1310.  His daughter Alice an important heiress was married to Thomas, Earl of Lancaster so it was he who became the next custodian of the castle.  He was Edward II’s cousin and it would be fair to say that they didn’t see eye to eye.  By 1318 Alice and Thomas were separated – possibly because of the fraught political situation of the period or perhaps because they just didn’t like one another.  Alice spent most of her time in Pickering while Thomas lived a bachelor life.  Thomas eventually revolted against his cousin on account of the Despencers, made an alliance with the Scots and then rather unfortunately lost the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322.  He was taken back home to Pontefract and unceremoniously executed looking towards Scotland which was the direction of his treachery.  DSC_0021

Eventually the castle passed into the hands of John of Gaunt and from there to his son Henry Bolingbroke who became Henry IV when he usurped his cousin’s throne.  Richard II found himself locked in one of Pontefract;s dungeons and that was the end of him.  Pontefract was now a royal castle and its prisoners reflected its importance and its security.  In 1405, Richard Scrope, Archbishop of York was imprisoned here before his execution.  James I of Scotland spent some time here as an unwilling guest as did the Dukes of Bourbon and Orleans after their capture at Agincourt.  Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury was executed here in 1460 and in 1483 Richard of York had Earl Rivers and Lord Richard Gray imprisoned here and executed – which was one way to reduce the Woodville influence at court but hasn’t reflected well on the man who became Richard III mainly because the two half brothers of the boy king Edward V were executed without trial.

The castle had a grim reputation which is perhaps something that Catherine Howard (Henry VIII’s Fifth wife) ought to have reflected upon before she started her affair with Thomas Culpepper during a Royal Progress.DSC_0011

Pontefract Castle’s days of greatness  and terror drew to a close with the English Civil War.  After the Battle of Marston Moor the castle became a Royalist stronghold.  Parliamentry forces besieged it and when it finally fell in 1648 the mayor of Pontefract petitioned on behalf of the townspeople that the castle should be destroyed.  Work began  in April 1649.

Today a few fragments of the castle remain.  The curtain wall encloses a park which hides a grim secret.  Some thirty-five feet beneath the grass there lurks a network of  cellars and magazines which were once Pontefract Castle’s dungeons.

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Richard II – who do you think you are? Or meet the family.

tumblr_m94jocf45j1qeu6ilo1_500Richard II is one of those monarchs in history who is remembered for coming to a rather nasty end.  Incidentally he is also the first English monarch for whom we have a realistic portrait.

So who was the unfortunate king who lost his throne and starved to death in Pontefract Castle.  Richard’s grandparents were Edward III and Philippa of Hainhault.  His father was Prince Edward known as the Black Prince on account of the colour of his armour but only from the sixteenth century.  The prince died a year before his father of an illness that he’d contracted in Europe.  He is best remembered for his military importance at the Battle of Crecy and later on for capturing the french king.  He campaigned in Spain and made himself unpopular with the people of Aquitaine when he taxed them for his Spanish campaigns – for that and for the massacre of some 3000 inhabitants of a town that rose up in revolt against him.

Edward was married to Joan who was the daughter of the Earl of Kent.  He was the son of Edward I and Margaret of France.  So, he was the chap who supported his brother (Edward II) and was executed on the orders of Mortimer and Isabella – so not exactly a peaceful childhood.  As if that weren’t enough she’d been married before – twice.  Unfortunately the second marriage was bigamous and it took papal decree to sort the tangled matrimonial web out.  She produced five children before her legitimate husband Sir Thomas Holland died.  She then married the Black Prince and bore two sons.  The first child, a boy called Edward, died age six or seven.  Her second son, Richard, was born in 1367 in Gascony.  He succeeded his grandfather as king, the year after the Black Prince died.

Richard was a minor with lots of half-siblings on his mother’s side of the family and plenty of cousins and uncles on his father’s side of the family – the most notable one being John of Gaunt.  The stage was set for a familiar family saga of murder and mayhem.

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Thomas of Lancaster, Second Earl of Lancaster

 

Thomas_Earl_of_Lancaster_kneels_before_the_executioner_who_has_his_sword_raisedThomas of Lancaster was the son of Edmund Crouchback who was the second surviving son of King  Henry III.  Crouchback refers to the fact that he fought in the ninth crusade so was entitled to wear a cross stitched onto the back of his clothes – no Richard III tendencies.  But I digress, Thomas of Lancaster is the grandson of Henry III, just as Edward II is the grandson of Henry III – making them cousins; though they clearly weren’t the kissing variety by the end of Thomas’s life as this rather graphic image from the Luttrell Psalter demonstrates.

 

He was one of the richest and most powerful men in the country.  He held five earldoms, was the Sheriff of Lancashire, the Steward of England and held several key strategic castles in the North including Pontefract. He fought in Scotland during Edward I’s wars and when Edward II was crowned he carried Edward the Confessor’s sword during the coronation ceremony.

 

The main problem was that Thomas and Piers Gaveston, the king’s favourite could not stand one another.  It didn’t help that the upstart Gaveston was given a more important role during the coronation or that he referred to Thomas as ‘the churl’ or ‘the fiddler’. Despite this Thomas was initially loyal to his cousin. But as time went by it became apparent that Edward was blind where his favourite was concerned.  Thomas was part of the group of barons who saw Gaveston banished- for the third time it might be added- but when the royal favourite returned to England in 1311 to spend Christmas at court despite Edward II agreeing to his banishment hostility was almost bound to break out into violence.

In Spring 1312 Edward and Piers were forced to flee York when they heard that Thomas of Lancaster was leading an army in their direction.  They fled to Newcastle, leaving the pregnant Queen Isabella to deal with the irate earl as best she could.  Unfortunately for the king and his friend, Thomas of Lancaster swiftly changed direction and surprised the monarch in Newcastle.  Apparently the king and Piers fled with little more than they wore.  It took Lancaster four days to catalogue everything that had been left behind while the king and his crony found a ship to take them south to Scarborough.

 

 

Edward demanded his fortress of Scarborough back from the control of the Percy family which they obligingly handed over and Edward left Piers Gaveston in charge.  Once Thomas ascertained that the king wasn’t in residence, he besieged the castle and Piers surrendered being more of a courtier than a warrior.  Thomas took Piers south for trial but the Earl of Warwick – nicknamed the ‘Black dog of Arden’ by Gaveston  (and who definitely wasn’t one of Gaveston’s admirers) took the royal favourite out of Thomas’s hands, tried and executed him.

 

 

Following the disaster of Bannockburn in 1314 Edward was forced to submit to his cousin and it was Thomas who tried to rule for the next four years.   It would have to be said that Thomas was a bit of a thorn in Edward’s flesh prior to this period.  He refused to attend parliament and there is some evidence that he didn’t send enough men to aid his cousin against the Scots.  It was during this time that Scottish raiding along the borders became prevalent and in 1318 Thomas fell from power.  In 1321 Thomas was at the head of a rebellion once more.  He met with forces loyal to the king at the Battle of Boroughbridge where he was taken prisoner, tried and finally executed at Pontefract Castle – for treason and rudeness towards Edward…which certainly puts a whole new meaning on the naughty step…oh yes, and for plotting with Scotland.

 

 

 

He was buried in Pontefract Priory (a Cluniac monastery).  All that remains of the Priory is the name Monk Hill.

 

 

 

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Filed under Anglo-Scottish history, Fourteenth Century, The Plantagenets