Tag Archives: The Paston Letters

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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Sir Andrew Trollope

sir andrew trollope.pngWe know that Sir Andrew Trollope was a bit of a hero so far as the Hundred Years War is concerned.  He was probably part of Sir John Falstaff’s company in the 1430s.  We also know that he did a bit of nifty side changing at the Battle of Ludford Bridge in 1459 from the Yorkist to the Lancastrian side – nothing too surprising there; everybody seems to have swapped sides at some point in the proceedings.  It is actually a bit surprising he was on the Yorkist side in the first place as he had become associated with the Beauforts during his time in France.

It is explained by the fact that Trollope began the period of the Wars of the Roses in Calais  as Master Porter, a position he was appointed to in 1455, where the Earl of Warwick held the position of captain.  When Warwick returned from France, Trollope came with him to beef up the Yorkist position at Ludlow.  Unfortunately on the 12 October 1459 Trollope availed himself of the offer to swap sides and receive a pardon from Henry VI.  He duly took his men across the lines and spilled the beans about Richard of York’s plans.  York was forced to flee in the night and the people of Ludlow experienced first hand the problems of being on the losing side of a conflict .

We know that Trollope spent some time in France during the following year when the Lancastrians received a set back and we know that by December 1460 he was in Yorkshire. He and Somerset led the forces that defeated York at the Battle of Wakefield on the 30th December 1460.  We don’t know whether he tricked York into believing that he had more loyal men than he thought or whether he lured York out into open ground as the chronicler de Waurin recounts before revealing his true colours.

What we do know is that he fought at the second Battle of St Albans where he was knighted. An account of his role was given in Gregory’s Chronicle. He was injured by a caltrop (a spiky device left on the ground to injure animals and men) so stood and fought on the same spot killing fifteen men.  Six weeks later he was himself killed at the Battle of Towton in 1461 – Edward had specifically identified him as someone to be extinguished with the additional incentive of a reward of £100.

We also know that Trollope is an example of a man who benefitted from the Hundred Years War.  Historians think that he came from County Durham originally and that his background was the dying industry.  He rose because he distinguished himself on the battlefield, probably helped himself to any loot that was available and married well.  His wife was further up the social ladder than him being the sister of Osbert Mundeford one of his superior officers. Elizabeth and Sir Andrew had two children that we know of – one, David, was killed at Towton with  his father  (he’s sometimes identified as Andrew’s brother) whilst the other, Margaret, married Richard Calle was was the Pastons’ bailiff (as in the Paston Letters).

Wagner, John A. (2001) Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses.

 

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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.

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Lady Margaret Courtenay nee Beaufort

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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