Sir Hugh Johns or Johnys – deputy marshal of England and tutor to the future Henry VII

I had one of those – why is this person not better known moments this week. Today’s post is about a man who travelled widely, saw conflict in many theatres of war on land and on sea, and who taught Henry Tudor while he was a ward of Sir William Herbert, Lord Raglan. Oh yes, and the man loved Elizabeth Woodville from a distance but couldn’t pluck up the courage to tell her in person so got Richard Duke of York and Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, see quote below, to do it for him…not men you think of as a pair of life’s natural matchmakers.

Sir Hugh John, knight, which now late was with you unto his full great joy, and had great cheer as he sayeth, whereof I thank you, hath informed me how that he for the great love and affection that he hath unto your person, as well for the great sadness [seriousness] and wisdom that he found and proved in you at that time, as for your great and praised virtues and womanly demeaning, desireth with all his heart to do you worship by way of marriage, before any other creature living as he sayeth. I, considering his said desire, and the great worship that he had, which was made knight at Jerusalem; and after his coming home, for the great wisdom and manhood that he was renowned of, was made knight Marshal of France, and after that knight Marshal of England, unto his great worship, with other his great and many virtues and deserts; And also the good and notable service that hath done and daily doth to me, Write unto you at this time, and pray you effectuously that you will the rather, at this my request and prayer, to condescend and apply you unto his said lawful and honest desire, wherein you shall not only purvey right notably for yourself unto your weal and great worship in time to come, as I verily trust, but also cause me to show unto you such good lordship, as you by reason shall hold you content and pleased, with the grace of God, which everlastingly have you in his blessed protection and governance.

It raised the intriguing idea of both men being vaguely acquainted with her during the 1450s. After all, her mother, Jaquetta of Luxembourg was married to John Duke of Bedford before his death and her subsequent marriage to the knight, Richard Woodville. And of course, there is the assumption that the Elizabeth was the Elizabeth Woodville rather than someone else entirely. And that’s where the whole romantic idea, described in some detail by Agnes Strickland in her Lives of the Queens of England, comes unstuck. Further research, in this case to Susan Higginbottom’s blog reveals the existence a slight spelling mistake – not Woodville but Woodhill…. – And more importantly did Warwick’s wife, Ann Beauchamp, know the lady and what were her thoughts on the subject?…but that’s not history, that’s speculation or an interlude in a work of fiction.

Sir Hugh Johnys, constable of Oystermouth Castle near Swansea during the 1460s owed his allegiance to Edward IV’s father, Richard 3rd Duke of York. During his first protectorate, the duke wrote in support of Hugh’s desire to marry, commenting on the knight’s ‘gentillesse’.[i] 

So who was Hugh Johnys or Johns who eventually took Maud Cradock for his wife and had seven children? He was never a wealthy man but he continued to serve the Yorkists in South Wales and the Marches for the duration of his life before eventually dying and being interred in St Mary’s Church, Swansea in about 1485.

He was descended from the Vaughans of Llangynwyd and Bredwardine, who were, in their turn, kinsmen of Sir William Herbert[ii]. After Edward IV became king in 1461, Johns served as part of Herbert’s administrative hierarchy in South Wales and the Marches. He even tutored the young Henry VII, presumably in warfare rather than rhetoric and grammar.  His earlier military career made him a memorable choice of sword master.

His brass records that he was a member of the confraternity (a lay guild) of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre and that he fought against the Turks for five years following the date that he entered the knighthood on 14 August 1441. Prior to travelling to the Holy Land, he served the Emperor of Constantinople – joining his forces in 1436. His service took him to Troy, Greece and Turkey where he fought both on land and sea before he continued his Mediterranean adventure with a journey to the Holy Land. When he returned to Europe, he served under, Lady Margaret Beaufort’s father, John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset in France and from 1446, Richard of York. One his return to England he served as a deputy to the Duke of Norfolk who was the Marshal of England.

He owned one manor, Landimoor, which was granted to him, in 1451, by John Mowbray, 2nd Duke of Norfolk (died 1461) whose steward Johns was. Local tradition suggests that it was Hugh and his wife who modernised Bovehill Castle with lead pipes that supplied his home with water from a nearby well. After Norfolk’s death an inquisition post mortem reveals that Johns’ overlord was William Herbert who acted as custodian during the minority of the next duke.

In 1452 he was appointed steward to the manors of Redwick and Magor in Monmouthshire. Henry VI made the grant because of Johns’ military service in France and as a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre. The Byzantine emperor wrote personally to King Henry, a monarch known for his piety, commending Sir Hugh to him but beside from knowing the location of Johns’ theatre of war and that his was a distinguished service no further information about the engagements in which he fought can be pinpointed. If you wish to know more the National Archives blog has a wonderful post all about Sir Hugh’s grant and service which includes the information that in 1448, Johns was in the personal retinue of John Talbot.

In 1453, Johns took part in a trial held by the Court of Chivalry, in a case of treason.  The court was not part of England’s system of common law it was a military tribunal. Its judges were the constable of England and the earl Marshal and its remit was to judge cases relating to deeds of war including disputes about ransoms and the use of coats of arms. On 11 May, Robert Norris was accused of treason. It’s unclear exactly what Norris said or did an accusation was lodged against him by John Lyalton. He was instructed to answer the charge on 25 June at Smithfield in a trial by combat. Hugh Johns was the lead adviser on the seven-man panel assigned to ensure that the defendant have every chance. The Crown obliged with the provision of weapons and tents to ensure all was fair. Johns had ‘an established martial reputation’.[iii] There are several letters pertaining to the combat but it’s unclear whether it went ahead or not. Across England law and order was beginning to break down. In Yorkshire, the feuding of the Percy and the Neville families was reaching new depths and in France, the English suffered a defeat at Castillon on 17 July that would cause Henry VI’s complete mental collapse when he learned the news in August.

In 1468, Johns became one of the poor knights of Windsor, which was part of the college of St George’s Chapel which prayed for members of the Garter. The role came with accommodation and an income. However, since he spent much of his time in Wales its a matter of further reading to discover how much time he actually spent in Windsor – but since he travelled to Jerusalem, it perhaps wasn’t such a long journey for this much travelled and commended Welshman.

Hugh and Maud’s brass was probably commissioned during Johns’ life time. It was damaged in 1941 during the Blitz.

Bliss,T and Grant, F.G., Some Account of Sir H. Johnys, Deputy Knight Marshal of Engand, temp. Henry VI and Edward IV, and of the monumental brass to Sir Hugh and Dame Cradock his wife in the chancel of St Mary’s Church, Swansea (Swansea: John Williams, 1845)

Compton-Reeves, A. A 1453 Court of Chivalry Incident,visit%20Jerusalem%20during%20this%20period. (accessed 15:00, 29 October, 2023)

Robinson, W.R.B., Sir Hugh Johnys RobinsonW. R. B., ‘Sir Hugh Johnys: a fifteenth century Welsh Knight’, Morgannwg, 14 (1970).

[i] Bliss, p.5

[ii] Robinson, p.15

[iii] Compton-Reeves p.75