Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Disorder and Margaret of Anjou

When reading about this era, what strikes me is the utter lawlessness, and the lack of responsibility demonstrated by most of the nobility, including York. The attitude was almost 'My violence is good violence - yours is deplorable.'

King Henry was still nominally ruling the country, but his efforts were so feeble that one wonders about his health. OK, he had never been an outstanding ruler, but for quite a time he had made a fair fist of the job. Now he seems to be laid back almost to the point of being horizontal.

As mentioned in the last post, Margaret of Anjou was coming increasingly to the fore. As Helen Maurer points out in her outstanding work on the Queen, Margaret did not take up this role until events pretty much forced her to do so. Once she did, however, she triggered a long-standing hostility against female rule that was deeply rooted in English culture. (OK, yes I know about the various powerful women who ruled as dowagers over their estates, or who influenced their husbands and so on, but rule of the state was another matter.)

Margaret has been vilified as a monster for too long. That the men of the time often exhibited sexist attitudes is no real wonder; modern historians have less excuse.

The Queen had little option in the circumstances but to try to influence events. Some of her actions were undoubtedly ill-advised, and she became quite blatantly partisan, instead of sticking to the mediating role that was traditional for queens - and indeed other noblewomen. However she gets a fair bit of blame for things she did not do, and a lot of the hostility generated against her was not so much based on what she did, but on the fact she was a woman doing it.

From her point of view she had a position and a son to protect, and the Duke of York must have looked like a real threat to both. She would have been well aware of his superior hereditary claim to the throne and his widespread support among the people. Given that she obviously distrusted York her hostility to him is understandable.

The problem for the Lancastrian side was that Margaret's strong involvement was a propaganda bonus for the Yorkists, for the plain fact was that a fair proportion of the 'electorate' did not like a 'grete and stronge laboured woman' ruling the country and were only too open to anything that might be said against her. The Yorkists did not call her a witch, but they used the next-favourite weapon in the tool kit for dealing with over-mighty females. They began to question the legitimacy of her son. The rumour went out that the dead Somerset was the real father of the Prince of Wales.

It will remembered that at the time of the Prince's birth Henry had been 'out of it' with mental illness, and his subsequent reaction to the knowledge he had a son was one of bewilderment. This doubtless added flavour to the rumours, but despite Henry's oddities there is no real reason to suppose the Prince was illegitimate. Queens were heavily attended, and for them to commit adultery took some ingenuity. The complicity of a third party would almost certainly have been involved, but no one ever came forward to offer evidence, even in the years after 1461 when such evidence would surely have been richly rewarded.

Monday, 9 November 2009

More chaos

The events of the next few months are hard to describe, at least in a blog post. If I am guilty of over simplification I trust you will forgive me. (The main source I am using here is Duke Richard of York by P A Johnson, with a little help from the Ralph Griffiths tome.)

We are now in the summer of 1456. There were invasion scares at both ends of the country. Duke Richard's main response seems to have been to write rude letters to James II of Scots from his northern home, Sandal. Warwick, after some issues had been settled, was firmly settled at Calais. As for Salisbury it's a sign of the times that he was one of only three (!) peers to turn up for a supposed Great Council in June.

Oh, and at round about this time Anne Neville was born, by the way. Her future husband was presumably cutting the heads off his toy soldiers in the nursery at Sandal. (He certainly wasn't at St.Albans, whatever Shakespeare may say!)

York was actually in receipt of some cash during this year, presumably because the King was trying to conciliate him. Unfortunately disorder continued in the country, notably in London, Kent and the West Midlands. In the last named case, at least, York's men were involved in the violence, seizing disputed lands and attacking one of the Earl of Wiltshire's manors. (This Wiltshire, the Irish Earl of Ormonde, was the latest bete noire of the Yorkist party. He had become influential at court.)

The Yorkists in question Sir William Herbert (later Earl of Pembroke) and Sir Walter Devereux, then went on to attack the Earl of Richmond (Edmund Tudor, husband to the sainted Margaret Beaufort) at Carmarthen Castle. Tudor died soon afterwards, likely in consequence. If these 'supporters' did all this without Duke Richard's knowledge and consent, then they really weren't helping him. It seems more likely they acted with his leave. Herbert also allegedly raided Glamorgan, including Llandaff. What they were doing there in Warwick's territory is anyone's guess, unless they were having a bash at specific pro-Beaufort elements. It all seems a terrible muddle.

Queen Margaret and the Prince of Wales were in the Midlands, and Henry joined them. The capital was in effect moved to Coventry, although the bureaucrats remained in Westminster. It's hard to see that this was a good idea, although it probably shows that London was now too hot for Lancastrian comfort.

Queen Margaret was now pretty much in command. In fairness, someone needed to be and it's hard to blame her for trying to take control when her husband clearly - for whatever reason - wasn't up to it and York, from her viewpoint, was not to be trusted. At a Great Council held in October at Coventry, the Chancellor, Treasurer, and Privy Seal were all replaced. York was present, but could not prevent the change - he probably didn't even try. For the time being, he was politically out-gunned.



Just a brief post

Just a brief post to draw attention to Everything Edward II. This is a new site that does everything it says on the tin and is excellent. Anyone who has previously visited Alianore's Edward II site or Lady Despenser's Scribery will know what to expect - the new site is under the joint management of the two authors.

OK, it's not directly relevant to the House of York, but the background on the earlier members of the Plantagenet and Despenser families is sure to interest some. Do go and have a look.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

York's Second Protectorate

After the battle of St Alban's Henry VI was escorted back to London, treated with due respect by York and his followers, and lodged in Bishop Kemp's house. After the Whitsuntide celebrations, during which Henry rather pointedly insisted that York, rather than the Archbishop of Canterbury, placed the crown on his head the King left for Windsor, apparently not under constraint.

Changes in government removed various offices from Somerset and bestowed them on Warwick and the Bourchiers. Notably Warwick became Captain of Calais, a role from which he was not easily to be displaced! York became Constable.

The Parliament of that summer exonerated York and his party for their part in the events of St Alban's by putting the blame on the dead Somerset. Other charges were largely dropped, with a general pardon issued at the end of the Parliament that was taken up by many persons, including the Duke of Exeter.

York at this stage was not formally Protector, but the King's rule was certainly somewhat nominal, and trouble flared between lawless elements in various parts of the country including London, Devon and Derbyshire. When Parliament met again in November the King was reported sick again, and the peers invited York to act as Lieutenant. It was provided that York should only be dismissed from the protectorate by the King with the assent of the lords spiritual and temporal, thus giving him rather more 'job security' than before.

York's first task was to restore order in Devon, the worst of the troublespots, and he performed this duty with some success. The Earl of Devon (York's supporter in 1452) and Lord Bonville his main rival were both placed in custody.

York's next significant project was less successful. It was a Bill of Resumption intended to take back many of the crown lands Henry had given away. (The intent being to improve the crown's hopeless financial position.) It provoked fierce opposition, especially among the peers, with Queen Margaret only one of many seeking exemption.

As mentioned, York's government was rather narrowly based, relying heavily on the Nevilles and Bourchiers and depending for its survival on at least the passive support of the majority of the peerage. There was not the necessary consensus to undertake the policy of resumption and the result was that York resigned (25 February 1456), even before the Parliament was ended. He went off to Sandal, and Warwick and Salisbury joined him in the north.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Two Underrated Scottish Kings

I am in no state for blogging at the moment, reserving what little energy I have for writing. So the following is a guest posting by Stephen Lark, to whom all credit, and copyright belongs. Although it isn't directly about House of York matters, I hope you find it interesting. I'd like to thank Stephen for his trouble - thanks Stephen! :

Robert II and Robert III are usually written off by historians – in both kingdoms - as two feeble old men with relatively short and uneventful reigns. “Nothing for you to see here, sir; move along please”.

I tend to disagree and Robert II’s marital life, as a precursor of Edward IV’s, should make them both of interest in England as well as Scotland. Delivered after his mother’s death in 1316 as the heir of his grandfather (the Bruce), he was displaced at the age of eight by his newborn uncle, David II, who reigned for forty-two of his forty-seven years, married twice but didn’t have any children – spending a few years as an English prisoner didn’t help.

Consequently, Robert had little expectation of succeeding until shortly before he did in 1371. During the intervening years, he had nine children by Elizabeth Mure from c. 1337 to her death in 1354, four by Euphemia Ross from 1355 and about eight illegitimate children. The first marriage had to be reinforced by a 1347 dispensation via the Avignon pope – although I have yet to clarify the irregularity fully. If this retrospective patch was effective then his eldest son John, who became Robert III in 1390, two years after being injured by a horse, was his heir – otherwise the sons by Ross were best-placed.

In the years from 1390, there were several plots against their successors – principally Robert III’s son James I, an English prisoner then a hostage for eighteen years – by the descendants of Robert II’s other sons, the Albany and Graham families, the latter being successful.

So why should this be of interest to English historians? First the similarity with Edward IV, the main contrast being Robert’s honesty and willingness to put things right. Second, there were similar consequences to England from 1483. Third, the human element:
Imagine that you are Henry V’s brother and Henry VI’s Regent. Joan Beaufort, your first cousin, is to marry James I but what is his authority in Scotland – is she being wasted?
You could be (sorry) Henry VII. Margaret, your daughter, is to marry James IV – and the same doubts apply.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Stephen Lark

Stephen has asked me to post the following comment on his behalf:

"Could Trish Wilson - if there is such a person - stop misquoting me, please? After all, I have investigated the Pole-Hastings marriages (during the Reformation hence no dispensation), the Lumley-Conyers dispensation of 1489 and the Mure-Stewart dispensation of 1347."

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Policy of this Blog

I hate pompous postings, setting out policy, but this is necessary.

First, I have been obliged to introduce moderation for comments. I HATE doing this, but I am not prepared to be abused on my own freaking Blog. Argument is fair enough, I don't expect everyone to agree with me. I'd actually be amazed and sorry if they did. But I'm allowed to argue back. When I use abusive terms, so can you. Not before.

This may lead to some delay in publishing your comments. I do not look at the blog every day at the moment as I am busy with writing. Sorry about that, but there it is.

Now, it is no secret that I am biased towards the House of York. Always have been, always will be. That is one reason why I am writing a blog called The Yorkist Age not The Lancastrian Age or Margaret Beaufort is my goddess. I distance myself from the attitude of some academic historians who are more biased than me but pretend to be objective! However I am also relatively open-minded and if people want to put up opposing viewpoints, that's fine. I do not believe in black-and-white history, and am more than willing to accept that Margaret of Anjou, Antony Woodville, Elizabeth Woodville, Warwick and the rest of them had their good points. (Henry VII is maybe a bridge too far.) Personal abuse will, however not be tolerated, and nor do I want to play guessing games. Put up or shut up, in other words.

Now, back to civilised discussion - PLEASE!

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Lethargy and Speculation

I have been very lethargic these last two weeks, almost as if I have been doped. As a result this blog has not received any attention, and at present my main energies are focused on writing. This means that although normal service will be resumed, eventually, it may not be for a while yet.

Meanwhile a posting on one of the Ricardian e-groups refers to the possibility that the Woodvilles may have poisoned Edward IV. This is apparently referred to at length in a non-fiction book Richard III, The Maligned King by Annette Carson, which I have not so far had the pleasure of reading.

No doubt evidence is advanced, and I look forward to seeing what it is. My first thought is that if the Woodvilles did this, they must have been mad. Even if Elizabeth was losing her hold on Edward, the chance of his ditching her, after she had given him two sons, must have been either zilch or very close to zilch. As long as he lived he was her meal-ticket, and by extension, her family's.

If Edward was poisoned it seems far more likely to me that King Louis XI of France was behind it. He had a motive - to cause maximum chaos in England. It might be argued that he lacked opportunity. The Woodvilles had opportunity, but their motive seems doubtful at best.

Any thoughts, anyone?

Friday, 14 August 2009

Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester (d1397)

Just a short post to draw attention to an interesting post on Woodstock on the Plantagenet Dynasty blog.

Woodstock clearly fancied himself as a great warrior, but when he had the chance to prove himself in command of military expeditions he showed himself to be mediocre at best.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Book review - Margaret of Anjou, Queen of England

Margaret of Anjou, Queen of England by Philippe Erlanger. (Published 1970)

(I gave this book two stars on Goodreads.)

This is not the best book written about Margaret of Anjou (check out Helen Maurer's work) but it is useful. The author is French (as I would have guessed even if his name had been Fred Bloggs) and it is his knowledge of the French aspects of Margaret's life that make this book of interest as these very aspects tend to be neglected by English/Anglophone authors and are yet (obviously) important.

On the other hand, when reading about English events in this work please check carefully against other sources. I found factual errors, most notably the presence of Margaret at the Battle of Wakefield, where she very definitely wasn't. There's odd things like Hastings being described as a kinsman of Earl Rivers. (He probably was, in some degree, but I doubt he boasted about it and it certainly wasn't his main selling point.) There were also bits of chronology that made me go - eh? If you really know your wars of the roses you will know what bits to disregard, but if you are still learning do not rely on anything in here as far as English history is concerned.

The author also has the common and infuriating habit of quoting great chunks of Shakespeare which have no place in a work of history. I knocked off a star for that alone as it is something that really cheeses me off.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

I've not read this novel yet but there's a very full review by Marie Burton on the web. It looks intriguing, time will tell whether it hits my wall or not.

I have a suspicion that Yorkists and Woodvillians are generally less tolerant of historical divergence (or more picky) than Tudorites, but we shall see.

It's is probably about time someone did a novel from the POV of Elizabeth Woodville, though of course it has been done before, notably by Rosemary Hawley Jarman in The King's Grey Mare. Apparently a common thread in both is that Elizabeth's witchiness is emphasised. Personally I'm more impressed by what Elizabeth achieved off her own bat, without special powers!

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Isabel of York 1408 (?) - 1484

Stephen's Lark's mention of Leo van de Pas's excellent geneology site reminded me that I haven't said much about Isabel of York, Richard Duke of York's sister, so I used the site to supplement the little I know about her, and thus can produce the following posting.

Isabel was of course the daughter of Richard of Conisbrough and Anne Mortimer and appears to have been born in the early years of their marriage, round about 1408 or 1409**. She was 'married' to Thomas Grey of Heton in 1412 as part of what appears to have been a deal to transfer the Lordship of Tyndale (then the property of Edward, Duke of York) to Grey's father. Due to the treasonable conspiracy of Richard of Conisbrough and the elder Grey (the Southampton Plot) this (marriage) arrangement was dissolved and Isabel was instead married (circa 1430) to Henry Bourchier, Earl (or Count) of Eu and later Earl of Essex.

** This assumes they didn't consummate their marriage until it was legitimised (1408). Since the detail of how they married, and when, is shrouded in mystery, it's possible Isabel was a little older.

Henry was the son of Sir William Bourchier and Anne of Gloucester, the extremely rich daughter and heiress of Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester. (Anne was of course Richard of Conisbrough's first cousin. As well as being her father's heiress she had two dowers from the Stafford family, having married successive earls. She would make an interesting subject for a novel if anyone out there fancies writing one for her.)

The children of Henry and Isabel were:

William, who married Anne Woodville (or Wydeville or Widville). She was (need I say?) the sister of Queen Elizabeth Woodville. He died in April 1483. His son, also William, succeeded as Earl of Essex and lived long enough to serve at Anne Boleyn's coronation.

Henry, who married Elizabeth Scales, an heiress. After he died in August 1458 she married the well-known Anthony Woodville/Wydeville/Widville, later Earl Rivers.

Humphrey, who married Joan Stanhope, and was styled Baron Cromwell in her right. He was killed at the Battle of Barnet (1471) fighting for the Yorkists. Joan remarried, Sir Robert Radcliffe.

John, who married Elizabeth Ferrers of Groby and in her right assumed the title Lord Ferrers of Groby, though never summoned to parliament. He had a 'prolonged' law suit with Elizabeth Woodville over the Groby lands. His second wife was Elizabeth Chicheley of Cambridgeshire. He died 1495.

Thomas married Isabelle Barre, widow of Henry Stafford of Southwick the (Yorkist) Earl of Devon. After her death (1489) he married Anne, widow of Sir John Sulyard. He was Constable of Leeds (Kent) and was on a commission to investigate treason in Kent in December 1483. He died in 1491.

Isabel, the only daughter. Died apparently unmarried.

Edward, died 31 December 1460. (Battle of Wakefield)

Fulk, died young.

Essex was a 'backroom boy' for the Yorkists, occupying various offices without apparently becoming prominent in government or unpopular with Warwick or other hostile elements. He died peacefully in 1483. Nonetheless it's worth noting that the wars cost him two of his sons killed in action! His brother, Thomas, was of course Archbishop of Canterbury through the Yorkist period and a little beyond. (Their half-brother on their mother's side was no less a person than Humphrey Stafford, first Duke of Buckingham.)

Isabel of York died in 1484, during Richard III's reign. She was therefore in her early seventies, and so unusually long-lived for a member of the York family, even allowing for the tendency of the York males to have their lives cut short by steel poisoning. (In fact, when you think of it the only adult males of the House of York to die in their beds were Edmund of Langley and Edward IV. The rest either died in battle or were executed!) Isabel would certainly have had some interesting tales to tell and it's a pity that no roving reporter was around to interview her.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Anne Neville's ancestry - Waltheof

Stephen Lark has kindly sent me this interesting link about Waltheof. Among other things it gives six generations of descent from him and it's clear how he linked to Anne Neville by at least one route.

One area of Anne's ancestry that the coat of arms ignore is that of her descent from the House of York. This gave her some quite remarkable ancestors, including El Cid! I suppose it's proof that even the most complex of quarterings cannot convey everything.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

How was Warwick related to the Woodvilles?

Does anyone know how Warwick was related to the Woodvilles/Wydevilles? Until a couple of days ago I'd have said he wasn't - simple. But then I noticed in Richard III A Medieval Kingship (ed. John Gillingham) the following useful analysis of Anne Neville's arms - which of course were the same as her sister's.

The following families are represented:

1. Sir Guy (This is Guy of Warwick, not Guy of Gisburn.)
2. Rohand (No idea)
3. Gwayr (No idea)
4. Newburgh (Ancestors of the Beauchamps, think.)
5. FitzPiers (Sound like a Norman family but can't say I've heard of them.)
6. Thony (Sometimes spelt TONY or TOENI. Quite famous earlier on I think. [edit] Stephen Lark tells me they were the Staffords, before the Staffords became the Staffords if you see what I mean.)
7. Beauchamp (Famous as earls of Warwick)
8. Colobrand's Head (Colobrand? Sounds like a drink.)
9. Fitzjohn
1o. Mauduit
11. Abitot
12. Waltheof (Definitely heard of him. Saxon hero married to Judith, right?)
13. Montagu (Salisbury bunch)
14. Monthermas. (Sounds like a festival of the church. Do they mean Monthemer? Or whatever the guy was called who got off with Joan of Acre.)
15. Neville (Well yes, we certainly know about them.)
16. Beauchamp (ancient) - bit repetitive, but I suppose it emphasises the Beauchamps.
17. Aeneas (The Greek guy? He had a coat of arms? Cooool!)
18. Balliol (As in Scotland. Probably via the Despensers if I recall aright.)
19. Eldol
20. FitzHamon (Definitely via the Despensers)
21. Consul (As above)
22. Clare (Yep, Despensers again, though probably by other routes too. Those Clares got about)
23. Burghersh. (Despenser lot again. Thomas D's mother, actually.)
24. WYDEVILLE - which is the posh way of spelling 'Woodville.' How did they get in among this lot?
25. Despenser (Obviously)
26. Weyland (Another Despenser input.)

So now we know what Anne did with her youth - embroidering that little lot onto all the cushion covers must have taken hours. You know dear a family tree program would have been much more useful...

But seriously, does anyone know how the Wydeville/Woodville family were related to Warwick? Because it looks as if they must have been.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

The De la Poles

Stephen Lark has kindly pointed out to me that it is believed Richard de la Pole (Richard Duke of York's grandson) had a daughter in France, Marguerite, who has living descendants to this day, members of the French nobility. Her earlier descendants included the famous political philosopher de Montesquieu and the Comte de Frontenac who was a C17 Governor of Canada.

Stephen also mentioned that Richard's brother, William de la Pole may have been alive as late as 1539/40 as a prisoner in the Tower.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Children of Richard Duke of York

After so much about the political, I think it's high time for a post of the personal, so here are the children of Richard Duke of York and his wife Cecily Neville:

1. Anne, who married the Duke of Exeter. Exeter was York's ward but nevertheless a substantial dowry was paid. Nonetheless the marriage was not a success at either a political or personal level. Exeter became one of York's worst enemies (though he was pretty much the enemy of everyone) and eventually Anne divorced him and married Sir Thomas St.Leger. Exeter conveniently fell overboard on the way back from the French expedition of 1475, having spent several previous years in the Tower. Sir Thomas St. Leger was executed by Richard III.

2. Henry (died young).

3. Edward, Earl of March (later Edward IV).

4. Edmund, Earl of Rutland. Killed at Wakefield 1460.

5. Elizabeth, who married John de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk. This marriage forged an alliance with the de la Pole clan, previously enemies of York. Suffolk was a political nonentity but there were numerous children. The males in particular had a hard time under the Tudors and were eventually wiped out.

6. Margaret, who married Charles Duke of Burgundy. No children, but Duchess Margaret was a relatively major player in European politics.

7. William (died young)

8. John (died young)

9. George, Duke of Clarence. Executed/judicially murdered 1478.

10. Thomas (died young)

11. Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III).

12. Ursula (died young.)

One interesting and unexplained feature of the Yorks' marriage is the several years** that passed before Anne was born. Clearly the problem was not one of fertility as they eventually had 12 children! It may be that York's absence at the French wars is part of the answer but it's not a complete one as Cecily was often there with him. (For example Edward and Edmund were born in Normandy.)

** Marriage 'before October 1429' (source P A Johnson) Anne's birth 1439.

One internet source states there was another daughter Joan b 1438, but this child is not recorded in the famous ballad about York's offspring printed in Caroline Halstead's Richard III.

The Wiki article on Cecily Neville says that the couple were not 'officially married' (whatever that means) until 1437. I'm inclined to doubt this.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Richard Duke of York and Henry VI

In the early years of Henry VI's reign there is nothing to suggest that Richard, Duke of York was anything but a loyal subject, or that anyone thought otherwise. So what changed?

In the first part of the reign English politics were dominated by the King's uncle, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester and great-uncle, Cardinal Beaufort. (These two heading - in simplistic terms - the 'war' and 'peace' parties respectively). Both treated York with due respect and he performed whatever duties he was allocated without any obvious fuss.

One factor leading to York's disillusionment with the regime was undoubtedly the increasingly chaotic financial situation. This impacted on him indirectly - by limiting the resources available to him as a commander in France - and directly by increasing the government's debt to him in respect of war wages and other fees to an insupportable degree. Even a landowner as rich as York could only tolerate this for so long. Eventually he was forced to pawn his jewels and even parts of his estates to make his books balance.

The second factor was the replacement of Gloucester and Beaufort in the King's counsels by the like of William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk and Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. These men favoured peace with France, whereas York inclined more to the war party. More importantly, they effectively excluded York from the King's counsels and got their grubby hands on what little money and patronage was available.

Politics is always ultimately a dispute between those with power and those without it. It's also quite common for the 'outs' to claim that the 'ins' are corrupt and incompetent. In the cases of Suffolk and Somerset there was perhaps more truth attached to this claim than is usual. (Though it would have taken remarkable leadership to square the financial and military circles we are talking about.)

The separation of York from the inner circle of power led to a growing, mutual distrust. Who 'started' this is hard to discern. York would certainly have argued that Suffolk, Somerset, and later Queen Margaret had the King's ear and told him lies about York's intentions, thus alienating Henry from his loyal cousin. On the other hand, Suffolk, Somerset and the Queen did
have reason to be wary of York. He was the obvious (if not only) 'alternative' government and, given the detail of his family tree, might even be put forward as an alternative sovereign. The country was not stable, and those in power must have feared a 'revolutionary' situation arising, after the example of the falls of Edward II and Richard II.

York's claim to the throne (in the event of Henry's death) had been talked about in Parliament, a destabilising factor in itself. York's readiness to take up arms in 1452, and then again in 1455, demonstrated that the doubts and fears about his loyalty were not completely groundless. Though York was successful in 1455 (mainly thanks to the Nevilles) it's fair to say that the bulk of the nobility remained loyal to Henry despite the ineptitude of his government.

York's justification - that he took up arms only because he had failed to get a hearing by 'constitutional' means - is also not unreasonable. As the leading peer he had, in medieval terms, the right to be one of the King's leading advisers. Henry's decision to exclude him from this role, and his undue preference for the likes of Suffolk and Somerset, was bound to lead to trouble.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Untangling the Beauforts (Part 5)

Sorry for the delay to this. Anyway, in the aftermath of Cade's rebellion and the English expulsion from Normandy, England was a very discontented place. There were lots of discharged soldiers wandering around London, and the arrival of York in October (from Ireland) added to the tense atmosphere as preparations began for Parliament to meet. Various seditious 'bills' were nailed to the doors of St Paul's, Westminster Hall, and even the King's chamber at Westminster!

On 1 December there was an actual rising against Somerset, an attack by more than 1000 men. He was (for his own protection) taken by barge to the Tower, while order was maintained by York, Devon and the Mayor, apparently the only people for whom the insurgents had any respect.

The Parliament petitioned for the removal of Somerset (and others, including the Dowager Duchess of Suffolk) from the King's presence, but Henry managed to evade this demand, and when Parliament was prorogued in May 1451 the pressure on Henry's favourites eased for a time. Somerset was actually appointed Captain of Calais, presumably on the basis that he wouldn't dare to lose that as well. (On the face of it, you'd have thought him the last person eligible for the job.)

In 1452, despairing of removing Somerset by peaceful means, York rose in arms. However he was joined only by Devon and Cobham, and was forced to submit to the King at Dartford. Though swiftly pardoned, in return for swearing never to rebel again, the affair had brought about his total humiliation and strengthened Somerset's position immeasurably.

Unfortunately for Somerset, about the beginning of August 1453, Henry VI had a complete mental collapse. This coincided roughly with the news that Talbot (Shrewsbury) had been defeated and killed at Castillon in Gascony, with the result that English rule in France (barring Calais) was over. In addition, Queen Margaret of Anjou had lately announced that she was pregnant. While either of these events might have added to Henry's stress and pushed him over the edge, it's dangerous to assume that they did.

At first the King's illness was kept quiet, but in October 1453 a Great Council was held - equivalent to a sort of slimmed-down Parliament. Somerset tried to exclude York, but this led to representations, including one from Duchess Cicely to the Queen, and York was sent a belated invitation.

York's supporters now included the Nevilles (alienated by Somerset over the small matter of Glamorgan) and the Duke of Norfolk. It was actually Norfolk who appealed Somerset of treason, mainly based on his failure in France. As a result Somerset was taken to the Tower where he remained for about a year. No charges were brought.

York was not actually named Protector until late March 1454, an alternative proposal that Queen Margaret act as Regent having been dismissed on grounds of precedent.

King Henry recovered (or was said to have done so) around Christmas 1454, and on 26 January 1455 Somerset was released from the Tower, though the release was not actually confirmed until a meeting of the Great Council on 5 February. Soon afterwards York resigned as Protector and, in effect, Somerset regained power. All charges against Somerset were dropped and arrangements were made for a panel of arbitrators to settle all disputes between him and York.

York and the Nevilles now decided that the time for talking and playing politics was over. They believed that Somerset and his clique were poisoning the King's mind against them and that in fact they were not safe to approach Henry in the normal way. Under this belief or pretext they marched to St Alban's at the head of about 7000 men and there met Henry and his court on their way to a further Great Council meeting that had been arranged for Leicester.

York demanded that Somerset should be handed over to him, and when this was refused, the Yorkists attacked. Somerset, having killed four men with his own hand, was slain in the fighting, along with the Earl of Northumberland and Lord Clifford. Their deaths brought the battle to an end, but not unnaturally filled their sons with a burning passion for revenge.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Constance of York

Constance now has her own entry on Find a Grave and it's quite a nice write up for her, nothing much that I can disagree with. (I'm quite used to disagreeing with the dismissive and patronising remarks from sundry historians on the subject of her ladyship.) You can even leave a memorial message if you like!

Google Alerts strikes again!

Friday, 19 June 2009

Sorry for the delay

Sorry about the length of time it is taking me to complete the saga of the Beauforts. I am in fairly manic mode at the moment, running about doing all sorts of stuff, and I'm not really in the right frame of mind to put together an entry on Edmund Somerset - he deserves me at my composed and sober best.

Will be back soon - I hope!

Monday, 8 June 2009

Untangling the Beauforts (Part 4)

Edmund, Duke of Somerset (or Edmund, Marquess of Dorset as he was at the time) replaced the Duke of York as lieutenant-general and governor of France on 24 December 1446. The court party, dominated by Edmund's aged uncle, Cardinal Beaufort and the Duke of Suffolk, probably thought that York was too committed to the war. Their policy, by this time, was peace on almost any terms. King Henry VI's marriage to Margaret of Anjou (1445) had been undertaken on the basis of a truce with a secret agreement to cede Anjou and Maine.

Obviously, this secret could not be kept for ever, but the surrender was opposed by York, the Lancastrian establishment in Normandy (who could see the strategic implications) and above all by the King's uncle, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. However Duke Humphrey had little influence now and in early 1447 was arrested and shortly after died. Many people believed he had been murdered, but there's no particular proof of this. He may simply have had a heart attack or the like. Meanwhile York was given a 10 year contract to govern Ireland. This was not necessarily demotion or banishment as such, but York was undoubtedly aggrieved, especially as the Crown's debt to him amounted to tens of thousands of pounds.

The appointment of Beaufort to the French post was not, however, all that ridiculous. He had a mixed track record as a soldier, admittedly, but he had had some success, while York, though competent, was not exactly Robert E. Lee. (It might be added that even Lee, Cromwell and Marlborough working together as a team might have struggled to keep the French out of Normandy for very much longer, given the appalling military situation and almost total lack of finances.)

Anyway, the agreed surrender of territory proceeded, despite the attempts of local commanders to be as awkward as possible so as to drag matters out. These stalling tactics made the French wonder about English good faith. If they were sufficiently perceptive, they probably also realised that Henry VI's government was somewhat lacking in grip.

Somerset (as he became in March 1448) was not especially tactful in his dealings with Charles VII, indeed he was rather discourteous, and this cannot have helped in so delicate a situation. Negotiations to resolve the situation were about to begin when an English force seized the town of Fougeres, on the borders of Brittany. Naturally this alienated the Duke of Brittany more than somewhat and gave the French justification for believing the truce had been broken.

Meanwhile, having allowed the capture and sack of Fougeres, the English did not give assistance to the mercenary captain involved and he was eventually forced to capitulate. At the same time Somerset's negotiations - or perhaps the word is dealings - with Charles VII failed miserably, since the French King, quite reasonably, had no faith in Somerset's honesty.

In the Spring of 1449 hostilities began in earnest. It's tedious to recite the tale of towns falling, one by one, and the process speeded still further after Charles VII declared formal war on 31 July. Rouen was captured on 29 October. Somerset obtained a safe conduct to England for his family and himself, and for many of his supporting cast, including Shrewsbury, Abergavenny and Roos. In return he had to agree to surrender not only Rouen but several other fortresses, pay a hefty ransom, and leave hostages behind to secure his good faith. By August 1450 the remaining Lancastrian holdings in northern France (except Calais) had fallen, and the last (rather feeble) English field army defeated.

It was a disaster, and there were many (notably York of course) who put much of the blame on Somerset. However, with Suffolk's fall from power, and subsequent murder in May 1450, it was Somerset who had Henry VI's confidence and became dominant at court.

More another day...

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Untangling the Beauforts (Part 3)

My bewilderment about Edmund Somerset's locus standi in the matter of Glamorgan has been solved by reference to The End of the House of Lancaster by R.E. Storey - another book I am keen to recommend to anyone wanting to understand the complex background to the start of the so-called Wars of the Roses.

Anyway, in 1453 Somerset was was given charge of the lands of George Neville during his minority. This George Neville being the son of Elizabeth Beauchamp, half-sister of Anne Beauchamp on her mother's side - this particular Anne Beauchamp being Warwick the Kingmaker's wife. OK so far?

The only thing is that Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, his son Henry Beauchamp, Duke of Warwick, the guardians of Anne Beauchamp, Henry's little daughter, and finally the Kingmaker himself, in the right of his wife, the other Anne Beauchamp, had all of them held onto George Neville's share of Glamorgan. In the case of Richard Beauchamp, it was undoubtedly because his wife, Isabelle, mother of the aforementioned Henry, Elizabeth and Anne (Kingmaker's wife Anne that is) was the rightful owner of Glamorgan in preference to her own children.

But after Isabelle died (1439) it becomes more problematical, doesn't it? Presumably Henry Duke of Warwick got the whole pot because he was a male. Then his daughter got the whole of his inheritance. But when she died, surely the Despenser inheritance should have been divided between her aunt, Anne and her cousin George, heir of her other aunt? It's hard to discern a legal reason for George not getting his share at that point.

However in 1450 Warwick the Kingmaker was given a grant of all the lands formerly held by his wife's niece (Little Anne Beauchamp, as opposed to Big Anne Beauchamp, aka Mrs Warwick). This included the whole of Glamorgan. (Except for the Countess of Northumberland's dower lands, but that's another story.)

So when in 1453 Somerset was given the wardship of George Neville and started to press for possession of George's share of Glamorgan, we can understand why Warwick would be annoyed, even if, from an objective point of view, his case for possession seems a tad dubious.

There was 'military activity' in Glamorgan , and both Warwick and Somerset were ordered to appear before the King's Coucil to sort things out. Due to events, however, nothing substantive happened to settle the dispute, and Warwick continued in possession of all Glamorgan. He was, however, now second only to York in the I Hate Somerset Club.

The next post will try to summarise the remainder of Somerset's political career.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Untangling the Beauforts (Part 2)

Edmund Beaufort, second Duke of Somerset, was more a formidable player than his brother - not that that took much - but as indicated in the last post was handicapped by relative poverty, so much of the family's livelihood having passed to his niece, Margaret Beaufort. This in turn made it essential for him to have power at court in order to secure offices and anything else that turned up in the way of patronage. Fortunately for him, he seems to have had no difficulty winning and retaining the favour of King Henry VI and Queen Margaret of Anjou.

Early in his life Edmund had an association - perhaps even an affair - with Katherine of Valois, Henry V's widow in 1426-7, and it seems to have been this that caused the Council to impose formal restrictions on Katherine's right to re-marry. However - it is only fair to point this out in view of Yorkist criticism of Somerset's later record - in the 1430s Edmund became one of England's more successful generals in the French wars. He successfully defended Calais in 1436 and in 1439-40 was responsible for the very last English successes of the war, the relief of Avranches and recapture of Harfleur. On the other hand, even in the mid 1430s he came under criticism for misconduct, particularly for putting his own personal interests above those of the English cause.

Edmund married Eleanor Beauchamp, daughter of Richard Beauchamp Earl of Warwick by his first wife, Elizabeth Berkeley, and widow of Lord Roos of Hamlake. This match was destined to lead him into a serious quarrel with the Nevilles, and was one of the root causes of the Wars of the Roses.

When Richard Beauchamp died, his lands (apart from the Berkeley element, of which more later) passed to his son, Henry, later (and briefly) Duke of Warwick. (Henry was a child of Beauchamp's second marriage, to Isabelle Despenser.) When Henry died a few years later he left behind a daughter, Anne (by Cecille Neville) but unfortunately this child also died in infancy.

This meant that the Beauchamp inheritance had to be split between Richard Beauchamp's four daughters.

There were three elements of the inheritance:

1. Elizabeth Berkeley's Berkeley inheritance, disputed by her cousin, Lord Berkeley, and split three ways between her daughters.
2. The Beauchamp inheritance proper, coming from Richard Beauchamp.
3. The Despenser/Burghersh inheritance, coming from Isabelle Despenser and clearly divisible between the two daughters of Isabelle by her two husbands. This included Glamorgan.

However - it was held that because Anne Beauchamp, the Kingmaker's wife, was whole-blood heir to Henry, Duke of Warwick, she should have the whole of element '2' to the exclusion of her half-sisters. They, and their husbands, were distinctly unchuffed by this. John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, for example, felt that as he was married to the eldest sister he ought to be Earl of Warwick!

As if this was not complicated enough, Richard Beauchamp and his son had kept hold of most of the inheritance (including all Glamorgan) that ought to have been shared with Elizabeth Beauchamp, the elder daughter of Isabelle Despenser. Richard Neville, as Earl of Warwick, continued to retain these lands.

It's not really clear to me why Somerset felt that he was entitled to half of Glamorgan, but for some reason he did, and this led to a violent dispute with the Kingmaker. This was undoubtedly one of the factors that turned Warwick (and his father Salisbury) from Lancastrian supporters into committed Yorkists. Henry VI seems to have been totally incapable of settling this kind of dispute, a factor that helped bring about his downfall. (Contrast how the supposedly ineffective Richard II settled the dispute between the Beauchamps and Mowbrays over Gower, with a fairly harsh decision that nevertheless was not overturned by the usurping Henry IV.)

I think that's enough to digest for one day. So Edmund will get a second posting in a little time.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Untangling the Beauforts (Part 1)

One of the confusing aspects of fifteenth century English history is that there were several men called 'Somerset' who pop up, and usually authors do not make full distinction between the individuals. I am going to try to clarify who the various 'Somersets' were, and how they related to one another.

The first Somerset was of course John Beaufort, eldest child of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford, legitimised towards the end of Richard II's reign. Briefly promoted to Marquis of Dorset, he lost this title in late 1399, but remained Earl of Somerset and gradually won the favour of his half-brother Henry IV. He married Margaret Holland, sister of (among others) Joanne, Duchess of York, Alianore Countess of March and Edmund, Earl of Kent. John died in 1410, and was succeeded by his son, Henry, who unfortunately died in 1418 before he could fall out with the Yorkists.

This brings us to the first of the Somersets to be a Yorkist bogey-man: John, third Earl of Somerset, known to his friends as 'Lucky'. Not really, but see below.

He had barely succeeded to the title before he was captured at the battle of Bauge (1421). After which he was kept a prisoner of the French for seventeen years. Longer than any other English noble they captured. Albeit it was scarcely a case of durance vile, as he was able to sire an illegitimate daughter, Tacyn (nice name, must use that in a novel sometime) who eventually married Lord Grey of Wilton.

Anyway, after a great deal of negotiation, Somerset was released in 1438 in return for a ransom of £24,000 - which was a lot. This encumbered him financially for the rest of his life. The basis of the Beaufort patrimony was a handful of manors bought by John of Gaunt, with sundry bits and pieces added on by Henry IV, notably an annuity of £1000 a year at the exchequer. (Fine when the exchequer had money in it, by no means to be counted upon in Lancastrian England.) To this can be added his mother's share of the Holland (Kent) lands, worth around £600 a year.

In 1442 John married Margaret Beauchamp of Bletsoe. Her family were (distantly) related to the Beauchamps of Warwick but were more of the status of wealthy gentry than nobility. She was the widow of Oliver St John, by whom she had had six children. This was a perfectly respectable marriage but not a brilliant one for someone of John Beaufort's status - his younger brother had married a mainstream Beauchamp, daughter of the Earl of Warwick!

Apparently Somerset was already in poor health, but in 1443 he was given a chance to redeem his messy financial situation by leading a major English expedition into France. As part of the deal he was given lands of the lordship of Kendal, and other bits and pieces to the value of 600 marks - about £400 - and made Duke of Somerset.

John Beaufort's appointment annoyed the Duke of York immensely, as his commission clashed somewhat with York's existing appointment in France. More to the point, Somerset's expedition was a disaster. Among other things, by holding a Breton town to ransom, it came close to bringing neutral Brittany into the war on the French side. The campaign cost £26,000 and gained nothing.

When Somerset returned to England it was to face Henry VI's anger. Yes, that's right, Henry VI was angry with him! He banished Beaufort from court, and Somerset's financial dealings became subject of an official enquiry.

Somerset went off into the country and died. Some believed he had killed himself. His funeral, at Wimborne Minster, was extremely modest.

Part of his lands reverted to the crown, and his only child, Margaret Beaufort, inherited the lion's share of what was left. The ducal title, and the remnants of the property, passed to John Beaufort's younger brother, Edmund, who will be the subject of the next post.

Source: the most useful source for this has been The King's Mother by Michael K Jones and Malcolm G Underwood.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Eleanor The Secret Queen, by John Ashdown-Hill

As a great fan of John Ashdown-Hill's series of articles on and around the subject of Eleanor Talbot that have appeared in sundry Ricardians over the past few years I have been looking forward to reading this book with huge anticipation. However, I may have expected a little too much, as there's not much here that was not covered in the said articles.

This is absolutely not to downplay Ashdown-Hill's scholarship in putting this work together, for that has been formidable, and it is extremely useful to have all the information about Eleanor collected in one place. She has been badly neglected by historians, and those that have deigned to write about her have made fundamental mistakes, one even claiming that she was not a daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury!

Sadly, the bottom line is that it is impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an irregular marriage took place between Eleanor and Edward IV. (This is not to say that it did not, just that it can't be proved.) Geoffrey Richardson used to say that in matters surrounding Richard III one had to sometimes take 'a leap of faith.' I rather think John Ashdown-Hill has taken such a leap. I happen to agree with his conclusion, but it has to be said that the case is not rock solid.

To balance this, the case for the marriage has often been far too lightly dismissed. If Gairdner, the formidable Victorian historian - no friend of Richard III! - felt there was reasonable evidence of the truth of the story, then I feel we should at least accept the possibility that it happened that way. One very interesting point raised by Ashdown-Hill is that had Edward IV married Elizabeth Woodville in a regular ceremony - which of course he did not - then the onus would have been on Eleanor to protest at the church in time-honoured fashion. Her failure to do so would have put her and Edward at fault, not Elizabeth, and Elizabeth's children would have been deemed legitimate. (As an aside, they would also have been entitled to inherit land under English law.)

So it sort of begs the question doesn't it? Why the hell did Edward marry Elizabeth in an irregular ceremony? What on earth did he think he was doing? Surely he was not that afraid of Warwick, was he?

If you want to know more about Lady Eleanor Talbot this account cannot be bettered, as it contains everything that is known about her. It also poses some interesting questions - such as how Eleanor came by certain lands that can only have been given her by Edward IV. However, if you are a determined cynic about her marriage to the King, the book will probably not be enough to budge you, though it may give you some food for thought.

The book itself, by the way, is beautifully produced and on the back cover is an artist's impression of Eleanor. Apparently this was partly based on a skull discovered in Norwich which may be hers - or equally may not be.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Off topic - The wise words of Oliver Cromwell

Sorry to post something completely off topic, but the recent scandals surrounding the UK Parliament have left me incapable of resisting the temptation to post the wise words of Oliver Cromwell in similar circumstances:

It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonored by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money.

Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not barter'd your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?

Ye sordid prostitutes have you not defil'd this sacred place, and turn'd the Lord's temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress'd, are yourselves gone! So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors.
In the name of God, go!


Nothing much changes does it?

Sorry folks, the next post will definitely centre on 15th century history.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Succession to the throne - a summary

Henry VI remained childless for much of his reign and this inevitably sparked questions about the succession, always a divisive and potentially dangerous subject in the political arena.

It is often forgotten that for a long time the clear heir was the King's uncle, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, who was himself childless as far as legitimate issue is concerned. (His son and daughter, Arthur and Antigone, are sometimes said to have been born to Eleanor Cobham before he married her, but the chronology makes this improbable.) Gloucester was very much a representative of the war party and his alienation from Henry's governing clique was to lead to his downfall, and very probably his death. (People at the time seem to have thought he had been murdered, but he may simply have had a heart attack or similar event under the shock of being arrested.)

Henry IV's succession statute did not give any directions beyond Henry VI and Humphrey, so after these two it was legally speaking all up for grabs.

The Duke of York had a two-fold claim. One was descent from Lionel of Clarence, via the Mortimers, in the female line. The snag was that this hereditary claim was (at least arguably) superior to that of Henry VI. The last Earl of March had come under deep suspicion without even pressing a claim, so it was potentially dangerous. His secondary claim, via Edmund of Langley, was arguably inferior to a number of Lancastrian claimants.

The Beaufort dukes of Somerset were heir male to John of Gaunt, but as is well known they descended from a line that was born illegitimate, then legitimised. Henry IV had gone to the trouble of specifically excluding them from the succession though whether he had the legal right to do so is arguable. It was not unreasonable for the Beauforts to see themselves as potential heirs to Gaunt, though they were not blood heirs to the duchy of Lancaster itself, which had come from Blanche of Lancaster, not Katherine Swynford.

Setting aside foreign claims (because the kings of Portugal and Castile, among others, had some Lancastrian blood in them) the other senior Lancastrian claimant was Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter, who descended from Gaunt's daughter, Elizabeth of Lancaster. He certainly had a better claim to the duchy of Lancaster than did the Beauforts, and an arguable claim to the throne itself. Holland was, however, a deeply flawed individual, out there on the edge of reason, and even Lancastrian governments were wary of him. Ironically, he was the Duke of York's ward, and first son-in-law. This connection did not bind them at all - if anything it sharpened their mutual hostility.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Richard Beauchamp and the Upbringing of Henry VI

In May 1428 a Great Council appointed Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick as governor of the six-year-old Henry VI. Warwick was in effect given responsibility for the king's upbringing and education and, like Dame Alice Butler, the governess who had preceded him in the role, was given formal authority to chastise and correct his young sovereign when necessary.

Beauchamp was in many ways an ideal choice. He was certainly one of the leading warriors of the era and had a reputation for chivalry. He had been a close friend of the King's father and ranked high in the English nobility. His appointment continued the policy of separating the care and control of the young King's person from the executive arm of the government, although Warwick naturally had a place on the Council. His (second) wife was Richard, Duke of York's first cousin, Isabelle Despenser.

However, whether, in human terms, a rather serious soldier like Warwick was the ideal person to bring up someone as devout and ascetic as Henry VI is perhaps another question. Henry was provided with a small suit of armour and a sword at around this time, and we may reasonably suppose that his military education began, presumably in company with the other young wards that were kept about the place.

Henry was not meek and mild, and before very long Warwick was complaining to the Council about the King's reluctance to be ruled by him. In 1432 he reported that the King was grown 'in conceyte and knoweleche of his hiegh and royale auctoritee and estate' and was grumbling about Warwick's punishments - probably physical ones given the earl's specific authority to inflict them. There was also concern about unsuitable companions distracting the King from his studies, and it was ordered that a household knight should always be present to supervise the King's interaction with others.

By May 1436 Warwick had evidently had enough of managing the troublesome King, and he resigned the job. He was not replaced. One legacy from Warwick's time supervising the King was the close friendship between Henry VI and Warwick's son, Henry, Lord Despenser - later Henry, Duke of Warwick. The early death of Henry Beauchamp (he was only 21 at the time) removed a major prop from the young King, and in retrospect was to prove disastrous for his reign.

Whether Henry VI had a similar brotherly relationship with Warwick's daughter, Anne, later wife of the Kingmaker, is less certain. According to Griffiths the young King made a point of shunning the company of women, and declared at an early age that he intended not to have sex except with his wife. This was unusual - say the least - but was in line with Henry V's attitude to the same subject after he became king. It is probably fair to see it as a sign of extreme conventional piety, and a measure of the influence that the priestly caste had over Henry VI.

New Post

There is actually a new post about Henry VI and his upbringing by Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick. However since I started drafting it some time back, it's decided that it should be dated 30 March. So if you want to read it, I'm afraid a bit of backtracking will be necessary.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Richard's Portuguese Marriage

Wow, that certainly provoked some debate!

I have looked at Barrie Williams' follow-up article today, and it suggests that the detail of Brampton's instructions is not known. (Though there may be subsequent scholarship of which I am unaware.) Apparently his information rests chiefly on Portuguese sources.

Susan is right about the general use of women as pawns in marriage; however in this particular case Joanna was mad keen to be a nun and had actually turned down no less than Maximilian of Austria (future Emperor!) and the Duke of Orleans (effective heir to France after Charles VIII). As these two were arguably as important as Richard, it's at least interesting that Richard was accepted, and maybe even more surprising if the initiative came from the Portuguese side. Apparently Joanna accepted on the basis that if the proposal fell through she would be allowed to take up religion, and so it transpired. This does not prove in itself that Richard was a saint - this was part of international diplomacy after all - but it does give food for thought.

Apparently the 'alternative option' under consideration was the eldest daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. From Richard's point of view an attractive aspect of either woman was that she had a Lancastrian claim to the throne, arguably more legitimate than that of Henry Tudor - certainly it would have been a senior claim by 21st century calculation of these things. Richard had some very positive diplomatic contact with Isabella right at the start of his reign, so it might have been another possibility.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Thomas More by Richard Marius

I've been re-reading Thomas More by Richard Marius, and found this interesting passage on page 99. '...More's account is only one of several (my emphasis) written about Richard III by Richard's contemporaries, (again, my emphasis) and none of them is flattering to the usurper king***. Some of these histories were - like More's own - left in manuscript and published long after the writers died. They can hardly be interpreted as self-conscious efforts to flatter the Tudors.'

*** - Why bring Henry VII into this? Oh, sorry, it's author bias, silly me.

This set me thinking, because the only 'accounts' I can think of that might class as contemporary are More, Croyland and Mancini. (Alianore Audley is actually fictional you know, although probably as close to the truth as any of them.) Scarcely several. Hmmm? What accounts have I been missing all these years?

Let's do a bit of deconstruction. (I love a bit of deconstruction with my morning tea.)

First off, More wasn't even born until 1478. He was, roughly, a contemporary of Richard III like I am a contemporary of JFK! He obviously relied on sources. It's generally assumed the work was virtually dictated by Morton, in whose household More lived as a youth. But there's no real evidence for this, just assumption. Morton was Cardinal Archbishop and Chancellor. Would he have had the time, let alone the inclination, to provide some boy in his household with the full SP on Richard III? Anyway, Morton's opinion on Richard - it'd be like asking Hitler for his views on Winston Churchill. (Or vice versa if you like.)

Of course More could have asked other people, but how many of them would be well informed? The old Duke of Norfolk perhaps, the Surrey of Bosworth? Again, would such an important noble have had time to spare for a young lawyer wanting to talk about the past? What could he have said anyway? 'Well, Mr More, I'm glad you asked that, because Richard III was the best king we ever had, and Henry Tudor was a slimy hypocrite with as much right to the English throne as the Grand Cham of Tartary.' The guy spent 1485-1513 just trying to win his dukedom back! He would be guarded in what he said, as would any other surviving Yorkist with half a brain.

Now Croyland, probably the best source we have. Set aside the author's paranoid hatred of anyone from north of Peterborough for a moment. He is generally assumed to have been a well-informed royal clerk - though historians debate about exactly who he was.

But this 'well-informed royal clerk' says nothing about the proposed marriage of Richard III to Joanna of Portugal and the related marriage of Elizabeth of York to the Duke of Beja. Instead he rattles on about the silly fable that Richard planned to marry Elizabeth. Folks, he simply can't have done as the Portuguese marriage proposals were issued within nine days of Anne's death. So either the Chronicler didn't know about the intended Portuguese marriages (in which case he was not a 'well-informed royal clerk' at least as far as Richard's reign is concerned) or he deliberately suppressed evidence that didn't suit his anti-Richard bias (in which case he is not reliable as a witness.)

As for Mancini, he didn't even speak English. He was here for a short visit and presumably picked up what gossip he could understand from people able (and bothered) to speak to him in Latin or French. It's rather like me visiting Russia for a few months and writing an article on President Putin. Except I would have access to a whole range of English language sources through the internet and other media, and at a pinch I could e-mail Mr Putin and ask for his comments on my account. Mancini could not do these things! (Pity, because Richard's e-mail response would have been fascinating.)

Of course, I have forgotten the following contemporary sources! :

Richard III, My Part in his Downfall, Sir William Stanley.

How I stole Richard III's Virginity and Broke His Bed, Jane Shore.

My Saintly Son, and how Richard III Drowned Puppies, Blessed Margaret Beaufort.

How the Lancastrians Were Always The Rightful Kings Anyway (with an account of the holy life of Henry VI, and how I was forced to serve the evil Edward IV) , Cardinal Morton.

Any Road for Twopence, Rt Hon. Thomas, Earl of Derby.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Reading Abbey

I found this interesting Blog article on Reading Abbey.

Reading Abbey was of course the burial place of Constance of York and King Henry I, to name but two. It was also the place where King Edward IV presented Elizabeth Woodville as his queen to his astonished council.

Friday, 17 April 2009

New Blog by Me

I have started a new Blog, mainly about my writing. It's called Greyhounds and Fetterlocks.

I'll probably do any non-Yorkist Age related book reviews over there in future, as well as the usual natter and wittering.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Richard II Facebook Group

For anyone genuinely interested in Richard the Second (and his times) I have started a Facebook Group for him called the Fellowship of the White Hart. Membership is open to anyone at this time, but I may make it a closed group later if it gets busy or rowdy!

There's also a Group for Richard III, but although I'm a member it's otherwise nothing to do with me. But fun to join if you're interested.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Finances of Richard Duke of York

At the start of the 1430s, the York estates were supporting no less than three dowagers, the widows of Edmund of Langley, of Edward 'of Norwich' the second duke, and of Edmund, Earl of March. By the time York gained livery of his estates in May 1432 one of these ladies, Philippa Mohun, was already dead. The Countess of March passed over soon afterwards, and Joanne Holland in 1434, when York was still only 23.

There were some complications relating to lands that were enfeoffed, and there were also a few elements that the Crown managed to keep its sticky fingers upon, notably Duchess Philippa's Lordship of Wight. But nonetheless, the duke's income was higher than that of any other lay lord. His net income may be estimated at £5,800 a year. Only Buckingham (£5,020) and Warwick the Kingmaker (at his richest - £4,400) came close. **

It's worth pointing out that even this income was less than half that which John of Gaunt was enjoying in the 1390s. So when considering the topic of over-mighty subjects, it's clear that York was nothing like the threat to Henry VI that the Lancastrian set-up had been, potentially and actually, to Richard II.

The bulk of York's income was derived from the Mortimer (March) estates, the York (proper) inheritance coming next, with a further contribution from a sliver of what had been the Holland (Kent) properties inherited via York's grandmother, Alianore, Countess of March.

Landed incomes generally had been in decline since the Black Death, but a series of 'corporate mergers' meant that although there were fewer great lords than before, the families that suirvived were as rich, if not richer, than their predecessors. The Buckingham inheritance mentioned above was in effect a merger of the lands of Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester with those of the former earls of Stafford and half the lands of the Bohun family, earls of Hereford in the 14th century. The Kingmaker's 'corporate history' was even more complex, including the Beauchamp, Despenser and Montagu (or Montacute) families to name but the three most lately 'gone out of business' as well as his father's meaty share of the Neville lands.

The poor relations were the Beauforts. Though they too enjoyed part of the Kent inheritance, the basis of their endowment was the relatively meagre provision John of Gaunt had bought for his eldest Beaufort son, plus a few bits and pieces granted by the Crown. Moreover, most of what there was had been left unentailed, which meant that when John, Duke of Somerset died in 1444 the lion's share went to his daughter, Margaret***. The succeeding Somersets, John's brother and nephews, were left with the proverbial pie's nest. This explains why they had to grapple so fiercely with York (and others) for influence at court and appointment to profitable offices. They had no choice.

** These figures taken from False, Fleeting, Perjur'd Clarence by M.A. Hicks.

*** Lady Margaret Beaufort, the much admired mother of Henry VII.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Book Review - Shadow King by Claude Du Grivel


I'm not in the mood for serious blogging at the moment, but as I feel the need for a break from writing* I thought I'd do a quick book review. It's a novel that relates to the era of Henry VI.

(*Yay! It is happening, but right now I find that turning out a page of fiction about old Warwick is taking a day's worth of sweat out of me.)

Shadow King by Claude Du Grivel is one of the first historical novels I read. It was published in 1952 and I found it in the library about 20 years later. (In those days libraries had more room for books and didn't suffer from the current neophilia where anything over 2 years old is regarded as an ancient manuscript and sold off for 10p.)

You may have problems getting hold of the novel - my copy came from Australia, complete with the rather cool jacket cover. Yes, I know it's dreadfully old-fashioned, but at least it gives you some idea of what the book is about, more than the current crop of headless women do. Moreover the artist actually bothered to look at some costume books for the era!

Anyway, Shadow King is about Eleanor Cobham, Duchess of Gloucester, and her downfall. Much of the story is set among the citizens of London, and what provides the link is that an unfortunate girl, Roseann Fauster, is conscripted into the Duchess's household to make headdresses for her. Roseann's home life is pretty awful, and when she gets to court she finds that life there is even worse.

There are several historical errors. For example, Bedford appears, when he was in fact long dead, and Margaret of Anjou arrives to marry Henry VI several years before she actually did. Like Shakespeare, Du Grivel couldn't resist bringing her and Eleanor Cobham together.

Yet despite these errors - and the fact that at times it steers a bit close to melodrama - the novel has something about it - it entertains and is full of incident, with a really surprising plot twist. Well worth reading if you're able to find a copy.

Monday, 30 March 2009

The Character of King Henry VI

Henry VI was not a wicked man - though I think the pressure group that's trying to have him made a saint is pushing it a bit far. (He could be vindictive, especially if he he felt he was the butt of personal criticism, and he seems to have had a fairly obsessive belief that people were trying to kill him.)

His main faults were connected with his ability to do the job of king. He was a splendid example of the failure of the hereditary principle, lacking both the political skills of his English grandfather and the military qualities of Henry V. He was, in fact, rather ordinary. Had he been a bricklayer it wouldn't have mattered that much - though he might have been thrown out of his gild for incompetence. If he'd been a country gentleman, he'd probably have ruined his family fortunes, but there'd have been no wider implications. As a sovereign, he was a disaster waiting to happen.

In fairness to Henry, it would have required an exceptional talent to steer England through the mid fifteenth century. Parliament was already growing reluctant to fund the French wars in the closing years of Henry V's reign, and the government's financial position went from bad to worse as Henry VI's reign continued. Henry V's conquest (which never amounted to more than a third of France at best) was only possible because the French had been divided among themselves. Once some sort of national unity and confidence was restored a reversal of the situation was inevitable. Henry VI's government inevitably got the blame for this, but it's hard to imagine a medieval sovereign who could have done much better - given the finances allowed.

The other main problem of the reign was political and social disorder. This was of course partly related to the French Question and the related financial mess, but nonetheless it needed sorting and Henry was hopelessly ill-equipped to solve the problem.

Morally speaking there was little to choose between the various political factions that arose. While some had better rhetoric than others, they were all violent and self-seeking in the last analysis. Henry was unable to rise above this battleground and act as an objective judge of the quarrels. Instead he backed his favourites, time and again, seemingly blind to the defects of these men or the hatred he was building against himself.

The 'opposition' eventually came to realise that there was no justice to be had from the King, and they had to turn to violence or be destroyed. York (probably the least bad and certainly the least incompetent of the great lords) was rejected and politically isolated because of Henry's (initially irrational) suspicion of him.

It was bound to end in tears - and it did.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Monday, 23 March 2009

Richard, Duke of York - a bit more about the early years.

I spent some time yesterday leafing through Ralph Griffiths' amazing tome The Reign of Henry VI which I think holds the record for the thickest book in my collection. 968 pages in hardback, costing £25 as far back as 1981 - I must have been loaded in those days! (Well, it was before I got married.)

Anyway, it appears that after the death of Ralph Neville, York and Joan Beaufort lived in the King's Household. (The latter is perhaps the more surprising.) Also in the same household was the King's mother, Katherine of Valois. The Council ordered that all royal wards should live with the King, suitably attended at the King's expense. It must have been rather crowded.

After the death of Henry V, the following arrangements evolved, though they were not what had been ordered in Henry V's will. Bedford, Henry VI's elder surviving uncle, spent most of his time in France, and acted as Regent there. However, when he did come home to England he was pre-eminent there as well.

The second uncle, Humphrey of Gloucester, stayed mainly in England at the head of the Council, but his role as Protector was tightly circumscribed, much to his distaste. He spent much of his time falling out with his uncle, Bishop Beaufort - the pair of them seem to have cordially detested one another. This was the political element - Henry VI himself was under the care of the Duke of Exeter. (Thomas Beaufort, the youngest son of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford.) Exeter's role seems to have been fairly hands-off and mainly delegated to deputies.

One thing this government failed to do was keep order in England. I was surprised how much violence and feuding there was at this time - everyone seems to have been at it, not least John Talbot (later Earl of Shrewsbury) and Joan, Lady Abergavenny, who as important members of the nobility really ought to have known better.

In the era of Richard II domestic violence is often blamed on the absence of a decent war in France to keep the thugs busy. Obviously this argument (which I've accepted myself at times) is deeply flawed, as in the 1420s there was a fair old war going on in France and it clearly did not keep things quiet at home. Nor can Henry VI be blamed at this stage - he was a little boy, and not involved in government. It seems the English (and Welsh) were just a rowdy lot and enjoyed a bit of casual violence against their neighbours.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Richard, Duke of York - childhood.

We don't know where young Richard was at the time of his father's execution, although the most likely place would be with his stepmother, Maud Clifford, up at Conisbrough Castle.

In October 1417 he passed into the care of Sir Robert Waterton, a Yorkshire knight with a long record of service to the House of Lancaster, and previous experience in looking after spare royal children. However in 1423 his wardship and marriage were purchased by Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland.

Neville was another long-standing supporter of the Lancastrian monarchy, defecting to Bolingbroke ahead of the crowd in 1399 despite lavish favour shown him by Richard II. His (second) wife was of course the famous Joan Beaufort, half-sister of Henry IV, and their hobby was arranging impressive marriages for their children. By October 1424 Richard was already betrothed to their youngest daughter, Cecily. Cecily was accounted a great beauty in later years, and may have inherited this from her grandmother, Katherine Sywnford.

Ralph Neville died a year later, but that did not prevent a marriage between Cecily and Richard in 1429. Cecily was 14 on 3 May 1429, Richard about 18. It's possible the marriage was consummated at this time, but no children were born for ten years. As the couple were definitely fertile it may be they spent little time together in the early part of their marriage.

Richard was knighted by the Duke of Bedford in 1426, and his next public outing was at Henry VI's coronation in late 1429.

The most useful textbook for Richard Duke of York is Duke Richard of York 1411-1460 by P.A. Johnson. This is highly recommended and particularly useful if you want the full SP on Richard's complex financial affairs. (They are far too complex to be covered in a blog, but also very interesting.)

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

The Yorkist Ladies

We are now pretty much at the end of the first phase of the House of York (although, in my untidy way, I may well come back to this era from time to time) but it remains to say what happened to the surviving ladies of the family.

Constance of York, Lady Despenser, only briefly survived her brothers, dying on 28 or 29 November 1416, probably at Caversham. She was buried before the high altar of Reading Abbey, and later joined in her tomb by her great-granddaughter, Anne Beauchamp, daughter of Henry Duke of Warwick. Her son Richard had pre-deceased her, but she left two daughters, Isabelle Despenser and Alianore Holland.

Isabelle was already married (1411) to Richard Beauchamp of Abergavenny, created Earl of Worcester by Henry V. He died in 1421. They had one daughter, Elizabeth, who married Sir Edward Neville, Lord Bergavenny. Isabelle next married her first husband's cousin, Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick. By him she had a son, Henry, later Duke of Warwick, and a daughter, Anne Beauchamp, later wife of Warwick the Kingmaker and mother of Anne and Isabelle Neville. (Ring any bells, Ricardians?)

Alianore Holland claimed to be the legitimate daughter (and heiress) of Edmund, Earl of Kent. She and her husband (James, Lord Audley) made every attempt to prove this via the spiritual courts, but a petition of her Holland relatives to Parliament in 1431 had the effect of preventing her from inheriting lands and title, irrespective of the findings of the spiritual court. After Alianore's birth Kent married the Lady Lucia of Milan, and the 'other side' alleged Constance had been present at the wedding banquet and made no protest. By 1431 of course Constance was long dead, and scarely in a position to give evidence, one way or the other. However it is interesting to note that in this case the much vaunted power of the spiritual court in these matters was simply ignored as irrelevant.

James and Alianore had many children and their descendants are legion.

Joan Holland, Duchess of York

Joan (or Joanne) Holland, second wife of Edmund of Langley, married three further times, though she had no children by any husband. Her second husband was William, Lord Willoughby. She had a running quarrel with her stepson after Willoughby's death over items of property he claimed she had taken without right.

The third was Henry, Lord Scrope of Masham, who was involved in the Southampton Plot and consequently executed. Scrope was a wealthy man, and he and Joan seem to have been equally grasping. At one point Joan arranged to have herself 'abducted' decamping with various valuables, worth £5000. Scrope bargained with her in his will that she could choose £2000 worth of his belongings providing she let go any right she might have to one third or one half of his goods. Of course, as he died a traitor, his goods were all forfeited anyway!

Joan consoled herself with a new, younger husband, Henry Bromflete, (much) later created Lord Vesci. He outlived her by many years, Joan dying 12 April 1434, but Bromflete not until 1469.

Philippa Mohun, Duchess of York

It is sometimes stated, even in otherwise respectable tomes, that Philippa married Henry Bromflete, but both duchesses simply cannot have done and it appears Joan was the one who did.

Like Joan, Philippa had no children by any of her husbands. The first of these, Lord Fitzwalter, died as far back as 1386. It seems that Philippa may have been born circa 1363, but if you check out her parents' date of marriage even this seems a bit of a stretch unless she and her younger sister were late additions.

Anyway, we can assume she was about 52 at the time of Edward's death and as she lived on until 17 July 1431 she would be at least 68 at the time of her death at Carisbrooke, a very respectable age for the era. Thrice dowered, and with a decent share of York's goods left to her in his will, I think we can assume she had a comfortable retirement, maybe mostly in the Isle of Wight over which she enjoyed lordship. She has a fine tomb in Westminster Abbey.

Edward Duke of York and Agincourt

No one seems to have suspected Edward, Duke of York, of involvement in his brother's plot. This demonstrates the political progess he had made by hitching himself to the bandwagon of Henry V. It would be wrong to suggest that he now enjoyed the sort of influence he had under Richard II - when for a time he was more or less the King's right hand as well as his 'brother' - but he did enjoy an element of favour and was not under continual suspicion.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Edward had enfeoffed the bulk of his own lands to support the building of Fotheringhay College. As he really could not expect to suck on the Despenser teat much longer he may have hoped for some big financial dividend from the French wars. Alternatively he may have foreseen his own death. He made a will (not unusual in such circumstances, admittedly). This acknowledged his sins to the last full measure, and he admitted that he was 'bound to pray' for the soul of Richard II.

It is sometimes said it was Edward who suggested the English archers should carry sharpened stakes with which to protect themselves. It's impossible to be sure of this, but it is certain that he commanded the right hand 'battle' at Agincourt - Henry V commanded the centre, with Lord Camoys (husband of Hotspur's widow) on the left. Edward was one of the few English 'men of name' to be killed in the battle. It appears he was crushed by the weight of others falling on top of him - alternatively, it may all have been too much for him, bringing on a heart attack. (By this time he is described as 'fat', quite likely for a medieval prince in his forties.)

I find it wonderfully ironic that Edward should die fighting for the House of Lancaster (after all his efforts to get rid of Bolingbroke), and in a French war at that (given that in his early years he had been so strong a support of Richard II's peace policy).

The bodies of York and the other nobles killed were boiled so that their bones could be taken home to England. Edward was of course brought to Fotheringhay, where originally he lay in the chancel, under a flat slab, probably with a brass memorial over him. In Edward VI's reign the chancel became a ruin, and Elizabeth I had Edward and her other Yorkist ancestors transplanted into the former nave. New tombs were erected, and can still be seen there, next to the altar.

If you'd like to take a look at Edward's tomb this link will take you to a selection of excellent photos of Fotheringhay Church on the Worcestershire Branch of the Richard III Society. The Tomb is among them.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

The Southampton Plot - once more

I understand from the news this morning that Southampton is considering building a heritage tramway, which will be a wonderful addition if it comes to pass. It's perhaps slightly more likely than a Richard of Conisbrough heritage trail.

In case I haven't mentioned it before, I should explain that Richard of Conisbrough was normally known as 'Lord Richard of York' in his lifetime, until Henry V made him Earl of Cambridge. However historians are rightly keen not to confuse him with his famous son, and so prefer the alternatives.

The gift of the earldom was not much benefit to Richard, as no money or land came with it. This was unusual in the middle ages, and so in effect it was a courtesy title, though with the right to sit in the Lords, for what that was worth. It may have been intended to recognise Richard as the effective heir of the Duke of York. Even if Edward had survived Agincourt, it's most unlikely he'd have left legitimate children, since Philippa lived on until 1431. (Although Pugh tells us that Edward had a long-standing mistress, there's no evidence that York had an illegitimate children either.)

Richard's plot against Henry V seems like a mish-mash of all the conspiracies of the previous 15 years. The Percy heir (in Scottish exile) was to be swapped for the Earl of Fife (a prisoner in England) and then used to rouse the north. The pretend King Richard II was to emerge from Scotland. March was to repair to his estates and rouse his followers, along with what was left of Glyn Dwr's supporters. Even the Lollards were to be brought in.

If Richard really expected this to be enough to overthrow the King, one has to question what was going on in his head. Possibly he had reason to expect support from other quarters, but it all seems rather thin. The more so since the plot to kidnap Fife and convey him to Scotland failed at an early stage, while the Percy heir was busily negotiating with Henry V for the right to come home, a concession that was soon granted.

That left the Earl of March as the only remotely useful aspect of the plot - conceivably from his estates large bodies of armed men could have been assembled. But March did not have the nerve for the job, and betrayed his co-plotters to the King, with the result that they were quickly arrested and executed, after making confessions in which they all blamed each other and March.

It's a pity we know so little about Richard of Conisbrough. In his later years he seems to act chiefly as a deputy for his brother York in various tasks - Pugh makes reference to one incident that may throw a rare shaft of light on Richard's character. In a dispute between York and Sir Edmund Sandford over a wardship, Richard seized Sandford's bailiff and another servant and imprisoned them in Conisbrough Castle. However Sandford was a King's retainer, so this use of force was not particularly well judged! It might even be called naive.

On 5th August 1415, Richard Earl of Cambridge was executed at Southampton by simple beheading. This sentence was annulled by the first Parliament of Edward IV as irregular and unlawful. (Given that Richard was Edward IV's grandfather this was pretty inevitable!)

Richard left behind him a daughter Isabel (born about 1408 and 'married' to the son of Sir Thomas Grey, from whom she was now to be 'divorced') and a son, Richard, born 1411, who was eventually to be the 3rd Duke of York.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

The reign of Richard II as told by LOL cats

Following on from Susan Higginbotham's brilliant efforts in this vein for Richard III and Edward II, I thought I'd make my own humble attempt in the same style, but for Richard II.







Constance of York - portrait!


Unfortunately not a contemporary one. A dear friend of mine, Nancy Medhurst, produced this plate for me many years ago. She was a wonderful artist and did this sort of stuff more or less for love, certainly at no more than cost price. Anyway, as I seem to be in illustrate-the-House-of-York mode I thought I'd throw this in.

I know a bit more about heraldry now, and the truth is Thomas Despenser usually if not invariably, had the de Clare arms placed in the first and fourth quarters, not the Despenser ones. So that part should really be reversed. And as we're really depicting Constance's arms, they should go on a lozenge, not a shield. But I'm still very glad to have it!