Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Two Weddings, Two Executions, and Two Banishments

Readers of Anya Seton's Katherine will be familiar with the heroine's eventual marriage to John of Gaunt in 1396. What may they not appreciate is how far Richard II went to facilitate it. There was of course the little matter of obtaining a dispensation from Rome, but what was also needed in the circumstances, to make Gaunt's Beaufort children eligible to inherit land, was a special Act of Parliament. This was arranged, the whole process being further evidence of the profitable alliance between Gaunt and the King.

Others were less pleased, especially, we are told, the court ladies. Now, this may seem fearfully snobby to you, and no doubt it was, but imagine that you had been working in an office for twenty or thirty years, and suddenly the office boy was promoted over your head. That's much how these women would have felt. The Chronicles tell us that Philippa, Countess of Arundel, was one of those most offended. (The Countess of Derby is also mentioned, but given that Bolingbroke's wife had been dead for two years it's unlikely she had any objection, unless her opinion was canvassed by planchette. I suppose the reference may indicate what Bolingbroke himself thought, but that's just my speculation.)

King Richard himself was also in the market for a new wife. He was offered Yolande of Aragon and probably made the biggest mistake of his life by turning her down. (Yolande would have had Bolingbroke for dinner, then asked for dessert.) The reason was that the French, alarmed at the possibility of an Anglo-Aragonese alliance, offered their eldest available princess, Isabelle. She was just a little girl, but the offer was the basis for what Richard had been after for several years - a settled peace with France.

Peace with France was not the simple matter that it sounds. There were a number of technical issues connected with the English landholdings in France that were difficult to solve without loss of face on one side or the other. This is what held things up through the 1390s as short truces were negotiated while a final solution could be agreed. In the end it was not possible to come to satisfactory terms for a peace treaty as such, but a 28 year truce was agreed. Richard's opposition still held that the terms gave too much to the French; Gloucester's compliance with the treaty was quite literally bought by the King, others like Arundel still grumbled on in the background. Many of the nobles and gentry saw the war as a potential money-spinner - making peace was a bit like cancelling the National Lottery and disappointing the hopes of everyone who wants to be a millionaire.

However, the marriage and truce treaty went ahead, and Isabelle was duly handed over just outside Calais, the English ladies receiving her headed by the new Duchess of Lancaster, no doubt to a background of further female grumbling.

Richard now decided that there was a plot against him, led by the former Appellants. Whether there was really a plot is something of a mystery. Maybe some of those around the King told him that there was; maybe the endless grumbling of Gloucester and his friends made Richard think they were planning a coup. Maybe Richard decided he had had enough. Anyway, he summoned Gloucester, Arundel and Warwick to a banquet. Only Warwick turned up and he was promptly arrested. Richard led a motley crew of followers, including many Londoners under their Mayor, Richard Whittington, out to Pleshey Castle in Essex. Arriving early in the morning, the King arrested Gloucester and sent him off to Calais in the care of Thomas Mowbray, his one-time ally.
Arundel, persuaded by his brother, Archbishop Thomas Arundel, gave himself up.

More details in the future, but for now the bare bones must suffice. After trial in Parliament, with Gaunt himself in the Chair, and with Bolingbroke turned King's Evidence, Arundel was beheaded and Warwick banished to the Isle of Man for life. Archbishop Arundel was also banished. As for Gloucester, it was announced he had died in Calais. The truth was he was still alive, unknown to the King. His private execution was still a few days in the future.


Doubtful Muse said...

I've been the office boy ... well, girl, who got promoted. Maybe that's why I liked "Katherine" so much!

The Go Mann said...

I think I'd rather be executed than be banished to the Isle of Man!

Buttercup said...

Especially with that damned American in charge (David Howe).


John Foelster said...

Oh you'd be complaining more if it was one of us ferocious Norseman. Or worse still Norse-Americans.