Tag Archives: Richard II

Thomas Walsingham – and the “Scandalous Chronicle.”

KatSwynfordThomas Walsingham was a Benedictine monk.  He lived at St Albans Abbey where he had been educated and is usually considered the last of the great medieval chroniclers being a prolific producer of manuscripts including the “Chronicon Angliae” which covering the years 1328 to 1388.  It is in this chronicle that he criticises John of Gaunt.   The “Gesta Abbatum” or the St Albans Chronicle or Chronica Maiora as a continuation of that of Mathew Paris – and in fact his histories draw heavily on Paris’s work. His writings end in 1422 when he died but it is from Walsingham that we know about Wat Tyler, John Wycliff and the reigns of Richard II and Henry IV.

In part because he wasn’t a fan of John Wycliff and Lollardy – he took against John of Gaunt who was regarded as offering protection to reformers, Wycliff in particular. However, it should be added that there are two versions of Walsingham’s chronicle – one which is deeply hostile to John of Gaunt describing him as having “unbridled malice and greed, fearing neither God nor man.”  Walsingham’s general view was that Gaunt was after his nephew’s crown. True, Gaunt was the power behind the throne but hindsight shows that he never sought to take the crown by force despite several provocations.  It would also have to be said that Walsingham was just repeating what other people thought.  In 1377 his arms were reversed and marched through London by an angry mob. In 1381 his London palace, the Savoy, was burned to the ground. Walsingham was also critical of John’s relationship with  Katherine Swynford describing her as an “unmentionable concubine” and a “whore.”

william bell scott john of gauntRather amusingly and to the detriment of the chronicle a second version was penned after Henry IV, who was of course Gaunt’s son, came to the throne. Oddly all the unpleasant remarks about Gaunt were removed…so that the first version came to be known as “the scandalous chronicle.”

In all fairness Walsingham was critical of most of Richard II’s courtiers describing them as knights of love rather than war and better with words than weapons – well he should know about that!

Lucraft, Jeannette. (2006) Katherine Swynford: The History of a Medieval Mistress. Stroud: Sutton Publishing

Weir, Alison. (2007) Katherine Swynford:The Story of John of Gaunt and his Scandalous Duchess. London: Random House

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Get thee to a nunnery! Swynford and Chaucer

nun5.gifIt was quite common in the earlier part of the Middle Ages for a parent to dedicate a baby or a young child to holy orders.  These children were called oblates because the child was offered to God with an altar cloth wrapped around their right hand – an oblation or offering.

Prior to the invasion of 1066 William, duke of Normandy, and his wife Matilda sent their daughter Cecilia into the noviciate at the abbey of Holy Trinity in Caen.  The date is significant – 18 June 1066.  She didn’t become a fully professed nun until 1075 when she was about nineteen or twenty.

It’s easy to speculate that Cecilia was offered in exchange for a successful invasion. Equally many parents gave their child as an offering in hope of heavenly brownie points. It should also be added that if you were a man with many daughters and insufficient lands you might be tempted to palm the plainest or least marriageable daughter off on the Church to avoid all the expenditure that accompanied nuptial arrangements.  Until the rule of Innocent III (1198-1215) children who were given to the Church had no power to quit the religious life once they grew up.  This could lead to unfortunate incidences of runaway or pregnant nuns not to mention nuns like Chaucer’s abbess who dressed well and kept pets.

Katherine Swynford’s eldest daughter Margaret along with her cousin Elizabeth Chaucer entered the nunnery at Barking when they were children.  It is possible that Katherine Swynford and Philippa Chaucer were following family tradition in dedicating a daughter to the Church because evidence suggests that the pair had an older sister (probably a half sibling) called Elizabeth or possibly Isabelle who entered the nunnery of St Wandru in Mons in 1349.

medieval-nuns

 

Elizabeth Chaucer entered the nunnery in 1381 following nomination by Richard II – demonstrating the influence of Katherine by this time.  Elizabeth had previously been lodged in the convent of St Helens in Bishopgate.  We know that John of Gaunt paid her admission fee – in lieu of a dowry.  It was a large sum- £51 8s 2d.  This in its turn has given rise to the rumour that Philippa may have had an affair with the duke of Lancaster and that Elizabeth was his daughter.  As Weir points out, Gaunt acknowledged his other illegitimate children and provided for them handsomely so why would he be furtive about Elizabeth, if she was indeed his?.She also notes that the care given by Gaunt to  members of his household was generous so there should be no raised eyebrows about the gift, although of course Auntie Katherine may have had a hand in it so that her own daughter would have, at least, had the company of a cousin. Margaret went on to become the abbess of Barking in 1419.

The abbess of Barking had the legal status of a baron- a reminder that for women the Church was more or less the only way to wield power in your own right so long as you made it to the top of the job ladder.  Margaret Swynford is recorded as dying in 1433.

Its not much information about the two girls but it’s all there is!

Weir speculates as to whether Sir Hugh and Katherine Swynford might have had other children.  She notes that there was a Katherine Swynford at Stixwold Priory in 1377.  However, other than the name and the fact that it is just possible that the traditionally accepted marriage date for Hugh and Katherine is wrong there is no evidence that this particular Katherine was a member of our Katherine Swynford’s immediate family.  Also Barking was a prestigious location.  It would be here that Jasper and Edmund Tudor were sent after their mother’s death.  By contrast Stixwold was rather impoverished.

 

Lucraft, Jeannette. (2006) Katherine Swynford: The History of a Medieval Mistress. Stroud: Sutton Publishing

Weir, Alison. (2007) Katherine Swynford:The Story of John of Gaunt and his Scandalous Duchess. London: Random House

‘Houses of Benedictine nuns: Abbey of Barking’, in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 2, ed. William Page and J Horace Round (London, 1907), pp. 115-122. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol2/pp115-122 [accessed 7 September 2017].

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The Hungerford family and the house of Lancaster

Seal_WalterHungerford_1stBaronHungerford_KG_Died1449.pngSir Thomas Hungerford is generally recognised as the first Speaker of the House of Parliament (Sir Peter de la Mare actually did the job first but no one at the time bothered to give him a job title so technically its Sir Thomas).  His family had all represented Parliament for Wiltshire so it is unsurprising that Sir Thomas should have taken the mantle on his shoulders in 1376 having been knighted the previous year – more unexpected, to the modern way of thinking at least, is the fact that he held the constituency of Wiltshire and also Somerset in the parliaments of 1384 and 1389.  He was already part of the Lancaster Affinity when he sat in his first parliament. He was an member of parliament during the so-called Bad Parliament of 1377 when he fulfilled the role of Speaker. In all, he would serve as a member of parliament sixteen times.

Sir Thomas’s career path is typical of the period – he married well; twice and on both occasions secured lands and political credit.  He represented John of Gaunt within Wiltshire/Somerset and he benefitted from that link to the extent that on his death he was the holder of twelve manors.  Thus on a regional level through family roles and local administration he was a man of importance – sheriff and member of royal commissions.  This in turn was enhanced by his links to the Lancaster Affinity.  And as with other knights I have written about in the last couple of weeks, the arrangement was reciprocal.

Evidence for the growth of Hungerford’s status is best seen in the form of Farleigh Hungerford Castle which started off life as a manor house and which was turned into a castle by Sir Thomas as his power and wealth increased.

And, as with other members of Gaunt’s retinue, Hungerford was associated not only with the father but also the son.  In 1387 he was linked with the so-called Appellants, of whom Henry of Bolingbroke was one,  who sought to muzzle Richard II. However, he was not a member of the Merciless Parliament.  Even so once Richard II regained his power Hungerford lost some of his regional influence which was not restored until John of Gaunt returned from Spain.

 

In addition to serving the Lancaster Affinity within his region he also served as Lancaster’s steward and can be found also  in the role of bailiff to the Bishop of Salisbury.

 

Sir Thomas died at the end of 1397 and was replaced by his son – another Sir Walter who was the only one of his sons to outlive him (his seal is pictured at the start of this post.)  Sir Thomas had three son by his first wife and two by his second.  Sir Walter, who at the time of his father’s death had only just come of age, would become a baron and like his father would maintain his loyalty to the house of Lancaster – and this was demonstrated in 1399 when he supported Henry of Bolingbroke during his return from exile to claim John of Gaunt’s title and estates.  Walter became a knight just before Henry of Bolingbroke was crowned and would continue to serve Lancaster through the reigns of Henry IV and Henry V – he was an executor of Henry V’s will as well as also being a Speaker in Parliament. He was also Chief Steward for all the duchy lands south of the River Trent. By the time Sir Walter died, the Hungerford family owned fifty manors – perhaps making him into an example of a magnate with too much power and cash.

Inevitably the wheel of fortune turned as Lancaster’s fortunes declined with the reign of Henry VI. Sir Thomas’s grandson, Robert was executed in 1464 in the aftermath of the Battle of Hexham.The same fate befell Sir Thomas’s great grandson in 1469. It is perhaps unsurprising to discover that a member of the Hungerford family fought at Bosworth on the side of Henry Tudor – which helped to reverse the attainder that the House of York in the form of Edward IV had passed against the Hungerford family.

The Lancaster Affinity is hugely important to the period and to England’s changing political landscape.  The career patterns of John of Gaunt’s retinue echo one another in more ways than one- so no doubt I shall come back to the Lancaster Affinity and John of Gaunt’s retinue one way or another but its time to look more closely at Katherine Swynford.

 

Roskell, John Smith. (1981) Parliament and Politics in Late Medieval England, Volume 2

Roskell, John Smith. (1965) The Commons and Their Speakers in English Parliaments, 1376-1523. Manchester: Manchester University Press

 

 

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Peter de Melbourne

Melbourne_castle_1602Peter de Melbourne was an important part of the Lancaster affinity, serving as the MP for Derbyshire as well as being Constable of Melbourne Castle pictured at the start of this post (don’t go looking for it – there’s only a small section of wall surviving).

Peter’s parents also served in Lancaster’s household. Amy Melbourne knew Katherine Swynford and Philippa Chaucer serving as she did in Constance of Castile’s household. Like Katherine who raised her children alongside the duke’s as part of her terms of employment as the Gaunt governess there is evidence to suggest that Amy fetched her son into Gaunt’s household at an early age and as he grew was retained into the household – again in the way that Katherine Swynford did with her own son- Thomas Swynford. Amy’s links to Katherine are even more defined by the fact that when Katherine was away from her duties as governess it was Amy who stepped into her shoes and that the Duke gave them identical gifts for the care of his children on at least one occasion (Weir: 120).

 

In 1376 Peter was indentured for life to John of Gaunt at a fee of £10 per year; in earlier years it had been £5. He gained the role of Constable of Melbourne Castle as well as keeper of the park at the same time. After Amy’s death, parliamentary information reveals that he kept rents to the value of £66 per year which had formerly been his mother’s. This together with a marriage to one of Sir Simon Handseacre’s coheiresses made him a wealthy man and his fees would continue to grow with the passage of time marking his advancement in Gaunt’s household and then in the household of Henry of Bolingbroke.

In fact Melbourne went with Henry in 1392 to Prussia as part of Bolingbroke’s crusade – against the Lithuanians (it wasn’t a wildly popular event)- and from there accompanied Henry to the Holy Land – a fact which marks him out as being close to Bolingbroke who took only a small party of his closest friends and supporters with him.

Melbourne must have been increasingly concerned that his loyalty to Lancaster led him into conflict with Richard II. Bolingbroke was one of the Lords Appellant and being, apparently, a cautious man Melbourne gained a letter of pardon from the king for his support of Henry and the other Lords Appellant.

 

In 1399 it looked like a very sensible thing to have gained. John of Gaunt was dead and Henry of Bolingbroke in exile while his own son, another Henry, was  effectively hostage in Richard’s custody. Looking at the dry accounts there doesn’t seem much to tell – Melbourne appears to have jumped ship and gone over to Richard – the king confirmed Melbourne’s annuities. Melbourne went to Ireland with Richard that same summer.

 

Except of course – he hadn’t changed sides. Certainly Henry of Bolingbroke on becoming King Henry IV and locking his cousin away in Pontefract promptly granted Melbourne a fee of 100 marks a year and gave him lands in Derbyshire that had once belonged to Thomas Merke, Bishop of Carlisle and vociferous critic of the usurpation. The key to understanding the reward and what Melbourne was doing with Richard comes from recognizing the fact that Melbourne was appointed chamberlain of the household of the newly minted Prince Henry – the eldest son who’d found himself at the court of Richard. Melbourne would appear to have been caring for the Lancaster scion all along – and let’s not forget that he turns up on Henry IV’s wife’s accounts as well, as one of her two esquires. Without a doubt Peter de Melbourne was at the heart of the Lancaster household. In March 1413 when Prince Henry became King Henry V, Melbourne was rewarded by the new king for his lifelong loyal service.

 

Melbourne died in 1418.

 

Weir, Alison (2011) Katherine Swynford – The Story of John of Gaunt and his Scandalous Duchess. London:Vintage

http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1386-1421/member/melbourne-peter-1418

 

 

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Sir Richard Scrope – 1st Baron Scrope of Bolton.

bolton castle.jpgBefore we start and at the risk of telling folk something they already know Scrope is pronounced “Scroop.” The Scrope family is one of the great northern families who arrived with the Conquest and gradually grew in power. They can be found in a number of official capacities down the centuries from the fourteenth century onwards  including as Lord Wardens of the Western March. It should be added that like everyone else I’m reading about at the moment Richard Scrope was decidedly chummy with John of Gaunt. Goodman describes him as a mentor to the duke – after all Scrope had campaigned with Edward III since the early days of the Hundred Years War as well as during various Scottish conflicts (p289).

Richard was the son of Edward III’s chief justice. Sir William de la Pole, the canny Hull merchant who I mentioned in my previous post was Edward III’s financier at about the same time. He arranged the marriage between Richard Scrope and his daughter Blanche de la Pole in 1344. The couple had four sons before Blanche’s death in 1378.

Sir Richard, like many men of his generation, fought during the early campaigns of the Hundred Years War. He served initially in the retinue of The Earl of Warwick in France and later with John of Gaunt where he was an experienced warrior in a war band led by Gaunt who at that stage in proceedings hadn’t seen so much conflict. He appears on Gaunt’s list of knights  from 1367 for the fee of £40 per annum.  He was still receiving that fee  when the duke died in 1399.

Scrope fought in every major campaign between 1346 and 1384 including at Crecy and the Siege of Calais.  We know this from the events that followed the Scottish campaign of 1385.  Goodman makes the point that soldiers of Scrope’s repute helped to recruit men who wished to serve in John of Gaunt’s retinue.  As time passed younger men wished to serve Gaunt not only for the patronage and prestige of being linked to the house of Lancaster but also to rub shoulders with their military heroes (p 217) including Scrope.

In the meantime as well as garbing himself in fortune and glory whilst in France Scrope proved to be a canny businessman.  He obtained the wardship of the three heiress daughters of Robert, Lord Tiptoft who died in April 1372.  Tiptoft was reputed to have salvaged King John’s treasure from ‘The Wash’. Sir Richard paid 230 marks for to become the girls’ guardian. The three girls were betrothed to Scropes’ sons and are all left legacies in Scrope’s will.  It should be added that by the time he died he was a wealthy man having purchased land all over the country including the Isle of Man.

Scrope’s links with John of Gaunt and the ties of the Lancaster Affinity are evidenced not only by his appearance of Lancaster’s list of retainers but is also evidenced through their shared patronage of the Franciscans at Richmond. Other donors also feature on Gaunt’s list of retainers. The men on the list, as might be expected given their lives working together also feature in other written records – namely wills and as witnesses on other legal documents.  Scrope, for example, was one of William Ufford, earl of Suffolk’s executors. (Just to clarify this particular earl died without male heirs, the title lapsed and was filled three years later by Michael de la Pole another of John of Gaunt’s retinue.

Yet more evidence  of the links between Scrope,  John of Gaunt and other members of the Lancaster Affinity can be found in the case of Sir Richard Scrope versus Sir Robert Grosvenor from Cheshire. All the magnates turned out for war against the Scots in 1385. Not only did the campaign not go well for the English but there was the small matter of both Scrope and Grosvenor turning up with arms described in heraldic terms as azure bend or (blue with a gold stripe running diagonally from top left to bottom right). A General Proclamation was promptly made throughout the army that all who were interested in the dispute should appear on 20th August at Newcastle on Tyne to state their views in the matter. Unsurprisingly it took rather longer than a day to resolve the issue. More than three hundred depositions exist taken from thirteen different locations on behalf of both men pertaining to their rights to bear those particular arms. The question that the depositions answered was had the person giving their deposition seen Scrope or Grosvenor bearing those arms, were they aware of any prior usage within the family and had they ever seen the arms used by anyone else. The case lasted four years.

3_scrope.jpg

The depositions provide the information that Scrope first bore his arms during the reign of Edward III in 1359. One of the depositors on Scrope’s behalf was a knight called Sir John de Sully of Crediton in Devon. He was allowed to give his information from the comfort ofhis home – he was over a hundred years old at the time! Testimony was provided by none other that Geoffrey Chaucer- it is from his deposition that we learn that Chaucer ended up as a French prisoner of war during his various adventures. Amongst the people giving evidence were John of Gaunt.

glendowerseal.gifTestifying for Sir Robert was a little known Welshman called Owen Glyndwr – possibly demonstrating that Fourteenth century Britain was a small place when all was said and done! The depositions were made to establish who used the arms and when – making them a gift for military historians wishing to piece together information about the specifics of a particular campaign. Judgement was eventually handed down in Westminster in Scrope’s favour and Grosvenor chose a new coat of arms which changed the bend or for the Chester wheat sheaf – that particular coat of arms is still used by the very unrural sounding dukes of Westminster. It should be added that the Grosvenor family remembered the loss of their coat of arms and in the 1880’s named a race horse “Bend Or.”  It won the Derby.

 

Between 1371 and 1375 Scrope served as Lord Treasurer and was made Lord Chancellor in 1378, which post he held until 1380, but he then served again from 1381 to 1382. One of his roles was to curb the extravagance of the young king who installed toilets in his palaces and followed the fashion for curly toed shoes.  Relations between Scrope and his king came to a rather sticky impasse as a result of the execution of  Edmund Mortimer, Third Earl of March.  Richard being a bit short of cash should made the most of Mortimer and his fellow conspirators having under age heirs.  The lands and the heirs immediately came into Crown hands – wards were valuable commodities in that the person holding the wardship of an heir could milk the estates for their own benefit until the ward came of age and if they were canny the guardian would ensure that the ward was married into the guardian’s family.  It was in a sense a way for Richard to make some quick cash by selling the various wardships to the highest bidder.  Scrope suggested that this wasn’t the most sensible thing that Richard had ever done. It would make far more economic sense for Richard to keep the wards under his own control as the estates would generate revenue and could still be farmed out a later date.  Richard II informed his Chancellor to do get on and do what he was told.   Scrope persisted in trying to persuade Richard to hold on to the lands in question.  Richard II did not like being told what to do and demanded the Great Seal back from Scrope.  Scrope refused to comply until he’d had it from the king’s mouth rather than a messenger’s that he’d been dismissed from his post.

It should be added that Scrope appears to have been regarded as an honest man in that he was appointed executor to Edmund Mortimer’s will – so to say he must have experienced a conflict of interest might be an understatement!

In between going to war, running the country and fulfilling various legal commitments from his friends and peer group Scrope found time to be the Warden of the West March – a post he was appointed to in 1381. The post became something of a hereditary one in that the name Scrope features frequently as warden from that time hence until the post was abolished during the reign of James I of England (VI of Scotland).

It was perhaps fortunate in the aftermath of  Richard II’s disagreement with Scrope that Scrope already had a licence to crenelate Castle Bolton.  The project took him twenty years and £12,000. In the meantime his son William took on the role of warrior and politician rising to become the earl of Wiltshire – and loyal member of the Lancaster affinity. Richard Scrope died on 30 May 1403.  He was buried at Easby Abbey.

 

https://archive.org/details/decontroversiai01scrogoog

http://www.boltoncastle.co.uk/what-to-do-yorkshire/medieval-castles-history/

MacFarlane, K.B. (1973). The Nobility of Late Medieval England. Oxford. Oxford University Press

Goodman, Anthony. (1992) John of Gaunt: The Exercise of Princely Power in Fourteenth Century Europe. London: Longman

 

 

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Michael de la Pole – Earl of Suffolk, Chancellor, traitor and retainer

john of gauntMichael De La Pole ( born circa 1331) was created Earl of Suffolk in 1385. It was a meteroric rise to power given that his father was a Hull wool merchant. Of course, there was money involved.  Edward III needed a financier and William de la Pole was the man for the job. Unsurprisingly, Michael benefitted from his father’s wealth and influence at the court of Edward III.

He can be found amongst the retinues of the Black Prince and later John of Gaunt. It appears that when he first took arms in 1359 he served in the retinue of Henry of Grosmont a.k.a. the first duke of Lancaster. In 1366 he served under the banner of John of Gaunt and continued in the duke’s service in successive campaigns. This suggests that joining with the Black Prince was something that all men wanted to do irrelevant of where their loyalty would normally lay – don’t forget the Black Prince was the military commander who led the English to their early victories during the Hundred Years War.

It was as a consequence of his affiliation with Lancaster that de la Pole began to rise in position. In 1376 he was made admiral of the fleet north of the Thames (Roscell: 129). He was reappointed to the post when Richard II became king in 1377.  Pole was also appointed to be one of Richard II’s advisers. He worked alongside the earl of Arundel who would go on to become Pole’s arch rival and Richard’s bitter enemy.

In 1378 de la Pole was back in France with a commission to take over the castle at Brest – at the behest of Gaunt. During his years as a soldier de la Pole was made a prisoner of war at least once on the second occasion he was part of an embassy negotiating with Wenzel for the hand of Anne of Bohemia. Quite how John of Gaunt must have felt when his former captain managed to get himself captured by brigands in Germany having gone off to negotiate a bride for Richard II can only be imagined. Gaunt agreed to pay 7,000 florins in January 1380 for the return of the embassy that included de la Pole. The ransom would come up at de la Pole’s trial – apparently the ransom constituted rather a waste of money and it hadn’t helped that on his return to England the exchequer was ordered to pay de la Pole his salary as well, inclusive of the time when he was twiddling his fingers in a cell in Germany. As is the way of these things the penpushers dragged their heels and it was only when de la Pole became chancellor that he got his back pay, which ultimately was turned, into a charge of embezzlement.

Richard II made de la Pole chancellor in 1385 but his role as Richard’s man made him a target for an increasingly hostile parliament who regarded Richard’s wish for peace as the result of poor advice. So whose man was de la Pole at this point? He was the king’s friend and adviser  and the king wanted peace.  It looks like Pole leaned in that direction as well.  However Gaunt was for a continuation of the continental conflict – so was Pole still gaunt’s man or not? Possibly not but it was probably just as well that popular opinion had placed Pole in a league of his own because  the Hundred Years War took a turn for the worse and even the Scots seemed to have the upper hand. Once again it was the king’s advisers who were to blame – and who better to blame than the jumped-up son of a merchant? In October 1386, just a year after being made an earl the Commons charged him with the crimes of embezzlement and negligence. This did not deter nineteen-year-old Richard who was forced to accept the impeachment of his adviser and friend. De la Pole continued to maintain his place at Richard’s side but Richard’s loyalty to his friend would ultimately see him removed from power. Consequentially, the following year Michael found himself on the wrong side of the Lords Appellants in November 1387. Pole had the sense to flee England in the aftermath of the Appellants’ victory at the Battle of Radcot Bridge so avoided the punishments meted out by the Merciless Parliament. Sentenced for treason he was stripped of his titles.   He died in Paris the following year but at least avoided the fates of Robert Tresilian (chief justice, Richard Bembre (former mayor of London) and Sir Simon Burley (Richard’s tutor) who amongst others were executed on the orders of the so-called Merciless Parliament. Richard remained powerless whilst John of Gaunt was overseas trying to secure the throne of Castile. It was only on Gaunt’s return in 1389 that Richard was able to regain the ascendency.

 

Froissart is not one of de la Pole’s fans. He described him as a man who gave bad advice and who caused trouble for John of Gaunt by making Richard II increasingly suspicious of his uncle. This is usually the evidence that is used to identify the fact that de la Pole was no longer of the Lancastrian Affinity.

And yet, it is clear that once upon a time de la Pole was very much part of Gaunt’s retinue and he is often used as an example of the way in which the Lancaster Affinity found itself in some very important places – which might well account for the duke of Gloucester’s antipathy to his brother and certainly Gaunt benefited from having retainers in high places. In October 1383, by which time de la Pole was chancellor, Michael spoke about the Anglo-Scottish situation in a way favourable to Gaunt who according to Goodman (p98) wanted to go to war in France rather than on England’s northern borders. By the following year Richard’s hostility to his uncle would taint their relationship (again) and the politics of the realm not to mention the way in which Scottish campaigning would be conducted. However, it was the last time that Michael de la Pole took to the field. When the English army marched into Scotland de la Pole arrived with one hundred and forty men and took his place as a retainer to John of Gaunt demonstrating de la Pole’s loyalty to the duke of Lancaster. During the campaign there were accusations of plots and disloyalty which Froissart interpreted as being de la Pole’s fault – a typical example of blaming the poor decisions of a monarch on his bad advisors. There is some  circumstantial evidence that suggests that de la Pole maintained some loyalty to the duke of Lancaster throughout his life. When the earl of Oxford, one of Richard’s favourites, plotted to rid the political scene of John of Gaunt’s influence in February 1385 it is possible that it was de la Pole who warned the duke of the plot which would have seen him arrested at a council meeting in Walham.

 

And as you might expect the more closely that you look at the extended families of Gaunt’s retinue the more it becomes apparent that there was a web of relationships building on Lancastrian links. Blanche de la Pole, Michael’s sister was married to a son of Lord Scrope – another of Gaunt’s prominent retainers. Michael’s other sister, Margaret, was married to Sir Robert Neville of Hornby. Sir William de la Pole – the Hull merchant had successfully married all his children into some of the north’s leading families – and they all happened to have some loyalty to the duchy of Lancaster. It’ll come as no surprise to know that Michael’s brother Edmund was also in the retinue of John of Gaunt – Edmund was also one of the people who was called upon to pay Michael’s ransom.

 

 

Armitage-Smith, Sydney. (1876) John of Gaunt: King of Castile and Leon, Duke of Aquitaine and Lancaster

Goodman, Anthony. (1992) John of Gaunt: The Exercise of Princely Power in Fourteenth-Century Europe. London: Longman

Roskell, John Smith. (1984)The Impeachment of Michael de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk in 1386: In the Context of the Reign of Richard II. Manchester: Manchester University Press

 

 

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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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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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