Tag Archives: Richard Percy

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

 

 

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Ralph Cromwell, Lord Treasurer…Mr Moneybags.

brass of cromwell.jpgRalph Cromwell, Lord Treasurer to Henry VI, built a castle from brick in Lincolnshire complete with turrets, winding stair cases and baronial fireplaces. So who was he and what was so special about his castle and his other estates?

He was born sometime in the region of 1394 in Nottinghamshire at Lambley. He went to France as part of the duke of Clarence’s retinue in 1412. He was knighted by Henry V after Agincourt which took place on the 25th October 1415 – St Crispin’s Day for fans of Shakespeare. By 1417 Cromwell was on the rise in English Normandy.  He was one of the men who helped King Henry V to agree the Treaty of Troyes in 1420 which married Henry V off to Katherine of Valois and which would have made Henry king of France as well as England had he survived the rigours of the campaign. Later Cromwell would be sent to France to witness the execution of Joan of Arc.

By 1422 Cromwell had become sufficiently influential to gain a place on Henry VI’s regency council.  He appears to have been part of Cardinal Beaufort’s faction.  This is best demonstrated by the fact that from 1431-32 he served as Henry VI’s chamberlain.  The duke of Gloucester (or Good Duke Humphrey who I have posted about before) was overseas at the time.  As soon as Gloucester returned, Cromwell was issued with the medieval equivalent of his P45.

Henry VI’s other uncle, the duke of Bedford, appointed him treasurer of England in 1433.  He would go on to be the longest serving treasurer for almost a century. Of course, nothing is straight forward and the political factions of the time made life interesting on occasion.  The first thing he did was to tell Parliament about the king’s finances. The Crown was in debt to a tune of £168,000 and there was an annual hole of  £22,000 to also take into consideration.  Essentially Cromwell knew that Parliament needed to vote the Crown taxes but the problem was that Parliament voted taxes in times of warfare.  At other times the monarch was supposed to “live of his own.” In 1443 he retired on health grounds – but continued behaving has Lord Treasurer.  As the 1440s drew on he was increasingly hostile to William de la Pole, the duke of Suffolk and royal favourite.

In 1449 one of the duke’s henchmen attempted to assassinate him at Westminster.  William Tailbois escaped justice because the duke protected him. Ultimately the duke of Suffolk fell from power, was incarcerated in the Tower before being banished and then murdered. Worcester claims that it was Cromwell who instigated the impeachment against De la Pole. Tailbois was then briefly imprisoned for his role in trying to kill Cromwell and also fined. Just as an aside for those of you who like to know these things Tailbois can be spelled Tailboys or Talboys. Tailbois was a loyal Lancastrian and he would end up fleeing to Scotland in 1461 with Margaret of Anjou in the aftermath of Towton.  He would be a thorn in the Yorkist side until 1464 when he fought at Hexham, survived the battle only to be found and taken to newcastle where he was executed.

But back to the main thread of this post. It should  be mentioned that by 1449 the Crown debt had risen to a whopping £372,000.  Cromwell resigned.  This did not stop him, according to William of Worcester, travelling with a retinue of a hundred men. He was also appointed to a new job – Constable of Nottingham Castle.

As the 1450s dawned, Cromwell found himself charged with causing the problems which led to the first Battle of St Albans in May 1455. To be fair, his accusers had a point. William of Worcester recounts the fact that Cromwell’s niece was married to Thomas Neville in 1453.  Thomas Neville was a younger son of Richard Neville, earl of Salisbury (Thomas, if you want further clarification was the Kingmaker’s little brother).  The bride was Maud Stanhope, Lady Willoughby. The incident appears in almost every publication about the events that led to the outbreak of fighting. Neville and Thomas Percy (Lord Egremont) were in mid feud at the time and it didn’t help that Cromwell had possession of rather a lot of Percy land.  The land had been forfeited because of the Percies involvement in rebellions against Henry IV – but they had long memories with regard to what they owned. The marriage between Maud and Thomas meant that the confiscated Percy land was ultimately going to end up in Neville hands. It went down like a lead balloon with Egremont who didn’t much like the groom in any event.  The wedding was set for the 24th August 1453.  The bridal party had to cross he worth Moor to reach Sherif Hutton.  Percy, his brother Richard and John Clifford (heir of Lord Clifford) made their plans.  In excess of a 1000 men attacked the wedding party on the moor. It wasn’t much more than a skirmish as no one was actually killed but it didn’t help relieve the tension.  It was, in fact, one of the sparks that led to war with the Duke of York taking sides with Neville, the Duke of Exeter with Percy.

Cromwell by this time had joined forces with the Duke of York although the Paston letters state that Cromwell did not arrive in time to take part in the first Battle of St. Albans.  As a result he was regarded with suspicion and even accused of treason by Warwick.

On a personal level the year was further clouded by the fact that Margaret died in the autumn of 1455 without any children.  There was no one other than his nieces, who now became co-heiresses, to leave his vast estates and wealth.

Tattershall CastleCromwell’s finances were in rather better shape than the monarch’s.  He made a good marriage (unlike Henry VI who married in return for peace but lost Maine and gained no dowry in the process much to the average Englishman’s disgust.  Henry VI even had to pawn the crown jewels to pay for the wedding.)  Cromwell’s wife was Margaret, Lady Deincourt – conveniently a wealthy co-heiress in her own right.  Tattershall Castle was his main residence which he inherited in 1419 but he owned the manor of South Wingfield in Derbyshire; Collyweston in Northamptonshire; Wymondham in Norfolk (hence the Paston interest) and had a quarrel with the duke of Exeter over the lordship of Ampthill in Bedfordshire and was involved as patron of the Foljambes of Walton near Chesterfield in a dispute about the Heriz inheritance that led to the murder of  Sir Henry Pierpoint’s brother-in-law in the church at Chesterfield. Cromwell, it should be noted, had a number of property disputes on the boil during his lengthy career.

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One of particular note is that between Cromwell and Sir John Gra of North Ingleby (Lincolnshire). Essentially Gra had borrowed money from a range of people and had difficulty paying them back.  As was standard practise in return for a loan Gra effectively mortgaged his land. If the money was not all paid back by a specified day the land became the property of the lender. Cromwell, it should be added had a bit of a reputation for taking property on mortgage, or buying out a mortgage so that the debtor owed him the money rather than the original lender. He also had a reputation  for  not returning land when the loan was repaid even if it was repaid on time.   Anyway, in 1430 Gra had mortgaged Multon Hall in Lincolnshire to Thomas Morstead for a period of ten years.  In 1434 Cromwell purchased the debt from Morstead and took possession of Multon Hall.  Basically, as Richmond comments the Lord Treasurer of England was a loan shark.  Somehow or other Sir John Gra paid the money back in 1347 at St Paul’s Cathedral – so there could be no doubting that the debt had been repaid but the terms had changed with the change of lender.  Cromwell did not return the hall.  He noted that other promises had been made and they had not been fulfilled. The case went to the courts and completely unsurprisingly the important Lord Cromwell received judgement in his favour.  As though that weren’t bad enough Gra’s wife Margaret was not only estranged from her husband but had over time turned into an heiress. If she had children her inheritance would pass to them, if not the inheritance would revert in part down the family line – to none other than Ralph Cromwell.

Part of Margaret Gra’s inheritance was South Wingfield.  Gra was awarded a life interest in this property amongst others including the manors of nearby Tibshelf and Crich. He was also ordered to treat his wife with respect. Just before Gra’s wife died they appear to have been reconciled or at least to have reached an understanding. She made a will that left everything outright to her husband unfortunately for Gra it wasn’t legal.   The person he would have to contest ownership with was none other than Lord Ralph Cromwell.  The case went to court. The case is known as the Bellars Inheritance. Gra did not have the money for a protracted legal battle, nor was the law on his side, so settled out of court for forty marks a year.

Cromwell remodelled South Wingfield, turning it from a castle into a manor house surrounding a courtyard. There is an extensive account about its construction in the Archeological Journal (1985) by Emery. The rebuild was just a small part of an extensive building programme.  In 1439 Cromwell was given permission to create a collegiate church for the training of priests in Tattershall and to remodel the castle. The keep and moat of Tattershall is all that is left today along with a gatehouse and the footprint of a jousting ground. The fireplaces boast the Cromwell arms – of a well stuffed money bag.  His motto in French translates as “Have I not the right?” William of Worcester noted  “that the household consisted of a hundred persons.”  The cost of such a large household was about £5000 a year. The tower dominated the landscape and once inside the building petitioners would have to climb a winding stair case before walking the length of a corridor with an impressive vaulted ceiling before gaining admittance to the Great Hall.

 

He died on the 4th January 1456 probably at Collyweston, though South Wingfield  does get a mention but is buried at Tattershall in the collegiate church of Holy Trinity opposite the alms houses that he had built. He and his wife were childless so Cromwell’s estates ultimately reverted to the Crown.  Amongst his other works of family or piety depending upon your viewpoint was having the church at Lambley rebuilt along with a chantry chapel for his parents and grandparents.

Cromwell’s brass, pictured at the start of the post,  is difficult to see as it has to be  protected from the bats which in inhabit the church.

 

Hicks, Michael. (1991) Who’s Who in Late Medieval England. London: Shepherd-Walwyn.

Richmond, Colin. John Hopton: A Fifteenth Century Suffolk Gentleman

 

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