Bamburgh Castle – red rose or white – its changing ownership in the aftermath of Towton.

Bamburgh CastleBamburgh Castle perched on the edge of Budle Bay is another of the Percy castles but its history is much longer than that.  It was home to Gospatrick Earl of Northumbria at the time of the Norman Conquest.  He was eventually forced to submit to the Conqueror.  Bamburgh was handed over to the Bishop of Durham.  Sources differ as to whether it was William the Conqueror who built the first castle on the site or the bishop.  Suffice it to say that by the reign of Henry II after several changes of ownership it was in Crown hands – Henry II funded the great keep and it became a venue for a number of Plantagenet visitors.

Now is not the time to discuss the politics of the English East March or the rivalry between the Nevilles and the Percies.  Suffice it to say that Bamburgh was a Lancastrian Castle during the Wars of the Roses. Following the Battle of Towton in 1461 Bamburgh, Alnwick, Warkworth and Dunstanburgh  remained in the hands of the Lancastrians.  This meant that Edward IV was not secure from Scottish incursions or from Lancastrian forces landing along the coast.

Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick , a.k.a. The Kingmaker besieged Bamburgh and it surrendered in July 1462.  Unfortunately for the Yorkists Margaret of Anjou landed with troop in October with french mercenaries – the Yorkist garrison now promptly handed themselves and Bamburgh over to the Lancastrians. Edward IV now came north and Margaret decamped to Scotland leaving Sir Ralph Percy and Henry Beaufort (Duke of Somerset) in charge of the castle.  There was another short siege and in December the castle was once again in Yorkist hands.

Ralph Percy, the garrison commander, was allowed to swear allegiance to Edward IV. Edward wanted the Percy family on his side but by the new year Ralph had concluded that he preferred the Lancastrian cause to that of the Yorkists and the Nevilles who were, after all, long time enemies of the Percies.  In March 1463 Bamburgh was back in the hands of Margaret of Anjou.  In the North East of the country 1463 was a year of sieges and intermittent warfare orchestrated by Margaret and her Scottish allies but by the end of the year the politically savvy Scots had organised a truce with the Yorkists.

It says something that during 1462-1464 Henry VI was at Bamburgh at various times. In 1464 looked as though the Lancastrians might be on firmer ground when the Duke of Somerset changed sides once again.  John Neville, the Kingmaker’s younger brother now came north and a battle was fought at Hedgeley Moor in April 1464 followed dup by the Battle of Hexham the following month.  Neville defeated the Duke of Somerset who was captured and promptly executed. Henry VI left Bywell Castle the day after the Battle of Hexham and went into hiding in the uplands of Northumbria and Cumberland.

The Northumbrian castles that had remained Lancastrian now surrendered but Bamburgh in the hands of Sir Ralph Grey remained obdurate.  In part this was because he had been Yorkist in 1463 and having changed sides permitted the Lancastrians back into Alnwick – making this post feel rather like a game of musical castles.  The Yorkists told him that they would execute him just as soon as they could – oddly enough this did’t encourage him to surrender nor did the information that one man would be executed for every cannon ball fired at the castle –   Nine months, many canon balls and a collapsing tower later Bamburgh had no choice but to capitualte making it the first castle in England to be defeated by the power of artillery.  And it wouldn’t have surrendered even then, had Sir Ralph not been knocked senseless and his second in command taken the opportunity to surrender whilst Sir Ralph was out for the count.

The Earl of Warwick didn’t carry out his threat to execute one man per cannon ball but Grey was executed in July. After the fall of Bamburgh the Yorkists more or less controlled the whole country with the exception of Harlech Castle and a few isolated pockets.

 

 

The earldom of Northumberland and the Percy family part 2 of 4

Harry Hotspur AlnwickI had thought three parts to this little series but having written today’s post which is largely about the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries I shall be extending it to four parts.

Generation 10 of Topcliffe/2 of Alnwick:

Henry Percy Junior was only sixteen when his father died in 1314.  Initially John de Felton held his lands in ward but by the time he was twenty Edward II had granted Henry more lands in Northumbria than his father held.  These had been part of Patrick Earl of March’s territory.  Patrick was Scottish and the land offer reflects the way in which northern territories fluctuated between Scotland and England during troubled times.  Henry was no more impressed with Edward II’s choice of male favourite than his father had been nor with the foreign policy and military prowess that saw the Scots raiding deep into Yorkshire.

In no particular order, Percy  conspired against the Despensers and was made governor of both Pickering and Scarborough Castle.  The northern Percy powerhouse was further built upon when he married into the Clifford family and Edward III granted him Warkwarth Castle.  In 1346 he was one of the English commanders at the Battle of Neville’s Cross near Durham against the Scots which must have been a bit irritating given that he had gone to Scotland in 1327 to help negotiate a peace treaty with them.

Generation 3 of Alnwick:

The next generation Henry Percy was at the Battle of Crecy – so should probably be regarded as the Hundred Years War Percy.  His correct title was the 3rdBaron Percy of Alnwick.  His first wife was Mary of Lancaster – the best way of thinking of her is as Blanche of Lancaster’s aunt.  Blanche was the first wife of John of Gaunt who is commemorated in the Book of the Duchess by Chaucer and whose land ensured that Gaunt was the wealthiest man in the country.  Mary was a daughter of Henry III.  With each marriage the Percy family made the wealth and the prestige of the family rose, as did the amount of land that they held and their proximity to the throne.

Generation 4 of Alnwick – 1st Earl of Northumberland:

The Percy family now found itself elevated to the earldom of Northumberland – after all Mary of Lancaster was a Plantagenet princess so it is only reasonable to suppose that her first born son should have a sufficiently impressive title.  The first earl, yet another Henry Percy, was born in 1341. He supported Edward III and then he supported Richard II in his various official capacities on the borders.  It was Richard who created him an earl at his coronation in 1377.  Unfortunately despite being having been married to Margaret Neville, Percy was distinctly un-amused when his power base was eroded by Richard II who created his rival (and nephew-in-law) Ralph Neville the earl of Westmorland.  The First Earl of Northumberland now had a hissy fit because of the creation of the First Earl of Westmorland. He swapped sides. Instead of backing Richard II against his enemies he supported Henry of Bolingbroke, John of Gaunt’s son, against Richard II. Bolingbroke duly became Henry IV and Percy found himself swaggering around with the title Constable of England.

Unfortunately in 1403 the earl swapped sides once more.  He was slightly irritated by the outcome of the Battle of Homildon Hill in 1402.  It was an English-Scots match that the English won.  Percy stood to make rather a lot of cash from ransoming his Scottish prisoners.   Unfortunately Henry IV was feeling the financial pinch and besides which felt that the Percys had too much power in the north.  So he demanded all the hostages and gave Percy a fraction of their value.  The earl was underwhelmed but didn’t immediately voice his irritation.

Having been given the task of subduing the Welsh in 1403, Percy and his son Harry Hotspur now joined with Owain Glyndwr.  Hotspur died at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403 but Henry IV couldn’t pin anything on the earl who hadn’t taken part in the battle.  The most that Henry IV could do was remove the office of constable from Percy who didn’t learn the lesson and continued to conspire against Henry IV. In 1405 Percy decided to take a long holiday in Scotland for the sake of his health. He took Hotspur’s son with him. The earl returned to England in 1408 where he managed to get himself killed at the Battle of Bramham Moor near Tadcaster.  This was the final battle in the Percy family rebellion against cousin Henry IV.

 

2nd Earl of Northumberland:

Joan BeaufortHotspur’s son another Henry had spent most of his childhood in Scotland because both his father and grandfather were at loggerheads with the monarch.  Very sensibly after his grandfather was killed the second earl remained safely in Scotland.  It was only when Henry IV died that Henry Percy took the opportunity to be reconciled with the Crown.  He was officially recognised as the 2ndearl in 1413.

He arrived back in England and settled down to a spot of feuding with his Neville relations. The Nevilles, particularly Richard Neville (aka the Kingmaker) and his father the Earl of Salisbury were associated with Richard of York so naturally the Percy family supported Henry VI and the Duke of Somerset.  Ironically the 2ndearl’s mother was Elizabeth Mortimer, the grand-daughter of Lionel of Antwerp, so you would have thought that he would have been more sympathetic to Richard of York who based his claims on his descent from Lionel.  Not only that but his return to the earldom had been smoothed by Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland. She also arranged his marriage to Eleanor Neville – her second daughter with the Earl of Westmorland – making the Earl of Salisbury Percy’s brother-in-law and the Kingmaker his nephew.  Talk about a tangled family web.

 

I’ve blogged about Eleanor Neville and the Battle of Heworth Moor before so there is no need to write about it again. Enough to say that it demonstrates the depths to which the feud had sunk.  And things were about to get worse.  The earl was born in 1393 and died on 22 May 1455 at the First Battle of St Albans.  It was a comprehensive victory for the Yorkists and according to the chronicles of the time an opportunity for Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, to settle some personal scores – the death of the Earl of Northumberland being on his “to do” list.  Obviously it didn’t help the relations between the Percy and Neville families as the Wars of the Roses spiralled towards the bloodiest battle in English history.

 

3rd  Earl of Northumberland:

Another Henry Percy, swearing vengeance for his father’s death was one of the commanders of the army that surrounded Richard of York and the Earl of Salisbury at Wakefield. The deaths of Richard, his son Edmund and the Earl of Salisbury on the 30 December 1460 were part of the  continuing vendetta.

The victors of Wakefield were now joined by Margaret of Anjou’s army.  They marched south and won the Second Battle of St Albans but stopped short of taking London.  Various armies marched back and forth but for the purposes of this post the next time we need to focus is at the Battle of Ferrybridge – 27 March 1461. Northumberland was supposed to stop the Yorkists from crossing the River Aire at Castleford whilst Lord Clifford held Ferrybridge for the Lancastrians. Lets just say that Northumberland arrived at Castleford late allowing Lord Fauconberg and his men to cross the river and come around behind the Lancastrians who retreated to Dintingdale (28th March) where Lord Clifford was killed by an arrow.

On the 29thMarch 1461, blinded by a snowstorm the 3rdEarl commanded the van of the Lancastrian army.  Closing with the enemy he was killed.

Edward IV was now the only king in England and issued an act of attainder against all the Lancastrian nobility who had fought at Towton.  Edward now rewarded the Nevilles who supported the House of York and punished the Percys who supported the house of Lancaster.

 

John Neville, Earl of Northumberland.

John was the Kingmaker’s younger brother. He was created Earl of Northumberland in 1464 after he had spent three years finishing off the Lancastrian threat in the north. Unfortunately for John, the Kingmaker became increasingly dissatisfied with Edward IV who, in return, became increasingly suspicious of his cousin.  In 1470 Edward removed John from post and gave him the tile the Marquis of Montagu and assorted lands to compensate for the loss of the earldom of Northumberland. It did not go down well with the Neville family who did not see any need for the balance of power  in the North to be restored by the return of the Percy family.

 

Edward was forced to flee his realm in October 1470 but returned in 1471.  John had not regained his title to Northumberland despite his brother effectively ruling England with a puppet king in the form of Henry VI on the throne.  Rather than attack Edward when he landed at Ravenspur, Neville simply shadowed the returned Yorkist king.  Ulitmately Neville would died at the Battle of Barnet along with his brother.

4th Earl of Northumberland:

Henry Percy (what a surprise) was imprisoned in the Fleet Prison in the aftermath of Towton (he was about 12 at the time) and from there he was sent to the Tower in 1464. In 1469 after swearing fealty to Edward IV he was released.  He then set about trying to get his estates returned. He petitioned for the reversal of his father’s attainder though this was not granted by Parliament until 1473.

Interestingly his wife was Maud Herbert, the  girl who Henry Tudor should have married had events not unfolded as they did in 1470.  They had eleven children.

Henry Percy went back to doing what the Earls of Northumberland had been doing for a very long time – i.e. ruling vast tracts of land and skirmishing with the Scots. He held many of the important government posts in the north of England which were traditional in his family including from 10 May 1483, as protector, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, confirmed the fourth earl of Northumberland’s appointment as warden-general of the east and middle marches ‘during the space and time of a whole year’, after which it was renewed for five months but perhaps it would appear not as much power from Richard III as he had hoped. Naturally enough he fought at Bosworth where he commanded the right wing of Richard III’s army.  The Percys were naturally Lancastrian by inclination. Percy’s father and grandfather had died for Henry VI. Some historians says that Percy betrayed Richard III by holding his forces back from action.  Percy’s northern levies weren’t committed to the battle.

If Northumberland had been a metaphorical spoke in Richard’s wheel he wasn’t very well rewarded by Henry Tudor who now became Henry VII. Northumberland, along with the earls of Westmoreland and Surrey was taken into custody and kept in prison for several months, being released only under strict conditions of good behaviour.  He was restored to his position as warden but with curtailed powers.  Henry may not have trusted him but Percy knew how to protect England’s northern border. He was also at hand to help defeat the Yorkist forces that gathered during the Lambert Simnel rebellion in 1487.

In 1489 Northumberland was part of the king’s administration gathering £100,000 of tax. This led to the Yorkshire Rebellion.  Northumberland had to deal with the resistance of Yorkshiremen to the tenth of incomes demanded for Henry’s Breton war and for the raising of a force against the Scots.  Things can’t have gone well for the Earl as his own tenants were up in arms.  He was so alarmed that on Saturday, 24 April, he wrote to Sir Robert Plumpton from Seamer, close to Scarborough, ordering him to secretly bring as many armed men as he could to Thirsk by the following Monday. It didn’t do him much good.

On  Wednesday, 28 April, having gathered a force estimated at eight hundred men, he came into conflict with the commons, whose ringleader was one John a Chamber, near Thirsk, at a place variously called Cockledge or Blackmoor Edge, and was killed.  Popular history claims it wasn’t so much the tax collection that irritated the locals as the fact that as good Yorkshire men their loyalty lay with Richard III.

 

Joan Beaufort’s descendants – Eleanor Neville Countess of Northumberland

Joan BeaufortEleanor was born in about 1397 to Joan Beaufort and Ralph Neville, 1st earl of Westmorland. Eleanor, like the rest of her sisters,  was married off to another cousin – Richard le Despenser- who if you want to be exact was her second cousin.  His mother was Constance of York who was the daughter of John of Gaunt’s younger brother Edmund of  Langley, Duke of York.

The pair were married some time after 1412 but he died in 1414 aged only seventeen.  He’s buried in Tewkesbury Abbey along with his other more notorious Despenser ancestors – his two times great grandfather was Hugh Despenser who was Edward II’s favourite.  Once again though the Nevilles’ had made a wealthy match for their child.  The Despensers were amongst the wealthiest families in the country and were also Plantagenet in ancestry thanks to Constance.

Richard’s early death meant that the title of Baron Burghersh, which he had inherited from Constance, passed to Richard’s sister Isabella.  Just from point of interest it is worth noting that she would marry the Earl of Warwick  and in turn her daughter, Anne Beauchamp, would marry a certain Richard Neville – better known to history as the Kingmaker – demonstrating once again that very few families held the reins of power during the medieval period and that they were all interconnected.

Eleanor  meanwhile  married into one of the great northern families – the Percy family – which must have caused her heartbreak in later years given that the Percy-Neville feud would be one of the triggers for the Wars of the Roses.  Henry Percy, the 2nd Earl of Northumberland was the son of “Hostpur.”  In a strange twist his family hadn’t done terribly well under the Lancastrian kings despite supporting Henry Bolingbroke against his cousin Richard II.  The Percys had been rewarded in the first instance but had become disillusioned by Henry IV.  Both Henry Percy’s father and grandfather had been killed as a result of rebelling against Henry IV.  It was only when Henry V ascended the throne that our particular Henry Percy was able to return from exile in Scotland in 1413.  It was at the same time that Eleanor’s parents arranged the marriage between Henry and Eleanor.  It says something that Joan Beaufort who was the king’s aunt when all was said and done was able to work at a reconciliation between the king and the house of Percy whilst at the same time strengthening the Neville affinity in the north.

Percy, having returned to the fold, did what fifteenth century nobility did – he fought the Scots and the French.  He was also a member of the privy council during Henry VI’s minority.  But by the 1440s Percy was in dispute with various northerners over land.  He had a disagreement of the violent kind with the Archbishop of York and then fell out with the Nevilles which was unfortunate because not only was he married to Eleanor but he’d married his sister to  the 2nd earl of Westmorland (let’s just set aside the Neville-Neville feud for the moment).  The problem between the Percys and the Nevilles arose from a disagreement over land. Eleanor’s brother, the Earl of Salisbury married his son Thomas to Maud Stanhope who was the niece of Lord Cromwell.  Wressle Castle passed into the hands of the Nevilles as a result of the marriage. The Percy family was not pleased as the castle was traditionally one of their properties.  Eleanor’s husband did not become involved in a physical fight with his in-laws but his younger son Thomas, Lord Egremont did.  He attacked Thomas Neville and Maud Stanhope’s wedding party at Heworth Moor in August 1453.  The two families were forced to make the peace with one another but the hostility continued to mount.  The Nevilles were associated with Richard of York so naturally the Percy faction adhered to York’s opponents who happened to be best represented by Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset of represented Henry VI. The feuding which was really about dominance in the north was a bit like a set of dominoes knocking against one another until the whole affair moved from local to national significance. Each side became more and more determined to support their “national” representative in the hope that either York or Somerset would gain the upper hand and the patronage system would see rewards in the form of confirmation of landownership.

Henry Percy was with the king on 22 May 1455 at St Albans and was killed.  At the time it was regarded as the Earl of Salisbury’s way of dealing with the problem- meaning that he targeted and killed his own brother-in-law.  This in its turn escalated the hostility between the two factions. The death of Eleanor’s husband made the Percy family Lancastrians to the back-bone and would ensure that the feud continued across the battle fields of the Wars of the Roses.

Eleanor and Henry had ten children.  Their eldest son called John died young.  The next boy – inevitably called Henry- became the 3rd Earl of Northumberland upon his father’s death in 1455 and he in his turn was killed in 1461 at the Battle of Towton along with his brother Richard.  Eleanor’s son Henry had his own feud with the Nevilles on account of his marriage into the Poynings family.  This Henry was present at the council meeting in 1458 that demanded recompense for the events of St Albans in 1455.  He took part in the so-called Love-day orchestrated by Henry VI to demonstrate an end of the feuding but in reality Henry worked politically to have his Neville relations attainted of treason by the Coventry Parliament and he was on hand to take his revenge at Wakefield in 1460 when Richard of York and the Earl of Salisbury were killed.

Thomas Percy, Baron Egremont, the Percy responsible for the attack at Heworth Moor, was killed in 1460 at the Battle of Northampton. Ralph Percy was killed in 1464 at the Battle of Hedgeley Moor near Hexham leaving George who died in 1474 and William Percy who was the Bishop of Carlisle ( he died in 1462).  Rather unfortunately for the troubled family, Eleanor’s daughter Katherine was married to Edmund Grey, 1st Earl of Kent – the name may be familiar.  He was the man who laid down his weapons in the middle of the Battle of Northampton costing Henry VI the battle.  Another daughter Anne, lost her first husband in 1469 after he joined with the Earl of Warwick in conspiring to put Henry VI back on the throne and finally as you might expect there was a daughter called Joan who married into the northern gentry.

Eleanor’s son Henry was posthumously attainted of treason after Towton by Edward IV.  Her grandson, another Henry, was packed off to prison and would only be released when Edward IV shook off the influence of the Kingmaker in 1470.  The Percy family lost the earldom of Northumberland in the short term to the Neville family as a result of their loyalty to Henry VI in 1464 when Edward IV handed it over to the Nevilles in the form of John Neville Lord Montagu but unfortunately for Montagu  Northumberland’s tenantry did not take kindly to the change in landlord and Edward IV found himself reappointing the Percys to the earldom – which contributed massively to the Kingmaker throwing his toys from his pram and turning coat.

The new Earl of Northumberland – the fourth Henry Percy to hold the title had learned a lot from his father and grandfather.  Instead of rushing out wielding weapons Eleanor’s grandson was much more considered in his approach.  He did not oppose Edward IV and he did not support Richard III despite the fact that Richard returned lands which Edward IV had confiscated. This particular Earl of Northumberland was on the battlefield at Bosworth but took no part in the conflict.  Once again the locals had the final word though – the fourth earl was killed in 1489 in Yorkshire by rioters complaining about the taxes…and possibly the earl’s failure to support the last white rose king.

Eleanor died in 1472 having outlived her husband and most of her children.

Michael Hicks makes the point that securing an inheritance and a title was extremely important to the medieval mindset.  Once these had been gained the aim was to hold onto them.  The Neville clan headed by Joan Beaufort appear to have been increasingly single-minded about the retention of title and property and this was the key deciding factor in the variety of feuds they became involved with. (Hicks:325).

Just Cecily to go…

Hicks, Michael, (1991)Richard III and His Rivals: Magnates and Their Motives in the Wars of the Roses.  London: Bloomsbury

Wagner, John A. (2001). The Encyclopaedia of the Wars of the Roses. Oxford: ABC

 

 

The Vernons of Haddon Hall – Sir Henry Vernon.

sir henry vernon.jpgI’ve posted before about Henry Vernon being a canny politician.  He was ordered to attend Richard III prior to the Battle of Bosworth but there is no evidence for him on the battlefield – on either side. Having been in good odour with Edward IV, the duke of Clarence and the earl of Warwick if the letters in the Rutland Archive are anything to go by it is a little surprising that Sir Henry did so well under the Tudors – In fact a study of a range of Vernon’s letters gives helpful insight into the changing politics of the period – which is exactly what I intend to do in a couple of weeks with my Wars of the Roses group, along with a peek at Sir Henry’s will.

Sir Henry was from a notable Derbyshire family. The Vernons had been part of the Lancaster Affinity in the fourteenth century. His grandfather, Sir Richard, had fought in the Hundred Years War and been made Treasurer of Calais.  He was also an MP for Derbyshire as was Henry’s father Sir William Vernon who died in 1467 when his son was about twenty-six.

The Battle of Towton took place at Easter 1461.  This event saw  Yorkist Edward taking the throne.  The power behind the throne was Edward’s cousin, Richard Neville, the earl of Warwick – a.k.a -the Kingmaker. Unfortunately the two Yorkist cousins had a falling out when Edward IV married the widow of Sir John Grey of Groby in secret. Elizabeth Woodville was not who the earl of Warwick envisaged as queen of England.  He had been negotiating for the hand of a French princess so felt a bit foolish.  Nor did it help that Elizabeth Woodville had a large family all of whom had to be found excellent positions within the establishment not to mention wealthy and titled spouses: let’s just say noses were put out of joint. The political situation became more tense. Ultimately in 1470 Edward IV was forced to flee and his wife and their daughters seek sanctuary in Westminster Abbey. In March 1471 Edward returned via Ravenspur and marched on London where he was greeted with popular acclaim. There then followed the battle of Barnet and the demise of the earl of Warwick and his brother Lord Montagu.  Clearly this is a rather brief outline but you get the gist!

So where was Sir Henry Vernon in all of this? He was the recipient of rather a lot of letters from various people who want this support.  He on the other hand appears to have taken a rather measured approach to the royal cousins charging around the countryside trying to slaughter one another.

Duke of Clarence to Henry Vernon, squire. (This was written when Warwick was in charge of the kingdom and Clarence had deserted his brother Edward’s cause thinking that Warwick was a better proposition! He’d married Warwick’s eldest daughter only to have Warwick marry off his other daughter to the Lancastrian Prince Edward – meaning that Clarence was no better off than he had been before and was regarded as a bit of a swine for doing the dirty on his brother.)

1470, Oct. 4, Tewkesbury.

Trusti and welbeloved we grete you wele, lating you wite that wee bee fully purposed with the grace of our Lord to bee at Lichefield on Twysday now commyng, on Monday at our toun of Asthebourne and on Thursday next ensuying at our town oI Chestrefield. Wherefore we woll and desire you to mete with us at our commyng at the said parties, and to com- mande on our behelf our offrcers and tenanntes within your ofhces to doo in like wyse. Geven under our signet at Teukesbury the iiii day of October.

 

This letter is swiftly followed up by a second letter which asks Vernon to find out how the rest of the gentry in Derbyshire feel about Clarence.  It should be noted that Clarence did own some manors in Derbyshire and his cousin was married into the Talbot family. A third letter sounds a note of panic with the news that Edward is on his way back to England. By the time Vernon received it, Edward had already landed at Ravenspur and was making his way south.

Yet another letter, this time from the earl of Warwick describes Edward as a “gret enemy rebelle and traitour is now late arrived in the North partes of this land and commyng fast on Southward accompanyed with Flemminge, Esterlands and Danes.” The letter is a commission of array.  Essentially it orders Sir Henry to gather men and join Warwick’s army immediately in order to maintain the rule of Henry VI (or rather the earl of Warwick who preferred the idea of being a puppet master to that of loyal subject.)

Sir Henry is then in receipt of several more letters from the duke of Clarence.  Clarence is marching from Malmsbury, at the end of March ostensibly to intercept his brother Edward. By the 2nd of April he is in Burford and from there he went to Coventry and  instead of fighting his brother joined with him against the earl of Warwick.

Sir Henry’s next letter is from King Edward IV who wrote from Tewkesbury:

Margaret late called Queene is in our handes, her son Edward slayn Edmund called Duc of Somerset, John Erl of Devonshire with all the other lords knightes and noblemen that were in their company taken or slayn, yet we now understand that commones of divers partes of this our royaume make murmurs and commocions entending the distruccion of the churche, of us our lords and all noblemen, and to subvert the public of our said royome which we in our persone with Goddes helpe and assistance of you and other trewe subgettes shall mightly defend the same and we woll that ye be with us.

Clearly Sir Henry had avoided the various battlefields and kept his head down, though it would appear that he had made a list of his valuables which he pledged to Edward’s support.

Once Edward had won the Battle of Tewksbury and Prince Edward was killed the end of Henry VI, a prisoner in the Tower, was inevitable. Sir Henry Vernon along with the rest of the country would reasonably have expected Edward to reign for a good long while and then to have been succeeded by his sons – Elizabeth Woodville having produced the first male heir, another Prince Edward, whilst she was in sanctuary in Westminster. Vernon’s loyalty to the house of York is made apparent in a letter from Edward IV of 1481:

we bee enformed that ye have taken distresse for us and in oure name for thomage due unto us in that behalve for the which we thanke vou.

He was also appointed Bailiff of the High Peak by the York regime.

Then, in 1483, it was all change again.  Edward IV died unexpectedly whilst his eldest son Edward was still too young to inherit in his own right. Enter Richard III and yet another commission of array for Sir Henry Vernon to meet the king on the field against Henry Tudor.  Vernon appears to have avoided Bosworth.

It is thus somewhat surprising that Sir Henry thrived under the rule of Henry Tudor.  Having said that Vernon married Anne Talbot, daughter of the earl of Shrewsbury in 1466 so the Talbot Lancastrian links and the fact that the earl of Shrewsbury joined with Henry Tudor prior to the Battle of Bosworth may go rather a long way to explaining how Sir Henry Vernon survived the change from white rose to red. He became Governor and Treasurer to Prince Arthur and was also made a Knight of the Bath. He was in attendance when Arthur married Katherine of Aragon.  Local legend states that Arthur stayed at Vernon’s home in Derbyshire – Haddon Hall- on more than one occasion.

There is a letter from Henry VII dated 1485.  It describes Vernon as “trusty and well beloved” and it describes in some detail the problem of a Yorkist insurrection led by the anonymous Robin of Redesdale requesting that Vernon place himself at Henry’s disposal.  In fact the first attempt on Henry VII’s life was made in York when he first visited it. A later letter identifies the trust that Henry placed in Vernon in the care of his eldest son:

 

Henry VII to Sir Henry Vernon.
1492, Aug 31. Windsor. Trusti and welbeloved we grete you wele. And inasmoche as we have appointed you tobe Comptroller of household with our derrest son the Prince and that we depart in all hast on our voyage over the see, we therefor desire and praye you that ye will give your personell attendaunce upon our said derrest son for the tyme we shalbe out of this our realme, and that ye faile not hereof as we truste you’ Geven under our signet at our Castel of Windesor the last day of August viii of our reyne. Sign Manual

Later still Vernon would go with Margaret Tudor to Scotland and pay a forced loan of £100 to the notoriously parsimonious Tudor monarch.

Sir Henry survived into the reign of Henry VII which ended in 1509.  He would now serve the second Tudor monarch.  In 1512/13 Henry VIII wrote to Sir Henry Vernon ordering him to send “a hundred tal men hable for the warre sufficiently harnessed to Greenwich.” This must have been for Henry’s war against the french.  The letter also advises Vernon that money would be expected for the men’s upkeep.

Sir Henry Vernon, who had lived through so many tumultuous events died on April 15th 1515 and was buried in Tong Church where his wife Anne Talbot is also buried.  His effigy wears the double ss livery collar of the House of Lancaster and there is a Tudor rose to be seen – just so that everyone is quite clear about where his loyalties lay…

Kirke, H. (1920) ‘Sir Henry Vernon of Haddon.’ Derbyshire Archeological Journal:42. (pp. 001-017).

On the borders with the White Rose

IMG_2643.jpgThe Neville faction personified by Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick a.k.a. The Kingmaker dominated the borders during the first reign of Edward IV from 1461.  He was appointed warden of both the east and west marches. Two years later Warwick’s brother John, Lord Montagu was made warden of the east march swiftly followed by the acquisition of the earldom of Northumberland.

It fell to Warwick to quell Lancastrian unrest in the north and it also fell to him to negotiate with the Scots. In 1464 the two nations arrived at a truce which upheld march law.  Scotland under James III had encouraged  Lancastrian unrest and supported Margaret of Anjou in her bid to retake the kingdom from the North but as it became apparent that the French weren’t breaking into a sweat to promote Henry VI’s cause James’ enthusiasm for antagonising his new neighbour dwindled.

Inevitably perhaps, Warwick’s relationship with Edward IV soured. In Europe at the start of the reign there had been a joke that there were two kings in England of whom one was Richard Neville but no one could remember the name of the other.  As Edward found his feet and his own trusted circle Warwick found himself being pushed out into the cold.  The pinch point came in 1464 whilst Warwick was in France negotiating for the hand of Bona of Savoy.  It must have been a tad embarrassing when it came out that Edward was already married to a beautiful if impecunious English widow with two sons.

In the North the growing tensions were reflected by a Lancastrian insurrection led by “Robin of Redesdale,” – a ember of the Conyers family and one of Warwick’s tenants.

To make matters worse in 1470, Edward who ruled the country through a means of grants and men  e.g. the Herbert family were his means of ruling Wales, now decided that the Percy family should be returned to their earldom.  The people of Northumbria had never taken kindly to  a Neville overlord.  Unfortunately John Neville did not take kindly to having the earldom of Northumberland removed fem his clutches even if he was compensated with lands and the title Marquis of Montagu.  It was almost inevitable that he would change sides.

In the west march Richard, Duke of Gloucester was assigned the title of warden just as his brother fled the country.

There followed a brief interlude between 1470 and 1471 when Henry VI was nominally in charge.  Fortunately for the English the Scots were busy with their own problems so didn’t take advantage of the game of musical thrones in which their English neighbours were indulging.

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To cut the long story  of 1471 short, the Earl of Warwick had a nasty accident at the Battle of Barnet, Lancastrian Prince Edward had an even nastier accident at the Battle of Tewkesbury, Margaret of Anjou was rounded up and eventually deported, Henry VI had a nasty accident in the Tower.  Richard of Gloucester, not yet twenty, having proved his martial capabilities at both the above battles resumed his role as warden of the west march. He arrived in Penrith that same year.  Tradition has it that he lived in The Gloucester Arms which still sports two boar above the doorway.

By 1474 the English and the Scots had reached a state of mutual appreciation that would have seen Prince James of Scotland being married off to Edward’s daughter Cecilia. Unfortunately  cross border theft appears to have continued as usual.  In 1475 according to Neville, James was complaining about the capture and plunder of two Scottish vessels, one of them his own personal property (Neville, 159). In 1480 usual service resumed and the English and the Scots made war upon one another, not least because although Cecilia’s dowry had been paid there was no sign of any nuptials.  There was also the small matter of the Scots being ensconced in Berwick – a consequence of the Lancaster V York conflict.

In 1482 an army was gathered.  Richard of Gloucester was appointed Lieutenant General and off they all went on a sight seeing trip through the Lowlands.  Berwick became English once again and just to add a little confusion to the scene James III’s brother the Duke of Albany declared himself to be King of Scotland and swore loyalty to Edward IV.  The English army was now committed to putting Albany on the throne meanwhile James III was troubled by bolshie nobles (nothing new there then) who rebelled against his lead and returned him to Edinburgh where he was kept a prisoner.

Richard and his party of touring soldiers joined the Edinburgh party in August.  The good burghers of Edinburgh swiftly searched their pockets and down the back of their sofas in order to repay Cecilia’s dowry and make the English go away – which they duly did leaving James in Edinburgh Castle with the lords who’d rebelled against him and Albany in charge of the town. At the risk of confusing affairs still further Albany then besieged his own brother. Leaving the Scots to their own devices Richard returned to England for the time being but Edward IV’s death in April 1483 brought the war to an end as Richard had other things on his mind after that.

Richard now needed someone else to fulfil the role of steward of Penrith Castle and warden of the west march.  He chose a man named John Huddleston. Huddleston looked to the Harrington family for patronage. The Harringtons  were one of two families who dominated Lancashire and Cheshire.  Their main contenders for this role were the  Stanley  family who took advantage of the death of Thomas Harrington’s death at the Battle of Wakefield fighting for Richard of York, and also that of his son leaving only two girls to inherit.  There was a messy court case, some fisticuffs and rather a lot of fudging by Edward IV and Richard of Gloucester who both recognised the loyalty of the Harrington family and the, er, how can I put this – oh yes- shiftiness of the Stanleys. However,   Edward IV  rather astutely recognised that he couldn’t do without the Stanleys.  Richard by selecting John Huddleston for the important role of warden signposted a downturn in Stanley fortunes and power – the rest as they say is history – as at Bosworth the Stanley family backed Henry Tudor. To read more about the Harringtons and Stanleys try this blog – Plantagenet Dynasty- here.

The images come from St Andrew’s Church Penrith.  They show close ups of the Neville Window which can be found in the south wall of the nave. The current window is a nineteenth century creation using fragments from an older window.  It shows Richard of York, Cecily Neville and the Earl of Warwick’s insignia of the bear and ragged staff.

 

Neville, Cynthia J (1998) Violence, Custom and Law. The Anglo-Scottish Border Lands in the Later Middle Ages. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press

Richard III and Great Malvern Priory

DSCF2426Richard donated funds for the west window of the nave. It was  largely destroyed  but some fragments are now in other windows scattered around the priory church most notably the arms of Richard. The boar supporters are noticeable.  The same window also depicts Edward IV’s arms as Earl of March. Anne Neville’s arms are in the first window of the north quire; the so-called Museum Window.  The coat of arms is a modern reproduction but the heads of the bear supporters of Warwick are original.

Clearly the leading families of the day vied with one another to contribute to the alterations in Great Malvern Priory.  One of the reasons that the Duke of Gloucester and his wife would have made a donation was that Richard at that time was the Lord of Malvern Chase.

The reason for this goes back to the Scottish Wars of Independence.  One Gilbert de Clare died without children.  This made his sisters Eleanor and Margaret heiresses.  Their mother, as a matter of interest, was Joan of Acre one of Edward I’s daughters.  Eleanor was married to Hugh Despenser the Younger when she was about thirteen. Eleanor’s grandfather (Edward I) died the following year and her uncle became king (Edward II).  This was not necessarily good news for a marriage made by politics rather than in Heaven as Hugh was Edward II’s favourite.  He’s the one that Edward II’s wife, Isabella, the so-called she-wolf had hanged, drawn and quartered when the opportunity arose after having him tattooed with all sorts of Biblical verses beforehand.  Warner’s book mentions that Eleanor’s relationship with uncle Edward was close.  So close, in fact, that contemporary chroniclers drew some decidedly dodgy conclusions about the king and his niece, as though there wasn’t already enough scandal surrounding Edward II.

The younger sister, Margaret, was married to Piers Gaveston – Edward II’s other favourite. Sometimes, you just couldn’t make it up.

Malvern Chase fell into the hands of the Despensers via Eleanor. The chase left the family when Isabel Despenser, three generations on, married Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick. Richard managed to get himself killed in foreign parts during the Hundred Years War and his son died without issue meaning that the whole lot passed to Richard’s daughter Ann who was married to Richard Neville a.k.a. The Kingmaker.

Bear with me, we’re nearly there.  Ann Beauchamp had right and title to the land after the death of her king making husband at the Battle of Barnet in 1471.  However, in order that the lands, titles and money should end up in the paws of his brothers, Edward IV had Anne declared legally dead.

So that was how Richard, Duke of Gloucester came to be lord of Malvern Chase.  He was married to Anne Neville and, of course, that’s not without a tale of its own. Richard’s brother George, Duke of Clarence was married to Isabel Neville, Anne’s older sister.  He wanted to keep Warwick’s wealth for himself so tried to prevent the marriage between Anne and Richard from happening.  Legend has Anne being disguised as a kitchen maid having been briefly married to Henry VI’s son Prince Edward but widowed at Tewkesbury and then placed in the custody of her sister and brother-in-law.  Who needs Game of Thrones when there’s this amount of intrigue happening?

What the west window, to get back to the priory,  does demonstrate is that Malvern was part of Anne’s portion rather than Isabel’s and that it was commissioned and created prior to 1483.

The original window depicted the Day of Judgement.  This has been largely lost.  In one account it is put down to a storm.  Wells suggests that the window also experienced vandalism. The glass in the current west window remains fifteenth century but it has been relocated from other sites within the priory.

An interesting feature of the window is that the lower panels are filled with stone, apart from two small windows or ‘squints’ designed to allow monks who were unable to attend services – through poor health or great age for example- to watch.

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Warner, Kathryn. (2016)  Isabella of France: The Rebel Queen Stroud:Amberley Publishing

Wells, Katherine. (2013) A Tour of the Stained Glass of Great Malvern Priory. The Friends of  Great Malvern Priory

 

Brough Castle

DSCN0958You can see Brough Castle as you travel into Cumbria through Westmorland along the A685.  For years it was a key landmark meaning we ‘were nearly there.” Having said that it was many years before I discovered that the name of the little river that runs past Brough is Swindale Beck – and no that’s the moat in the first photograph rather than the beck.

The river runs alongside the flat open space that is very obviously Roman.  In fact Brough used to be the Roman fort of Verterae.  Unsurprising then that William Rufus chose the site for his own fortifications.

DSCN1031From there the tale of Brough Castle is very similar to many others in the region with the perennial seesawing between the English and the Scots.  It was a handy stopping off point as well for English monarchs on their way north to administer justice in Carlisle or to do a spot of Scot-bothering.  Edward I and Edward II both stayed in Brough; though clearly the Scot-bothering skills of father and son were markedly different.  The village of Brough was burned by the Scots in the aftermath of Bannockburn in 1314.

CNV00005-5In terms of ownership, the Castle left royal hands in 1204 when King John granted it to Robert de Vipont along with Appleby Castle and shortly after that gave Robert the title Lord of Westmorland – with the right to be held in perpetuity by his heirs which was of key importance to Lady Anne Clifford’s claim to her estates.  Robert’s son was a minor when he died so for a while the castle was held by Hubert de Burgh.  De Vipont’s grandson, also named Robert died at the Battle of Lewes in 1264 fighting alongside Simon de Montfort against the Crown which was fine until the following year when the monarchy headed up by Henry III (King John’s son) won the Battle of Evesham and demonstrated how underwhelmed he was by people demanding parliaments by seizing Robert de Vipont’s estates even though he was already dead.

DSCN1033Leaving aside legal wrangles, reforms and negotiations the estates and title were ultimately returned by the Crown to Robert’s two daughters who were co-heiresses. Their names were Isabella and Idonea.  Isabella was the younger.  Her husband was Roger de Clifford. Idonea was about nine when her father died and she went on to have two husbands but spent most of her life in Yorkshire.  Her son pre-deceased her so when she died  and was buried in Roche Abbey her entitlement to the lands and estates of Westmorland reverted to her sister and the de Clifford family.

CNV00016-8The Clifford family spent time and money making Brough more secure.  They built a tower and a hall block.

The Wars of the Roses saw the Ninth Lord Clifford die at Dintingdale the day before the Battle of Towton, Easter 1461, with an arrow in his throat and the flight of his young son and heir into obscurity.  During this time the Clifford properties were held by Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick.  Once Henry Tudor defeated Richard III the Tenth Lord Clifford came out of hiding and the Cliffords regained their estates.

Then in 1521 there was a very merry Christmas party – so merry in fact that Brough Castle caught fire and was ruined.  I suppose it makes a change from the Scots burning places down for the owners to do it themselves.

CNV00013-8Brough was only restored in 1659 when Lady Anne Clifford came into the inheritance she’d been fighting for most of her life.  She rebuilt Clifford’s Tower – only for it to burn down again in 1666 which must have been rather irritating for Lady Anne who didn’t die until ten years later. After that and because Lady Anne’s descendants weren’t as keen on old castles as she was it swiftly returned to being a ruin having been used as a sort of quarry to repair Appleby and Brough Mill at various times.

Brough remained in the hands of Lady Anne Clifford’s descendants until 1923.  Lord Hothfield handed it over to the Ministry of Works who placed helpful signs on the building:

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Salter, Mike. (2002) The Castles and Tower Houses of Cumbria. Malvern: Folly Publications

George Neville, Archbishop of York

georgenevillearms2George Neville was the younger brother of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (a.k.a the Kingmaker) and also John Neville who was briefly the Earl of Northumberland.

 

He was only fourteen years old when the Pope made him a canon not only of York Minster but also of Salisbury. It can be no surprise that his meteoric rise in the church was followed by the Bishopric of Exeter – though he wasn’t legally old enough to run things (he received a dispensation to take the profits though) and in 1465 he was translated to the Archbishopric of York. This later move was by way of a reward given by King Edward IV to the Neville family.

George did study at Balliol College, Oxford in the 1440s so although his role within the spiritual estate reflects the politics of the time he did at least take the job seriously. Prior to become one of the ‘great men’ of the country he had time for a youthful fling with Elizabeth de Beauchamp and had a daughter called Alice.  He was chancellor of the college for a period and also fulfilled the role of chancellor in Edward IV’s government.  He went on diplomatic missions to Scotland. He even  found time to open two of Edward IV’s parliaments.

 

However, things were not going smoothly between the Nevilles and their royal cousin in the 1460s. All Europe – well the Scots and the French- agreed that Edward would not have become king without the support of his cousin the Earl of Warwick. But by 1465 Edward was expressing his own opinions. He wanted a treaty with Philip of Burgundy rather than with Louis XI of France. Warwick favoured France. There was also the unfortunate issue of Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville to take into account. Warwick had been negotiating for the hand of a French princess at the time. It made him look a tad foolish and contributed to the cousins’ relationship deteriorating into open rebellion.

 

George appeared to broker a peace between Edward and Warwick but in reality he was providing his brother with a smokescreen while he planned the marriage of his eldest daughter, Isobel, to George, Duke of Clarence and then when he felt that his power had been eroded too far into rebellion. It should be added that George played a key role in the marriage; not only did he perform the nuptial service for the happy couple in Calais, he was also instrumental in applying for the papal dispensation that permitted George to marry Isobel – they were both descended from John of Gaunt after all. George’s mother (Cecily Neville) was the Earl of Warwick and the archbishop’s aunt.

 

Edward appeared tolerant of his archbishop though – he had a reputation for letting bygones be bygones. After the Battles of Tewkesbury George found himself in prison for a few months and then returned to his offices – business as usual so as to speak.

Then things went badly wrong for the archbishop.  Edward  said he would visit George at his palace in Hertfordshire to go hunting but the day before his intended arrival the king had the bishop arrested and his property confiscated.

Why?  Perhaps Edward remembered that it was the bishop who captured him at Olney near Coventry when the Earl of Warwick made his bid for power in 1469.  Perhaps he remembered all those occasions when George’s words were cast like oil upon troubled waters to disguise Warwick’s machinations.  Perhaps it was because the king remembered that it was also the archbishop who’d been responsible for defending London against Edward when Edward returned to claim his crown in 1471. The bishop summoned Lancastrian sympathisers to St. Pauls -600-700 armed men turned up. In fact when George paraded Lancastrian King Henry VI through the streets of London in a bid to raise support he’d had to hold Henry’s hand. It could have reasonably been either of those reasons that led to the archbishop’s re arrest –  Except of course, George Neville Archbishop of York wasn’t an innocent victim of a king’s mental accounting for past events. The last remaining son of the Earl of Salisbury should have learned not to rebel against Edward. It hadn’t got Warwick very far in the end but for all his learning George got himself entangled in a new plot against the king. Once again Northerners were involved just as they had been in 1469- then Edward had dawdled, had trusted his Neville cousins…now, he was older and wiser and George found himself languishing in a prison in Calais.

George Neville, last of the four Neville boys born to the Earl of Salisbury and his duchess died soon after his release from Calais four long years later – presumably chastened by the whole sorry experience.  He was on his way back to York but died in Staffordshire.

Lady Margaret Courtenay nee Beaufort

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Pontefract Castle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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