Tag Archives: the Black Prince

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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Sir Hugh Swynford

william bell scott john of gaunt.jpgSir Hugh Swynford of Kettlethorpe and Coleby in Lincolnshire married Katherine de Roet in about 1366, although Alison Weir suggests the earlier date of 1362 based on the possible ages of the couple’s three children.  Weir also suggests that the union was arranged by Blanche of Lancaster and her husband John of Gaunt.

The Swynfords themselves were proud of their Saxon heritage and Hugh was part of Gaunt’s retinue.  Hugh’s father Thomas held Coleby for John of Gaunt – a reminder that the Lancaster inheritance was a far reaching one.  When he married Katherine de Roet he’d been a soldier fighting in the Hundred Years War for about ten years (if we take the traditional 1366 date).  He was also born in about 1340 making him a decade older than his  barely teenage bride (she was about twelve) when they married in the church of St Clement Dane.

Weir reveals that he’d fought first for the Black Prince and then transferred into the retinue of John of Gaunt, who was after all, his  feudal overlord.  Hugh wasn’t particularly wealthy, the rents from Kettlethorpe and Coleby appear to have been irregular, although he’d inherited his father’s estates in 1361.  It probably didn’t help that it wasn’t the most fertile of ground and even the mill lay in ruins.  Realistically his income came from his pay in Lancaster’s service and any loot or ransoms he could acquire whilst in France.  He was, however, a knight so the match between him and Katherine who held some lands in Hainault was considered a good one because she didn’t have much in the way of a dowry- though what Katherine, having been raised in the court of Philippa of Hainault, must have thought is not recorded.  Not that it would have mattered; marriage was not about love it was a business arrangement that would secure Katherine and Hugh’s future as vassals of the Lancaster family.  Realistically we don’t know much about the marriage – the portrayal of Swynford as rough and uncouth is based entirely on Anna Seyton’s book Katherine which has Katherine married off to Sir Hugh against her will.

The marriage took place, it is often stated, on In November 1366 Sir Hugh took himself off to Guienne to continue his duties as a knight in Gaunt’s service.  Katherine was pregnant.  Their son Thomas was born on 24 February 1367.  His arrival is often the reason that the marriage is dated to the previous year but the dates of his sisters’ births are not recorded  Weir argues that Blanche who was Gaunt’s godchild and named after the Duchess of Lancaster could have been the older of the siblings but that because she was a girl and because she wasn’t born whilst Katherine was in the company of the Duchess of Lancaster that the dates was not recorded. It is possible to argue the case both ways.

Swynford returned from France in 1369 but was summoned once more for military service the following year.  Katherine would not see him again.  He died on the Gironde in Aquitaine on the 13th November 1371. Katherine was only twenty-one when she was widowed.  Her story was about to take a dramatic turn as portrayed by the image at the start of this post.  It’s one of those Victorian History paintings that they loved so much.  Its by William Bell Scott and depicts John of Gaunt being read to by Chaucer.  The two women are Katherine Swynford and her sister Philippa Chaucer.

When John of Gaunt and Katherine petitioned the pope to legitimise their Beaufort children they stated that the affair had not begun during Hugh’s lifetime.  Froissart believed otherwise and when it came to Sir Hugh’s son Thomas inheriting his mother’s Hainault lands there were some problems on account of the rumour that he was actually the illegitimate son of John of Gaunt.  In the end King Henry IV wrote a letter stating that Thomas, who had been four when his father died in France, was legitimate.  Whatever the truth of the matter Hugh is for the most part a footnote in one of English History’s great love stories or a fictional counterfoil to the heroic personage of John of Gaunt – neither of which seems particularly fair- but without any other evidence its impossible to flesh him out any further.

Lucraft, Jeannette, (2010) Katherine Swynford: The History of a Medieval Mistress. Stroud: The History Press

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

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Richard II – birthday boy

tumblr_m94jocf45j1qeu6ilo1_500Richard, son of the Black Prince and Joan of Kent was born on January 6th 1367. Ten years later the Black Prince died pre-deceasing his aged and increasingly infirm father Edward III. It says something about the changes in society that a child was successfully able to inherit his grandfather’s throne. It probably also says rather a lot about Richard’s uncles, particularly John of Gaunt that there was no take over bid.

 

Richard’s reign tends to be remembered, in popular imagination at least, for two things. The first event was the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. Richard demonstrated personal bravery in order to ride out to Smithfield to meet Wat Tyler – and remember that Richard’s chancellor, even though he did resign shortly before, Simon of Sudbury had been brutally murdered by the mob and that John of Gaunt’s palace, The Savoy, had been utterly destroyed.

 

Richard, married to Anne of Bohemia introduced the word Majesty to court circles, no doubt helping his uncles and relatives to remember who was in charge. It was this period that saw curly toed footwear, Geoffrey Chaucer and the building of Westminster Hall. Despite these things which seem on their own to indicate a period of culture and learning (shoes aside) but Richard failed to live up to his early promise.  In addition to not being particularly keen on fighting the french he liked bathing, reading and clothes as well as getting his own way. The death of Anne of Bohemia in 1394 didn’t help matters very much nor did his second marriage two years later to Isabella of Valois who was a child so unable to curb his despotic tendencies or desire to have his entire court on their knees:

 

‘After this on solemn festivals when by custom [Richard II] performed kingly rituals, he would order a throne to be prepared for him in his chamber on which he liked to sit ostentatiously from after dinner until vespers, talking to no one but watching everyone; and when his eye fell on anyone, regardless of rank, that person had to bend his knee towards the king …’

Continuatio Eulogii, pp. 371-9

 

 

To cut a long story short Richard didn’t look to his relatives for support once he reached adulthood – a fact which irritated them immensely. One of Richard’s uncles (Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester) waited until John of Gaunt (yet another of Richard’s uncles) was out of the country and then used the law to curb Richard’s increasingly authoritarian practices. Many of Richard’s favourites were executed. The event is recalled by the title that the 1388 Parliament is known by – the Merciless Parliament.

 

Richard had to wait nearly a decade to get his own back and during that time he ensured that there was a cohort of men loyal to him as well as a crack troop at his command. In 1397 Richard arrested and banished his opponents including his cousin Henry of Bolingbroke who was also John of Gaunt’s son. The Duke of Gloucester having been arrested and sent to Calais had a fatal ‘accident’, allegedly involving a mattress, on his nephew’s orders.

 

When John of Gaunt died, Henry of Bolingbroke thought that his banishment would be over. Instead Richard made the banishment permanent and stripped Henry of his lands. Henry landed at Ravenspur with the intent of reclaiming the Duchy of Lancaster. Which leads to the second event of Richard’s reign which most folk know – his usurpation and death from starvation at Pontefract. No wonder Shakespeare found plenty of material to write about.

Froissart’s Chronicles, somewhat sympathetic to Richard, gives an account of the period but ultimately seems to indicate that Richard brought his own downfall upon himself through his authoritarianism and failure to make war on the French.

 

Two generations on, problems resulting from Richard’s removal would arise when the Lancaster line failed to produce a strong king. Henry IV as Henry Bolingbroke became held on to his crown though in constant fear that someone would do to him what he had done to Richard.  Henry V was probably the most martial king of the period and then there was Henry VI.  That would be the time when a swift investigation of the family tree would remind the nobility that the Lancaster line was descended from Edward III’s third surviving son.  Unfortunately for England, Lionel of Antwerp, Edward’s second surviving son, had a child Philippa who had married into the Mortimer family.  Richard II had named Philippa’s son (Roger Mortimer) his heir. At a time when the Lancaster line weakened this inconvenient fact would become very important indeed. And it would be another Richard – Richard of York – descended on both his mother and father’s side from Edward III who would demand that attention be paid to the previously ignored rights of the Mortimers.

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Battle of Crecy anniversary

Battle_of_crecy_froissart.jpgIt’s the 670th anniversary of the Battle of Crecy this year on August 26th, so no doubt I’ll return to the subject in due course.

The Hundred Years war commenced in 1337 as these things do with an exchange of views about the import of wool into Flanders. Nor were the English terribly happy that the French were encouraging the Scots to rebel so Edward III put his thinking hat on and came up with his family tree. His mother, was of course, Isabella of France a.k.a. the She-wolf. England didn’t have a salic law and Edward couldn’t see that the fact that the French prohibited women from inheriting the throne being a particular problem. He calmly announced that although he had supported Philip of Valois in 1328 when Charles IV had died without sons that he had decided, upon careful reflection, that his own claim was a better one.

 

The war kicked off with a few cross-channel raids. In 1340 things changed. The English navy defeated the French at Sluys ensuring control of the English Channel or La Manche as the french prefer to call it. This was followed by a full scale invasion of France by an English army of 12,000 of whom more than half were longbow men. These men were veterans of the Scottish campaigns. The English enjoyed a holiday in Normandy doing what medieval soldiers did – think pillage and rape.

 

The French massed their army of 12,000 plus 6,000 or so mercenaries with crossbows. It should also be added that there were huge numbers of peasants who’d been pressed into service as foot soldiers – so plenty of bill hooks and scythes in evidence. Philip moved this army to the Somme thinking to place Edward at a disadvantage.

 

Edward ignored the water hazard and made for the top of a hill where he divided his force into three groups and instructed them to dig ditches and plant sharpened stakes in the ground. The French had not encountered the power of the longbow men against foot soldiers or cavalry before but it was this battle that made their name and ensured that the weapon came to dominate the war. By the end of the afternoon the French had been soundly beaten.

 

In other news of the battle the Black Prince, a sixteen-year-old novice at warfare, was in charge of the English right flank and when it looked as though the French might be successful at that end of the battlefield the king told his commanders to let his son get on with it – something of a steep learning curve. It was in this battle that the blind King of Bohemia managed to get himself killed along with the King of Majorca and a thousand or so French knights. Philip of Valois was lucky to escape capture.

 

Our account of the battle comes from Froissart who was born in 1337 or thereabouts so not on the scene of the battle itself but employed at the age of twenty-four by Phillipa of Hainault (Edward III’s lady wife) in a literary capacity. He is recorded as making careful research and asking lots of questions before putting quill to parchment– he’s also more or less the only detailed chronicler of events. For his report of events click on the picture at the start of this post to open up a new window.  The picture is an illustration from Froissart’s Chronicles.

 

It is worth remembering that the Hundred Years War is the backdrop to the reign of Richard II, the social unrest of his reign and his deposition by Henry IV.  It returns to the forefront of popular history with King Henry V of Agincourt fame and his marriage to Katherine of Valois and lingers during much of Henry VI’s reign- think Joan of Arc- resulting ultimately in Richard of York becoming decidedly aggrieved about Henry VI’s reliance upon the Beauforts  and Margaret of Anjou’s advice.  Henry VI’s failure to repeat his father’s victories and the decades of constant warfare are all part of the fateful mix that contribute to the Wars of the Roses.  And, of course without Katherine of Valois and a certain Clerk of the Wardrobe there would have been no Henry Tudor.

 

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Princess Joan of Kent

joan of kentJoan of Kent was the daughter of Prince Edmund of Woodstock, 1st Earl of Kent and his wife Margaret Wake; wife of the Black Prince and mother to King Richard II.  She is unusual in that on the death of her brother, the 3rd Earl of Kent and 4th Baron Wake, Joan inherited the titles in her own right.

She may well be named after her maternal grandmother who was Princess Joan, King John’s illegitimate daughter who married Llewelyn the Great of Gwynedd.  Just to add to the family tangle, Princess Joan was also cousin to Roger Mortimer, Earl of March.  And Roger Mortimer was the man who was Queen Isabella’s lover and the man responsible for the judicial execution of Joan of Kent’s father who had continued to be loyal to the deposed Edward II (Kent’s half brother).  Once the usurping Earl of March had been done away with and Edward III assumed control of the throne he arranged for Joan and her sister to come to court.  The two girls were raised alongside his own children.  So Joan grew up with the Black Prince.  Eventually Joan became Edward III’s ward.

 

Clearly Joan was an important member of the royal family.  Whoever won her hand in marriage would gain many points in the medieval power game.  Joan had other ideas.  She fell in love with Sir Thomas Holland.  She was twelve.  He was twenty-six. His grandmother was Ela Longespee whose grandfather was the Fist Earl of Salisbury and the illegitimate son of Henry II which puts a whole new meaning on the saying ‘keep it in the family.’  Suffice it to say Thomas Holland wasn’t someone of the make.  His ancestry was as illustrious as that of Joan.

 

The problem was that because the pair had run away to get married it wasn’t strictly legal though very romantic.  Joan, and indeed Thomas, required the king’s consent to get married.  Her guardians at the time wanted Joan to marry their son Sir Thomas Montague, who was the second Earl of Salisbury.  They didn’t see Joan’s marriage to Thomas as a problem.  They simply waited for him to leave the country to go on crusade and then forced Joan to marry their son. In 1341 Holland returned home and wasn’t terribly pleased to discover that his wife was married to another man.  Undeterred he set about winning fame in France in what was to become the Hundred Years War as a military commander and then set about regaining Joan.  Salisbury put up a fight but in the end Pope Clement VI annulled Joan’s marriage to Salisbury.

 

Joan’s firstborn son Thomas Holland who became the Earl of Kent was an ancestor of Katherine Parr which is definitely an unexpected connection – though given the medieval penchant for familial marriages it probably shouldn’t be quite such a surprise. Another son married one of John of Gaunt’s daughters. And yet another child was an ancestor of Lady Jane Grey.  Sir Thomas died in 1360 leaving Joan a rich widow.  She was eventually buried beside her first husband.

 

As well as being wealthy and well-connected with the royal family Joan was also one of the beauties of her age.  She was known as ‘the fair maid of Kent’. Many offers of marriage were made.  Joan turned them all down.  According to one version of events, one of the Black Prince’s men asked  Edward to intercede with Joan on his behalf.  Edward found himself falling in love with his childhood companion.  They were cousins within the degree prohibited by the church so before they could marry a papal dispensation was required.  On her marriage she became the first Princess of Wales.

When she became the Queen Mother her life continued to be the stuff of historical novels and mini-series.  She was so loved by the people of England that when she encountered Wat Tyler and his men at Blackheath they let her pass unharmed with an escort (you can’t help wondering who let such an important personage as the king’s mother meander into the path of revolting peasants?).  In any event the tale demonstrates that as well as being regarded in the light of national treasure she was also conventionally religious.  She was returning from pilgrimage to Canterbury when her path crossed with that of Wat Tyler.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Richard II – who do you think you are? Or meet the family.

tumblr_m94jocf45j1qeu6ilo1_500Richard II is one of those monarchs in history who is remembered for coming to a rather nasty end.  Incidentally he is also the first English monarch for whom we have a realistic portrait.

So who was the unfortunate king who lost his throne and starved to death in Pontefract Castle.  Richard’s grandparents were Edward III and Philippa of Hainhault.  His father was Prince Edward known as the Black Prince on account of the colour of his armour but only from the sixteenth century.  The prince died a year before his father of an illness that he’d contracted in Europe.  He is best remembered for his military importance at the Battle of Crecy and later on for capturing the french king.  He campaigned in Spain and made himself unpopular with the people of Aquitaine when he taxed them for his Spanish campaigns – for that and for the massacre of some 3000 inhabitants of a town that rose up in revolt against him.

Edward was married to Joan who was the daughter of the Earl of Kent.  He was the son of Edward I and Margaret of France.  So, he was the chap who supported his brother (Edward II) and was executed on the orders of Mortimer and Isabella – so not exactly a peaceful childhood.  As if that weren’t enough she’d been married before – twice.  Unfortunately the second marriage was bigamous and it took papal decree to sort the tangled matrimonial web out.  She produced five children before her legitimate husband Sir Thomas Holland died.  She then married the Black Prince and bore two sons.  The first child, a boy called Edward, died age six or seven.  Her second son, Richard, was born in 1367 in Gascony.  He succeeded his grandfather as king, the year after the Black Prince died.

Richard was a minor with lots of half-siblings on his mother’s side of the family and plenty of cousins and uncles on his father’s side of the family – the most notable one being John of Gaunt.  The stage was set for a familiar family saga of murder and mayhem.

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