Tag Archives: Richard II

Katherine Swynford

KatSwynfordKatherine de Roet was probably born about 1350 in Hainault.  As is often the case we have no exact records of her birth.  What we do know about Katherine’s early life is found in the accounts of chronicler Jean Froissart who was also from Hainault.  He talks of Katherine as a ‘Hainaulter’ so its a reasonable assumption to make. 

The family headed by Katherine’s father  Paon de Roet arrived in England as part of Philippa of Hainault’s entourage when she married Edward III in 1328.  Paon served in the royal household. Historians think he died in the early 1350s.  Katherine  and her sister Philippa served in the queen’s household  and received their education there as well as developing links with some of the most important people in the country.  Philippa married the poet Geoffrey Chaucer whilst Katherine found herself looking after the daughters of John of Gaunt and his first wife Blanche of Lancaster; Elizabeth and Philippa.  

Blanche died in 1368, most historians think from the Black Death.  By this time Katherine was married to Sir Hugh Swynford of Kettlethorpe in Lincolnshire. It was considered an advantageous marriage for Katherine at the time. Blanche of Lancaster and John of Gaunt held many estates in the area. Historians tend not to think that Katherine had begun her affair with John of Gaunt before Blanche of Lancaster’s death.  Certainly Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess suggests that the duke deeply mourned the wife that gave him seven children and made him the wealthiest man in the kingdom.

Katherine and Hugh appear to have had three children who survived infancy.  The oldest child was a boy called Thomas, the second was a girl called Blanche presumably named after Blanche of Lancaster.  John of Gaunt was Blanche’s god-father and when the time came for John to make his union with Katherine legal and also to legitimise his children this would cause a degree of problem as the papacy deemed that there was a degree of prohibited relationship on account of John’s role as godfather. Blanche grew up with Elizabeth and Philippa of Lancaster. The third child probably grew up to be a nun.  Her name may have been Margaret. Katherine swore her affair with John of Gaunt did not begin until after Sir Hugh Swynford died but Froissart says differently.

Hugh died in 1372 and Katherine’s first child by John of Gaunt was born the following year. John Beaufort was named after the french castle that Gaunt owned and where John was possibly born.  The  couple went on to have three more children who survived infancy; Henry, Thomas and Joan who had her own dramatic love story.  John had married his second wife Constance of Castile in  1371.  It was a state marriage that gave John a claim to the throne of Castile but the existence of a much loved mistress in John’s life cannot have helped the relationship nor the fact that it is known that during some periods Katherine lived quietly in the home of John’s son, Henry of Bolingbroke (Henry IV). During the Peasants Revolt of 1381 the lovers parted company or they became more secretive about their liaison possibly because John was so hated or because John wished to pursue his claim to the Castilian throne.  Not that this prevented Katherine from being made a Lady of the Garter in 1388.

Wife number two died in 1394.  There followed a flurry of letters to the pope and two years later John of Gaunt took the unusual step of marrying his mistress.  They were married on  13 January 1396 at Lincoln Cathedral.  This had the effect of putting rather a lot of noses out of joint. Not only did Katherine become the duchess of Lancaster  but because the king, Richard II, had no queen and John was the next most important man in the country Katherine automatically became the first lady to whom all others had to give way… I should imagine that some very stiff necked ladies muttered rather a lot about that particular turn up for the books. 

John and Katherine’s children were not only legitimised by the pope but also legitimised by Act of Parliament on the command of their cousin Richard II on 9th February 1397.  Later Henry IV would add a note in his own hand to the effect that whilst the Beauforts might be legitimate they couldn’t inherit the throne.  This didn’t stop Henry IV from making effective use of his Beaufort half-siblings.

katherine swynford coat of arms.jpg

Katherine Swynford’s coat of arms – after her marriage to John of Gaunt

Katherine died on the 10th May 1403 having outlived John of Gaunt by four years.  She’d survived a period of plague, seen the Peasants revolt and the Hundred Years War as well as having caused a national scandal.  She and her daughter Joan are buried in Lincoln Cathedral having lived quietly in Lincoln in her final years.  We can still identify her house.

There was a brass of the dowager duchess but it was destroyed or certainly very badly treaded by the Roundheads in 1644 so we have no certain primary source image of the woman who stole the heart of the most powerful man in England despite the fact that there is now a brass over Katherine’s tomb it is not the original and she’s wearing a widow’s veil which doesn’t help matters but it is an effective way of the engraver dealing with the fact he didn’t know what the duchess looked like.  Froissart describes her as young and pretty in his chronicles. The image at the start of this post comes from a fifteenth century edition of Chaucer’s work and it shows the key people of Richard II’s reign. John of Gaunt is identifiable.  It’s possible that the girl in blue is Katherine.

Weir, Alison.(2007) Katherine Swynford: The Story of John of Gaunt and His Scandalous Duchess. London: Jonathan Cape

 

 

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The fate of kings – Edward VIII, Edward II, Richard II and Charles I

king_edward_viiiThree kings plus a spare – what could be more festive than that?

 

The first of today’s faces is outside my usual time period but it is a significant event so far as the British monarchy is concerned. On the 11 December 1936 King Edward VIII, uncrowned king of the United Kingdom, renounced the throne, not by proclamation but through the very modern medium of a radio broadcast. He then joined Wallis Simpson on a boat bound for France. He’d been king for less than a year. In his abdication speech Edward was eager to observe that as a constitutional monarch he’d never done anything in opposition to his parliament. Churchill made much the same comment in a speech given in the House of Commons on the subject. He also said, “ What is done is done. What has been done or left undone belongs to history, and to history, so far as I am concerned, it shall be left.”

 

Since then history, journalists, biographers and anyone with an interest have speculated as to the whys and wherefores of the case of the only king in English history to voluntarily renounce his throne.

 

Edward’s decision was the result of a constitutional crisis bought about by his love for Wallis Simpson, an almost twice divorced American. I say almost because her second divorce from Ernest Simpson was still pending at this time. If Edward had hoped that the political elite would be tolerant of his love for Wallis he was sadly mistaken even though there was probably a big clue in the fact that his own father, George V, had refused to meet her in 1934.

 

Edward even went so far to ask Stanley Baldwin, the then prime minister, if it would be possible for him to have a morganatic marriage. A morganatic marriage in this context is a marriage between a couple of unequal rank in society. Although the marriage is recognized any children resulting from the union would not be permitted to inherit the throne. Nor would Wallis have attained the rank and privileges of her husband. This was a reasonably common approach to marriage in European royal houses but would have been unique in British history – no one dared mention to Henry VIII, of instance, that his marriage to Anne Boleyn, even with her drip of Plantagenet blood, was not a marriage of equals.

 

Baldwin’s cabinet deemed that the British public would not take to a twice divorced American with a scandalous reputation so said no to a morganatic union. This left Edward with three choices: he could say goodbye to Wallis and marry a woman deemed appropriate; abdicate or ignore the prime minister and marry Wallis anyway. This would have led to a direct confrontation between king and his ministers as they would have resigned resulting in a constitutional crisis.

 

By the beginning of December the scandal was all over the papers.  Edward made his decision and ‘lay down the burden’ of kingship – which rather suggests he felt there was a choice in the matter. The pair got married on June 3 1937. Edward’s younger brother Albert, now King George VI, created him duke of Windsor.  Edward and Wallis spent the rest of their lives in exile.

 

edwardiiOf course, other kings have abdicated in English history – just they didn’t do it voluntarily and they certainly weren’t sent off  to be the governor of the Bahamas. The demise of deposed medieval kings reflects the way in which parliament gradually became more important as the centuries progressed and the kings themselves gradually found their power being eroded. Edward II was deposed in January 1327 when he was captured by his wife Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer. Parliament named his son Edward III as king. There wasn’t a great deal of debate about the matter but it is significant that parliament was called upon to recognise the transition. Edward II disappeared into Berkeley Castle where he was murdered – the medieval way of getting rid of a king who’d worn out his welcome.

 

tumblr_m94jocf45j1qeu6ilo1_500Two generations later Richard II renounced the throne in 1399. In reality, he too was deposed but his cousin Henry of Bolingbroke, who became Henry IV, recognized the importance of popular acclaim and legal justification for his actions- no need to discuss the fact that Richard II was being held captive at the time nor the fact that he didn’t have a great deal of choice in the matter. Like his great grandfather Richard found himself being escorted to a large castle (Pontefract) and quietly removed from the scene (starved).

During the Wars of the Roses, Lancastrians and Yorkists alike were careful to have parliament identify their reign as beginning prior to the key battle that saw them taking hold of power.  This ensured that the loosing side could all be attained for treason.

Charles_I_in_Three_Positions_1635-36By the reign of Charles I the law and parliament had evolved even further, though now is not the time to explore the reasons for that.  Charles found himself on trial for treason. The rationale for this came from the Roman idea that a military body could overthrow a tyrant and even then many people had doubts about the legitimacy of such an action. The Parliament of 1648 was notable for the way in which MPs were excluded from the House of Commons if they were not in support of Oliver Cromwell’s drastic actions. This parliament was known as the Rump Parliament.

 

The idea that there were fundamental laws and liberties which a monarch was required to uphold or to face penalties  imposed by parliament and the law would have come as a surprise to Charles I’s predecessors.  Having seen the power that they could wield parliament now invited Stuart monarchs to ascend to the throne, kicked them out if they didn’t like their religion and laid down statutes as to who could inherit the throne. This meant that with the advent of the protestant Hanoverian monarchs, the British monarchy was a constitutional monarchy.  Kings and queens are heads of state but within defined parameters – their role became increasingly ceremonial whilst the business of laws and governing rest in the hands of Parliament.

Who would have thought that this centuries long evolution would resolve itself in the first half of the twentieth century with the abdication of a monarch for the love of a woman?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Edward of Norwich

edward of norwich.jpgSome of you will be relieved that I’m moving away from Henry VIII for a short while. Today I’ve landed on the 8th of December 1405 and the figure behind the door is Edward of Norwich. So we’re slap bang in the middle of the reign of Henry IV and almost inevitably Edward is a Plantagenet related to Edward III. Edward III is Edward’s grandfather.

 

Edward’s father was Edward III’s fourth surviving son Edmund of Langley a.k.a. the first duke of York – from whence the name York of the House of York stems though rather confusingly by the time the Wars of the Roses started much of their land holdings were in the south whilst the Lancastrians held lands in Yorkshire (you know you’d be disappointed if it was straight forward).   Edward’s mother was Isabelle of Castille, the sister of John of Gaunt’s wife Blanche and there’s a tale to tell about Isabelle and her husband because there were rumours (aren’t there always?) that Edward’s younger brother Richard of Connisburgh wasn’t necessarily the child of Edmund of Langley.

 

Any way enough of that.  Edward died at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 having lived through the reigns of Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V. His death without heirs would mean that his nephew would become the 3rd duke of York and he would be at the heart of the Wars of the Roses.

 

Edward was born, oh dear, in Kings Langley, Norwich or York as it is possible that Norwich is a mispronunciation of the Latin form of the name York…it’s always nice to be clear about these things, don’t you think?

 

Edward was knighted at Richard II’s coronation in 1377 when he was about four years old. He was younger but close enough in age for the two boys to grow up together and  to be close to Richard II throughout Richard’s life. He benefitted accordingly becoming the earl of Cork and the earl of Rutland, as well as, duke of Aumale and eventually second duke of York. He became warden of the West March, Constable of the Tower, Governor of the isle of White. In fact if you can think of a well known role chances are that Edward will have held the office at some point during Richard II’s reign. He even gained control of Anne of Bohemia’s lands after her death and benefited from them financially.

 

In 1397 following the arrest of Thomas of Woodstock a.k.a. the duke of Gloucester (the youngest son of Edward III) and his subsequent nasty accident with a mattress it was Edward who became Constable of England ultimately accusing his uncle and the earl of Arundel of treason. It was widely suggested that Edward had assisted with the practicalities of the mattress related incident in Calais when his cousin suggested it would be a good idea if their uncle was removed from the scene.

 

So, Edward is at the key event in 1398 when Henry of Bolingbroke (John of Gaunt’s son and later Henry IV) took on Thomas Mowbray, duke of Norfolk, in armed combat. Edward was the constable in charge of overseeing fair play. Of course the combat didn’t go ahead and both Mowbray and Henry were exiled.

 

Edward went off to Ireland with Richard II who on John of Gaunt’s death had seized his estate and changed Bolingbroke’s exile from a temporary affair to one of life. Edward seeing which way the wind was blowing swiftly changed sides when Henry landed at Ravenspur. This about-face didn’t save Edward from the wrath of the people who’d risen up against Richard II.  It was only the intervention of Henry IV which saved him from prison and worse.  He did lose the title of Aumale.

 

In October 1399 Edward was a prisoner but by the end of the year he was back on the king’s council. Henry IV was troubled by plots throughout his reign. Henry V (then Prince Henry) would describe Edward as a ‘loyal and valiant knight’ demonstrating that Edward’s personality was such that he managed to survive being implicated in any of them over the long term unlike his brother Richard of Connisburgh got himself executed for his role in the Southampton Plot of 1415 or their sister Constance who had tried to put the earl of march on the throne in 1405.

The 1415 plot also sought  to place Edmund Mortimer a descendant of Lionel of Antwerp – the second surviving son of Edward III so legally the correct claimant of the crown after Richard II- in place of Henry V who was, of course, descended from John of Gaunt – the third surviving son of Edward III and Henry Iv who had of course usurped his cousin’s throne, albeit by popular demand.

 

Edward of Norwich died at Agincourt having placed himself in danger to protect Henry V. Edward was replaced as duke of Norfolk by his nephew, Richard of York – the son of Richard of Connisburgh who’d been executed for treason at the start of the French campaign for his role in the Southampton Plot.

 

And welcome to the Wars of the Roses. Richard of York would eventually attempt to claim the throne in December 1460 through his descent from Lionel of Antwerp rather than Edmund of Langley but fail to gain popular support. On the 30th December 1460 he would be killed along with his son the young earl of Rutland in the aftermath of the Battle of Wakefield.

In between doing what Plantagenets did i.e. being a soldier, ruling various realms and plotting against his family, Edward of Norwich  also managed to find time to write the oldest known book on hunting.

You might be wondering whether Edward married.  The answer is yes, he did.  Phillippa de Bohun who was twenty years his senior.  She must have been an heiress I hear you yell. Well actually no.  Although Phillippa was a de Bohun her mother had sold the family estates leaving her daughters with no lands and no noticeable dowry.  Intriguingly Edward’s bride was not only twenty years older than him she was also no great catch and having already been twice widowed but still childless not particularly fertile…leaving us with the possibility that the pair loved one another.

 

http://www.englishmonarchs.co.uk/plantagenet_70.html

http://www.shakespeareandhistory.com/duke-of-aumerle.php

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Filed under Fifteenth Century, The Plantagenets, Wars of the Roses

The lion and the unicorn

DSC_0325-3.jpgIts been a while since I heard this rhyme.

The lion and the unicorn were fighting for the crown; the lion beat the unicorn all round the town.

Some gave them white bread, and some gave them brown; some gave them plum cake and drummed them out of town.

During the Tudor period the supporters, the creatures holding up the shield or helm, for royal heraldry tended to be the white hound of Richmond and the Tudor dragon.  It wasn’t really that much earlier that supporters had made their presence felt.  It’s usually agreed that  King Henry VI was the first king to use heraldic supporters in the form of two antelopes.  Prior to that kings used badges (e.g. Richard II and his rather famous white hart) but they weren’t officially there to support the royal coat of arms.  The English monarchy frequently used the king of the beasts on its heraldry either on the standard or as a supporter.

DSC_0326-6.jpgThe unicorn is straight forward.  It first made its appearance when James VI of Scotland became James I of England.  The Scottish coat of arms was supported by two unicorns usually in chains because a free unicorn is a particularly fearsome beast.  Having said that Mary Queen of Scots used lions on her privy seal and other folk used unicorns because of their many virtues and links to Christ.

In order to symbolise the union of the two kingdoms James combined the coats of arms and merged the supporters, the Tudor dragon was removed and the Stuart unicorn inserted.  In reality, of course, the merger wasn’t necessarily that friendly – think  of Edward I and the virtually constant warfare between the English and the Scots during the thirteenth century and fourteenth centuries.  The borders between England and Scotland had their own laws because the wars turned into sporadic raiding and feuding.  James may have abolished the marches and the wardenry (who controlled the lawless borderers with their own brand of violence) saying that from henceforth the borders would be known as the ‘middle shires’  and merged his heraldic supporters but it didn’t do a great deal of good in the long term -certainly not to the monarchy, just look at the role of the Scots during the English Civil War.  And of course in 1715 and 1745 the lion and the unicorn really were fighting for the crown when James Stuart and son tried to reclaim the crown from the House of Hanover. Hence the nursery rhyme which dates to the seventeenth century.  Albert Jack in his book Pop Goes the Weasel suggests that the  verse about bread and cake is about the populace’s support of James Stuart a.k.a. The Young Pretender or Bonnie Prince Charlie during his campaign as far as Derby.

I think there may be another verse about being beaten three times but I’m not absolutely sure.  These particular specimens come from Holyrood House.

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To be king…or not to be king…

You’d have thought, from history lessons at school, that inheriting the throne in the medieval period would have been fairly straight forward – i.e. the number one son.  However, from Norman times onwards it was rarely as simple as that; occasionally it involved imprisonment or death – sometimes both.  GraduHenry IVally, however, Parliament became involved with the process of identifying the order in which monarchs would ascend the throne.
In 1406 an act of the so-called Long Parliament which went on most of the year and seemed to deal largely with sorting out Henry IV’s account book decided who would inherit the crown in the event of Prince Henry (who would become Henry V) pre-deceasing his father without producing ‘an heir of his body’.  Many historians have identified this as Henry IV seeking to restrict the number of people who could make a claim to the throne in an attempt to bolster his line which descended from the third surviving son of Edward III and which only had its grubby mitts on the crown because Henry IV had usurped the crown from his cousin Richard II (imprisonment and death).  In June 1406 an act identified Henry IV’s sons in age order and their male heirs but in December this act was replaced by an earlier law (1404) restoring the succession to the king’s sons and their heirs. The term heirs means male and female children. Neither of Henry IV’s daughters were mentioned – Blanche who had been married in 1402 to Louis III, Elector Palatine and Philippa who was queen of most of Scandinavia:

…it is ordained and established, that the inheritance of the crown, and of the realms of England and France, and of all the other dominions of our said lord the king beyond the sea, with all the appurtenances, shall be settled and remain in the person of the same our lord the king, and in the heirs of his body begotten; and especially at the request and of the assent aforesaid, it is ordained and established, pronounced, decreed, and declared, that the lord the prince Henry eldest son to our said lord the king, be heir apparent to the same our lord the king,to succeed him in the said crown, realms and dominions, to have them with all the appurtenances after the decease of the same our lord the king, to him and his heirs of his body begotten; and if he die without heir of his body begotten, then all the said crown, realms and dominions, with all the appurtenances, shall remain to the Lord Thomas, second son of our said lord the king, and to the heirs of his body begotten; and if he die without issue of his body, that then ail the said crown, realms and dominions, with all the appurtenances, shall remain to the Lord John, the third son of our said lord the king, and to the heirs of his body begotten; and if he die without heir of his body begotten, that then all the foresaid crown, realms and dominions, with all the appurtenances, shall remain to the Lord Humphrey,the fourth son of our said lord the king, and the heirs of his body begotten.

 

300_2511351As it happened none of Henry IV’s children did much in the way of begetting.  Thomas, Duke of Clarence was killed at the Battle of Bauge in 1421.   Henry V married Katherine of Valois and had one son who became Henry VI by the time he was nine months old in 1422.  John, Duke of Bedford was married twice.  His second wife was Jacquetta of Luxembourg who went on to marry one of John’s household knights and have a large family including her daughter Elizabeth Woodville.  John of Bedford, on the other hand, had no legitimate children. Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester was initially married to Jacqueline of Hainault but the marriage was annulled without surviving issue.  Humphrey then went on to marry his mistress Eleanor Cobham who was ultimately found guilty of witchcraft and imprisoned.  He didn’t have legitimate children either.    Given that Henry IV had six children who survived to adulthood he possibly didn’t anticipate that his line would prove quite so unprolific when he arranged for Parliament to pass the 1406 Act of Succession.

 

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In 1460 during the reign of Henry VI which history remembers largely for the Wars of the Roses,  Parliament repealed the act of 1406 at the behest of Richard, Duke of York who said that the whole thing was decidedly dodgy and reflected the fact that Henry IV was trying to shore up his line having usurped the crown from Richard II and his rightful heirs who were, of course, Richard of York’s immediate ancestors. The Act of Accord passed in October 1460 allowed Henry VI to keep the crown but identified Richard of York as his heir by-passing Henry VI’s own son Prince Edward. Richard was dead by the end of the year, killed at the Battle of Wakefield.

 

Richard of York, it should be added, made no comment about the note added in 1407 to the document that legitimised Henry IV’s half siblings by Katherine Swynford. Henry IV wrote on it himself ‘excepta dignitate regali’ . Those three words meant that although the Beauforts were legal they could not claim the throne. Henry IV’s marginal amendment did not go through the legal process. Parliament did not ratify his endeavours to influence who might or might not become king making Henry IV’s bar on them decidedly dubious.

 

Of course, Henry IV was not the last king to try and ensure the succession from beyond the grave. Henry VIII had more Acts of Succession than were healthy for any one king– the first one was passed by Parliament in 1533 (Actually March 1534) replaced Princess Mary, having bastardised her, with the Princess Elizabeth. The second of these acts made Elizabeth illegitimate whilst the third Act of Succession in 1543 legalised both princesses and stipulated the order in which Henry VIII’s children beginning with his son Edward were to inherit the throne. Henry VIII backed this act up with his will which also laid out the order in which his offspring were to inherit the kingdom.  The last of the Tudors, Queen Elizabeth I, not only by-passed marriage and the begetting of heirs but also refused to name her successor outright much to the irritation of her council and her parliaments.

 

By 1701 Parliament had gained sufficient clout to prevent kings (and queens) they didn’t like from inheriting the kingdom. They mainly didn’t like Catholic Stuart kings – the 1701 Act of Settlement, identified the first available non-Catholic heir by tracing back up the Stuart family tree to Elizabeth of Bohemia (the so-called Winter Queen) who was the daughter of James VI of Scotland/ James I of England. Her daughter was Sophia of Hanover. Parliament very politely invited her to accept the crown in the event of Queen Anne, who clearly wasn’t going to have an heir of her own, dying. Sadly for Sophia, Queen Anne outlived her by nearly three months, necessitating a further Act of Settlement that invited Sophia’s Protestant son George of Hanover to take the crown in 1714.

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Henry VII – king of ‘spin’?

henryviiHenry VII’s claim to the throne was weak – and that’s putting it mildly. There was only the thinnest of Plantagenet threads running through his blood. Even that had to be legitimised in 1397 by Richard II who issued Letters Patent to that fact when the children of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford (they’d finally married the previous year) were bought into Parliament along with their parents to stand beneath a canopy of State. Pope Boniface IX had already issued a papal dispensation legitimising the Beaufort clan. However, Henry IV added a note into the legal record in 1407 stating that the Beauforts were not to inherit the throne. It might not have been strictly legal but it weakened Henry’s already weak claim.  In addition to which England did not have a salic law prohibiting women from the crown so technically the aftermath of the Battle of Bosworth should have seen the crowning of Queen Margaret.

 

Henry was able to make a play for the throne simply because by 1483 there weren’t many Lancaster sprigs left – the Wars of the Roses took a terrible toll on the aristocratic male population who counted themselves as having direct male descent from Edward III whether they were for York or for Lancaster. George, Duke of Clarence’s son, Edward – the young Earl of Warwick, was a child. The Duke of Buckingham claimed Plantagenet blood but like Henry Tudor’s it came from the Beaufort line and a junior one to Henry’s. There were others descended from female lines including the de la Poles who would be regarded as a key threat to the Tudors.  After Henry came to the throne as well as demonstrating prudent fiscal policy Henry also demonstrated a dab hand at pruning the Plantagenet branches still further – as did his son, to ensure that the Tudor dynasty continued.

 

DSCF2105.JPGWhatever one might think of the twists and turns of the Battle of Bosworth on 22 August 1485, not to mention the Stanley turncoats, the fact is that Richard III’s army gave way to Henry’s and Richard lost his life. Henry became king of England on the battlefield by conquest and thus by God’s will – Divine Right – working on the principle that God had given Henry the power to overcome Richard III. Yes, I know that some of the readers of this post are going to mutter about treachery but the view is a valid one when one takes account of the medieval/early modern mind set. The badge to the left of this paragraph is in the keeping of the British Library and it reflects this fact.  Henry wasn’t shy about reminding people.

bosworth-windows.jpgThere were also ballads entitled ‘Bosworth Field’ and the ‘Ballad of Lady Bessie”.  The earliest printed version (well – a summary) dates from the sixteenth century and there is some question as to whether these ballads are pure fiction, their reliability is questionable. However, it is not unreasonable to assume that Henry would have encouraged ballads like this in order that ordinary people heard about the fact that someone who was really very obscure had taken the crown on the battle field.  According to the ballad – in a king on king struggle to the death Henry was personally victorious…history is after all the winners version and does not necessarily take all the facts into consideration. Double click on the image on the right to open a new window linking to the American branch of the Richard III society and a version of the ballad.

 

Henry was equally swift to ensure that the written word reflected not only the Tudor right to rule but how much better they were than their immediate predecessors.  Polydore Vergil arrived in England in 1502 to collect Peter’s Pence but as a humanist scholar Henry VII was keen to have him on board.  It is thought that he began writing the Anglica Historia in 1505, although it wasn’t published until 1534. Double click on the title to open a new window and the online version of Vergil’s unashamedly pro-Tudor writing.  In this excerpt we see Vergil extol Henry’s virtues as he took up the reigns of office:

 

His chief care was to regulate well affairs of state and, in order that the people of England should not be further torn by rival factions, he publically proclaimed that (as he had already promised) he would take for his wife Elizabeth daughter of King Edward and that he would give complete pardon and forgiveness to all those who swore obedience to his name. Then at length, having won the good-will of all men and at the instigation of the both nobles and people, he was made king at Westminster on 31 October and called Henry, seventh of that name. These events took place in the year 1486 after the birth of Our Saviour.

 

There were other contemporary chronicles, principally The Great Chronicle of London and the Chronicle of Calais as well as later chroniclers including Edward Hall who wrote The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancastre and Yorke, more commonly known as Hall’s Chronicle – Hall was born in 1497.  Sir Thomas More wrote about the reign of Richard  III – he was four in 1485. And, of course, there was Holinshed’s Chronicle which heavily influenced Shakespeare. It made its first appearance in 1577. All of them were vehicles for the Tudor State one way or another.

gold medal.jpgBack to Henry – having driven home the message that he was king by Divine Right and because he was better (yes, I know its Tudor spin) than his predecessors because he paid attention to the country and didn’t murder small boys he also needed to make it clear that the Tudor dynasty was a fresh start. The pope had been so glad that the English had stopped slaughtering one another that he didn’t hesitate in signing the dispensation that allowed Henry to marry Edward IV’s daughter, Elizabeth of York. He  was swift to honour his pledge to marry her, once the stain of illegitimacy had been revoked by Parliament. A medal was struck commemorating the marriage in 1486. This rare survivor is in the hands of the British Museum.  Double click on the image to open a new page with information about the medal. Elizabeth wasn’t crowned until the Tudor dynasty looked like becoming a certainty. Henry did not want to be seen as Elizabeth’s consort. He wanted it to be understood that he was king in his own right.

marriagebed + henry tudorBizarrely Henry VII’s marriage-bed came to end up in a car park in Chester.  However, since it’s identity has been verified the magnificent carvings can be used to tell the story that Henry wanted to tell in his union with Elizabeth of York Double click on the image to open a window and find out more.

 

DSC_0002Which – brings us back to the dodgy bloodline.   Henry got around the problem by simply using a much older legacy. He claimed that he was descended from the ancient British hero Cadwallader, and produced pedigrees to prove it.  He fought under the red dragon at Bosworth and a red dragon was swiftly added to the permitted armorial supporters before his coronation. Cadwallader was reflected on his coat of arms as shown in the first image in this post. The white greyhound is the Richmond greyhound but the red dragon, which flew on Henry’s banner as he marched through Wales from Pembroke belonged to the ancient king. Other images show Henry’s coat of arms also bearing a portcullis. This came from the Beaufort armorial bearings.

Penn’s acclaimed book about Henry VII demonstrates the lengths that Henry went to in order to secure his kingdom and his dynasty.  An article published in The Guardian in 2012 notes that Henry didn’t just use the red dragon he also made use of the red rose of Lancaster – a somewhat obscure symbol at that time- which was then united with the white rose of York to create the Tudor Rose signifying the union of the two houses and the end of the thirty years of conflict.  He then proceeded to plant his roses everywhere: on architecture, on pre-existing manuscripts and on new documents. Double click on the image of Henry’s banner to open a new page with the full article.

 

Another well used symbol locating Henry’s right to be king in conquest is the image of that crown perched on a wild rose bush. This was a reminder that Henry had won his crown on the battlefield. In an age of low literacy it was important for there to be symbolism that people understood. Henry was a master of propaganda, right down to the Tudor livery of green and white. White symbolised purity whilst green represented renewal.

DSCF2103Henry also looked to the legend of King Arthur.  Unsurprisingly Henry simply claimed him as an ancestor and reminded folk of Merlin’s prophecy that Arthur would return with the union of the red king and the white queen.  It probably isn’t co-incidence that Malory’s Morte d’Arthur was one of the first books off Caxton’s printing press in England. Elizabeth of York went to Winchester which Malory claimed was Camelot in order to have her first child.  Prince Arthur was duly born and baptised in Winchester.  The Italian humanist, Petrus Carmelianus wrote a poem to celebrate the birth and the end of the civil war.  One of the illustrated pages shows the royal coat of arms being supported by two angels (back to Divine Right). It might also be worth noting that Petrus went on to become Henry VII’s Latin secretary and chaplain.  Double click on Petrus Carmelianus to open a new page with an illustration of one of the pages from his poem. Henry also reinstated Winchester’s round table which dates from the reign of Edward III.  This together with a small number of King Arthur related tapestries and images, according to the article on the subject by Starkey, is all that remains of Henry’s arthurian public image strategy – one which he’d borrowed, it should be added from earlier Plantagenet kings including Edward III and Edward IV.roundtable.jpg

In other respects Henry simply took up long established traditions such as being portrayed in manuscripts as a king, including one where he was depicted as a classical hero and issuing coinage which showed a very lifelike looking Henry.

The most easily accessible online image in a manuscript of Henry as king can be found in the British Library. The book called Henry VII’s book of Astrology shows him sitting on his throne in royal regalia receiving the book of astrology as a gift. Obviously Fate and the stars were on Henry’s side when he became king. Double click on the image from the manuscript to open a British Library article about the imagery in the text.  The manuscript itself has been digitised and pages can be viewed on the British Library website Astrology was a ‘proper’ science. All the Tudors had court astrologers – the most famous being Dr John Dee during the reign of Elizabeth I.

henry vii receiving book.jpgHenry VII’s astrologers appear not to have been a particularly able bunch.  One predicted that Elizabeth of York would live until she was eighty whilst William Parron’s 1503 manuscript predicted that young Prince Henry would grow up to be a good son of the Catholic Church. Parron had originally found favour by predicting that all of Henry VII’s enemies would die…

 

 

 

 

 

Doran, Susan. The Tudor Chronicles. London:Quercus

Penn, Thomas. (2012) Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England. London:Penguin

Starkey, David, “King Henry and King Arthur,” in Arthurian Literature XVI, ed. James Patrick Carley, 171-196. Woodbridge, Suffolk: D.S. Brewer, 1998.

 

 

 

 

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Richard II – birthday boy

tumblr_m94jocf45j1qeu6ilo1_500Richard, son of the Black Prince and Joan of Kent was born on January 6th 1367. Ten years later the Black Prince died pre-deceasing his aged and increasingly infirm father Edward III. It says something about the changes in society that a child was successfully able to inherit his grandfather’s throne. It probably also says rather a lot about Richard’s uncles, particularly John of Gaunt that there was no take over bid.

 

Richard’s reign tends to be remembered, in popular imagination at least, for two things. The first event was the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. Richard demonstrated personal bravery in order to ride out to Smithfield to meet Wat Tyler – and remember that Richard’s chancellor, even though he did resign shortly before, Simon of Sudbury had been brutally murdered by the mob and that John of Gaunt’s palace, The Savoy, had been utterly destroyed.

 

Richard, married to Anne of Bohemia introduced the word Majesty to court circles, no doubt helping his uncles and relatives to remember who was in charge. It was this period that saw curly toed footwear, Geoffrey Chaucer and the building of Westminster Hall. Despite these things which seem on their own to indicate a period of culture and learning (shoes aside) but Richard failed to live up to his early promise.  In addition to not being particularly keen on fighting the french he liked bathing, reading and clothes as well as getting his own way. The death of Anne of Bohemia in 1394 didn’t help matters very much nor did his second marriage two years later to Isabella of Valois who was a child so unable to curb his despotic tendencies or desire to have his entire court on their knees:

 

‘After this on solemn festivals when by custom [Richard II] performed kingly rituals, he would order a throne to be prepared for him in his chamber on which he liked to sit ostentatiously from after dinner until vespers, talking to no one but watching everyone; and when his eye fell on anyone, regardless of rank, that person had to bend his knee towards the king …’

Continuatio Eulogii, pp. 371-9

 

 

To cut a long story short Richard didn’t look to his relatives for support once he reached adulthood – a fact which irritated them immensely. One of Richard’s uncles (Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester) waited until John of Gaunt (yet another of Richard’s uncles) was out of the country and then used the law to curb Richard’s increasingly authoritarian practices. Many of Richard’s favourites were executed. The event is recalled by the title that the 1388 Parliament is known by – the Merciless Parliament.

 

Richard had to wait nearly a decade to get his own back and during that time he ensured that there was a cohort of men loyal to him as well as a crack troop at his command. In 1397 Richard arrested and banished his opponents including his cousin Henry of Bolingbroke who was also John of Gaunt’s son. The Duke of Gloucester having been arrested and sent to Calais had a fatal ‘accident’, allegedly involving a mattress, on his nephew’s orders.

 

When John of Gaunt died, Henry of Bolingbroke thought that his banishment would be over. Instead Richard made the banishment permanent and stripped Henry of his lands. Henry landed at Ravenspur with the intent of reclaiming the Duchy of Lancaster. Which leads to the second event of Richard’s reign which most folk know – his usurpation and death from starvation at Pontefract. No wonder Shakespeare found plenty of material to write about.

Froissart’s Chronicles, somewhat sympathetic to Richard, gives an account of the period but ultimately seems to indicate that Richard brought his own downfall upon himself through his authoritarianism and failure to make war on the French.

 

Two generations on, problems resulting from Richard’s removal would arise when the Lancaster line failed to produce a strong king. Henry IV as Henry Bolingbroke became held on to his crown though in constant fear that someone would do to him what he had done to Richard.  Henry V was probably the most martial king of the period and then there was Henry VI.  That would be the time when a swift investigation of the family tree would remind the nobility that the Lancaster line was descended from Edward III’s third surviving son.  Unfortunately for England, Lionel of Antwerp, Edward’s second surviving son, had a child Philippa who had married into the Mortimer family.  Richard II had named Philippa’s son (Roger Mortimer) his heir. At a time when the Lancaster line weakened this inconvenient fact would become very important indeed. And it would be another Richard – Richard of York – descended on both his mother and father’s side from Edward III who would demand that attention be paid to the previously ignored rights of the Mortimers.

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Elizabeth of Lancaster and Sir John Holland

elizabeth_of_lancasterI’ve found a new author – well, she might not be new but she’s new to me- Anne O Brien.  I’ve just guzzled ‘The King’s Sister’ a novel about Elizabeth of Lancaster, the third child of Blanche of Lancaster and John of Gaunt.

Her story is an everyday tale of the Plantagenets – so there’re two arranged marriages, treachery and a spot of skulduggery for starters.

John of Gaunt arranged a marriage between Elizabeth and John Hasting’s the third Earl of Pembroke in 1380.  She was seventeen, he was eight and got on, in the novel at least, very well with Elizabeth’s little brother Henry of whom more anon.  It isn’t perhaps surprising that she was more attracted to John Holland a son of Princess Joan and her first husband (the one she married when she was twelve before her family married her off to a second more important husband but that’s a different story) who had been married for a third time to the Black Prince and was mother to King Richard II.  John Holland had a reputation as a ladies man and a champion jouster – or in other words a knight errant- as well as gaining a reputation as a soldier in the field in both Scotland and Spain.  Apparently, according to the records of the time, he was smitten with Elizabeth of Lancaster’s great beauty.  He followed her day and night…so what would you do if you were a hormone ridden teenager – remain loyal to the child to whom your father has married you off to or run away with the handsome half brother of the king?   Elizabeth’s marriage to the young Earl of Pembroke was annulled.

The relationship between Elizabeth and John Holland is a tempestuous one in Anne O’Brien’s novel but the historical reality is not without its ironies.  John’s half brother was Richard II.  Elizabeth’s brother was Henry Bolingbroke a.k.a. Henry IV.  I should imagine that the family get together after Henry deposed and imprisoned Elizabeth’s brother-in-law was a tense one.  Although John gave his fealty to the new king he remained loyal to Richard in Pontefract – and despite Richard’s notorious temperamental streak – he’d been good to his half-brother and wife.  John Holland had been created First Duke of Exeter and been rewarded with other posts and estates.

In 1400 he was involved in the so-called ‘Epiphany Plot,’ also known as ‘the Three Earls Plot’ which sought to overthrow Henry, kill him and his sons, and return Richard II to the throne.  The plot was betrayed and John fled but was captured at Pleshy Castle in Essex.  He was fortunate to get so far.  Twenty-nine of the conspirators were executed at Oxford.  John was  was executed by Joan Fitzallan, the Countess of Hereford who had a grudge against Elizabeth’s husband.  Holland had executed her brother (the Earl of Arundel) several years before without going through the niceties of an entirely fair trial.

Henry IV used attainder to impoverish his sister and his nieces and nephews in the short term.  So not what you might call a terribly happy-ever-after for the couple although there is more to Elizabeth’s story and her children because they remained close to the crown and eventually regained their titles if not all of their estates.  As for Richard II, well he apparently starved himself to death very soon after the failed uprising in January 1400.  The chroniclers didn’t believe it either!

As for me I’m pleased to report that there are five other novels by Anne O Brien…as well as a list of places for me to visit that are associated with the Plantagenet princess who broke the rules and ran off with her handsome knight only to find herself embroiled in deadly family politics.

 

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Thomas – a crusading, jousting Clifford

IMG_3926Thomas Clifford, the sixth baron, was born in approximately 1365.  He became a royal favourite at the time of Richard II – he was noted, apparently, for his “dissipation and indulgence” by which we can assume his shoes had very curly toes.  Quite what the inhabitants of the borders would have made of a court favourite dressed in the height of fashion is left unrecorded but Thomas found himself in the role not only of Warden of the West March but also the East March – making him a very busy man.  In 1384 he was granted custody of Carlisle Castle for life along with John Neville.  Presumably they took turns visiting.

 

One of the features of Thomas’s tenure was the knightly habit of jousting- hence the repetition of the picture in this post.  Thomas travelled widely in Europe with a retinue of knights who attended tournaments.  In fact, he even crossed into Scotland for the odd tournament and gave Lord Douglas permission to come into England for the same reason.  Think of these tournaments as the equivalent of medieval football matches crossed with the arrival of your favourite pop star.

 

In between governing the whole of the north and keeping the Scots under control and generally being knightly Thomas also rose to the role of Master of the King’s Horse.

It’s worth mentioning that while Thomas was busy doing all of this that England was having a spot of bother. The Lords Appellant were not keen on the way Richard II was ruling his kingdom.  Having come out of the Peasant’s Revolt with a reputation for personal bravery Richard developed a sense of his own importance.  It was this monarch who introduced the word ‘majesty’ into the descriptors to be used and also came up with an elaborate protocol involving repeated bowing on approaching the royal presence.  Unsurprisingly this did not go down particularly well with the aristocracy who were just as well bred as Richard.  Nor were they terribly impressed with Richard’s best friend, Richard de Vere, Earl of Oxford.  Inevitably, de Vere was  sent packing following the Battle of Radcot Bridge in 1387 and then expired whilst in exile.  Richard was forced to submit to the so called Merciless Parliament in 1388 (the year Thomas became Master of the King’s Horse)  and then spent a good number of years biding his time while he gained sufficient power to show everyone exactly who was in charge.

 

Thomas was treading an aristocratic tightrope along with every other noble in the country.  Not only did the nobility owe their land and their allegiance to the monarchy but they were increasingly connected by ties of blood.  For example Thomas’s wife, Elizabeth de Roos was descended from King Edward I. De Roos was the Lord of Helmsley – a reminder that national politics were interwoven with marriages and family relationships at a local level.  Feudalism was giving way to bastard feudalism.  In part this was a consequence of the Black Death but it was also the result of family sponsorship and patronage that lent itself to close knit community ties but also to feuding.

 

Little wonder that Thomas took himself off on crusade to Lithuania with Thomas of Woodstock, Earl of Gloucester in 1395.  Unfortunately he got into a bit of a fight with a son of the Earl of Douglas – and killed him.  Filled with remorse Thomas decided to go on another crusade to Jerusalem.  Somewhere (don’t you love it when history fails to provide all the details?) between Lithuania and Jerusalem he died, missing out on the joys of Richard II’s deposition by Henry Bolingbroke (a.k.a. Henry IV, cousin of Richard II, member of the Lords Appellant and king in Shakespeare’s Hollow Crown cycle of plays) but leaving a two-year-old to inherit the title who in turn would grow up to be one of Henry V’s warriors as well as assorted other offspring who were married into leading northern families.  But more of them anon.

 

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The Earl of Kendal – one man, many titles.

NPG D23929; John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset after Unknown artistJohn Beaufort, as well as being the grandson of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford, was also the first Duke of Somerset.   Just to confuse things his father was only the Earl of Somerset. It was only in the reign of Edward III that Duke’s were added to the list of English nobility. Initially it was a title reserved for the king’s sons prior to that time the title ‘Earl’ was the highest ranking title in the peerage below that of King.  Our John, depicted here in an eighteenth century engraving, was the second son of John Beaufort, First Earl of Somerset. He became the third earl when his brother, Henry, died in 1418 – somewhat bizarrely making him Earl and Duke of Somerset.

 

Beaufort fought in Henry V’s army in France. In 1421, he accompanied the king’s younger brother Thomas of Lancaster to the fighting in Anjou. Thomas was killed at the Battle of Baugé and Somerset was captured. He remained a captive until a ransom was paid and then he continued a military career which was not an unmitigated success.

In August 1443, having been created Duke of Somerset, Earl of Kendal and Knight of the Garter by King Henry VI, John led an army to France where he managed to loose badly.  He had to turn to Richard, Duke of York for support – a bitter pill for the Duke of York to swallow, as John’s army had been financed while his own army was not. Unable to bear the stigma of defeat it is thought that John Beaufort, First Duke of Somerset, committed suicide.

 

The Earldom of Kendal was not a new title when Henry VI gave it to him.  This, of course, is one of the things that make titles hard to follow.  It had been re-created from a Norman title for a son of Henry IV but it became extinct on his death. It became extinct once more when John Beaufort died. Oddly, John Beaufort has something in common with Charles I’s nephew, Prince Rupert of the Rhine because he too was given the title Earl of Kendal and once again it became extinct with the earl’s death without legitimate issue.  The only thing that can be said about the Earldom of Kendal after the Norman period is that it was given to someone with a familial connection to the king!

 

The question then becomes why don’t we known John Beaufort as the Earl of Kendal? Well, quite simply a duke is more important than an earl.  Of course, just to complicate things there is a title between Duke and Earl – Marquess- but there aren’t very many of them.

King Richard II introduced the title ‘marquess’ in 1385 when he made Robert de Vere, who was already Earl of Oxford, Marquess of Dublin.  The title was removed from de Vere in 1386 on account of the rest of the earls being decidedly underwhelmed.  The title remained unpopular.  John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset (the John of this blog’s father) asked not to be known by the title Marquess of Dorset because he said that it was ‘strange’ in England.

 

 

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