Tag Archives: The Tower

Who murdered the princes in the Tower?

princes_in_the_tower_2.jpgThe honest answer to that is that it rather depends on your interpretation of the sources and, as I have said before, your affiliations. Richard III is a monarch who stirs strong sentiments!  I first encountered the event and a few of the various sources aged eleven when my History teacher used the Jackdaw activity pack about the princes to encourage his class to see that History isn’t something cast in concrete and that the same source can be valued or discredited according to viewpoint and known facts. The story of the princes is the story of an unsolved murder – it’s a bit like unmasking Jack the Ripper in that everyone has their pet theory and some evidence to back up their ideas. The novelist Patricia Cornwall has spent a huge sum of money to gather overlooked evidence which points to Jack being the artist Walter Sickert. Unsolved historical murders have a fascination because everyone can look at the available evidence and draw their own conclusions.  Difficulties arise when historians – and determined amateur sleuths – try to find previously unknown evidence that has disappeared down the crevices of time  that will point in the right direction. It is often the work of painstakingly moving the pieces around until a more clear picture emerges. Until then it has to be best and most accepted fit – but that doesn’t mean that in a modern court the evidence would produce a guilty verdict.

So here  are the possibilities of what happened to the Princes- in no particular order, other than the order they’ve emerged from my brain.

  1. King Richard III had them killed. Please don’t inhale and reach for your keyboard if you think he’s innocent – he is a rather notable suspect.  Richard, as duke of Gloucester, served his brother Edward IV with loyalty and honour.  Edward left him to get on with ruling the North of England and he did a stonkingly good job of it.  The good folk of York felt sufficiently strongly about it to make a note of his deposition and death at Bosworth – an act guaranteed to hack off the new regime.  The problem for Richard, if you’re that way inclined, was that Edward IV allowed the Woodville faction to gain dominance at court in terms of lucrative positions, marriages and ultimately by giving the care of his son into Woodville hands.  Richard only found out about his brother’s death because Lord Hastings sent him a note warning of Woodville intentions to get young Edward crowned as quickly as possible which would have seen Richard as a protector without any power because he didn’t have control of the king. When Richard intercepted the young king at Northampton it could be argued that Richard was acting in the interests of rather a lot of people who weren’t terrible keen on the aforementioned Woodvilles who were regarded by many as too big for their boots – and now is not the time to go down the side alley of Jacquetta Grey’s lineage. So far so good. Nor is this post the time to go through the whole chronology of events. The key things that stick in my mind are the Eleanor Butler incident i.e. the announcement that Edward IV had already been pre contracted in marriage thus rendering all his children illegitimate and Richard as heir to the throne.  The argument is usually put forward that if the children were illegitimate and since the Titulus Regulus act of Parliament said they were then there was no way they could inherit-so why kill them?  There’s also the episode with Lord Hastings finding himself being manhandled out of a privy council meeting to a handy lump of timber where he was executed without trial – clearly a large chunk from the historical jigsaw missing there although plenty of historians have presented theories on the subject as to why Richard should fall out with his brother’s friend so dramatically and decisively. Jane Shore found herself doing public penance, lost her property and ended up in jail in the aftermath of the episode – again why should Richard do that?  His brother had plenty of other mistresses.  The problem with skulduggery is that people don’t tend to make careful notes before, during or after the event – at least not if they wanted to keep their heads. There is obviously much more that I could write about both for and against Richard’s involvement.  I have four rather hefty volumes on my desk as I type.  Richard was the key suspect at the time according to rumour- Dominic Mancini left an account of events as he understood them.  He left England the week of Richard’s coronation, doesn’t provide an account of what Richard looked like and his manuscript went missing until 1934.  He says:” But after Hastings was removed, all the attendants who had waited on the king were debarred access to him. He and his brother were withdrawn into the inner apartments of the Tower proper, and day by day  began to be seen more rarely behind the bars and windows, til at length they ceased to appear altogether. The Physician John Argentine, the last of his attendants whose services the king enjoyed, reported that the young kin, like a victim prepared for sacrifice, sought remission of his sins by daily confession and penance, because he believed that death was facing him.”

    “I have seen many men burst into tears and lamentations when mention was made of him after his removal from men’s sight; and already there is a suspicion that he had been done away with. Whether, However, he has been done away with, and by what manner of death, so far I have not yet at all discovered.” 

    Mancini recognises that rumours aren’t fact but does give us a circumstantial account which holds water in that he doesn’t have any particular axe to grind on the subject.  Richard was in charge – whilst dying in the Tower was a huge risk for any of its imprisoned inhabitants it should only have happened if the bloke at the top of the chain of command gave the order; medieval Kings needed to secure their dynasties.  In having Edward of Middleham created Prince of Wales, Richard was laying a marker for the future.  If nothing else, and this is my thought on the subject, the Wars of the Roses would have taught him that having two kings on the board isn’t a terribly good idea in terms of political stability.  Little boys, bastardised or not, have a nasty tendency of growing up to be focal points of rebellion (and so does the idea of their existence as Henry VII swiftly discovered). I should also add that I have no problem with it if Richard did do it – medieval kings weren’t required to be nice they were required to hold on to the throne, pass it to the next generation and preferably win a large number of wars abroad whilst avoiding the scenario of their own citizens killing each other. I might also add that no one has any problem with Edward IV bumping off Henry VI in order to ensure no further unrest – of course he had the body displayed which eases the problem of conspiracy theories popping up out of the woodwork and he produced heirs – not to mention a brother who managed to land himself with a far more juicy tale. Equally Henry IV who bumped off his cousin doesn’t suffer as much as Richard on account of the fact that there were two further generations of Lancastrian kings making Henry’s actions less noteworthy (if you wanted to keep your head) whilst Richard lost his throne and his life after only two years  allowing the Tudor propaganda machine to get to work which also muddies some of the sources.

  2. Henry Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham was descended from both John of Gaunt and Thomas of Woodstock. Again, if contemporary/near contemporary accounts are to be believed he had something of a grudge against the Woodvilles believing that his marriage to Katherine Woodville was beneath his dignity and that he hadn’t been permitted to take up his correct position in society. There are accounts where it is Stafford who is encouraging Richard to do away with the two princes. Things weren’t going terribly well for Stafford in terms of promotion and power although he swiftly became virtual ruler of the whole of Wales when Richard followed his brother’s model of giving titles, offices and lands to people he trusted and then letting them get on with it. By the winter of 1483 Bucking was in open rebellion against Richard and in cahoots with Margaret Beaufort who we  know he met on the road to Brecon where Bishop Morton was being kept under house arrest.  There seem to be two separate plots that turned into one plot – untidy but demonstrating that the great and the good had seen an opportunity for making their moves and also demonstrating that beneath the surface there were some very nasty currents at work – none of which is evidenced through much more than hearsay, some gleaned documentary comments and a few very interesting travel itineraries. The combination of  Buckingham’s arrogance and a few well chosen words of encouragement could have  been enough to see Buckingham have the boys murdered.  He had the means and the opportunity in that he was Constable of the Tower and had Richard’s trust.  He was executed in Salisbury on 3 November 1483.  He was not permitted to make a speech before his death.  It is plausible that he had the boys killed in order to make life difficult for Richard and also to open his way to the throne – it would have to be said that if the latter was the case Stafford was an inordinately optimistic chap.  If the former is true then he succeeded better than he could ever have dreamed. Jean Molinet is one of the sources who references Buckingham as does Commines.  There’s also a fragment of manuscript in the Ashmolean that points in Buckingham’s direction. The key thing here is that Richard didn’t know about it until it was too late and then who would have believed him.
  3.  

    Sir James Tyrell- according to Sir Thomas More and Polydore Vergil – the chap that did the deed. He apparently confessed in 1502 prior to his execution.  There is no known copy of the confession in existence. The Great Chronicle of London repeated the rumour.

  4. And that was more or less it until historians began revising their views in the Twentieth Century – the Victorians as the image above demonstrates were rather keen on the wicked uncle theory.  There is an account written by the Tudor historian John Stowe which says that there was a failed rescue attempt complete with a diversion of fire.  Again, I have no problem with that as it is entirely plausible that Stowe had access to sources that are now lost – happens a lot in this story.  This account opens up the possibility that the princes were killed accidentally or on purpose by someone other than on the orders of the folk in charge.  If there was a rescue attempt and it went wrong it would be very easy for the princes’ guards to kill them either to prevent their rescue or – and this is pure speculation- trying to do their best Thomas Becket replay for reward or someone could have paid the killer on the staff to do the deed – which opens up the possibility of the Lancastrian faction weighing in…all of which has no evidential base – Josephine Tey and Philippa Gregory are fiction writers. They can take  scraps and use the wriggle room as they wish. For accounts in the history books to be changed there needs to be something rather more substantial.
  5. They died accidentally or of illness. Well, why didn’t Richard just say?  Who would have believed him – look what happened to Edward II and Richard II and Henry VI – no one believed their deaths were natural….and that’s mainly because they weren’t.  There are plenty of other examples of the elite dying unexpectedly and the next thing you know its on account of poison or dastardly deeds. The average medieval man and woman in the street liked a conspiracy theory as much as the present generation – another thing which doesn’t help the primary accounts that we do have.  It’s largely all gossip.
  6. They didn’t die at all.  There was a story in Tyrell’s family that he removed the boys from the Tower.  There’re un-identified children in Richard’s financial records in Sheriff Hutton (oh goody, more speculation- but at least there’s something documented). There is also the Laslau Theory that says that John Clement, Margaret Gigg’s husband, was actually Richard of York. It’s a really interesting theory based on Holbein’s picture of Sir Thomas More’s family – obviously with flaws like the idea of Sir Edward Guildford (father of the duke of Northumberland’s wife) actually being Edward V incognito  but it would account for some of Sir Thomas More’s more glaring errors in his account of events – if you’re a follower of the Laslau Theory, Sir Thomas rather than being a Tudor propagandist/historian (depending on your viewpoint) is actually laying a screen of misinformation in order to protect the identity of a surviving prince. Laslau does offer some slender  threads of documentary evidence in his quest which are  interesting and which muddy the waters still further.  And finally and most obvious of the lot there is Henry VII’s on-going fear of pretenders.  King James of Scotland accepted Perkin Warbeck as Duke of York. This isn’t without its difficulties as Warbeck was initially acclaimed in Dublin as Earl of Warwick but you get the gist.  Elizabeth Woodville testified to the legitimacy of her children but never accused anyone of murder – either before or after Richard’s demise…and yes there’s a whole host of things that could be added to that statement.
  7. There are a couple of other candidates for murderer- take John Howard who became Duke of Norfolk.  He was the claimant to the estate of the Mowbray Dukes of Norfolk.  He was given custody of the Tower of London under less than regular circumstances the night the Princes are supposed to have disappeared from the Tower (Weir). He had opportunity and it turns out he had a motive—Richard, Duke of York was also Duke of Norfolk in right of his deceased child bride Anne, the daughter of the last Mowbray Duke.  Normally land and title reverted to the family where a child marriage was not consummated and no heir produced – which is why Edmund Tudor didn’t wait until Margaret Beaufort was a bit older before getting her with child.  he was concerned she’d die and he’d lose the lolly. In this case though, Richard had kept the title, the estates and the revenue…
  8. And finally John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln. John had been by Uncle Richard’s side throughout 1483.  Like Buckingham he was trusted.  He would become Richard’s heir presumptive after Edward of Middleham’s death.  If we’re going to suggest that Buckingham was looking to be king then it also makes sense that someone a bit nearer to the Crown would bear some investigation.

The thing is that there is some evidence but its contradictory and circumstantial.  It might be possible to rule out the princes’ survival if the bones in the urn in Westminster Abbey turned out to belong to Edward V and Richard of York. Even if they weren’t it wouldn’t necessarily mean that they had survived their misadventure. And if the bones were theirs, it wouldn’t prove who did the killing since the skeletons did not emerge from their resting place clutching a note identifying the murderer – though it would make the account offered by More more plausible – errors and all.

And that’s all I intend to post about the Princes in the Tower for the time being.  Most of the time, with a few notable exceptions, if it weren’t for the traffic stats on the History Jar I wouldn’t know whether anyone was reading my ramblings or not.  I’ve not got the hang of being liked, joining communities or developing conversations through comments – Richard III, the Woodvilles and the Princes on the other hand certainly get a response! So thank you for your comments – positive, negative, knowledgeable and thought provoking as they are.

Primary sources or near primary sources include:

André, Bernard: Vita Henrici VII (in Memorials of King Henry VII, ed. J. Gairdner, Rolls Series, 1858)

Bull of Pope Innocent VIII on the Marriage of Henry VII with Elizabeth of York (ed. J. Payne-Collier, Camden Miscellany I, 1847)

Fabyan, Robert: The Concordance of Histories: The New Chronicles of England and France (1516) (ed. H. Ellis, 1811)

Grafton, Richard: Grafton’s Chronicle, or History of England (2 vols, ed. H. Ellis, 1809)

Hall, Edward: The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York (London, 1550; ed. H. Ellis, 1809; facsimile edition of the original published 1970)

Holinshed, Raphael: Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (6 vols, ed. H. Ellis, 1807–8)

Leland, John: Collectanea (6 vols, ed. T. Hearne, Oxford, 1770–74)

A London Chronicle in the Time of Henry VII and Henry VIII (ed. C. Hopper, Camden Society, Camden Miscellany IV, 1839)

 

More, Sir Thomas: The History of King Richard the Third (in The Complete Works of Sir Thomas More, Vol. II, ed. R. S. Sylvester and others, Yale, 1963, London, 1979)

Rous, John: Joannis Rossi Antiquarii Warwicensis. Historia Regum Angliae (ed. T. Hearne, Oxford, 1716 and 1745)

The Song of the Lady Bessy

Stow, John: A Survey of London

Vergil, Polydore: The Anglica Historia of Polydore Vergil, AD 1485–1573 (trans. and ed. D. Hay, Camden Series, 1950)

For secondary sources both for and against Richard as well as presenting other possibilities and candidates see http://erenow.com/biographies/richardiiiandtheprincesinthetower/26.html

 

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Filed under Fifteenth Century, The Plantagenets, Wars of the Roses

Sir Robert Brackenbury’s daughter

Princes in towerSir Robert Brackenbury died at Bosworth in August 1485 fighting for Richard III. He’s best known as the Constable of the Tower who refused to kill the princes in the Tower i.e. Edward V and Richard duke of York on his master’s orders- Sir Thomas More’s version- but felt able to hand the keys over to Sir James Tyrell with a view to dispatching the aforementioned.

At the risk of being contentious, or merely stating the obvious -it was either Richard III or the Duke of Buckingham according to rumour at the time. Frankly whilst Buckingham could have done it thus framing Richard and getting him a step closer to the throne it does seem rather a huge leap  of ambition as there were plenty of people in line before Buckingham for the crown (though stranger things have happened historically speaking).  In terms of means, motive and opportunity  as well as available sources the finger of blame points heavily at the wicked uncle in the contemporary and Tudor sources…and yes I know that the Tudor sources weren’t ever going to paint Richard in a warm and friendly light.  I don’t suppose that Lord Hastings or Earl Rivers would paint Richard in a warm and friendly light either. Plantagenet kings did brutal things to gain and then to keep power – getting rid of unwanted nephews was hardly an innovation; though unlikely to win friends and influence posterity.

 

Sir Thomas More is not without his critics. The man was only five years old when the story kicked off. He was Cardinal Morton’s page, but he was a lawyer and unafraid, or so it seems, of irritating monarchs. He talked to people who had been alive at the time of the princes’ disappearance- to people who may have speculated and remembered and gossiped – none of which is evidence but is useful if you’re Thomas More writing a history – something which incidentally he never finished, never corrected for errors and which may have had allegorical tendencies…which is a lot of ifs, whats and maybes but its the best you’re going to get from this post.

 

Anyway back to Brackenbury who was apparently prepared to die rather than do as Richard ordered despite the lucrative rewords he was receiving at the time. He’d been made constable of the Tower for life as well as master of the mint. Juicy little estates seemed to fall into his pocket at a click of Richard’s fingers  along with posts such as Sheriff of Kent- and as we all know ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune.’  In the next breath Brackenbury, without any apparent sense of irony, happily hands over the keys to the princes’ prison – which seems somewhat disingenuous. It was also claimed that James Tyrell, who is generally accepted as the murderer by those sources that identify the doer of the deed, couldn’t find the bodies after the event because for reasons best known to himself Sir Robert had shifted them – not that he felt inclined to raise hue and cry or point any fingers at anyone…making him an accessory to the deed whether he wanted to be or not. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t do well at the hands of Shakespeare who drew hugely on More’s history as well as the writings of Polydore Vergil.

Robert, aside from refusing to kill Plantagenet sprigs but looking the other way whilst someone else did, remained loyal to Richard III. Plain old Robert Brackenbury became Sir Robert during Christmas 1484. He took part in Richard’s final charge at Bosworth dying alongside him. His name features on an attainder for raising troops at Leicester. Four years later the attainder was reversed so that family lands in Durham which had been in the family since the twelfth century could be drawn on by his daughters Anne and Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Brackenbury, Robert’s daughter, found herself in the Minories with the Duchess of Norfolk.  When she died she asked her executors to reimburse the duchess for her kindness. And that is where Sir Thomas More comes back into the story – More was in the habit of visiting the Minories to see a nun called Joyeuce Lee who was the sister of a friend of his. One finds oneself wondering what More heard during his visits – as well as Elizabeth Mowbray (duchess of Norfolk) the mother of Anne Mowbray – Richard of York’s little bride there was Elizabeth Brackenbury, Mary Tyrell who was according to Weir (no fan of Richard’s) the sister or cousin of Sir James, Mary’s aunt – Anne Montgomery whose husband was the executor of Edward IV’s will and a loyalist of Richard’s (Weir:170). One can’t help wondering what the ladies knew, what they talked about and how much of it Joyeuce relayed to the young lawyer who visited her. Of course, that’s not evidence….but…

The story from behind the convent walls was further corroborated  by an anonymous source that had a hand in the murders and who lived in fear of his life – according to More at any rate.

Make of it what you will! It is English History’s favourite topic for conspiracy theories after all – though from this angle it seems like a wicked uncle is involved in there somewhere.

Harris, Barbara J (2002) English Aristocratic Women, 1450-1550: Marriage and Family, Property and Careers.

Weir, Alison (1992) The Princes in the Tower. New York: Ballantine Books

 

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Filed under Fifteenth Century, The Plantagenets, Wars of the Roses

Edward Courtney, Earl of Devon

edward courtney.jpgEdward Courtney was the only surviving son of the Marquess of Exeter born in 1526.
More significant  was the fact that he was the great-grandson of Edward IV.   Katherine, the sixth of Edward and Elizabeth Woodville’s children to survive babyhood, was married off to Sir William Courtney a loyal Lancastrian in the aftermath of Bosworth which must have been a bit of a comedown from an earlier proposal for her to marry either a Scottish or a Spanish prince but better by far than scuttling around in the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey.  Unfortunately for poor old William he somehow became inveigled into a conspiracy to put Edmund de La Pole on the throne in 1502 and spent the rest of Henry VII’s reign in custody – it’s fairly safe to say that the Courtneys were framed.
Katherine Courtney of York.jpgWhen Henry VIII came to the throne he had his uncle by marriage released from prison but persuaded his Aunt Katherine to renounce her claim to the earldom of March- and the Mortimer inheritance which caused so much mayhem during the Wars of the Roses- and following the death of William in 1511, Katherine took a vow of chastity.  This seemed to go down well with Bluff King Hal who gave her the rights to the income from the Courtney lands during her life time, drew her son Henry into the inner court circle and made her godmother to the Princess Mary in 1516. The problem so far as her grandson Edward would be concerned would be that little drop of Plantagenet blood.  It had been alright for Katherine to sign herself ‘the excellent Princess Katherine, Countess of Devon, daughter, sister and aunt of kings’ (Westcott) but royalty wasn’t such a good thing to have in one’s bloodstream during the mid-Tudor crisis and especially not if one fancied wearing a crown rather than a coronet.
Edward Courtney looked all set for a charmed life – he was a cousin of the Tudors and his grandmother had been a respected member of the inner family circle.  He’d spent time in the household of Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk – presumably to learn the art of being a gentleman.
Unfortunately for Edward his father Henry Courtney  came up with the wonderful wheeze of marrying young Edward off to the Princess Mary – you’d have thought he’d have learned from his own father’s experiences.   In addition, Henry’s second wife (and mother of Edward) Gertrude Blount was a daughter of Baron Mountjoy who had served Katherine of Aragon since her arrival in England – Blount, a Derbyshire man  and Katherine’s chamberlain- had a bit of a torrid time of it during the 1530s but Gertrude remained unswervingly loyal to Katherine – and yes, Gertrude was related to Bessie Blount (Henry VIII’s mistress and mother of Henry Fitzroy) but this isn’t the post for that particular amble around Tudor family trees. The Mountjoy clan and the Courtneys were identified as members of the Aragonese faction as supporters of Katherine were called. Henry  Courtney was not only related to the Poles and the Nevilles but on good terms with them – they, being Catholic, were decidedly grumpy about the break with Rome. Put in a nutshell Courtney managed to get himself caught up in one of Thomas Cromwell’s snares in 1538 to keep anyone with a claim to the throne under lock and key- the planned match between Edward and Mary being the icing on the cake so far as Cromwell’s evidence was concerned, so as to speak.
In November 1538 Gertrude, Henry and twelve-year-old Edward found themselves in the Tower.  Henry was executed at the beginning of December and Edward remained a prisoner for the next fifteen years. Henry paid for his distant cousin’s food and education. Upon Henry VIII’s death the regency council and the duke of Somerset decided that an adult male with Plantagenet blood was better in the Tower than out of it – so there he remained, although he now had the company of Bishop Gardiner.  The pair took something of a shine to one another.  Edward referred to the bishop as “father” and Edward became Gardiner’s protégée.
In August 1553 Princess Mary fresh from Framlingham arrived in London to claim her throne from Lady Jane Grey.  A month later Edward was created earl of Devon and Reginald Pole described him as the “Flower of English Nobility” on account of his learning –  let’s face it there wasn’t much else for him to do in the Tower to while away the hours other than read, translate various ancient works and play the lute.
On 1 October 1553 Courtney took his place in Mary’s court by bearing the sword of state at her coronation.
Edward now spent considerable amounts of time running around London with the wrong kind of women – but I don’t suppose he’d had much opportunity for drunkenness and debauchery whilst in custody. Queen Mary was not impressed.
Meanwhile Mary was determined to marry into the family of Charles V.  It had been her mother’s wish and she refused to consider any other options – no matter what anyone else might say on the matter. The thought of Philip II of Spain made quite a lot of English gentlemen feel a little nauseous. Gardiner did try and suggest Courtney as a match but it was no go.  Instead, Sir Thomas Wyatt and Sir Peter Carew came up with the idea of Courtney marrying the Princess Elizabeth – voila Protestant, English – Tudor/Plantagenet- what more could one wish for? Sir William Paget the Tudor administrator was keen on the match as well.  Obviously Gardiner wasn’t so keen on the idea – him being very catholic and everything but Courtney whose freedom seems to have done strange things to his personality and common sense thought it was a terrific plan, as did the recently freed duke of Suffolk Henry Grey, father of Lady Jane Grey.
The plan for the regions to rise up did not go well.  The council found out that there was rebellion in the air and various parties ran around in ever decreasing circles until they were rounded up and placed under arrest – the only exception was in Kent where Wyatt’s rebels advanced upon London and caused quite a lot of panic. Henry Grey scarpered to the Midlands where he met with indifference or hostility whilst Gardiner slapped Courtney metaphorically around in order to find out exactly what he knew.  Gardiner had no intention of languishing in the Tower or loosing his head although it looks as though Gardiner did try and keep Courtney out of trouble no matter what the rest of the Privy Council and the now very influential Spanish Ambassador had to say on the subject.
Ultimately Wyatt’s Rebellion foundered and Edward Courtney found himself back in the Tower once more scratching his head and looking vaguely bewildered. Unfortunately for Courtney, Wyatt had been tortured and had incriminated the earl in the hope, it is believed,  of securing a pardon.  The two men would meet on the 11 April 1554 when Wyatt went to the block and is said to have begged Courtney’s pardon. Wyatt made it quite clear before his execution that neither Courtney nor Elizabeth had been involved in his rebellion. Henry Grey went to the block and so too did Lady Jane Grey and her husband Guildford Dudley who had no part in the plot and were not intended to benefit from the plot – it was an opportunity to tidy up loose ends. But not as it turned out to get rid of Courtney and Elizabeth.
At the end of May 1554 Courtney was sent to Fotheringhay where he stayed for a year. Then he took a journey, presumably for the benefit of his health to Brussels and from there to Venice.  Unfortunately the Spanish took a dim view of the earl and were planning to have him assassinated – the assassin changed sides in Venice thus saving Courtney from an untimely end.
It does appear that Courtney couldn’t help but dabble in treason as the moment he arrived in Italy he hooked up with Sir Henry Dudley, one of Northumberland’s sons, and between them they came up with a harebrained plan to murder Mary  and replace her with Elizabeth – with Courtney as royal spouse. There was even talk of a possible match to Mary Queen of Scots  thanks to Henri II of France.
On the 18 September 1556 Edward Courtney died in Padua where he had enrolled as a student. There were rumours of poison but in reality he’d caught a chill whilst out hawking. A letter sent to Queen Mary by Peter Vannes provides an account of events, “for his Honest recreation… to see his hawks fly upon a wasted ground, without any houses” was caught “in a great tempest of wind and rain” Rather than leave his sport he’d refused to get changed out of his wet clothes and by the end of the week “entered into a continue hot ague, sometimes more vehement than at another… so that his tongue had so stopped his mouth, and his teeth so clove together” that he couldn’t take the Sacrament at the end.
Inevitably with an unexpected death in a time of intrigue and treason there are always conspiracy theories. Poisoning is a favourite so far as Courtney is concerned but I have also read that he may have died of syphilis – that other perennial Tudor exit strategy. The earldom of Devon was extinct  as there were no more male sprigs. Four girls inherited his estates but not the title. There was also one less contender for the throne.
Ian W. Archer, ‘Courtenay, Edward, first earl of Devon (1526–1556)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/6449, accessed 17 March 2017]
Margaret R. Westcott, ‘Katherine, countess of Devon (1479–1527)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/70277, accessed 17 March 2017]

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Filed under Sixteenth Century, The Tudors

Katherine Howard executed

catherine howardOn February 13th 1542 Henry VIII’s fifth queen, his “rose without a thorn”, was executed.   Historians and programme makers often focus on her naughty ways but in reality she was little more than a child- nineteen at the most- when she died having been groomed for abuse during her childhood and then made into a political pawn for the Howard family and the Duke of Norfolk.

Katherine’s final days were played out according to a script familiar to Henry VIII’s method for getting rid of people who’d let him down one way or another.

Parliament sat in the middle of January 1542.  Its purpose was to bring Acts of Attainder against Katherine and her lady in waiting Jane Boleyn – Lady Rochford.  At the same time the dowager Duchess of Norfolk was also accused as were Henry Manox, Frances Dereham and the decidedly unsavoury Thomas Culpepper who was also a distant cousin to Katherine, as was Dereham.

On February 10th Katherine was taken from Syon House where she’d been sent when news of her misdemeanours had first surfaced to the Tower.  Once she was in the Tower she was questioned  as to her guilt so that semblance of a fair hearing could be maintained as she wasn’t actually tried in the way that Anne Boleyn was brought to trial.  Perhaps that had been Thomas Cromwell’s neat lawyers mind in action.

On February 11th Parliament passed an act saying that it was perfectly acceptable to execute the insane.  This meant that Jane Boleyn who was definitely not a well woman having accused her own husband of incest with a former queen, her sister-in-law, and who now found herself guilty of allowing Thomas Culpepper to canoodle with her cousin Katherine Howard could be executed without breaking any laws.

On the evening of February 12th Katherine asked to have the block upon which she would lay her head the following day fetched to her chamber.   She rehearsed the actions that would end her life, confessed her sins and on the 13th a crowd gathered to watch the second of Henry VIII’s queens meet her death at the hands of the royal executioner.

Katherine  wearing black velvet stood in front of the crowd and made the traditional address seeking pardon from the king and dying as a good Christian.  In one recorded version of her address she is supposed to have said:

…long before the King took me I loved Culpepper, and I wish to God I had done as he wished me, for at the time the King wanted to take me he urged me to say that I was pledged to him. If I had done as he advised me I should not die this death, nor would he. I would rather have him for a husband than be mistress of the world, but sin blinded me and greed of grandeur, and since mine is the fault mine also is the suffering, and my great sorrow is that Culpepper should have to die through me.

Sadly this piece of theatre is the work of later historians.  As Wilkinson records, there is no evidence of this speech in any of the foreign ambassadors’ reports to their various masters.  It needs hardly be added that a put down of that nature would have been to juicy to be ignored.

Katherine Howard was executed with a single stroke of the axe.  Jane Boleyn, mad or not, was executed immediately afterwards having seen her mistress die before her. Dereham who had put cuckold’s horns on the kings head had been executed by hanging, drawing and quartering at Tyburn in December the previous year.  Thomas Culpepper had been executed by axe on the same day.  Manox who most modern readers must find repellant for the way in which he groomed and abused  Katherine from his position of trust within the dowager’s household escaped execution.

Wilkinson, Josephine. (2016) Katherine Howard. The Tragic Story of Henry VIII’s Fifth Queen. London:Murray

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Cuthbert Tunstall – Bishop of London and Durham.

mw125060.jpgThe country here about Durham is substantially established in the abolition of the bishop of Rome and his usurped power. Would to God ye would send for the bishop of Durham and hear his advice for the utter extirpation of the said power, and how it might be extinguished for ever. I thought myself to have known a great deal and all that could be said in the matter; but when I heard his learning, and how deeply he had searched into this usurped power, I thought myself the veriest fool in England. If he would write a book upon it all the kings of Christendom would shortly follow our master’s steps, so great is his learning and reputation. In all other things concerning high judgment, Parliament matters, &c., he is not living that would advertise you more for your honor and prosperity. Expertus loquor. Your injunctions can have no effect in Durham Abbey in some things; for there was never yet woman was in the abbey further than the church, nor they (the monks) never come within the town. Newcastle, 26 Jan. – Layton

It’s been a while but I thought I’d have a look to see what Cromwell had on his mind at the end of January 1536.  His monastic visitors, the comedy double act, Layton and Legh had reached the county of Durham and as we can see from this letter the Bishop of Durham made quite an impression on Layton unlike the clergy of Bangor who wrote to Cromwell on the 30th January to complain about the injunctions for incontinence that had been placed upon them that would prevent them from offering hospitality to travellers – i.e. having women around the place.  The good brethren of Bangor complain that they will be forced to seek their living in “ale houses and taverns” if they cannot keep female servants and such women.  Nice try gentlemen!

So, who was the Bishop of Durham who compares so favourably to virtually every other cleric in the country and who managed to extract a good account from Layton? The gentleman in question was Cuthbert Tunstall and he replaced Cardinal Wolsey who had been Bishop of Durham from 1523 until 1529. He might not have agreed with Thomas Cromwell but he was a law abiding citizen and obedient to the will of his king.

Tunstall was a Yorkshireman from Hackforth born on the wrong side of the blanket and educated in Oxford before moving to Cambridge where he became friends with Sir Thomas More. Tunstall’s career was initially that of diplomat.  He worked on the engagement of the young Princess Mary to Charles V.  His reward for his work was to become Bishop of London in 1522. Interestingly, although Tunstall learned towards humanism and reform from within as did Sir Thomas More his future would take a very different course even though they both held a number of identical posts.

During the 1520s Tunstall worked to flush out heretics, to burn proscribed books and the men and women who adhered to new dangerous beliefs.  It was Tunstall who was Bishop of London in 1527 when Thomas Bilney, a radical preacher from East Anglia, was tried by Wolsey and found guilty of heresy.  In the church court was Sir Thomas More – a layman.  He joined with the clerics in their questioning of Bilney. Having been found guilty he was handed over to Tunstall who persuaded him to recant after some time in prison.  he was forced to walk barefoot to St Paul’s amongst other things.  It has been said that it was Tunstall who persuaded him to recant but ultimately it did not save Bilney’s life.  After a stint in prison he set out to demonstrate that he had been in error in going back on his beliefs and was finally executed in 1531 in Norwich.

Tunstall’s life was not about to get any easier.  Henry VIII wanted a divorce.  Cuthbert sloe up for Catherine of Aragon but ultimately switched sides.  It was he and Bishop Lee of York who were sent to Kimbolton in 1534 to try and persuade Catherine to take the Oath of Supremacy and to accept that her daughter was no longer heir to the throne. Tunstall decided to opt for obedience to the King in all things and it perhaps for this reason that a man who would continue in post during the reigns of Edward VI and Queen Mary received a remarkably clean bill of health when Cromwell’s visitors arrived in the County of Durham.

Recognising, perhaps, that the monasteries were to be purged he did not put up a fight to save them.  He did, however, insist that Durham’s library be kept in tact.

In 1536 he managed to keep a low profile during the Pilgrimage of Grace by holing up in one of his castles and refusing to come out until it was all over.

Henry VIII recognised Tunstall as a loyal servant of the crown and made him an executor of his will or perhaps Henry’s wife Katherine Parr offered a good reference.  Tunstall had been the executor of Sir Thomas Parr ‘s will- Katherine’s father.   He and Thomas Parr were cousins and it was perhaps for this reason that Cuthbert assisted Maude Parr with the education of her children- somewhat ironic given Katherine Parr’s leaning to the new learning.  Maude left Tunstall a ring in her will…once again proving that everybody of note was related to some degree or other.

As an aside, Cuthbert’s legitimate half-brother Brian managed to get himself killed at Flodden in 1513 and was immortalised in Marmion by Sir Walter Scott. The 1827 memoirs of Marmaduke Tunstall identify Cuthbert’s mother as a daughter of the Conyers family – a notable Yorkshire name. His father was Thomas who provided for the boy and saw to his education.

He officiated at Edward VI’s coronation.

Tunstall had the courage to speak out against the changes that ran counter to his belief.  He spoke against the Act of Uniformity in 1549 for example.  He didn’t like the idea of married clergy or the changes in offering both bread and wine to communicants.  But as with his initial support of Catherine of Aragon once laws were enshrined he acquiesced to their rule. When the Duke of Somerset fell from power and was replaced by John Dudley, Earl of Warwick (who swiftly got an upgrade to  Duke of Northumberland) he hoped that the religious policies would be reversed.  They weren’t.  Even worse, Dudley didn’t buy this lawful bishop’s promises of good behaviour so Tunstall found himself in the Tower on charges of felony and only got out of jail when Queen Mary ascended the throne.

In 1558, having weathered three Tudor monarchs Cuthbert, now in his eighties, found himself faced with a fourth.  After all those years he finally refused to backtrack from his Catholic position.  He refused the Oath of Supremacy, refused to consecrate Parker as Archbishop of Canterbury and was, as a consequence, deprived of his office and committed into house arrest at Lambeth. He died there a few weeks later at the age of eighty-five of natural causes.

The image of Cuthbert is one of three held by the National Portrait Gallery.

 

‘Henry VIII: January 1536, 26-31’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 10, January-June 1536, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1887), pp. 64-81. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol10/pp64-81 [accessed 20 January 2017].

Porter, Linda. (2010).  Katherine the Queen: The Remarkable Life of Katherine Parr. London:MacMillan

Townsend Fox, George (1827) Memoirs of Marmaduke Tunstall, esq., and George Allan, esq

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Sir Thomas Lovell – Tudor lawyer and henchman.

sir thomas lovell.jpgI’ve arrived at today’s metaphorical advent in a rather circuitous way. My story starts with John Billesdon’s will. He wrote it on the 18th of December 1522 and left rather a lot of money to chantries being built for the repose of Sir Thomas Lovell’s soul.  The image on the left comes from the National Portrait Gallery. Here’s the will:

Billesdon (John),”grocer.”—To the Wardens of the Commonalty of the Mistery of the Grocery of London he leaves certain messuages, comprising “the Weyhouse,” (fn. 2) in Cornhill in the parish of S. Michael, held by him in trust, so that the said wardens maintain two chantries, in the chapel erected by Sir Thomas Lovell on the south side of the priory church of Halywell without Bysshoppisgate, for the souls of the said Sir Thomas when dead, Isabell, late wife of the same, and others, with observance of an obit, &c., in manner as directed. The sum of three hundred pounds he declares to have handed over, on behalf of the said Sir Thomas Lovell, to the wardens aforesaid, for repairing the above messuages. In case of default made in carrying out the terms of the devise the property is to go over to the Master and Wardens of the Marchaunte Taillours of the Fraternity or Guild of S. John Baptist of London under like conditions, with further remainder to the Mayor and Commonalty of the City of London. Desires that his will be enrolled of record before the Mayor at the Guildhall, there to remain for ever. The will made tripartite: one part to remain with the Wardens of the Commonalty of Grocers, another with the Prioress of Haliwell, and the third with Sir Thomas Lovell and his heirs. Dated 18 December A.D. 1522.

Roll 240 (54).

 

‘Wills: 21-38 Henry VIII (1529-47)’, in Calendar of Wills Proved and Enrolled in the Court of Husting, London: Part 2, 1358-1688, ed. R R Sharpe (London, 1890), pp. 634-651. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/court-husting-wills/vol2/pp634-651 [accessed 10 December 2016].

Why was I perusing  wills?  Well, for a start wills are an insight into the medieval/Tudor hereafter and the way ordinary people perceived themselves.  In this particular hereafter it was important, somewhat unexpectedly, for Mr Billesdon not to care for the repose of his own soul but to fulfil a debt to Sir Thomas Lovell.  Lovell would die two years after our grocer made his will but it is clear he was already concerned with his immortal soul – and further exploration suggests he may have had cause for concern.

The specific purpose of a chantry was to say prayers for the dead so that their souls would spend less time in Purgatory before heading off to Heaven – think of Purgatory not so much as God’s waiting room but God’s sauna for the soul where you had to go in Catholic ideology until such time as your soul was sufficiently cleansed in order to be admitted to Heaven. The prayers offered by the monks and nuns who prayed in the chantries weren’t necessarily ‘get out of Purgatory free cards’ but definitely ensured that you would arrive at your destination sooner than otherwise.

And who was Sir Thomas Lovell? The name Lovell is suggestive of someone with strong white rose sympathies – think Francis Lovell of Minster Lovell in Oxfordshire- but this particular Lovell came from a Norfolk family and was not related to Richard III’s friend, chamberlain and most loyal supporter. Sir Thomas, a Lincoln’s Inn trained lawyer, was strongly Lancastrian in sympathy, so Lancastrian in fact that he’d had to flee to Brittany to join Henry Tudor during the reign of Richard III in 1483 having become involved with Buckingham’s rebellion. His brother-in-law was Henry Tudor’s standard bearer at Bosworth.

Sir Thomas returned with Henry and after Bosworth was elected to Henry’s first parliament. Sir Thomas was the chap who asked that Henry should honour the arrangements made between Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth Woodville and marry Elizabeth of York – of course, Henry was going to do it anyway but by having Parliament make the request dressed the whole thing up as the will of the people. The logic is rather like a succession of falling dominoes: if the people want something to happen anyone reacting against it or Henry in particular was essentially not only a traitor to the Crown but also a traitor to the country…a nice piece of Tudor spin.

Lovell continued in his support for Henry not only politically but militarily at the Battle of Stoke in 1497 where he was knighted and also in terms of his financial policies.  Henry’s best known money men were Empson and Dudley but records show that Lovell was also a signatory to the forced loans that much of the nobility were required to make during this period, thus ensuring they didn’t have money to plot against Henry and were finically reliant upon the Tudors. Empson and Dudley were the sacrificial tax collectors executed by Henry’s own son when he became Henry VIII in 1509 in a bid for popular acclaim. It should be noted he also cancelled most of the outstanding loans.

Lovell may well have felt that he was lucky not to join Empson and Dudley, not least because as Chancellor of the Exchequor ( an appointment for life) as well as master of wards for a time, he’d successfully feathered his own nest during the reign – the Magnificat Window at Great Malvern was part funded by his donations which is why his image once featured in it.  Lovell even lent Elizabeth of York money.  The debt was secured against her plate.  A clue as to where this younger son gained his wealth can be gleaned from William Worseley,  Dean of St Paul’s.  The dean kept careful accounts which reveal that he paid Reginald Bray and Thomas Lovell ‘fines of allegiance’ on a regular basis.  Lovell was perhaps fortunate in 1909 that he was one of the executors of Lady Margaret Beaufort’s will along with Reginald Bray, Henry VII’s own shady ‘Mr Fix-it.’

Lovell could bear looking at a little more closely.  He was appointed Constable of the Tower and was present at the time when the Earl of Warwick and Perkin Warbeck made their ‘escape’ in 1499. This very foolish not to mention convenient action allowed them to be executed, leaving the way clear for Katherine of Aragon to marry Prince Arthur.

It was Lovell who arrested Sir James Tyrell at Guisnes near Calais  in 1501 where he’d served since 1485 with only a brief interlude to change allegiance from Richard III to Henry VII who pardoned him not once but twice from all possible crimes he might have committed whilst in the service of Richard III (you can just feel the conspiracy theory thickening nicely can’t you?)

Tyrell’s arrest and eventual execution was precipitated from having become involved with the doings of the de la Pole family. Tyrell had given Edmund de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, shelter at Guisnes then waved the earl merrily on his way rather than arresting him on the spot. Lovell turned up, offered Tyrell safe conduct and then promptly arrested him. Tyrell rather belatedly made his confession as regards to the killing of the two princes in the Tower but claimed not to know where the bodies were on account of the fact they’d been moved.  He also named another person who was alive at the time – oddly Lovell didn’t feel the need to have words with the chap.  No one has ever clapped eyes on Tyrell’s confession (That’s not to say it doesn’t exist of course because things can get put on the proverbial safe place only to turn up five hundred or so years later but none the less circumstantially very suspect whatever Thomas More may have thought on the subject). Thomas Penn, Henry VII’s award winning biographer, notes that ‘strange things tended to happen’ in Lovell’s vicinity. It’s also worth noting that Tyrell was attainted two years after his death but at no point does the bill against him mention slaughtering the princes in the Tower – which in the circumstances you might think it should. Tyrell’s son was arrested at the same time as his father but was granted his freedom and after a sufficient time had elapsed regained his father’s estate…make of it what you will. There will be more posts on the topic in 2017.

And how does our grocer fit into this rather shady picture? Further exploration reveals that  Billesdon was one of a number of merchants sent to negotiate with Lovell on behalf of the Mercers’ Company in relation to subsidies and rates (Watney:349). His name also turns up on the Calendar for Payment of Fines. This together with the will suggests that palms had been greased and favours exchanged in the cut throat world of Tudor politics.

Lovell is one of Henry VII’s new men. These men were appointed for their ability rather than their bloodline and because since Henry had made them, Henry could break them. This did not necessarily win friends and influence people at the time but it ensured that the Tudor administrative system was much more effective than anything that had come before. I’ve posted about Bray earlier in the year.  Double click on his name to open a new page for the earlier post.

anne_ashby_largeIn an interesting aside, Sir Thomas featured in another of the History Jar’s posts. He and his wife had no children. He left his estate at East Harling in Norfolk to his nephew Francis. Francis married Anne Ashby who turns out to be Hans Holbein’s ‘Lady with the Squirrel.’ I told you the Tudor world was a small one! Double click on Anne’s image to open the post on a new page if you want to read further.

Penn, Thomas. (2012) Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England. London:Penguin

 Watney, Frank D and  Lyell Laetitia. (2016) Acts of Court of the Mercers’ Company 1453-1527 Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Wroe, Ann (2003) Perkin A Story of Deception. London: Jonathon Cape

‘London and Middlesex Fines: Henry VIII’, in A Calendar To the Feet of Fines For London and Middlesex: Volume 2, Henry VII – 12 Elizabeth, ed. W J Hardy and W Page (London, 1893), pp. 16-68. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/feet-of-fines-london-middx/vol2/pp16-68 [accessed 28 November 2016].

http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1509-1558/member/lovell-sir-thomas-i-1450-1524

 

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Kirby Muxloe Castle and William, Lord Hastings

DSC_0077There’s not much left of Kirby Muxloe Castle today apart from two red brick octagonal corner turrets and a gate-house. There’s also a rather fine moat filled with water lilies and at this time of year rather a lot of Canada geese. DOn’t go during the week because the doors are locked! The gate house boasts some state of the art gun loops which reflect the ways in which war fare was changing during the fifteenth century.

 

Originally there was a manor at Kirby Muxloe but when William Lord Hastings got hold of it in 1474, he applied for a license to crenulate. Being best buddies with Edward IV, Hastings was promptly granted the right to turn the manor into a castle. He began work in 1480.

DSC_0087.JPGThe bricks which form the towers and gate house were fired locally under the direction of John Cowper, who’d been an apprentice working on Henry VI’s school at Eton. The red bricks are interspaced with a black diamond or ‘diaper’ pattern which also incorporates the initials WH – William wanted folk to know who lived in the snazzy new castle. There’s also a sleeve or ‘maunch’ from his coat of arms, a jug and a boat – although the guide book admits that historians are till scratching their heads as to why Hastings wanted those particular decorations.  A set of accounts survives from 1480 to 1484 detailing work on the castle. It reveals 100,000 bricks a week were being fired.

DSC_0088.JPG

The west tower was the only part of Hastings’ project to be completed. Work stopped five years later when Hastings had a nasty accident with an axe on Tower Green on 13 June 1483. Hastings’ wife continued working on the building and the family continued to live there until 1630 although Hastings’ plan was never fulfilled.

 

So who was William, Lord Hastings? He was born in approximately 1430 and his father owed his service to Richard, Duke of York. William was knighted by Edward IV in the aftermath of Towton in 1461 and swiftly became chamberlain to Edward’s household. He was one of the courtiers who helped arrange the marriage of Margaret of York (Edward’s sister) to the Duke of Burgundy. Hastings took the opportunity to build his land base in his native Leicestershire – principly Ashby de la Zouche and Kirkby Muxloe as well as Slingsby in Yorkshire whilst in the royal household. When Edward briefly lost his throne in 1470 on account of the Kingmaker being unamused at Edward’s secret wedding to Elizabeth Woodville, Hastings fled to the continent with his monarch. Hastings was with Edward fighting against the Earl of Warwick at the Battle of Barnet which may have taken some explaining at home as Hastings’ wife Katherine was actually Katherine Neville – the Earl of Warwick’s sister (also making him cousin by marriage to Edward IV and Richard, Duke of Gloucester).

 

Hastings took part in the Battle of Tewkesbury which saw the death of Lancastrian Prince Edward and the capture of Henry VI’s queen, Margaret of Anjou. In the aftermath of Tewkesbury Hastings found himself being sent to Calais in order to restore order on behalf of Edward IV. As a consequence of all that loyalty and martial activity he was even more liberally rewarded once the Yorkists were secure on the throne… and he got to go to all of Edward IV’s parties as well. Mancini describes Hastings as being privy to all of Edward’s pleasures ( i.e. all that drinking and debauchery that ruined Edward IV’s health).

 

Of course, like many other of Edward’s courtiers Hastings fought a running smear campaign against the Woodvilles and in particular with Edward’s step-son Thomas Grey, the Earl of Dorset and Elizabeth Woodville’s brother Anthony (Earl Rivers). It was, perhaps, as a consequence of this faction fighting that Hastings sent a messenger to Richard in Middleham when Edward died unexpectedly on April 9, 1483. The Croyland Chronicle suggests that Hastings may have feared for his life.

 

The Woodvilles seemed to be about to conduct a coup which would have seen them in control of the young king Edward V and which would have paid no heed to Edward IV’s clear instructions that Richard, Duke of Gloucester was to be the regent. Things must have looked bad when Hastings tried to stop the proposed coronation of 4 May saying that the Woodvilles should wait until Richard arrived in London.

What we know is thus:

April 9 1483: Edward IV died.

April 11 1483: Edward V proclaimed king. The date for the coronation was fixed on May 4. Edward V was summoned to London from Ludlow. There was an argument between Elizabeth Woodville and Hastings over the number of men who should be sent to bring the king to London. Hastings threatened to go to Calais . Hastings wrote to Richard, Duke of Gloucester in Middleham informing him of his brother’s death and the dangers of a Woodville coup. Richard had the letter by April 20th.

 

April 14 1483: News of Edward IV’s death reaches Ludlow and probably the Duke of Buckingham.

 

April 20: Council sits in London. Arguments between Woodville faction and other older noble stock including Hastings about apparent haste of coronation.

April 24: Earl Rivers sets out for London with Edward V and 2,000 men.

April 26: Richard of Gloucester in Nottingham where a certain Humphrey Percival met with him in secret to discuss the Duke of Buckingham’s proposal to meet with him in Northampton. Earl Rivers met with messengers on the road and agreed to meet Gloucester and Buckingham in Northampton.

April 29: Edward V and Lord Rivers arrive in Northampton. Sir Richard Grey (Edward’s half brother) arrived from London ordering Rivers to hurry to London. Rivers moved on to Stony Stratford- Rivers then went back to Northampton where Buckingham and Goucester had arrived to find the king gone.

April 30: Lord Rivers discovered that he was a prisoner. Sir Richard Grey was arrested as were others of Edward V’s escort. Late on the evening of the 30th Elizabeth Woodville went into sanctuary at Westminster Abbey with her remaining son and her daughters. Dr Morton, (Lord Chancellor and later Cardinal and Henry Tudor’s right hand man) surrendered the Great Seal into Elizabeth Woodville’s keeping. Hastings wrote and told Richard what Morton had done.

April 31: Hastings speaks to the Councilsaying that Gloucester was “fastly faithful to his prince.” (Weir: 85). He also said that Rivers and Grey would receive impartial justice.

May 2: Gloucester despatches Rivers and Grey north. Issues orders that Dr Morton was to be sacked as Lord Chancellor but the bishop was allowed to keep his seat on the Council.

May 3: Edward V and Richard, Duke of Gloucester leave Northampton for London.

May 4: Having spent the night in St Albans the king and the duke travel towards London.

 

To all intents and purposes Richard, Duke of Gloucester was in complete control. The Croyland Chronicle comments on how well Lord Hastings was doing out of the whole affair. But something was wrong. Perhaps Hastings resented the fact that he’d stayed in London at the heart of the danger sending information to Richard for very little reward. Perhaps he didn’t much like the Duke of Buckingham who seemed to be in the ascendant. Perhaps he was a bit concerned about Richard’s power. Certainly he discussed with like minded peers how the regent’s new powers should be kept under control. Was it possible that Hastings changed his mind and began negotiating with the Woodvilles? How was Edward IV’s mistress Jane Shore involved?

 

Jane Shore had transferred her affections from the deceased Edward IV to William Hastings if Mancini and Thomas More (who was a child at the time but who seems to have got his information from the Howard family) are to be believed. Alison Weir comments that Edward IV was generous with his friends in that he wasn’t jealous of his mistresses’ affections. It appears that one of the causes of rivalry between Hastings and Dorset were a shared interest in Mistress Shore (Weir: 55)

 

June 10 1483 Richard sent Sir Richard Ratcliffe north to the mayor of York and the Earl of Northumberland with letters ordering them south to support Richard against the Woodvilles. The letters state that Richard believed that the Woodvilles intended to murder him (Cole:185).

 

Friday June 13 1485: Lord Howard called in at Jane Shore’s house where he collected William, Lord Hastings. Howard and Hastings made their way to a council meeting in the Tower of London. At 9 in the morning Richard arrived at the meeting and sent  Dr Morton the Bishop of Ely for a “mess of strawberries.”   Richard excused himself and returned an hour and a half later in a bit of a temper. Hastings was accused of treason. Lord Stanley was taken prisoner, as was Dr Morton.

 

Hastings was dragged down to the courtyard and beheaded on some timber after his confession had been heard by a cleric. A herald was sent through London denouncing Hastings’ plot and announcing his execution.

 

Monday June 16 1485: Westminster Abbey surrounded by armed men. Richard, Duke of York went into the Tower to keep Edward V company , Richard the Protector having given his word as to the boy’s safety.

 

June 25 1485: Anthony Woodville, Elizabeth Woodville’s brother executed at Pontefract Castle.

 

Richard restored Hastings’ family to its position the month after William was killed with their titles, estates and wealth. Royle and other historians of the Wars of the Roses make the point that Richard’s accusation that Hastings was plotting with the Woodvilles via Jane Shore seems hard to believe. Hastings couldn’t stand the Woodvilles. Was it possible that Hastings feared that Richard would usurp the throne? Did he know something that no one else knew at that time? Did Richard have to silence him – a case of political expediency? Mancini wrote that Hastings needed to be taken out in order for Richard to claim the throne and that Hastings never suspected his friend of duplicity. Medieval politics weren’t just brutal, they were deadly.

Hastings’ death is the first of the historical events chalked up against Richard III – whatever we might think of him as an individual or a monarch.  It was an execution without trial and as such must be seen as murder. Earl Rivers and Richard Grey didn’t get a trial either. And no, he’s not the only monarch to indulge in a spot of murder – with or without the law on his side.

 

Cole, Hubert (1973). The Wars of the Roses. London:Granada Publishing

Royle, Trevor. (2009). The Road to Bosworth Field. London: Little Brown

Weir, Alison. (1992) The Princes in the Tower. New York: Ballantine

 

 

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Sir John Perrot – illegitimate son of Henry VIII?

johnperrot.jpgI’ve been reading Margaret Irwin’s book about Sir Walter Raleigh entitled The Great Lucifer. It was first published in 1960. One of the first things that made me sit up and take notice was the reference to Sir John Perrot as Elizabeth I’s illegitimate half-brother (p17) which of course has nothing to do with Raleigh but is too good a diversion to miss.

 

The Perrot family, it turns out, are Welsh and based in Pembrokeshire. Perrot’s mother Mary Berkeley married into the family. She had been a lady-in-waiting to Katherine of Aragon although the evidence is sketchy. There are two slightly different versions of events. In one Mary married Thomas Perrot and it was only when the king came visiting that he noticed Mary. This version is mentioned by Phillipa Jones. In another version, mentioned by the Royal Library of Wales, Perrot was knighted when he married Mary – make of it what you will. In any event John, when he grew up, ultimately got into a squabble with a couple of the Yeomen of the Guard and Henry gave him a promise of preferment but died before he could honour it.

 

Perrot was educated in St David’s and from there entered the household of the marquis of Winchester. He was a companion to Edward VI who seems to have paid a fair few of Perrot’s debts. Perrot, himself a stout protestant, initially suffered little when Edward’s catholic sister Mary came to the throne but then he was accused of sheltering Protestants in his home in Wales. Mary Tudor sent him to the Fleet prison for harbouring heretics. When he was let out, in itself odd given his strong protestant sympathies, he decided to travel and spent the rest of Mary’s reign in foreign climates.

 

When Elizabeth ascended the throne he carried a corner of the canopy of state at her coronation. He very swiftly became very important in South Wales and from there he was shipped to Ireland to try to establish the kind of order that Elizabeth might approve of. He was the first president of Munster for two years from 1571 to 1573; he suppressed the rebellion of the nephew of the earl of Desmond – James Fitzmaurice. He did this by hanging approximately eight hundred rebels.  He also made himself very unpopular with Elizabeth’s other representatives and gained a reputation for being rash, combative and rude.

 

The whole experience, and the suppression of the rebellion was brutal, doesn’t seem to have suited him because he returned home to Wales and busied himself with trying to extend his estates. Elizabeth gave him Carew Castle as a reward for his work in Ireland. In 1574 he became a member of the Council of the Marches of Wales and the following year was charged with stopping piracy in Pembrokeshire. He must have done a good job, although there is a suggestion that far from stamping out piracy he was involved in the whole affair. When Glamorgan and Monmouthshire required similar services to rid themselves of their pirated, as he had done in Ireland, he claimed ill-health and turned the job down. Possibly he was too busy financing piracy in New Foundland’s waters. There were also the law suits and counter accusations of piracy that seem to have been flung back and forth by those in power in Wales. Perrot does not come across as a man who won friends and influenced people.  He certainly seems to have been rather litigious.

 

In 1579 he was handed five ships and told to stop any Spanish shipping from landing off the west coast of Ireland. Not a lot happened and he managed to ground his ship which caused mirth at Court. It can’t have put him too badly out of face with the queen because she made him lord deputy of Ireland in 1584. He held the post for four years. He didn’t get on particularly well with other members of court, the Irish or even his own neighbours. It was, in short, not a very happy tenure of office but when he came home he was made a member of the Privy Council.

 

Unfortunately he’d made enemies in Ireland. Principally Adam Loftus, Bishop of Dublin. He also had enemies at home including Sir Christopher Hatton. Perrot had seduced Sir Christopher’s daughter and claimed that the only skills Hatton had was the ability to dance.

The Perrot family had also been marrying the wrong people. In 1583, Thomas, John’s son, married Dorothy Devereux who was the daughter of Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex. More importantly she was the step-daughter of Elizabeth’s favourite Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester and the sister of Robert Devereux also to be marked as the queen’s favourite. Politically then it should have been a good match but unfortunately Elizabeth was not terribly amused by the nuptials because a) no one had asked for her opinion on the matter; b) it looked to her as though Perrot was getting a bit above himself and c) it meant that Perrot had conspired with Leicester’s wife Lettice Knollys who also happened to be Elizabeth’s cousin and a woman that the queen absolutely hated.

 

In March 1591 he was charged with treason. He was accused of having consorted with the Spanish and offered to betray his country in return for being given Wales. Unsurprisingly, he was carted off to the Tower and tried for treason. The letters which purported to show his guilt were found to be forgeries and the forger was duly strung up. Perrot was, unexpectedly to me at any rate, found guilty of treason but died before he could be executed. Historians are of the opinion that he wasn’t guilty of treason but had said some unfortunate things about the queen in the hearing of people who wanted to discredit him. Certainly Perrot was just as surprised. He is said to have exclaimed, “God’s death! Will the Queen suffer her brother to be offered up a sacrifice to the envy of his frisking adversary.” The reference originally came from Naunton’s biography of his grandfather-in-law but the facts don’t necessarily match to what he wrote.  In any event, Sir John Perrot died in the Tower, perhaps at the point when Elizabeth was considering pardoning him. As a consequence there are dark rumours of poison, as mentioned in the Dictionary of National Biography. Whatever the truth Elizabeth returned the attainted estates to Sir John’s son.

 

So what was Perrot who seems a slightly larger than life character doing in a book about Raleigh? It turns out that Perrot’s son Thomas was once imprisoned to prevent him fighting a duel with Raleigh. As for Sir Walter, he was also sent to the Fleet to consider the error of his ways – something he apparently failed to do as Irwin goes on to list other brawls. And that appears to be the sum total of Perrot’s link with Raleigh.

 

Sir John Perrot was an interesting aside. He certainly seems to have had Henry VIII’s dodgy temper and apparently he resembled the king physically as well- in which case I’m not sure if the portrait is a very good likeness. Sir John seems to have believed the rumours especially if he really did say what he’s supposed to have said after his trial.

 

Jones, Philippa. (2011) The Other Tudors: Henry VIII’s Mistresses and Bastards. London: New Holland Publishers

Irwin, Margaret. (1960) The Great Lucifer: a portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh. London:Penguin

 

 

 

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Gunpowder, treason and plot

 Remember, remember!
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

king-james1Actually there’s every reason why the plot might have been forgotten!  There were at least four plots against James I during the early years of his reign. Yet it is Guy Fawkes, a York boy, who is remembered.  This post is about two earlier plots and the wonderfully named Sir Griffin Markham.

Sir Griffin, the eldest son and heir of Thomas Markham, of Ollerton in Nottinghamshire, served as a soldier under the Earl of Essex in an expedition sent by Queen Elizabeth to the assistance of Henry IV of France. He was knighted during the siege of Rouen in 1591. He afterwards served in Ireland but there was a problem for this soldier that got worse with the passage of time. Sir Griffin was a Catholic at a time when being Catholic was a cause for suspicion and an impediment to power.

In the Parish Register of Mansfield it is stated that Griffin Markham was at the Market Cross in Mansfield and other gentlemen of the region for the proclamation of the accession of James I (pictured at the start of this post). Catholics had every reason to hope that persecution, which they faced during Elizabeth’s reign, might ease – after all, James’ mother and wife were Catholic. Yet, it appears that within a very short time of James’ accession Sir Griffin wasn’t a happy man. Four months later he was arrested on a treason charge – he’d become involved in a plot that history knows as the Bye Plot or the Treason of the Priests. (Ironically, Jesuits who were concerned that the Bye Plot was a harebrained scheme that would result in major difficulties for English Catholics revealed the conspiracy to Cecil.)

During the course of investigations into the Bye Plot a second plot, which became known as the Main Plot, was uncovered. The two were separate but involved many of the same people!

Sir Griffin Markham, Lord Grey (a radical puritan), Lord Cobham and George Brooke found themselves incarcerated in the Tower along with a couple of catholic priests- William Watson and William Clarke. They were charged with a plot to kidnap James and his Privy Council and then force them to make concessions to the Catholics including the repeal of anti-Catholic legeslation…like that was going to happen and with only three hundred men – not that there is any evidence of Sir Griffin being able to round up a posse that size. This was the Bye Plot.

arbella_stuart_15881At the same time Sir Walter Raleigh found himself under arrest on account of a slightly different plot called the ‘Main Plot’ to depose James (‘the kyngge and his cubbes’) and replace him with Arbella (Arabella) Stuart, the grand-daughter of Bess of Hardwick through her daughter Elizabeth Cavendish and Charles Stuart Earl of Lennox – who was the son of Margaret Douglas who in turn was the daughter of Margaret Tudor, eldest daughter of King Henry VII of England.

It is probable that Raleigh was caught in the net of the Main Plot because of his friendship with Lord Cobham who’d been travelling around Europe have shady chats with Spanish types looking at bankrolling the venture. The problem for Raleigh was that Cobham travelled home via Jersey where Raleigh was governor and clearly stopped off for a chat with his old friend. Cecil put two together, or so it would appear, and found an opportunity to rid himself of a political adversary. There’s another theory that says that Raleigh played his old friend along playing the role of agent provocateur and then managed to get caught in Cecil’s net – whichever way you look at the Main Plot it seems hard to believe that Raleigh would plot with the Spanish. There’s a third view that Raleigh himself spoke of at his trial which was that he thought that he was being offered a pension – not treasonable and something that Cecil was in receipt of himself!

The common denominators between the Main Plot and the Bye Plot were George Brooke and Lord Cobham who were, incidentally, brothers.

The Bye Plot conspirators including Lord Cobham were tried in Winchester and found guilty. A scaffold was built especially for the occasion in Winchester Castle. The warrant was signed on the 7th December and Sir Griffin went to his fate on the 9th complaining bitterly that his confession had been given on the promise of leniency. It was only as he was just about to lay his head on the block that a member of the King’s household arrived with another warrant from James I giving him an extra two hours of life. The same grisly process awaited Lord Grey who prayed for half an hour before the sheriff issued the stay of execution and then Lord Cobham. All three mounted the scaffold, thought their last moments had come only to be given a short reprieve at the last moment – sounding suspiciously like someone somewhere had a very nasty sense of humour or someone in authority wanted to entrap Raleigh through a pre-execution confession from his fellow conspirators.

Each of the three men also believed that the other two men had been executed until they were all bought back to the scaffold for a piece of Jacobean theatre contrived by the king for the news that they were to be spared death but banished from the kingdom. Brooke was the only one to be executed in Winchester, even though he might have reasonably expected leniency being married to Lord Cecil’s sister (talk about a family embarrassment).

Raleigh spent the next thirteen years in The Tower and Parliament passed an act called the ‘Statute Against Catholics’ banishing Catholic priests from England was passed into law as a result of the Bye Plot. Sir Griffin ended his life in continental poverty. According to some stories it is said that he often donned disguise and returned home, and that he assisted in the attempted escape of Arabella Stuart.

Fraser, Lady Antonia. (2003). The Gunpowder Plot: Terror and Faith in 1605. London: (Phoenix) Orion Books

Orange, James. (1840) History and Antiquities of Nottingham Vol II. London: Hamilton, Adams and Co. pp733-745

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