Saturday, 28 February 2009

Henry IV's claim to the throne

Having received the Ricardian Bulletin this morning I find there is an interesting article therein by Ian Mortimer on the subject of Henry IV's claim to the throne.

If I understand him correctly, Mortimer argues that Henry's claim was based on his descent from Henry III via both his father and his mother. He chose Henry III because Edward I, Edward III and Richard II had all purported to settle the crown in a way that didn't suit Henry's book. Notably, in the case of Richard II, by leaving the crown to Edmund of Langley. He says it has nowt to do with the legend that Edmund Crouchback was the elder brother of Edward I.

Well, we have it from Adam of Usk that the Crouchback legend was discussed, as he was one of the team of lawyers who examined and debunked it. So I don't think it can be wholly discounted.

I also can't imagine that Bolingbroke was overly bothered by what Edward I, Edward III and Richard II had or hadn't decreed about the succession, given that in late 1399 he was in a position to pretty much do as he liked.

Maybe the truth is that it was all left deliberately vague, with just a cloak of spurious legality over a very dubious claim. Though I still don't understand why Henry didn't just claim as Richard II's heir male - he was that beyond doubt. Even if we think of him as being under attainder (which he sort of was) that status would have been automatically reversed by his coronation.


Thanks to Helen Webberley of the Art and Architecture Blog The Yorkist Age hath received its first award. The award is particularly appreciated because of its reference to Jane Austen, who is a literary heroine of mine.

This is the first prize I have won since (much to the utter astonishment of my headmaster) I received one in the Upper Sixth Arts for scoring the most points in exams. I don't think old 'Bonzo' ever quite recovered from the shock of that, and I often wonder if there were recounts before it was finalised.

Thanks are also due to Lady D over at Lady Despenser's Scribery for a very kind review of Within the Fetterlock.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

An Interesting Article in An Obscure Place

While I was googling around trying to find anything substantial about Sir John Mortimer (and failing miserably) I did find a very interesting article about Owain Glyn Dwr and his links with the Scudamore or Skidmore family. Actually it goes into all sorts of details, and gives a full list of Owain's children. Well worth a look.

It's on a PDF which can be located via the Scudamore/Skidmore Family History Site. The Occasional Paper you want is:

Recommended for anyone interested in Owain.

A note about Sir John Mortimer

Who was Sir John Mortimer?

Frankly, I have no idea! I've seen a family tree (In Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk, of all places) that made him the legitimate brother of Roger, 4th Earl of March and Sir Edmund Mortimer. However, I can find no other trace of him as such. He does not figure in the index of Wylie's History of England Under Henry IV, and if you're anyone at all in Henry's reign (and often if you're no one) you show up there.

Could he possibly have been an illegitimate son of the 3rd or 4th earl? Yes. Could he possibly have been a son of Sir Edmund Mortimer? Maybe, but almost certainly not by Catrin ferch Owain. Might he have been a collateral kinsman - for example a son of that Sir Thomas Mortimer who is a known illegitimate uncle of the 4th earl? Could be...

All we can say for certain is that the bloke was accused of treason in 1421 and executed (on the basis of an Act of Attainder - no trial) in 1424. And he was a 'kinsman' of the Earl of March.

If anyone knows more, please tell me.

Hopeless Edmund, the 5th Earl of March

Though he was not a member of the House of York, Edmund Mortimer, 5th and last Earl of March had a huge impact on it, not least by getting all three of Edmund of Langley's children into trouble on his behalf, and then by conveniently dying and leaving all he had to his sister's son, Richard, Duke of York.

Note to Shakespeare lovers - do not confuse this Edmund with his Uncle Edmund, who died in 1409. The Bard of Avon tends to do this, but you see, he was not a historian.

Born on 6 November 1391, Edmund was the son of Roger Mortimer, Earl of March and Alianore Holland, eldest daughter of the Earl of Kent (and half-niece to Richard II). He was only six years old when his father was killed in Ireland in July 1398 and the custody of his estates shared out between Edward of York, Duke of Aumale, John Holland, Duke of Exeter, and Thomas Holland, Duke of Surrey - his mother's brother.

After the accession of Henry IV Edmund and his brother Roger became what Pugh, with his characteristic bluntness, calls 'in effect, state prisoners'. They were lodged at Berkhampstead and Windsor Castles until Constance of York's 1405 plot, after which they were moved to Pevensey for the next three years.

In 1409 they were transferred to the household of Henry, Prince of Wales (future Henry V), and in November 1412 Edmund was given livery of his estates, his brother Roger dying soon afterwards. However Edmund wanted to choose his own wife - Anne Stafford - and because of this marriage Henry V fined him the unprecedented sum of 10,000 marks. (About £6,666.)

To be clear, Henry was entitled to levy a fine, but the amount was wholly unreasonable. Not even Henry VII matched this sort of greed. Because of this, and the cost of equipping himself to join Henry's French expedition, Edmund had to raise a huge loan, mortgaging a large proportion of his English and Welsh estates to a syndicate of rich individuals. He still owed much of the money at the time of his death.

It seems as certain as anything can be that this was the motive for his agreement to join in the Southampton Plot organised by his former brother-in-law, Richard of Conisbrough, Earl of Cambridge. However his nerve quickly cracked and it appears he was the one who betrayed the plotters, receiving a pardon on 7 August 1415.

The result of course was that no one trusted him with any further plots, and his 'threat' to Henry V was effectively neutralised. Though absent from Agincourt due to sickness he took a significant part in Henry's French wars, not least because Henry didn't care to leave him in England. His efforts received no reward.

After Henry V's death, Edmund was accused of having too large a household, and of keeping open house to win support. His kinsman Sir John Mortimer was accused of treason and, after escaping from the Tower (twice!) was executed. The final solution to the Mortimer question was to send Edmund off to Ireland as Lieutenant in 1424. Like his father before him, he died there. In January 1425. He had no children, though his widow went on to have children with another man.

Edmund's brother and sisters had died before him (the Mortimers rarely seem to have made old bones) and only Anne, Richard of Conisbrough's wife, had had any children. So the Mortimer inheritance came to the House of York, and, particularly after the debts had been paid and Earl Edmund's widow had died, completely transformed the family fortunes. Richard, Duke of York, was to be the richest subject since Henry Bolingbroke - and with similar results.

Main source for this again the invaluable Henry V and the Southampton Plot by T.B. Pugh.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Richard III and York

The latest edition of The National Trust Magazine contains an article about York - unfortunately it's marred by the following statement:-

'Richard III's bloody antics have been recounted by Shakespeare, as well as in the mocking nursery rhyme 'The Grand Old Duke of York'. Some say that the wicked king's body now lies under a city car park.'

OK, where do I start?

For the nth time, Shakespeare was a dramatist, not a historian. If you're going to quote fiction about Richard, why not the Sunne in Splendor? Or Alianore Audley?

That nursery rhyme was about an 18th Century Duke of York, son of one of the Georges. A clue to it not relating to Richard III is that Richard was never Duke of York.

Richard was not an outstandingly wicked king by medieval standards. Far from it. If there was one place he was positively loved it was York.

His body may lie under a car park, but if it does it's in Leicester, not York.

Makes me wonder why the Richard III Society bothers... (Mutter, mutter.)

Saturday, 14 February 2009

The York Family's Financial Arrangements

By the creative use of various footnotes in T.B. Pugh's Henry V and the Southampton Plot I have calculated that Edmund of Langley's income from land and annuities amounted to £2070 a year. Almost £1,100 of this was made of of annuities, and so it follows as night follows day that his income from land was less than £1,000. Edmund's widow Joan (or Joanne) Holland was entitled to a one third share for life.

Duke Edward's inheritance was therefore roughly £1,366, with maybe £600 from land. OK, he had what was left of the additional lands given him by Richard II, plus Philippa's relatively modest dower rights, but, given that for much of Henry IV's reign annuities were about as valuable as Bradford and Bingley shares in 2009, this was not much to run a dukedom on. It's not hard to see why debts of ten grand from his time in Gascony, and further debts run up while fighting Henry's battles in Wales would have given him serious problems.

Edward received some wages in addition. For example he had twelve pence a day as Master of Hart Hounds and a salary of £200 a year as a member of Henry's Council. However, this would have been a lot less in total than he received from the juicy offices he held under Richard II, and I expect the wages were often paid in arrears, given the state of Henry's finances.

To give some comparisons, the Mortimer inheritance in England and Wales was conservatively estimated at being worth £3,400 in 1398, while circa 1415 the Despenser inheritance, despite all it had suffered from forfeitures and the ravages of Owain Glyn Dwr's friends, was still reckoned to be worth £1,500. In 1391 the duchy of Lancaster was worth about £10,000, while Pugh estimates that Gaunt's total income at the end of his life was more like £20,000.

Despite grabbing what he could from the Despenser wardship Edward was still reduced to mortgaging some of his lands to pay the debts he ran up in the Welsh wars, and in 1404 was wandering around borrowing from anyone he could, including the Abbot of Glastonbury. This was probably one of his motives for seeking to overthrow Henry in 1405, and, frankly, he had more cause to complain on the effect of government policy on his finances than Thomas of Woodstock had in the 1390s.

Although Henry's finances improved in the later part of his reign and Edward (presumably) saw more in the way of hard cash, he still ended up selling (in 1412) the Lordship of Tyndale, together with the reversion of Joanne's one third share to Sir Thomas Grey for £500. This may have had something to do with the proposed marriage of Richard of Conisbrough's daughter, Isabel, to Grey's son, but generally speaking the sale of inherited land was something that was done only as a last resort.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

In Memory of Geoffrey Richardson

It's quite a shock to realise that this coming May it will be six years since Geoffrey Richardson left us. I 'met' him through the old Late Medieval Britain discussion group (another sad loss!) and although we subsequently 'came together' on only two occasions (inevitably once at Sheriff Hutton, the other at Middleham) we quite regularly chewed things over in personal e-mails.

Geoffrey was a man of very pronounced opinions - not only with regards to Richard III - and not everyone got on with him. I suspect some were put off with his northern bluntness, which could be extremely blunt. He didn't suffer fools gladly, as they say. However, when you met him face-to-face what struck you was the incredible warmth of his nature. After five minutes talk I felt I had known him all my life. As a friend he was beyond price and I miss those chats we used to have.

Geoffrey believed that in historical matters it was sometimes necessary to have 'a leap of faith' in order to reach firm conclusions about events. I'm inclined to agree with him - if firm conclusions are what you want - and it seems to me that academic historians have 'leaps of faith' on a regular basis. It's just that they're not so frank about it as Geoffrey was.

For many Geoffrey's works were either a first step in history, or the first step after historical fiction for people who wanted to know more about the fifteenth century. They were written in a very accessible style and very much from a Yorkist/Ricardian viewpoint. Several are still available through Amazon UK at this time including The Deceivers, The Popinjays and A Pride of Bastards. Sadly though they are not as freely available as they once were, and some of the prices quoted suggest that certain titles are 'sought-after'!

The Real Richard III site is still maintained by Trivium Publishing LLC as a tribute to Geoffrey and you will find on there many memories of Geoffrey and one or two articles that he wrote.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Lady Eleanor Talbot

Sometimes I find things on the Web without really trying, as with this rather fine portrait of Lady Eleanor Talbot.

Apparently it was commissioned for John Ashdown Hill's new book about her, Eleanor, The Secret Queen. Some of you may know that I'm a great admirer of John's work on Eleanor, much of which has been published in the Ricardian, so I'm looking forward to seeing what additional information he has found to include in this book. Not that I expect it to prove anything, you understand. If there ever was proof of her marriage to Edward IV I think we can take it has read it was destroyed a long time ago.

The Decline of the Welsh Rising.

I've just noted that Pugh dates the Woodbury Hill affair to 1405, whereas Davies puts it in 1404 and questions whether it even happened. I followed Pugh in Fetterlock, but where historians differ, how is a humble novelist to know? According to Wylie, Henry IV was in Worcester in August 1405, but not in 1404 as Davies states. Looks like Davies may be mistaken here, unless his instinct that it never happened at all is the correct one.

Anyway, the French departed, and Henry IV's government began to achieve progress. In Autumn 1406 the submission of Anglesey was completed and the population made to sue for pardon and pay fines. They had been taking a major hit from Anglo-Irish raiders and it was all too much. The fall of Anglesey put the squeeze on Owain's supply of food, as it was one of the most productive areas of Wales. In addition it was now much easier for the English to mount a sea blockade of the remaining rebel strongholds of North Wales and cut off supplies to Harlech and Aberystwyth.

As mentioned earlier, a siege of Aberystwyth was abandoned in 1407 despite the sterling staff work of the Duke of York, but nevertheless it fell in the late summer of 1408. In February 1409 the last stronghold, Harlech fell to Gilbert, Lord Talbot, and his brother, John Talbot, Lord Furnival, later to win fame as Earl of Shrewsbury and father of Lady Eleanor Talbot.

Owain's wife was captured at Harlech along with her daughter Catrin, Catrin's children, and other members of Owain's immediate family. Sir Edmund Mortimer died during the siege, some say through starvation. (There is also a legend that he escaped to Scotland, but it's almost certainly just that.)

Thereafter Owain's rising was reduced to a guerrilla campaign, though his followers were still, for some years, to prove capable of producing scares and shocks. Owain was never captured, and died apparently in September 1415, though no one is sure to this day where he is buried. (There are several theories.)

The last of his six sons, Maredudd, continued the struggle in remote Merioneth, and as late as 1417 the rebel Lollard, Sir John Oldcastle, tried to make contact with him there, only to be captured en-route by Lord Charleton of Powys.

Maredudd was offered a pardon that same year, but didn't accept it until 8 April 1421. According to Welsh legend some of Owain's followers continued the struggle after that, right through to the arrival of the 'redeemer' Henry VII. If they did, it would have been hard to distinguish their activity from that of routine banditry.

If anyone would like more detail about Owain without getting a book out, there's a useful site here.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

How Edward of York made ends meet.

Edward, Duke of York, as Earl of Rutland, was sent off to Guienne to act as Lieutenant during 1401-02, returning to England after the death of his father, Edmund of Langley. He claimed debts owing to him from the Crown as a result of this short period in office were not unadjacent to £10,000.

As mentioned in an earlier post, Edmund of Langley had relatively little land, and much of his income derived from Exchequer grants, some of which, admittedly, he had got assigned to reasonably stable sources such as the customs or wardships. Given the general state of Henry IV's finances - which a kindly soul might describe as critical - Edward's inheritance was not so shining a prospect as you might think. (The Exchequer being empty much of the time.) He also had a stepmother, considerably younger than himself, drawing dower from the York properties - she might be expected to outlive him, and as it chanced she did so by about 20 years.

Against this Edward had some lands of his own, notably the Isle of Wight, the remnant of the lavish additions Richard II had granted him. He also had his wife's life interest in the Fitzwalter and Golafre dower properties - fairly modest, but doubtless useful. He also had the advantage that none of his lands were in Wales, and so (unlike his sister Constance) he was pretty much free from the direct impact of the Glyn Dwr rising.

Edward clearly put pressure on King Henry for repayment of his alleged debt, one of the first fruits of which was the transfer of the wardship of Richard Despenser to the Duke of York. The previous possessor of the wardship was the boy's mother, Constance, and she had had a provision written into her patent that she was to keep the grant even if someone else offered to pay more to the King for the privilege than she did. I think we can safely assume she was not very pleased with her brother at this point!

Edward also (at some time around 1406) took over from Constance the lease of much of Elizabeth Despenser's dower lands, notably those in Glamorgan, including Caerphilly Castle. Apart from what was left to his sister in her own right by the King's grant, he was now in effective control of almost the whole of the Despenser estates.

Since Edmund of Langley had exploited the Despenser inheritance for so many years, it may be that his son saw it as something as a family tradition. He was to keep hold of the fruits of the wardship for the rest of his life. When Richard Despenser died, about 1413, the property ought to have gone to his sister, Isabelle, and her husband, Richard Beauchamp. However Edward simply petitioned the Crown for the right to keep hold of the Despenser lands, and this was granted. They passed to the rightful heiress only after Edward's death at Agincourt.

Towards the end of his life, Edward enfeoffed (that is, put in trust) many of his own York lands to pay for the establishment of Fotheringhay College. Given that he had no child of his own body, he was understandably more concerned about making provision for his soul than any impact on his heir. Given that his wife Philippa had to be dowered out of what was left, and that his stepmother was still enjoying her share, the remaining inheritance of the duchy of York was actually pretty modest.