Sir James Luttrell of Dunster

arms of luttrell.jpgFirst of all apologies to all those of you who spotted the typo yesterday and thank you for your patience.  I did, of course, mean that James II succeeded to the throne of his brother Charles II but rather unfortunately lost one of the ones in my text.

So, here we are – the 10th December. In 1520 Martin Luther was busy burning papal bulls.  Twenty one years later Frances Dereham would pay for his life for the crime of seducing a girl who would one day be queen of England.  His companion in death, Thomas Culpeper was paying for adultery with the queen – Katherine Howard.  More positively the first Nobel Prize was awarded on the 10th December 1901.

Which leaves us with today’s face – Sir James Luttrell of Dunster Castle, in Somerset though the action takes place in Yorkshire. Sir James was born in approximately 1427.  His father’s early death left James as a ward of the Crown.  In this instance rather than being handed over to the highest bidder who would then strip the assets and marry the child off to best advantage the king and his privy council committed the lands of Dunster into the care of the Bishop of Bath and Wells (John Stafford) who was a family friend along with the bishop’s brother (Humphrey Stafford – eventually the duke of Buckingham) and also James’ cousin Sir Philip Courtney.

elizabeth-luttrellInevitably marriage was on the mind of James’ guardians and it probably comes as no surprise that the family was careful to maximise its holdings over the lands that it held. James would marry Sir Philip’s daughter Elizabeth.  Land was so important to the Luttrells that James would be involved in a wrangle that allegedly resolved itself into murder  when he reached his majority though this was proved to be a device to bring the affair to the attention of the courts (I’ll post about this in the New Year).

On the national stage a larger wrangle for land and power was beginning to simmer.  Richard of York returned from Ireland in the autumn of 1460.  He thought that he would take the throne from his cousin Henry VI yet when he arrived in London and laid a hand upon the throne he was not met with popular acclaim but with silence. Negotiations followed. On the 24 october 1460 an agreement was reached. Henry VI effectively disinherited his own son allowing that following his death it would be Richard who was crowned rather than Prince Edward.  Unsurprisingly his wife, the mother of Prince Edward, Margaret of Anjou was not amused.  Richard had to settle for his role as protector but in Yorkshire the Yorkists began to harry the lands of York and the earl of Salisbury.

Richard of York went north with the earl of Salisbury on the 9th December.  Their plan was to sort out the pesky Lancastrians and then carry on to the borders where the Scots were also being a bit of a nuisance.

 

Luttrell, a loyal Lancastrian, marched after Richard on the 10th.  His forces skirmished with Richard of York prior to his arrival at Sandal.  Richard settled into Sandal Castle for the festive season as his enemies gathered on his doorstep on the 21st December.   On the 30th December in the aftermath of Wakefield James was knighted by the duke of Suffolk.  Seven weeks later Sir James was badly wounded at the Second Battle of St Albans, dying five days later.

Within a week of Edward IV winning the throne the widow and children of Sir James felt the wrath of the House of York for  Sir James’ involvement with the death of Richard of York. In simple terms, Edward had them kicked out of Dunster and seized all their possessions.  Sir James was named as a rebel by the Parliament of 1461:

with grete despite and 
cruell violence, horrible and unmanly tyrannye 
murdered the late Duke of York at Wakefield, and 
who were consequently to " stand and be convycted 
and attainted of high treason, and forfett to the King 
and his heires all the castles, maners " and other lands 
of which they were or had been possessed.

This seems rather unfair given that Luttrell had served the House of Lancaster loyally as his family had all done since the days of John of Gaunt. Edward’s commissioners even seized Elizabeth’s dower lands which were hers rather than her husbands. The Luttrells were being made an example of. In 1463 Dunster was granted to Sir William Herbert, the same Sir William who would replace Jasper Tudor as earl of Pembroke and hold the wardship of young Henry Tudor.

 

http://www.archive.org/stream/historyofdunster01lyte/historyofdunster01lyte_djvu.txt (accessed 10 December 2016)

 

 

 

 

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

The Battle of Wakefield

DSC_0041.JPGIn September 1459 Richard of York fled to Ireland.  He returned a year later and attempted to claim the throne from Henry VI.  This was not a sensible manoeuvre and it certainly didn’t have popular acclaim.  He did manage to wangle the agreement that he would be king after Henry VI, effectively disinheriting Prince Edward and seriously irritating Edward’s mother and Henry VI’s wife – Margaret of Anjou.

Things didn’t get better.  In November 1460 the Lords Dacre, Clifford and Neville attacked the tenants of Richard of York and the Earl of Salisbury (the Kingmaker’s father).  Meanwhile Margaret of Anjou was chivvying the north to her and her disinherited son’s aid.  It is worth pointing out that despite his title and landholdings at Conisborough and Wakefield the majority of the Duke of York’s land and support was elsewhere than the north.

Richard of York underestimated the degree of antipathy towards him and the extent to which northerners were prepared to take up arms.  He rode north to Wakefield on 9th December 1460 together with the Earl of Salisbury  in order to sort out his landholding there and to knock the Lancastrians into order. He held the necessary legal documents but very few men.  He was dogged, it appears, by bad roads, worse weather and several broken bridges as well as the Duke of Somerset’s men launching a surprise attack.  He must have been in a pretty grim frame of mind by the time he arrived at Sandal Castle pictured at the start of this post on the 21 December 1460.

Once at Sandal he was joined by knights loyal to York including Sir Thomas Parr who’d been an MP for Westmorland on five occasions.  Many of the ordinary soldiers would have had to have camped outside the castle (lucky them!).  Soon York found himself hemmed in by Lancastrians and he also discovered that he hadn’t got enough supplies.  It must have been a jolly Christmas season.

For whatever reason York’s men left the castle on the 30th December.  One version of the story says he sent men out for supplies and they failed to recognise the size of the Lancastrian force that they encountered.  Another version suggests that a certain Anthony Trollope and his men had changed from York to Lancaster and that he came up with a plan to disguise four hundred or so of the Duke of Somerset’s men as retainers of the Earl of Warwick and simply march into Sandal. Stage two of the plan was for Trollope to arrive the following morning lure York’s men out into the open and then Somerset’s men were to show their true colours which seems rather a lively not to mention hard to swallow story.  Presumably the Earl of Salisbury might have asked some questions of the men who arrived claiming to be sent by his son?

In any event on the 30 December 1460 Richard set out to meet a force of Lancastrians on Wakefield Green.  He thought that there was only a small force of men.  He was rather badly wrong.  The Yorkists charged the Lancastrians and were surprised by arrows and more Lancastrians who came from the woods that lay to both sides of the Yorkist force.  It must have seemed to Richard that for every Lancastrian he killed another two sprouted in their place.

IMG_7100Bridge Street near the River Calder is still sometimes called Fall Ings describing the number of fleeing Yorkists killed there but Richard chose to stand and fight, legend says with his back to a willow tree.  One of the reasons he may have made this decision was because his eldest son Edmund, the Earl of Rutland was amongst the Yorkists fleeing the battle field.

If this was the case it did Richard little good.  Not only did he die on the spot marked by a Victorian memorial replacing the one destroyed during the English Civil War but his son was killed near the bridge by Lord Clifford in revenge for the death of his father at the first Battle of St Albans in 1455. The news rapidly circulated that Edmund had been unarmed and pleaded for his life at the time that Clifford killed him.  The Wars of the Roses turned to another shade of nastiness as a consequence.DSC_0053.JPGDSC_0055.JPG

The chantry chapel on the bridge at Wakefield looks a little lost next to the ring road.  It was enriched by Edward IV in memory of his father and brother whose heads together with the Earl of Salisbury had adorned York’s Micklegate Bar in the aftermath of the battle.

As for Sir Thomas Parr, one of several northern knights loyal to the house of York he died the following year.  He was also the grandfather of Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth queen – or if you followed Henry’s logic second queen on account of the fact that only Jane Seymour had been his true wife!

DSC_0042

 

Clark David, (2003) Battlefield Walks in Yorkshire. Wilmslow: Sigma Press

Henry Percy, Fourth Earl of Northumberland

museumbossThis particular Earl of Northumberland is an unusual one in that he was the only one of his family to appear on the Yorkist side of the battle listings during the Wars of the Roses which of course means that a bit of back story is required for his actions to make sense.

Essentially the two great northern families were the Percys and the Nevilles (think Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick a.k.a. the Kingmaker). Had Henry VI been a little bit more effective it is possible that the two families wouldn’t have reached such a state of animosity that when Henry VI broke down in 1453 that the two sides came to blows.  A force of more than seven hundred Percys and their retainers, led by Lord Egremont (the Earl of Northumberland’s second son), attacked a wedding party of Nevilles on Heworth Moor near York.  Quite clearly this did not bode well for wide political implications as it was almost inevitable that if the Percys were favoured by Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou that the Nevilles would look to the other side for support.

The Nevilles affiliated themselves with the Richard of York. The Earl of Salisbury (the Kingmaker’s father) also called Richard Neville was Richard of York’s uncle.  His sister, Cicely Neville a.k.a. ‘The Rose of Raby’ was married to Richard of York.

So far so good. The Earls of Northumberland then proceeded to drop like flies and of course they all rejoiced in the name Henry thus making remembering them easy or difficult depending on what you’re trying to remember. The Second Earl of Northumberland didn’t make it beyond the first official battle of the Wars of the Roses.  He was killed at the First Battle of St Albans on 22 May 1455.  He was succeeded by his eldest son Henry Percy (just to confuse matters he’s also known as Lord Poynings on account of gaining the title when he married his wife) who became the Third Earl of Northumberland. The third earl was definitely Lancastrian.  The feud was in full swing now as the noble families of England merrily took turns slaughtering on another. He died in his turn on 29 March 1461 at the Battle of Towton.  This battle was won by Richard of York’s son Edward who was now Edward IV of England, his father having fallen victim to a sharp weapon at the Battle of Wakefield the previous year.

The death of earl number three finally brings us to our Henry Percy.  He did not automatically become the Earl of Northumberland. His father’s earldom was forfeited at the Battle of Towton by the victorious Yorkists who naturally declared everyone fighting on the wrong side of the battle field traitors and promptly confiscated anything of value as well as lopping off a few heads.  In that sense Henry Percy was lucky.  He was imprisoned in the Fleet Prison and from there he was sent to the Tower in 1464.  During this time John Neville, the Kingmaker’s brother  was created Earl of Northumberland – I don’t even want to imagine how that went down with the locals.

In 1469 after swearing fealty to Edward IV  Henry Percy 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.  For various reasons including his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV began to find his Neville cousins rather wearing and ultimately Henry Percy gained Edward IV’s support.  John Neville found himself kicked out of his newly acquired earldom whilst Henry Percy regained the family title.  Ta dah! Henry Percy, Fourth Earl of Northumberland and Ta dah! John Neville, Marquess of Montagu.

Unsurprisingly John Neville wasn’t best pleased and promptly changed sides along with his brother the Earl of Warwick who was displeased with having been made to look a fool whilst negotiating for Edward IV’s marriage to a french princess only to discover that he’d married Elizabeth Woodville. After that the Nevilles found that dominating court became rather tricky with the best perks going to a huge extended Woodville clan.  Both brothers were killed at the Battle of Barnet in 1471

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.

And now for the twist.  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.

It was at first reported that he had gone out unarmed to parley with the rebels. It rapidly became clear that another reason for the earl’s death was that the good men of Thirsk who had been loyal to Richard III held the earl partly responsible for their king’s death.  The rebellion was  ultimately suppressed by the Earl of Surrey (the son of the Duke of Norfolk and yet another noble who’d been on the wrong side at Bosworth).  Surrey  took on Northumberland’s lands whilst the newest Henry Percy  was a minor.

To be king…or not to be king…

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

A tale of several heads…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Christmas Day awakening

images-9Apologies for the gap in the posts – a slight connectivity issue that I thought I’d addressed by scheduling my posts; so two posts today to keep on track.

This particular Christmas scene has a long first act. In August 1453 Henry VI, known for his piety, exhibited signs of mental illness. The power struggle that followed between Margaret of Anjou and the Duke of Somerset in one corner and the Duke of York in the other was unsightly – not that it much mattered to Henry. He was capable of eating, drinking and sleeping but he appeared insensible to world around him. Chroniclers recorded men such as the Duke of Buckingham asking for a blessing and the king apparently ignoring them.

 

Even worse, Margaret of Anjou gave birth to her son Edward during this time. Medieval kings were required to acknowledge and bless their off-spring to demonstrate that they were in fact their off spring. Margaret duly presented the infant prince only to be stonewalled by her incapacitated spouse.

 

But then there was a change in the king’s health, news of which sped around the country, “Blessed be to God, the King is well and has been since Christmas day” (The Paston Letters). So, Christmas 1454, if you were Margaret was a time of celebration – less so if you were Richard, Duke of York.

 

300_2511351The causes of Henry’s incapacity are much debated. It is possible that it was a hereditary condition. His grandfather, Charles VI of France (father of Katherine of Valois) believed that he was made of glass and would shatter if anyone touched him. A state of mind which did little for the stability of France and which was partially responsible for allowing King Henry V to  become a hero to his people by soundly trouncing their cross-Channel neighbours.

The fact that Henry V gained an empire which his son managed to lose didn’t go down particularly well with the natives and added to the general feeling of dissatisfaction with Henry VI and his queen.  Margaret of Anjou being from Anjou – i.e. french- didn’t help matters very much either.

Alternatively it has been suggested that the stresses of the loss of Normandy and then Gascony may have contributed to Henry’s breakdown as might Margaret of Anjou’s pregnancy.

 

Whatever the cause, Henry never fully recovered from his vacant period and his lack of control didn’t help the escalating tensions between the different factions at court nor the spiralling violence between the assorted nobility – the Nevilles and the Percys being the most obvious example of blood feuding at its worst. Open warfare was only a matter of time but then hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Black-Faced Clifford

'The_Murder_of_Rutland_by_Lord_Clifford'_by_Charles_Robert_Leslie,_1815John Clifford, aged twenty-one, at the First Battle of St Albans in 1455 buried his father in St Albans Abbey. It was agreed, according to Holinshed, that at the Duke of York, the Earls of Warwick and Salisbury should pay the monastery of St. Albans for masses for the souls of Thomas Clifford and the other notable Lancastrians who died during the battle and that the Earl of should pay a fine to be shared between Thomas’s children – no doubt the Vikings would have recognized it as weregeld. The new Lord Clifford wasn’t particularly interested in gold and John, according to Shakespeare, was much more interested in revenge.

 

John’s opportunity came five years later on the 30th December 1460. Five years had seen the polarization of England’s nobility while Richard, Duke of York ultimately overplayed his hand. Richard having been named Lord Protector during Henry VI’s illness in 1453 had been sidelined by Henry VI’s queen, Margaret of Anjou, once Henry regained his facilities. This led to the fisticuffs at St Albans. In the aftermath of the First Battle of St Albans, although the Yorkists had been victorious Richard had reaffirmed his loyalty to the king and an uneasy peace achieved mainly by shipping Richard off to Ireland where he was out of the way.

 

Relations between the different factions reached breaking point in 1459 when Richard arrived home without asking permission first and the Earl of Warwick arrived in Sandwich from Calais backed up by an army. Without going through the frenetic events of the next twelve months it is sufficient for the purposes of this post to say that Richard eventually rocked up in Parliament and said he wanted to be king. If he’d asked to be made Lord Protector folk might have agreed but Richard was carried away by his own spin and seems to have forgotten that when Henry Bolingbroke did the same thing in order to become Henry IV that not only had the whole thing had been carefully orchestrated but that King Richard II was in ‘safe’ custody. In Richard of York’s case neither of these precautions had been taken and even his closest allies were somewhat taken aback. There was a bit of an embarrassed silence followed by the Act of Accord which essentially said that Henry VI could be king while he lived but his successor would be Richard of York – a resolution which satisfied no one – especially Margaret of Anjou whose son Prince Edward had just been cut out of the succession.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing but it seems quite obvious that it wasn’t going to end well.

 

Richard of York took himself North and spent Christmas at his castle in Sandal just outside Wakefield. This was not necessarily the most clever thing he’d ever done as it was in enemy territory. Nor was it very sensible of Richard to emerge on the 30th to give battle to a party of Lancastrians. Sandal was a well-protected castle. All he had to do was sit tight and wait for reinforcements. This isn’t a post about the reasons behind Richard’s decisions to give battle or the rights and wrongs of them but I am finally back on track with John Clifford as he was one of the Lancastrians waiting outside Sandal.

 

The Battle of Wakefield was a vicious affair. John Clifford is purported to have come across the body of Richard of York, resting against an ant hill, and hacked off the corpse’s head. It was not a very knightly deed.  Richard’s head ended up with a paper crown facing into the city of York from Micklegate Bar having first been presented to Margaret of Anjou by way of a gift. Richard’s sons Edward, George and Richard would not forgive the insult.

 

Even worse, popular rumour stated that John Clifford killed Richard of York’s other son Edmund, Earl of Rutland in the aftermath of the battle. There is no specific evidence that John did the deed, Edmund may have been killed during the battle itself and not by John. History shows the lad was about seventeen. Shakespeare makes him a boy- as illustrated in this picture dating from 1815. Edmund, the son of a nobleman, would reasonably have expected mercy in the event of his capture for two reasons. Firstly and most importantly he could be ransomed and secondly despite the events at Agincourt when chivalry went out the window there was still an expectation of respecting ones opponents. So, to tell the tale, which probably isn’t history but definitely makes a good story; Edmund fled the battle and arrived at the bridge crossing the River Calder at Wakefield.  Some versions of the story say that he sought shelter in some nearby houses but that no one would take him in, other versions say that he was captured but anonymous.  John Clifford noticed the boy’s clothes and asked who he was. Edmund’s tutor told Clifford adding that he would be well rewarded for keeping the boy safe, thinking that it would ease Edmund’s situation – talk about misreading the situation!  John wanted revenge for his father’s death so killed the boy  saying ‘your father slew mine so now I kill you,’ or words to that effect.  Edmund’s brother Edward, George and Richard would have their own revenge in due course.

 

John’s actions at the Battle of Wakefield gained him the name “Butcher Clifford” or “Black-Faced Clifford.” The Wars of the Roses became a much bloodier affair thereafter with both sides killing one another in the aftermath of battles reflecting personal feuds running parallel to the desperate power struggle between the various Plantagenet scions.

 

The rest of John’s story is best summaries by Leland:

Next year he met with his own end. On the day before the Battle of Towton, and after a rencontre at Ferrybridge, having put off his gorget, he was struck on the throat by a headless arrow out of a bush, and immediately expired.

 

It is thought that his body was thrown into a burial pit after Towton.

 

Richard III – evidence in the bones.

Richard_III_of_EnglandIt turns out that someone somewhere has been skulking along the medieval corridors of power  late at night on their way to an assignation– the problem is that we can’t be sure when or even who was encouraging the aforementioned skulk and for the last five hundred years no one – with the obvious exceptions- have been any the wiser. An article published in this month’s edition of Nature has changed that along with the revelation that Richard was a blue-eyed blond or at least a blond baby whose hair darkened with the passage of time.

 

The story begins with Richard III. He’s a chap who’s provided history with more than one mystery and now there’s another to add to the collection.  Most folk are aware of the conflicting theories about the disappearance of Princes Edward and Richard in the Tower of London in the summer of 1483. Was Richard a wicked uncle responsible for the demise of his nephews or has history framed the last Yorkist king for a crime that he didn’t commit? Were King Edward V and Prince Richard done away with as Tudor chroniclers would have us believe and if so who did the deed and who gave the orders? Other scenarios suggest that one or more of the princes were spirited to safety; other folk suggest that the Lancastrians did the terrible deed to ensure their own man’s success. I wouldn’t like to make any definitive suggestions as there’s evidence that can be offered in support of all these options as well as plenty of circumstantial evidence and there are plenty of passionate advocates for the different theories.

This post isn’t about that.   It’s partly about a pleasant trip down memory lane and the way that history isn’t something that’s static – it shifts like quicksand. Richard and the missing princes were the first topic that was covered at my secondary school by way of an introduction to history and the trustworthiness of sources. As I recall there was a folder full of ‘evidence’ that had to be sorted and categorised to try to decide whether Richard did the deed – and that’s before we even advanced to his portrait – was he really as physically repellent as Shakespeare portrayed him? While we now know the answer to his appearance thanks to the work of countless professionals– including the surprising blue eyes and baby blonde hair- we still don’t know about his role as murderous uncle – its certainly not a debate I want to get tangled in; not least because I can never quite make up my mind. What I do recall is that I progressed from the facts to Josephine Tey’s Daughter in Time in the space of an afternoon and at the age of eleven became hooked on historical fiction.

 

What I’m really blogging about this evening are the findings from the Leicester University that were all over the weekend’s papers – the quicksand bit of history.  Something which appeared to be solid turns out to be mired in uncertainty.   Maternal DNA reveals that Richard really was the king under the car park but further analysis reveals that somewhere along the line of the Beaufort family the paternal line was broken – Richard has a rather unusual Y chromosome but the brave souls- Beaufort descendants who offered their own DNA for comparison do not match up to that of the last Yorkist King. Their Y chromosomes are much more pedestrian. Someone somewhere in the family tree between Edward III and Richard III was a bit of a naughty girl on the quiet.

 

One line of thought is that John of Gaunt might not have been the son of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault. There was a persistent rumour that he was the son of a Flemish butcher….an odd possibility. I mean, I can see how Duchess Cecily Neville (the wife of Richard of York and mother to Edward IV and Richard III) might have fancied a fling with a tall handsome archer (more of that in a moment) but how on earth would a butcher have met, let alone struck up a conversation that progressed to a liaison with the English queen?

 

Generally speaking it has always been assumed to have been a vile slander. John of Gaunt wasn’t popular in England. His palace at the Savoy was destroyed during the Peasant’s Revolt. Folk believed that he wanted the crown for himself even though he was always loyal to his nephew the young Richard II. Apparently the rumour of his supposed parentage made John very, very irritable as depicted in that wonderful fictional evocation of his mistress’s life Katherine by Anya Seyton.

 

It is equally possible that the cuckoo in the nest could have been John Beaufort,  Gaunt’s son by Katherine Swynford – one of history’s love stories… so I really hope not. It would be deeply ironic if the legitimised illegitimate son of the Duke of Lancaster turned out not to belong to the man who claimed him as a son.

 

Another possibility presents itself.  What if Richard was the progeny of a cuckoo in the nest? Or indeed not quite what he seemed. Rumours about Duchess Cecily, his mother, sprang up in relation to Richard’s brother Edward IV. It was suggested that Edward’s father was actually an archer called Blaybourne. There is also contention over the conception dates. Richard, Duke of York was in Pontoise while Cecily was in Rouen. It seems quite difficult to reach a definitive conclusion without the existence of undisputed primary evidence – though that’s only my opinion. Certainly Edward’s baptism at Rouen was very low-key but then again the Duke of York didn’t deny paternity and in Medieval terms that meant Edward was legitimate. The rumour floated to the surface at a time when George, Duke of Clarence took a shine to the crown and its not difficult to see that George might have used gossip for his own ends (supposition again).  When Richard needed a public justification for his claim to the throne in 1483 the rumour was aired again. And as we all know mud sticks and there’s no smoke without fire. I’m sure if I think I can come up with a few more clichés.

 

Whatever the truth about Plantagenet goings-on in the bedroom department, the very informative University of Leicester website reveals that false paternity is to be expected – apparently it runs at 1-2% per generation which if you’re a family historian should make for disturbing thoughts about your own ancestry.

 

Ultimately, the fact that someone passed off the child of their lover as legitimate makes no difference whatsoever to the events of the Wars of the Roses or the monarchy thereafter but what it does do is add another fascinating layer to a story that already has many complex twists and turns. Who needs soap opera  or even Cleudo when we’ve got the Plantagenets?

 

The Battle of Tewkesbury

Tewkesbury AbbeyThe Battle of Barnet in April 1471 saw the defeat and death of the Earl of Warwick. A Lancastrian defeat was not the kind of news that Queen Margaret (of Anjou), wife of Henry VI, wished to hear when she came ashore with her son Prince Edward  at Weymouth on the same day.

 

Her only option was to meet with Jasper Tudor in Wales. The Yorkist king, Edward IV, needed to prevent this from happening. The two armies came face to face with one another on the 3rd of May 1471. Margaret managed to avoid Edward at Sodbury and was heading for Gloucester when the armies finally met. A battle would be fought the following day that would see Margaret and Henry’s only child, Prince Edward, killed.

 

The Lancastrians held the land to the south of the abbey. Edward used artillery and bowmen to attack the Lancastrians. The Lancastrian right wing came to the aid of its center and caught the Yorkists by surprise. Things could have gone very wrong for Edward had not his brother Richard, then Duke of Gloucester, met the attack. As it was the Lancastrians found themselves caught on marshy ground and 2,000 men died resulting in the name of ‘Bloody Meadow’ being attached to the area of battle where the Lancastrians fell.  The Duke of Somerset held John Wenlock (the  1st baron) responsible for the disaster as he’d commanded the centre of the Lancastrian army.  The Duke who’d commanded the right wing of Margaret’s forces was so incensed that he killed his compatriot on the field of battle. The army fled, many of its soldiers killed in the fields and hedgerows where the A38 runs today.  Other men sought sanctuary in the abbey.

 

However, Tewkesbury Abbey did not hold legal sanctuary status so the Yorkists forced their way into the abbey two days after the battle. They laid hold of the Lancastrians who sheltered there. The abbey church was so desecrated that it required purification the following month while the Lancastrians who survived the onslaught found themselves dragged into the market square where they were summarily beheaded. Amongst the executed were Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset (Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII was his niece) and his younger brother John. They were returned to the abbey for burial.

Prince Edward was also buried in the abbey.  The other Plantagenets to find a final resting place in the abbey were Isabella (wife of the Duke of Clarence and daughter of the Earl of Warwick) and the Duke of Clarence, Edward IV’s brother who was drowned in a butt of Malmsey.

 

As for Margaret of Anjou, she was captured on the 7th May. She remained a prisoner until 1475 when a ransom was paid for her release.

Click on the picture to open up a new window for a BBC page showing a Victorian interpretation of the Yorkists and Lancastrians in Tewkesbury Abbey.