Saturday, 27 June 2015

The Strange Death of Lancastrian England

When Henry IV had his final succession statute passed through Parliament he made no provision for the throne beyond his children and their offspring. Neither the Beauforts, the Yorks, or even the Hollands got so much as a line. This was quite understandable, given that he had four sons and two daughters. No one could have been expected to anticipate that those six young people would produce but two legitimate heirs between them. Of these, Blanche's son, Rupert of Germany, died in 1426. The other was the future Henry VI, who would turn out to be (arguably) the least capable person ever to rule this country.

That Henry IV had doubts about the Beauforts (especially the eldest, who was certainly conceived in Sir Hugh Swynford's lifetime) seems to be clear from his decision to explicitly exclude them from any rights to the succession in his exemplification of Richard II's statute of legitimisation. But - at the time - any prospect of the Beauforts getting a sniff of the crown was remote in the extreme, and Henry's exclusion of their claim was almost an irrelevance.

Once Henry V had dealt with the Cambridge Plot and gone on to win the Battle of Agincourt, the prospects for the Lancastrian dynasty looked rosy indeed. A few years on, with the Duke of Burgundy murdered by supporters of the Dauphin, Henry found a powerful ally in the new Burgundy (Philip the Good), and soon afterwards concluded the Treaty of Troyes with Charles VI, by which he (Henry) was declared Heir and Regent of France, and married to Charles's daughter, Katherine of Valois. The Dauphin (future Charles VII) was disinherited.

This might be seen as the high-water point of the entire Lancastrian dynasty. What could possibly go wrong? Well, for a start, there was an awful lot of France still to conquer, and the people living there had not simply laid down their arms and accepted Henry on hearing of the Treaty. Meanwhile, Parliament, back in England, was already growing reluctant to pay for the necessary war. As they saw it, Henry had won his (not England's) realm of France - great! Now it was now up to that realm, not England, to pay the cost of putting down the 'rebels' who so inconveniently still occupied the greater part of it. This probably seemed quite reasonable to the Honourable Members, with their typically English dislike of paying tax. However, assuming that the war was to be won, it was a completely unrealistic attitude to take.

Henry's next brother in age, Thomas, Duke of Clarence was killed at the Battle of Bauge (21 March 1421). Clarence made the mistake of advancing on the enemy without his supporting archers, and the result was a costly defeat, both in terms of men killed and captured and in the boost the victory gave to French (or technically Armagnac) morale. Among those captured was the head of the Beaufort family, John, Earl of Somerset. He was to remain a captive until 1438, though it must be said he was not much missed.
So matters stood when King Henry died on 31 August, 1422, at the relatively young age of 35. Ironically, he never wore the crown of France as his father-in-law, the hapless Charles VI, contrived to outlive him.

Some authors have suggested that if Henry had lived, things might have turned out differently. I doubt it, because it wouldn't have made the English Parliament any more generous, and that was the key factor. As Regent of France Henry was succeeded by his brother, John, Duke of Bedford, one of the most able rulers to emerge in the entire middle ages. Bedford was an efficient soldier, politician and administrator. He proved the former by commanding at the Battle of Verneuil (17 August 1424) which was in some respects a more crushing victory than Agincourt. His skill as politician and administrator prolonged the life of the English Kingdom of France, and it's unlikely that anyone (even Henry V) could have done much better.

Bedford's task was not made easier by his only surviving (and younger) brother, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. Gloucester was to prove something of a loose cannon throughout his remaining career. He was Protector of England (during Bedford's (usual) absence from the country), but his official powers were limited, much to his frustration. When he was not arguing with his uncle, Bishop Henry Beaufort, he was 'marrying' Jacqueline, Countess of Hainault and Holland, and fighting against England's ally, Philip of Burgundy, in an attempt to secure her inheritance. (I say 'marrying' because, inconveniently, the lady already possessed a living husband, and in due course the Pope declared her 'marriage' to Humphrey invalid. Not that matters were quite that simple.)
Humphrey went on to marry his former 'wife's' lady-in-waiting, Eleanor Cobham. This was clearly a love match, not least because it seems Eleanor was his mistress before he married her. However, they were fated not to have children together, and Humphrey's only offspring, Arthur and Antigone, were illegitimate.

Bedford's own marriage, to Anne of Burgundy, was arranged for reasons of state, but nevertheless it proved a successful one at a personal level. Unfortunately, it also remained childless. This may help to explain why Bedford was so quick to marry Jacquetta of Luxembourg after Anne's death. It is sometimes suggested that the swift remarriage angered Anne's brother, the Duke of Burgundy, but if so it was only in the way of one more straw on the camel's back. Philip's attachment to the English alliance had been waning for some time. He was able to see the way the wind was blowing. Bedford's death (14 September 1435) made matters still worse and left the English leadership in some disarray, but the Congress of Arras was already in progress at the time. Although the English were invited to take part, the terms offered to them were totally unacceptable. Burgundy, on the other hand, was accommodated and was happy to make a separate peace with Charles VII. From that moment on the English Kingdom of France was doomed (if it was not already) and the remarkable thing is not that it ultimately fell, but that it struggled on until 1453.

Objectively, the English probably ought to have accepted the Arras peace, however harsh, as it would have left them something of their conquests. However, this is to ignore the political situation in England. Hardliners such as Gloucester essentially regarded the acceptance of anything short of the terms of the Treaty of Troyes as bordering on treason. This was a totally unrealistic view to hold, in view of the improvement of the French position in both political and military terms, but questions of personal and national honour were in play, and common sense was banished from the equation.

Henry VI began his personal rule at the age of 16 in 1437. While the depth of his incompetence was not yet apparent, even the most able of rulers would have faced a daunting task. The kingdom was next door to bankruptcy and quite unable adequately to finance the cost of fighting the ongoing war in France. The reinforcements sent abroad gradually grew smaller in number, and it was increasingly difficult to find commanders of a suitable rank who were willing to participate. While the war had, in the past, been profitable for some private individuals - if not for the nation - anyone with any sense could calculate that the opportunities for profit were shrinking by the day, while on the other hand there was a much increased prospect of being captured and having to pay ransom oneself. In other words, the war was an increasingly bad investment.

As for the Lancastrian dynasty, it now comprised, as far as males were concerned, Henry VI and his Uncle Humphrey. It scarcely helped that these two were completely at odds as to how to settle the war, the King being for peace at almost any price, while Gloucester was of the 'one last heave' school, and believed that a suitably large English army (preferably led by himself) would smash the French in another Agincourt and enable the English to impose their own terms. (It was actually an academic argument, as Parliament was not willing to finance the cost of such an expedition, and it's questionable whether enough men could have been put together even had the taxes been forthcoming.)

The Duchess of Gloucester's ill-advised attempts to find via astrology and/or magic whether she was to bear a child, and for how long Henry VI would live were a perfect gift to Gloucester's political opponents. Her fall from grace (which involved not only penitential parades through London but life imprisonment for the unfortunate woman) had consequences for her husband, whose remaining political influence was virtually destroyed overnight. Since they were forcibly divorced, Gloucester could, in theory, have married again but in practice he did not. So when he died on 23 February 1447, the sole remaining legitimate male member of the Lancastrian family was Henry VI himself. (Unless you count the Beauforts, and as far as legitimate accession to the throne or the Duchy of Lancaster is concerned, you really shouldn't.)

By this time, Henry had secured a sort of peace (no more than a short truce bought at the cost of great concessions) and as part of the bargain had married Margaret of Anjou. Though in due course this union produced a son, Edward, it would appear that the deeply-religious King found married life something of a chore. There is no real reason to assume that Prince Edward was not fathered by Henry, but there were rumours around that he was not. Rumours were of course a commonplace of medieval England. (They were often slanderous, and are only taken seriously by historians when they are negative and concern Richard III.)

The Lancastrian dynasty, which within living memory had seem rock solid and beyond challenge, was now on its last legs. The loss of Lancastrian France was inevitable, given the crown's lack of resources. However, there were many in England all too ready to blame the disaster on the shortcomings of the King and his advisers. Henry's limited political skills, his tendency to put complete trust in certain favoured counsellors to the exclusion of his powerful cousin, York, and the rising influence of Queen Margaret all added to a toxic political mixture. Of course, in addition to all this, the King was increasingly troubled by mental health problems that at times left him catatonic for months on end. These attacks gave York a couple of opportunities to rule as Protector, but the usual way of things was that as soon as the King recovered he went back to his reliance on Queen Margaret and whichever Somerset was currently alive.

Despite his dismal record as a ruler, very few people seem to have disliked Henry VI personally, and that is one reason why he survived in power as long as he did. Indeed, it might be argued that even York and his allies did all they could to keep Henry on his throne. It was only after the Battle of Wakefield and the death of York himself that the Yorkist faction decided they had no choice but make a clean sweep.

Reblogged from Murrey and Blue

Monday, 25 May 2015

What was Stillington's motive?

Although Commines is the principal source for Robert Stillington being the clergyman who informed Richard of the alleged marriage between Edward IV and Lady Eleanor Talbot, the treatment of the bishop after the accession of Henry VII does appear to support the idea that he was the man involved. Indeed it appears that the Lords wished to (at least) examine the bishop, but that Henry protected him from such an inquisition.

On the assumption that Stillington was the person responsible, what was his motive? This was a man already in his 60s, who had in our terms settled into a comfortable retirement. He had held high office under Edward IV, notably as Lord Chancellor from 1467-1473 (with a gap during the restoration of Henry VI.) Given the nature of the job, it seems reasonable to assume that he was a senior administrator of considerable ability.

Now of course Edward sacked him in 1473, and later, following the fall of Clarence, the bishop spent a short time in prison, apparently for speaking out of turn. Neither experience was unique, and neither seems to justify a burning desire for revenge. It's not as if the bishop spent the rest of his life on Job Seekers Allowance. He had, for a start, the very substantial revenues of the See of Bath and Wells, the equivalent of which today would be a very handsome pension pot indeed.

So did Stillington look for any reward? If so, he must have been sorely disappointed. There is no evidence that Richard III did anything to advance him. He certainly did not appoint him to high office or translate him to a better see. Nor was he in any sense part of Richard's affinity.

So are we really to believe that the bishop woke up one morning, and thought up a secret marriage for Edward IV, just for the hell of it? It was a risky thing to do, surely. Why should he be believed? What were the likely consequences if he were not believed? He risked, at the minimum, another spell in the Tower. Indeed, would he have dared to come forward with nothing more than his unsupported word? Say for the sake of argument it was pure invention. Would he not at least have had to 'square' the remaining members of the Talbot family, to be sure that his statement would not be met with universal contradiction? If he had been disbelieved, his future under Edward V would have been very far from rosy!

On balance, the easiest explanation seems to be that he genuinely had something on his conscience. Moreover, it seems likely he had some form of proof. We know that proofs of some kind were offered, even if we have no idea what the 'proofs' were. If you think the contrary, you must surely ask yourself what kind of man this Stillington was, and what was his motive. I think you would have to conclude that he was very odd indeed, malicious and exceptionally vengeful.

(Reblogged from Murrey and Blue)

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Henry I and the Lost Yorkist Princess

Philippa Langley has announced that she is now involved in the search for King Henry I on the site of Reading Abbey.

Reading Abbey was of course destroyed during the reign of that much-loved king, Henry VIII. A few ruins remain and the site is partly built over.

It is less well know that very close to the grave of Henry I is that of a Yorkist princess, indeed the very first Yorkist princess, Constance, daughter of Edmund of Langley and great-grandmother of Queen Anne Neville.

Constance should be easy to identify, as it is recorded that she is buried with her little great-granddaughter, Anne Beauchamp.

It is my hope that Constance of York and Anne Beauchamp will be discovered, and reburied in consecrated ground.

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'.