Saturday, 24 May 2014

A mystery from 1468

(reblogged from Murrey and Blue)

Lady Eleanor Butler (born Talbot) probably knew that she was dying. In the early months of 1468, she transferred the lands that were hers to transfer to her sister, Elizabeth, Duchess of Norfolk. Where these lands came from is something of a mystery. John Ashdown-Hill has demonstrated that they were not dower lands, could not have been inherited, and were almost certainly not bought by Lady Eleanor, as she lacked the resources. The most probable origin of this mysterious land is that it was a gift from Edward IV. As King Edward was not in the habit of gifting land to random females this is suggestive of a connection between them. Of course, some people have pointed out that the land was not particularly valuable. Oh, well that makes it OK then! The point is that land -  even small amounts of it - was not just handed out for no reason. No one has satisfactorily explained where the land came from if it did not come from the King.

Anyway, no sooner was this sorted than King Edward appointed Duchess Elizabeth to go to Burgundy with his sister, Margaret of York, on the occasion of the latter's wedding. This involved the Duchess being in charge of the whole female side of things - no mean responsibility when around one hundred women and girls were attached to Margaret's train. The reason for Elizabeth's selection was probably that she was the most senior English lady who was not either a member of the royal house or a Woodville, or both. It may also have been intended as a mark of favour to her husband, John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, who, although apparently not the sharpest knife in the drawer by a long way, was at least a loyal Yorkist.

So off they popped to sunny Burgundy, to the celebration and pageantry that John Paston felt there were no words to describe. Elizabeth's brother, Sir Humphrey Talbot, went with her. The unfortunate Eleanor was left behind in Norfolk to die without any of her birth family around her, although one would like to think that Norfolk himself visited with the occasional bunch of flowers. She was buried in the house of the White Carmelites at Norwich.

Elizabeth had scarcely set foot back in England (round about July 1468) when two of her servants John Poynings and Richard Alford, were charged with having treasonable dealings with the agents of the Lancastrians in Kouer-La-Petite. Brought to trial, they were found guilty and were hanged, drawn and quartered.

Now, as I mentioned above, Elizabeth's husband, Norfolk, was a loyal Yorkist. So why should his servants have been suspected of intrigue with the Lancastrians? It makes no obvious sense. Elizabeth herself - though one of the most charming individuals to appear in the Paston Letters - was in no position to do anything of significance for the Lancastrian cause even if she was that way inclined. She did not control her husband's retainers, or his castles, or anything helpful.

One of the Lancastrian exiles present in Flanders was, however, Somerset, Elizabeth's first cousin, and brother to her good friend Lady Anne Paston. It is possible that she sought to pass on family news to him - but if this is the explanation, the treatment of her servants was extremely severe.

So was this a shot across the bows, to warn Elizabeth to keep her mouth shut about - certain matters? Who knows. 
What can be said is that on 8 December 1468 the Duchess took out a pardon for all offences before 7 December. It is quite unusual for a married woman to take out a pardon without the inclusion of her husband. In civil matters she had no separate legal standing, she was under coverture. It may simply have been an insurance for any errors or omissions committed while serving in the office of Margaret's Principal Lady-in-Waiting. There was, after all, potentially a lot to go wrong, jewels to go missing, whatever. But it could also indicate something more sinister.
On 28 January 1469, the Duchess' brother, Sir Humphrey Talbot also received a general pardon.
It looks to me as if in the autumn/early winter of 1468, Elizabeth and Humphrey were under royal suspicion for something. The question is, was it something they did, or something they knew?

Just to add - it was no light thing for the King to execute the followers of a nobleman. It cast doubts on the noble's loyalty, and suggested he was not able to protect his own. Compare Clarence's reaction to Edward's attack on his followers. But Norfolk was a loyal Yorkist. There is no suggestion that he at any time was conspiring against Edward.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

The Beauforts

Those of you who get the Ricardian Bulletin will have seen a very interesting article from Stephen Lark in which he points out that it is possible John Beaufort, Earl of Somerset (first of that long and confusing line) was quite likely legally a Swynford, in view of the probability that he was conceived during Hugh Swynford's lifetime.

Of course, it is also quite likely that everyone (who mattered) knew he was biologically Gaunt's son, bearing in mind how the upper classes work.

The purpose of this post is not to debate Stephen's theory, but to consider the circumstances under which the Beauforts were legitimised. When Gaunt returned from his attempt to conquer Castile, he was well received by Richard II, who had learned in his absence that his earlier hostility to his uncle had been a political error. Gaunt strongly supported the King's peace policy with France, and in return Richard rewarded him generously, most notably with the extension of Lancashire's palatinate status to an hereditary one, and the creation of Gaunt as Duke of Aquitaine. (Had the Gascons not objected, Richard would have gone so far as to allow his uncle to hold this honour directly from Charles VI of France, but as it was he retained the suzerainty.)

The process of legitimisation of the Beauforts was a continuation of this royal favour. Moreover, Richard favoured the Beauforts themselves, possibly seeing in them a suitable counter weight to Henry Bolingbroke.

The point is that in 1396/97 no one dreamed that the Beauforts might ever get near the throne. Even if one assumes that Gaunt was de-facto heir (and this is a million miles from the true position) his son Bolingbroke had four sons of this own. So on the most generous estimate, forgetting the Mortimers altogether (and Henry's daughters), John Beaufort was seventh in line. It was not realistically going to happen. So the nominal status of his birth was really neither here nor there. At least not in 1396/7.

Taking this into account, there is perhaps a logical explanation for Henry IV's decision to exclude the Beauforts from the succession. They were suddenly a whole lot nearer. It would have helped, of course, if Henry had gone on to set out the succession after the heirs of his children - but he was not to know that they would prove to be so infertile. It probably never even crossed his mind that this was an issue.

(Since I wrote this, Stephen Lark has pointed out to me that he said in his article that John Beaufort was likely a biological as well as legal son of Hugh Swynford. My apologies for misunderstanding.)

Friday, 6 December 2013

Frustrated Falcons

The Amazon version of Frustrated Falcons is now available in both paperback and kindle formats.   This is my short triple biography of the three children of Edmund of Langley, first Duke of York. For anyone who doesn't know these were: Edward, the second duke, described by one chronicler as a 'second Solomon' who died at Agincourt; Constance, Lady Despenser and Countess of Gloucester, who organised an interesting plot against Henry IV and was the great-grandmother of Anne Neville - and ancestress of very many more; and Richard, Earl of Cambridge, who was involved in the Southampton Plot of 1415. Richard was, of course, the grandfather of Edward IV and the little-known Richard III.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Alianore Audley

The Adventures of Alianore Audley is now available through Amazon in Kindle format. I am currently checking a proof for a new printed version for the traditionalists among you. This will be a slightly larger format than the former Bewrite edition, and should be available shortly, also through Amazon.

For those of you are millionaires, there is also a de luxe version available through Blurb, including a hardback edition. But cheap it is not! The forthcoming paperback should be a lot more reasonable.

Work continued slowly on Alianore Audley and the Holy Grail. No promises as to when this will be forthcoming, but I will get there. I have put too much effort into it now for it to be abandoned.

Also on the stocks is a small factual work Frustrated Falcons which is about Edmund of Langley's three children. I am looking for my notes on Edward, the 2nd duke, which I need before I complete it. I think I can describe this little book as 'forthcoming'.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Not The White Queen

I suppose I am missing an opportunity for not posting more now that The White Queen is so much in the public eye, and the Yorkist era has become quite topical. However, I do not have the patience to go through a long digression on the factual and historic errors of the TV production - besides, it has already been discussed thoroughly elsewhere.

It may be said by some that at least this new production will introduce more people to the Yorkist era. Well, there may be some truth in that, if you suppose that Braveheart created more interest in Edward II and Robert the Bruce. Sadly, I am reliably informed that all too many people still live under the impression that Edward III was fathered by Wallace. While this is quite amusing - if you are the sort of person who finds ignorance amusing - it does suggest that the dreadful film has not much advanced people's understanding of the era. So will it be, I suspect, with the Yorkist era. There are already enough misapprehensions around - held, for example, by those who suppose More's work on Richard III is a sort of Holy Writ - without creating more.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville

An evil fairy almost made me include 'supposed', 'bigamous' or 'purported' in that title. After all, in a world where at least one author has put Richard III in inverted commas, I feel one is entitled to be equally catty. But I shall rise above it, and wait for an opportunity to write 'Henry IV' or 'Henry VII' when describing the said personages,

As Susan Higginbotham has pointed out there can be no absolute certainty that the traditional date for the wedding 1st May 1464 is in fact the correct one. The facts Susan produces indicate that at the least Edward was playing his cards so close to his chest that not even William Hastings knew the full SP. And if William Hastings, as Lord Chamberlain and supposed best buddy was kept out of the loop, who was left in it?

Given that medieval kings and queens lived their lives literally surrounded by attendants, it almost beggars belief that Edward was able to slip away long enough to court, win and marry Elizabeth without anyone knowing. (If he did indeed manage this feat, it demonstrates that he could have done the same with someone else, doesn't it? And we wonder about lack of proof?)

Now, of course, attendants on royal personages learn to be discreet, especially when the royal personage concerned is a young sovereign 'taking his leisure' with one lady or another. That almost goes without saying. But if Hastings really did not know, then discretion was really taken to extremes in this case. To an almost mind-boggling degree.

One possibility is that Hastings was not at court at the relevant time. Although as King's Chamberlain he was expected to hang around Edward most of the time, he naturally had his own private affairs to attend to (and indeed duties connected with his other offices), and there was a deputy to take his place when he was absent. This is something that detailed research as to Hastings whereabouts (compared to those of Edward IV) might bear dividends. But one of Hastings' key qualities was what we now call 'people-skills'. He was well-liked, and well-connected to all manner of influential people. It would be astounding if one or other of his underlings at court had not informed him of such an important development as the King's marriage.

So, on the face of it, Edward married Elizabeth and no one at court knew. It was that tight a secret. Or if someone did know, that person kept his mouth firmly shut, out of fear or loyalty.