Wednesday, 30 July 2008

An Act of Terrorism

York's 'agreement' with Henry, however reluctantly it may have been made (or not), had one important effect. York was the legitimate Keeper of England and his adherence to Henry lent some shred of legality to the cause.

Together they moved on to Bristol, where the freedom-loving Henry announced that anyone who came out of the city in peace would be spared, but anyone who stayed within the walls and resisted would be killed. This led to a pretty prompt surrender of the city, with some citizens even climbing over the walls in their haste to survive. The castle followed suit. Within, among others, were the Earl of Wiltshire (William Scrope), Sir John Bushey and Sir Henry Green, all prominent councillors of King Richard. Bushey had acted as Speaker of the Commons.

The next day, these three were summarily executed; at best they might have had a drum-head trial before Northumberland and Westmorland, acting as constable and marshal. Either way it was unquestionably an illegal act, and one that was intended to strike terror into Henry's opponents.

Reams of print have been used up condemning Richard III for executing Rivers, Grey and Vaughan. However, Richard was at least established as Protector when he gave the order and had the pretext that they'd been plotting against him in that role. Strangely, it is rare to find a single word of criticism for Henry's outright murder of these three men. Lancastrian kings, it appears, can do no wrong.

Sir John Russell, the King's Master of Horse, would also have been executed, except that he lost his mind. Temporarily, it seems, but effectively, because he was spared. Russell had been briefly married to Thomas Despenser's very young niece, Margaret Hastings, but she must have died within a year or so, probably through the hazards of childbirth, as by 1399 he was remarried to a wealthy widow. He was also a personal enemy of the Earl of Warwick, whose retainer he had been before defecting to Richard. By the way, if you want to visit Sir John he's got a nice brass in Strensham Church, which is now in care of the Churches Conservation Trust.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Edmund of Langley's Tactical Masterclass

About 20 July, York was in Bedford and Bolingbroke in Leicester. You may need a map at this point, but those two places are a fair few miles apart. Henry had visited most of his northern estates and recruited large numbers of followers, mainly his tenants and retainers. At Doncaster he had been joined by the earls of Northumberland and Westmorland, an unusual case of the Nevilles and the Percies being on the same side. It appears that there he swore a solemn oath that he was not interested in taking Richard's crown. This must have been comforting to Westmorland and Northumberland as there was plenty of time for things to go pear-shaped, and at least they would be able to swear blind that they had no intention of deposing the King. Northumberland was eventually to swear exactly that, as justification for taking up arms against Henry IV on three separate occasions!

In addition, according to the Chronicler Creton, Archbishop Arundel was preaching a crusade against Richard II and claiming he had a Papal Bull to that effect! He was lying through his teeth - indeed technically he was not even an archbishop, having been deprived by the Pope. Not that you will pick this last detail up from your average Richard II textbook...

The likelihood is that the Duke of York picked up news of Henry's strength, and decided he couldn't meet him in battle. Anyway, he moved to Oxford, where it appears certain people deserted him. These were the earl of Wiltshire, and Bushey and Green of the King's council. It's possible they left with his agreement as he seems to have decided to move Queen Isabelle from Windsor to Wallingford, the latter being considered safer, and someone would have had to organise this. To cut a long story short, these three ended up in Bristol Castle. Bristol being a port and all that they may have hoped, or even have expected, that Richard would land there.

York meanwhile moved on into Gloucestershire. Henry had picked up on his change of direction and tracked him, moving from Leicester to Coventry, Warwick and Evesham. (I told you you might need that map.) On 24 July Richard landed in Wales.

York sent some of his people into Wales to meet the King, but for whatever reason he didn't follow himself with what was left of his army. He had suffered desertions, morale was probably low, and Bolingbroke was now uncomfortably close. None of these reasons seem to be a particularly good argument for a further change of direction, this time towards Bristol. If there was a plan at this point it can only have been to hole up in Bristol with those who had already made their way there ahead of him.

Instead, Bolingbroke caught up with his uncle outside Berkeley Castle on 27 July. There was actually some fighting because Bishop Despenser and Sir William Elmham were captured and disarmed. However, in view of Henry's superior numbers there was no realistic alternative to capitulation, this taking place in Berkeley parish church. The Chronicler Walsingham says that York was reluctant to stand in the way of a nephew who had come for his rightful inheritance. This may be a rare case of Walsingham telling the truth. In any event, York had painted himself into a corner, and there was not really anything else he could have done at this point. (Suicidal charges were not in the family tradition at this time.)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

Edmund of Langley, Duke of York was acting as Keeper of England. His main qualification for this role was undoubtedly his rank, but he had performed the task on two other occasions without any apparent problem. Richard II has been faulted for choosing Edmund but that's surely hindsight speaking as he was the obvious choice, being the King's senior male relative.

As late as 20 June York's government paid a sum of £1586 to two of Bolingbroke's squires, towards the £2000 a year allowed to Henry in his exile. (That's an annual salary of more than £800,000 modern money. Some tyrant that Richard II, eh? Right up there with Marshal Stalin!)

Anyway, the point is that the English government's intelligence service, if it had one, failed miserably on this occasion. Henry's preparations to invade were well advanced by this time, and by 28 June news had clearly reached York as he wrote to various sheriffs asking them to bring armed men to a rendezvous at Ware. On 4 July, or thereabouts, Henry landed at Ravenspur, having also arranged an attack on Pevensey Castle as a diversion.

By this time York was writing to bishops, nobles, knights and esquires ordering a general mobilisation, and by 12 July some seventy knights and squires had responded with their retinues. Among them were king's retained knights such as Hugh Despenser (Thomas Despenser's cousin) and William Burcester (who was lined to the Despensers by marriage.) At least five sheriffs brought in their posses. Magnates to show up included the earls of Wiltshire and Suffolk and the Marquis of Dorset - John Beaufort, Henry's own half-brother. Several bishops turned out, including Henry Despenser, Bishop of Norwich, a man more noted for fighting than praying. The estimate for York's army is between 2000 and 3000. Small but potentially useful. There was plenty of money available to pay recruits. Richard's Exchequer at this time was full of cash, and indeed the King had gold stacked in barrels up at Holt Castle.

Edmund of Langley had a respectable war record in France, and his standing up to bullying by Gloucester in 1388 showed that he didn't lack courage in a cause. However, when it came to generalship he was no Robert E. Lee or Oliver Cromwell. More like Gypsy Rose Lee or Oliver Hardy. He marched his men north with the obvious intention of interdicting Henry's advance. Then he stopped, dithered, and marched west. Away from Henry, leaving London and Westminster wide open. The best interpretation is that he hoped to join Richard when the latter landed in Wales.

(Main source for this post is The Royal Household and The King's Affinity by Chris Given-Wilson. A specialist work, but very useful, and highly recommended to anyone interested in this era.)

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Edward of York, betrayer of Richard II?

The French Chronicles, in particular, make out Edward of York to be the guilty betrayer of Richard II. This was certainly believed in France, because the Count of St.Pol hanged an effigy of Edward from a gallows outside the gates of Calais! English sources are a bit more circumspect. but the general impression is that Edward was not exactly Mr.Popularity of 1399/1400. So let's consider the first phase - Edward's conduct in relation to the Irish expedition.

It was probably not a good idea for Richard to hare off to Ireland at this time. There was nothing going on there that was an immediate threat, and it seems he was merely fired up by the breakdown of order in the country. He may have thought he'd settled things in his successful campaign of 1394/95. If so he was deluded.

He may also have doubted Henry would be able to mount a successful invasion. This is not as crazy as it sounds, as Henry was in France, and France was supposed to be Richard's ally.

Edward is criticised for being late to arrive for the muster. He had a good excuse. Richard had sent him up to the Scottish Border to settle some details of the truce. The Scottish Border was a long way, there and back, and presumably he then had to put his retinue in order. It's possible, even likely, that while he was up there he gained some idea of how disgruntled the Percy and Neville clans were. We know he advised Richard to create another wardenship as a means of placating them. However there's nothing to indicate that he got into treasonable discussions.

Was he in correspondence with Bolingbroke? Again, we can't be sure, however it's perfectly possible. He was later to develop a strange love/hate relationship with Henry IV, but nothing Henry did in 1399 suggests that he thought of Edward as a supporter. On the contrary, he was swift to strip Edward of his most important offices, even before he became king.

Over in Ireland they were slow to hear of Henry's landing, and then unable to react because of contrary winds. It's at this point that Richard split his forces, allegedly on Edward's advice. They were in Dublin, and there weren't enough ships to embark the whole force. The decision was to put Lord Salisbury and part of the army into what ships were available, with the object of landing in North Wales and mobilising Chester.

The rest of the army marched to Waterford, and embarked there for South Wales.

Splitting the army was possibly not a good plan, but ships couldn't be created by magic out of thin air, and they were propelled by the wind, not steam, so they were to a large extent at the mercy of the elements. Assembling all the ships in one place would surely have delayed Richard's return even further.

In short, the decision may have been mistaken, but even if it was made on the basis of Edward's advice, that advice was not necessarily treasonable.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Changing Times and All That

I've not managed to post much in July - sorry about that, no particular excuse, just been feeling even more idle than usual. I've been doing a lot of thinking about the Richard III novel, and hope to make some actual progress soon. I've decided to strip the thing down to the bare essentials and ship some of my spare characters off to the Norfolk Novel that I've also got on the stocks. (To be honest I've got an awful lot on the stocks, and very little I could launch tomorrow.)

Anyway, back to the York family circa 1398.

It's highly likely that Richard II expected John of Gaunt to live for several years. Gaunt was only in his fifties, not the near-skeleton of Shakesperean myth. OK, I don't suppose he got too many offers of life insurance, but there's no reason to think he was in particular ill-health. Richard allowed Bolingbroke to appoint proctors to receive his inheritance if Gaunt were to die during the time of his son's banishment.

When Gaunt did die, in February 1399, it threw onto Richard II's plate one of those awful quandries that every government has to face at some time or another. He could either let Bolingbroke inherit (in which case he would have a dangerously over-mighty subject coming home in a few years) or he could block the inheritance, grab the Lancastrian estates and resources, and, with a bit of luck, keep Bolingbroke permanently excluded.

Richard jumped for the latter option, and it was to prove fatal. However, it's worth noting that the alternative might have proved equally fatal in the long run.

From the point of view of the York family, it seems that at this time they were suddenly shot up in the pecking order to heirs to the throne. Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, had died in Ireland, out of royal favour and apparently in danger of arrest; his heir was a child. Bolingbroke was crossed off the list. Had Richard II been run over by a horse that weekend, it appears likely Edmund of Langley would have succeeded. Or maybe Edward of York, given that Richard had apparently told Bagot that Edward was the man for the job!

Both Edmund of Langley and his elder son were among those who received grants of Lancastrian lands and offices. It's worth mentioning though that the grants were not absolute but had a saving clause - until Henry, Duke of Lancaster shall sue for the same. Which is a bit odd, if Richard envisaged outright confiscation.

Tewkesbury Festival - Review

You are invited to nip over to Lady Despenser's Scribery for an excellent review of the Festival.

I hope it inspires some of you to go next year!